Derby County lack the 'IT' factor as they let chance of victory over Birmingham City slip from their grasp
DERBY County had their foot on the throat of Birmingham City for an hour of this Championship clash.
Leading through Ben Davies' third goal of the season, the Rams had their hosts just where they wanted them.
Birmingham, short of wins and energy, were struggling and the home support made their feelings known.
The fans roundly booed their team as they trudged off at half-time and they were not too happy with what they saw early in the second half.
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Tension filled the air at St Andrew's and the chuntering should have been music to the ears of the Derby players.
A golden opportunity to end their lengthy winless run beckoned but the Rams failed to add to their one-goal lead and Birmingham wriggled free to inflict painful punishment.
Three goals in the final quarter of the contest brought the Blues a 3-1 victory and highlighted what has been a recurring theme for Derby in the past four weeks.
Performances have been good, in the main, but results have been poor because the team have failed time and again to capitalise fully on their dominant periods in matches.
Call it a lack of ruthlessness, call it quality, call it a killer instinct.
Whatever IT is, they have not shown enough of it.
The "played well, deserved more" message has been the same in recent weeks. Derby need a win to change things.
Saturday's result was bitterly disappointing given the control they enjoyed and it has left them looking over their shoulder for the first time this season.
They own the current longest winless run in the Championship. A sequence of eight games without a win – only four points from 24 – is worrying especially when added to the absence of key players in Will Hughes, John Brayford, Jamie Ward and Craig Bryson.
Derby have enough in their locker to keep clear of serious trouble. Their level of performances suggests that – but they need to start gathering more points soon.
Performances are all very well but when a team are at the top or at the bottom of the table, results are what really matter and Derby have not had enough good results since they dispatched Middlesbrough in convincing fashion on New Year's Day.
Pressure grows if you do not win games and Derby are not winning games. Cue pressure.
They were the better side in the first half at Birmingham, whose threat, although sporadic, was provided by the height of striker Nikola Zigic.
Jake Buxton, a defender of great determination, did much to combat the tall Zigic, while the consistent Gareth Roberts nullified Chris Burke.
Play in the opening 20 rarely ventured beyond scruffy – not an issue when you are the away team – but then Derby took control.
And Chris Martin was instrumental in the improvement.
The loan forward from Norwich City has a clever football brain. He wanders away from his marker and is comfortable receiving the ball to feet before bringing others into play. His ability to hold the ball buys midfielders time to run beyond him.
Davies had already tried his luck from distance with shots before Martin's sweet strike from 25 yards was brilliantly saved by Jack Butland, who dived high to his left and tipped the ball over.
It was no surprise when Derby went ahead five minutes before the break.
Craig Forsyth, who delivers a good ball from the left, saw his centre sliced high into the air. He then used his height advantage to good effect and headed the ball back into Birmingham's area where Davies stretched to hook a volley past Butland from eight yards.
Birmingham were at sixes and sevens, and ripe to be finished off.
Conor Sammon and Martin were denied by last-ditch blocks, although Zigic's back-post header forced Adam Legzdins into action in added time, his first save of note, and he also collected the resulting corner.
Birmingham could not be as tepid in the second half and manager Lee Clark did not hesitate to change things.
A double substitution saw Wes Thomas and Nathan Redmond introduced and they went on to make a huge impact on proceedings.
The home side's improvement was not evident at first as Derby remained comfortable in the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
But the pendulum swung from the moment Callum Reilly's rising drive from 20 yards crashed back off the bar.
Zigic headed narrowly over and the injection of power and pace had transformed Birmingham.
You sensed a storm whipping up and Derby needed to batten down the hatches.
They failed to heed the danger signs and conceded an equaliser after 68 minutes.
Ravel Morrison, Birmingham's third substitute, rolled a cute pass into Thomas. The striker, in the box but with his back to goal, was allowed to turn. He then held off Richard Keogh to smash his shot from an angle high past Legzdins.
It was good play by Thomas but soft from Derby's point of view.
Keogh should have done better and Davies could have done more because he was also close to Thomas.
Birmingham's tails were up and it is in such situations, when the tide is turning, that Derby's team cries out for more experience.
Birmingham swept into the lead seven minutes after they had drawn level.
Redmond moved across the face of the area and unleashed an unstoppable left-foot shot which flashed into the bottom corner of the net for his first goal of the season.
The importance of the victory to Birmingham was evident by the way they dug in, desperately at times, to keep Derby at bay in the closing minutes.
Buxton's volley was parried by Butland and Keogh headed down and inches wide from a Michael Jacobs' corner before Butland charged out to save at the feet of Sammon after the striker had burst into the area.
Sammon went flying and Derby's manager and coaching staff claimed a penalty but Butland appeared to get a strong hand on the ball.
Home nerves were settled when Thomas bagged his second and Birmingham's third goal two minutes into stoppage time.
Zigic glanced the ball on, Redmond also headed it forward and Thomas nipped between Keogh and Valentin Gjokaj to thump a shot past Legzdins from 12 yards to complete Birmingham's win.
They had fewer attempts at goal than Derby but they were far more clinical.
This was only their sixth home win in the League and they had won only once in the 19 previous occasions in which they had fallen behind this season.
The consensus afterwards was that such a comeback had appeared unlikely at half-time but Derby failed to defend well enough all over the pitch in the final half an hour.
That, coupled with the fact they let Birmingham off the hook, proved their downfall.