Steve McClaren relishing Newcastle United return, but says St James' Park is a 'test of character' for Derby County

Steve McClaren at Derby County.

Steve McClaren at Derby County.

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Former Newcastle United boss Steve McClaren is relishing a return to St James' Park.

But the Derby County boss believes tomorrow's visit to Tyneside will be a test of the character within his ranks.

It is a little under 11 months since the Yorkshireman was sacked by United and replaced by current manager Rafa Benitez.

And even though he had a rather underwhelming time as the Magpies main man, McClaren admits that he cannot wait to return with the in-form Rams tomorrow.

He does believe the visit to United, who will be backed by a full house, will sort the men from the boys in his Championship play-off chasing side.

"You can be top of the league, you can be halfway, you can be bottom of the league - the pressure is always there," he said of expectation at Newcastle.

Steve McClaren in his ill-fated spell at NUFC boss.

Steve McClaren in his ill-fated spell at NUFC boss.

"There’s 52,000 fanatics who it’s like a religion for up there, it really is. The expectation is always there.

"It’s a big shirt to wear and you have to have a certain mentality, and be a certain character and certain type of player to handle that. Many have come and gone who haven’t done that.

"So going up there is also for us a test of our character, and that’s what I want to see.

"This is where some of these players, I hope all of these players, want to go - into the Premier League and playing in front of 52,000 people at a great stadium, in an atmosphere that at times could be intimidating for them."

Ex-England boss McClaren has transformed the Pride Park outfit since taking over for a second time back in October.

They climbed the table steadily, due in the main to their excellent home form, and now sit sixth in the table, occupying the final second tier play-off spot.

McClaren said of his side: "We're scoring more goals which is pleasing and it's also good that the goals are coming from all areas of the pitch too.

"It's a great challenge for us on Saturday in a big stadium in front of a huge crowd. It's a real test of character for us."