Doncaster Rovers manager Paul Dickov saw his team fall to in-form Derby County but found plenty of encouraging signs to remain optimistic they can climb away from the Championship drop zone.
Jamie Ward punished a defensive mix-up to put Derby ahead in the 13th minute and although Chris Martin had a penalty saved by Ross Turnbull 10 minutes before the break, Derby increased their lead when Simon Dawkins scored five minutes into the second half.
An own goal by Jake Buxton just after the hour gave Doncaster hope but Derby’s quality up front always threatened more goals and Martin set up Craig Bryson to seal victory in the 77th minute.
Dickov was still upbeat despite a third successive defeat.
He said: “That’s two weeks running that we’ve played ever so well. We came to a team whose form shows they are the best in the division at the minute and really took the game to them and caused them problems.
“Some of our football, especially in the second half, was top class. You talk about game-defining moments and Theo (Robinson) was clean through and within seconds we are 2-0 down.
“There are lots of positives, they are one of the best passing teams in this division and we have more than matched them and out-passed them at times.
“The players showed a lot of quality on the ball and kept trying to do the right thing and I’ve got to be proud of them for that.
“But on the flip side we can’t keep playing as well as we have done and defend the way we have for the goals. We are a young back four who are learning all the time and the goals we are conceding maybe shows that.”
Steve McClaren admitted County’s surge up the Championship table had taken him by surprise after collecting their seventh consecutive league win for the first time in 18 years.
McClaren was Jim Smith’s assistant in 1995 when Derby last won seven on the spin.
It was a far cry from McClaren’s first game in charge when they trailed 4-1 to Ipswich, and he said: “If you’d have said we would be in this position having just won seven in a row after that first half against Ipswich I would have said you are raving mad.
“But that’s happened and a lot of credit is down to the players,” he said.
“They could have taken a while to get over the shock of Nigel Clough going but they’ve taken to us quite well, they’ve done the work and prepared well and when they do that, this team can play football and score goals and that always gives you a chance of winning.”
Derby: Grant, Wisdom, Keogh (Keane 25), Buxton, Forsyth, Bryson, Eustace (Hendrick 67), Hughes, Ward (Russell 77), Martin, Simon Dawkins.
Unused substitutes: Sammon, Bennett, Legzdins, Cisse.
Doncaster: Turnbull, Quinn (Wakefield 67), Khumalo, McCullough, Stevens, Duffy, Wellens, Furman, Woods (Forrester 57), Robinson, Brown (Macheda 41). Unused substitutes: Cotterill, Maxted, De Val Fernandez, Yun.
Referee: N Miller (Durham).
Man of the match: Craig Bryson.