ERBY COUNTY V STOKE CITY (Saturday 31st August)
From Pride Park Stadium
DERBY COUNTY 2
STOKE CITY 0
This was the first lunchtime kick-off of the season for John Gregory’s side but Stoke goalkeeper Neil Cutler gave the Rams a bout of severe indigestion until Malcolm Christie dissolved all fear of a goalless afternoon with a pair of late goals that gave the Rams a deserved win in front of their home support.
It really was a case of Cutler’s last stand for the Potters, apart from four top-drawer saves, the former Aston Villa goalkeeper was twice saved by the woodwork as Derby dominated this contest from start to finish. For all their great approach play though the Rams were still level as the game entered the final ten minutes.
Cutler was beginning to look unbeatable as Derby pummelled the Stoke box but Christie found the way past him as he flicked home Branko Strupar’s knockdown and the under-21 international doubled up with a cool left-foot finish from a Giorgi Kinkladze throughball two minutes later as Derby got their reward for an afternoon of disciplined attacking football.
John Gregory made four changes to his side for this midday kick-off at Pride Park Stadium. The comebacks of Chris Riggott and Mart Poom had been expected while Richard Jackson reclaimed the left-back spot from the transferred Grenet. Gregory opted for the solidity of Adam Murray in preference to Lee Morris and Giorgi Kinkladze joined Brian O’Neil on the bench for the first time this season.
Stoke kicked off without Sol Oulare and with a small but vocal support in the South stand that was emptier than normal at an understandably subdued Pride Park. It took five minutes before the Rams threatened, Paul Boertien – playing on the left of midfield -won a throw-in deep in Stoke territory. Jackson’s long throw was flicked on by Branko Strupar and Adam Bolder headed narrowly over from close range.
Last year’s play-off winners had a muscular look throughout their side and the Rams were looking at an early battle for control. Christie showed the way by shaking off two heavy challenges to win a corner that Cutler had to tip over as Boertien swung it goalwards with nine minutes on the watch. The Stoke keeper then miscued a clearance but Strupar could not capitalise.
Derby won another corner on the quarter-hour mark when Barton combined with Bolder to put in a deep swinging cross that Wayne Thomas headed to safety. Branko Strupar was once again winning his fair share of ball in the air and Christie might have done better when the Belgium international chested down Rob Lee’s pass on the penalty spot. Christie fired in his shot that Potters’ skipper Peter Handyside blocked.
Lee was beginning to stamp his mark on the midfield area and he initiated another move by robbing Brynjar Gunnarsson before triggering a rapid passing move that ended with Christie warming Cutler’s hands from the edge of the box. The first-half was now almost at the midway point and the Rams were yet to create a clear cut opportunity.
Chris Riggott was showing no signs of his lay-off but he was stretched as Marc Goodfellow almost found Karl Henry with his cross and Poom then had to gather from James O’Connor as Stoke found their range with 26 minutes on the clock.
In response, Malcolm Christie showed the pace and balance that won him England under-21 caps as he ran fifty yards from box to box before Clive Clarke finally pulled him down. Referee Mathieson judged no yellow card necessary and Thomas headed Boertien’s free-kick clear before Lee hit wide.
The Rams then came closest to opening the score when Christie released Strupar but Cutler blocked away Strupar's shot superbly with his knees from what was the Rams best chance of the match – until a minute later.
This time Paul Boertien found space on the left to put in a superb cross that Strupar met on the six-yard line only to see Cutler somehow turn the ball to safety as the East Stand rose to celebrate. The Stoke goalkeeper was then on hand as Riggott closed in on a deep cross from Barton.
Henry then hit a shot well over the bar for Steve Cotterill's side after a corner as John Gregory urged on his men. The Rams were threatening at will now and Adam Murray slid in a cross that Christie smashed against the underside of the bar but it somehow bounced to safety with Cutler at last beaten.
Stoke responded with a left-wing cross that Poom punched away but the game was heading towards the break deadlocked at 0-0. Adam Bolder already has two goals to his name this season and he hit a low shot that Cutler grabbed after Murray and Christie had eked out an opening on the edge of the box.
There were worried looks all round as Chris Riggott was led away clutching his knee but the 21 year-old defender announced his return to the action with a pair of crunching tackles before the two teams went in level.
