As the faint murmuring of phantom fans gave way to cheers of delight, Liam Rosenior formed a huddle with Shay Given and Justin Walker.
A few yards away, on the Ashton Gate pitch, Wayne Rooney trudged towards the halfway line. Sometimes four heads aren’t better than one.
Dean Holden was never going to be the star of this Championship tussle – he is used to life the supporting cast. But it was perhaps fitting that Derby’s star-studded new staff would come unstuck straight away at the hands of a coach building his name in the shadows.
Wayne Rooney played the whole match as Derby County lost in his first game in interim charge
It took 78 minutes for Bristol City to unpick Derby but that won’t bother Holden. His side are now joint-second in the Championship, while Rams remain rooted to the foot of the table. Their four-pronged management team are running out of time, too.
Following the departure of Phillp Cocu Derby want a coach with experience of taking teams up, with the know-how to develop young talent and without the hassle of leaving another job.
That made this one of three games Rooney, Rosenior and Co had to prove they were serious contenders.
Holden doesn’t the bill either but he is building something here. Bristol City do their best to recreate some shadow of normalcy with faint cries and claps filtering through pitchside speakers.
The button to greet a home goal is growing well-worn this season heads and, yesterday with 12 minutes remaining, Antoine Semenyo found substitute Famara Diedhiou who slotted home.
It was another feather in the cap for Holden’s tactical tweaks. Rooney, Rosenior and Co had no answer.
Famara Diedhiou (second from right) scored the winner to pile more misery on Rooney’s Derby
They showed that they can galvanise a struggling squad, there were crumbs of comfort in Derby’s performance too. But at this level, it pays to have more than a household name.
Holden knows he was not the sexy choice to take over from Lee Johnson earlier in the year.
But he has bided his time, learning from Dean Smith, Sam Allardyce, Jorge Sampaoli, Eddie Jones and the horseracing racing Paul Nicholls.
Rooney hasn’t even done his coaching badges. Rosenior has, but perhaps it will take more than that to help Derby out of this mess.
Not that the waters around Ashton Gate had been any calmer in recent days.
Covid swept through Holden’s staff and squad – he was among those to test positive. The training ground was closed until 36 hours before kick-off, for a time the game was in doubt.
Holden managed to field a team but injuries and coronavirus meant they had only eight of their allotted nine substitutes.
It was still enough. Here, we didn’t learn anything about Rooney the coach – he spent 90 minutes in midfield. Nor should Rosenior and Co be judged on this match alone. But time is against them.
The £60million takeover of Sheik Khaled – interminably around the corner – is finally expected to be confirmed this week.
As the Mail on Sunday revealed last week, neither Rooney nor any of this fab four meet their criteria. And can there be any less hospitable places for a honeymoon than the foot of the Championship?
Fortunately Rooney is more familiar with the engine room and he started alongside Max Bird at the base of midfield.
And so it was left to Rosenior to prowl the technical area, bark instructions and live every challenge. Keep It Simple And Give Me The Ball was Rooney’s rallying cry before this trip. Hardy Churchillian but heeded nonetheless as Derby began with promise. Their probing, patient passing created the first chance, when Martin Waghorn’s volleyed effort was well saved by Dan Bentley.
Bristol City soon gained a foothold and they were so nearly gifted the opener by Derby goalkeeper David Marshall’s brain fart and air kick inside his own area.
He was more alert to save Antoine Semenyo’s near-post shot but Derby still carried a threat. Rooney was central to their build-up play and his well-worked corner ended with Lee Buchanan firing over.
For spells Derby looked the more assured and dangerous side. Certainly it didn’t feel like a meeting of two sides at opposite ends of the table.
For that Derby’s new-look bench deserve credit. Between them, Rosenior claims, four heads have decided on one vision and Derby didn’t appear to suffer from muddled thinking or spoiled broths.
Rooney played the full 90 minutes in a match of few clear-cut chances, with the visitors registering just one shot on target as Famara Diedhiou scored the winner on 78 minutes.
Rooney has temporarily taken charge at Derby alongside Liam Rosenior, Shay Given and the club’s former youth coach Justin Walker following the sacking of Philip Cocu last Saturday.