Derby were top of the Championship, five points clear of third place three weeks ago but after a run of six matches without a win must contemplate the possibility that they might not even finish in the top six if their loss of momentum is not quickly reversed.
The chasing pack are now breathing down their necks, among them Wolves, whose two second-half goals not only avenged a 5-0 defeat at Derby in November but moved them up to seventh place, for the moment separated from the play-off places only on goal difference after losing only three of their last 19 Championship matches.
Yet Derby deserved better after a vibrant performance and head coach Steve McClaren was left baffled by referee Keith Stroud's decision-making after an incident just before half-time that might have set the match on a different course.
It came when Wolves defender Danny Batth brought down striker Darren Bent just outside the penalty area, after which Tom Ince pounced on the loose ball and steered it past Tomas Kuzsczak, seemingly to give Derby the lead.
Bent had been in a goalscoring position, which arguably should have meant a red card for Batth. Yet referee Stroud not only failed to punish the Wolves player but disallowed Ince his goal, despite the obvious advantage.
"We set a standard at this club in terms of how we behave, our respect for officials but that has been tested tonight," McClaren said. "I don't think I have seen something so black and white in all my time in football. All I can say is that the referee on this occasion was totally wrong and when he sees the video he will realise that.
"It's unbelievable the player didn't get a yellow card, a red card or the goal didn't stand. It's one which changed the game.”
In the end, Derby were made to suffer for their own mistakes as their run of misfortune continues. Injuries have hit them hard at a crucial stage of the season and even though their attacking football in this game was vibrantly exciting, forcing Polish goalkeeper Tomas Kuszczak into a string of first-half saves, nothing would go in their favour.
The first blunder came five minutes into the second half when a careless pass by Craig Forsyth was intercepted by midfielder Kevin McDonald, who in turn set up Nouha Dicko on the left, the winger managing to release a low left-foot strike despite the close attention of a pack of Derby defenders which beat Lee Grant after taking a deflection on the way.
The second goal was a disaster for Grant, with Forsyth again involved. This time the defender's attempt to intercept a cross from substitute Rajiv van La Parra looped in the air across the face of the Derby goal.
Grant really should have caught it but elected to punch and succeeded somehow only in knocking the ball into his own net.
"We rode our luck a bit tonight but it shows how far we have come from where we were when we lost heavily at Derby that we are now only three points behind a very good Derby side," Wolves manager Kenny Jackett said.Reuse content