Forward Martyn Waghorn believes Derby County are heading in the right direction under the guidance of Wayne Rooney.
Since the manager has taken over at Pride Park Stadium, firstly on an interim basis and then permanently, Derby have won nine of their 18 league games.
That form has seen the Rams rise up the Sky Bet Championship table after suffering a disappointing start to the campaign which saw them in the relegation places and at the bottom of the table in November.
Six of those victories have come in Derby’s last eight games, making them one of the form sides in the division heading into a hectic period before the March international break.
Rooney’s honest approach to management has rubbed off on the players and earned him plaudits from many quarters and Waghorn, who scored his third goal of the campaign against Huddersfield Town on Tuesday night, believes the Rams’ boss has had a positive impact on the whole squad.
“He’s given us a lot more self-belief to go out and enjoy ourselves,” Waghorn told talkSPORT’s Jim White. “I know it’s difficult at times because each game is different, but he’s just given us belief that we are solid at the back and if we keep teams out then we have the freedom up front.
“We could be more expressive at times, because ideally you want to win by three, four or five goals every game, but it doesn’t always work like that. He’s just given us the self-belief, to work hard for each other and go and have fun when we play football.
“When the manager first came in, we were doing a lot of stuff together. Everyone learned so much from him. It’s a bit more difficult at the moment when the games come so thick and fast, but his knowledge and when he talks to you, you’ve got to listen, because he hasn’t done too badly in his career, has he?
“When he first came in, he outlined his intentions that he wants to win games, whether that’s making big decisions or substitutions, and he’s not afraid to do it because he wants to win games. That’s clear to us all in the dressing room. We know what he wants to do, so we’re all on board with that.”
The Rams’ impressive form has seen them move eight points away from the relegation places with a game in hand.
With 15 matches of the season remaining, it’s important that Derby continue picking up valuable points to ensure they are not looking over their shoulder towards the end of the season.
“We can never say never [getting dragged into a relegation fight] as it’s a difficult league, but we’ve got to be looking forward,” Waghorn admitted.
“If we can put another good run together then we’re going to be looking above, and that’s where we have to be. Derby is a massive club in this league, so we have to be looking forward whenever possible.
“We have a good group of fixtures coming up that we know we can get some results from, so we’ll look ahead to the International break at the end of March and see where we are then and assess our position. Let’s just focus on Friday night for now, it’s a big game for us again.”
Friday’s game against near neighbours Nottingham Forest is a big game for Rams fans. Not only due to it being Derby’s next fixture, but because of the significance of the fixture. Should Derby win, it would take them 11 points clear of the bottom three.
Rooney’s side go into the game in good home form, having won four consecutively at Pride Park Stadium, but Forest are also in a rich vein of form having won three of their last five games.
“You always go into a derby game wanting to win it,” Waghorn said. “This time there’s extra importance on it due to the positions in the table, so there’s a lot riding on it.
“We need to use this little run of games that we’ve done well in to give us that extra bit of confidence to get us an extra three points to build on this run we’ve got going on.
“We’re really pleased with our current form. We’ve shown signs of going in the right direction and put some good results together.
“The 2-1 loss last Friday night at Watford was obviously disappointing, but we’ve won five out of our last seven, so it’s something to really build on.”