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COLIN TODD questioned his team's 'mental strength' after they were unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by Third Division Bristol Rovers on Sunday. It is now three years since Derby fought from behind to win a Premiership match and this inability to strike back has now sunk the club into deeper depths of despair.

"It's whether there is the mettle there to bounce back. It's a test of character for the players to see whether they've got the desire. Where do we go from here?" Todd said.

We at Opta do not proclaim to be psychologists, but a detailed examination of the Rams' top-flight form this term may serve to emphasise the weaknesses within the side's ailing attack.

Depositing the ball in the back of the net has not come easy for the Midlands outfit this season and only rivals Leicester City have notched fewer goals during the campaign. The fact that summer signing Fabrizio Ravanelli has accounted for 53% of Derby's haul - he also scored yesterday's consolation incidentally - highlights the cause for concern and if the 'White Feather' were to suffer injury, it is likely that the club's current plight would worsen considerably.

Fellow frontrunner Malcolm Christie has partnered the Italian 10 times from the start this term, mustering three goals during this period and a fourth when he emerged from the substitutes bench. The 22-year old is Derby's most accurate marksman having tested the 'keeper with 59% of his efforts - nine percentage points better than Ravanelli - and he appears to be something of a lucky omen.

Whenever the England under-21 international has scored in a league match this season the Rams have gone on to claim all three points. Against Bolton and Blackburn respectively Christie hit the winning goal and on both occasions the team maintained a clean sheet.

Unfortunately, Jamaican striker Deon Burton cannot boast such a goal-faring contribution. The former Portsmouth hitman has weighed in with just a solitary strike so far in 2001-02 and not surprisingly has registered a disappointing 7% goals-to-shots ratio. Ironically, Burton is also the player who notched the now infamous goal in February 1999, which helped the Rams to a 2-1 win over Everton after they had fallen behind to a Nick Barmby effort.

Since that date Derby have been unable to claw their way back into a fixture after conceding the first strike and the clear and present danger now of course is the looming threat of relegation.

Despite surviving the drop last year, Jim Smith's side mustered the fewest shots on target (130) in the Premiership, but were one of only four teams who allowed in excess of 200 efforts to be rained down on their own goal.

If the forwards are misfiring this season - as recently demonstrated in the defeat against Fulham when Derby failed to land a single shot on target and fired wide 10 times - then surely the onus falls on the defence to plug the gaps and prevent that all-important first goal from breaching their last line.

In 1999-2000, goalkeeper Mart Poom admirably prevented nine teams from scoring, which represents almost a quarter of the club's fixtures. However, he was still beaten by a strike every 63 minutes on average.

Eleven times this season Todd's team have been the first to pick the ball out of the back of the net, which accounts for more than half of the games that they have contested. In addition, only Blackburn, Ipswich and Manchester United have kept fewer clean sheets during the campaign, but then all three of those sides have scored at least 10 more goals than County.

The acquistion of Benito Carbone in late October at least heightened the creative potential at Pride Park and the Bradford loan star is already the club's joint chief architect with three assists, equaling Burton's tally. If the Italian can influence the team in the same way that his compatriot Ravanelli has attempted to then it may not be too late to alter Derby's mindset and escape relegation. A clash with rivals Aston Villa should put this theory to the test, especially as it was the scoring contributions of the two imports that ultimately killed off the Villans last month.