Not for the first time, Birmingham City had to thank Kevin Phillips and his poacher's instinct as they came from behind to clinch their place in the quarter-finals of the Cup deep into stoppage time.
Liam Ridgewell's name was on the score sheet as Derby's hopes were shattered but it was a goal created by Phillips after the 37-year-old striker, who has started only four matches this season, made another decisive entrance from the bench. After Craig Gardner had driven a free-kick low into a crowded Derby penalty area, it was Phillips who had the skill to turn it into a shooting chance. He thumped the ball against the right-hand post and as it rolled along the goalline it was probably on its way in when Ridgewell's lunge made sure.
Until then, Derby were looking ahead to a replay at St Andrew's they felt they deserved after turning their improvement in the Championship into a feisty performance against their Premier League opponents.
They had ended the first half looking the stronger team and went ahead 10 minutes into the second period when Birmingham's goalkeeper, Joe Hart, widely touted for England's World Cup squad, put a rare blot on his CV with something of a howler, allowing Jay McEveley's shot to bobble past him after an awkward bounce.
A McEveley goal had given Derby victory over Doncaster in the fourth round and, although Barry Ferguson was immaculate in midfield, Birmingham were not looking especially threatening. But after Phillips had replaced a quiet Christian Benitez in a double change by Birmingham's manager, Alex McLeish, the balance changed.
Scott Dann equalised with a powerful header that Michael Tonge, defending on the goalline, could not keep out, before the Phillips-Ridgewell combination did for Derby in the third added minute.
There was time, though, for Hart to redeem himself with a brilliant save from Robbie Savage, tipping the ball over the bar as the Derby captain aimed a fizzing shot towards the top corner.
"I wouldn't blame Joe for Derby's goal, but that save at the end showed his character," McLeish said. "It is hard to say it was a mistake because it was a bobbly pitch and McEveley's shot took a real kick that would have foxed any keeper."
Derby found the result hard to stomach. "It is the second time in three games that a late goal has cost us so we feel a bit hard done by," their manager, Nigel Clough, said. "Against a Premier League side I thought we had looked relatively comfortable."
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Ferguson
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content