Wayne Rooney couldn’t hide his pride as Derby County’s players once again rose to the occasion as they claimed a deserved 2-1 win at Stoke City on Thursday night.

The victory was the perfect way to round off a challenging 2021 for the Rams as Rooney’s side recorded a third successive win in the Sky Bet Championship.

The win also saw the Rams complete a seasonal double over Stoke after they defeated Michael O’Neill’s side by the same scoreline at Pride Park Stadium back in September.

Derby stormed out of the traps at the bet365 Stadium and their strong start was rewarded with a goal after only 16 minutes.

Fine link-up play between Tom Lawrence and Kamil Jozwiak sent striker Luke Plange clear on goal and the frontman made no mistake with a confident finish, his second in three games, past the onrushing Adam Davies.

Although clear chances were few and far between in the half, the Rams looked a threat throughout as they looked to build on their impressive start against the Potters.

Like in the first half, opportunities were limited after the break although Rams substitute Festy Ebosele flashed an effort wide midway through the second period after finding space inside the box.

Stoke hauled themselves back onto level terms with 12 minutes remaining as former Rams winger Tom Ince blasted home following a corner.

Derby didn’t let that setback knock them and striker Colin Kazim-Richards stepped off the bench for the second game in a row to slot home what turned out to be the winner with five minutes to go after superb work by fellow substitute Ravel Morrison.

Rooney felt his side’s performance deserved the win, as well as their character to come back from Stoke’s equaliser, after leading for most of the contest, to edge ahead again late on.

Speaking to RamsTV after the clash with the Potters, Rooney said: “It was always going to be a tough game coming here tonight, but I felt it was a one we could win.

“It’s always difficult for the players to understand why you make changes from a winning team, with a clean sheet too, but over the last few weeks with COVID-19 and three games, with another one coming on Monday at Reading, I felt it was the right time to make some changes and freshen it up a little bit.

“The reaction from the team after Stoke scored their equaliser was very good. I thought every player was excellent tonight, so it was a deserved win and I am delighted."

He added: “The players aren’t just giving everything to me but they’re giving it to this club and to the fans. They are working extremely hard and if you look at someone like Curtis Davies, who has played every minute of every game at his age, is incredible.

“We are all in it together, all fighting and we are all trying to bring some hope back to the fans.”

Derby were roared on by an outstanding following of 2,800 supporters in the away end and they made themselves heard all evening.

Rooney says the backing of the Rams fans continues to drive the team and the staff on every single time they step on the pitch.

“The fans were excellent today, as they have been all season,” he said.

“My oldest lad was in there in the away end, it was his first time in there so I’m sure it will be one he’s enjoyed!

“The fans have been excellent and they keep pushing us and we keep trying to deliver for them.”

Derby are now 11 points adrift of safety, as a result of their 21 point deduction for entering administration and also historical breaches of the EFL’s profitability and sustainability rules.

While it maybe a mammoth challenge to try and avoid relegation to League One, Rooney has stressed his players need to believe in what they could achieve.

“I’ve said to the players that we are a good team,” he said.

“We have good players so we have to just keep believing. I believe in that group of lads, they have to believe that we have to do the impossible and give it a go to stay in this division.”

Derby will get 2022 off and underway with a trip to Reading on Monday 3rd January (3pm kick-off) in their latest Championship fixture.