After a brace of stunning home performances against two of the Championship pace-setters in Forest and Newcastle, sandwiching a creditable draw away against play-off hopefuls Sheffield United, expectations have been understandably heightened, although Premier League Birmingham City are a different animal to the side Derby have faced in different years. Despite losing two of the last three games, The Blues had been on a run of 15 Premier League games undefeated, a massive achievement for a promoted side, aided by big-spending and a consistent side being fielded by manager Alex McLeish.
Derby found their way to the 5th round with victories over Millwall on Penalties and Doncaster, whilst The Bluenoses beat Forest after a replay and registered an impressive away victory against Everton. With Chelsea the only team from the so-called ‘big four’ still in the competition, smaller sides will be thinking it is their year, so Birmingham City will not take the fixture lightly, especially given The Rams’ recent form.
Nigel Clough sees the cup game as a potential fixture to please the fans after what he describes as a ‘poor’ season: ‘As a manager and player, it is more a practical thing of trying to get through the rounds. There is a bit more attached for the supporters,’ said Clough.
‘We have had a poor season and so it would be nice to reward the fans with a cup run.
‘It doesn’t make people forget your league form but it can just give them something else to think about, other than the weekly slog of the league when you are in the bottom half.’
Robbie Savage also think The Rams can make it to the quarter-finals with a win over one of his former sides: ‘This is going to be a fantastic occasion and something we are all looking forward to,’ Savage told the official website.
‘Of course we are underdogs, we all know that. They are a Premier League side who have done superbly this season.
‘However, we are one of 16 teams still left in the competition and we have to go into the tie not just believing that we can win the game, but with the belief that we can go all the way.
‘I mean why not? We have shown that, on our day, we are a match for anyone and a lot of the so-called bigger names in the Premier League have already been knocked out.
‘There is no point even taking the field without belief and I for one will be making sure that we are well fired up when the whistle goes at 3pm.’
Brum’s January signing Craig Gardner is fired up for the cup fixture at Pride Park and is ready for a hot atmosphere: ‘It’s a massive opportunity,’ Gardner told the Birmingham Mail.
‘There’s a chance to get into the quarter-finals and then Wembley’s before you, with the semi-finals played there now as well.
‘Derby will be thinking the same but the lads can’t wait to get out there.
‘It’s a huge game and if we win it, and get a decent draw, we could push on.
‘But obviously it’s about how we play on Saturday and beating Derby.
‘They are at home, they’ve been playing well recently and I’d imagine the atmosphere is going to be unbelievable.’
Derby County Team News:
For once, Nigel Clough has the luxury of being able to keep the same 11 that started the last game. Having said that, Gary Teale will be out for a couple of weeks with a calf injury sustained in training, so there will be a change on the bench.
Player to watch: Robbie Savage
Sav has been in top form over the last couple of weeks and has been instrumental in the home victories against Forest and Newcastle and scored a screamer against Sheffield United in between the two. He will be fired up to play his former club, and face a set of supporters who have turned on their former hero.
Birmingham City Team News:
Christian Benitez is fit and available for selection by Alex McLeish. James McFadden and Sebastian Larsson may find their way back into the side but only if they can displace Craig Gardner and Keith Fahey. Left-back David Murphy and midfielder Teemu Tainio are both out despite having resumed training after lay-offs.
Player to watch: Christian Benitez
Ecuadorian striker Benitez has been getting rave reviews for his performances this season since signing for The Blues from Santos Laguna. Although his average is a goal every 11 Premier League games, against a Championship defence, he will cause problems.
Match Facts & Stats
Last 5: Derby County
Newcastle United (h) 3-0
Sheffield United (a) 1-1
Nottingham Forest (h) 1-0
Plymouth Argyle (a) 0-1
Doncaster Rovers (h) 1-0
Last 5: Birmingham City
West Ham (a) 0-2
Wolves (h) 2-1
Tottenham Hotspur (h) 1-1
Chelsea (a) 0-3
Everton (a) 2-1
Derby County vs. Preston North End, Tuesday 16 February 2010 19:45, The Coca-Cola Football League Championship