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Preview: Birmingham City vs. Derby County

Sports Mole brings you the lowdown on Friday night's match in the Championship as Birmingham City host stuttering Derby County.

St Andrew's plays host to a Friday night Championship fixture this week as Birmingham City take on Derby County.

The hosts have had a fine unbeaten start, while Derby, the promotion favourites at the start of the season, are yet to register a win.


Birmingham

Gary Rowett of Birmingham City looks on during the pre season friendly match between Nuneaton Town and Birmingham City at the James Parnell Stadium on July 14, 2015© Getty Images

Gary Rowett turned Birmingham from relegation contender into top-10 club in six months last season, and the Blues now look on course for another season of improvement after their first three games.

On the opening day of the season they weren't at their best but still took three points from Reading before progressing to the second round of the Capital One Cup with victory at Bristol Rovers.

Their midweek game yesterday at Brentford was postponed due to the poor state of the pitch at Griffin Park, so the Blues' last match was Saturday lunchtime's 2-2 draw at Burnley.

Birmingham took an early lead through Arsenal loanee Jon Toral, his second goal in two league games, before a contentious penalty in the second half appeared to have given them back-to-back wins. However, an inch-perfect late Matt Taylor free kick saw the spoils shared.

Rowett has build a settled squad at St Andrew's, but the club are still on the lookout for new faces, with former Borussia Dortmund youngster Emmanuel Mbende and Arsenal's Gedion Zelalem linked with moves this week.

The turnaround under Rowett last season was built on a solid defence, but the Blues are yet to keep a clean sheet this season.

Recent form: WWD


Derby

Derby County manager Paul Clement during the Capital One Cup First Round match between Portsmouth v Derby County at Fratton Park on August 12, 2015© Getty Images

Tipped for the title at the start of the season, it has been a tough start to management for Paul Clement with arguably the strongest squad on paper.

They are still yet to lead a game, with a goalless start at Bolton Wanderers, who are still yet to score this season, followed by come-from-behind 1-1 draws, both at home, to Charlton Athletic and promotion rivals Middlesbrough.

While they failed to take their chances against the Addicks, Tuesday night was almost a defeat as Johnny Russell rescued a point with two minutes on the clock.

In a positive light, Derby are still unbeaten in the league, but they have suffered defeat this season when a much-changed Portsmouth of League Two knocked them out of the Cup a week ago.

Injuries haven't helped Clement's first job as a number one, with key midfielders Will Hughes and Craig Bryson already out, before both Jeff Hendrick and Jamie Hanson had to leave the clash with Middlesbrough early.

Seven new faces have arrived to that will help provide cover, but Clement still appears keen to add more as Derby have reportedly expressed an interest in poaching Michail Antonio from East Midlands rivals Nottingham Forest.

Recent form: DLDD


Team News

Jeff Hendrick of Derby County challenges Albert Adomah of Middlesbrough during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Middlesbrough at Pride Park Stadium on August 18, 2015© Getty Images

Key Blues players Toral and Michael Morrison have both had tight hamstrings since the draw at Burnley, but Rowett has said that both should be available on Friday.

The Birmingham boss named an unchanged league XI for the trip to Burnley and it is likely that he will go with the same side again, meaning places on the bench for Andrew Shinnie and David Davis.

While Rowett should have no concerns in naming an unchanged outfit, it is unlikely that Clement will do the same.

Russell came off the bench to rifle home against Boro and will probably be promoted to the starting lineup at the expense of Andreas Weimann.

With Hanson and Hendrick both going off in the first half against Boro, Clement might consider recalling Cyrus Christie to the squad after not including him in the matchday 18 so far this season.

The right-back made 40 starts last season and could make his first appearance of the season, meaning that defenders Chris Baird and Ryan Shotton may start in a makeshift midfield alongside George Thorne.

Birmingham possible starting lineup:
Kuszczak; Caddis, Spector, Morrison, Grounds; Gleeson, Kieftenbeld; Cotterill, Toral, Gray; Donaldson

Derby possible starting lineup:
Carson; Christie, Keogh, Shackell, Warnock; Shotton, Baird, Thorne; Ince, Russell; Martin


Head To Head

Derby have succeeded just once in their last seven trips to St Andrew's, but that was in this fixture last season when the Rams cruised to a 4-0 win on Boxing Day.

The last meeting was in March and it was a memorable day for the Blues as they scored twice in stoppage time to salvage a draw at the iPro Stadium and dent Derby's promotion hopes.

Birmingham have scored twice in all three of their games so far this season and they will fancy finding the net against the Rams given that they have scored in 25 of their last 26 league encounters with Derby.


Video Preview

Hit play below to see what the Sports Mole Sofa had to say about this encounter:



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We say: Birmingham 2-1 Derby

Derby do have a much stronger squad on paper, but it has been an iffy start to the season for Clement's side. Birmingham have had much more rest and could make it 10 games unbeaten at St Andrew's.



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