Cardiff City's first away win since the opening weekend of the season lifted the Welsh side from 10th to fifth place in the Championship as an injury-ravaged and off-colour Derby slipped out of the top six.
Nigel Clough's side have surprised themselves this season but were thoroughly outplayed by a Cardiff team who had so much possession, much of it given away, that they could easily have doubled their goals tally. As it was, Filip Kiss and Peter Whittingham hit the target either side of a Kevin Kilbane own goal to create a comfortable winning margin.
"We've got something like 10 players out and I think the injuries caught up with us a bit against a Cardiff side who were very good," Clough said. "We were a bit short of energy but that has not been the case in the first 14 or 15 games and we have surpassed everyone's expectations so far."
Clough – two months away from completing three years in charge at Pride Park – is confident there will be no repeat of the slide that set in at the same point last year, especially if his injured list can be reduced. Last night he had to unveil a new combination up front in 22-year-old Chris Maguire and the precocious 15-year-old Mason Bennett, the club's youngest-ever senior player, whom he revealed is facing "double science, double English and double maths" when he returns to the classroom today after his first home start.
There seemed little doubt Cardiff's slow start to the season would gain some momentum after the 21-year-old Slovakian midfielder Kiss gave them the lead after 20 minutes, firing home his first goal for the club after Ben Turner had headed down a cross from Kevin McNaughton.
By the end of the half Cardiff were in control and Derby picked up another casualty when right-back Russell Anderson suffered a hamstring injury. Their goal then came under constant pressure at the start of the second half, when they did not help themselves by frequently squandering possession. Chances fell to Whittingham, Aron Gunnarsson, Craig Conway and Turner in the first 10 minutes with Jason Shackell's header over the bar the only worthwhile Derby response.
It was no surprise, therefore, when Cardiff doubled their lead from a corner in the 62nd minute, a near-post flick from the bandaged head of Kevin Miller turned into his own net by Kilbane.
Whittingham added the third with 17 minutes left as Derby looked in vain for an offside flag. "We've taken four points from two away games against teams above us and we were terrific tonight," the Cardiff manager Malky Mackay enthused.
Derby County (4-4-2): Fielding; Anderson (Buxton, 31), Kilbane, Shackell, Roberts; Davies, Bryson, Hendrick, Ward; Maguire (Cwyka, 51), Bennett (Ball, 70). Substitutes not used Legzdins (gk), Doyle, Ball.
Cardiff City (4-1-4-1): Marshall (Heaton, ht) ; McNaughton (McPhail, 76), Hudson, Turner, Taylor; Whittingham; Gunnarsson, Cowie, Kiss, Conway (Mason, 83); Miller. Substitutes not used Gerrard, Earnshaw.
Referee E Ilderton (Tyne & Wear).