Wayne Rooney was understandably beaming with pride as his Derby County players once again stepped up to the plate and delivered yet another impressive victory on Saturday afternoon to move off the bottom of the Sky Bet Championship table for the first time since September.
Derby were 2-0 winners over Sheffield United at Pride Park Stadium to collect their third successive win on home turf and celebrate his year in permanent charge of the Rams in style.
Rooney’s side secured all three points, and their fourth wins in five league games, courtesy of two stunning second half goals from captain Tom Lawrence.
The Welsh international forward, who celebrated his 28th birthday this week, scored his sixth and seventh goals for the campaign to fire Rooney’s side to victory.
His first was a fine solo effort after 69 minutes while his second followed on 78 minutes as he curled a delightful effort into the top corner.
After being deducted 21 points for entering administration and admitting to a historical breach of profitability and sustainability rules, the Rams have had an uphill battle to remain in the division for several months.
Rooney and his players have proved they are more than up for the fight, no matter what the circumstances, and the win saw them move above Barnsley and into 23rd spot.
Speaking to RamsTV after the final whistle, Rooney said: “If I’m being honest, I was a little concerned about today’s game, but the lads were incredible once again.
“We lost two big characters out of the dressing room in Phil Jagielka and Graeme Shinnie and it’s the first time I’ve been concerned, but the lads have delivered again.
“What pleased me the most is the work rate, the battling, the energy, being aggressive and doing everything we wanted from them; they keep going. The players deserve a lot of praise.
“To be off the bottom of the table in January after being deducted 21 points is a huge achievement.
“I said it last week, maybe a bit prematurely now, because I said I believe we will stay up. Unless things get sorted out off the field, that will be extremely difficult.”
He added: “If things get sorted out, we would definitely stay up in my eyes. I will be honest with you and say that it will be extremely difficult if things don’t change.”
Rooney has heaped praise on not just the ability of Derby’s players, but also their characteristics as they continue to respond to every setback in resilient fashion.
He said: “When I first came into this job as the club’s manager, I stressed that I wanted a group of characters.
“I don’t want players who will mope around and cause problems, I want a group of characters for moments like today when you know you can trust them to go out and give everything; that is proving to be the right decision.
“The things we’ve had to deal with is incredible and I can’t give everyone anything but praise for the hope and belief they are giving our fans.
“For these fans who are from this area, who have supported this club for many years, it must be a very difficult time but for the 90 minutes we go onto that pitch, it gives them hope.”
Derby return to Championship action with a short trip across the East Midlands to face Nottingham Forest at the City Ground next Saturday (12:30pm kick-off).