Derby County continued their preparations for the 2023/24 season by defeating Stoke City 3-0 at Pride Park Stadium on Saturday afternoon as the two sides went head-to-head in a pre-season friendly to celebrate defender Craig Forsyth’s ten years with the Rams.
Centre-back Curtis Nelson’s deflected header had Derby ahead midway through the first half at a rain-soaked Pride Park and striker James Collins’ third goal in four pre-season outings doubled their lead a few minutes later.
Forward Nathaniel Mendez-Laing added a third as the Rams made their mark going forward in an excellent first half showing against the Sky Bet Championship outfit.
The second half provided less action in front of goal but it still proved to be an excellent workout for Head Coach Paul Warne’s side with just two weeks to go until the start of the Sky Bet League One campaign.
Long-serving defender Forsyth, who joined Derby in the summer of 2013 from Watford on a permanent basis after a brief loan spell, was granted a Testimonial by the club after signing a new deal back in May and a crowd of over 9,000 supporters turned out to thank the Scotsman for his commitment and dedication.
Forsyth wore the captain’s armband for the occasion while midfield Korey Smith was back after injury, which had forced him to miss the side’s previous two friendlies, and defender Kane Wilson was on the bench after sitting out the midweek friendly at Chesterfield.
As the game was a celebration of Forsyth’s decade with the Rams, four of his former team-mates in the form of Craig Bryson, David Nugent, Martyn Waghorn and Bradley Johnson were named as substitutes and they featured off the bench in the second half.
Stoke named a strong line-up ahead of what is set to be Alex Neil’s first full season in charge of the Potters after joining from Stoke City early last term, and he named summer signings Enda Stevens and Ben Pearson in their starting line-up as well as Michael Rose and Daniel Johnson on the bench.
Forsyth was welcomed onto the pitch with a guard of honour from the players and staff of both sides and, once the contest got underway, Derby that began by attacking towards the North Stand in the opening 45 minutes.
The first chance of the game came Stoke’s way after nine minutes, but Joe Wildsmith in the Derby goal made a comfortable save from Tyrese Campbell’s header from a deep cross to the far post.
It was, however, the Rams that opened the scoring after 19 minutes with their first chance of the afternoon. Wing-back Joe Ward’s corner into the box from the left was met by the head of Nelson and, via a deflection off Stoke skipper Josh Laurent, the ball found its way into the back of the net.
Midfield pair Max Bird and Smith both had efforts from the edge of the box which failed to seriously test Jack Bonham in the Stoke goal shortly after taking the lead and it was clear to see that the side’s confidence had cranked up a notch.
With that in mind, it was little surprise that Derby’s lead was increased after 26 minutes. Another cross into the box, this time by Smith from the right after good work by Ward, perfectly found Collins 12 yards out to direct a fine header low into the net beyond Bonham.
The Rams continued to offer a real cutting edge to their play on the attack and a third goal followed before the break from Mendez-Laing. The Guatemala international played a neat one-two with Bird inside the box and after receiving the ball back from Derby’s number eight he made no mistake with a curling finish into the far corner with what was the last key piece of action in the half.
Wilson replaced Smith at the break which meant the versatile Liam Thompson slotted into midfield and the summer signing from Bristol City occupied the left wing-back position in his first run-out on home turf since arriving from the Robins earlier this month.
Johnson, a half-time substitute for Stoke following his recent signing from Preston North End, drilled a low shot at goal in the first opportunity of the second period but Wildsmith was equal to the shot with a good stop and Laurent went on to blaze a good chance on the hour from inside the box.
Both sides made several changes over the course of the second half which impacted the flow to proceedings but as Stoke pushed forward, clearly with the words of their coaching staff ringing in their ears, Warne’s side stood strong as a defensive unit to limit their opportunities on goal.
Bryson, Nugent, Waghorn and Johnson were all welcomed onto the pitch to a warm reception from the home faithful to offer a trip down memory lane and thank them for the part they played during their respective spells with the Rams.
The way Derby performed over the 90 minutes against a side that will be competing in the league above them this term offered plenty of encouragement on a pleasing afternoon, while it was also a fitting way to celebrate Forsyth’s time with the club.
Derby County: Wildsmith (GK), Forsyth (C) (Radcliffe 85), Hourihane (Johnson 77), Bradley (Cashin 72), Bird (Bryson 77), Collins (Nugent 77), Mendez-Laing (Waghorn 65), Smith (Wilson 46), L Thompson (Robinson 77), Ward (Bardell 77), Nelson (Rooney 72).
Substitutes Not Used: Loach (GK), Vickers (GK), Brown.
Stoke City: Bonham (GK) (Nna Noukeu 72), Edwards, Stevens, Wilmot, Taylor (Rose 65), Pearson (Johnson 46, Sidibe 83), Tymon, Laurent, Brown, J Thompson, Campbell.
Substitutes Not Used: Baker, Macari, Griffiths, Wright-Phillips, Lowe, Brooks (GK).
9,119 (1,349 Stoke City supporters)
Derby’s final pre-season fixture ahead of the start of the 2023/24 Sky Bet League One season will see them host Premier League newcomers Sheffield United at Pride Park Stadium next Saturday (29th July, 3pm kick-off).