Birmingham City 0 Derby County 4
Jordan Ibe 9
Chris Martin 23
Craig Forsyth 77
Johnny Russell 89
Any concerns about facing a rejuvenated Birmingham City were soon eased as the Rams produced one of the best performances of the season to win as comfortably as the 4-0 scoreline suggests and lift us back up to third place in the Championship.
John Eustace returned to the starting eleven, a popular move with most fans and he celebrated with an early yellow card to show that the enforcer was back. The veteran midfielder settled back into the team easily and provided that solidity at the base of our midfield that can help to control games and is something we have missed on a number of occasions this season.
The injured Craig Bryson was replaced by Will Hughes in the only other change to the team that drew with Norwich City on Saturday.
We bossed this game and the manner of the performance as well as the result is a big boost after the worries that have started to creep in during recent weeks.
Jordan Ibe had a great game against one of his other former loan clubs, he fired into the roof of the net after receiving the ball from Chris Martin and shimmying around a couple of defenders, he also set up Craig Forsyth’s goal later in the game, the under pressure defender firing home well to put us 3-0 up, and was a threat throughout from wide areas.
As was the indefatigable Johnny Russell who capped off yet another fine performance with the fourth goal, his eighth of the season, after determined work by Leon Best (I know!) had charged down a clearance from the Blues
Chris Martin’s 16th goal of the season was a belting free kick in the 23rd minute following a foul on Johnny Russell, our centre forward stepping up and arrowing the ball into the top right hand corner in very similar fashion to the one he scored against Bournemouth last season at the iPro.
Will Hughes played excellently and there was a comfort to the performance that has been missing recently despite Birmingham’s attempts to get back into the game after half time.
We are halfway through the season now, 42 points on the board – an identical haul of points in the second half of the season would leave us one short of last year’s total and also short, very probably of automatic promotion.
Free scoring Bournemouth head the table three points ahead of us and Ipswich Town sit in second a couple of points ahead. Thinking ahead to the rest of the season I do not think that Bournemouth are going to fade away in any meaningful way. Their performances so far suggest that they are well equipped to maintain their promotion push and they must be taken very seriously.
Ipswich with professional Yorkshireman Mick McCarthy in charge have a manager experienced in organising teams to win promotion from the Championship and , like their manager, are awkward, sometimes annoying but never on the back foot and could well be a thorn in our side to the end of the season.
Norwich City’s recent displays, including on our own turf, show why they are also to be watched as the season draws on. I’d be very disappointed as a Canaries fan not to be sitting in the top two right now with the players they have and they seem to be hitting a stride at the moment that could see them join us in the leading pack.
Middlesbrough, as we have seen, can organise with the best of them and have some very effective players. Compared to last season they seem to have ironed out the problems they had with scoring and they will be disappointed if they are not in the shake up at the end of the season.
And all this is not forgetting the over achieving Brentford who despite getting duffed up by Ipswich yesterday seem to have more than enough in their locker to be top six through to the end of the season.
So what do we need to do to avoid any heartache come May?
Personally I think 90pts gets you promoted automatically this season, anything less is risking the play offs and all the pain that can inflict.
48pts then from 23 games – that is going to need us to hit our stride with at least a couple of decent winning streaks between now and the end of the season.
A little payback is required for our recent defeat at Elland Road so I’m expecting three points on Tuesday when Leeds come to town to reduce that required points tally down a little further. It may be nearly 2015 but they are still Dirty Leeds and it still feels like the 1970’s to me when they come to town!