Will Hughes: Derby County chasing top-six finish

Rams have greater firepower - Hughes

Derby County midfielder Will Hughes is convinced the club are in better shape than last season and are well equipped to challenge for promotion.

Despite a promising start, the Rams finished 10th in the Championship last term, seven points off the play-offs.

But 18-year-old Hughes told BBC East Midlands Today: "Compared to last season we have a stronger squad.

"The whole club is excited about the new season. I think we can push for the top six."

Goalkeeper Lee Grant, defenders Adam Smith and Craig Forsyth and midfielder John Eustace have all joined.

And England Under-21 international Hughes, who played 35 games last season and became a key player for the Rams despite only turning 18 in April, says the permanent signings of Chris Martin and Johnny Russell are a major boost ahead of their opening fixture at home to Blackburn Rovers on Sunday.

"We have strength in depth and players who can change the game from the bench," he added.

"There is real expectation from the amount of players we have brought in - the likes of Johnny and Chris who will add firepower.

"We didn't have that many players who could change the game but this season we have strength in depth and I think that could be the deciding factor.

"The majority of teams in the Championship have expectations. There are a good 16 teams that want to finish in the top six and it will be difficult, but that's what we are here for and what we are aiming for and we believe we can achieve it."

Chief executive Sam Rush is also confident the Rams are in a great position to look to secure Premier League football - and has faith in manager Nigel Clough.

"We have made some really good purchases," Rush told BBC East Midlands Today.

"Nigel has been clever and methodical about the way he has gone about his business during the summer and we have also kept all our young players.

"We have six new signings, four new contract re-negotiations and our young guys are still with us, so we are really excited about the season ahead.

Derby are looking strong - Rush

"If we had to go out and replace some of our young players it would be eight-figure signings, so that sort of quality - interspersed with the signings we have made - I think it all bodes very well.

"Derby County are very lucky to have Nigel as our manager. He is fantastic manager who is a hugely driven man and is hugely knowledgeable and I am really looking forward to working with him.

"He has had a great summer with his signings and has prepared his squad really well.

"Derby is a fantastic club and city. The fans are demanding - quite rightly - and have expectations but I think people are proud and pleased that Derby are now being talked about as genuine promotion candidates.

"There are no guarantees but we are in a decent place and I think Derby have got a real chance and I am really looking forward to it."

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