United suffered their eighth straight defeat in games against the Rams, but looked value for at least a point after overcoming a sluggish start to be level at half-time through their ex-Derby player Paul Green only to fall to two second half goals, the second four minutes into injury-time.
Leeds were unlucky to hit the post with Tom Lees’ header at 2-1 and came close to a second goal several times without any joy leaving Warnock to bemoan his side’s ill fortune.
He said: “When we got the equaliser just before half-time, it gave us a lift and in the second half we dominated proceedings. To say I am disappointed to not win the game is an understatement.
“I thought we were poor for the first half-hour, but we withstood that and I didn’t think they could improve, but I thought we could be 100 per cent better in the second half and I thought we were.
“The second goal was always going to be the winner and we couldn’t quite manage it. You need the rub of the green at times.”
Warnock was unhappy that referee Scott Mathieson booked and did not send off Derby midfielder Jeff Hendrick for a dangerous-looking 35th-minute lunge on United winger Ryan Hall.
After Leeds had Jason Pearce and Luke Varney red carded recently for less violent looking tackles it highlighted the kind of inconsistencies that drive managers mad.
Warnock added: “It would have been entirely different with 10 men.
“How Hendrick did not get a red card I will never, ever know. It’s a horrendous challenge, it’s a career threatening challenge and to get a yellow card for that, I do not understand the game.
“They’re even saying Ryan Hall got up quickly, as if that’s a crime. What do we tell them to do, stay down and roll around? It was bad at the time but it’s even worse when you watch it again.”
There was no disputing Derby were the better side in the early stages and they took the lead in the 15th minute when Will Hughes cleverly set up striker Connor Sammon to shoot past keeper Paddy Kenny.
Theo Robinson was denied twice by fine Kenny saves as the hosts looked to add to their lead, but Leeds levelled with their first real chance of the game just before the break as captain for the day Green finished from close range after getting on the end of Luciano Becchio’s knock down in the area.
Ross McCormack saw an effort saved by home keeper Adam Legzdins early in the second half, although impressive teenager Hughes came close to restoring Derby’s lead in the 59th minute when he beat two defenders on a fine run, but Kenny came to the rescue with another save.
However, Kenny was beaten in the 66th minute when Becchio failed to clear a corner and Richard Keogh drove in a low shot which went in off Jake Buxton in a crowded six-yard box.
Leeds’ response was strong, though, and they went closest to an equaliser when David Norris’ strike from distance was well saved by Legzdins and when Lees’ header from El Hadji Diouf’s cross hit the inside of the post. Substitute Diouf also fired in a powerful shot that went just the wrong side of the post.
They had a big shout for a penalty turned down in the 90th minute as the all-action Green went down in the area under a challenge from Hughes.
But it was all over in the fourth minute of injury-time when against the run of play Derby broke out and Ben Davies bent in an unstoppable shot from just inside the area to make it 3-1.
Derby County 3
(Sammon 15, Buxton 66, Davies 90)
Leeds United 1
Saturday, December 8, 2012
Derby: Legzdins, Brayford, Keogh, Buxton (O’Brien 79), O’Connor, Coutts, Hendrick, Hughes (Freeman 90), Jacobs, Sammon, Robinson (Davies 82).
Leeds: Kenny, Byram, Lees, Tate, Peltier, Green, Norris (White 80), Tonge, Hall (Varney 68), McCormack (Diouf 74), Becchio.
Referee: Scott Mathieson.