After his week of controversy and apologies, the one thing that the Luton manager, Mike Newell, wanted to say yesterday was that his team had spoken well for him on the pitch. But in the event it was they who owed him their apologies.
After six successive League defeats Newell's future has to be precarious. Even though his apology for a rant about women not having a place in football had been accepted, his complaint that Luton's chairman, Bill Tomlins, had "contributed nothing in two years'' was not the sort of remark that any amount of water under the bridge can dilute from the memory. Some interpreted this criticism as being a ploy to get himself out of the job, but he denies that. Either way, he was only "severely reprimanded.''
Nevertheless, a few more defeats and the outcome could be different. Whether the chairman goes first is a matter of debate; the fans are campaigning for Newell and against Tomlins.
Little of what Luton produced suggested they were absolutely determined or capable of adding support to Newell by ending their wretched run of results. Derby, strongly led by Steve Howard, who had been sold by Luton last summer for £1 million, were confident and positive. Luton were hesitant defensively.
Neither side produced much in the way of shots to trouble the keepers, but Derby approached the subject the more thoughtfully. Their passing in midfield linked defence with attack attractively, yet only Morten Bisgaard produced a shot of any consequence in the first half an hour. That almost cost them when a header from Luton's Leon Barnett had to be flicked over by Stephen Bywater.
When Jonathan Stead struck the post with a low drive two minutes into the second half, it seemed Derby might interpret that as the precursor to further domination. Instead, it seemed to give Luton hope, and they settled into a period of initiative.
Derby's defence, who had been firm and constructive in the first half, began losing sight of Adam Boyd, allowing him space he had not enjoyed earlier.
But after 70 minutes Derby produced a goal that was almost too colourful for a grey game. Stead swerved in across the penalty area from the left and slammed in a splendid shot. Five minutes later Derby performed a well-rehearsed free-kick. Matt Oakley tapped it forward to Seth Johnson, who centred low and hard. Bisgaard hit the post and Howard turned it in.
Newell said last night: "I was never worried that I might not be in charge this weekend." But if he expected his players to do all the talking by their performance on the pitch, he was badly disappointed.