Coventry manager Mark Robins heaped praise on match-winner Ellis Simms after his side kept themselves in the Sky Bet Championship play-off places with a hard-fought 1-0 win away at struggling Stoke.

Simms, a summer signing from Everton, followed up his goal in the 2-2 draw with Plymouth on Wednesday by settling the contest at the Bet365 Stadium.

The winner came in the 51st minute when Haji Wright caught Ki-Jana Hoever in possession and prodded the ball to Callum O’Hare, who played in Simms to slot home.

Victory consolidates the Sky Blues’ sixth-placed standing on goal difference on 51 points.

“We’ve had to dig in because it wasn’t a great game,” Robins said. “There wasn’t really much quality on show.

“I think really the bits of quality that were on show, Ellis Simms, I thought, was involved in all of them. I think his goal was brilliantly taken.

“I think he’s got confidence from the goal on Wednesday evening, and really they’re not easy those because you’ve got a lot of time to look at it and he found the back of the net really well to complete the move.

“Hadji on the back of him (Hoever) has nicked it from him, Callum O’Hare releases him really quickly and he goes and puts it into the net – brilliant finish.”

Coventry did come agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock early on, with Jack Bonham saving well from Wright’s header via a deflection off Ben Wilmot before blocking Simms’ effort.

The rebound fell kindly to O’Hare, who looked certain to score, but Wilmot – making his 100th appearance for Stoke – was on the line to divert the ball onto the post and away.

“They threw some bodies behind it, but I don’t know how we’ve not scored,” Robins added. “And really, we would have opened the game up then.

“But again, you have to show concentration and it just looked like a really tired performance from both teams because of the amount of games that we’ve got.”

Defeat for Stoke means they have now lost five of their last six games, leaving them in 19th place and just three points clear of the relegation zone.

“I thought it was quite a close game, quite tight,” manager Steven Schumacher said. “There wasn’t a lot in it between the two teams.

“It was just an error that’s decided it, which is obviously disappointing from our point of view.

“But I can’t fault the players’ effort. I thought they gave everything. I think the players who started competed and had to try and keep a really good Coventry team relatively quiet.

“And then I think the subs who came on in the last half an hour gave us some energy and played with a good tempo, but unfortunately that one moment has decided it.”

Despite ending a four-match losing streak last time out with a 1-0 victory over QPR, it’s now just three wins in 19 league matches for Stoke, who face a real battle to avoid the drop.

“It’s important that we don’t lose our belief,” Schumacher added.

“It’s not the end of the world. I understand no one wants to lose games of football. We don’t want to come in here and accept that we lose another game at home – far from it.

“But the fans will accept it if the players give 100 per cent, and they definitely did do that today.”

Coventry kept themselves in the Sky Bet Championship play-off places after a hard-fought 1-0 derby win away at fellow Midlands side Stoke.

Ellis Simms’ third goal in five league games secured all three points for Mark Robins’ team at the Bet365 Stadium, consolidating their sixth-place standing on goal difference on 51 points.

Defeat for Stoke means they have now lost five of their last six games, leaving them just three points clear of the relegation zone.

Both managers made six changes to the teams that started their midweek games and there was a real lack of fluidity to the first half for the most part.

Coventry did come agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock in the 12th minute though, with Stoke goalkeeper Jack Bonham forced to save well from Haji Wright’s header via a deflection off Ben Wilmot, before blocking Simms’ effort.

The rebound fell kindly to Callum O’Hare, who looked certain to score, but Wilmot – making his 100th appearance for Stoke – was on the line to divert the ball onto the post and away.

Stoke’s first shot on target came just after half-time as Lewis Baker’s tame effort was comfortably held by visiting goalkeeper Ben Wilson.

But they found themselves behind in the 51st minute when Wright caught Ki-Jana Hoever in possession and prodded the ball to O’Hare, who played in Simms to slot home from close range.

Stoke manager Steven Schumacher made a triple substitution just after the hour mark in an attempt to inject some life into the home side’s performance, and moments later Nathan Lowe’s left-footed shot on the turn went just over the crossbar to lift the crowd’s spirits somewhat.

There was further reason for encouragement in the 68th minute as Baker’s goalbound attempt deflected behind for a corner off Sky Blues defender Bobby Thomas.

Down at the other end, Wright had a glorious chance to double Coventry’s lead in the 81st minute but after a nice one-two with Josh Eccles, he blazed his shot over the crossbar.

Minutes later, Stoke substitute Million Manhoef took the ball down well and drove into the visitors’ box, but he could only find the side-netting.

That was the last real opportunity of a contest low on quality and boos rung around the stadium at the end.

Despite ending a four-match unbeaten run last time out with a 1-0 win over QPR, it’s now just three wins in 19 league matches for Stoke, who face a real battle to avoid the drop.

Steven Schumacher hopes Stoke’s “important” 1-0 win over fellow strugglers QPR lifts the confidence of his side.

Wouter Burger’s strike before half time was the difference as the Potters ended a four-match losing streak.

The Dutch youngster, who also scored in the reverse fixture, converted the winner with a tap-in from Lewis Baker’s corner.

In the process, Schumacher secured a first home league win as boss and the club’s first at the bet365 Stadium since October.

With victory, Stoke gave themselves daylight from the relegation zone as they moved six points above the dotted line.

“We were all aware of how important the game was,” noted the Potters’ boss.

“It was an important win and a tough game against a team close to us in the league.

“The performance isn’t one that we’ll remember forever and the game wasn’t a classic, but to get that win at home was so important.

“It’s relentless and it’s important that we back it up now and I hope that that result gives the players some confidence.

“It’s not been easy to play here all season and it’s been too long since we’ve won (at home), so hopefully that stigma has gone.

“We’ve played a lot better since I’ve been here than we did tonight but that doesn’t matter; we got the win and the fans go home happy.

“Sometimes, you’ve got to come to a realisation of what’s important at certain stages.

“The results haven’t been what we wanted, so we changed our shape and played more direct and we were harder to beat.

“At this stage of the season and as a coach you’ve got to recognise what’s important and the win was what was all that mattered today.

“But we can’t relax now; it’s only one win and the league is still really tight.”

Meanwhile, the travelling Hoops could only muster one shot on target as their four-match unbeaten run ended.

QPR remain entrenched in the relegation zone as they drift to four points from safety.

“I’m disappointed,” said boss Marti Cifuentes.

“We had some good chances in the first half to take the lead but unfortunately, we went 1-0 down after a corner.

“They played a back-five and they showed respect to us and we couldn’t get the flow we wanted, especially in the second half.

“It was not easy for us to break them down. Still, we tried to compete to the very last second but it was just one of those games.

“Today was a very important game in terms of the table but at the same time, whatever happened today, it wasn’t going to be a season changer.

“We need to stay very calm; we’re of course disappointed and angry, but we were unbeaten for four games and perhaps someone could think this would be easy.

“When I arrived at the club, we were eight points away and the team is showing improvements almost every week.

“I do believe in what we’re doing and I think that the team is showing that we can compete every game.

“My target now is to make sure we get a new trend of good results to pick up the points that we need.

“In less than three months at the club, we’ve had two good trends so I’m sure we can have another one.”

Stoke secured a first home win since October as they beat fellow strugglers QPR 1-0.

A Wouter Burger strike on the cusp of half time was enough to end a run of four straight defeats in the Championship.

The visiting Hoops, who could have moved out of the relegation zone with a victory, failed to extend their four-match unbeaten run.

It could be an important first home win for Potters’ boss Steven Schumacher, with his new side moving six points clear of the dreaded dotted line.

Following two wins and two draws, a resurgent QPR started promisingly and nearly opened the scoring inside three minutes.

The visitors carefully crafted a pocket of space and found Paul Smyth, but the winger’s venomous strike was pawed away by Daniel Iversen.

Stoke heeded their opponents’ early warning sign and gradually grew into the fixture, with new forward Niall Ennis trying to instigate a response.

The hosts had only scored two goals in their last eight home league games – with only one from open play – and their wastefulness in front of goal was on show again.

Lewis Baker’s outswinging corner was headed goalwards by Michael Rose, but the defender’s effort was tipped over by Asmir Begovic.

And the former Potters’ stopper – who made 173 appearances in six years at the club – was in inspired form against his old employers.

Fierce strikes from Burger and Ennis before the break had the same outcome, with Begovic twice coming to QPR’s rescue.

However, there was nothing the ex-Bosnian international could do just on the stroke of half time as Stoke took the lead with a goal that had been coming.

A Baker corner again wreaked havoc with Luke McNally’s flick-on finding the onrushing Burger, who converted a simple tap-in.

