Alex McLeish, as is his way now, made several changes. Personally, I can't help thinking that scrapping his plans and going back to the drawing board each week hasn't helped his or Blues' cause, but it did work here - for once. Martin Taylor came in for Radhi Jaidi and David Murphy returned again for Franck Queudrue, whilst Seb Larsson filled in at right-back. In midfield, Keith Fahey came in for Scott Sinclair to play alongside Lee Carsley, meaning Lee Bowyer was shunted out to the right. Up front there was height, pace and power in Kevin Phillips and James McFadden.
Following the first half you could have been forgiven for thinking, "here we go again". The only real change was that Maik Taylor was actively looing to use his full-backs more, but like a set of weighing scales, you seem to have to remove something to add something else - whilst his distribution was better, he appeared more nervy with crosses than he has been for a while. Martin Taylor was, well, Martin Taylor like in that he was fairly solid, but for one or two moments of madness, including one back pass that had Derby had a better finisher than Rob Hulse, then Blues would have been 1-0 from.
Blues' football was again not good, with too many balls pumped at the heads of the two big lads up front (combined height of 8'5") and a complete failure to get Hameur Bouazza and Bowyer into the game. In moving Bowyer to the right (McLeish obviously feeling the need to accommodate both Bowyer and Carsley, but also feeling the pressure to include Fahey) you effectively took your best performer in recent weeks out of the game, and he was a passenger for much of the first half.
Derby, on the other had, were pretty poor too and lacked any real ambition. They had a few long range efforts, but all in all it was a pretty miserable first half. The atmosphere was completely flat too, and given the recent pressure that's been building around the club, there was a sense that the fans were just half-waiting for and half-expecting it all to go wrong, and to put the boot in a little further.
Thankfully, that opportunity never arose, as the second half was better. Not to the point that we can all relax and say, "that's it, we're back on track now", but it was better, nonetheless. The key really was getting Bowyer and Bouazza into the game more and with them switching flanks (they'd done it about 30 minutes into the first half). Bowyer's neat link-up play and movement helped Blues on the left, whilst Bouazza was the real spark down the right, with his direct approach, pace and all round hustling play. Unlike his on-loan, left-wing predecessor Quincy, Bouazza seems to relish helping out defensively and was a great asset in front of Larsson on the right. He was also effective going forward, setting up Blues' goal, and then being key to all the Blues breaks late on in the game, including teeing up Sinclair for what should have been a second.
Fahey too was an influence throughout. Not everything he did came off, and not every option he takes is the right option. That's what you want though. If you want a "play it safe, don't make an error" central midfield, then play Carsley and Mehdi Nafti and tell them to sit deep. However, as we all know, that'll not get you very far in terms of creativity. However, if you want someone who can drive you on a little and push you further up the pitch, you need someone who doesn't always take the safe bet. Steven Gerrard is the best midfielder in the world at driving a team on (well, was before he became a second striker), and if you watch him, in doing that, he makes mistakes. It's what you have to do. I'm not for one second comparing Fahey to Gerrard, but it's nice to have a midfielder in a similar mould. As I say, it wasn't an inspired performance, but it was effective and refreshing to see. Fahey certainly puts in a good shift too, doing the dirty stuff as well as the more attacking stuff.
It's only fair to comment on David Murphy too, who has had a torrid time of late. Again, he wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but he was much better. Given some of the audible groans aimed at him lately, he hasn't shirked the challenge or let it get to him, and that's admirable.
Despite a late scare as a result of some standard appalling defending from Blues, they hung on and got the win (and a clean sheet). As I said in opening, this was all about the result, and hopefully Blues can move away from the pressure-cooker of St Andrews with a little more confidence and wind in their sails, and go to Hillsborough on Saturday, relax a little more and follow this victory up.
Don't be fooled though, this is not a corner turned as yet. Temper the thoughts of storming to the league title with the knowledge that Derby were pretty desperate and look like a team only going one way at present, and that's towards League One. Also temper it with the sobering result from Bloomfield Road - where Blues lost 2-0 at the weekend - where QPR won 3-0. In no way is everything right, but if it's going to be, you have to start somewhere, and a hard fought victory is a decent enough place to start.