Theo Robinson's second-half equaliser secured a point for Derby to deny 10-man Cardiff a fourth successive victory in the Championship.
Heidar Helguson gave Cardiff an early lead, nodding home from close range after Mark Hudson's header struck the crossbar.
Cardiff's Craig Noone was sent off for two yellow cards before Robinson levelled from close range.
Derby piled on the pressure but Cardiff held on for a point to stay top.
The Rams were unchanged following the 3-2 win over Birmingham City but Cardiff's side showed two changes.
Red card woe
Cardiff did not have a player sent off in their first 17 games but have now suffered two red cards in successive games following Simon Lappin's dismissal against Barnsley at the weekend.
Youngster Joe Ralls came in at left-back for the suspended Simon Lappin while Joe Mason made way for Craig Bellamy, who was making his first start since 23 October.
Bellamy shot high over the crossbar from the edge of the area within the opening 90 seconds before Derby skipper Richard Keogh's header was cleared off the line.
Although the home side had started brightly it was Cardiff who took the lead against the run of play on 11 minutes.
Captain Mark Hudson's header was tipped onto the crossbar by Adam Legzdins only for Helguson to follow up and nod home his seventh league goal of the season.
Derby responded well to going behind with Michael Jacobs firing narrowly wide, while Hudson's aerial clearance denied Robinson.
The home side, who had only lost once at home previously this season, finished the first half strongly with Paul Coutts forcing David Marshall into making a fine save.
Bellamy, as he had done in the first half, blazed over the bar early in the second half after being played in by Matthew Connolly.
But two yellow cards in the space of three minutes, the second for a late challenge on Will Hughes, led to Noone's dismissal with less than half an hour remaining.
Derby took full advantage and Craig Bryson surged into the area before squaring to leave Robinson with the simplest of tap-ins.
Helguson almost restored Cardiff's lead but the striker failed to direct his header goalbound as Derby piled on the pressure.
John Brayford twice went close and Cardiff were fortunate Derby's appeals for handball against Peter Whittingham were waved away by referee Mark Brown.
The visitors survived six minutes of stoppage time during which Nathan Tyson's header was cleared off the line by Connolly.
Cardiff's defence worked hard to hold on for the draw which keeps them a point ahead of Crystal Palace at the top of the Championship.
Derby County manager Nigel Clough said:
"Overall I'm very pleased with the performance. We've generally played very well at home this season. This performance was a continuation of that really.
"We huffed and puffed (in the) second half. I thought we had a lot of the ball, even with 11 against 11, but they are extremely difficult to break down, with 10 or 11 men."
"It's good when Cardiff come here and pay us a little bit of respect in the way that they play. I think sides are worrying a bit more about us than they used to."
Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay said:
"After the sending off, to dog it out and to play like that against a team who have won the last three, scored nine goals and have only been beaten once at home this season was very pleasing.
"Up to that point I was very, very happy with my team. I thought first half we were very comfortable and just before the sending off I thought we were actually just starting to link up well.
"I suppose both could be seen as yellows so I don't have any complaints over them."
Full Time The final whistle is blown by the referee.
Craig Bryson produces a right-footed shot from just outside the box that misses to the right of the goal. Paul Coutts takes a outswinging corner. Nathan Tyson takes a shot. Joe Ralls manages to make a clearance. Corner taken by Paul Coutts.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Nathan Tyson on Craig Conway. David Marshall takes the free kick.
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Ben Nugent by Conor Sammon. David Marshall takes the direct free kick.
Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Paul Coutts from the left by-line, save by David Marshall.
Bo-Kyung Kim gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Conor Sammon. Direct free kick taken by Paul Coutts.
Will Hughes takes a shot. Conor Sammon gets a block in.
The assistant referee flags for offside against Craig Conway. Free kick taken by James O'Connor.
Inswinging corner taken by Peter Whittingham from the right by-line played to the near post, clearance made by Paul Coutts.
Centre by Paul Coutts. Paul Coutts decides to take a short corner. Short corner taken by Paul Coutts from the left by-line.
Substitution (Derby) makes a substitution, with Jeff Hendrick coming on for Theo Robinson.
John Brayford takes a shot. Save by David Marshall. Short corner taken by Paul Coutts from the right by-line, Headed effort from inside the area by Craig Bryson misses to the left of the target.
Adam Legzdins takes the free kick.
Booking Jordon Mutch booked.
Foul by Jordon Mutch on Will Hughes, free kick awarded.
Substitution Joe Mason is brought on as a substitute for Heidar Helguson.
Theo Robinson delivers the ball, clearance made by David Marshall. Craig Bryson has an effort at goal from just outside the box which goes wide of the left-hand upright.
Will Hughes gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Jordon Mutch. Free kick taken by David Marshall.
Joe Ralls produces a cross, Heidar Helguson produces a header from outside the box and misses left.
John Brayford sends in a cross, Ben Nugent manages to make a clearance.
Substitution (Cardiff) makes a substitution, with Craig Conway coming on for Aron Gunnarsson.
Substitution Jordon Mutch replaces Craig Bellamy.
Craig Bryson provided the assist for the goal.
68:28 Goal scored
Goal! - Theo Robinson - Derby 1 - 1 Cardiff Theo Robinson finds the net with a goal from close range low into the middle of the goal. Derby 1-1 Cardiff.