It was a second league goal of the season for the Dutch youngster, whose only other second tier strike also came against the Rs in the reverse fixture in November.

The home side’s momentum was not swayed by the interval, with the Potters continuing to dictate the fixture.

And they should have doubled their lead following a moment of pinball, but valiant QPR defending and another Begovic stop ensured the game remained within reach.

Substitute Lyndon Gooch also came close to providing a Stoke second, yet his rifled strike whistled beyond the post.

A late Hoops onslaught ensued with the influential Ilias Chair trying to unlock a resolute home defence.

Ultimately, the hosts’ slender lead was preserved as they avoided suffering a fifth successive league defeat for the first time since January 2005.

Meanwhile, Marti Cifuentes’ outfit remain entrenched in the relegation zone, four points from safety with 14 games still to play.

Blackburn first-team coach Damien Johnson saluted an “outstanding” performance after they beat Stoke 3-1 to move away from relegation trouble.

Rovers went into the game with the worst form in the Sky Bet Championship, which resulted in Jon Dahl Tomasson leaving as boss on Friday and John Eustace now in the hot seat.

Johnson and fellow first-team coach David Lowe took the team for the game, with Eustace coming into the dugout in the second half, and he will have enjoyed the performance as they raced into a three-goal lead to shellshock their opponents.

Tyrhys Dolan’s close-range finish set Rovers on their way before the Championship’s top scorer, Sammie Szmodics, headed a second and Dolan’s composed finish put Blackburn in dreamland.

Former Blackburn striker Niall Ennis pulled one back before the break but Daniel Johnson saw his weak penalty saved just after half-time and Blackburn comfortably stopped the rot, registering a first league win since December.

Johnson praised Blackburn’s players for responding to the “difficult” last few days.

He said: “I’m not going to lie, it feels good. It’s been a difficult couple of days. Great credit to the players. It’s not easy for them but I thought they were outstanding today.

“Their concentration, their application, how they went about it, the togetherness they showed as you could see towards the end, was superb, so great credit to them.

“They did lots of good things. I think we showed two sides of the game today. Lots of good things in the first half and then we dug in.

“We knew that we’d find space on transition so there was an element of allowing Stoke to come onto us. I think at times in the game we could look after the ball better but when you’ve had a run of results like this, the important thing is you get three points.”

Stoke have won twice in the last 17 games and are only three points clear of the drop zone.

Steven Schumacher said: “The start is just not good enough. If you give a Championship team a 3-0 head start, then you’re doomed, because they don’t really have to do anything else in the game.

“That’s kind of what we did. We didn’t start the game well enough. They scored goals that were too easy to score and gave ourselves a mountain to climb.

“From the third goal onwards, I thought we looked better, we looked like a team. We were positive, we passed the ball forwards which we didn’t do up until they scored the third goal, and we won some tackles and some duels which is the bare minimum.

“We’ve got to show a bit more character, a bit more belief, a bit more bravery. More importantly, we’ve got to show a bit more fight.”

Tyrhys Dolan’s double helped Blackburn begin their new era with a 3-1 win over fellow strugglers Stoke to ease their relegation worries.

After a turbulent week that saw John Eustace replace Jon Dahl Tomasson as head coach, Blackburn put in an encouraging display, epitomised by scoring three goals in the first 37 minutes.

Dolan converted a seventh-minute opener from close range before Sammie Szmodics headed in his 22nd of the campaign 13 minutes later.

Dolan’s composed finish seemingly put the game beyond Stoke, but Niall Ennis marked his full debut after his deadline-day move from Blackburn by scoring his first for the club before half-time.

Daniel Johnson spurned a glorious chance early in the second half as his poor penalty was saved and, despite Stoke’s possession, Rovers’ defence deprived the visitors of any real opportunities to win their first league game since mid-December.

Steven Schumacher made eight changes for this clash but it made no difference in a woeful first half where the game was lost and Stoke are two places and three points above the drop zone after a fourth straight defeat.

Dolan gave the new era lift off in the seventh minute, but the architect was Callum Brittain whose sumptuous first-time cross put the chance on a plate for him to slot home from six yards at the far post, and Sam Gallagher went close to doubling the advantage in the 14th minute but slotted just wide.

Stoke failed to learn their lesson and were further behind in the 20th minute after Brittain was again given time to superbly cross and Ryan Hedges nodded across goal for Szmodics to thump his header into the roof of the net.

