A 41st-minute header by Jack Hobbs, the former Leicester City and Hull City defender, settled local differences in Forest’s favour for the first time in five games after a feisty meeting.
Richard Keogh, the Derby captain, became the fifth player in the last six East Midlands derbies to be sent off when he fouled Chris Cohen 11 minutes from time, conceding a penalty and earning a second yellow card. Darius Henderson’s spot kick was superbly saved by Lee Grant.
Forest had to cling to their lead under considerable pressure, not helped by giving away 14 free-kicks in the second half alone.
Derby merited a point and would have snatched one had substitute Connor Sammon not been foiled by Forest goalkeeper Karl Darlow in stoppage time.
The victory strengthened Forest’s place in the pack behind Queens Park Rangers, although manager Billy Davies deflated the celebratory mood with some extraordinary comments, saying the win was “against a club, they tell me, that’s making very good progress and this one’s a shambles”. He added: “I think it has been written that this club is not in a healthy place. This ‘Carry on Kuwait’ stuff if you want me to be specific. We’ve heard this time and again and all this other nonsense.”
It was an odd performance, given that the media expected to be talking about Andy Reid, the 31-year-old midfielder who continues to be such an influential player.
Many neutral eyes were on Will Hughes, the 18-year-old Derby midfielder coveted by Premier League clubs, but Reid, with the corner from which Hobbs scored, the cross from which Henderson missed, and countless other telling passes, did more to shape the result.
Nottingham Forest (4-1-3-2): Darlow; Lichaj, Hobbs, Collins, Cohen; Moussi (Harding, 16); Lansbury, Reid, Majewski (Abdoun, 65); Mackie, Henderson (Halford, 81).
Derby (4-4-2): Grant; Smith, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Hughes, Eustace, Bryson, Russell (Sammon, 58); Martin, Ward (Jacobs, 90).
Referee: Simon Hooper.