RANGERS succumbed to only their fourth away league defeat of the season - and their first of 2014 - at Pride Park, as Derby County ran out narrow 1-0 victors in front of the live Sky Sports cameras.
John Eustace’s looping header in the 20th minute won it for the hosts, on a disappointing evening for Harry Redknapp’s side.
Defeat means the R’s remain 11 points adrift of table-toppers Leicester City and level on points with second placed Burnley, who have a superior goal difference.
Redknapp made three changes from the R’s team that shared the spoils with Burnley last time out.
January signing Aaron Hughes came in for a first start in place of Nedum Onuoha, while Tom Carroll and Gary O’Neil returned at the expense of Matty Phillips and Armand Traore respectively.
Rams gaffer Steve McClaren named an unchanged side, despite seeing his charges throw away a 3-1 lead in their 3-3 with Birmingham City 10 days ago.
In-form Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford led the line for the hosts, alongside Chris Martin and Jamie Ward in an attacking 4-3-3 formation.
In a lively opening, it was Derby who were on the front foot inside two minutes.
A hopeful lump upfield saw Bamford escape the R’s high defensive line, but – having taken too much time to control the ball – Hughes was able to clear the ball for a corner.
At the other end, Andrew Johnson was first to test Lee Grant, stinging the Rams custodians’ palms with a low shot from 25 yards following a fine individual run.
As the game ebbed and flowed, Rob Green was the busier of the two keepers.
In the 13th minute, Clint Hill’s attempted clearance ricocheted back off the shins of Jake Buxton, forcing Green into a fine tip over.
Seven minutes later, Green was picking the ball out of his own net, after Derby were awarded a controversial corner.
Hill appeared to be fouled when clearing a long throw into the Rangers box, but with no decision forthcoming, the Rams made the most of their fortune.
Green’s weak punch was headed back towards goal by Eustace and despite protests for a foul by Chris Martin on O’Neil who was attempting to clear the danger, the ball nestled into the back of the net.
O’Neil and Barton, in particular, voiced their disapproval to referee Michael Naylor, but the goal stood.
Despite the hosts being on top, the game was flowing from end-to-end and it was the visitors who created the next clear-cut opportunity of note.
Kevin Doyle intercepted a misplaced Will Hughes pass and played in Johnson, but his goal-bound shot was blocked for a corner.
Derby were forced into a change four minutes before the break, with the lively Ward – who appeared to pick up an injury – making way for Johnny Russell.
The R’s ended the half strongly and were only denied a 44th minute equaliser when Grant tipped away Hughes’ back post header after O’Neil expertly picked out the former Fulham right-back.
Sensing his side required fresh impetus in the second half, Redknapp made a double change at the break, introducing Junior Hoilett and Modibo Maiga for O’Neil and Johnson respectively.
Derby weren’t about to sit back on their one goal advantage, however, and when Russell’s 47th minute cross flashed across the face of goal, Rangers were relieved to see the ball sail to safety.
The Hoops were beginning to enjoy more possession in the second period, frustrating the home crowd by keeping the ball for lengthy spells.
Joey Barton’s left-footed effort from 18-yards forced Grant into a routine save, before Derby made a second change, replacing Will Hughes with Jeff Hendrick.
The R’s went close again midway through the second half when Kranjcar’s goal-bound glancing header from Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s cross was cleared off the line.
Redknapp made his third and final substitution with 11 minutes remaining, introducing Jermaine Jenas at the expense of Carroll.
The Rams responded in kind by bringing on Conor Sammon for Bamford, as the clock ticked towards full-time.
Hoilett, who improved as the second half wore on, thrashed a half-volley into the side-netting seven minutes from time, but that was as good as the R’s - despite five minutes of added time - could muster, as the hosts ran out 1-0 winners.