Derby County conceded three second half goals as they fell to their heaviest defeat of the 2015/16 season at the hands of Birmingham City.
Despite Paul Clement's side dominating much of the first half, Birmingham came out much stronger in the second 45 minutes and Paul Robinson headed the Blues in front with a header following a corner routine.
The visitors then scored two goal of the weekend contenders – the first potentially a fluke as Stephen Gleeson seemingly got too much on a cross that flew over the head of Lee Grant into the far corner of the goal.
Maikel Kieftenbeld added gloss to the scoreline by then hitting a thunderous volley from the edge of the area that left Grant with no chance as Derby fell to only their second home defeat of the campaign.
In a feisty and cagey opening 15 minutes at the iPro Stadium, both sets of midfields and defences were well on top in their attempts to stifle any ventures forward – though Derby held total control of the contest with the visitors content to sit back and soak up the pressure.
It took 16 minutes before either side registered a shot on goal. From range, Jeff Hendrick blazed over the top of Tomasz Kuszczak’s crossbar, whilst Nick Blackman, operating in the lone striker’s role, headed tamely straight at the Birmingham ‘keeper from a right wing cross soon after.
Gary Rowett’s side, though, began to recede further towards their own goal as the Rams established control of the game and began to dominate possession.
Blackman scuffed an opening well wide of goal from the edge of the area and a firm cross into the box took a heavy deflection that had Kuszczak scrambling before it eventually skidded past his far post.
Shortly after the half hour mark, Derby created their clearest opening following a prolonged spell of possession in the Birmingham half.
The returning George Thorne shifted the ball from right to left with a precise diagonal to the feet of Johnny Russell, who laid into the path of Stephen Warnock. The full back, with time, delivered a cross into the box that Hendrick, unmarked, could only guide wide of goal.
As the first 45 minutes neared its conclusion, Bradley Johnson, from the edge of the area, fired another effort narrowly wide and Hendrick tested Kuszczak, whilst at the other end, the visitors recorded their first shot on target as Arsenal loanee Jon Toral forced Grant into a save at his near post.
Encouraged by the first half showing, Birmingham began the second half on the front foot and threw more bodies forward to support Donaldson, building on their solid foundations at the back with more adventure and creativity going forward.
Jacques Maghoma, the former Burton Albion, wideman tested Grant at his near post, before seeing another crucially deflected wide after fluid and patient build-up play in and around the Derby penalty area.
Soon after, Toral, from a central position, shot straight at Grant and saw another tipped superbly over the top of the crossbar by the Derby goalkeeper following a swift break by the Blues.
It was from that corner, though, that Birmingham broke the deadlock as Michael Morrison rose highest to flick the ball towards goal where his centre back partner, Robinson, headed in at the far post.
Clement, the Derby Head Coach, responded by making a triple change – introducing Chris Martin, Jacob Butterfield and Abdoul Camara for Tom Ince, Thorne and Russell – but as the Rams desperately pushed for an equaliser, the visitors struck a sublime second.
A shot or a cross? Only Gleeson will know as he picked the ball up on the right and bent a ball into the box that arched over the head of Grant and into the far corner of the goal.
The Rams almost hit back immediately as Blackman forced Kuszczak into a save with a cross shot, but with 10 minutes remaining, Kieftenbeld made it three with a strike that bettered Gleeson’s second as he thundered a volley from the edge of the area beyond Grant and into the bottom corner.
Blackman continued to be Derby’s biggest threat up front as he saw a strike deflected wide and another one cleared off the line, but their efforts were in vain as Rowett’s side ran out deserved winners at the iPro Stadium.
Derby County: Grant, Christie, Keogh, Shackell, Warnock (C), Thorne (Butterfield, 67), Hendrick, Johnson, Ince (Martin, 68), Russell (Camara, 68), Blackman
Substitutes not used: Carson, Baird, Weimann, Shotton
Birmingham City: Kuszczak, Caddis, Morrison, Robinson, Grounds; Kieftenbeld, Gleeson, Davis (Vaughan, 90); Toral (Buckley, 88), Maghoma, Donaldson
Substitutes not used: Legzdins, Solomon-Otabor, Shinnie, Spector, Lowry
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