Phillip Cocu saw plenty of positives in Derby County’s performance as they recorded a 1-0 victory against Preston North End at Pride Park Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Derby returned to action following the third international break of the season with a fifth home win in a row.
Striker Martyn Waghorn scored the only goal of the game just after the hour-hour mark with a close-range finish from Duane Holmes’ left-wing corner.
Cocu’s side dominated the vast majority of the first half of the contest and had several good opportunities prior to taking the lead with Tom Lawrence, Waghorn and Holmes all going close.
After deservedly taking the lead they remained in control for the remainder of the half.
After half-time, however, Derby had to dig deep and defend strongly as a team to see out the game against a North End side that started the day in second place in the Sky Bet Championship table.
For Cocu, there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the future as his side continue to display signs of improvement in both their results and performances.
Speaking to RamsTV after the final whistle, Cocu said: “I loved how we played in the first half and I told the players that at half time.
“We spoke before the game about being loyal to the tactics. We also wanted to play as a team and we show that we enjoy the game of football. We did that very well.
“The only thing we discussed at half-time was that there are two halves and they are never the same, so we knew it would be tough in the second half.
“We had to be focused and be on top of the game in the second half. I think for the most part we did, in the final part of the game we had to focus seeing the game out, keep the clean sheet and that is a positive in the development in the squad.
“We kept our organisation well to get to the 1-0 victory. I am feeling very positive about this development in the team.”
He added: “There were a lot of chances to get the second goal as well and that is very positive. We created a lot of chances and it is something we still need to work on. If you can get the scoreline to 2-0, it is a big difference for the team and also the opponent.
“We really tried, but just couldn’t score. I am very pleased that we scored from a set piece, though, and it was great for Waggy to come on and score. That is something we were looking for and we didn’t concede which is something I am happy about, but more in what we showed the fans in 60 minutes of football. That was excellent.”
Derby were dealt a double injury blow in the first half of the game, but refused to be knocked off their stride.
Graeme Shinnie sustained a hamstring injury early on when stretching to play a pass, which saw the versatile George Evans come off the bench for the third game in succession after a spell out of action.
Soon afterwards, Mason Bennett picked up an ankle problem after being fouled by Darnell Fisher and matchwinner Waghorn was introduced into the action in his place.
Cocu says it is too early to determine how long the pair will be out of action for and will have to wait for the outcome of their respective medical scans.
“It is too early to say how long they will be out for,” he said.
“It looks like for Graeme it is hamstring issue, but it is hard to say more. We have to wait 48 hours so the bleeding settles down and we can see on the scan. Don’t count on him for Tuesday’s game at Fulham, but hopefully it is not too bad.
“Mason is more complicated to say what it is. It is an ankle issue, but we will need a scan to see what the problem is then know if it is long-term or short-term.
“I feel very sad for him. He worked hard to come back into the side. He played well for the first part of the game too. We have to help and support him on the way back into the team.”
Derby are back in Sky Bet Championship action on Tuesday evening with a trip south to take on Fulham at Craven Cottage (7:45pm kick-off), before taking on Queens Park Rangers at Pride Park Stadium next Saturday (3pm kick-off) to round off the month.