Wayne Rooney believes Derby County’s players have proved they are more than capable of competing against the very best that the Sky Bet Championship has to offer.
Derby will round off the weekend’s Championship action in front of the Sky Sports cameras when they host Queens Park Rangers at Pride Park Stadium on Monday night (7:45pm kick-off).
Rooney’s side have displayed a strong response to a total of 21 points being deducted from their season’s total, 12 for entering administration in September and a further nine for profit and sustainability breaches earlier this month.
While those deductions leave Derby bottom of the table and provide an uphill battle to remain in the second tier, the outlook from inside and amongst the fanbase remains positive and unified.
Four points have been picked up since the November international break against the division’s top two teams with Derby defeating AFC Bournemouth 3-2 on home turf last Sunday before recording an impressive 0-0 draw at free-scoring Fulham on Wednesday.
Those results, and performances, have seen Derby move into positive points for the third time this season and Rooney remains impressed and proud with the way his players have stepped up to the plate in testing circumstances.
The Derby boss told RamsTV: “We’ve had two very difficult games in the last week, but the lads were excellent in both of them.
“The win against Bournemouth was massive for us and it set us up well for the trip to Fulham, which was always going to be a tough test.
“We created some good opportunities, which we believed we would do, and the lads fought until the final whistle to get a point; they’ve been fighting all season.
“It is good for the lads to see that we can compete with the best teams in this league.”
He added: “We will go into Monday’s game confident and believing that we can get three points.”
Going into the weekend, Rangers sat in fourth place in the Championship standings after an impressive start to the campaign.
Derby’s form against the division’s pacesetters has been strong and prior to the latest round of matches they had faced five of the top six.
Those five matches produced two wins, at home to AFC Bournemouth and Stoke City, and three draws on the road at West Bromwich Albion, Fulham and Coventry City.
Rooney said: “We are unbeaten against the league’s top six ahead of the weekend and we now have a difficult fixture coming up against Queens Park Rangers on Monday.
“They are having a good season and like I keep saying, every game in this league is tough.
“You have to be at it in every game to get the result you want.
“Monday night, at home, will see another great atmosphere and I know the fans will be right behind the lads.”
A year ago this weekend Rooney took sole charge of the Rams for the first time, on a temporary basis before being appointed permanent manager in January of this year, following the departure of Phillip Cocu.
There have been plenty of ups and downs in the last 12 months and while the 36-year-old has admitted there have been plenty of challenges, he’s loving life as the Derby boss.
He said: “It has been eventful 12 months! It has been enjoyable, even with the challenges we’ve had to face up to and deal with.
“We’ve tried to get the team playing well and picking up results.
“You have to enjoy being part of a massive football club and having that responsibility which comes with being the manager and trying to succeed.”