Derby 0 Sunderland 1
Niall Quinn's winner will hardly win goal of the season, but it could prove to be the goal of Peter Reid's season.
The beleaguered Sunderland manager desperately needed this victory after a run of seven games without a win.
The Sunderland fans were losing patience with the man who had saved them from oblivion seven years ago.
The word in Sunderland was defeat against Derby, coupled with a loss against arch rivals Newcastle in their next game and Reid would be looking for a new job.
But instead of fearing for his job, Reid will be smiling after Quinn scored his sixth goal of the season 10 minutes from time to stop the rot and their slide down the table.
The result was tough on Derby, who, urged on by the hyperactive John Gregory, deserved better for their efforts.
The defeat was Gregory's first as Derby manager and leaves the Rams staring at relegation to the Nationwide League.
Rob Lee had made his Derby debut following his £250,000 move from Newcastle.
Derby created what few chances there were in the first half and Thomas Sorensen saved a stabbed effort from Pierre Ducrocq before the Danish international held a drive from the hard-working Lee.
The best moment of the half came on 24 minutes when Ducrocq won the ball in midfield and fed Malcolm Christie. The England Under-21 striker spun his man beautifully and laid the ball off to Fabrizio Ravanelli, whose fierce drive flew just wide of the Sunderland goal.
Sunderland just could not get going and Quinn and Kevin Phillips were living off scraps up front. Sunderland finally came to life after the interval and Andy Oakes denied them the lead with a fine one-handed save.
Bernt Haas fed Phillips and his 30-yard right-foot drive was touched over the bar by Oakes. Paul Boertien replaced Darryl Powell and he was quickly into the action when he made a great saving tackle on Arca at the back post.
Arca swung over the resultant corner to Phillips and he found Quinn, whose effort from the narrow angle was touched over by Oakes.
Derby went the closest yet to scoring in the 59th minute. First, Luciano Zavagno hit the underside of the bar from Ravanelli's pass and then Christie's effort from the rebound was blocked a couple of yards out by Claudio Reyna.
Derby then felt they should have had a penalty when Christie ran into Jody Craddock, but referee Graham Poll did not agree and waved play on.
That, though, would have been nothing to Derby's sense of injustice when Sunderland scored 10 minutes from time. Michael Gray's shot was deflected to the unmarked Quinn at the back post and he steered the ball home.