Championship bottom club Derby County moved to within 11 points of safety as they scored a goal in each half to beat promotion-chasing Stoke City.
Teenager Luke Plange gave the Rams an early lead, his second goal in three games, only for Stoke substitute Tom Ince to leave the bench and net on 78 minutes against his old club, just seven minutes after coming on.
But Colin Kazim-Richards put Derby back in front with a low left-foot finish on 85 minutes to earn Wayne Rooney’s side their third straight win.
That puts Derby, docked 21 points by the EFL, within four of 23rd-placed Barnsley and 11 behind fourth-from-bottom Reading, while Stoke have slipped four points adrift of the play-off pack, having now won just once in five games.
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After looking so good in early season, Michael O’Neill’s Stoke have stuttered, having now only won four times in 11 games since losing top scorer Nick Powell with a fractured shin in October, during which they have averaged less than a goal a game.
They have also been kept in cold storage by three successive Covid postponements, including coronavirus-related issues of their own, which meant they had not played in 19 days since the 0-0 draw at home to Middlesbrough on 11 December.
Derby, by contrast, are on the crest of a wave after following up their successive 1-0 home wins over Blackpool and West Bromwich Albion.
They have a goal difference of just -1 – the best in the bottom 10 clubs in the Championship – and have given themselves genuine hope that they can actually pull off an apparent miracle and stay up.
Rooney’s Rams took the lead on 16 minutes when Plange was slipped in behind down the inside-right channel by Poland international Kamil Jozwiak and he ran on to confidently arrow home a low right-foot finish to the left of Stoke keeper Adam Davies.
But chances were few and far between at both ends – and Stoke looked to have escaped with a draw when Ince levelled with what proved to be the Potters’ only effort on target.
He rifled home a low left-foot shot from a half-cleared corner to score only his second league goal this season, the other also coming against Derby in a 2-1 defeat at Pride Park in September.
But Kazim-Richards, who was gifted a winner against West Brom three days ago, was this time fed by fellow substitute Ravel Morrison to put Derby back in front – and send the travelling Rams faithful delirious.
Having equalled their best run of results under Rooney, going back to January, Derby’s first game of 2022 is scheduled to be the Monday bank holiday trip to Reading, while Stoke are due to be in action the same afternoon at home to Preston.
Potters boss Michael O’Neill told BBC Radio Stoke:
“Their two goals were poor ones to lose. We defended them poorly. But we’re just disappointed with the quality of the performance.
“The players gave their all and we pressed well and, at 1-1, we looked the most likely of the two sides to win.
“But we were just too untidy. Whether that’s down to the 19 days without playing, that’s a potential reason. But we can’t look at that. We just didn’t take care of the ball well enough.”
Rams boss Wayne Rooney told BBC Radio Derby:
“We just have to keep believing in ourselves. The fans have been excellent for us all season throughout a very difficult period for the club.
“But when they see the energy and application being out in, it lifts them even more – and we’re very grateful for their support.
“It was good composure from Colin and a really nice pass from Ravel to put him in. But all three subs did well when they came on.”
- 16WilmotBooked at 16mins
- 3FoxSubstituted forInceat 71′minutes
- 7ClucasSubstituted forSurridgeat 87′minutes
- 8VrancicBooked at 61mins
- 14TymonBooked at 71mins
- 18BrownSubstituted forFletcherat 55′minutes
- 7JózwiakSubstituted forEboseleat 63′minutes
- 10LawrenceSubstituted forMorrisonat 79′minutes
- 48PlangeBooked at 59minsSubstituted forKazim-Richardsat 63′minutes
- Matt Donohue
Match ends, Stoke City 1, Derby County 2.
Second Half ends, Stoke City 1, Derby County 2.
Attempt blocked. Joe Allen (Stoke City) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Attempt missed. Ravel Morrison (Derby County) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left. Assisted by Ryan Allsop.
Attempt missed. Danny Batth (Stoke City) header from the centre of the box misses to the right. Assisted by Mario Vrancic with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Stoke City. Conceded by Craig Forsyth.
Foul by Sam Surridge (Stoke City).
Craig Forsyth (Derby County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt blocked. Danny Batth (Stoke City) header from the centre of the box is blocked. Assisted by Mario Vrancic with a cross.
Corner, Stoke City. Conceded by Phil Jagielka.
Substitution, Stoke City. Sam Surridge replaces Sam Clucas.
Mario Vrancic (Stoke City) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Jason Knight (Derby County).
Goal! Stoke City 1, Derby County 2. Colin Kazim-Richards (Derby County) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Ravel Morrison.
Attempt saved. Jason Knight (Derby County) header from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Festy Ebosele with a cross.
Corner, Derby County. Conceded by Adam Davies.
Substitution, Derby County. Ravel Morrison replaces Tom Lawrence.
Joe Allen (Stoke City) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Tom Lawrence (Derby County).
Goal! Stoke City 1, Derby County 1. Tom Ince (Stoke City) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner following a corner.