Wes Thomas and Nathan Redmond played the role of super subs to perfection as the pair came off the bench at half-time to inspire Blues to a crucial three points over Derby at St. Andrew’s.
Lee Clark reacted to a below-par first-half display, which had seen his side trail to Ben Davies’ opener, by throwing both players into the action straight after the interval. And the boss’ positive changes got its just reward as Thomas opened his Blues goal account to level matters before Redmond notched his first of the season with a firecracker of a shot to turn the game on its head with 15 minutes remaining. And Thomas added a third goal for good measure in injury-time to put smiles back on the faces of the home faithful.
Wade Elliott returned to the Blues starting line-up in the left midfield berth with Shane Ferguson dropping back into defence to cover for the injured Mitch Hancox. Paul Robinson retained his place in the centre of defence with well-again skipper Steven Caldwell amongst the subs, along with Keith Fahey who was back in the 18 following his compassionate leave. Derby boss Nigel Clough stuck with the same side that held leaders Cardiff City to a draw on Tuesday night.
A scrappy opening to the game saw no notable efforts on goal for either side. Blues’ first real sight of target came on 16 minutes when Paul Caddis’ out-swinging cross was attacked well by Nikola Zigic but the striker’s header drifted a good ten yards wide. At the opposite end of the field midfielder Davies found himself with a couple of yards of space on the edge of the Blues area but his low shot also veered to the left of Jack Butland’s right-hand post.
It took 28 minutes for the game’s first on-target shot as Davies fired in a free-kick from fully 30 yards that swerved in the air but was collected comfortably by Butland. Blues’ on-loan England international was called into action on 36 minutes as Chris Martin charged towards the home area to fashion an opening and his fierce drive was well tipped aside by the home keeper.
Derby’s pressure came to the fore five minutes before the break when Craig Forsyth’s header looped over the Blues backline. As the defenders looked across for the assistant’s flag it wasn’t forthcoming and Davies crashed in a volley that Butland got a hand to but couldn’t keep out.
Things could have got even worse for the home side as Sammon’s deflected shot careered up and over Butland but fortunately landed on the top of Butland’s net. Moments later Blues were indebted to a tremendous block by Robinson as he hurled himself in the way of Martin’s shot which otherwise would have seriously tested Butland.
As the half drew to a close Blues did briefly threaten as Ferguson swung the ball in from a free-kick wide on the right and it was met by Zigic at the far post but his header was well smothered by former St. Andrew’s trainee Adam Legzdins.
Clark had seen enough and made two changes at the interval with Redmond and Thomas brought into the action to replace Chris Burke and Peter Lovenkrands. Early in the second half Thomas felt he was tugged in the back by Richard Keogh inside the area but the referee was unconvinced, whilst fellow sub Redmond had the home fans on their feet with a forging run into the box but his driven cross evaded everyone.
Callum Reilly was incredibly unlucky not to bring his side level on 61 minutes as he unleashed a thunderbolt from 25 yards that crashed against the underside of the bar but bounced in front of the goal-line and was cleared. Blues were much improved in the second-half and came close again as Ferguson showed impressive close control to weave his way past several Derby players before standing a great ball up to the far post to Zigic but the big Serbian sent his header wide.
Clark’s men deservedly restored parity midway through the second period as recently-introduced substitute Ravel Morrison fed Thomas on the edge of the six-yard box. At a narrow angle, his back to goal and with two defenders on his back it looked as though he would be crowded out. However, the on-loan striker held off his markers and swivelled magnificently to turn the ball past Legzdins to score his first goal for the club.
It was fully-deserved reward for an up-tempo second-half display from the hosts but Blues weren’t finished there as Redmond completed the turnaround with 15 minutes left on the clock. The winger, who turned 19 on Wednesday, capped a lively cameo display with a strike that was reminiscent of his first goal for the club against Nacional, except it came from the opposite side of the pitch. He picked up the ball wide on the right, cut inside and powered in an unstoppable left-footed shot from 20 yards that whistled low into the bottom corner of Legzdins’ net.
There was a nervy moment soon afterwards as a Derby free-kick found its way though to Jake Buxton and the defender’s half-volley was beaten out well by Butland. But Blues made sure of the points two minutes into added-on time when the two subs combined. Redmond flicked the ball onto Thomas and the fellow sub produced a confident finish to hammer the ball under the body of Legzdins.
The victory sees Blues shoot up to 14th in the table and above their opponents. It’s a much-needed fillip ahead of two tough upcoming away trips to Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace.