Derby County 3, Norwich City 1
Chris Lakey Norwich City's hopes of taking their recent good home form on their travels disappeared without trace tonight. Having started the week with so much hope on the back of wins over high-flying Wolves and then struggling Doncaster, City came unstuck in unceremonious fashion.
Norwich City's hopes of taking their recent good home form on their travels disappeared without trace tonight.
Having started the week with so much hope on the back of wins over high-flying Wolves and then struggling Doncaster, City came unstuck in unceremonious fashion.
City trailed to goals by Paul Green and Rob Hulse at half-time, and were given false hope when John Kennedy scored his first goal in the yellow and green - but just when they looked like getting back into the match, their defensive frailties were cruelly exposed, and Derby notched a third to claim the points.
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It was their second victory over the Canaries this month, after the 2-1 win at Carrow Road which prompted an FA inquiry into irregular betting patterns.
The only inquiry this time will be at the Colney training centre, when manager Glenn Roeder will want to know why a team that had destroyed the then Championship leaders with a five-goal display a week ago, were so obviously second best against a team who had just one more point than them at the start of play.
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Leroy Lita, scorer of four goals in his previous two games, had a terrific chance to level it at 2-1 but missed the target - and City's hopes were shattered by Przemyslaw Kazmierczak 11 minutes from time.
Roeder made just one change to the side which beat Doncaster on Saturday, with Kennedy coming in to replace Gary Doherty, who dropped to the bench.
Paul Jewell recalled midfielder Green after he missed the weekend game against Coventry with a neck injury - sustained when he was taking off his training top on Friday. He replaced Kazmierczak, with Gary Teale preferred on the right flank to Mile Sterjovski. Central defender Dean Leacock failed a fitness test and was replaced by Martin Albrechtsen. Goalkeeper Roy Carroll - sent off at Carrow Road when the sides met at the beginning of the month - remained on the bench, with Stephen Bywater between the posts.
Within a minute Darel Russell had a shot from the edge of the area blocked as City went straight for the jugular, with Wes Hoolahan unable to control a neat cross inside by Lee Croft moments later.
Derby came straight back and poor control by Gary Teale meant he was unable to tee up a shot on the right side of the area when in good space.
City earned the first corner of the game on two minutes after Lita's dummy, but a second corner was poor and immediately put City under pressure at the other end as Derby broke well, a cross hitting Kris Commons before being cleared.
It was end to end in the opening minutes, with both teams looking dangerous around the area. Lita dummied well to set Antoine Sibierski free down the left and when the move broke down Commons was caught napping and once again City headed forward, only for Lita to be flagged offside.
Hulse came close on seven minutes when he shot from the edge of the area but earned just a corner - and then headed just wide from the flag kick.
Croft sent in a lovely cross from the right, but again Lita was caught offside as City pressed. The flag went up again just two minutes later when Lita ran on to Hoolahan's short through ball - and while it may have been frustrating for the City fans there was some encouragement in the way City were prepared to move forward to try and get that vital first goal.
But the tide suddenly turned as the Rams took control.
The warning sign came on 12 minutes when City were indebted to keeper David Marshall for a superb reaction save to keep out Miles Addison's powerful header from a Commons corner.
But there was nothing they could do moments later when Nathan Ellington powered his way down the right side of the box and put in a low cross which midfielder Green converted from just five yards.
Questions will be asked as to why Ellington was allowed so much space - and why his cross wasn't cut out before it even reached Green.
Kennedy then did well to rise above Hulse for a high cross which Marshall just about managed to punch away as Derby began to ride a wave of confidence.
Ellington was involved again on 21 minutes, turning on the edge of the area and pinging in a deep cross which Commons ran on to only to power his shot a yard wide of Marshall's right post.
Teale had far too much time on the right to get in a left-footed cross which found Ellington deep in the area, but the striker was moving backwards and couldn't guide his header below the bar.
