Wayne Rooney was quick to praise his Derby County players after they picked up a hard-fought and deserved 1-0 victory over AFC Bournemouth on Tuesday night.
Polish international midfielder Krystian Bielik scored the only goal of the game in the first half to hand Derby their second home win of the 2020/21 Sky Bet Championship season.
Bielik found the net from close range after Graeme Shinnie’s corner from the right-hand side fell kindly into his path with 32 minutes on the clock.
Derby had to dig in to get the three points and goalkeeper Kelle Roos made a superb one-handed save from Lloyd Kelly's header as the minutes ticked away.
The win over the high-flying Cherries maintained the Rams’ impressive form against the division’s top teams and was the perfect reaction to Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to Rotherham United.
Rooney, overseeing his second game in permanent charge after signing a two-and-a-half year deal on Friday to become the club’s manager, was happy with the reaction that he called for.
“I wanted a reaction tonight from the players,” Rooney told RamsTV. “They performed brilliantly, so I am delighted for the lads and they deserved the win.
“Saturday was the first time that I have been in charge and I felt the energy and the enthusiasm we’ve been playing with wasn’t there. I made it clear that I wanted a reaction and I thought the players were excellent from the first minute until the last.
“I thought in the first-half we dominated. We pressed high and the game plan was excellent. We changed the system to three at the back and we only had one day to work on that, but the players took that information on well and quickly.
“In the second-half, we were dropping too deep. I changed the system to try and get us out of that. It was natural that they were going to drop in. I tried to freshen things up with Kornell McDonald coming on. I brought him on for his energy, but I felt there were gaps there too for him to use his pace to go and try to nick the second goal as well.”
He concluded: “We are a good team. The mentality has to be right every week and in every game; it has to be there. I am demanding that. If that mentality is not there and that attitude is not there for one game, like we saw on Saturday against Rotherham, you’ll lose.
“If we play with that energy, that mentality, that desire to go and win the game and take the game to our opposition then we are a hard team to beat. We are capable of beating anyone in this league.”
Rooney felt the pressure was on Derby to pick up a result and bounce back from the loss to Rotherham.
The win means the Rams are now out of the division’s bottom three and now have a platform to kick on in the second half of the season.
“It was a very high-pressured game for the lads with what has been going on,” he explained. “All the games are important, but tonight is a statement because it has been a tough couple of weeks for everyone at the club.
“They’ve shown the character, attitude and desire to play for this football club to go and win. I cannot stress how important this game was tonight for everyone at the club. The pressure on this game for the players was huge so to go and deliver, I am delighted for them.”