06:00 Monday 03 February 2014

SLIDESHOW: Birmingham City 3, Derby County 3

Written bySTEVE NICHOLSON

AS MESSAGES go, the one delivered ahead of this game was loud and clear.

Head coach Steve McClaren called on his Derby County players not to waste the sterling comeback and victory recorded against Yeovil a few days earlier.

His words contained wisdom and warning, and appeared to have been completely absorbed by the players.

Holding a two-goal winning margin at 3-1 with time running out they were comfortable and in control of the Championship clash against Birmingham City at St Andrew’s.

The points were in the bag.

Unfortunately, they failed to tie the bag tightly enough and the points spilled out as Birmingham accepted an invitation to hit back for an unlikely 3-3 draw.

Their joy overflowed.

For Derby, there was much gnashing of teeth and shaking of heads.

Talk centred on an unnecessary gung-ho, naive approach late on when we should have been talking about another three goals scored, another three points and another away win.

A harsh lesson? Most certainly. A costly slip up? Most certainly. A missed opportunity? Most certainly.

Leicester City are striding away at the top while the next two teams, Queen’s Park Rangers and Burnley, slugged out a 3-3 draw in the early kick off on Saturday.

The result left Derby knowing a victory would see them leap frog Burnley into third place and provide a perfect fillip with second-placed QPR visiting the iPro Stadium in the next game.

But disappointment at squandering important points should not be allowed to cloud the picture totally.

Derby remain in a healthy position to welcome and test Harry Redknapp’s Rangers a week tonight.

They are unbeaten in four and should not let the closing stages at Birmingham dent confidence.

There was plenty of confidence on show for most of Saturday’s game.

Jamie Ward, recalled in place of Simon Dawkins, was back to his best after a below-par few weeks.

Determined and lively, he was a menace to Birmingham with his darting runs in the wide left position and played a key role in two of Derby’s three goals.

Craig Bryson and Will Hughes supported attacks spearheaded by Chris Martin.

Ward shot narrowly wide and Patrick Bamford headed straight at Darren Randolph before Hughes drifted into the area and was upended by Tyler Blackett.

Martin had missed his last two penalties and so Bryson accepted the responsibility only to scuff his spot kick and Randolph saved.

In this, a World Cup year, attention will turn to penalties and England’s dreadful record.

Derby need to improve their own record. They have failed to convert four this season and missed four last season.

Bamford had a chance on the stroke of half time from a Bryson centre and Derby should have been ahead at the break.

Instead, they fell behind three minutes after the interval when Birmingham midfielder Brian Howard was offered time and space to score with a free header.

From Derby’s viewpoint there was not enough pressure on the cross and the marking in the box was poor.

But they shook off the setback to equalise within a minute.

Ward burst between two defenders and his pull back found Bamford, whose first attempt struck the bar before the on-loan forward smashed in the rebound for his fourth goal in the last four games.

Other parts of his game need work, as you would expect with a 20-year-old, but he can score goals.

Saturday’s was his 21st of the season, with 17 scored on-loan with MK Dons.

Bryson is also in the goals this season although he did not know too much about his 13th that put Derby ahead on the hour. Martin’s shot from distance struck Bryson on the back of the head to send the ball looping away from Randolph and in off a post.

It was a slice of luck which Derby can say they deserved on the balance of play and they scored again after 73 minutes.

Randloph had made a fine save from Bryson before the Rams carved Birmingham open.

Martin found Ward whose cute pass picked out the run of Craig Forsyth and he finished low past the keeper.

Game over, it seemed, and especially given the circumstances.

Birmingham have the third worst home record in the division and they have not won a league game in front of their own fans since the beginning of October.

They had to piece their team together with loan signings completed the previous day, and the average age of the starting side was under 22.

One of their five debutants on the day was central defender Tom Thorpe who was carried off on a stretcher after 14 minutes to add to manager Lee Clark’s problems.

Clark is doing a commendable job all things considered and he was proud of the way his players pegged back the Rams.

Their second goal 12 minutes from the end of normal time owed much to Derby’s careless play.

An attack high up the pitch broke down between Bamford and Jeff Hendrick, and Birmingham countered.

Lee Grant saved brilliantly from substitute Federico Macheda, but the Rams failed to deal with the second phase of play and Chris Burke was able to pick his spot to reduce the deficit.

Bamford was substituted and Johnny Russell’s brightness caught the eye in a cameo role on the right.

Hendrick dragged a good chance wide but the focus should have been on closing the game out.

Failure to do so cost them three minutes into added time.

Andrew Wisdom’s terrific defensive header sent the ball behind for a corner although the full back was impeded and Derby should have been awarded a free kick.

The referee disagreed.

Emyr Huws met the corner and his effort struck the near post.

The ball squirted across goal and was thumped in by Macheda from close range to make it 3-3.

On loan from Manchester United, Macheda had been introduced to his new teammates only two and a half hours before kick-off.

His introduction on the pitch made the biggest impact, and left Derby ruing two points dropped.

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