Gareth Davis reports from Vicarage Road
Three goals in the first half did the damage as Derby ended their season with a 3-1 defeat away to Watford.
The Rams fielded a much-changed side at Vicarage Road but they were up against it after Jobi McAnuff's early goal, and when Grzegorz Rasiak had added two more before the interval it was pretty much game-over.
Watford had done the hard work but equally could have been caught out at various points during the first period, and again after the break with Scott Loach producing a couple of very good saves.
Kris Commons looked Derby's most likely source of a goal but one eventually came from loanee John Eustace, playing against his parent club.
And there were positives to come in the second half in the shape of promising debuts for youngsters Mark Dudley and Mark O'Brien, who both got their first taste of football at senior level.
Derby boss Nigel Clough carried through with his promise to try a few different things for the final game of the season at Watford.
However, perhaps the most unexpected change came at the back with leading scorer Rob Hulse lining up alongside Lewin Nyatanga in the centre of defence.
Stephen Pearson began the game at left-back, while Hulse's move saw Luke Varney lead the line with Kris Commons supporting him.
And there were three young faces on the bench in the shape of Jason Beardsley, Mark Dudley and newly-crowned Academy player of the year Mark O'Brien.
Dudley, 19, signed professional last summer and was in for his first involvement in a senior squad having recently returned from a succesful loan spell with Blue Square North champions Tamworth.
O'Brien, 16, hails from Dublin and does not even become a full-time scholar until next season but has been given his first taste of first-team football on the back of a campaign that has seen him feature regularly for the under-18s, and pick up the prestigious Republic of Ireland Under-16 Player of the Year award.
Former Hornets Nathan Ellington and Jordan Stewart didn't make the matchday 16, while John Eustace - on loan to the Rams from Watford - was allowed by his parent club to line up.
The home side's two former Pride Park favourites, Grzegorz Rasiak and Tommy Smith, both lined up from the off.
Hulse won his first header in towering style with two minutes on the clock to get the Rams moving forward, and from the persistence of Varney they won their first corner.
Teale swung it in, but England under-21 international goalkeeper Scott Loach claimed comfortably.
Derby's start had been as bright as the early afternoon sunshine as they continued to press forward with Barry Bannan the next to threaten after cutting in on his left foot, only for his 20-yarder to be deflected past the post.
The passing from those in blue and white was something to savour, and they were closer still on 11 minutes with Bannan again the man.
This time he picked up Gary Teale's delightful cross-field ball and created a shooting opportunity for himself before curling his shot against the top of the bar with Loach beaten.
And at the other end Stephen Bywater was called into action for the first time soon afterwards to beat away Tamas Priskin's low drive from the edge of the box.
But the home side were soon in front. A long ball forward was nodded down by Rasiak and poked on by Priskin for Jobi McAnuff to run in behind his marker and power his shot past Bywater from ten yards.
The goal disrupted Derby's early flow but they continued to try and push on where they could with Varney often at the fulcrum of moves in the final third.
And they were almost level on 21 with the number 15 again heavily involved as he picked up the ball from a throw-in and laid it off well to Teale, whose placed effort drifted just wide of the far post.
But five minutes later the home side doubled their lead with a goal that could best be described as "scrappy".
Danny Rose's free-kick was nodded goalwards by Priskin, whose header came back off the bar, McAnuff tried to force it in only for the ball to be blocked on the line, but Rasiak was in space and on hand to tap it home from a couple of yards.
They twice broke quickly through McAnuff looking to take advantage of the Rams pushing forward, though there were also signs of shakiness in Watford's defensive ranks as the half ticked on.
Varney saw a header saved by Loach on 36 as he continued his encouraging personal display but there was a sense Derby needed to score before half-time to really get back in it.
Instead the Rams found themselves three down through a goal created and scored by two of their former players.
Smith drove purposefully down the right and cut into the area before laying a neat ball back for Rasiak to confidently slot home his second of the afternoon via the inside of a post.
Varney almost reached Commons's inviting cross but Derby went into the break with it all to do.
It could have been worse had referee Scott Mathieson not stood motionless with the home side appealing for a penalty as Rose hit the deck inside the Derby area.
There were no changes at the interval but both sides offered threats from wide areas early in the second period, Teale and McAnuff delivering dangerous balls that didn't get the final touch they deserved.
Derby then saw their own spot-kick appeals fall on deaf ears as Varney hit the deck under Jack Cork's challenge after a spell of pressure by the visitors.
The game was starting to really open up, despite Watford's dominance on the scoreboard, and only a good Bywater block prevented Priskin from making it four ten minutes after the restart.
Loach saved well from Commons on 63 after the number seven carved out a shooting chance for himself with a great ruin inside the Watford half.
And the Rams then made a double change with O'Brien coming on for his first-team debut in place of Lewin Nyatanga, while Tito Villa took over from Varney.
But before Derby's new number 41 could get settled he watched on as McAnuff hammered in a free-kick that Bywater grabbed at the second attempt.
O'Brien sat in at centre-half and got a couple of good early touches under his belt, one particularly impressive as he read a long ball and got there ahead of Priskin to clear.
Derby's best move of the match came on 70 through Connolly and Villa, whose pull-back found Commons but Loach stood up to the test and produced a fine save.
It was a good spell for the Rams and they carved out another chance soon afterwards, but Loach comfortably held Eustace's header.
The stopper then grabbed a low Commons effort before Watford pushed on again and Smith might have done better than blaze his shot well over when well-placed.
Commons looked Derby's only hope of troubling the scorers, though his fizzer on 77 dipped just over the bar with Loach totally beaten.
Bywater then denied Rasiak and as Derby were caught out trying to move up too quickly, McAnuff broke through but saw his shot deflected against the post.
And the Rams eventually troubled the scorers with nine to go after forcing a corner and taking it quickly for Teale to deliver into the middle, where Eustace charged in and powered his header down past Loach to net against his parent club.
Two minutes later came another change and another debut for one of the club's younger players - Dudley taking over at left-back from Pearson for the closing stages.
Dudley's first act was to track back on Watford substitute Alex Cauna and get in a fine block inside the penalty area.
Then O'Brien came to the rescue with a header off the line as Priskin stole in on Connolly's loose back-pass and lifted the ball goalwards over the advancing Bywater.
Bywater produced a fine stop to deny Cauna with pretty much the last kick of the game - and pretty much the last kick of the season.
Watford: Loach, Hoyte (Hodson 64), Cork (Hoskins 89), DeMerit (C), Priskin, Rasiak, McAnuff, Doyley, Smith, Mariappa, Rose (Cauna 76).
Substitutes: Lee (GK), Stepanov.
Booked: Doyley (46, failing to retreat ten yards).
Derby County: Bywater, Connolly (C), Commons, Savage, Hulse, Varney (Villa 63), Nyatanga (O'Brien 63), Teale, Pearson (Dudley 83), Eustace, Bannan.
Substitutes: Price (GK), Beardsley.
Attendance: 16,131 (2,192 visiting fans).