Full-time: Jeff Hendrick scores again but Derby County are beaten 2-1 at Brighton
JEFF Hendrick's third goal in three games was not enough to save Derby County from a 2-1 defeat against Brighton & Hove Albion at the Amex Stadium.
The Rams got off to the worst possible start as Ashley Barnes put the Seagulls ahead inside the opening 90 seconds and Andrea Orlandi headed a second after 25 minutes.
The visitors lost Will Hughes to injury just before the break but pulled a goal back when Hendrick struck in the 70th minute.
However, it was not enough as Brighton held on for the three points.
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Kieron Freeman was handed his second start for Derby - and first in his preferred position of right-back, as John Brayford was moved into a five-man midfield.
That switch meant that Michael Jacobs was dropped to the bench.
Brayford lined up in a central role, man-marking Brighton's highly-rated midfielder Liam Bridcutt.
But Nigel Clough's men fell behind to the first attack of the game.
Inigo Calderon found David Lopez in plenty of space on the right and he had time to place a low cross into the path of Barnes, who finished from close range.
Derby came back into the match and played some nice football but without causing their hosts serious problems.
Brighton doubled their lead when Calderon, on the overlap, whipped in a first-time cross from the right and Orlandi rose well to power a header past Adam Legzdins from 10 yards.
Hughes was forced off just before the interval after appearing to take a knock to his back. The teenager was replaced by Jamie Ward.
Early in the second half, Calderon sent a free header wide from a corner.
At the other end, Ward fired over from outside the box.
In the 53rd minute, Will Buckley broke clear on the left and delivered a low centre but Gareth Roberts denied Barnes a second goal by getting a crucial touch on the ball.
Buckley was released again shortly afterwards but Legzdins blocked his shot.
The Seagulls had a golden chance to scored a third goal in the 63rd minute but Paul Coutts cleared off the line from Orlandi, whose initial close-range shot had been kept out by Legzdins.
Instead, Derby halved the deficit with 20 minutes to go.
Bridcutt was penalised for a foul on Hendrick outside the area on the right.
Ward drillied the free kick goalwards and it was turned in by Hendrick from around six yards out for his third goal in three games.
The Rams pushed for an unlikely equalier but substitute Jacobs fired high and wide from distance as Brighton held firm.
Deep into added time, Adam El-Abd headed a long Legzdins clearance towards his own goal but Tomasz Kuszczak held the ball under the bar.
GOALS: Barnes (2) 1-0; Orlandi (25) 2-0; Hendrick (70) 2-1.
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION: Kuszczak, Calderon, El-Abd, Greer, Bridge, Lopez (Crofts, 88), Bridcutt, Hammond, Orlandi (Dicker, 76), Buckley (LuaLua, 77), Barnes. Other subs: Ankergren (gk), Dunk, Hoskins, Vicente.
DERBY COUNTY: Legzdins, Freeman (Jacobs, 62), Keogh, O'Brien (Robinson, 87), Roberts, Coutts, Brayford, Hughes (Ward, 45), Hendrick, Davies, Sammon. Other subs: Fielding (gk), O'Connor, Tyson, Bennett.
REFEREE: I Williamson (Berkshire).
BOOKINGS: Derby - Freeman (59) foul on Orlandi; Davies (73) foul on Bridge; O'Brien (86) foul on Barnes; Jacobs (90+1) foul on Bridcutt. Brighton - Orlandi (66) foul on Brayford; Bridge (90+5) dissent.