Despite winning three of their last four Championship outings, Wayne Rooney’s side enter today’s match at the bottom of the table and 11 points adrift of safety.
But noting that County would be on the same number as his own team had 21 not been docked from their total by the English Football League following a series of financial breaches, United manager Paul Heckingbottom said: “Make no mistake, this is going to be tough. Definitely much tougher than you’d think if you only looked at the division and then left it there.
“They (Derby) have done brilliantly of late. They would be level pegging with us if it wasn’t for all of the other stuff and so that’s something to bear in mind.”
United are 13th and still confident of qualifying for the play-offs despite seeing a series of postponements over Christmas and New Year complicate their schedule. Eight points adrift of sixth-placed Huddersfield Town ahead of the latest round of fixtures, they have contested four matches fewer than their Yorkshire rivals.
County’s preparations for United’s visit were plunged into chaos when, after discovering administrators had withdrawn his contract offer to Phil Jagielka, Rooney learnt his employers would again be hit with another transfer embargo. Jagielka, previously of United, now appears certain to miss this afternoon’s clash with his former club.
“Every game is going to be so important between now and the end,” Heckingbottom said. “It’s just where we are at the end of the season.”