Derby County boss Wayne Rooney has asked his players to return to being ‘horrible’ and difficult to play against after registering consecutive defeats for the first time this season, speaking to BBC Radio Derby.
The Rams started the season in a promising fashion despite turbulence off the pitch with their transfer embargo, entrance into administration and subsequent points deduction, losing just three of their opening 14 league games and conceding 11 goals during this period.
That was an impressive record they looked set to build on, with their only issue seemingly being unable to turn draws into wins in their quest for Championship survival.
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But with Wayne Rooney’s men leaking four goals in the previous two matches, a disappointment considering their previous defensive record, they suffered losses against Blackburn Rovers and fellows strugglers Barnsley in what were previously considered winnable games and remain at the bottom of the second-tier table.
After their defeat in midweek at Oakwell, they now find themselves eight points adrift of safety and look almost certain to be playing League One football next term if they suffer another potential nine-point deduction for breaching financial rules.
With the East Midlands outfit scoring just 12 times this term, both their defence and attack needs to improve if they want to remain in the Championship beyond the end of the season – and manager Rooney has made one particular request of his players as he seeks to see his side return to how they were at the beginning of the campaign.
“We have to get back to being horrible, hard to play against. We pride ourselves on energy, aggression and it wasn’t there [against Barnsley].”
“There’s a reason the fans are behind the players and that’s because they are seeing players running, working hard, battling, playing with aggression, and we can’t afford to go away from that. That’s the minimum we need as a team.
“We are going through a little bit of a bad period but we have to get back to being aggressive and playing with energy because if the players thought we’re better than we are, they certainly know now that we’re in a relegation battle, a fight to stay in the division and we need more.”
Becoming solid again has to be a priority because despite their poor record going forward, they were getting points due to their backline alone and at that stage, points on the board has to be the highest priority with their current predicament.
The Rams had the worst attacking record in the league last term and still managed to survive, just about. But they do need to show more going forward and Sam Baldock managing to get a goal will be a great confidence booster for the former Brighton and Reading forward who endured a torrid time at the latter stages of his time with the Royals.
He isn’t an effective lone striker though – and others also need to contribute in the attacking third if they want to secure their survival. Centre-back Curtis Davies has already chipped in with three goals this term and now it’s time for others to step up to the plate.
The return of Colin Kazim-Richards to full fitness is a boost – but you just feel the Rams need reinforcements in January if they are to stay afloat in the Championship.
A forward has to be at the top of the agenda, with one or two creative players to compete with the likes of captain Tom Lawrence and Ravel Morrison also necessary to maintain performance levels.
Whether they will be able to make these additions with their transfer embargo and takeover uncertainty remains to be seen though.