Stoke made it two home wins on the bounce as Jacob Brown found a winner to silence his critics and heap pressure on a lacklustre Derby side.
Stoke’s season had tailed off massively in recent weeks, with a playoff place all but a distant memory for the Potters now.
They had won just one in their last six coming into this affair, with a draw and four losses coming in that time too.
Michael O’Neill made a singular change to his side, as Jacob Brown replaced the concussed Steven Fletcher up front for the Potters.
Wayne Rooney’s side still have it all to play for, with the Rams sitting eight points and three places above the relegation zone before the game. Their previous match saw them take a valuable point against Brentford.
The former player-manager had star man Colin Kazim-Richards fit to start, but Lee Gregory was ineligible against his parent club.
Patrick Roberts, Louie Sibley and Teden Mengi all replaced Louie Watson, Max Bird and Kamil Jozwiak for the trip up the A50 to the Potteries.
In the 𝗥𝗘𝗗 corner 👊
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) March 20, 2021
Stoke found the first opening of the game with four minutes gone, but Rhys Norrington-Davies’ cross was inches too high for Brown in the middle.
The hosts completely dominated the ball in the opening 10 minutes, but had no real chances to show for their pressure on the Rams backline.
Brown was again involved on 14 minutes, but he could not beat the offside trap laid by the Derby defence after being threaded through by Joe Allen to a one-on-one with Kelle Roos.
Subdued Potters penalty claims were waved away without hesitation by referee Jarred Gillett, after Jordan Thompson looked to have been impeded on the edge of the box on 18 minutes.
Brown forced Roos into his first real action of the game on 23 minutes, after he latched onto Norrington-Davies’ chipped ball and shot at the keeper’s near post.
Stoke were through yet again with ten minutes of the half left, but Nick Powell was the man caught by the offside flag this time.
Buchanan fashioned a slight opening for the visitors on 39 minutes, but his dangerous cross had no Derby player attacking it and it was a simple catch for Adam Davies.
The Rams’ first shot of the game came minutes later as they broke forward well, but Kazim-Richards shot from distance went comfortably wide.
Stoke looked neat and crisp in possession and were pushing for an opener throughout the half, but the play in the final third was disappointing to say the least.
Neither manager made a change to their side at half time, despite a lack of good attacking play at either end in the first period.
Stoke began the half as they meant to go on, by dominating the ball once again. Joe Allen’s acrobatic effort was the first chance of the 45, but Roos was left untroubled.
Louie Sibley then had the visitors’ best chance of the game a couple of minutes later as his shot from the edge of the box had Davies worried, but the ball was always arching wide of his left-hand post.
The Potters then hit back with a chance of their own, but Powell’s shot was way over the bar after Brown had found him in the box.
Wayne Rooney made a big call just after the hour mark, as Lawrence, Bird and Jozwiak entered the play for Sibley, Roberts and Kazim-Richards.
Neither team looked like scoring if they were to play for another few hours, but that all changed with sixteen minutes left to play.
A free kick into the box found its way to Nick Powell on the edge, and he delivered a teasing ball for Jacob Brown to head home and finally score the elusive goal his team had been searching for.
The stand-in striker celebrated with a finger to the lips, likely directed to fans that had been doubting him in recent weeks.
Danny Batth had a great chance to double the lead just four minutes later, as his header from a free-kick was parried well by Roos, but only as far as Brown who directed his shot into the side netting.
Manchester United loanee Teden Mengi fired a shot over the bar for the visitors with five minutes to go, as he summed up his side’s afternoon in front of goal. Hopeful and wide of the mark.
The visitors saw a lot more of the ball as the game was coming to its end, but to no avail as Stoke stood firm in defence in their aim to keep consecutive clean sheets.
FT: Stoke City 1-0 Derby County
MOTM: James Chester
The three points stayed in Staffordshire on the day, and the visitors headed back down the A50 with nothing to show for their efforts- or lack of.
Michael O’Neill’s side enjoyed the bulk of possession for most parts of the game, and it was simply the killer pass and the all-important finishing touch that had evaded them up to the 74th minute.
Jacob Brown will hope to build on his goal after going through a rough patch in recent weeks.
Derby will no doubt be disappointed with the way they lost, but Wayne Rooney will know that his side need to give much more if they are to avoid the drop this season.
Stoke stay 11th, and the international break means a 13-day gap until they take on Bristol City on Good Friday.
Derby stay 19th and just five points from the drop, they face Luton next up at Pride Park.
Match report by Oliver Walton.