Derby striker Jamie Ward believes the decision to sack Nigel Clough was "harsh" but is excited by the prospect of working under former England manager Steve McClaren.

Ward, who is on international duty with Northern Ireland this week, owed a debt of gratitude to Clough, who brought him from Sheffield United to Pride Park.

The 27-year-old became a focal point of Clough's Rams side and although sorry to see him go, Ward knows McClaren brings plenty of experience with him.

"I think the news surprised us all...the board obviously thought it was time for a change but the players thought it was harsh at the time," he told Press Association Sport.

"No-one was expecting it but that's football, it happens every other day somewhere in the world.

"But Nigel Clough did an awful lot for me, he took me there and made me a main player for the last two or three years. When he left I thanked him for all he did for me.

"Now we have Steve McClaren coming in and he comes with a massive profile.

"He's a former England manager, he did well in Holland, he spent time in Germany, so it is an exciting time for the club now.

"We have to all go in the right direction with it and push forward. With a bit of luck we can get into the play-offs."

Ward admits the call to take on Azerbaijan and Israel has fallen at an awkward time for him, with McClaren only just getting started in earnest this week.

But with McClaren having spent time on the international beat himself, Ward is sure of a sympathetic hearing on his return.

"Steve's only been in three or four days so for me personally it's probably the wrong time to be away but I'm out here to play football," he added.

"I'm sure he'll understand I have to come away and play games to build my international career.

"All managers want you around them at all times, especially when they've just come in to a club, but we have two or three lads away so I'm not the only one.

"If he wants me to catch up on anything I'm sure he'll pull me aside.``