Two first half goals were enough to hand Leicester City a disappointing 2-1 npower Championship defeat away to Derby County despite Jeff Schlupp's excellent strike raising hopes of a comeback in the second half.
Richard Keogh put the home side ahead with a powerful header from Jamie Ward’s free kick in just the 16th minute, before Chris Martin doubled that advantage on the stroke of half time with another headed goal, this time from a Craig Forsyth ball.
Substitute Schlupp then pulled it back to 2-1 with a thunderous left footed effort from David Nugent's lay-off but, not for a lack of trying, the spirited Foxes weren't able to find that crucial second as they left Pride Park empty handed.
There was just the one change for City as Nigel Pearson kept faith with the 4-3-3 formation that almost steered them to victory against Cardiff City in midweek, with Chris Wood, Nugent and Lloyd Dyer leading the line.
Paul Konchesky returned to the side at left back, meaning Schlupp dropped to the bench, however Sean St. Ledger kept his place on the right side of defence.
There were four changes for The Rams as they searched for a first win in nine games, with goalkeeper Frank Fielding returning along with defender Kieron Freeman. Craig Bryson and top scorer Ward also returned in a starting XI spearheaded by the dangerous front two of Martin and seven-goal striker Conor Sammon.
With the backing of a vocal travelling Blue Army, City started brightly and had their first chance in just the third minute when St. Ledger dinked a cross into the middle from the right, only for Andy King’s looping header to land on the roof of the net.
However with the presence of Martin and Sammon in the box, the hosts were always a threat, and in the 14th minute the latter should have tested Schmeichel but got underneath the ball with his header from Ward’s cross.
But just two minutes later and the hosts took the lead.
Ward swung in a free kick deep from the left flank for Rams skipper Keogh to power a downward header past a helpless Schmeichel and into the corner of the net for 1-0.
The Foxes tried to muster a response, but chances were few and far between in the early stages as Ward was rightly booked for a late lunge on King after Michael Keane thwarted a Derby attack.
In the 23rd minute some quick feet on the left let Konchesky in on goal, but his drive from a narrow angle was blocked by the legs of a scrambling Jake Buxton.
Dyer then snatched at a difficult chance on the left to drill an effort narrowly over the bar after Wellens had done well to steal the ball off the toes of Jeff Hendrick.
Referee Keith Stroud then waved away penalty appeals for a push on Ward, and frustration soon began to grow amongst the home crowd when Paul Coutts was booked for catching St. Ledger late just moments later.
The home crowd were further incensed when with just five minutes of the half to play they were denied another penalty, this time Wellens tangled with Freeman in the box but appeared to get the ball.
Martin then tried his luck with an 18 yard drive that Schmeichel was equal to, before Drinkwater drilled an ambitious rising shot from 25 yards well over the crossbar.
But it wasn’t to be long until the hosts, who had had the better of the first half, doubled their lead in disappointing fashion on 44 minutes to take a 2-0 advantage into half time.
A Forsyth cross from the left flank was met with a well placed header from Martin that flew straight into the top corner, giving Schmeichel no chance.
With a huge task on their hands to drag themselves back into the match, Pearson introduced 20-year-old Schlupp for Wellens at the break, meaning Dyer switched to right of midfield with Schlupp on the left in an orthodox 4-4-2 formation.
There was an added bite to City as they looked to put Derby on the back foot in the early stages, although Keane did pick up The Foxes’ first booking for a late tackle on Sammon on the edge of the box.
It just wasn’t falling for City in the box however, and Pearson opted to bring on Marshall for Dyer on 56 minutes, and he immediately tested Fielding with a low drive at his near post which was well held by the Derby custodian.
However on the 62 minute mark substitute Schlupp handed The Foxes a lifeline with a wonderfully taken strike.
Wood won a throw on the right and the ball came back into Nugent with his back to goal in the box. He then teed Schlupp up for a ferocious left footed drive from 18 yards that flew like a missile into the top corner to make it 2-1.
There was almost a second moments later when Nugent drove an effort straight at Fielding, before Rams sub Ben Davies, who replaced Ward, hit a powerful 30 yard strike that whistled just inches over Schmeichel’s crossbar.
Pearson’s final roll of the dice came in the 69th minute with the introduction of Kane for Wood, as City looked to make the most of a dominant spell in the game that saw Nugent again test Fielding after some excellent wing play from Schlupp.
Marshall followed up by curling a free kick well over the crossbar after Kane had been brought down by Bryson on the edge of the area.
It was turning into a frustrating afternoon for The Foxes, who couldn't carve out that one chance that would draw them back level as Kane's shot was blocked and Marshall drove over from range.
The hosts were also trying desperately to put the game to bed at the other end, but fortunately for City Schmeichel was still in top form to collect some testing balls into the box aimed at the lively Martin and Sammon.
A huge six minutes of stoppage time were announced as City added the imposing figure of Wes Morgan to their forward line, but consecutive left footed efforts from Konchesky and then Kane failed to trouble Derby 'keeper Fielding.
Pearson's men pumped ball after ball into the Derby box, but the home side's defence refused to budge despite City's best efforts, and when Konchesky's left foot volley flew wide, along with it went Leicester's hopes of salvaging a point as the referee blew the whistle on a narrow defeat at Pride Park.
Derby (4-4-2): Fielding; Freeman (Gjokaj 82), Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Coutts, Hendrick, Bryson, Ward (Davies 62); Sammon, Martin
Unused subs: Legzdins, Doyle, Bennett, Jacobs, Hoganson, Davies
City (4-3-3): Schmeichel; St. Ledger, Morgan (c), Keane, Konchesky; Wellens (Schlupp 4), Drinkwater, King; Nugent, Wood (Kane 69), Dyer (Marshall 56)
Unused subs: Whitbread, Vardy, Logan, Waghorn.
Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire)