A late goal from Craig Forsyth gave the Rams the points at Deepdale.
The Derby left back powered home a header with just two minutes left on the clock to inflict a cruel blow on the Lilywhites, who had deserved at least a point from the game.
The first half lacked a bit of fluency from the sides; both teams looking at their most dangerous when they got the ball wide and used the pace in the respective line-ups.
The visitors’ best chance came on 15 minutes when Tom Ince fired a shot off the outside of the left hand post from 25 yards after a quickly taken corner on the right.
For the Lilywhites, just after the half hour mark Callum Robinson danced through from 40 yards, got to the edge of the box and fired left footed forcing Carson into a fine save to tip the ball behind.
From the resulting corner Paul Gallagher swung a deep ball to the penalty spot where Alan Browne met the ball with a powerful header, but put just too much on it to fly onto the roof of the net.
The second half was a different affair altogether; the pace and tempo were much higher and the North End faithful were on their feet and full of noise as they attacked with pace.
However, the visitors were still a threat and Anders Lindegaard pulled off a world class save to deny Chris Martin on the hour mark, as he got down low to his right to tip away the Derby top scorer from the last three seasons’ effort away for a corner.
Eoin Doyle almost caught Scott Carson out with an audacious effort on the half volley from 35 yards after Jermaine Beckford’s nod down as the game entered its last 20 minutes, the Irishman’s effort drifting inches wide of the left hand upright.
However, it was the visitors who grabbed the late goal. Will Hughes worked into space down the right hand side and delivered a ball to the back post to an on-rushing Craig Forsyth, who ran in, outjumped Ben Pringle and powered a header past Lindegaard to give the Rams the points.
PNE line-up: Lindegaard, Grimshaw (Humphrey, 88), Cunningham, Browne, Clarke (c), Wright, Robinson, Gallagher, Beckford (Hugill, 78), Doyle (Makienok, 85), Pringle. Subs not used: Maxwell, Pearson, Humphrey, Johnson, Spurr.
Derby County line-up: Carson, Christie, Forsyth, Bryson, Shackell, Keogh (c), Russell, Martin (Bent, 90), Ince (Camara, 71), Butterfield (Pearce, 89), Hughes. Subs not used: Grant, Bent, Baird, Johnson, Blackman.
Referee: Mr D Coote
Attendance: 10,628 (1,150 Derby County fans)