Sorry stuff at Pride Park
NEWCASTLE UNITED crashed to a sorry defeat at the hands of struggling Derby County tonight.
The Magpies had their wings clipped in front of a full house at Pride Park and Sam Allardyce knows the defeat could have been even worse had Derby not squandered several chances late on to finish his side off.
Debut boy Kenny Miller won it for the Rams with a great strike before the break but Newcastle's unbeaten run is now at an end.
United defender Steven Taylor kept his place in the starting XI after clear the air talks with Sam Allardyce with the manager making just one change to the team that beat Wigan a fortnight ago.
That meant that Senegal international Habib Beye had to be content with a place on the bench where he took his place alongside fellow summer signing Abdoulaye Faye.
But Jose Enrique failed a late fitness test.
However, Enrique wasn't the only one as Mark Viduka, still recovering from a hamstring injury sustained against Wigan, also missed out through fitness test failure meaning Shola Ameobi started in attack.
And Steve Harper retained his place between the posts with Shay Given also on the bench.
Meanwhile, Toon star Joey Barton was also present at Derby but the England international is still not ready to make his comeback from the ankle injury he suffered at Carlisle in July.
United went into the game defending their unbeaten run but Derby came straight at United and a first minute corner was headed high over the top by Steve Howard.
Then on nine minutes a forward run by Tyrone Mears resulted in a 25 yard shot from the defender after being played in by Matt Oakley but Harper was equal to it and gathered it easily in front of watching England boss Steve McClaren.
On 18 minutes came Newcastle's first real sniff of goal when James Milner broke from deep on the left to pick out Michael Owen but after taking the ball wide of Derby keeper Stephen Bywater his pass to David Rozehnal only resulted in the Czech defender rolling the ball wide of the target.
Yet in an action packed two minutes it would be Derby who snatched the lead.
Nine minutes before the break United won a free-kick on the edge of the box and Cameroon star Geremi's curling free-kick had to parried round the post by Bywater.
From the resultant corner though Rozehnal was pulled down by Dean Leacock by ref Peter Walton waved away protests.
And with United still reeling from the incident a quickly taken goal kick by Bywater got caught up in Howard's feet before falling kindly to Derby debutant Kenny Miller who sent a superb effort beyond Harper from all of 25 yards to open the scores with 38 minutes on the clock.
Derby started the second half in confident fashion too and Howard was just inches wide with a towering header from an Eddie Lewis corner in another nervous moment for Newcastle.
That was the cue for Big Sam to change things round but when he subbed Owen for Oba Martins it sparked an angry reaction from the 3,000 Toon fans, all of them disappointed to see the England man withdrawn.
Six minutes later and skipper Geremi was also taken off with Abdoulaye Faye replacing him to make his United bow with Alan Smith taking over as captain.
United though weren't getting any change out of their strikers and with half an hour to go Taylor blasted over after Ameobi knocked the ball into his path.
But with 15 minutes left a flicker of hope came United's way when Martins was upended by Mears.
That handed United a free-kick 25 yards out but Milner's free-kick crashed off the wall and Newcastle wasted the corner that followed.
Yet had Derby not wasted their own chances late on it could have been much worse for Newcastle on a bad night for Big Sam and Co.
DERBY: Bywater, Griffin, Leacock, Mears, Teale, Lewis (McEveley 88), Davis, Oakley, Pearson, Howard, Miller (Feilhaber 79)
Subs: Jones, Earnshaw, Todd
UNITED: Harper, Taylor (Beye 75) Rozehnal, Cacapa, N'Zogbia, Geremi (Faye 60), Butt, Smith, Milner, Owen (Martins 54), Ameobi.
Subs: Pattison, Given