The away supporters were irate after Rovers scored a simple third in the 37th minute when a long ball was flicked on by Gallagher, sending Dolan racing clear on the right with just Daniel Iversen to beat and he made no mistake, burying his shot into the left corner.

Stoke had hope two minutes later when Bae Jun-ho’s flick-on found Ennis in the area and he showed excellent composure to step inside his man and find the left corner.

It gave the visitors some impetus and they carved out a golden opportunity to reduce the deficit further just after the break when Brittain hauled down Andre Vidigal in the area.

Johnson stepped up to take the penalty but Aynsley Pears guessed the right way and saved before Rovers cleared.

The visitors were in the ascendency and Ben Wilmot shot straight at Pears, but Blackburn displayed defensive solidity that has been missing to expertly see the game out.

Leicester boss Enzo Maresca is content to ignore criticism from some Foxes fans after seeing his side move 11 points clear at the top of the Championship with a 5-0 demolition of Stoke.

Doubles from Patson Daka and Jamie Vardy helped the visitors take another step toward an immediate return to the Premier League.

Daka opened the scoring with a tap-in shortly before Kasey McAteer’s deflected long-range strike doubled the Foxes’ lead.

After the restart the in-form Daka converted Leicester’s first penalty of the afternoon for a sixth goal in eight games.

Substitute Vardy then notched his ninth and 10th goals of the season, his second deep in stoppage time also from the penalty spot.

It was the league leaders’ biggest victory of the season, much to the delight of boss Maresca.

“The most important thing for me is the way that the team is getting better,” said the Leicester boss.

“I don’t like it when people hurt the players, because I know the effort that they’re doing to bring this club back to the Premier League.

“Since the start, I see the way that they’re working and I know that they’re doing everything they can.

“If some of the fans aren’t sure or convinced, it doesn’t matter to me. The performance was very good today and that experience will make us better.

“I’m very happy with the result and the clean sheet, especially with the first half-an-hour, that was very good and we played the way that we like to play.

“The last 10 minutes of the first half, we conceded two yellow cards that we needed to avoid as it could compromise the game, but that was it.

“We’re very happy and when we play away, the environment is always nice and the players and fans together enjoy the moment.

“I’ve said many times, our fans are unbelievable. At home some of them maybe aren’t convinced, but it is what it is.

“It’s important for us to have lots of options and every time we need them, they help, so we’re very happy.”

It was another dismal afternoon for Stoke, whose winless run at home now stands at nine games, dating back to October.

“We were miles off it and they were just too good for us,” said boss Steven Schumacher, who oversaw a third defeat on the spin.

“They showed today why they’re top of the league. They’ve done everything properly, but they didn’t have to work hard at all.

“We didn’t have the belief or the quality. We tried, but they had too much for us and their goals were too easy.

“We knew we were coming up the best team, this result wasn’t going to determine the outcome of the rest of the season, but the next two might do.

“I need to make sure that we respond and put in a better performance and try to get a win.

“It’s three games now with three defeats and we need to do something about it, so Blackburn’s going to be a big game at the weekend.

“We need to get the players ready for it. We have to react and we won’t go away and sulk.

“There’s a real lack of confidence at home. When things go against us or there’s a little adversity, the crowd turns against us and it affects the players.

“We have to work hard to try and change that now.”

Leicester extended their lead at the top of the Championship to 11 points with a thumping 5-0 victory at Stoke.

Patson Daka and Jamie Vardy both scored twice, including a penalty each, to inspire the Foxes to a comprehensive victory.

The in-form Daka opened the scoring and Kasey McAteer doubled the visitors’ advantage shortly before the half-hour mark.

After the break a first penalty of the afternoon for Leicester allowed Daka to net his second, his ninth goal involvement in his last eight matches.

An evergreen Jamie Vardy came off the bench to complete the rout, firing in his first goals in the league since November.

Stoke offered little resistance against the table-toppers, with their winless home run extended to nine games, dating back to October.

Unbeaten in eight meetings with the Potters, a rampant Leicester started on the front foot.

The returning Abdul Fatawu, who had missed three games through suspension, flashed a venomous effort just wide in an early threat to the hosts.

Stoke failed to heed the warning, with a McAteer header forcing a smart acrobatic stop from Jack Bonham and Daka heading over from close range.