Derby were unchanged after the half-time break and emerged from the tunnel first with an air of determination about them but the first chance of the second-half fell to Stoke with Goodfellow rounding Poom but hitting the side-netting from a very acute angle.
Stoke had begun the second-half with a lot more confidence than the first and the Rams were being forced back into their own half. Derby launched Boertien on the left but Wayne Thomas did well to cover as Christie made ground in the middle. The former Nuneaton man then put Boertien away into the box but Clarke did superbly to clear as Murray bombed in from the right on to his low cross. Stoke were working hard and with the first fifth of the second half gone they were hanging on to a clean sheet.
Astonishingly, Warren Barton was the first name in the referees book following an innocuous push on Kris Commons in front of the East Stand as the game headed towards the hour mark and John Gregory called for Kinkladze who was roared into the action by the Derby faithful who also gave Adam Murray a thankful reception as he departed.
It was the Georgian’s first appearance of the campaign after a fine performance for the reserves in midweek and he immediately won a free-kick from Thomas. Higginbotham was then alert to head back a Thomas throughball to Poom with Goodfellow in attendance.
Rob Lee then brought the crowd to life, he exchanged passes with Barton and jinked out to bring a fine save from Cutler. The ball looped up towards Christie who hit a fine volley from a tight angle but the ball smashed against the post and away to safety with the goalkeeper beaten. The Rams were pouring forward and Kinkladze slipped in Christie who should have done better in a one-on-one with Cutler but the keeper managed to block out the ball and although Derby got a corner the scoreboard still showed 0-0 and 65 minutes gone.
Strupar seemed to have dropped deeper with Kinkladze supporting Christie and when the ball fell to the Georgian on the half-way line he evaded one challenge before feeling the full weight of a second and he had to receive treatment on the touchline before returning.
The Stoke fans screamed for handball as Riggott blocked out Goodfellow before Kinkladze jinked into the Stoke area at the other end but as his support players lined up the Georgian’s low cross fell to safety and the Potters’ goal remained intact once again with only twenty minutes remaining.
Richard Jackson had played solidly at left-back and he now ventured forward to run on to Strupar’s lay-off after patient build-up play between Barton and Kinkladze. Jackson ducked inside on to his right foot and hit a rasping shot that was only a yard away from giving John Gregory’s side a precious advantage. Lee then ploughed through the Stoke midfield linw but his left-foot effort looped harmlessly wide of Cutler's goal as the Rams continued to press.
Riggott was continuing to dominate at the back for the Rams and he won a free-kick from a frustrated Cooke but the main frustrations were for Derby as they looked no nearer getting a goal despite their dominance. Cutler came out to claim Barton’s cross before Strupar and Lee earnt their skipper the room to win a corner with ten minutes to go and finally the Rams went ahead.
Boertien’s initial cross was cleared but the Rams did very well to patiently work the ball back to the left-back who swung a deep cross towards Strupar. The Belgium striker held off Handysides and headed the ball down into space superbly where Malcolm Christie nipped in to flick the ball past Cutler and spark joyous celebrations.
Stoke kicked-off but within two minutes Derby had doubled their lead. With the Potters forced to attack for the first time in a bid to get back into the game Derby punished them with a classic breakaway goal. Lee and Boertien squeezed the space in the middle and the ball broke to Bolder who slipped in Kinkladze.
With Strupar as the decoy Kinkladze provided the killer ball to Christie who coolly slotted home with his left foot as Cutler raced out to narrow the angle. After eighty minutes of sweat and disappointment the Rams were home and hosed in a two-minute burst of incisive football.
The Potters did respond and only a brave block from Richard Jackson denied them a consolation as the game headed into the final seconds but John Gregory's men had earnt their win and with a second clean sheet of the season also achieved the Rams will be looking forward to the visit of Burnley next weekend.
Derby County: Poom – Barton (Captain); Higginbotham; Riggott; Jackson; Boertien; Lee; Bolder; Murray – (Kinkladze 58
Strupar; Christie – (Evatt 90).
Subs: Oakes; Twigg; Evatt; Kinkladze; O’Neil
Stoke City: Cutler; Thomas; Clarke; Handyside; Shtaniuk; Gunnarsson; Cooke;O’Connor; Goodfellow; Henry; Commons - (Gudjonsson 83)
Subs: Viander, Gudjonsson, Iwelumo; Marteinsson; Vendeurzen.
Booked: Barton 57
DERBY COUNTY 2 STOKE CITY 0