Sturridge's goal, his 10th of the season, was replete with irony. Coventry had just earned a corner and sent virtually every man forward. In trying to win the game, they effectively lost it. The flag kick was headed clear by Robin van der Laan and the ball sprayed wide by Aljosa Asanovic to Paul Trollope. His low cross was converted by Derby's leading scorer to climax a classic counter-attack.
"They say fortune favours the brave," said the Coventry manager, Gordon Strachan, "but it didn't tonight." Sturridge's revelation that he was about to be substituted moments before he scored merely compounded the Sky Blues' feeling that they were fated not to survive.
Jim Smith, the Derby manager, had gone into the game without his two most experienced defenders, Igor Stimac (injured) and Paul McGrath (rested). Their absence looked likely to be crucial as Coventry exploited the uncertainty of their replacements on a gluepot of a pitch.
McGrath's former ally at Aston Villa, Kevin Richardson, was behind both Coventry goals, albeit with unwitting assistance from Derby in the first instance. Russell Hoult, coming to the angle of the penalty area to make a routine catch from the midfielder's fourth-minute cross, collided with Christian Dailly. Darren Huckerby pounced to curl the loose ball into an unguarded net.
To Derby's further dismay, Richardson then threaded a fine pass to Eoin Jess in the inside-right channel. The Scot's shot was stopped by Hoult, but again the ball squirmed free for Noel Whelan to walk it over the line.
Smith admitted later that his team have scored only once from a corner in the Premiership this season. By the interval they had trebled that total. In the scramble which followed Asanovic's kick after 17 minutes, Ashley Ward reduced the deficit at point-blank range. Four minutes before the break, after Gary Rowett swung the ball in from the opposite flank, Van der Laan rose to equalise at the far post.
When Hoult redeemed himself by touching behind a drive by the substitute, Peter Ndlovu, it appeared that a replay was the best Derby could hope for. Yet seconds later, Sturridge swept them into the last eight. By further irony, he will be banned for the visit of Middlesbrough.
Derby County (3-5-2): Hoult; Laursen, Rowett, Dailly; Carsley, Van der Laan, Asanovic, D Powell, Trollope; Sturridge, Ward. Substitutes not used: Willems, Simpson, Flynn.
Coventry City (3-5-2): Ogrizovic; Shaw, Dublin, Williams; Telfer, McAllister, Whelan, Richardson, Hall; Huckerby, Jess (Ndlovu, 80). Substitutes not used: Yevtushok, Filan (gk).
Referee: P Danson (Blaby, Leics).Reuse content