Stoke City were back to their resolute best that saw them record three clean sheets in their last four matches with a goalless draw at Derby County today.
The Potters have now let in just two goals in their past five matches, both coming in the 2-1 defeat to Cardiff City on Tuesday night.
In a game of few chances, the Rams went closest as Stoke lacked an attacking edge as their injury woes continue after Tyrese Campbell limped out of the Cardiff game with a knee problem.
Michael O’Neill made three changes to the side that were beaten by Cardiff in midweek.
The Potters boss, who was only able to name eight out of nine possible substitutes, replaced Campbell (knee), James McClean (suspension) and Tommy Smith with Steven Fletcher, Jordan Cousins and Harry Souttar.
Derby, meanwhile, made four changes with Rams interim boss Wayne Rooney bringing in Tom Lawrence, Nathan Byrne, Lee Buchanan and Max Bird for Curtis Davies, Duane Holmes, Craig Forsyth and Graeme Shinnie.
Derby had the better of the early stages, winning a couple of corners and Colin Kazim-Richards going close with a header.
The best chance of a fairly even first half came to Kazim-Richards, who saw a shot blocked on the line by James Chester.
Rams left-back Lee Buchanan had managed to wriggle away from three Stoke players just outside the hosts’ penalty area and cleared the danger.
Kazim-Richards latched onto the through ball and was in on goal, rounding Josef Bursik and he looked certain to score.
Chester, though, showed the work rate that endeared him to Aston Villa fans during his time there and got back to block the goalbound effort.
Stoke creeated their clearest opening on 36 minutes when the visitors’ midfield worked the ball out well to an unmarked Nathan Collins, with the right-back making a rare foray upfield.
He crossed in for Steven Fletcher, who thought he was offside so hesitated and clipped the ball behind for a goal kick.
The linesman’s flag remained down and the Rams centre-back pairing of Andre Wisdom and Matt Clarke were furious at the non-award of an offside decision.
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Both sides went into the half-time break level at 0-0 with Derby having enjoyed the better of the first half.
Stoke came out looking to turn the tide and enjoyed their best spell of the game with the Rams on the ropes and pinned back by O’Neill’s men.
However, they couldn’t muster a real opening and it remained goalless until Derby were given a perfect opportunity to open the scoring – or so they thought.
Referee Andy Woolmer blew his whistle when Lee Buchanan went down under pressure and gave a drop ball to Bursik.
Confusion around whether it was a penalty or not – simulation otherwise – meant a spot-kick or second yellow card to Buchanan should have been given.
In the end, neither happened in the most bizarre moment of the afteroon.
Rams defender Matt Clarke went close to breaking the deadlock with eight minutes remaining when he sprung Bursik into life to divert a bouncing headed effort over the bar.
A fine save friom the Stoke stopper – and he leads the way in StokeonTrentLive’s player ratings…
Josef Bursik – 8
Kicking suspect at times but made a couple of fine saves with Clarke’s header the pick of the bunch.
Nathan Collins – 6
Had a job on against Jozwiak and did well. Ventured forward rarely.
James Chester – 7
Excellent goal-line block to deny Kazim-Richards.
Harry Souttar – 6
Steady performance on his return to the side.
Morgan Fox – 6
Injury scare but needed bandaging up after a clash to his head. Steady.
Jordan Cousins – 6
Saw little of the ball as Derby’s midfield dominated.
Jordan Thompson – 6
Ditto Cousins – couldn’t affect the game too much without the ball bit a dilligent midfield performance.
Nick Powell – 6
Struggled without any service.
Jacob Brown – 6
Saw little of the ball but did work hard on the wings.
Josh Tymon – 6
Found it tough as Derby dominated the ball.
Steven Fletcher – 6
Can’t do much without the ball, but he did have a chance to score but assumed he was offside and left it alone.
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