City were unable to halt their away jinx as a youthful Derby side ran out comfortable winners at Pride Park.
The hosts should have led as early as the third minute, but Jamie Ward’s weak penalty was smothered by Tom Heaton as a nightmare start was averted.
But the Rams continued to press throughout the first half and were rewarded by Jeff Hendrick’s opener nine minutes before the interval, while Ward made amends nine minutes after the break to kill off any hope of a City fightback.
Substitute Ben Davies completed the scoring in added time, leaving the Robins in desperate need of points sooner rather than later in order to preserve their npower Championship status for another season.
Sean O’Driscoll made two changes from his side beaten 2-1 by Wolves a fortnight ago, as Neil Kilkenny and Sam Baldock returned in place of Liam Kelly and Stephen Pearson, who both dropped to the bench.
A bizarre start to the game saw Craig Bryson booked inside the first 35 seconds for diving, before his midfield colleague Hendrick burst into the City box and was tripped by Greg Cunningham for a clear penalty.
However, with only three minutes on the clock, Heaton dived to his left to preserve the deadlock with a fairly routine save.
Stung into action, City responded with a chance of their own, as Baldock stole in from a corner only to see his close-range shot deflected away for a corner amid panic in the Derby box.
It was the liveliest of openings, and Ward soon set about making amends for his spot-kick failure with a positive run and shot from 20 yards that eluded Heaton’s dive and his right-hand post, but only by a whisker.
It was an electric start from the home side, who nearly found themselves in front once again when Bryson burst through from deep and beat Heaton to a long ball.
In truth it was a misjudgement from the City keeper, who had advanced beyond the edge of his own penalty area, but Marvin Elliott saved the day with a last-ditch block as Bryson tried to turn the ball into the empty net.
City eventually grew into the contest as an attacking force, as Steven Davies’ deflected shot forced a save out of former Derby team-mate Frank Fielding, but at the other end County were soon taking the initiative again.
Hendrick’s pass into the feet of Conor Sammon allowed the striker time to turn and play the ball across goal for Paul Coutts coming in at the back post, whose first-time shot looked bottom corner-bound until a combination of Heaton’s hand and left-hand upright kept the winger at bay.
Midway through the first half another City foray resulted in a speculative shot from distance from Cole Skuse, plying his trade on the right flank of a four-man midfield, but his effort drifted wide of Fielding’s near post.
From then on the visitors’ stifling job looked to be working, but nine minutes from the break Hendrick struck out of nothing to give Derby the lead.
Ward’s corner from the left was only half-cleared to the Irishman, whose return shot on the volley looked on the tentative side, but one bounce later the ball was nestling into the bottom corner beyond the unsighted Heaton for a soft opener.
City showed signs of creeping back into the game after the interval, but were undone on the counter-attack by Derby’s second.
With the Robins on the attack, Davies was caught in possession and a long ball forward suddenly found Sammon in far too much space on the right flank.
When the former Wigan Athletic striker lifted his head up, he slid the ball square for Ward to charge into the box and lash a left-footed shot underneath Heaton’s body.
Things were threatening to go from bad to worse for O’Driscoll’s side, who were soon indebted to former Ram Lewin Nyatanga for keeping Bryson’s low drive at bay with Heaton beaten down to his right.
City were spared a wider margin of defeat by a horrible Sammon miss 11 minutes from time when the striker blazed over from strike partner Chris Martin’s low cross.
Ironic cheers from the travelling fans greeted Kilkenny’s dipping volley over the bar and a dribbling shot on target from Baldock, before Fielding saved brilliantly from a 90th minute Liam Fontaine header – more than City had produced as an attacking force throughout the contest.
There was still time for Davies to find the bottom corner from an acute angle, but it was a scoreline that hardly flattered a dominant home team.