Playing against Wayne Rooney will give Barnsley extra motivation when they visit Derby County on Thursday evening, says head coach Gerhard Struber.  England's record goal-scorer and five-time Premier League winner Rooney, now 34, joined Derby in a player/coach role following a spell in America with DC United where he worked under Dane Murphy who is now Barnsley's chief executive.

Rooney was originally ineligible to play in this match when it was scheduled for New Year's Day but it has been moved back to January 2 after being selected for live coverage on Sky Sports. It is a 7.45pm kick-off.  

Rooney has never played against Barnsley in his 17-year career which has seen him net 208 Premier League goals for Manchester United and Everton as well as 53 for England, for whom he played in three World Cups and three European Championships.

Struber told the Chronicle: “It’s a big test against Derby who have a very good team with a lot of good players especially (Duane) Holmes, the central midfielder, but also Rooney who is a legend and has big experience. For my boys, it is more motivation to play against Rooney. It is not a normal game. It is a big chance for us to show Rooney and Derby what Barnsley can do.

“I managed against AS Roma in the Europa League with (Edin) Dzeko who is also a big name and Borussia Monchengladbach who also have very good players. It is not so important the names of the players we play against, it is more important to look at what we can create against them. 

“I looked at Derby (on TV against Charlton) and it is not a magic team. I see a team with strengths and weaknesses and I hope my team is ready for a great fight. I am very hopeful that we can make a very good performance and, in the end, get a victory against Derby and Rooney.”

Captain Alex Mowatt said: “It is crazy to be playing against Wayne Rooney in the Championship. We’re doing our normal analysis and you see his name and you think ‘what is going off here?’

“You can’t really plan for it. You just know Derby will have a massive boost from playing with a top player. You have to look at them as a much better side when Rooney is in it. You can come up with all the plans in the world for him. I looked up to him as a kid and so did everyone in our dressing room. We will try to spoil the party and win the game.

“It would be nice play against him in midfield. There is no better way to challenge yourself as a player than to come up against the best. We are preparing for anything. We have looked at what we expect to be their starting 11 and, if he plays, then we have to try to deal with him.”

The Reds are currently 22nd in the Championship, after a five-game unbeaten run, and they are only in the relegation zone on goal difference but could fall further adrift of safety tomorrow when the sides around them play.

Derby – under former Netherlands and Barcelona midfielder Phillip Cocu – are 17th in the table, nine points clear of the relegation zone and nine from the play-offs. They are yet to win back-to-back games in the Championship this season.

A seven-game winless run ended with a 2-1 victory at home to Charlton Athletic on Monday evening, despite having Krystian Bielik sent off after just 17 minutes. Only bottom club Wigan Athletic have scored fewer goals than Derby so far this season in the Championship as County have netted 24 in 25 games.

The Rams' form at Pride Park has been variable as, after not winning there in their first four league matches of the season, they then won five in succession but have not triumphed in the last three.

Derby drew 2-2 at Oakwell on October 2, with Cauley Woodrow netting a 94th-minute equaliser after the Rams had recovered from Aapo Halme's early header to take the lead before half-time.

Struber said: “Derby are a good team and it will be an amazing atmosphere. We are ready to bring a great performance and hopefully win three points. It is not so easy to play against Barnsley and I am very hopeful that we have the mentality of winners in Derby.

“At the moment it is our challenge to recharge the batteries but we have a good regeneration programme. Maybe will change the first 11 in the next game and bring in some freshness.”

Derby will have had 30 hours fewer to prepare for this game as they played on Monday evening – with ten men for 73 minutes – compared to Barnsley's Sunday afternoon draw at Swansea City. Struber said: “I think it will maybe have a small impact but we will focus on our game. This is a statistic but not a big one for me.”

Mowatt added: “We were thinking that it was an early sending off and they played with ten men for the rest of the game. That has got to benefit us.”

Struber is pleased that he has had early success at Oakwell, with the gap between Barnsley and safety being reduced from eight points in early December to only goal difference going into 2020. 

“My idea of playing is not so difficult. In the last weeks, I have a good feeling with the boys, we have good communication and they understand what I want in every training session and every game.

“They have a high discipline on the pitch and off the pitch which is what I need from every player. At the moment we have a good spirit and teamwork and every player knows what I want from him. We have taken the first step, not more, we have a lot of work to do but, at the moment, I am happy with the development and results.”