Rickie Lambert's prolific goalscoring form kept Southampton two points clear at the top of the Championship, but they are making an inconvenient habit of conceding the first goal in away matches and it is costing them points.
This time they were behind inside the third minute and took the best part of an hour to haul themselves back to parity. They have gone behind in each of their past four away matches in a sequence that has yielded only two points.
Still, given that they are seeking to follow Norwich in completing back-to-back promotions and have won seven of their first 11 matches, it is probably expecting a lot for everything to be perfect, especially given that their manager has had to cope with a number of injuries, including to his gifted midfielder Adam Lallana. "Rickie Lambert scored an excellent goal and we created a lot of other good opportunities," Nigel Adkins said. "Apart from the goal, which the video shows was offside, I don't remember Derby having many other chances.
"We are pleased with where we are but it is a tough league and it will be a long, hard and demanding season, and while it is great to be top now we have set our stall out to be in the race in January."
Then, should he need to, Adkins will have the luxury of a handy transfer fund to draw on after the sale of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to Arsenal, and for that reason alone it is difficult to imagine Southampton will not be a force in the last part of the season.
Derby would love to be competitive at that stage. For the moment, they are punching above their weight. Under orders to cut his wage bill drastically, Nigel Clough has been obliged to strip his squad of players experienced in the Championship and above and seek replacements in League One and below, which is not an ideal way to challenge for the Premier League.
But they have rewarded him so far with the quality that was often painfully lacking in the team he inherited at Pride Park. When they were beaten 5-2 at Nottingham Forest last season he castigated them not for being beaten but for making too little effort to avoid it. That defeat has already been avenged this year and they sit comfortably in fourth place.
They went ahead when Theo Robinson was quickest to the loose ball after Kelvin Davis had made a terrific stop from a fierce Ben Davies shot, and held on to their lead until Lambert played a neat one-two with David Connolly.
"Theo's goal was a good striker's goal and the only thing against it was that it came so early we still had 88 minutes left against a very good side," Clough said. "But I could not have asked for more in terms of effort and honesty. And the response after they equalised was the most pleasing thing, because a year ago we might have buckled at that moment." Indeed, the defender Jason Shackell had a headercleared off the line seven minutesfrom time, although Southampton's Jose Fonte was similarly foiled. Steve Davies ended the day in hospital after taking a nasty blow to the head in Derby's cause.
Derby (4-4-2): Fielding; Anderson, O'Brien, Shackell, Roberts; B Davies, Bryson, Hendrick, Ward; Robinson, S Davies (Cywka, 80).
Southampton (4-4-2); Davis; Richardson (Hammond, 72), Fonte, Hooiveld, Fox; Do Prado (Harding, 88), Schneiderlin, Cork, Chaplow (De Ridder, 59); Connolly, Lambert.
Referee: Mark Brown.
Man of the match: Ward (Derby)
Match rating: 7/10