The 2021-22 campaign was always going to be a testing one for Derby County, having only avoided relegation out of the Championship on the final day of the previous season, but a 21-point deduction further complicated matters for Wayne Rooney’s side.
The Rams were hit hard by EFL-imposed sanctions early on in the season and found themselves swimming against the tide in a bid to preserve the club’s second tier status.
Why do they find themselves in this predicament and how close did a Manchester United and England legend come to keeping them up against the odds? GOAL takes a look…
Why were Derby deducted 21 points?
Derby were initially stung with a 12-point deduction in September 2021 for entering administration, with that punishment dropping them immediately to the foot of the Championship table.
Things then went from bad to worse for the East Midlands outfit when a further nine-point penalty, plus a further suspended three points, was handed out in November.
Derby were left paying the price for historical financial mismanagement that occurred during Mel Morris’ time as owner.
Admissions of guilt were made regarding breaches of the English Football League’s profitability and sustainability rules, with Morris selling Pride Park to one of his own companies for £81 million ($110m) before immediately leasing it back to the club.
The Rams had initially been cleared of any rule breaks by an independent tribunal in August 2020, but the EFL appealed that decision and won a part of that case which related to the measurement of player values – which is called amortisation.
Carl Jackson from Derby's administrators, Quantuma, said at the time of a 21-point deduction being confirmed: "This has been a difficult matter to navigate bearing in mind the various issues concerned.
"While point deductions are never ideal for any club, it was critical to the club's future that all matters were concluded between the EFL and the club in relation to historical issues.
"This conclusion allows us to proceed with our restructuring strategy for the club with prospective interested parties."
Derby must now find a buyer – one willing to pay creditors at least 25 per cent of what they are owed – in order to avoid a further 15-point penalty.
How close did Wayne Rooney come to keeping Derby up?
Despite seeing Derby play out their season against a backdrop of serious relegation and liquidation threats, Rooney and his coaching team did their best to prioritise on-field matters.
Manchester United and England’s all-time leading goalscorer was appointed as the club’s permanent manager in January 2021, having initially taken the reins on an interim basis following the dismissal of Phillip Cocu.
After overcoming early struggles, Rooney - who is the star of a recently-released documentary on Amazon Prime - was able to deliver Championship survival in dramatic fashion and the intention was to repeat those heroics in the current campaign.
Despite seeing 21 points wiped off the board, the Rams were able to lift themselves off the bottom of the second tier table.
They quickly got themselves back in credit when it comes to points and started to believe that a remarkable survival bid could be completed at one stage as the likes of Barnsley, Peterborough United and Reading struggled to find any kind of form.
Plaudits rained down on Rooney as the Rams clung on to a glimmer of hope, but that was always likely to be extinguished and so it proved when relegation was confirmed on the back of a 1-0 defeat at Queens Park Rangers on April 18.
Derby had done well to make it that far before having their fate sealed but, with Rooney having opted against interviewing for a Premier League post at former club Everton midway through the campaign, they will be playing third tier football in 2022-23 for the first time since 1985-86.