Wayne Rooney curled home a sublime free-kick to score for the second game running as dominant Derby ended Stoke’s recent Championship resurgence with an emphatic win.
The ex-England captain found the top corner from 20 yards to beat former international team-mate Jack Butland for the Rams’ third goal – and his first at Pride Park – midway through the second half.
Martyn Waghorn’s header and Chris Martin’s fierce strike had put Derby in control, with full-back Jayden Bogle’s superb 25-yard strike rounding off the rout.
Victory lifts Derby to 13th, while Stoke remain 20th after seeing a four-game unbeaten run brought to an unceremonious end.
No Championship side has a better home points haul than Derby this season – 32 from 16 games – but this was a particularly special night at Pride Park as Rooney proved he can continue to pull the strings.
Playing in a deeper role, as is becoming customary as the 34-year-old reaches the twilight of his career, the former Manchester United man pulled Potters players out of position throughout.
The amount of space his presence created for team-mates was evident in all three of the Rams’ other goals.
For the opener, Craig Forsyth was allowed time and space to pull back a cross that Waghorn stooped to head home, then Duane Holmes waltzed through a static Stoke defence to tee up Martin 12 yards out.
And while Rooney’s free-kick was a textbook classy effort, Bogle netted the pick of the goals, striding forward from right-back to crash an unstoppable long-range shot into Butland’s far top corner.
While Rams fans may wish player-coach Rooney had been eligible to pull on a Derby shirt earlier than this month, the gap to the top six – seven points – is not insurmountable on this showing.
Stoke, meanwhile, failed to produce a meaningful effort to test Rams keeper Ben Hamer, with Sam Clucas and Tom Ince curling their best chances wide as the Potters remain just five points above the bottom three.
Derby boss Phillip Cocu:
“Today was just one of the best games, great goals, individual class, but also the team performance was very good.
“If we had only won 2-0 and played exactly the same game I would have the same feeling.
“How we defended in many situations and when we had more possession, the movement in the team is what I want to see. That’s why I’m so pleased with the performance.”
Stoke boss Michael O’Neill:
“Wayne Rooney is still a class player, there’s no doubt about that, he demonstrated that tonight. Not just in relation to the free-kick but I think a top player gets the players around him playing and that’s certainly what he did.
“He was very good in possession and tight areas as well. He’s difficult to play against because he does pick up unnatural positions at times and drifts into areas where it’s difficult to put pressure on him.
“He still looks like he has that extra half second, that extra yard to play and when you’ve got his quality, he’s going to hurt you.
“It was certainly a reality check and a lot for us to think over. It was a disappointing night for us.”