Derby County recorded their biggest win of the season as a 4-0 triumph over Birmingham City at St Andrew’s saw them climb out of the bottom three for the first time since the end of October.
Three goals in 10 first-half minutes did the damage for Wayne Rooney’s side as they responded strongly to their stoppage-time defeat by Preston on Boxing Day, which had ended a previous six-game unbeaten run.
It also did no harm to Rooney’s chances of being appointed as the permanent successor to Phillip Cocu, who was sacked as manager in early November, as the club await a potential takeover by a consortium.
Birmingham are now four points above Derby and looking over their shoulders. Aitor Karanka’s men have not won any of their last five games. The Rams began the night as the Championship’s lowest scorers with 10 goals in 20 matches, but raced into a 3-0 lead inside 25 minutes.
They could have gone in front after 10 minutes when Louie Sibley – starting in place of the suspended Martyn Waghorn who was sent off against Preston – was played in on goal, but Blues keeper Neil Etheridge stuck out a strong hand to push the effort over the bar.
Etheridge became the villain in the 15th minute as he gifted the visitors the lead. The keeper made two big errors in the 4-1 home defeat to Middlesbrough and his poor form continued as he dropped Graeme Shinnie’s corner under no pressure, allowing Krystian Bielik to hook the ball into the empty net for his first Derby goal.
Derby doubled their lead two minutes later, referee Tony Harrington pointing to the spot after Blues captain Harlee Dean challenged Sibley. Shinnie blasted the penalty past Etheridge, who went some way for atoning for his error by denying Sibley with a fine save shortly afterwards.
The reprieve was only temporary, with Rooney’s rampant side taking advantage of some dreadful defending from Shinnie’s resulting corner. Matthew Clarke flicked the ball on at the near post and Colin Kazim-Richards slid in unchallenged at the back post. The one-way traffic continued as Sibley saw his shot deflected into the side netting and Clarke’s header was cleared off the line by Adam Clayton.
Karanka made four changes at half-time, sending on Lukas Jutkiewicz, Jonathan Leko, Jake Clarke-Salter and Mikel San José, but it made little difference. Jason Knight wrapped up an emphatic away win in the 77th minute, converting Kamil Jozwiak’s cross as Derby scored more than twice in a league game for the first time this season.