But if there was a problem down that left side of City's defence, then there was an emergency on the right, where Commons was allowed to run around Croft as if he wasn't there and get in a terrific left-foot cross which was an invitation that Hulse couldn't turn down - and he didn't, meeting it perfectly with his head and guiding the ball into the roof of Marshall's net to put the Rams 2-0 up.
It was textbook stuff - and Derby were beginning to teach City a lesson.
Elliott Omozusi blocked a close range shot by Ellington as City began to waver badly, giving away possession cheaply as Derby closed them down at every opportunity.
When City did break it came to little: Sibierski clipped a ball in from the edge of the area when he could have shot. The Frenchman then shot two yards wide of the left post after Lita had chested down Stefanovic's pass - possibly City's best chance of the half.
t Half-time: Derby County 2, Norwich City 0
Roeder made two changes for the second half, with Sibierski, who had sported a strapped up knee, giving way to David Bell, and Hoolahan replaced by Matty Pattison.
City's first attack of the half was ended prematurely by the offside flag - raised for the eighth time, of which seven were for Lita.
But it wasn't long before normal service was resumed and Derby began to attack, with Commons skinning Omozusi, leaving Stefanovic to head clear under intense pressure from Hulse.
Addison then forced Marshall to dive low to his left to keep out Addison's shot from 16 yards, while Omozusi did well to deny Hulse only for Pattison to gift possession to Commons, who shot wide from distance.
City had their first shot on target on 54 minutes, an it was a beauty, Bertrand keeping the ball down from 25 yards and forcing Bywater into a superb diving save to his left, with Pattison poking the ball just wide from the resulting corner.
It sparked City's travelling fans into life - something which their team appeared to have finally acquired.
But Derby weren't about to relax, and Hulse produced a magnificent turn and shot just before the hour mark, only to be denied by the crossbar.
It was Derby's fans who were now in full voice as they sensed a third goal in the offing.
Lita had a sight of goal on the hour mark after being put through in the area by Pattison, but he shot wide of the left post, and moments later was crowded out by a posse of white shirts in the same area.
And that's when City's breakthrough came, albeit clearly against the run of play. Clingan stepped up to take the corner and Kennedy charged in to meet it perfectly with a header that almost broke the back of the net.
Suddenly, it was game on, with City needing to build up a head of steam, arguably for the first time since the opening minutes - although the sight of Omozusi putting a simple pass straight out of play just as City broke was infuriating.
Lita was beginning to stretch the home defence, acutely aware of his recent prolific form - but when he stretched them on 69 minutes he pulled the ball wide of the target with only the keeper to beat. It was the sort of chance which Lita usually puts away without thinking, but in the circumstances it was an horrendous miss.
However, there were signs of recovery - and Clingan almost completed a remarkable turn-around with a left-foot shot that was deflected wide for a corner on 73 minutes. It was a very different City side battling out there now, having been a poor second best for most of the night.
Derby's job was to take the sting out of City - and on 79 minutes they did just that. And City had no one to blame but themselves. Some untidy defending saw Bertrand clear only as far as Connolly. The Derby right back put the ball into edge of the area, it went past Hulse before reaching Rams sub Przemyslaw Kazmierczak, who got behind Omozusi and shot left-footed past Marshall from 18 yards.
It was the knockout blow for City, which put them down for good - and they could have few grounds for complaint.
Ellington and Villa could have made it even worse but both were inches off target.
t Result: Derby County 3, Norwich City 1
t Derby: Bywater, Connolly, Nyatanga, Albrechtsen, Stewart, Teale, Addison, Green, Commons, Hulse, Ellington.
Subs: Carroll, Kazmierczak, Villa, Sterjovski, Zadkovich.
t Norwich: Marshall, Omozusi, Kennedy, Stefanovic, Bertrand, Croft, Clingan, Russell, Hoolahan, Sibierski, Lita.
Subs: Nelson, Cureton, Doherty, Bell, Pattison.
t Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire)