Derby's painful shuffle towards Premier League oblivion continues unchecked. Middlesbrough were the latest to inflict defeat on them, in the process doing themselves a considerable favour down in what their manager Gareth Southgate calls "the eight-team mini-league at the foot of the table". This was only their fifth home League win of the season and they just managed to maintain their miserly average of a goal per game at the Riverside.
Derby, propping up that mini-league virtually since the start of the season, are on course to be the worst team in Premier League history. They have now gone 25 games without a win, one short of Sunderland's mark of 26, and they remain marooned on 10 points. At least they sank with a flourish in a rousing finish, when Robert Earnshaw missed the sort of sitter which happens when nothing is going right. No wonder their goals total away from home is six in 16 matches.
Southgate was still anxious to repair the lasting damage inflicted by Cardiff in the FA Cup quarter-final a fortnight ago "to repay the faith of our fans", but they were noticeably fewer in number yesterday. Half of the South Stand at one end was closed following overnight storm damage, but the relocated horde of Derby's long-suffering faithful still found plenty of room for their enduring and charming optimism.
The deciding, indeed the only, goal of the game was a fine joint enterprise from George Boateng and Tuncay Sanli after 32 minutes. Boateng, out on the left touchline, neatly turned the ball inside for the Turk to latch on to before embarking on a run along the edge of the penalty box, culminating in a sharp turn and low shot which found the net to Roy Carroll's right.
Derby were always vulnerable to this sort of skill, as they have been proving all season, but fortunately for them there was not much of it on show, Tuncay apart. The Turk was prominent early on and maintained the effort until being replaced near the end. He caused the first alarm with a fine ball out to Stewart Downing, whose low centre was deflected for a corner from which Carroll made a brave save from the imposing figure of David Wheater.
There was no denying Derby's commitment. Robbie Savage, sporting the captain's armband, got in one crucial tackle when Jérémie Aliadière was about to pull the trigger and Mile Sterjovski also foiled Downing in the act of shooting. Sterjovski, who took a sharp blow on the head in the opening 10 minutes, was taken off just before the interval, replaced by another striker, Emanuel Villa, though Derby did no better with three strikers than with two until the closing minutes.
Aliadière, whose pace regularly discomfited the Derby centre backs, tested Carroll immediately on the resumption but the keeper did much better to turn aside Boateng's rising volley.
As a snowstorm enveloped the ground Derby's performance picked up and, as their manager Paul Jewell said: "The home crowd were edgy and if we had been able to put our passes together their players might have been edgy too."
After Carroll's outstretched right leg had managed to block a fine cross-shot from Aliadière, Boro fell away badly and suffered what Southgate termed "our usual six-yard box problems near the end". It should have cost them when Andy Todd managed to reach an Eddie Lewis header which was rolling wide and turned it back on to the head of Earnshaw, who contrived to miss from inside that box. It was sadly typical of Derby's season.