A test of Villa's resilience was always on the cards. Their eyes are firmly fixed on Europe but they faced a Derby team whose recent form has not been that of a side looking over its shoulder at the other end of the division, a fact to which Manchester United will testify.
Furthermore, Derby had beaten Villa as convincingly as any this season when they met in the FA Cup in January, a memory Derby brought home forcibly by establishing their superiority within the opening 35 minutes.
Both their goals were created by Dean Sturridge, a player of growing stature who demonstrated that there is more to his game then simply putting the ball in the net, even though he is Derby's leading goal scorer.
The striker carved out the first by cleverly beating Villa's Fernando Nelson on the left before delivering a perfect cut-back to Gary Rowett at the far post. Derby's wing-back had not scored previously but put his chance away as if he does so every week.
The second brought even more praise for Sturridge, who dispossessed Gareth Southgate deep in his own half and then, repelling the England defender's attempts to win the ball back, had the vision to see Robin Van der Laan taking up a good position on the right, supplying his colleague with a precision pass.
The Derby captain did not waste his opportunity, cutting inside one defender before placing the ball beyond Michael Oakes's reach with a fine left- foot strike.
Had Villa made more of their openings, of which Dwight Yorke missed two and Savo Milosevic another, Derby's wings might have been clipped. In truth, however, the result was an entirely just one and substitute Julian Joachim's late reply little more than consolation.
To make the day worse for Villa, the Australian goalkeeper Mark Bosnich earned himself a likely fine after his reaction to his manager Brian Little's decision to keep faith with understudy Oakes, despite Bosnich's return to fitness after injury. Little confirmed that Bosnich left the ground without watching the match.