Wayne Rooney says it’s down to Derby County to rise to the challenge and ‘find a way to win’ when they welcome Sky Bet Championship leaders Norwich City to Pride Park Stadium on Saturday (3pm kick-off).
Norwich are on the cusp of automatic promotion and could seal their return to the Premier League at the first time of asking this weekend, albeit depending on results elsewhere.
The Canaries have been dominant throughout the campaign and have racked up an impressive 26 wins from their 40 league games to date.
From a Derby perspective, Rooney knows the Rams face a tough assignment against the division’s high-flyers – but says it’s down to them to step up.
He has stressed his side will have to be on top of their game, which is something he knows they have the ability to do, if they are to achieve a positive result.
They have proved what they are capable of against top six sides at Pride Park Stadium this season having recently drawn with Brentford, as well as defeating Swansea City and AFC Bournemouth either side of the Christmas period.
“Norwich are a good team, they are at the top of the league for a reason and they are very difficult to play against,” Rooney told RamsTV.
“We know it is going to be a tough game, we know we have to work hard in it throughout the 90 minutes. We will prepare for that in the best possible way.
“First of all, we have to do our jobs. We must look at ourselves and make sure we are doing our jobs right.
“Secondly, myself and the coaches have to sit down and really go through what we see as Norwich’s weaknesses and try to exploit them because we know they are a good team, but we have to find a way to beat them.”
Derby are one of only five teams to defeat Norwich this season.
They were 1-0 winners at Carrow Road back in October, with Rooney scoring his final-ever career goal in the game prior to his retirement in January of this year.
Derby had to dig deep to claim their first points of the season under former boss Phillip Cocu and Rooney netted a fine free-kick late on.
“It was a good win,” Rooney recalled. “The performance wasn’t the best and I think on another day we would probably have lost that game.
“We have beaten them this season and we have shown we can do it. We have to be ready; we know it is a tough game and we will have to work hard to get something from it.”
With six of their own fixtures remaining this season, Derby are eight points clear of the bottom three and Rooney knows there’s still work to be done in the next few weeks.
However, injuries have begun to bite in the last week and several players remain out of action.
In the last week alone Martyn Waghorn (hamstring), Lee Gregory (hamstring), George Edmundson (hernia), Matt Clarke (groin), Jack Stretton (calf) and Nathan Byrne (concussion) have been sidelined.
While Rooney admits the injuries are less than ideal from a timing perspective, he views it as a perfect opportunity for other players to prove their worth.
“The other lads that were injured for Reading and in that game are all still out for Norwich this weekend,” Rooney said.
“Nathan Byrne took a knock to his head at Reading and he is out, but will be back after the Norwich game. Jack Stretton has a calf injury and will be out for a bit of time, it looks like the rest of the season.
“We are down to our bare bones, but we will be ready. We have to see it as a chance for some players to come into the team and try to stamp a place in the starting line-up, so we will prepare well and we will be ready to give our best and try and get something on Saturday.”
He added: “We have to be optimistic and we are also aware of where we are in the table too.
“We know what we have to do to stay in this league so our focus is completely on that.”