Rotherham United danger man Matt Derbyshire heads into the new season with a ringing endorsement from manager Steve Evans.
The 29-year-old striker scored a stunning goal against Bundesliga side FSV Mainz 05 last weekend and is expected to lead the Millers line when they kick off their Championship campaign at home to MK Dons on Saturday.
Derbyshire’s effort, bent round the goalkeeper from the left edge of the penalty area, was the highlight of Rotherham’s 2-1 win, with Evans describing the strike as “sublime”.
“I’m the biggest believer of all that if we make Matt Derbyshire half a chance he can do it,” the Rotherham boss said.
Derbyshire, after a difficult start to his Millers career, was a key man in the second half of last season, scoring at the rate of almost a goal every two games as Evans’ men secured their second-tier safety.
His moment of magic against Mainz was his second goal in three games, coming after he struck in the 1-1 draw against Partick Thistle during the club’s 10-day tour to Scotland.
“We wanted Matt to get on the scoresheet. He scored with a brave header up in Scotland, but of course our supporters don’t get to see that,” Evans added.
“He did a lot of unselfish running last Wednesday (against Leicester City) and he did a lot of unselfish running against Mainz.
“You get your rewards. I said to him five or 10 minutes before he got his goal: ‘Just keep working hard, just keep making the runs and one chance will come.’”
Derbyshire’s partner at AESSEAL New York Stadium against the Dons is likely to be Chris Maguire or Danny Ward, if the former Huddersfield man recovers from an ankle knock, but substitute Jordan Bowery did his own claims of a start no harm by hitting the winner against the Germans.
“Jordan came on and had a real impact and pushed himself into people’s thoughts for next week,” Evans said. “That’s pleasing to see.”
Former Manchester United youth star Tom Thorpe is another player to have impressed Evans, and the 22-year-old was picked at centre-half alongside Danny Collins for the Millers’ final two pre-season games, against the Foxes and Mainz.
Evans said after the Mainz match: “If I was going away with recollections of today they would be of Derbyshire’s goal and the performance of Tom Thorpe.
“I’ve had two Premier League managers ring me to say how good he was against Leicester. And he was like that in Scotland. To see the young kid go out there and play like that against a Bundesliga club with top-six aspirations is fantastic for us.”