And Enzo Maresca’s side were soon rewarded, with the Daka adding the finishing touch to a slick attacking move.

Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall’s delicate delivery was headed back across goal invitingly by Fatawu, with the Zambia international firing into an empty net.

The Potters then had a glorious opportunity for an immediate leveller, but Tyrese Campbell’s drilled effort was saved by the feet of Mads Hermansen.

Instead Leicester tightened their grip on the game as an ambitious McAteer effort from range deflected wickedly off Ben Wilmot and flew beyond a wrong-footed and helpless Bonham.

Steven Schumacher tried to revitalise the hosts with a string of changes after the interval, but Leicester did not let up.

When Wout Faes’ buccaneering run was halted in the area, Daka converted from 12 yards for a sixth goal in his last eight outings, either side of his trip to the Africa Cup of Nations.

It was the forward’s last piece of action for the day, but his replacement Vardy soon picked up the mantle.

The 37-year-old former England international finished first time from a glorious James Justin delivery and added a second from the penalty spot deep into stoppage time.

Stoke nearly added a consolation, but a Hermansen double save thwarted both Bae Jun-ho and Wilmot, capping off a dismal afternoon for the hosts.

But it was another day to remember for Leicester, who took another step closer to an immediate return to the Premier League.

Michael Beale hailed the togetherness of his Sunderland squad after the Black Cats put a “difficult few weeks” behind them with a much-needed 3-1 win against Stoke at the Stadium of Light.

Beale was under-fire after three straight defeats in all competitions and his problems deepened ahead of Saturday’s Championship game when Sunderland released a club statement claiming key midfielder Alex Pritchard had made himself unavailable for selection and “expressed his desire to leave with immediate effect”.

But the Black Cats managed to put those troubles to one side and are now only outside the play-off places on goal difference after an impressive home victory against the Potters.

Chelsea loanee Mason Burstow scored his first goal of the season before Abdoullah Ba – who replaced Pritchard in the team – added a second after the break. Midfielder Pierre Ekwah scored Sunderland’s third before Stoke managed a consolation through a Jenson Seelt own-goal.

“I’m delighted with the players and for them,” said Beale.

“The work ethic of the boys and togetherness behind the scenes, it’s been a difficult few weeks with the last two or three results, but it was a really good win today.

“It’s been an interesting start to (my time at) the club, hasn’t it? There’s a lot of emotion.

“I’m all in for the club. I want to be here for the long term and it’s important that my team and our team go on the pitch and put in performances that fans can get behind.

“Today they did. It’s one performance, we want to build on it.”

Pritchard’s Sunderland contract is due to expire in the summer but the midfielder might have played his last game for the club.

Beale said: “It’s been ongoing to be honest, not just the last 24 hours. He’s a boy who is coming up to the end of his contract and he’s been offered one, I think mentally it has got a bit much for him. Let’s keep the focus on the players who played today.”

Beale wants to sign a striker before Thursday’s transfer deadline but is hoping Burstow can build on his first Sunderland goal.

He said: “I’m delighted for Mason tonight and let’s hope it’s a chance for him now to really kick on.”

Steven Schumacher enjoyed a five-match unbeaten run after leaving Plymouth to take charge of Stoke but the Potters have now lost two games on the bounce and remain 19th in the Championship.

“I felt we played well, controlled large parts of the game and got into some really good areas and created loads of big chances but weren’t clinical enough,” said Schumacher.

“We haven’t got that belief in the final third. To miss the target as we did today is unacceptable and Sunderland punished us with their moments and their quality players.

“To have 37 shots in the last two games – and big opportunities – to not work the keeper as often as we are is just not good enough. And you’re not going to win games at this level like that.

“We had big chances before all three of their goals. It’s disappointing and frustrating but we have to keep going.”

Chelsea loanee Mason Burstow ended his long wait for a first Sunderland goal as the Black Cats beat Stoke 3-1 to ease the pressure on head coach Michael Beale.

The forward broke his duck in his 14th appearance for the club before Abdoullah Ba and Pierre Ekwah also scored to end the hosts’ run of three straight defeats in all competitions and move them level on points with sixth-placed Coventry in the Championship.

A Jenson Seelt own-goal was a mere consolation for Stoke, who remained 19th after their second straight loss.

