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Russell eyes up double for Derby and former club Dundee United

JOHNNY Russell may be ever so slightly distracted this Saturday lunchtime.

Johnny Russell fires home Derby County's fourth goal in last months 5-0 rout of Nottingham Forest
Johnny Russell fires home Derby County's fourth goal in last months 5-0 rout of Nottingham Forest

While the 23-year-old Glaswegian will be preparing dutifully for Derby County's Championship encounter with Huddersfield, nothing would make him more proud than to learn before he takes the field that his former club Dundee United had booked their place in the William Hill Scottish Cup final by beating Rangers at Ibrox.

The striker was the scourge of Ally McCoist's side during his time at Tannadice. He scored in a 2-0 win days before Rangers went into administration in February 2012, then netted another two goals, both from Jon Daly assists (the first within just 15 seconds) when they beat the same opponents 3-0 in last year's Scottish Cup quarter-finals. While Russell has moved on - as has Daly, in the Irishman's case to Rangers - Russell believes the current United side are well equipped to knock the Ibrox side out of the competition for the fourth time in five years, regardless of the rumbling controversies over the venue and the ticket allocation.

"I have a lot of good mates still at United and it will be interesting to see how my old strike partner [Daly]gets on against them," Russell said. "But there is only one team I want to win - and I do think United will get the win.

"There was a lot made of the tickets around last season's cup game at Tannadice, with the Rangers fans boycotting it and such like, but that didn't faze us at all, and I think it will be the same this time. There are still going to be plenty of fans there and they are still going to be in great voice.

"I don't think the United boys will pay too much attention to that anyway. They will just go out and do the business on the park. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the result."

Victory for United would see them feature in the showpiece match of the Scottish game for the first time since the won the cup in 2010. Russell was confined to a spectator's role for the 3-0 win over Ross County as he was cup-tied following a loan spell at Raith Rovers.

While he will always rue missing out on lifting silverware with United, Russell sees no reason why Jackie McNamara cannot follow in the footsteps of former manager Peter Houston by winning the trophy. Russell, who also hopes to be celebrating Derby's return to England's top flight come the end of the season, said: "Although I was at the cup final that year you don't really feel part of it if you aren't playing. I would always have loved to have got a cup winner's medal with United, but it wasn't to be.

"Aberdeen are doing really well this season, but some of the stuff United play going forward is amazing to watch. I still watch them as much as I can and I still keep up to date. Hopefully they can win the cup again and I can get a wee promotion as well. It could turn out to be a great season."

Derby are certainly living up to their part of the bargain right now, as former England manager Steve McClaren places generous amounts of faith in a Scottish contingent of Russell, Craig Bryson, Craig Forsyth and Paul Coutts. While the latter is still working his way back from injury, former Dundee defender Forsyth has played every minute of every match this season and captain Bryson - the former Kilmarnock player - has weighed in with 15 goals from midfield, including a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest last month.

Russell has shrugged off an injury-plagued year to score twice in three games before yesterday, including one of the strikes of his career in the 5-0 rout of Forest.

"It had been a while [since he had found the net] because I have suffered a few injuries," said Russell, who joined Derby last summer for a £700,000 fee. "I would have taken any goal, but was really happy with the one I got, and managing to add to it last weekend was great.

"Bryso and Fozzy have been brilliant all season. With the goals he has scored and the assists he has made Bryso has been incredible, but there is a lot more to his game than that, as people up the road will know.

"Fozzy has played every minute of every single game, he has been so solid at the back. He doesn't really get the credit he deserves but it shows how good he has been."

McClaren has been widely lampooned in the past but Russell has been impressed by the man who took charge after the mid-season departure of Nigel Clough. "His coaching ability shines through, just little things he has learned from going abroad," the 23-year-old said. "He puts a lot of ideas in your head about ways of attacking, does a lot of different attacking drills. He manages to imprint things your mind and it all helps when it comes to a Saturday."

When Russell says he has suffered a few injuries, it is a serious understatement. Since last February, he has broken his fibia twice and required reconstructive surgery on a fractured cheekbone. "The last 10 months have been pretty hard," he admits. "But I have never thought I made the wrong decision in coming here."

The matches come thick and fast in the English football's second tier, and after yesterday's trip to Middlesbrough, Russell will come up against another of his former strike partners, David Goodwillie, when Derby face Barry Ferguson's Blackpool on Tuesday night.

Leicester and Burnley are setting a formidable pace in the automatic promotion stakes but Derby are right in the mix for the play-offs. " I signed for Derby because I thought we had a right good chance of going up," Russell said. "It is within our grasp now so hopefully we can do it, whether it is through the play-offs or if we manage to sneak up into the top two.

"I would take it either way. We are maybe in the position we are a little bit sooner than we thought, but that is credit to the players and staff for sticking together throughout the hard part of the season."

Russell still craves the chance to follow Bryson into Gordon Strachan's Scotland fold. The two first struck up a friendship as unused subs for the friendly against the USA under Craig Levein. "I loved my time with the Under-19s and Under-21s," Russell said. "Playing for Scotland was something I always took great pride in doing and hopefully being capped by the senior team is something that is to come for me in the future. Being in the squad seems to have spurred Bryso on.

"He deserved his call-up for the way that he has been playing for us this season and he could be a great player for Scotland if he gets the chance to show what he can do."

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