Nigel Pearson absent as Derby end barren run with victory at Cardiff
Derby showed no ill-effects following the suspension of manager Nigel Pearson as they picked up a first win in seven Sky Bet Championship games with a 2-0 triumph at fellow strugglers Cardiff.
Pearson was suspended by the club just hours before kick-off following a meeting with owner Mel Morris, as Chris Powell was placed in temporary charge.
Tom Ince set them on their way to three points with a cool finish before Nick Blackman won and converted a penalty after a foul by Cardiff defender Matthew Connolly, who was sent off.
The win moves the Rams above their Welsh hosts and out of the relegation zone to increase the pressure on Cardiff boss Paul Trollope.
Cardiff have just one win from five home league games, and a Bluebirds player has yet to find the net on home turf this term as that lone victory over Blackburn came thanks to a pair of Shane Duffy own goals.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the events ahead of kick-off, Derby were tentative during the opening exchanges and they nearly paid for it as Rickie Lambert was allowed the time to advance and send in a low drive which Scott Carson had to parry.
Unfortunately for the Bluebirds striker it proved his last meaningful contribution as he pulled up with what appeared to be a groin injury moments later and was replaced by Kenneth Zohore.
The Rams began to find their feet, with Bradley Johnson and Will Hughes impressing in midfield, and a lovely dinked pass from the former narrowly failed to find Ikechi Anya's forward run.
Hughes saw a shot blocked by Craig Noone from a clever Ince lay-off and the former Blackpool winger was proving to be a constant thorn in the side of the home defence.
His long-range drive forced Ben Amos into a sharp save low to his right, and the Cardiff goalkeeper quickly got back to his feet to keep out Jacob Butterfield's follow-up.
Cardiff's best opportunities were coming courtesy of Whittingham's expert set-piece deliveries and the midfielder's left foot carved out the best chance of the opening half.
Captain Sean Morrison was left with a free header 12 yards out but could only direct the ball straight at Carson, who gratefully pushed the ball away to safety.
The warning signs were there for Cardiff but Derby continued to dominate proceedings early in the second half.
Ince was busy again, beating Declan John with ease to force Amos into yet another save, and he made no mistake in the 55th minute.
Hughes was the architect. His clever reverse pass found Ince in space on the edge of the box, with the former Hull man rolling away from the nearest defender to fire into the bottom corner, with Amos unable to keep the ball out despite getting a hand to it.
Ince probed again just past the hour mark but had penalty appeals waved away as Stuart O'Keefe made a timely intervention for the hosts.
Cardiff pressed for an equaliser without crafting a clear opening, and the game was put beyond reach when Connolly brought down a clean-through Blackman in the 80th minute.
The defender saw red and Blackman picked himself up off the deck to seal victory.