Some Sunderland fans chanted for Beale to be sacked during last week’s defeat to Hull and the problems deepened for the former Rangers boss this week, with the Black Cats publishing a statement before kick-off on Saturday claiming midfielder Alex Pritchard had “made himself unavailable to play and expressed his desire to leave with immediate effect”.

But Beale and the Black Cats put those issues to one side against Steven Schumacher’s visitors.

The hosts were the brighter of the two sides from the off and had two good chances to break the deadlock in the opening quarter of an hour.

Jack Clarke has been the shining light for Sunderland this season and he could have added to his 13 goals when he blazed over from inside the box. Moments later, the former Tottenham and Leeds winger teed up midfielder Ekwah, who tried to catch out Stoke goalkeeper Daniel Iversen at his front post but hit the side-netting.

Stoke’s best chance of the first half came 10 minutes before the break. Midfielder Luke Cundle was denied by Anthony Patterson after a rampaging run from defender Ben Wilmot. The Potters kept the move alive and Bae Jun-ho looked certain to score only for Luke O’Nien to come to Sunderland’s rescue with a superb goal-line clearance.

Sunderland broke the deadlock two minutes before half-time. Dangerman Clarke darted down the left flank, his cross looped into the air and Ba nodded into the path of Burstow to bundle home his first goal of the season from close range.

Tyrese Campbell had a chance to level for Stoke just 22 seconds after the restart but lacked composure and ballooned his shot over the bar – and Sunderland quickly made the Potters pay.

Clarke was again involved, cutting in from the left after a rapid counter and teeing up Ba, who kept his cool and slotted home.

Ba created the third 20 minutes from time, picking out Ekwah, who found the bottom the corner from inside the box.

Stoke scored what proved to be a consolation four minutes later when a cross from ex-Sunderland defender Lynden Gooch was turned into his own net by Seelt.

Tony Mowbray praised Birmingham after they “found a way” to edge a lively 2-1 win at Stoke.

The new boss stretched his unbeaten start to three games in all competitions as Blues rose to eight points above the relegation zone.

“I’m really pleased for the supporters behind the goal,” said Mowbray.

“It’s my first experience of the away support from Birmingham City and it was big and loud and noisy; it’s great that they could celebrate a win.

“We found a way today and that’s the important thing in football but we can’t play like we did in that second half every week because we won’t win many matches.”

Jay Stansfield opened the scoring inside 10 minutes as he rifled home his eighth league goal of the season.

The Potters responded positively to their early setback but struggled to convert their dominance into chances.

And the visitors capitalised shortly after the restart thanks to Juninho Bacuna’s exquisite free-kick from 25 yards.

Jordan Thompson halved the hosts’ arrears late on, but Birmingham held on for a vital victory.

“First half, the game plan was good and we looked like we could break away and score,” Mowbray added.

“That’s probably the best football that Stoke have played for a long time and Steven (Schumacher) deserves a lot of credit for that.

“They were good today and in the second half, we went into protection mode, but we managed to see it out.

“You can give your team organisation and structure and I thought we saw the game out well today against as good a Stoke team as I’ve seen.

“I like a lot of what we’ve got at this football club; I’ve just got to change the mentality a little bit.

“The vast majority of them are very humble and hard-working and it’s hurt them where they are, but we’re only here to win now.”

It was a frustrating afternoon for Stoke, whose five-match unbeaten start under Steven Schumacher came to an end.

Bae Jun-ho struck the bar, Michael Rose failed to convert from close-range and Ryan Mmaee missed a host of chances for the toothless Potters.

“It was disappointing to lose it and I don’t think we deserved to lose it,” said Schumacher.

“The performance was good bar a couple mistakes, but it’s two brilliant bits of quality that has decided the outcome.

“We got more in the dangerous areas than Birmingham did, but we didn’t make the most of it, so that’s disappointing.

“It’s important that we are creating chances; that wasn’t the case a few weeks ago, so now I need the lads to show their quality and composure.

“With the way we’ll play and the way we’ll get forward, they’ll get chances so now we’ve got to find a way to take them.

“I’ve got belief in the squad; the players have got quality but they’ve got to make the most of big opportunities.”

Tony Mowbray’s unbeaten start to life as Birmingham boss continued with an impressive 2-1 win at Stoke.

Fulham loanee Jay Stansfield handed the visitors a dream opening when he fired in an eighth league goal of the season after 10 minutes.

The Potters, who were unbeaten since Steven Schumacher’s appointment last month, reacted positively but struggled to create clear chances.

