David Nugent’s first goal of 2018 wasn’t enough as Derby County were beaten 3-1 by Burton Albion at the Pirelli Stadium.
Liam Boyce opened the scoring before Nugent levelled with a powerful header, but Luke Murphy ensured that the Brewers went into half-time with the lead.
Lucas Akins made it three after the break, and Stephen Bywater saved Matej Vydra’s late penalty to seal a memorable afternoon for Burton.
Derby looked for Andreas Weimann at every opportunity during the early stages as they tried to utilise his pace out wide, but it was the home side that created the first telling chance of the game after 24 minutes.
Boyce had looked lively up-front and after Andre Wisdom relinquished possession, he saw his shot blocked before continuing his run into the six-yard box to tap home from Murphy’s low cross.
The lead was to last just five minutes though as the Rams hit back instantly. A sharp break-away involved Tom Lawrence and Vydra before the former picked the ball up in space on the left-hand side.
The deep cross from the winger gave Nugent an ideal opportunity to break his long goal drought, and he obliged by planting his header firmly beyond Bywater.
Joe Sbarra was a threat from the left throughout the first-half and he came close after neatly exchanging passing with Hope Akpan, but Burton didn’t have to wait long to go back in-front.
After the ball was given away in midfield, Murphy drove forward and under no pressure, he cut inside on the left foot and curled a great finish into the far corner to send his side into half-time with the lead.
Gary Rowett summoned Kasey Palmer from the bench just before the hour-mark as Derby looked for a way back into the game, but Burton defended well and limited the visitors to efforts from set pieces.
The task got more difficult on 68 minutes, when Akins tapped home from close range after Scott Carson had originally made a strong save.
Derby went close to halving the deficit shortly after when Vydra found space in behind, but Nugent couldn’t direct his strike on target.
Substitute Cameron Jerome won a penalty in the 89th minute, but Vydra couldn’t convert for his 20th league goal of the season as Bywater saved with his feet.
Derby will now have to pick themselves up from back-to-back defeats for the first time this season.
Burton Albion: Bywater; Brayford, McFadzean, Buxton, Turner; Davenport (Egert, 90’); Akins, Murphy, Akpan, Sbarra (Allen, 81’); Boyce (Barker, 90').
Substitutes not used: Campbell, Samuelsen, Hutchinson.
Derby County: Carson; Wisdom, Pearce (Jerome, 73’), Davies, Baird; Huddlestone, Ledley (Palmer, 57’); Weimann, Vydra, Lawrence; Nugent.
Substitutes not used: Roos, Forsyth, Keogh, Hanson, Thomas.
The Rams responded well after the hosts took the lead through Boyce but they couldn’t find a similar reaction after Murphy restored the lead on the stroke of half-time.
It was a good finish, but Derby will be unhappy with the way that he approached the box without a challenge.
Nugent’s strike was his first since the 3-0 win against Millwall prior to Christmas, although his form in between was deserving of more appearances on the scoresheet.
Lawrence found him with a good cross and the striker made no mistake in front of goal as he scored his seventh of the season.
After back-to-back away games, the Rams return to Pride Park Stadium to face fellow play-off challengers Middlesbrough on Saturday 21st April, kick-off: 3pm.
Cardiff City then visit the following Tuesday after the original fixture was postponed due to heavy snowfall prior to the international break.