Saturday, 13 January 2018

Birmingham City 0 v Derby County 3 - EFL Championship

Saturday 13th January 2018
SkyBet EFL League Championship
at St. Andrew's Stadium
Birmingham City (0) 0
Derby County (1) 3
Johnny Russell 19
Matej Vydra 56
Andreas Weimann 89
Attendance: 22,121 (inc. 3,488 away)
Birmingham City:
David Stockdale, Maxime Colin, Marc Roberts, Harlee Dean, Jonathan Grounds, Maikel Kieftenbeld, Craig Gardner, Jacques Maghoma, David Davis (Che Adams 66), Jeremie Boga (Jota 83), Sam Gallagher.
Unused subs -  Connal Trueman, Michael Morrison, Josh Dacres-Cogley, Cheikh Ndoye, Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Derby County:
Scott Carson, Andre Wisdom, Richard Keogh, Curtis Davies, Craig Forsyth, Tom Huddlestone, George Thorne, Johnny Russell, Matej Vydra (Chris Martin, 87), Tom Lawrence (Andreas Weimann 77), Sam Winnall (David Nugent 68).
Unused subs - Jonathan Mitchell, Chris Baird, Alex Pearce, Jamie Hanson.
Steve Cotterill's Birmingham City went into today's game on the back of three straight wins in a row, during which time they haven't conceded a single goal.
There's something that nobody ever thought they would be reading at any point during this season of (even more) turmoil at St. Andrew's.
Gary Rowett, the EFL Championship manager of the month for December, has had a decent season thus far at Pride Park, and subsequently, the Rams started the game in second place, twelve points behind runaway leaders Wolves, while Birmingham have given themselves a
fighting chance (or thereabouts) of clawing their way out of the relegation places, with their two recent back to back league wins against Leeds United at home and Reading away, which preceded last weekend's FA Cup third round win against Burton Albion.
Derby's form under Rowett, has seen the former Blues manager rewarded with a two and a half year contract extension, to fend off apparent interest from Premier League club Stoke City, who recently parted company with Mark Hughes.
When these two sides last met in September, the game finished one apiece, when Sam Winnall equalised for the Rams just three minutes after Lukas Jutkiewicz had given Blues (under the leadership of caretaker manager Lee Carsley) the lead, just after the hour mark.
There is an unwritten code in football, that all of the rub of the green stuff, the close calls, near misses, fifty fifty decisions, good (and bad) luck and what has recently become known as 'fine lines' and 'narrow margins', will more than likely prove to be a massive hindrance and burden to any side struggling at the wrong end of the table, while fortune smiles on those who are riding high.
I'm not suggesting for a single moment that the Rams were dead jammy to get all of the points this afternoon, far from it, they were ruthless and clinical in equal measure when it mattered the most and can justifiably claim to have earned this win and all of the plaudits and
points that went along with with it, but perusing my notes from the opening twenty minutes of this game... in fact recapping events for the majority of the first half if truth be told, it read like a very detailed witnesses statement, presenting considerable weight to the case that the aforementioned 'unwritten code' was evidently in operation today, at least before half time interval anyway, after which time Derby upped their input and won because, in the main, they were more organised and a better team than their hosts.
Inside the opening five minutes, Jeremie Boga was all over the Rams defence like a nettle rash and when his sideways pass was deflected into the path of Jonathan Grounds, the left sided defender struck a crisp shot that beat Scott Carson all ends up but crashed back into play off of the right hand upright.
3,488 Derby County fans
Andre Wisdom air kicked while attempting to make a straight forward clearance on the edge of his area that almost let Boga in, but recovered quickly to get a foot to the ball at the second attempt.
David Davis went close to adding a finishing touch after Blues unpicked the visitors defence with a well worked free kick routine straight off of the training ground and then Boga tricked his way to the dead ball line before pulling the ball back to Sam Gallagher, who hesitated briefly when a first time effort was probably best practice and Derby scrambled the ball away to safety.
But despite the Rams coming to terms with the pressure that City applied during the opening stages, with all of the aplomb of the Walmington-on-Sea home guard seeing off a full scale invasion of 'Fuzzy Wuzzies', they rode their luck a bit, didn't panic and counter attacked swiftly in the nineteenth minute, when Richard Keogh knocked a rangy pass into the path of Johnny Russell, who raced forward for forty yards and played an hopeful angled cross/shot across the Blues area, that lacked the power to trouble David Stockdale, but took a deflection (possibly two) in front of the goal and crept over the line.
Regardless of what occurred later in the game at this particular point in time, the team who arrived at St.Andrew's sat in second place in the table had just got lucky.

To their credit, Birmingham brushed themselves down and set about the task of getting back on level terms after going a goal behind against the run of play during the opening exchanges. Boga's quick feet created an opportunity for Craig Gardner who sent a ferociously struck effort towards the top corner of the net from all of twenty five yards, only for Carson to make an excellent save and tip the ball round the post at full stretch. With a keeper in that sort of inspired form, it is no wonder that this would prove to be County's tenth consecutive away league game without a defeat.
Sam Winnall got forward on the left for the visitors and picked out Russell with his cross, but this time, sans the assistance of 'a deflection (possibly two)', the Rams number seven's wayward effort ended up somewhere towards the back of the Tilton Road End.
The visitors upped the ante towards half time and a cross from a tight angle out on the right hand side of the area by Matej Vydra, moved about all over the place before bouncing off of the top of the crossbar and Winnall got away down the left flank again, but Tom Lawrence miscued his shot straight at Stockdale from the resulting delivery.
HT: Blues 0 v Rams 1
The first half chances that went begging, came back to haunt Steve Cotterill's side, when Derby doubled their lead in the fifty sixth minute, when Lawrence play ed a well measured ball over Birmingham's defence to free Vydra who buried an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net, in front of the celebrating away fans.
The Rams had the scent of victory in their nostrils now and when Russell cut inside and out-manoeuvred Maxime Colin, a reflex save from Stockdale was required to prevent the visitors from going three goals ahead. Winnall went close when he picked up a clearance outside the area, moved forward and hit a thumping shot, that Grounds managed to block and divert the ball past the post.
Davis combined with Gallagher, but the latter rushed his shot and put it over.
Blues kept working, hoping for a break to set themselves on the road to recovery, but Harlee Dean and the lively Boga could keep their goal attempts on target as the visitors defence pressured them in the air and then that old Devil the 'unwritten code' reared it's head again, as Grounds used his to meet Gardner's cross with a towering header that bruised the foot of the post.
The fates had been unkind this afternoon for Birmingham, who certainly didn't deserve to be on the end of a big losing margin on the back of this showing, but for all of that, Derby had that bit more about them in the final reckoning and finished the afternoon on a high, having put in a professional shift where they turned the screw on Blues at the optimum moments.
They aren't in an automatic promotion place on the strength of good fortune alone, this is a side who seem to be coming into their prime and on the verge of taking hold of the current season by the scruff of it's neck.
Tom Huddlestone was denied by Stockdale, as the increasingly busy keeper did well to hold on to the occasional England international's stinging shot, but right at the death, Derby claimed a third goal to add the icing and a cherry on top of their second half efforts, when David Nugent's sideways knock across City's six yard box was steered into the net by Andreas Weiman.
FT: Birmingham City 0 v Derby County 3
Blues will play worse than they did today and come away with something out of the game, while you get the impression that the visitors might just still have a couple more gears in their engine to move up through, as the intensity increases towards the climax of another intriguing Championship campaign.