The Derby County star crucial to Rams chase for promotion

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing has scored eight goals and 12 assists
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Derby County are fully a part of the League One promotion chase after 32 games.

They sit in second place, just six points behind league leaders Portsmouth and have shown themselves to be one of the best teams since the autumn period when they began to hit form.

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One of the biggest reasons for the Rams' good form is because of attacker Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. He has arguably been one of the best players in the league this season.

The 31 year-old has established himself as a key part of Paul Warne's side, with his blend of speed and strength he is an electric character.

The former Premier League winger has scored eight goals this season so far, a big improvement from last year. He has already scored more goals than last season with 14 games still to go.

Derby have just come off the back of a 3-0 win against Exeter City on Tuesday night where Mendez-Laing showed his attacking ability by scoring an excellent goal breaking through one on one with the goalkeeper thanks to his speed.

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He adds a different style to a Derby team that is full of players the wrong side of 30 and towards the end of their careers.

His importance is something that manager Paul Warne has been very vocal about and the need to keep him fit is vital.

After the Rams had beaten Charlton 1-0 with a goal from the Guatemalan earlier in the month, Paul Warne was quick to shout out the winger and why he is so important. He told Rams TV: "Nat is essential to how we play, hence why we tried to sign some pace up top as well.

"Nat's goal at Charlton is not one I am sure Collo [James Collins] would have got, because it was pace that was needed to break the lines and it was the difference between the two teams."

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The fact that Warne put Mendez-Laing down to Derby winning that game just proves his influence. The Derby boss needs to make sure that everything is done to protect the attacker during the run in towards the end of the season.

Because losing him to injury could be not only the difference between winning and losing a game, but the difference between earning promotion and staying in League One.