After nine wins in 10 matches, Derby's celebrations carried lofty expectations as their lead stretched to seven points at the head of the First Division. However, it took a last-gasp goal by Marco Gabbiadini to keep the party alive, leaving Norwich feeling more than a shade unlucky.
To make matters worse for the East Anglian side, manager Gary Megson is likely to have to answer for his conduct following a half-time confrontation with the referee, Jim Rushton, who ordered Megson to leave the dug-out for the second half.
The Stoke official is to report Megson, whose complaints stemmed from an unfortunate sequence of events which led to Norwich going a goal behind in the 37th minute, with only nine men on the field. Spencer Prior was carried off with an ankle injury and while Megson was in the dressing- room seeking to discover whether Prior might return, team-mate Shaun Carey was ordered from the field by the referee to be treated for a head injury, sustained earlier, which was bleeding heavily.
"I was upset with the referee over the timing of his decision," Megson said. "We had been hoping to nurse Carey through to half-time. He had been bleeding for 20 minutes and I couldn't understand why the referee waited until we were down to 10 men before telling him to leave the field."
It was easy to sympathise with Megson's predicament, although he could be criticised for not having acted himself to attend to Carey's injury, which required 12 stitches. Derby needed only a minute to take advantage of the confusion, Sean Flynn setting up Ron Willems to nod home his 11th goal of the season.
In the event, the changes worked initially to Norwich's advantage, forcing Megson to abandon a five-man midfield and push substitute Robert Fleck into a front-line role. Looking more ambitious, the visitors drew level after 63 minutes, Fleck diving to head home the rebound after Robert Ullathorne's drive came back off a post.
From that point, Norwich looked the better side. However, Fleck squandered two chances within 12 minutes of his goal and was thwarted by Russell Hoult, diving to save at full stretch, with five minutes remaining.
A draw would have been a fair outcome but, with scarcely a minute to go, Willems flicked on Paul Simpson's right-wing corner and Gabbiadini rose at the far post to provide a dramatic final twist.
Derby County (3-4-3): Hoult; Yates, Stimac, Rowett; Carsley (Trollope, 82), Van der Laan (Simpson, 75), Powell, Nicholson; Gabbiadini (Wrack, 90), Willems, Flynn.
Norwich City (4-5-1): Gunn; Sutch, Polston, Prior (Newman, 37), Bowen; Adams, Goss, Carey (Fleck, 39), Ullathorne, O'Neill (Milligan, 85); Ward.
Referee: J Rushton (Stoke-on-Trent).Reuse content