Wayne Rooney has made it clear to Derby County’s players they need to maintain their level of performance ahead of Saturday’s Sky Bet Championship clash at Rotherham United (3pm kick-off).
Derby will make the journey north to take on the Millers off the back of a six-game unbeaten run in the league, as well as keeping four clean sheets in a row.
Derby are moving in the right direction under Rooney, who is overseeing first-team matters with the rest of the coaching staff while the club waits to appoint a permanent manager after Phillip Cocu’s departure in November.
A deserved 2-0 home win over Swansea City on Wednesday saw the Rams pick up all three points at Pride Park Stadium for the first time this season.
Rotherham, promoted from League 1 last season, sit level on points with the Rams and a victory would see Derby out of the bottom three ahead of Christmas.
Rooney has stressed that the Millers’ work rate and intensity, first and foremost, has to be matched if Derby are to claim a positive result on their travels.
“It will be a tough game,” Rooney told RamsTV. “Rotherham work very hard, they press a lot, and we have to be ready.
“The first thing we have to do is to match their intensity in how they play at and then try and let our quality shine through. The message to the players today was that this is not an easy game, it will be a tough game.”
He added: “We’ve been playing some really good stuff recently and we’ve been getting better.
“We topped it off with a great performance and a great three points on Wednesday. The challenge now is to maintain that level and take that performance into the game tomorrow.”
The victory over Swansea produced what was arguably their best performance of the season.
A dominant first half showing saw Colin Kazim-Richards and Kamil Jozwiak find the net, while the Rams also hit the woodwork twice in the opening 45 minutes.
The second period was one where Derby had to dig in as a team to remain compact and resilient to avoid allowing the high-flying visitors back into the game. While Rooney was happy with the way the side performed, he says there’s room for improvement.
He explained: “I said after the Swansea game that there’s details that we are working on with the players and keep asking the players to get better at.
“It is pleasing for us as a staff that they have got better at some of those details, but the players still need to improve in certain areas and in certain details that we are asking of them. The fact the lads are taking that information in and trying to do the right things that we are asking of them, and on Wednesday they pulled a lot of them off, is pleasing. There’s still a lot of room for improvement too.”
He concluded: “I think it’s quite clear to see that I’m giving players chances to try and stake their claim and tie down their position in the team.
“It is on the players. If they want to play, they must perform. It is as simple as that. No one’s place is taken for granted, no-one deserves to play unless they perform.”