Three second half goals were enough to leave Blues tasting defeat for the first time since August.
Blues started brightly and took the lead when Che Adams found Lukas Jutkiewicz.
However, Derby improved after half time and scored twice in three minutes thanks to efforts from Mason Bennett and Harry Wilson.
Gary Gardner picked up booking number five for the season meaning he misses the next two games and Blues’ misery was compounded when Jack Marriott made it three.
Garry Monk has rarely made changes to his squad this season and this was no exception, a case of sticking with a winning team. The only change to the squad was the return of Craig Gardner who replaced Omar Bogle on the bench, perhaps looking towards the Villa game in a couple of weeks.
Derby started without their on-loan Chelsea duo Fiyako Tomori and Mason Mount, the latter missing his first game of the season. Mount missed out with an ankle knock while Tomori was dropped to the bench. Duane Holmes, signed from Scunthorpe United in the summer, made his first start while Curtis Davies returned to the starting XI for the first time since the opening day of the season.
Derby were the dominant side throughout and started the game as they meant to go on. Lee Camp was forced into an early save from Harry Wilson while Jack Marriott, twice, and Richard Keogh couldn’t find the target.
Blues are used to being on the back foot, however, and on 10 minutes we took the lead through the usual source. Jota found Che Adams in the right channel and the striker’s low, drilled cross was deflected by Curtis Davies into the path of Lukas Jutkiewicz whose touch was controlled and the finish composed. Blues led at Pride Park.
After losing Martyn Waghorn to injury, Derby needed a response. Wilson’s free-kick was saved low to the right and three minutes later, Forsyth dispossessed Jota and his low cross caused Blues issues, Harlee Dean, Kristian Pedersen and Jutkiewicz all doing their best to get the ball away to safety.
Derby’s response continued. Wilson fired off target from 35 yards and Marriott forced Camp into a save with his feet. At the other end, Jutkiewicz’s volley caused Carson his final save of the game.
Blues were 1-0 up in the second half but wouldn’t have another shot all game. As Blues’ energy levels dipped, Derby stepped theirs up, producing a half of football that summed up why many believe they are outsiders for automatic promotion.
Derby didn’t take long to get going, Marriott and Wilson linking up to find Holmes who played in Lawrence, the Welsh winger denied by the boot of Camp. On 51 minutes, Duane Holmes, who impressed on his full league debut for The Rams, tested Camp from distance. Two minutes later, Derby had their response.
It was a fine move from The Rams who were made Blues look statue-esque. Wilson started it, gliding forward centrally and finding Marriott, cutting Kieftenbeld and Gardner out of the game in the process. Marriott held off Dean and spread the ball out wide to Forsyth who hadn’t been tracked. Forsyth composed himself and as Morrison was moved from the front post area by Lawrence, Bennett snuck in ahead of Pedersen to prod home from close range.
The goal gave Derby huge belief and they won a free-kick just outside of the area on the right-hand side, a position not too disimilar to where Josh McEachran scored for Brentford at the start of October. Wilson saw the gap at the near post and tried his luck. Camp read the Welshman’s intentions but Jutkiewicz’s outstretched boot pushed the ball into the roof of the net leaving the Blues keeper with no chance.
Blues were struggling to cope and on 73 minutes, Jack Marriott put the game to bed. It was far too easy for the hosts as Craig Forsyth charged through the centre of the pitch unchallenged before playing a through ball for the diminutive forward. Dean attempted to play offside but the flag never came, giving Marriott the chance to control and fire through the legs of Camp at the near post. Game, set and match.
Wilson had two more efforts from free-kicks, the first of which was palmed onto the post by Camp, while the Blues keeper was also forced to deny Marriott from the edge of the area. Blues couldn’t muster the energy for a response of note and saw their unbeaten run finally ended.
The unbeaten run had to end at some point and we won’t be the first side to taste defeat at Pride Park against an energetic Derby outfit whose willingness to play high-pressing football with such confidence in possession can be a joy to watch.
It’s disappointing to lose and it will be the manner of the defeat that hurts more, Blues’ failure to have a shot on goal in the second half as Derby took control no doubt evidence of a side that simply couldn’t get up the field in the second period to any kind of effect. The same thing happened at Elland Road in September.
Many will point to individual errors during the game. Jota failing to track Craig Forsyth, Gary Gardner and Maikel Kieftenbeld failing to keep tabs on a vibrant midfield, Lee Camp, Harlee Dean and Kristian Pedersen for their involvement in the goals. But there is no point being harsh on a group that have done so well for 11 games. We were probably due a result and performance of this nature and sides like Derby are capable of punishing the best in the division – they thumped West Bromwich Albion 4-1 at The Hawthorns a couple of weeks back.
The difficulty against sides like Derby is that when you do get hold of possession, you have to be brave, commit men forward and make the right decisions. We’ve done it so often this season but this was a game too far. And when we did break forward, we were punished by swift moves at the other end.
There’s one issue that many are aware of but hasn’t been a factor recently and that’s options off the bench. Garry Monk has a very small squad available to him. Craig Gardner has only just returned to fitness while Jacques Maghoma, Isaac Vassell and David Davis won’t return until the end of the month at best. It means that when Blues are on the back foot and need something different, Monk is forced to look towards a very youthful bench with his attacking options being Bez Lubala and Viv Solomon-Otabor. Exciting talents but a touch short of game-changing quality just yet. We have rarely required changes to turn a game on its head this season but it’s always nice to have quality options available in reserve.