Wayne Rooney described himself as ‘proud’ of his Derby County players after they put up a brave fight in their 2-0 loss at Huddersfield Town on Wednesday night.
The home side picked up all three points, but the Rams battled hard despite a numerical disadvantage for almost the entire Sky Bet Championship contest at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Just three minutes were on the clock when Derby were reduced to ten men as former Huddersfield defender Richard Stearman saw red following a strong challenge on Lewis O’Brien on the edge of the Rams’ penalty area.
That meant Rooney’s side had to reshuffle tactically, with Lee Buchanan slotting in centre-back and Festy Ebosele reverting to left back, and weather plenty of pressure from the energetic hosts.
Derby grew into the game as the half unfolded, with Louie Sibley going close, although they did survive a scare as ex-Derby midfielder Duane Holmes shot wide five minutes before the break.
It was a similar pattern in the second half too, with Krystian Bielik coming on at half-time to add further power in midfield, with Rooney’s side remaining compact and looking for opportunities to catch the Terriers on the break.
However, Derby’s backline was eventually broken as a deflected effort from Holmes and substitute Jordan Rhodes condemned them to defeat in West Yorkshire.
Rooney told RamsTV after the final whistle: “The players gave everything and it’s unfortunate the first goal came how it did; it was a massive deflection after we had put so much effort in.
“I’ve just said to the lads, tonight has given me more hope that we can stay in this division.
“To play virtually the whole game against ten men, against a good team who are in good form, and hold them for so long and frustrate them, was pleasing.
“We adapted to playing with ten men and there were changes tactically which we put in and the lads picked it up quickly. It was very unfortunate to lose how we did, but I’m extremely proud of them players.”
He added: “I haven’t seen the incident back, whether it’s a red card or not, but it’s something we have to deal with.
“I can’t fault the players at all. The effort they put in, even at 2-0 down, every player worked until the final whistle. I can’t say much more about the work-rate the lads have put in.”
Rooney was pleased to see Bielik get 45 more minutes under his belt after a brief appearance off the bench in the 2-2 draw against Birmingham City last weekend.
He scored the dramatic late equaliser, a year to the day after suffering a serious knee injury, but he suffered a blow to his shoulder in the process.
However, scans confirmed the damage was not as bad as first feared and he declared himself available for selection against the Terriers.
Rooney said: “Krystian came in this morning asking to do a check on his shoulder.
“He had that done and wanted to be involved. It’s a positive to get him out there for 45 minutes. That will help him in his development and his fitness so I’m pleased with that.”
Derby will return to Championship action with a home fixture against Hull City at Pride Park Stadium on Tuesday 8th February (7:45pm kick-off).
Rooney concluded: “The lads put a lot of effort in tonight, but they do in every game. They will have a couple of days to rest now, have some time with the family and then we will come in over the weekend to prepare for a tough game on Tuesday against Hull.”