THE message from Leeds United supporters when it comes to reflecting upon 2014 will be loud and clear this morning: Good riddance.
Given 12 months to forget – some would justifiably label it as an annus horribilis – the fact that Leeds ended another brutal and bewildering year with another defeat, just as they started it, will not have surprised too many of a Whites persuasion last night.
Unfortunately, the forecast for the new year is wholly uncertain and for the travelling contingent, who displayed their customary defiance amid adversity, it was difficult to envisage brighter skies ahead for 2015 when the final whistle blew in the frosty East Midlands last night.
Leeds, who ended 2013 with an away defeat across Brian Clough Way at Nottingham Forest last December, start the new year one point above the drop zone and firmly entrenched in a Championship relegation dogfight.
Alarm bells are reverberating strongly after four defeats in their last five matches.
On the pitch, Leeds, who have employed four different head coaches this year, have encountered pain most acutely on the road where they have tumbled to 16 losses in 25 matches, winning just four times and suffering some serious embarrassment along the way.
Given Leeds’s torrid record at Derby – they went into last night’s game on a run of six successive defeats there and no wins in eight – iPro Stadium was possibly the last place at which they would have wanted to check in.
Leeds may have stunned Derby in the reverse fixture at Elland Road 31 days earlier, but in a city famed for its railway industry, normal service was resumed for the Rams, beaten just once in 14 outings against United.
While it has been a wretched year for Leeds, it has proved the opposite for Derby, with Steve McClaren labelling 2014 as one of his best years in football.
Even in a vintage year, you sometimes need some fortune, which arrived four minutes before the break when midfielder Alex Mowatt became the second Leeds player in successive games to score an unfortunate own goal after Liam Cooper’s faux pas on Boxing Day.
When you are down on your luck such things invariably happen, as Leeds are finding out the hard way – but there were nothing fortuitous about a soft second goal which handed the game to Derby on a plate on 47 minutes.
Just as with the first strike, it was the sort of concession which is symptomatic of a side bang in trouble with Jake Buxton afforded an acre of space to head in Jeff Hendrick’s free-kick unopposed.
It reduced the visitors’ hopes to rubble, with their reaction anaemic and uninspired, the only issue being whether they could avoid a rout – with Leeds’s stoic supporters at least spared that.
It was rather more benign earlier. Given the sight of a febrile holiday crowd baying for the equivalent of Leeds blood, a quiet opening was welcome for the besieged visitors.
There was one significant development early on with United captain Stephen Warnock forced off after suffering an ankle injury, but the untimely disruption was not the precursor to Derby dominance.
For virtually the entire half, Leeds were diligent, if bringing little – indeed next to nothing – to the attacking table.
A moment of palpitation saw Chris Martin’s close-range shot blocked after goalkeeper Marco Silvestri dealt unconvincingly with Cyrus Christie’s cross, but it was an episode in relative isolation.
Most would have settled for that, only for another madcap moment for the second game running to cost Leeds dear and leave them staring at an interval deficit.
With Leeds stretched, the ball found Will Hughes and he drove towards goal before his pull-back caused a commotion, with the ball diverted into his own net by Mowatt amid the panic.
This had a suitably calming effect upon Derby, with Silvestri smartly turning away Richard Keogh’s header just before the break.
Any vestiges of Leeds’s decent defensive work in the first half were well and truly ripped to shreds early in the second period when the recalled Buxton headed home in splendid isolation.
With the game effectively over as a contest, the activity petered out and Derby strolled around with total comfort. Plenty of questions need answering by a demoralised Leeds, who failed to lay a glove on the hosts.
Derby County: Grant, Christie, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Hendrick (Bryson 80), Eustace, Hughes; Russell (Coutts 90), Martin, Ibe (Dawkins 90). Unused substitutes: Roos, Best, Shotton, Mascarell.
Leeds United: Silvestri; Byram, Bellusci, Cooper, Warnock (Berardi 8); Bianchi (Adryan 80), Cook, Austin. Mowatt; Antenucci, Doukara (Sharp 66). Unused substitutes: S Taylor, Tonge, Montenegro, Del Fabro.
Referee: K Stroud (Hants).
Results and table: Page 22.