Mowbray’s outfit began the second period in similar fashion to the first as Juninho Bacuna’s exquisite free-kick doubled their lead.

The home side teed up an intriguing finish to the tie when Jordan Thompson halved their arrears, but Blues held on for a crucial three points.

Stoke, who were unbeaten in five league games, started brightly and should have opened the scoring inside eight minutes.

John Ruddy parried a troubling Wouter Burger volley only as far as Bae Jun-ho, but the South Korea youth international could only fire the rebound into the side netting.

The hosts were immediately punished as Birmingham landed a sucker-punch on the counter through their leading marksman.

Koji Miyoshi’s through ball was latched on to by Stansfield, who shrugged off the challenge of Luke McNally to fire in an emphatic opener.

The Potters responded brightly to their early setback and should have levelled to cap off a frenetic first quarter of an hour.

Ryan Mmaee sprung the offside trap and raced through on goal, but his shot was saved well by the imposing Ruddy.

Then it was the turn of forward partner Andre Vidigal to go close, yet his guided effort dropped narrowly wide of the far post.

Only Exeter have scored fewer home league goals in the EFL than Stoke’s tally of 10 this season, and that wastefulness in the final third was on show again.

The hosts struggled to make their dominance count and Michael Rose spurned the chance of the half when he failed to convert from point-blank range.

At the opposite end, a bright Stansfield nearly notched his second of the afternoon before the interval, but he miscued his strike following a Daniel Iversen save.

The England Under-21 forward’s blushes were saved shortly after the restart thanks to a moment of brilliance courtesy of Bacuna.

The Curacao international stepped up from 25 yards and curled a delicious free-kick straight into the top corner beyond a helpless Iversen.

Again, Stoke rallied in their pursuit of a response with Jun-ho lifting an effort on to the crossbar and substitute Tyrese Campbell also going close.

The hosts’ persistence was eventually rewarded when Thompson bundled in his side’s first home league goal from open play since October 25.

But a late onslaught proved to be in vain for Schumacher’s side, who failed to repeat a 3-1 victory from the reverse fixture on Boxing Day.

Stoke head coach Steven Schumacher believes Lewis Baker can flourish in his system after he netted the winner in a narrow 1-0 Championship victory at Rotherham.

The game’s only goal and moment of real quality came through Baker’s sensational free-kick just before the break.

That proved to be the difference and ensured Schumacher a second victory in charge.

Stoke had certainly enjoyed the better of the first half but they did not take the lead until the fourth minute of added on time when Baker’s strike whistled into the top corner.

Schumacher wants the former Chelsea man to keep contributing and hinted he could become a key man under him.

He said: “It was a brilliant goal, unstoppable. I am really pleased for him because he hasn’t played much football. He’s a proper model professional.

“He is the type of player who competes very well and he’s got a goal in him. It’s important he stays available. He’s doing really well and he’s a talented player.

“When you come to a new club you try to build relationships with people. This system is designed for players like him, midfielders who score goals.

“Hopefully he can keep contributing. He’s one of the best two-footed players I have worked with.”

Rotherham came closest through former Stoke man Sam Clucas’ long-range strike but their former loanee goalkeeper Daniel Iversen enjoyed a quiet afternoon.

There were even fewer chances in the second half with the Millers failing to really put the visitors’ goal under threat and Stoke content with a one-goal cushion.

The best opportunities fell the way of Andre Vidigal, who had two opportunities to notch a second.

One of his efforts was palmed out by Viktor Johansson and a counter-attack deep into added time was curtailed by Cohen Bramall’s desperate defending.

Schumacher added: “I think it was a really tough game and what we expected. You have to come and battle and stand up to everything Rotherham throw at you. It’s a tough place to come to. It was a really good performance.

“The way they play, you have got to try and be brave but use your brain as well. It was really well executed from my players.”

Rotherham head coach Leam Richardson will now look to bring some players in after loanees Dexter Lembikisa and Fred Onyedinma departed the New York Stadium this week.

He said: “Hopefully we will be busy next week. We have needed bodies from January first. We are struggling to fill the bench.

“The first emotion was there was a game there to be won. I think it was a 0-0 game with one moment of quality which wins the game.

“I don’t think it should have been a free-kick. I think their manager would be saying the same thing if it was a flipside.

“In the second half we were the aggressor without having that final moment of quality or decision making.

