Derby manager Phillip Cocu refused to condemn his side’s ill-discipline after they lost 3-0 at Reading – their sixth successive Championship game without a win.
The Rams had defender Scott Malone sent off early on and also had eight players booked by referee Michael Salisbury.
Malone saw a straight red in the fourth minute for a push on Yakou Meite, with Charlie Adam tucking in the resultant penalty.
Although Derby battled well with 10 men, and twice struck the woodwork, they conceded a second goal to Lucas Joao in the 58th minute.
Reading added a second penalty through Meite, after Craig Forsyth had fouled Joao, four minutes from the end.
Cocu said: “With all the cards, I saw it in a positive way. It meant that we reacted together as a team.
“There were some moments when there were some provocations from some [Reading] players after they were 2-0 up. They had some tricks.
“It’s their game, they do it. But we showed what we stand for, that you don’t mess with us.
“You have to stand up for yourself sometimes and that’s when you get a booking.”
Derby lost for the sixth away game in a row – all without scoring – and Cocu was without player-coach Wayne Rooney by his side due to the former England captain’s illness.
Cocu added: “I’m really proud of the team. It was tough because, after a few minutes, we conceded a penalty, had a sending off and were down to 10 men.
“Your game plan, which you work on during the week, is straight out of the window. But I loved the reaction of my team.
“It was a great performance. Of course, at the end of the game it can be 2-0 or 3-0 if we had had a normal referee and a little bit more luck.
“We even could have won the game. The players showed great character, what we stand for and how we play football.
“I’m just proud of the team, we did everything we could. We played with courage and bravery on a difficult pitch.”
Reading collected only their second win in seven outings.
Boss Mark Bowen said: “We had ambitions to start the game really fast. We did that.
“The penalty and the sending off came because of that, because of our forward movement.
“We get the penalty and the natural inclination is we’re 1-0 up and the opposition is down to 10 men, now we should go on and win comfortably.
“But that’s never the case. And that’s been said many times before by better managers and coaches than me.
“When you’re playing against 10 men, it can be a difficult situation. Teams can flip the way they go about the game.
“At half time, maybe I wasn’t happy about the situation, but the players weren’t happy about the situation and what they had produced since the goal.
“Derby probably had too many chances but I thought that when we came out for the second half, we were patient and then moved the ball quickly.
“But we didn’t risk it by trying to cut through them every time.
“We brought them on to us and created those spaces to play in. I thought that we did that.
“It was the perfect start for Christmas week.”