A Jack Sparkes header was not enough to mount a comeback as the Grecians suffered defeat to play-off chasing Derby at SJP.
David McGoldrick's scored twice for the Rams against the injury hit Grecians, before Sparkes' effort saw City rally late on.
Gary Caldwell made three changes to the side that lost in the Devon Derby with Jake Caprice, James Scott and Sonny Cox all called upon to replace Demetri Mitchell, Sam Nombe and Jay Stansfield who all miss out after picking up knocks in training.
As the whistle went to start the game, Derby were in possession of the ball and in only the second minute they were almost one to the good, but a tremendous point blank save from Blackman kept the score level.
For the most part of the opening 15 minutes, it was Derby who were seeing the majority of the ball, but eventually City were starting to get a foot hold in the game. Chauke was able to find space on the left-hand side and played the ball to Caprice who whipped a right footed cross onto the head of Key, but the wing back turned number 10s header was excellently saved by Wildsmith and tipped over the bar for a City corner.
With not much happening for either side, the loudest cheer of the night so far occurred in the 28th minute, as the referee gave Hourihane a talking to as the Rams midfielder has edged the ball too far forward for the ref's liking after they were awarded a free kick.
There was nothing to split the sides as the first half came to an end, with both teams having only the one chance each to test the opposition keeper.
It was a bright start to the second half for the Rams as they were immediately on the offensive, led by their main man McGoldrick and it was McGoldrick who was the main talking point at the start of the second half. After breaking the City backline, Aimson pulled him back resulting in a Rams freekick, Hourihane played the freekick short and McGoldrick smashed it home with conviction leaving Blackman no chance.
City were trying to get a hold of the game in the second half but as of the 62nd minute the only efforts they had on goal were from long range both coming way of Kite, but both strikes were unable to break Derby’s last line of defence.
After a textbook sliding challenge from Aimson on Mendez-Laing to stop the forward having an effort on goal, City broke with Key on the ball, however after touching the ball between Hourihane and Roberts, the latter tugged at and kicked Key, ultimately receiving the first yellow of the game.
As something needed to change for the Grecians, Gary made a triple change. Leaving the field was Caprice, Scott and Kite to be replaced by Joe White, Jack Sparkes and Josh Coley.
The subs didn’t have the immediate impact that the Gaffer had intended as only a few minutes later McGoldrick was able to double the lead as the experienced striker was given too much room on the edge of the area and smashed it past Blackman.
But straight down the other end came City and it was one of those changes who made a positive impact. After a mishap from the Rams keeper Wildsmith, charging in at the back post was Sparkes who was able to bundle the ball home from a couple yards, giving City a lifeline in the game.
Even with that goal and City seeing almost all of the possession in the six minutes of added time, Caldwell's were unable to get the crucial leveller.
The next game for City is a long trip up north, as the Grecians take on the Owls at Hillsborough on Saturday 22nd April.
City XI: Blackman, Kite (Coley), Sweeney, Aimson ©, Hartridge, Caprice (Sparkes), Collins, Chauke (Borges), Key, Scott (White), Cox
Subs not used: Woods, Grounds, Harper
Derby XI: Wildsmith, Forsyth, Hourihane, Cashin, Bird, McGoldrick (Collins), Mendez-Laing (Dobbin), Roberts, Sibley (Smith), Davies ©, Knight
Subs not used: McGee, Barkhuizen, White, Rooney
Referee: Andy Woolmer
Attendance: 7028 (1103 Away)