Derby County’s winless run was extended to eight games after they failed to defend their lead against Birmingham City at St Andrews on Saturday.
In what is becoming a familiar story, the Rams bossed proceedings for large parts of the game, but failed to turn that superiority into more than Ben Davies’ poacher’s goal five minutes before the break.
And they were made to pay for that as the Blues put in a vastly-improved second-half display, inspired by two half-time changes as one, Wes Thomas, grabbed a brace, either side of a fabulous strike from fellow substitute Nathan Redmond.
Those goals represented the only shots on target that the home side could muster, and that clinical edge was the difference between the sides.
There were plenty of positives for manager Nigel Clough to take back down the A38, including further signs that the strike partnership of Conor Sammon and Chris Martin is blossoming, as well as impressive displays from new signing Craig Forsyth and youngster Valentin Gjokaj.
However, the result sees the Rams slip below the Blues in the Championship table to 15th, and while a few weeks ago talk of a play-off place was rife around Pride Park, the team are now just six points off the relegation zone.
If Derby continue to play the kind of football they have done over those eight games – and indeed throughout the season – there is no way they should be worried about that, but a return of just four points from a possible 24 is poor form indeed.
Derby were unchanged from the team which drew 1-1 at Championship leaders Cardiff City in midweek, although Kieron Freeman and Mark O’Brien were passed fit enough to complete a bench that had been two light in Wales.
In the fifth minute, Davies’ volley from a tight angle went over, while Nikola Zigic’s weak looping header was easily claimed by Adam Legzdins.
Chris Burke was then denied by an offside flag, although his point-blank shot from yards out had been saved by Legzdins anyway.
Martin’s ball through to Sammon then had a bit too much on it, although the Republic of Ireland striker almost nicked it past the keeper.
A Paul Caddis cross from the right wing was met by a towering header from Zigic that went just wide.
Good football down the left saw Forsyth get to the goal-line, but his low cross was claimed by Jack Butland.
Burke then gave the ball away just outside the box and Gareth Roberts stole in to set up Davies, but his first-time drive spun wide, before the same player saw his powerful free-kick saved by Butland.
Martin who, along with Sammon was getting a lot of joy out of the Blues’ centre-halves, let fly from distance but his shot was deflected for a corner.
Roberts won the ball on the left again and fed Martin, who dribbled into a shooting position and struck the ball well, but Butland pulled off a good save.
However, the England goalkeeper was powerless to prevent the Rams taking the lead soon after.
Good approach play down the left saw Forsyth – who had been excellent in the air all half – nod into the area, and although Sammon could not reach the ball, Davies stole in behind the defence to volley home.
A minute later it could have been 2-0 as Forsyth did well again to set up Sammon, but his shot on the turn was deflected away for a corner.
Gjokaj, playing at right-back, then popped up in midfield to win the ball and send Forsyth racing down the left, and he sent in a low cross to Sammon, whose shot was only deflected as far as Martin, but the loanee again saw his well-struck effort blocked.
It was all Derby now as the Birmingham defence seemed to be praying for the half-time whistle, and another Forsyth cross was hit straight at Butland by Sammon.
However, it took a great reaction save from Legzdins to keep the Rams in front as Zigic met a free-kick at the far post, but the keeper pawed away his header before claiming the resultant corner.
It was a sign of how well Derby had contained Birmingham that boss Lee Clarke made his two changes at the break, but the visitors were soon testing the busy Butland again, with Davies unleashing a dipping effort from 30 yards that had the custodiam scrambling to his left.
The hosts were finally showing their ex-Premier League class though and Derby looked all at sea as they built up pressure around the box that ended with Callum Reilly powering in a shot that had Legzdins beaten but cannoned off the crossbar.
Tricky on-loan Newcastle United full-back Shane Ferguson then danced through the Rams defence to hang up a cross that Zigic headed over.
However, the Blues finally broke through in the 67th minute.
Derby had coped well with the ball in the air all game, but in Thomas the hosts seemed to have someone who could compete on the floor, and he picked up possession inside the area, shrugged off his marker and fired past Legzdins from a tight angle.
He could have made it two from a near-identical position shortly after, but this time his shot on the turn was wide.
But it was another substitute who did complete Birmingham’s comeback as Redmond cut in from the right wing too easily and fired a powerful shot that rocketed into the top corner.
With 10 minutes remaining Derby almost grabbed an equaliser as a Davies free-kick found its way to Jake Buxton at the far post, but his well-struck volley was saved by Butland.
Derby still looked threatening on the attack, while at the back, Gjokaj seemed to have made it his mission to keep Zigic out of the game by fair means or foul.
The Rams pushed for an equaliser in the dying minutes, and after Birmingham failed to clear from Michael Jacobs’ corner, Richard Keogh nodded the substitute’s cross back in wide from a good position.
A minute later, Sammon ran onto a through ball from Martn and seemed to get a touch to the ball before being clattered by Butland, but the referee waved away Derby’s faint penalty appeals.
Then in injury time came the killer blow as a ball over the top was not dealt with by a flagging Rams defence and Thomas pounced to stroke home his second and ensure an undeserved three points for his side.