Derby undone by Rovers' revival
( AFP ) - Derby County remained eight points adrift at the foot of the Premier League table after a 2-1 home defeat against Blackburn Rovers at Pride Park here on Sunday.
The Rams, who now appear destined for relegation and a swift return to the second-tier Championship after promotion last season through the play-offs, were left to reflect on what might have been after they missed a major chance to record what would have been only their second league win this season.
Derby, who took a 27th minute lead through Matt Oakley, might have been 2-0 up at half-time if Steve Howard had scored from the penalty spot.
But instead they found themselves 2-1 down at the break after goals from Roque Santa Cruz and David Bentley turned the match on its head and helped Rovers end a sequence of five games without a win in all competitions.
Derby had a 38th minute penalty when New Zealand international Ryan Nelsen brought down Kenny Miller inside the box.
But Howard saw his shot well-saved by Brad Friedel, the American goalkeeper diving low to his right.
And less than 90 seconds later, Rovers were level when Santa Cruz scored his fifth goal in eight games after a Benni McCarthy shot was parried by keeper Lewis Price following a Bentley cross.
And before the break Rovers were in front when former Arsenal midfielder Bentley let fly with a low shot from 25 yards which curled away from the diving Price and into the bottom corner.
Derby manager Paul Jewell made three changes to his side as they went in search of a precious victory.
Oakley returned as captain, while Michael Johnson and Claude Davis were also back in the starting side following the team's narrow defeat against Liverpool on December 26.
Meanwhile Blackburn were looking to press on after ending Manchester City's 100 percent home league record on Thursday.
Rovers manager Mark Hughes freshened-up his side by recalling South Africa star McCarthy, Stephen Warnock, veteran Turkish international midfielder Tugay and McCarthy's international team-mate Aaron Mokoena.
But it was Derby who took the lead, against the run of play, with their first meaningful attack.
Tyrone Mears's cross took a slight deflection and Oakley, unmarked at the back post, saw his shot squirm through Friedel's legs.
And although they pressed hard for an equaliser that was as good as it got for a Derby side who now appear all but doomed to the drop.