Stoke manager Michael O’Neill admitted the class of Wayne Rooney had been a major factor in a “reality check” for his team as they were thrashed 4-0 at Derby.
Former Manchester United and England captain Rooney scored a superb free-kick and dictated play as Derby cruised to their biggest win under manager Phillip Cocu.
Two strikes in the space of four first-half minutes took the game away from Stoke with Martyn Waghorn heading in Craig Forsyth’s cross before Duane Holmes played in Chris Martin to fire high past Jack Butland.
Stoke finished the half strongly with former Derby forward Tom Ince forcing Ben Hamer into a diving save but Rooney’s brilliant free-kick from the edge of the box in the 67th minute – his second goal in successive games – ended any hopes of a comeback.
Derby’s fourth consecutive home win was then sealed in the 74th minute when Jayden Bogle fired in from 20 yards, leaving O’Neill to reflect on a chastening night and Rooney’s quality.
“Wayne Rooney is still a class player, there’s no doubt about that, he demonstrated that tonight,” he said.
“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.
“That’s a combination of us as a team not denying that space but equally we have to acknowledge that we are looking at one of the best players in this generation who knows where to go on the pitch and get that space to play.
“It was certainly a reality check and a lot for us to think over. It was a disappointing night for us.”
Cocu was delighted with the response from his side after their midweek defeat at Luton.
He said: ”The team also had some frustration so they were eager to show that we can play good football and get a result.
“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.”
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