As time ticked away and another Derby defeat hurtled into view, Liam Rosenior passed Wayne Rooney a small piece of paper.
‘I felt we needed to change the formation and he passed the message on,’ coach Rosenior revealed later. In hindsight, perhaps a diagram showing the location of the opposition goal would have been better.
Rooney, 35, spent his first game in management in the midfield engine room rather than the dugout. Derby’s play was patient and probing. He needed the support of his fellow interim first-team coaches — Rosenior, Shay Given and Justin Walker. But sadly, the dawn of this new era ended like the final days of the old one.
Wayne Rooney played the full 90 minutes in his first match since being put in interim charge
Of all the worrying statistics which cost Phillip Cocu his job, the most damning was that in the 11 Championship games the Dutchman oversaw this season, Derby scored five goals.
Make that five in 12 now, despite more possession, more shots and more openings.
‘We got the ball into dangerous areas on countless occasions,’ Rosenior said. But what does it say when a side built around England’s greatest ever goalscorer look like they couldn’t hit a barn door?
Famara Diedhiou came off the bench to take all three points for Bristol City, leaving Derby bottom with only one win this season.
‘The players gave us everything and we are proud of them,’ Rosenior said. ‘We just need to keep believing, keep working and thinking things will change for us.’
But if Derby are to escape this mess — and Rooney, Rosenior and Co are serious about taking the helm — then platitudes must make way for points soon. The £60million takeover by Sheik Khaled is finally expected to go through this week.
None of Derby’s coaching quartet fit the new owners’ criteria for the full-time job and defeats like this will not help their cause.
Not that it is a particularly enticing job for anyone. Burnley and Sheffield United are the only teams in England’s top four divisions to have scored fewer goals than Derby. No one has a worse record than their one goal from open play.
Rooney’s only goal this season came courtesy of a free-kick at Norwich. But even as he drops deeper with age, he remains crucial to Derby’s play.
On Saturday he had more touches (114), played more passes (102) and made more key passes (four) than anyone else on the pitch. ‘Wayne showed again what a great player he still is,’ Rosenior said.
Phillip Cocu was sacked after goal-shy Derby dropped to the bottom of the Championship
Perhaps now, though, they need Rooney the manager to step up.
Nearly a year has passed since he moved to Pride Park as player-coach. Following the departure of Cocu he revealed he wanted the top job. Nothing would help his — or Derby’s — cause more than if he could get their forwards firing.
It is understood he wants assurances that there will be money to spend in January before taking the role. But Rooney may never get a chance to cross that bridge if he cannot effect change during this short audition.
He will have to coach some bite into Derby’s attack, rather than spend his way out of this rut.
The only snag? Rooney hasn’t even finished his coaching badges. He has at least worked under a glut of household names and here Dean Holden provided his own valuable lessons.
The Bristol City manager has learned from the likes of renowned Chile and Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli, England rugby’s Eddie Jones and top racing trainer Paul Nicholls. But he has also done his time away from the spotlight.
Rosenior insisted: ‘Wayne has got unbelievable knowledge and he shared it this week in the coaches’ office.’
Now to make it count on the training pitch. And in front of goal.
Rooney’s opposite number Dean Holden has started strongly in his biggest managerial post
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