The Rams started the campaign well but their 12-point deduction for their entrance into administration in September set them back in their quest to have a positive campaign against all odds, with their transfer embargo severely restricting their summer business.
And a further nine-point sanction two months later for a breach of the EFL’s profitability and sustainability rules made their quest to survive all but impossible, with many pundits writing them off at that point.
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However, they continued to grind out results and managed to get to a point where they were just five points adrift of safety back in February following their victory over Peterborough United.
At that point, they still had 14 league games remaining and were tipped by many as favourites to get themselves to safety in remarkable circumstances, but their poor form ended any chances of the East Midlands outfit pulling off the great escape.
In the end, Rooney believes inconsistency because of their unavoidable use of youngsters, injuries and playing certain players out of position heavily contributed to their downfall.
He said: “I think we went through periods in December and January where we picked up a good return of points and we got really close to getting out of the bottom three. Again, it’s that consistency.
“This league is tough and to find that consistency with young players – performance wise being consistent and then results wise too – is tough.
“Colin Kazim-Richards was injured for long periods of the season so we relied on Luke Plange in his first season to play as a number nine.
“We’ve played Ravel Morrison up top and Tom Lawrence too, so we were playing players out of position to try and get the best out team. We had to adapt and adjust constantly throughout the season.”
They overcame real challenges just to get to 23rd and Kazim-Richards’ injury proved to be a real sucker blow after seeing him make a real impact from the bench on multiple occasions, most notably against Reading and West Bromwich Albion.
The forward offered the Rams a real lifeline late on in games and that was taken away with his injuries. That was a real blow considering he was one of few forward options with Sam Baldock leaving the club in January.
Plange did give them a glimmer of hope with some of his displays but it was always going to be tricky to maintain their consistency during a busy schedule, especially with youngsters who are still developing at this stage.
You have to give credit to some of their younger players though because the likes of Plange, Malcolm Ebiowei and Eiran Cashin have all stepped up well with Liam Thompson also proving to be a real asset in the middle of the park.
This is why the Rams can emerge with real credit from this season despite being relegated – and they will be hoping to add quite a few fresh faces between now and the start of next term to avoid the same problems they have encountered in recent months.