Birmingham City 1 Derby County 1: Villa exposes shaky Birmingham foundations

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The Independent Football

When these sides met earlier this season, back on a balmy August afternoon, Birmingham's away victory under the then manager Steve Bruce suggested that a promising campaign might lie in store. It hasn't turned out that way, and the desperation of the situation they now find themselves in under Bruce's successor, Alex McLeish, was underlined by Emanuel Villa's last-minute equaliser which gave Derby a deserved point at a bitterly cold St Andrew's.

The game had been described as a must-win encounter by Birmingham chairman David Gold in his column in the match-day programme, so the point which sees the Blues drop into the relegation zone can hardly be pleasing for anyone concerned. "If the League table was decided today then I'd agree with his comments," McLeish said after his side secured just their second point from the past five games. "But it wasn't decided today so I don't agree with it. The chairman speaks his mind and he's entitled to that. I don't think what he said was controversial. I didn't even read it."

Back in August, Derby had seemingly consigned themselves to relegation already, and have now set themselves the more realistic target of beating the lowest-ever points total in the Premier League, held by Sunderland with 15. They came one point closer to achieving that goal when the Argentinian Villa – who was Paul Jewell's first signing as Derby manager after taking over from Billy Davies in November – flicked a header past Maik Taylor in the Birmingham goal in the final minute.

It is the first time all season that Derby have gone two games unbeaten, but manager Jewell is not getting carried away by the relative success of their run. "I've still got more points on my driving licence," he said afterwards. "And I'm not joking either."

With a goalkeeper and a back four with a combined age of 157, Jewell was banking on experience to fend off their opponents. It worked too, with debutants Alan Stubbs and Roy Carroll keeping an uninspired Birmingham at bay for most of the game.

In the first half Carroll saved a low drive from Olivier Kapo, and a 25-yard free-kick by Sebastian Larsson. Garry O'Connor had the ball in the net just before half-time only for the linesman to correctly rule he was in an offside position, not from where he scored but when his header from James McFadden's cross by was brilliantly saved by Carroll.

The breakthrough for Birmingham finally came halfway through the second half. David Murphy, another debutant, crossed from the left and when Marc Edworthy failed to clear under pressure from Larsson, the Swedish winger calmly side-footed the ball under Carroll.

"When we got the breakthrough I thought that was us over the line," McLeish admitted. "We stayed with two banks of four in midfield but, credit to Derby, they drove forward and got the equaliser."

In truth Derby had come close to taking the lead when Kenny Miller hit the inside of the post just after half-time, but rather than crumble after going behind, they came back at Birmingham and got the equaliser.

Villa is not a name that Birmingham fans are fond of, and Jewell's £2m signing from the Mexican side Tecos made them dislike it even more. Derby might even have won when substitute Giles Barnes broke into the box in injury time but he shot too close to Taylor.

McLeish refused to be despondent, preferring to focus on the rest of the season. "If everyone can find another couple of per cent and play out of their skins I'm sure we can get the necessary points to stay up," he said. If they cannot, Birmingham could well be coming face to face with Derby in next season's Championship.

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