“We have been very diligent in certain areas and aggressive in others. One of my frustrations is we got in some good areas but we need to be more aggressive with our crosses and shots.

“We have got to improve daily and have really good habits. We have to keep being really positive and working hard.

“I won’t have anybody knock the lads’ work effort or endeavour.”

Lewis Baker’s first-half goal proved enough as Stoke extended their unbeaten league run to seven matches with a narrow 1-0 victory at Championship bottom side Rotherham.

The Potters have not lost since a home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday on December 9, which cost former boss Alex Neil his job.

New manager Steven Schumacher secured his second victory in the hotseat thanks to Baker’s stunning free-kick.

Quick thinking from Viktor Johansson denied an early chance for Baker, who had been put through on goal by a smart ball from Ryan Mmaee.

Rotherham’s first attempt on goal came from former Stoke man Sam Clucas and his speculative drive from distance took a slight deflection before whistling just wide.

Andre Vidigal then forced a save out of Johansson with a powerful shot from the edge of the box.

Stoke took the lead in the fourth minute of first-half stoppage-time, with Baker lashing in an unstoppable free-kick from the edge of the box.

A sweeping move almost yielded a second for the visitors early in the second half with Sead Haksabanovic leading the charge and finding Vidigal, who fired over the top.

Rotherham were upping the pressure around the hour mark and a low corner from Ollie Rathbone caused trouble for the Stoke defence. The ball fell to Christ Tiehi at the back post but his effort landed on the roof of the net.

The visiting side seemed content to keep hold of the ball and their solitary goal lead.

It was a dangerous game to play and the Millers tried to threaten their lead, with the introduction of big striker Tom Eaves giving them a more direct option.

New Stoke signing Luke Cundle – who was on loan at Schumacher’s former club Plymouth for the first half of the season – got in a tangle when attempting to prod past Johansson from Vidigal’s pass.

Rotherham had six minutes of added on time to try and grab an equaliser and reliable substitute Georgie Kelly was brought on to spearhead their attacks.

Stoke had a big chance to put the game to bed moments later when Vidigal found space in the box but his shot was palmed out by Johansson and ran away from substitute Tyrese Campbell, who was lying in wait for a tap-in.

Vidigal caught Seb Revan in possession with the game’s last attack but a desperate challenge from Cohen Bramall denied him a clean strike on goal.

Brighton head coach Roberto De Zerbi admits he will demand more from Joao Pedro even though only Erling Haaland and Mohamed Salah have scored more this season.

The Brazilian’s late double in a 4-2 victory at Stoke avoided a potential FA Cup upset and took his personal tally to 15 in his maiden campaign for the Seagulls.

It equalled Glenn Murray’s 15-goal haul from the 2018-19 season and the club’s best return in a top-flight campaign since Michael Robinson (22) in 1980-81.

Manchester City’s Haaland (19) and Liverpool’s Salah (18) are the only Premier League players to have have scored more in all competitions but De Zerbi believes that is the level to which the youngster has to aspire.

“I love Joao Pedro and I know his potential. I know how he can improve and become important for us,” said the Italian.

“I would like always something more because for us this level of performance is enough but I think he can reach a higher level and to reach that level he can play better, he can push more and more.

“I would like him to start the game in the beginning not in the second half or after 20 minutes and I will tell him my opinion.”

De Zerbi admits he had never heard of Joao Pedro when the club lined up the £30million summer transfer from Watford.

“The credit for Joao Pedro is to the club. The recruitment department told me the name of Joao, I didn’t know Joao before he came with us,” he added.

Pedro’s goals in the final 19 minutes were decisive as his side had recovered from Jan Paul Van Hecke’s own goal to lead through Pervis Estupinan and Lewis Dunk only for Lewis Baker’s penalty to put the outcome in some doubt.

Asked how important it was to avoid a replay, De Zerbi said: “Especially if you think how many games we played from the beginning of the season.

“To reach the last 16 of the Europa League and to win today means we have to play three games less and that’s important in this moment if you consider how many players we have .”

This was Stoke head coach Steven Schumacher’s first defeat in his fifth match in charge and he admits he is still learning about his squad.

“Whenever you play against a Premier League team you learn lessons about what you have got,” he said.

“I learned our team has got character. When we conceded a goal just before half-time it could have knocked the wind out of us but it didn’t and we caused Brighton a few problems.

“The difference is in the big moments they punish you.”

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