Blues dig in for Rams win
By Alex Livie
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Birmingham returned to the top of the table with a gritty 1-0 win over Derby.
Birmingham City returned to the top of the table in the Championship with a gritty 1-0 win over Derby County.
The Rams came into the game holding a two-point advantage over Blues, but were undone by a Rowan Vine goal seconds before half-time.
Birmingham made life hard for themselves as Gary McSheffrey was dismissed with 18 minutes remaining, but they protected keeper Colin Doyle superbly to claim a vital victory.
The pitch had come in for criticism from Steve Bruce and Billy Davies, but it did not detract from the spectacle as both sides set their stall out to attack.
Giles Barnes has been much talked about this term and he served notice of his quality on two minutes when sending in a low shot which forced Doyle to scramble across his line.
Jon Macken was handed a rare start by Davies and he teed up Barnes on ten minutes, but the midfielder dragged his shot wide of target.
Nicklas Bendtner has had a fine season with Blues and he showed his power and pace when shrugging off his marker and running on goal. The Rams were unable to halt his progress and it took an excellent save from Stephen Bywater to keep out the forward.
Steve Howard for Derby and Gary McSheffrey for Birmingham went close before Vine opened the scoring seconds before the interval.
The forward collected a pass from Martin Taylor and spun away from his marker Dean Leacock before shooting low beyond Bywater for his first goal in Birmingham colours.
Derby worked hard in search of a leveller after the break, but Birmingham have made a habit of winning games by a solitary goal and they gave The Rams few sights of the target.
The Rams were handed a numerical advantage 18 minutes from time as McSheffrey dived in on Leacock and was given his marching orders by referee Steve Bennett.
Birmingham retreated into their shell, but they were able to keep Derby at arm's length to secure what could prove to be a crucial three points.