Stoke City edged past Derby County 1-0 in the Sky Bet Championship to keep their slim playoff chances alive.
Jacob Brown scored the only goal of the game and took the singular goalscoring opportunity. Nick Powell found space on the right before he noticed a mismatch at the far-post. It was Brown versus Jason Knight in an aerial battle which Knight barely got off the ground. Powell floated a cross for Brown to attack and he got his head on it from the six-yard-box leaving Kelle Roos with no chance.
Brown's header ended a dire run of form for the Potters but extended Derby's. Wayne Rooney's side are now seven games without a win and failed to score for the fifth time in their last six.
Story of the game
The two sides struggled to find their groove in the opening half-hour of the match. Stoke dominated in possession but it often ended in a long ball over the top for Andre Wisdom or Matthew Clarke to deal with - which they did with ease.
Rather than scoring goals or even trying to make them, the first half turned into a game where both sides attempt to commit as many fouls as possible without being booked. Derby won that battle when Tom Smith received a yellow for a feisty challenge on Lee Buchanan.
Derby's first shot came in the 43rd minute when Colin Kazim-Richards let rip from long range, he dragged his effort and failed to trouble the Potters 'keeper. The first half eventually came to an end and just the one shot on target was registered.
The second half saw more of the same, however, Clarke played a well-timed through ball for Patrick Roberts to chase. Roberts linked up with Louie Sibley who flicked his shot and it went out for a goal-kick.
A triple substitution was made for Derby after they had created next to no chances all match. Immediately the approach changed, they had Kamil Jozwiak making runs in behind and Tom Lawrence getting in the box.
A brief five-ten-minute spell saw gaps open and both teams start to go for it. But it took one half-decent delivery to break the deadlock. Powell found himself on the right with space and noticed a mismatch at the back-post. He swung a delivery in which saw Brown rise above Knight and head it home from the six-yard-box. The Rams keeper had no chance.
Despite going behind, Derby looked no more likely to score than they did in the previous 70 minutes. It was Stoke who came forward in search of a second but were denied from another headed attempt.
For Derby, they remain winless in their last seven, but Stoke climb the table and keep their narrow playoff hopes alive.
Rams' in-game formation changes are starting to cost them
Derby started with three at the back with Mengi in the middle, Clarke on the left, and Wisdom out on the right. They had Nathan Byrne and Buchanan as wing-backs with Graeme Shinnie and Jason Knight in the midfield. The hero from the comeback against Brentford, Sibley, found himself sat in the hole behind the two attackers, Kazim-Richards and Roberts.
At times, Derby found themselves playing a high line which forced Stoke to pump long balls in behind the defence. They also struggled to win the ball in areas where they could capitalise.
In the second half, Rooney made all three substitutions in one go. It almost switched the shape to a five at the back, three in midfield and two up top. The two up top that came on were Lawrence and Jozwiak - they brought that extra bit of pace and high press but not much more.
After going a goal behind they opted for three up front which made them look even more disjointed. Derby were missing a plan that all eleven players on the pitch were familiar with. They lacked chemistry, they looked lost and ultimately they confused themselves.