Wayne Rooney admitted that two goals inside three first-half minutes left Derby County with a mountain to climb as they tasted a 2-1 defeat at promotion-chasing Watford in the Sky Bet Championship on Friday night.
Derby started well at Vicarage Road but a quickfire double from Joao Pedro and former Rams midfielder Will Hughes had Rooney’s side two goals behind by the midway point of the half.
The Rams continued to push for a way back into the game and their persistence was rewarded as Nathan Byrne’s right-wing cross was turned into his own net by William Troost-Ekong with 13 minutes remaining.
Derby pushed for an equaliser and applied plenty of pressure late on, but they were unable to break down the stubborn home backline.
Speaking to RamsTV after the game, Rooney said: “It was disappointing to concede the two goals in the way that we did and it has cost us the game.
“It is very disappointing in that sense, but I thought the reaction after going 2-0 down was very good from the players, and especially in the second half as they showed courage to play. On another night I think we could have got something out of the game.
“We were chasing the game, so I had to try and get some fresh legs on. I got Lee Gregory on the pitch to be a bit closer to Colin Kazim-Richards and Kamil Jozwiak to try and use his strengths and get in down the sides.
“I think the performance was ok tonight, it was good, and we probably deserved something out the game. Watford have got big threats in their team and I thought we dealt with them well. In the second half I thought we dominated the game. I thought we deserved something out of it.”
He added: “We need to be better when we concede a goal and our reaction has to improve.
“We can’t let our heads drop; it happens in football. We conceded the first goal and then for five or ten minutes we were sloppy. Other than that, I think we did alright.”
Derby had a goal ruled out to make it 2-1 before half-time as Colin Kazim-Richards headed a corner from Byrne, but it was ruled out for an alleged foul in the six-yard box.
Rooney felt the decision to disallow the goal was the wrong one and was frustrated that the Rams were denied a route back into the contest with over 45 minutes left to play.
He said: “For me it was definitely not a foul. It is disappointing, especially when we are working on set plays and we score a perfectly good goal. For whatever reason, the referee has ruled it out.
“I don’t know what happened, but the goalkeeper went down. Maybe the referee has given him too much protection.”
Derby face back-to-back home fixtures at Pride Park Stadium in the next week against Huddersfield Town on Tuesday (7pm kick-off) and then local rivals Nottingham Forest on Friday (7:45pm kick-off).