After the Sunderland display, it was no surprise that Alex McLeish opted to make several changes. Martin Taylor came in out of the cold and replaced Rafael Schmitz, whilst David Murphy made his debut coming in for Franck Queudrue. Up front, perhaps the biggest surprise was the inclusion of Garry O'Connor alongside James McFadden, rather than Cameron Jerome. Or Mikael Forssell. Or Mauro Zarate.
Really and truly, it's a difficult game to analyse. Blues played some very nice stuff in parts - especially in the second half. Olivier Kapo was at the heart of almost all of the nice stuff played by Blues, and had a tremendous game. James McFadden also linked up well with Kapo, although McFadden's finishing was off radar. At the same time, Blues never tested Roy Carroll in the Derby goal anywhere near enough, and too often, with McFadden dropping deep to link up with the midfield, there wasn't enough of a presence up front with O'Connor having something of an off day.
First half you'd have liked to have seen more of Blues, as Derby were clearly nervous and also, as you'd expect, not very good. If I was a Derby fan, I'd have accepted our fate by now, and I'd be hoping to see my team have a go at teams in the remaining games. Surely they'd view Blues as one of very few teams they could possibly beat? Therefore, if I was a Derby fan, I'd have been saddened by the sight of my team constantly time-wasting from about five minutes into the game against another poor team. That's pretty desperate.
Blues' best opportunities during the first half were moreorless all created by Kapo who tormented Dean Leacock. The fact that Derby's defence was made up of Leacock (a poor centre half) at right-back, with Darren Moore and Alan Stubbs in the middle with their combined age of 183 and their combined speed of 6mph and Marc Edworthy (solid Championship right-back five years ago) at left-back surely necessitated the need for someone like Jerome to run them ragged? I tend to think O'Connor gets a bit of a raw deal from those on the terraces, but at the same time, he'd have been my fourth choice to partner McFadden up front against such a back four. Jerome's pace, Forssell's hold up play and quick(ish) feet or Zarate's sheer energy and exuberance would surely have troubled Derby's back four more?
In the second half, Blues were better, but with both McFadden and O'Connor dropping deeper, there were countless good ball into the Derby area that no one was on the end of. Eventually Blues did get their breakthrough coutesy of Larsson, but as you'd expect (and as you've come to expect of Blues), nerves set in and Derby nicked their late equaliser.
Why Jerome wasn't brought on late on, I have no idea. When Blues were looking to hold on to the win, Jerome's pace and willingness to run balls into the channels would have been an asset, as it would have been for the five or six minutes that Blues chased a winner following Derby's equaliser. The decision to only use Zarate from the bench seemed bizarre.
It was a very poor result in the grand scheme of things for Blues, and they're going to need a few shock results between now and May to get themselves out of the mess that they're in. Performance-wise, however, there were positives to take.
On an individual level, Kapo was superb and McFadden looked more like a £5m player. Larsson, Fabrice Muamba and Damien Johnson all had good games too. Also, at the back, credit to Martin Taylor. Anyone who knows me knows that I don't particularly rate him, and there'll be a horrible error in the next few games, but he came in from the cold, played very well and gave Blues more of a presence at centre half. There were one or two hold-your-breath moments with his old clowning pal and namesake, Maik, but he did well.
Also, David Murphy's performance was a huge bonus. It sounds silly, but he looks like a footballer. He's a fairly big, solid looking bloke. He was also good on the ball, good in the air and defensively sound. If he's an indication of the sort of player McLeish would like to bring in, there's hope for Blues (though it's too late for this season, as is well-documented).
So, there were positives, but to temper that slightly, all of these positives did come against one of the weakest top flight teams in history. Derby only decided to play when they'd gone 1-0 down, and even then weren't up to very much at all. Their time-wasting and spoiling play was embarrassing at times. Blues should have beaten them and didn't, so despite all the positives, that's a pretty damn big negative.
In saying that, I think Blues will win at Upton Park next week. You heard it here first.