Here is Baz’s report on yesterday’s superb win at Derby.
At last it seemed that winter had finally arrived. Sunrise revealed a frost covered landscape, crisp underfoot and requiring of warm clothes and gloves when venturing out. A neighbour of ours has been poorly recently and she owns an energetic little Cairn terrier called Bentley. I had arranged to take the little lad out for his walk and I called by my neighbour’s house at 08.30 to pick him up. Walk completed, I was in plenty of time to get to Blackwater train station for my first journey to Reading before picking up my connection to Reading. Up on the board was the dreaded message “delayed.” The timings went out and out until the 10.02 was finally cancelled and the 10.31 delayed by twenty minutes. This did not auger well for the rest of my journey and I had no chance of making my train at Reading and was reconciled to catching the next one which was an hour later. Fortunately, as long as there were no further hold ups, I would still arrive at Derby station by 2 pm, in time for a quick pint before the match.
Blues had gained a creditable draw at Nottingham Forest in the week but I detected frustration from the commentators of the match who felt that there should have been three points not just the one. Personally, I feel more sanguine about it since any point away from home has to be welcomed; the task before Blues at Derby was going to be a far tougher prospect however and it depended on how well we defended as much as anything else. The week also saw the loan deal for Will Buckley from Sunderland and I know the Blues faithful will welcome his arrival and get behind him in the coming weeks; whether he played in this game remained to be seen; he was on the bench when the team sheet was announced.
I eventually got to Derby an hour later than expected and decided to walk straight to the ground where I sought something to eat and a pint. They ran out of pies early much to my annoyance and although the pasty I eventually got was hot, well baked with a reasonable filling, I’m not sure it was worth £4 plus £3.50 charged for the pint; Premier League prices it seems but Derby aren’t there yet!
As for the game, this I believe was the best all round performance from Blues this season. When the standard of the opposition is taken into account, the fact that it was away from home, sustained for the whole match and the quality of the goals we scored with a clean sheet to boot, I reckon this was better than the Fulham game in terms of quality and that was a terrific performance. The first half was attritional with both defences on top. Derby it is true had the lion’s share of the play but I don’t believe they were dominant. Their efforts were few and far between and consisted of a couple of shots from range and a fluffed header from their best build-up of the half from Hendrick who could only steer a free header wide from eight yards when he perhaps should have done better. Apart from that they hardly laid a glove on us and never really threatened. Blues for their part looked more threatening when they attacked and a little more care with the final pass from Gleeson and Toral and there is no doubt they would have been ahead. Donaldson also had a good chance to shoot when one on one with the last defender but attempted to find Toral instead and the opportunity was gone.
Blues were the better side all the way through this game and they made an expensively assembled, quality Derby team look very ordinary. It is difficult to fault any of the Birmingham players in the way they played and everyone contributed to the overall piece but two players stood out for me: Paul Robinson who marshalled the defence beautifully and made sure everybody performed their duties correctly. Next to Morrison he headed everything that came into the box, tackled ferociously and led by example. His performance was deservedly capped with the opening goal from a corner flicked on at the near post by his central defensive partner, Morrison and there was Robbo to nod the ball in from close range for a lead Blues richly deserved. The other player whom I felt was absolutely outstanding was Jon Toral who kept getting into pockets of space in the centre of midfield and running at the Derby rearguard making them backpedal. He was replaced on 88 minutes by Gary Rowett, I suspect so he could receive the roars of approval from a delirious 3,098 bluenoses. He looked imperious in the middle of the park and with a little more composure just after we went 2-0 up he could have been on the score sheet himself; he rushed a shot from 15 yards when the ball came out to him but sent the effort over but I don’t wish to sound picky, this was a man of the match performance.
I doubt there was anybody among the away supporters who could have predicted the second and third goals we scored in the second half. Gleeson doubled our lead from out on the right when noticing Lee Grant was off his line he lobbed the ball over him into the far corner of the net; it was a true beauty and no mistake and our lot went wild! However, good though that was, nothing prepared us for a fantastic 25 yard volley from a dropping ball by Maikel Kieftenbeld! Take a bow son! What a goal this was and if you get the chance, get the highlights up online.
To be fair, 3-0 did not flatter us; it could have been more with a little more precision. Grant saved a sumptuous attempted curler from Toral into the top corner onto the bar and it was from the resulting corner that we scored. The referee had a good game overall but I think he did get a call wrong right at the end when Lee Grant spilled the ball and Clayton Donaldson, who was another one that was excellent all afternoon, chased it down and got there first. Grant clatters into the back of the forward but gets the free kick in his favour! This was a clear penalty in my view and would have rubbed salt into Derby’s wounds. The whistle went seconds later and the home side trudged off a well beaten side. Derby for their part never really threatened the Blues rearguard. They had plenty of the ball, 59% of it, but played in front of us or just knocked it sideways. They relied on swinging crosses in from wide and both full backs did well to reduce the number allowed in. What did arrive and there were 31 crosses according to the stats to our 12, were dealt with and the hosts were restricted to shots from range and anything else was blocked.
Yes, a very good day for Gary Rowett and his charges; more performances as good as this and the play offs are a very real prospect. Well done lads, it was well worth the trip.
The Good: The match, the atmosphere in the packed ground, the performance by the Blues players, three cracking goals and a clean sheet.
The Bad: The catering; running out of hot food when you know you have thousands coming is poor. It was expensive for what it was too. The delay to my train was a bore especially on such a cold day.
The Ugly: There was a character that ran across the aisle I was in to make unpleasant gestures at Derby fans to our right when we scored our second. He clattered into a couple of elderly people standing next to me almost knocking them over and I was lucky not to disappear over a safety rail. Look chap, we’re winning; there’s no need behaving like this and risking the safety of other people to make a point that our players have already made far more effectively. By all means celebrate but don’t endanger others and get yourself arrested.
Derby County: Lee Grant 6, Cyrus Christie 6, Richard Keogh 6, Jeff Hendrick 6, Johnny Russell 6 (Abdoul Camaraderie 67, 6) Jason Shackell 6, Bradley Johnson 7, Tom Ince 7 (Chris Martin 67, 5) Nick Blackman 6, George Thorne 6 (Jacob Butterfield 67, 6) Stephen Warnock 6.
Subs not used: Scott Carson, Andreas Weimann, Chris Baird, Ryan Shotton.
Yellow cards: Keogh, Blackman
Birmingham City: Tomas Kuczcak 8, Paul Caddis 7, Michael Morrison 7, Paul Robinson 8, Jonathan Grounds 7, David Davis 8 (James Vaughan 88, N/A) Maikel Kieftenbeld 8, Jon Toral 9 (Will Buckley 88, N/A) Stephen Gleeson 8, Jacques Maghoma 8 (David Davis 70, 6) Clayton Donaldson 7.
Subs not used: Adam Lezgdins, Jonathan Spector, Shane Lowry, Viv Soloman-Otabor
Goals: Robinson 59, Gleeson 74, Kieftenbeld 80.
Yellow cards: Gleeson.
Referee: Tim Robinson 7: I thought the referee had a good game and was well supported by his assistants. He got the odd call here and there wrong but no one is perfect and he added to the occasion by allowing the game to flow, made decisive decisions when needed, didn’t brandish cards around and kept control of the game throughout.
Attendance: 32,895 (3,098 noses)