Can Wayne Rooney keep Derby County in the Championship?

Rotherham and Sheffield Wednesday set their sights on overhauling Rooney’s relegation-threatened Rams.

Could Wayne Rooney succeed where the likes of Paul Clement, Steve McClaren, Nigel Pearson, Gary Rowett, Frank Lampard and Philip Cocu before him have failed?

Could the former Manchester United forward be the man to finally get Derby County out of the Championship?

"It's a big chance for me to try to lead this club back to the glory days," he proclaimed, after being given the Rams job permanently in January.

Most assumed Rooney was referring to the two Division One titles won in the 1970s.

However, the former England striker was actually talking about 1985/86 when the Pet Shop Boys were flying high in charts, Neighbours launched in the UK and the prolific Bobby Davison was leading County to Division Three glory.

For unless Derby arrest a run of one win in 13 games and five successive defeats, they will be back in the third tier come May 8.

Here, Planet Sport assesses the chances of the three teams fighting it out to avoid Wycombe* in making the plunge to League One.

P W D L Goals Diff Pts
Derby County 44 11 10 23 32:53 -21 43
Rotherham United 43 11 6 26 42:58 -16 39
Sheffield Wednesday 44 12 9 23 37:58 -21 39
Wycombe Wanderers 44 9 10 25 35:69 -34 37

Derby County (2/1 to be relegated via Sky Bet)

Remaining games: Swansea (a), Sheffield Wednesday (h)

Bottom of the table and deep in relegation trouble in mid-November, the Rams installed Rooney as joint caretaker-manager alongside Liam Rosenior, Shay Given and Justin Walker.

Two defeats followed before Rooney hung up his boots to concentrate on the managerial side.

By mid-February, having accrued 31 points from a possible 54 in his 18 games in sole charge, it looked a masterstroke.

Derby were up to 18th, eight points clear of the relegation zone and Rooney was being touted as a potential replacement for Neil Lennon at Celtic (25/1 with Sky Bet).

However, one win from 13 have followed and Saturday's 2-1 defeat at home to Birmingham was their fifth straight loss.

It was the manner in which the Rams let slip a potentially survival-confirming 1-0 lead against the Blues which most alarms fans.

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The defensive uncertainty which characterised Phillip Cocu's spell has resurfaced, while at the other end, the East Midlands side have failed to score in seven of their last 12 games.

In fact, despite Rooney's goalscoring pedigree, the Rams are the lowest-scoring side in the division.

A trip to play-off bound Swansea City lies in wait on Saturday before a potential last-day shootout against Sheffield Wednesday.

Could the 35-year-old be tempted to put his boots back on for one final push?

Rooney is now 50/1 to be the new Celtic boss.

Rotherham (1/5 to be relegated)

Remaining games: Blackburn (h), Luton (a), Cardiff (a)

Derby's only salvation could be the form of the two teams below them.

Rotherham have won just one of their last nine and have suffered defeats in crucial six-pointers against Coventry City and Wycombe during that spell.

Saturday's defeat to Barnsley was a bitter pill to swallow, however, with Paul Warne's side conceding the only goal of the game from a challenge which left goalkeeper Viktor Johansson with a fractured eye socket.

The Millers outshot the Tykes 16-7 and spurned a host of chances, with Warne saying "I thought we'd done enough to get a win, let alone a draw".

One of their two games in hand slipped away on Tuesday night when they went down to a single-goal defeat at Brentford. The loss left Warne bemoaning their hectic run-in, saying: “The lads are exhausted, the schedule has caught up with us but we will keep going." 

If they can summon up their last vestiges of energy, they do have winnable games, with Blackburn, Luton and Cardiff all treading water in mid-table.

Barnsley pulled off a remarkable recovery last season by winning their final two fixtures. Could their fellow South Yorkshire side pull off a similar Houdini act?

Sheffield Wednesday (1/16 to be relegated)

Remaining games: Nottm Forest (h), Derby (a)

Or will it be another South Yorkshire side in Wednesday who survive?

Hampered by a six-point deduction, the Owls would be outside the bottom three without the censure.

Having already been through Garry Monk, Tony Pulis and caretaker Neil Thompson, Owls are now under the stewardship of Darren Moore.

The former Doncaster Rovers boss has proved he can get performances out of Wednesday as wins over play-off bound Barnsley and a 5-0 thrashing of Cardiff testify.

However, a bout of COVID-19 led to a hospital stay after he suffered pneumonia and blood clots on his lungs.

A win in his absence over Blackburn brought survival into focus but a 3-1 defeat to Middlesbrough last time out leaves Wednesday four points adrift of Derby with just two games to play.

A final-day meeting with Rooney's side offers some hope for the Owls - if they can get something from Saturday's clash with Forest and Rotherham fail to take advantage of their games in hand.

The potential return of Moore to the dugout could be just the boost they need for the final two games.

Could it really all come down to a final-day shootout at Pride Park?

With promotion and the play-off places all done and dusted, Sky Sports will certainly be hoping so.

* Odds correct at time of publication

*Wycombe can still mathematically stay up but would need to win their final two games, Derby to lose theirs and turn around a 13-goal deficit on the Rams.

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