A goal in each half meant Derby County’s Under 21s tasted defeat for the first time in the Barclays Under 21 Premier League Division 2 this season as Stoke City ran out 2-1 winners at the Clayton Wood Training Complex on Friday afternoon.
Stoke’s Peter Skapetis opened the scoring inside the opening 10 minutes, before a dominant Derby equalised just after the half hour mark through Tom Naylor’s strike from six-yards.
The equaliser galvanised the host’s and Glyn Hodges’ side struck their winner early in the second period as Robbie Parry curled a sublime effort beyond the fingertips of Mats Morch.
After making their first team debuts in midweek, Alefe Santos and Ivan Calero, who scored the late winning goal over Charlton Athletic in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday, returned to start and play 90 minutes for Lee Glover’s side.
Glover, Derby’s Senior Professional Development Coach, made only two changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Arsenal in the previous game with Morch making his first start in goal, whilst Callum Guy was promoted to the starting line-up after two substitute appearances to partner Tom Koblenz in midfield.
Quick out of the blocks, Derby nearly made the break through twice inside the opening two minutes. Neat play in the middle saw the ball threaded out to the left by Alban Bunjaku for Santos to race on to. Composed and unchallenged, the Brazilian winger unleashed a low right footed drive that was well saved by Dale Eve, the former Derby youth keeper, before last-ditch defending deflected Kwame Thomas’s effort onto the post.
Despite controlling the early stages, it was the home side that opened the scoring. Ollie Shenton, who made his first team debut for the Stoke in Wednesday’s Capital One Cup victory over Portsmouth, threaded a pass through to Brek Shea, and after taking the ball in his stride, the trailing foot of Farrend Rawson brought down the American in the penalty area.
Marvyn Amphlett, the referee, immediately pointed to the spot and Peter Skapetis, the Australian, duly converted his spot kick down the middle of Morch’s goal.
Looking to make an immediate response, though, Derby took control of the game with a series of chances. Calero picked up possession just inside the Stoke half and after sliding a pass down the left, Max Lowe delivered a first time cross to the stretching Bunjaku who could only convert his effort wide.
Glover’s side continued to look the most likely to find the next goal as the attacking qualities of Calero, Thomas, Bunjaku and Santos shone through and caused the Stoke back line problems.
Calero rifled another effort just wide after the half hour mark and Koblenz, the German midfielder, had a goal bound effort blocked, before Shenton rifled a long range effort over the bar at the other end.
Derby’s pressure eventually told, but it came in the unlikely form of Tom Naylor who had made another charge forward.
Another dangerous ball in from the industrious Lowe on the left side caused problems and after Eve had saved an initial effort from Bunjaku, the ball fell to Naylor who drilled an effort into the bottom corner after 33 minutes.
Derby’s equaliser only served to spur the home side on, though, as Skapetis tried to immediately restored the home side’s lead after he waltzed inside Jamie Hanson’s challenge from the left and tested Morch with a low drive, which the goalkeeper was equal to as the 45 minutes came to a close.
Stoke went through the gears and upped the tempo at the beginning of the second half. Set pieces were proving to be the Potters’ biggest threat as first Teixeira, a tame left foot shot, and then again Skapetis, who had his effort cleared off the line by Naylor, came closest.
As Derby did in the first period, Stoke made their pressure count to restore their lead. After Jamie Hanson was robbed of possession inside his own area, Shea’s centre could only be cleared as far as Robbie Parry and the winger curled a sublime right foot shot beyond Morch after 55 minutes.
Santos tried to get the Rams back on level terms as curled a volley over Eve’s bar before Bunjaku glanced a header from Hanson’s inswinging free kick from the left just wide on the hour mark.
Hanson was next to try his luck from one of his set pieces. Mason Watkins-Clark was adjudged to have brought down Thomas 25 yards from goal and the defender stepped up to curl his effort, again, narrowly wide.
With Derby pushing men forward, Stoke nearly notched their third on the break. Shea lead the charge after Stoke had cleared a Santos corner and after exchanging passes with Shenton, the forward crossed to the back post, but the stretching Skapetis could not apply the vital finishing touch.
The pair linked up again with 10 minutes remaining as Shea switched a pass from left to right to carve open the Derby defence, but Morch, covering his near post, got down to keep out Skapetis’ low right footed strike.
Glover opted to make a change to aid Derby’s push for an equaliser and within a minute his first change nearly paid dividends.
Offrande Zanzala was introduced for Bunjaku and after Stoke failed to deal with Santos’ second corner, Calero, on the edge of the area, slipped a pass to the lurking Zanzala, but the winger smashed his left foot effort narrowly over the bar.
For all Derby’s late huffing and puffing, the home side remained resilient as Glover and Derby’s youngsters were made to taste their first Barclays Under 21 Premier League Division 2 defeat of the season.
Derby County Under 21s: Morch, Naylor, Lowe, Guy, Rawson, Hanson, Santos, Koblenz, Thomas, Bunjaku (Zanzala, 81), Calero.
Substitutes not used: Stabana, Etheridge, Cover, Vernam.
Stoke City Under 21s: Eve, Cook (Coulson, 77), Barber, Lecygne, Teixeira, Watkins-Clark, Parry, Shenton, Skapetis, Shea, Taylor (Monlouis, 38).
Substitutes not used: Gyollai, Strong, Nardiello.