Colin Kazim-Richards was the Derby match-winner for the second straight game when he stepped off the bench to win Wayne Rooney’s side a 2-1 championship win at Stoke.
The 35-year-old scored the victory in the 84th minute with his left foot, seven minutes after former Rams favorite Tom Ince seemed to have saved a point for the hosts, earning their third straight win at the Derby.
Kazim-Richards had also been the hero of the Derby win over the very high West Brom three days earlier.
His third goal of the season, which completed a league brace over Stoke for the bottom of the division, came after replacing first-half top scorer Luke Plange.
19-year-old Plange, in his third first-team appearance, put County in a well-deserved lead in the 16th minute with the second goal of his senior career.
The win marked the first time the Derby have won three straight games since January and brought them 11 points behind safety.
Despite their 21-point deduction for going into receivership, there is clearly still a lot of struggle in Rooney’s improving team.
Conversely, Stoke is largely disappointed to be frustratingly out of the top seven.
In action for the first time in 19 days, Michael O’Neill’s side had a predictably slow start.
The Derby forced two corners in the first four minutes, while Adam Davies blocked Kamil Jozwiak’s close range shot unaware that the Pole had drifted offside.
Jozwiak was one of three players to return to the county ranks after the coronavirus.
And, with referee Matt Donohue playing a good lead after a tackle on skipper Tom Lawrence, it was the Pole’s smart pass that unlocked Stoke’s usually solid defense for the opening.
Plange did the rest, running to shoot low between Davies’ legs.
It took the Potters until the 35th minute to threaten the goal of guests like Mario Vrancic and Tyrese Campbell combined for Josh Tymon to whip a slightly wide 20-yard left.
Stoke started the second half with more intent and were convinced they should receive a penalty in the 51st minute for handball.
Tymon’s cross hit Phil Jagielka, another of the Derby contingent returning from a suspension from Covid, but Donohue put aside home protests, including those of frustrated boss O’Neill.
Stoke tried to take home their territorial advantage, putting Steven Fletcher in for Jacob Brown.
Plange and Vrancic exchange admonitions, with the youngster’s foul his last action before being replaced.
Ince, who has scored 25 goals in 83 appearances for the Rams, had been on the pitch for just eight minutes when he scored the equalizer with his left foot.
The derby, however, was not over and, after Stoke was taken in possession, the ball was drawn by Kazim-Richards to secure three more points.
What the managers said …
Stoke’s Michael O’Neill: “We couldn’t get any consistency in our game throughout the game. Our attitude towards the game was good, but we lacked quality in our game. We pressed hard, but when we won the ball we got it. There were also a lot of loose passes and unforced errors, ball possession was poor and that was the most important factor.
“We have not found any rhythm that gives hope and confidence to the opponents. We forced the game more in the second half and we got the draw. Then you feel capable of going on to win the game. But we gave it a bad shot again the goals, losing the ball in a wrong area and also the way we defended ourselves afterwards was very bad. And this was the decisive factor in the game. “
of derby Wayne Rooney: “We always believed there was a chance to stay in this division. But we know it’s a small chance and we don’t get carried away. However, the full applause must go to the players because their commitment this season has been incredible These three victories are now at the bottom of our thoughts and on Monday we have to give all our attention to Reading because it is an important match ”.
“It’s always hard to name a team when there are players like Colin who scored in his previous match. But I had to follow my gut and what I believed was right for this match. Plange causes defenses problems with his movement behind. That one. it is one of its real strengths, plus it is a compound trimmer “.