Derby County were beaten for the first time in pre-season on Tuesday evening as they went down 2-0 to Zenit St Petersburg.
Goals from Belgium international Axel Witsel and Ivan Solovyev in either half at SC Kalsdorf’s Stadium proved to be enough for the Russian top flight side.
Derby knew before kick-off, against a side competing in the Champions League only a few months ago, that they were likely to spend long spells without the ball - but they stood up to the challenge well and will no doubt see a number positives to draw from their display.
Next up for Derby, to round-off their pre-season tour in Austria, is a game against Slavija Sarajevo.
Head Coach Steve McClaren opted to make just two changes to the side that started in the 3-1 win at Notts County on Saturday, with George Thorne and Jamie Ward coming in for Will Hughes and Johnny Russell.
Both Hughes and Russell were named on the substitutes’ bench while French trialist Alasanne Toure was again in the squad.
Zenit, managed by former Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur boss Andre Villas-Boas, named a strong side, including seven players who featured for their respective countries at the World Cup.
Nicolas Lombaerts and Witsel were part of the Belgium squad, Luis Neto was in the Portgual party while Oleg Shatov, Viktor Fayzulin, Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Yury Lodygin were part of the Russia squad under former England boss Fabio Capello.
Their squad also contained a number of international players from across the world and Europe.
Zenit, who reached the last 16 of the Champions League last season, got the game underway, less than 20 minutes after a torrential downpour in Kalsdorf.
Derby had to survive an early scare inside the opening three minutes, with Kelle Roos called into action to block a shot from Cristian Ansaidi and Craig Forsyth was forced to clear off the line from Danny seconds later.
The Rams found their feet soon afterwards and Ward shot over after Russian international goalkeeper Yuriy Lodygin failed to deal with a cross from Forsyth.
Roos came to Derby’s rescue soon afterwards as he saved a penalty, awarded following a foul by Forsyth on Kerzhakov. The Dutchman flung himself full length to his left to superbly push the ball away and deny the Portugal international.
Derby then grew into the game and Dawkins saw a shot saved by Lodygin from 20 yards out on 23 minutes, while Hendrick also tested the palms of the Russian international goalkeeper with a thunderous shot from distance shortly afterwards.
Zenit took the lead just after the half hour through Belgian international midfielder Witsel, who thundered past Roos from 12 yards after a cross into the box fell into his path thanks to a deflection.
Derby were forced into a change before they could kick off after Witsel’s goal, as Thorne, who had picked a few knocks earlier on, was replaced by Eustace.
The half petered out and following the turnaround, Derby began the second period strongly as they looked to draw themselves back onto level terms.
Forsyth got away down the left to latch onto a fine pass by Buxton from the back, but substitute goalkeeper Maxim Rudakov punched clear and Craig Bryson couldn’t direct his rebound header on target.
Roos was made a fine save from Alexandre Ryazantsev early in the half while substitute Solovyev fired a shot wide for Zenit just after the hour following a strong spell of possession by Derby.
Saloman Rondon fired a shot into the side netting as Zenit tried to make their lead more comfortable at the midway point of the second half, but Derby remained a threat on the break with the likes of Dawkin and Martin instrumental to any attacking moves.
Roos had to make a good stop with his legs from Dimitriy Skopintsev with ten minutes to go in what was his busiest game of pre-season, and he certainly proved on this showing he will be a more than capable deputy to Lee Grant when he returns between the posts.
Solovyev went on to make the game safe for the Russian outfit with four minutes to go as he fired home from close range following a breakaway move, which was slightly unfortunate as it came straight after a good spell of possession by McClaren’s side.
Despite tasting defeat for the first time in pre-season, there’s no doubt that the workout proved to be another satisfactory one for Derby as they continue to count down the days until the 2014/15 season kicks off on Saturday 9th August.
Derby County: Roos, Christie (Toure 61), Forsyth, Bryson (Hughes 71), Buxton, Keogh, Dawkins, Hendrick, Martin, Ward (Russell 71), Thorne (Eustace 34)
Substitutes Not Used: L Naylor, Etheridge, O'Brien, Sammon, Bennett, Freeman.
Zenit St Petersburg: Lodygin, Smolnikov, Lombaerts, Neto, Ansaidi, Timoshcuk, Fayzulin, Witsel, Shatov, Danny, Kerzhakov.
Substitutes: Rudakov, Solovyev, Khodzhaniyazo, Skopintsev, Rodic, Troyanov, Pronichev, Anyukov, Criscito, Zinkov, Ryazantsev, Arshavin, Rondon, Hubocan, Vasyutin.