Although Derby are only four points adrift of the play-off places as the campaign approaches its halfway point, Clough is being realistic rather than downbeat.
The Rams boss insists his players have given their all to be in their current position of 10th and knocking on the door of the top six.
Ahead of Friday night's visit to Pride Park of one of the many promotion contenders in Hull, Clough's aim is simply to stay in the top half of the table.
"Although there are a lot of teams in there, we want to be in there, in that chasing pack," said Clough, speaking to the Derby Telegraph. "When you are in that top half, you know you are not going to be far off the play-offs, but we also know life in the Championship can be pretty fragile.
"You can go from winning a couple of games to losing two or three on the spin, and suddenly you are back down in 16th or 17th.
"Our aim remains as it was at the start of the season - to be a top-half team and see where that takes us. It is progress to get into that group and not far from the top six."
So asked whether Derby are dark horses for the play-offs, he replied: "Very dark horses - there's a long way to go."