Derby County 1 – Birmingham City 2
Saturday, April 24 2021
Safe! A stirring second half comeback turned things around at Pride Park as Blues second half display grabbed the three points needed to ensure survival in the Championship.
But it certainly hadn’t looked that way at half-time after Blues had put in their most insipid performance under Bowyer, content to repel Derby, which they failed to do. They showed no signs of the getting on the front foot, take it to them philosophy that has so marked the Carling Cup winner’s short tenure at St Andrews. Indeed, Blues barely got in Derby’s half, let alone had a shot in a terrible first half which felt like the bad old days of Karanka were back.
What happened next showed the difference between the two mangers. Karanka would have persisted, Bowyer changed it. He changed it from the restored starting 3-5-2 to a diamond and put a rocket up their ass. He needed to change the personnel to make the shape work as well, something he hasn’t been afraid to do, and Seddon, who hadn’t done much wrong on his recall, was replaced by Sanchez.
We soon saw Halilovic replace McGree in a straight swap, the Australian again looking lightweight and unable to get into the game and, to howls of derision from Twitter, San Jose appear from the wilderness to replace Gardner. But it worked as the Catalonian anchored the diamond well and allowed the more creatives to start running at the Derby backline, something that had been completely missing in the first half.
The changes had been necessary as Blues found themselves trailing to a Kazim-Richards’ goal which, contrary to recent form, saw the defence all over the place.
Derby hadn’t been any great shakes up to that point, throwing the ball long which played into our hands. But, for once, Blues defence got it all wrong when another long ball was launched. Rather than holding his position and looking after the wing-back Buchanan, Colin decided to challenge Waghorn in the air – a job for a centre half. Waghorn’s flick found the now unattended Buchanan who put in a dangerous ball into the corridor of uncertainty. Dean then ran in completely the wrong direction, leaving Pedersen with far much to do to get goal-side of Kazim-Richards and the Derby centre forward was left with the easy job of putting the ball into the net from about five yards.
Something needed to be done and Bowyer did it. Within ten minutes of the completion of the change of shape Blues were back in it.
On 57, we created our first chance, which resulted in Pedersen, who’d moved to left back, having a shot in the box on his weaker right foot blocked by a sprawling Clarke.
Four minutes later we were level and it was that Roberts throw, such a waste of time under Karanka, that again caused the problems. Long flat throw in from the blond centre-back, Derby defender under pressure from Dean flicked on and the on-rushing Jukey does what he does – one each.
It was all Blues now and Derby were wilting under the pressure. Suddenly, Jukey and Leko were getting the service that had been non-existent in the first half and with the full backs pushing on more that the wing backs had been able in the first half, Blues were knocking hard at the door.
In contrast, Derby got nowhere near Etheridge’s goal in the second half. For the most part San Jose and Sunjic were breaking it up and giving it to more creative players and anything that got past them, usually a high ball, was gobbled up by Dean and Roberts.
Rooney made changes to try and counteract the Blues changes and the swing in momentum of the whole game, but, unlike Bowyer’s changes, they had no effect. It was still all Blues.
Hallilovic hit the post when he should have scored, young Miller came on for Leko, who’d done well in the second half, before the winner came from another throw.
With Derby expecting the long hurl into the box, as Blues have done on a number of occasions recently the throw was short, this time to Sanchez. The Spaniard, who’d looked lively since coming on as the first change, swung the ball to the back post. Derby, inexplicably, had left Jukey unmarked there and a diving header from the big man secured the win and safety.
An incredible job by Bowyer to turn things around. I was resigned to another spell in the third tier before his arrival. He’s kept it simple and positive since he’s come in, quickly assessing the squad and playing to its strengths.
With so much talk of identity of teams nowadays, Bowyer’s rediscovered Blues’. In the forty odd years I’ve been watching them, they’ve been at their best when they’ve had hard working, high tempo, committed teams which then had a bit of stardust sprinkled on it – Trev, Frank, Dugarry. Not for us, for better or worse, the total football of the seventies Dutch side or the present day Man City team.
The current side clearly needs a bit of the stardust if they’re to become contenders for promotion – we simply have to score more goals. I’m not sure that given a blank canvas Bowyer would play the way we’ve been playing, but that’s been the genius of the job that he’s done – he’s managed the resources at his disposal to the best possible effect and deserves all the credit in the world for the remarkable job he’s done.
Now starts the hard work of turning us back into a club whose greatest ambition is not to be relegated to League One.
MoM – Lukas Jutkiewicz – No player, apart from Dean, has epitomised the change in the team since Bowyer’s come than Jukey. The strength of his hold up play and leadership was something to behold in the second half. It was fitting that his two classic headers won the game for Blues and kept us up.