Sturridge outflanks non-union Blues

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The Independent Online
PHIL SHAW

Birmingham City 1 Derby County 4

It is said locally that Birmingham only want to buy into rugby union so that Barry Fry can fulfil an ambition to field eight forwards. After this setback - Derby's biggest win of the season and their first at St Andrew's since 1948 - he might be more inclined to play eight defenders.

The way last night's First Division results went, Fry's team would have gone into Sunday's six-pointer against Leicester as leaders if they had won. From the moment Dean Sturridge scored Derby's opener, after only five minutes, the former Birmingham manager, Jim Smith, always looked more likely than Fry to be savouring victory.

The contribution of the lively Sturridge, who played a part in two further goals, was matched by a masterly midfield display by Robin Van der Laan. The Dutchman's bulk and ball-winning ability belie deft technique, which he used to instant effect in puncturing the optimism generated by Birmingham's 15-game unbeaten run.

Receiving from Marco Gabbiadini, Van der Laan dissected the defence with a slide-rule pass. Sturridge's speed carried him into a scoring position, from which he flicked the ball beyond the advancing Ian Bennett.

Birmingham's retaliation relied mainly on the long-ball game and set- pieces, but in the 39th minute, Sturridge pounced on Johnson's weak header and outpaced him before crossing low for Ron Willems to score.

Within three minutes, Birmingham tested Fry's promise not to dance along the touchline if they scored. Gary Rowett barged Steve Claridge in the back, allowing Mark Ward to reduce the arrears from the spot.

Derby's response was to restore their two-goal advantage 60 seconds into the second half. Sturridge, again exploiting Birmingham's weakness at full-back, crossed deep for the unmarked Gabbiadini to head in off a post.

Substitute Ken Charlery missed an easy chance in Birmingham's next attack, and Derby made good their escape with a fourth goal, created by Gabbiadini and converted by Daryl Powell, 17 minutes from time.

Smith, recalling that Derby lost 5-1 at Tranmere four games ago, was sure Birmingham would quickly regain their momentum. Fry was less certain. "It was boys against men," he said. "I was ashamed of every one of them."

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Bennett; Hiley, Edwards, Johnson, Cooper; Finnan (Hunt, h-t), Tait (Martin, h-t), Ward, Otto; Rushfeldt (Charlery, h-t), Claridge.

Derby County (3-4-1-2): Hoult; Yates, Stimac, Rowett; Carsley, Van der Laan (Simpson, 87), Powell (Flynn, 85), Bodin; Willems; Sturridge, Gabbiadini. Substitute not used: Sutton (gk).

Referee: K Breen (Liverpool).

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