Rams' Under 21s taste rare defeat by going down at Crewe.
Derby County’s Under 21s missed out on the opportunity to go level on points with leaders Leicester City in the U21 Development League 2 after going down 3-0 to Crewe Alexandra on Monday afternoon.
With Leicester winning on Saturday, Andy Garner’s team were looking to join them at the summit of the league but after a tight opening first half, they were beaten by a much improved Crewe in the second period.
Goals from Max Clayton, on trial former Derby striker Nathan Ellington and Brendan Daniels put paid to any hopes Derby had of maintaining their title push in Cheshire.
The Rams went into the game without several key first team squad players that featured in their last outing against Huddersfield Town such as Valentin Gjokaj and Kieron Freeman - but were boosted by the return of Tom Naylor, who has just returned from spell at League Cup finalists Bradford City.
The early stages saw Derby have the better of the play, with Ben Davies’s set piece delivery causing problems for Crewe stopper Alan Martin.
However, the first 30 minutes lacked clear cut chances, with Andy Dales chipping over the onrushing Martin and the crossbar when put through and Crewe’s Andy White seeing his run into the penalty area halted by Rams captain Luke Adams.
The best chance of the opening period fell to Crewe when Ryan Colclough latched onto a ball over the top of the Derby defence but saw his left foot shot saved well by Ross Atkins.
Dales, who got forward throughout from midfield, did manage to round the Martin before half time, but from a tight angle, saw his shot cleared off the line by George Ray.
The second half began without much evidence of improvement. Ellington, who spent a season at Pride Park in 2008-09, blazed over with a speculative long range effort before Max Clayton fired wide.
Crewe would eventually find their shooting boots however and 8 minutes into the second half, White played in Michael West down the left and he crossed for first team regular Clayton to poke home.
Within two minutes, it could have been 2-0 after winger Colclough fired just wide of Atkins post.
Crewe’s opener prompted Derby into action and they made a triple substitution almost immediately. Conor Doyle, Davies and Michael Hoganson made way for Rhys Sharpe, Niall Dawkins and Josh Lelan.
It was too little too late for the Rams however, and despite the tireless running and willingness shown up front by Kwame Thomas, Derby found chances hard to come by.
Ellington bundled in at the near post from a corner to double Crewe’s lead on 72 minutes before Brendan Daniels scored the home side’s third ten minutes later.
Derby did have a sniff very late on, with Crewe keeper Martin spilling the ball at the feet of Thomas, but the striker couldn’t capitalise.
Next up for the Rams’ U21s is Sheffield United, at home at Moor Farm Training Ground, on Wednesday 6th March 2013.
Crewe Alexandra U21: Alan Martin, Andy White, Greg Robertson, Oliver Turton, George Ray, Jon Guthrie, Michael West, Ryan Colclough (B Waters 78), Nathan Ellington (H. Clayton 73), Max Clayton, Brendan Daniels.
Derby County U21: Ross Atkins, Dylan Hayes, Michael Hoganson (Josh Lelan 58), Andrew Dales, Tom Naylor, Luke Adams, Ben Davies (Niall Dawkins 58), James Hanson, Kwame Thomas, Conor Doyle (Rhys Sharpe 58), Adam Wixted.
Subs not used: Mats Morch.