The ball is sent over by Will Hughes, clearance by Ben Nugent.
Substitution Michael Jacobs goes off and Nathan Tyson comes on.
Michael Jacobs has an effort at goal from the edge of the area that misses to the right of the target.
Craig Bellamy takes a shot. Save by Adam Legzdins.
Paul Coutts restarts play with the free kick. Will Hughes concedes a free kick for a foul on Ben Nugent. David Marshall restarts play with the free kick.
Dismissal The referee sends off Craig Noone for second bookable offence.
Will Hughes takes a shot. Mark Hudson gets a block in. Craig Bryson takes a shot. Blocked by Mark Hudson. Foul by Craig Noone on James O'Connor, free kick awarded.
Adam Legzdins takes the direct free kick.
Booking Craig Noone receives a caution.
Unfair challenge on John Brayford by Craig Noone results in a free kick.
Effort from the edge of the box by Craig Bellamy goes wide of the left-hand upright.
Matthew Connolly gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Conor Sammon. James O'Connor takes the direct free kick.
The ball is delivered by Michael Jacobs, Theo Robinson takes a shot. David Marshall makes a comfortable save.
Direct free kick taken by Mark Hudson.
Booking James O'Connor booked.
James O'Connor concedes a free kick for a foul on Craig Noone.
Michael Jacobs takes a shot. Blocked by Mark Hudson.
The ball is swung over by Michael Jacobs, David Marshall makes a save. Craig Bryson has an effort at goal from just outside the box which goes wide of the left-hand upright.
Free kick awarded for a foul by Matthew Connolly on Michael Jacobs. Free kick taken by Michael Jacobs. Craig Bryson produces a cross, Peter Whittingham gets a block in.
Outswinging corner taken right-footed by Michael Jacobs from the right by-line, Jake Buxton takes a shot. Mark Hudson gets a block in.
The second half kicks off.
45:00 +2:05 Half time
Half Time The ref blows to end the first period.
Foul by Bo-Kyung Kim on John Brayford, free kick awarded. A cross is delivered by Paul Coutts, Richard Keogh has a header from inside the six-yard box and clears the crossbar.
Paul Coutts produces a cross.
Michael Jacobs fouled by Aron Gunnarsson, the ref awards a free kick. Paul Coutts restarts play with the free kick.
Heidar Helguson challenges Richard Keogh unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Richard Keogh.
Mark Hudson takes the free kick. Free kick awarded for a foul by Michael Jacobs on Heidar Helguson. Peter Whittingham restarts play with the free kick.
Booking Craig Bryson goes into the book.
Paul Coutts takes a shot. Save by David Marshall. Corner taken left-footed by Michael Jacobs. Free kick awarded for a foul by Craig Bryson on Craig Bellamy.
John Brayford fouled by Craig Noone, the ref awards a free kick. John Brayford takes the direct free kick.
James O'Connor sends in a cross, save made by David Marshall.
Handball decision goes against Peter Whittingham. Free kick taken by Jake Buxton.
Ben Nugent concedes a free kick for a foul on Jake Buxton. Direct free kick taken by Adam Legzdins.
The ball is delivered by Matthew Connolly, clearance by Jake Buxton.
Substitution (Derby) makes a substitution, with James O'Connor coming on for Gareth Roberts.
Craig Bryson crosses the ball.
Bo-Kyung Kim produces a right-footed shot from the edge of the box and misses to the left of the target.
Gareth Roberts concedes a free kick for a foul on Aron Gunnarsson. Mark Hudson restarts play with the free kick.
A cross is delivered by Paul Coutts.
Conor Sammon produces a cross, Headed effort from deep inside the penalty area by Paul Coutts misses to the right of the target. Inswinging corner taken from the left by-line by Michael Jacobs, save by David Marshall.
Foul by Joe Ralls on John Brayford, free kick awarded. Richard Keogh restarts play with the free kick.
The referee gives a free kick against Theo Robinson for handball. David Marshall takes the indirect free kick.
The offside flag is raised against Craig Bellamy. Jake Buxton takes the indirect free kick.
Michael Jacobs has an effort at goal from just inside the box that misses to the right of the target.
Craig Noone challenges Michael Jacobs unfairly and gives away a free kick. Michael Jacobs takes the free kick.
Mark Hudson provided the assist for the goal.
10:32 Goal scored
Goal! - Heidar Helguson - Derby 0 - 1 Cardiff Heidar Helguson grabs a goal from just inside the penalty area low into the middle of the goal. Derby 0-1 Cardiff.
Craig Noone sends in a cross, Mark Hudson takes a shot. Adam Legzdins makes a save.
Centre by Will Hughes. Heidar Helguson concedes a free kick for a foul on Richard Keogh. Direct free kick taken by Adam Legzdins.
Outswinging corner taken right-footed by Paul Coutts, Effort from close range by Richard Keogh goes wide left of the target. Inswinging corner taken right-footed by Michael Jacobs from the left by-line to the near post, Mark Hudson fouled by John Brayford, the ref awards a free kick. David Marshall takes the direct free kick.
Aron Gunnarsson challenges Craig Bryson unfairly and gives away a free kick. Jake Buxton takes the direct free kick.
Shot from just outside the box by Heidar Helguson goes over the crossbar.
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