When Birmingham City walked out at Pride Park yesterday afternoon, they did so on the back of four successive wins and an unbeaten run that stretched to 11 matches.
By the time referee Chris Kavanagh blew the final whistle, they had to leave without a point – although, it should be mentioned, the game had been out of their reach for a while as they found themselves in a literal ‘tale of two halves’ scenario.
Blues goalkeeper Lee Camp was called into action against his former team, Derby County with barely five minutes played. Craig Forsyth’s diagonal pass found Harry Wilson, who raced towards goal, but his low drive was sent out for a corner by Camp. Derby really should have scored from the resulting set-piece, Martyn Waghorn’s ball was flicked on at the near post by Jack Marriott, but Richard Keogh couldn’t find the target, a moment they would regret just two minutes later.
At the other end, Che Adams drilled a ball diagonally across the box, slicing through the Rams’ defence, to find Lukas Jutkiewicz. The forward took a touch to control the ball and then sent it past Scott Carson from 12 yards, scoring his eighth goal in just six games. Derby were dealt another blow shortly after when Waghorn was forced off the pitch with an injury.
For the quarter of an hour that followed, Derby couldn’t seem to recover, looking unsettled and deflated. That changed close to the half-hour mark when Duane Holmes, making his full debut for the club, won a free kick and Wilson’s effort from 25 yards pushed out by Camp. Frank Lampard’s side were now offering up some pressure and pushing for the equaliser, but Birmingham defended well and kept their hosts at bay, much to the frustration of the home team as well as their fans.
Wilson tried his luck from distance once again but his ambitious attempt ended up in the stands, drawing ironic cheers from the amused visiting support. Deep into added time at the end of the half, Jutkiewicz’s volley was palmed away by Carson and the rebound was scrambled out by Curtis Davies. Nonetheless, Garry Monk’s side went into the break with a deserved lead.
Just seconds into the restart, however, they would find that none of that would hold true: shortly, they wouldn’t have a lead to hold on to, and they certainly wouldn’t be deserving of one. The first warning came after some quick attacking play from Derby when Tom Lawrence’s first-time shot was pushed away by Camp, and he was at hand yet again when he saved a long-range effort from Holmes. As the evening progressed, the ex-Rams’ ‘keeper’s trajectory on the graph of unpopularity among the home fans was proportional to the number of his key saves (and time-wasting tactics), changing quickly from incremental to exponential. Imagine their delight, then, when substitute Mason Bennett found the equaliser.
The winger, who replaced Waghorn in the first half, tapped in a cross from Forsyth and was promptly serenaded by a loud chorus of “He’s one of our own”. But that wasn’t all. Just two minutes later, Wilson went for goal with a free-kick on the right-hand side and found it – albeit with the help of an unintentional deflection off Jutkiewicz, who was trying to clear the ball away. It was quite a turnaround for Derby after being second-best for most of the opening 45 minutes.
And there was still more to come. Instead of confusion and lack of rhythm, Lampard’s team now played with tempo and purpose. With 15 minutes remaining, Marriott was released into the box by Forsyth and fired the ball home from a tight angle and through the legs of Camp. Birmingham were trying to respond but it was their turn to be frustrated now, and even five minutes of added time didn’t prove to be enough. Derby’s second-half performance was impressive, and the comeback was excellent: three goals, three points, six games unbeaten in the league and third in the league standings. They took a step further from their midweek display at Stamford Bridge and it was ideal preparation for when the Blues’ city rivals come to town next week.
By Hritika Sharma at Pride Park