Preston North End’s Darnell Fisher admits he was star-struck sharing a pitch with ex-Manchester United and England star Wayne Rooney
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The Preston full-back came up against the all-time record goalscorer for his country when PNE travelled to Pride Park earlier this season to take on Derby County in the Carabao Cup.
Although in the autumn of his playing career at the time, Rooney – with his stature and reputation –still cut an intimidating figure.
Happily for North End, they were able to get the better of the ex-Champions League winner and serial Premier League champion by beating the Rams 2-1 thanks to goals from Tom Barkhuizen and a penalty from Daniel Johnson.
Despite that, it was still a moment to savour for Fisher to share the same pitch with arguably England’s greatest modern-day player.
It was the first time Fisher had played against Rooney having been on the bench when he scored the winning goal – a free kick – when the two sides met earlier in the summer at Deepdale when last season was played to a finish.
“I’m a football fan,” said Fisher. “When we played Derby earlier this season, it’s hard not think to yourself that it’s Waybe Rooney.
“Everybody knows what he has done in the game. He has played at the top level. He’s a good player. As a football fan, it’s hard not to think that way but as a footballer, you want to try to stop him scoring and stop him influencing the game.
“As a professional you just want to stop him the best that you can.
“When you play against someone of that calibre, you just want to beat them.
“I remember him fouling me during the game, he pushed me in the back and then picked me up afterwards.
“Obviously stuff like that happens during a game.”
Fast forward a few months and PNE return to Pride Park for a league encounter with Rooney now the manager of the Rams. He took over on a caretaker basis following the sacking of Phillip Cocu after the Rams’ poor start to this season.
Technically still a player as well, it seems likely that Rooney, who is keen to take on the role full time, will remain in the dugout for the visit of Alex Neil’s men.
He has certainly presided over an upturn in Derby’s fortunes, guiding them away from the bottom after a six-match unbeaten run, including a 2-0 win over third-placed Swansea City last time out.
Fisher actually thought that Rooney may be managerial material when he played against Derby, noticing his vocal coaching on the pitch to some of the younger members of the County team.
“He is a bit of a talker on the pitch – he helps out the younger players,” Fisher said.
“I think with the players that they have got, Rooney will want them to be attacking and we expect them to be attacking us, especially after such a great result against Swansea.
“They got a clean sheet in a game which they won 2-0 and so we expect them to come out and attack us but we’ll be ready for it.”
Despite a topsy-turvy first half of the season, Preston still find themselves in a relatively decent position in the table.
At times they have lurched from the sublime to the ridiculous with some of their performances and subsequent results.
They have lost 10 of their 20 league games so far, but on the flip side have registered eight wins and, when all is said and done, lie just seven points off the play-off places with more than half of the season still left to play.
Fisher – whose contract runs out at the end of this season – believes if he and his team-mates can find more consistency then good things could happen in the coming months. “With the way some of the games have panned out this season, we are definitely not happy about,” he said.
“But we have had some good results which has helped us shoot back up the table and obviously people are talking about the play-offs.
“I think we just need a good run of games and then we can push up the table.”
With Derby as a city under tier-three restrictions, there will be no crowd inside Pride Park when the game kicks-off.
Fisher admits he has mixed feelings about the fans returning at some point in the future.
While he is looking forward to feeling the atmosphere of a packed stadium, he admits he may find himself receiving some stick after being banned for three matches last month for grabbing an opponent’s genitals.
“I am sure when the fans get let back in I will be getting a bit of stick for getting banned,” he said.