Derby v Stoke: Improving Potters can pick up a point
Relegation-threatened Stoke look to continue their recent revival with a positive performance at Derby on Friday night. Mark O'Haire can't split the pair at Pride Park...
Derby v Stoke Friday January 31, 19:45 Sky Sports
Cocu angered by Derby's midweek defeat
Derby boss Phillip Cocu said it was "really ridiculous" that the Rams lost 3-2 at rock-bottom Luton on Tuesday night. The Dutchman saw his side take the lead through Wayne Rooney, and although the Hatters struck twice in seven minutes to go ahead at Kenilworth Road, substitute Chris Martin headed County level with only a few minutes left on the clock.
But poor defending cost Derby dear as Luton scrambled a late winner as the Rams fell to their first defeat in eight. Understandably, Cocu was deeply frustrated afterwards, saying, "It is really ridiculous we lose the game and we missed a great opportunity to continue in a positive streak. We've done better over a long period of time now but this is a big setback."
All five goals came after half-time and County ended the contest with 10 men after Max Lowe appeared to touch referee Andy Davies as he protested a decision. The left-back will now be suspended for Friday's fixture joining Brendan Galloway on the sidelines. The likes of Izzy Brown, Callum McManaman, Martin Cranie and Danny Hylton are all doubtful.
Stoke continue upward trajectory
Stoke manager Michael O'Neill believes momentum is building as the Potters continued their revival last Saturday with a 2-0 home victory over Swansea. Sam Clucas and James McClean grabbed the goals, and following the midweek card of Championship games, City arrive at the weekend with a five point cushion over the dreaded relegation zone.
Stoke were second best for the first 15 minutes, miles behind Swansea's smooth possession game, but there was no panic, no silly errors and certainly no dropping of heads. The Potters simply worked their way patiently into the game before starting to overpower their less experienced visitors, and producing the vital cutting edge Swansea patently lacked.
The Potters took top honours, winning the shot count 16-11 despite only enjoying 37% of the ball in another mature display, prompting O'Neill to say, "We have momentum building. It has been a good start to the year from us and there are a lot of positives. We had the best chances in the first half and were worthy winners with our second-half display."
All-square between well-matched pair?
Derby and Stoke played out an enjoyable 2-2 draw when they met in Staffordshire back in August. The duo have crossed paths 13 times in league action this century with the Potters enjoying slight supremacy (W6-D2-L5) in a series of well-matched encounters, although the Rams do boast a W3-D1-L2 return when hosting Stoke at Pride Park in that same sample.
Derby2.78 have been one of the most curious teams to second-guess this season. County's performances between home and away outings have been chalk-and-cheese with the Rams home record (W8-D5-L2) as good as any in the division, whilst their road trips have largely involved dire displays. The hosts have W7-D1-L0 here against the bottom-half.
On Michael O'Neill's arrival, Stoke2.82 had accumulated only eight points from 15 games. Under the Irishman's tutelage, an air of quiet confidence has emerged and players have learnt how to win again - it's now seven triumphs in 14 league matches (W7-D2-L5), with the Potters also keeping their sheets clean in three consecutive Championship contests.
Goals market best left alone
Eight of the 13 head-to-head showdowns between Derby and Stoke have featured Over 2.5 Goals2.26. And underlying performance data suggests the odds on a goal-heavy outcome at Pride Park in Friday night's match-up could be undervalued.
County's home outings have averaged just 2.00 goals per-game with only four (27%) of 15 matches producing at least three goals. Nevertheless, Expected Goals (xG) data puts the average goals per-game tally at Pride Park as 2.61 xG with 1.47 xG arriving via open play opportunities.
However, Stoke's resurgence should also be taken into account and the Potters have displayed all the organisational attributes, plus overdue resilience, to suggest the visitors are well capable of keeping this clash competitive and shorn of major goalmouth action.