Nigel Clough hailed the influence of two-goal hero Tomasz Cywka after Derby beat Watford 4-1 at Pride Park.
John Brayford had opened the scoring for the Rams before Cywka doubled the advantage on 36 minutes, although substitute Matthew Whichelow then pulled a goal back for the Hornets.
But a third from substitute Shefki Kuqi and Cywka's second - a sweet strike into the top corner with nine minutes remaining - gave the Rams the points.
Afterwards, Clough hailed the work ethic of the 22-year-old Polish ace Cywka as his seventh-placed side sit just a point outside the play-offs.
Clough said: "He takes a bag of balls on his own after training and practices with his left foot. He did it yesterday and he never scored one, even without a goalkeeper.
"But he does it because he knows he has to work on his left foot and it gives him the confidence to have a go like he did with his second goal, it was a magnificent strike.
"His energy and attitude is brilliant. Shefki Kuqi was disappointed because he thought he was going to start today with Luke Moore out, but we wanted a different sort of striker up there to get around the centre-halves' feet and be a nuisance in another way.
"We want to establish ourselves in the top eight because once you do get in there you tend to stay in there, and we are probably a couple of results off being in that situation."
Watford manager Malky Mackay was upset with his team's defending after they got themselves back into the tie.
He said: "We gave a poor first goal away and the second was a deflection which gave us a mountain to climb at that point.
"But we made a couple of changes at half-time and I thought for 20 minutes we really got involved in the game, got back to 2-1 and had the chances to go to 2-2.
"But we then lost a poor goal as far as we are concerned and that allowed Derby to gain a bit of confidence and start playing the ball about.
"I would take these players with me into the trenches because they have that honesty about them and they will work and try and win the game.
"Our supporters will always see sweat on the jersey under myself, they will always see a team that are willing to try. It's just finding that consistency of performance which is what everyone strives for in this league.
"We are desperately disappointed but it's a tight league and I don't think that will change all season. There are fine margins between a lot of teams in this league."