Chris Martin celebrated the final match of his initial 28-day loan spell with his first goal for the Club – a strike that proved crucial, as Derby County secured their first victory in nine games.
Captain Richard Keogh headed in Jamie Ward’s free-kick to hand the Rams the lead after 16 minutes, before Martin rose unchallenged to power Craig Forsyth’s cross past Kasper Schmeichel, and send Derby two goals ahead at half-time.
Substitute Jeffery Schlupp’s 62nd minute drive hauled the Foxes back into the game, but despite a nervy final quarter, Derby held on to secure maximum points, and in turn move into the top half of the npower Championship.
Victories for both Peterborough United and Wolverhampton Wanderers prior to the evening’s kick-off at Pride Park left Derby looking precariously over their shoulder as they edged closer to the summit of the npower Championship.
Eight games had gone by in recent weeks during which the Rams had garnered four points out of a possible 24, although seven of those fixtures had seen Nigel Clough’s side either draw or lose by a single goal.
The Rams’ opponents, Leicester, were also in the midst of an indifferent run of form. Tuesday's 1-1 draw away to Championship leaders Cardiff City meant the Foxes had failed to win in seven of their last eight League games, although Nigel Pearson’s men are still in a position to crave the Premier League dream, sitting in fifth place - nine points off an automatic promotion spot.
Derby were boosted by the return of leading goalscorer Ward (hamstring) and tireless midfielder Craig Bryson (groin) from injury, and the former took just 16 minutes to have a distinguishing impact on proceedings.
The former Sheffield United forward arched a curling free-kick into the penalty area from the left, where a towering Keogh planted a firm header into the net that led to a euphoric and liberating burst of celebration from the home supporters.
Other than Ward’s inclusion, Clough made further amends to the Rams’ starting line-up that succumbed to a 3-1 defeat at Birmingham City last weekend, including the recall of goalkeeper Frank Fielding, in place of Adam Legzdins
And although the former Blackburn Rovers shot-stopper was starting his first game since the side’s 2-2 draw with Middlesbrough in October last year, the 24-year-old displayed no indication of his lack of first-team football, as he produced an agile stop to deny David Nugent’s low drive, moments after Lloyd Dyer had hacked a volley into the turf and wide.
Despite the Rams’ slender lead, tension around Pride Park was still evident, however with the invention and influence of Ward, a second goal appeared within the grasp of the home side.
The forward was inches away from taking his personal tally to 12 for the campaign, when he glanced a header wide following Paul Coutts’ dangerous cross on 34 minutes, before the 26-year-old teed up Martin seven minutes later, only for the Norwich City loanee to be thwarted by Kasper Schmeichel’s reflexes.
However, Martin’s patience was barely worn whilst he waited for an additional attempt to net his first goal for the Club, as on the stroke of half-time, fellow loanee Forsyth’s first time, pinpoint cross found the striker, who was unchallenged when he headed back across goal and into the side netting.
With one victory in their last nine games, an air of anxiety from the home side was almost inevitable, and with Pearson’s array of attacking options on the substitutes’ bench, the Rams had to remain vigilant.
And although the Rams breathed a collective sigh of relief when Chris Wood’s header fell past Fielding’s near post, Schlupp required just 15 minutes following his arrival on the pitch to hand the Foxes a way back into the game.
The Ghanaian forward, who recently returned from a trial with Premier League leaders Manchester United, thundered an effort past Fielding from just inside the penalty area following Nugent’s clever flick.
The goal dented the Rams’ confidence, and Clough’s men were almost sent a further dagger through their hearts just two minutes after conceding, when Nugent wriggled free, only to fire straight at Fielding from 12-yards out.
However, Derby overcame a frantic few minutes, and even came close to extending their lead when substitute Ben Davies picked up a loose ball and fired up from 20-yards, whilst Martin’s deflected effort did not quite have the necessary trajectory to loop over Schmeichel.
Danny Drinkwater, Ben Marshall, Harry Kane and Paul Koncheskey all had speculative efforts from the edge of the penalty area that flew over the crossbar, as home supporters roared Derby across the line, for their first victory in nine games.
Derby County: Fielding; Freeman (Gjokaj 81), Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Coutts, Hendrick, Bryson, Ward (Davies 62); Sammon, Martin.
Subs not used: Legzdins, Hoganson, Jacobs, Bennett, Doyle.
Leicester City: Schmeichel; St Ledger, Morgan, Keane, Konchesky; Wellens (Schlupp 46), Drinkwater, King; Nugent, Wood (Kane 69), Dyer (Marshall 56).
Subs not used: Whitbread, Vardy, Logan, Waghorn.
Attendance: 23,123 (1,901 visiting supporters).