Goals from Muhamed Besic and Britt Assombalonga ultimately condemned Derby County to a 2-1 defeat against Middlesbrough in the Sky Bet Championship at Pride Park Stadium.
Tony Pulis’ side delivered a crucial blow in each half, with Besic opening the scoring midway through the first period, before Assombalonga gave his side breathing space with 20 minutes to go.
David Nugent pulled one back for the Rams in added time, but they couldn't find a dramatic equaliser.
A ferocious start to the game saw Boro midfielder Adam Clayton booked inside the opening minute, before Derby created the first chance from a set piece.
The corner delivery from Tom Lawrence was superb, but Bradley Johnson couldn’t direct his back-post header on target.
Adama Traore has made plenty of headlines this season for his work on the ball but he tested Scott Carson moments later with a header from George Friend’s long throw, before the visitors broke the deadlock midway through the half.
Besic was allowed too much space on the edge of the penalty area and he made the most of opportunity by firing past Carson.
Lawrence looked like a threat down the left-hand side and he forced a decent save from Darren Randolph with half an hour gone.
The Rams struggled to find a way back into the game after the break and Boro looked the most likely to get the next goal as they went close with a series of chances.
Friend sent a free header over the bar after 57 minutes, before Jonny Howson struck the woodwork with a fierce drive from range.
Besic went close to adding his second just after the hour mark, but he fired a rising effort wide of the target.
On 70 minutes though, the away side found the goal to take the game away from Derby. Traore squared to Assombalonga and after taking the time to set himself, the striker finished from close range.
Lawrence went close as the clock ran down with a fine angled effort, but Randolph kept it out high at his near post.
Derby did get one back in second half stoppage time when Nugent converted from the spot after Curtis Davies was brought down, but it was too late for the Rams to find the leveller.
Derby County: Carson; Keogh, Davies, Forsyth; Wisdom, Huddlestone (Hanson, 71’), Johnson, Olsson (Weimann, 62’); Lawrence, Nugent, Vydra (Palmer, 63’).
Substitutes not used: Roos, Pearce, Ledley, Jerome.
Middlesbrough: Randolph; Shotton, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Howson, Clayton, Besic (Leadbitter, 81’); Traore, Assombalonga, Downing (Fabio, 85’).
Substitutes not used: Konstantopoulos, Cranie, Fry, Johnson, Harrison.
Derby were well in the game at 1-0, but from the moment that Boro extended their lead, it looked like a tough task for Gary Rowett’s side.
Traore found himself in space before finding Assombalonga inside the six-yard box, and the forward had the time to wrong-foot Carson before firing home.
Lawrence started in the inside-forward position and whilst he showed flashes on the ball, it was his work out of possession that caught the eye on a difficult afternoon for the Rams.
He worked tirelessly for the team, and he won tackles and made blocks throughout, as well as producing his usual threat in the final third.
The Rams host Cardiff City at Pride Park Stadium on Tuesday (kick-off: 7:45pm), before another crucial game against Aston Villa at Villa Park on Saturday 28th April, which kicks off at 3pm.