A Matej Vydra penalty just before the hour mark gave Derby County all three points at Pride Park.
Referee Geoff Eltringham adjudged that some wrestling at a corner was enough to award the spot kick and the striker converted from 12 yards, just out of reach of Chris Maxwell, who had dived the right way.
The first half was goalless and whilst the Lilywhites certainly had more of the possession, it was the home side who had the better of the chances.
As early as the second minute Maxwell’s clearance was collected by Andrea Weimann out on the left hand touchline and he drilled the ball towards the empty goal, but the ball drifted wide of the right hand post.
It wasn’t all Derby though and Tom Barkhuizen won a free kick on the left hand corner of the box. Callum Robinson stepped up 25 yards out and dipped an effort over the wall and towards the top left hand corner, only for former England stopper Scott Carson to tip the ball around the post for a corner.
Lining up against the yellows was former PNE fans’ favourite David Nugent and he was a threat, probing and pressing the backline and mid-way through the half he collected a through ball from Weimann and ran between two of the three centre halves - Ben Davies having replaced Ben Pearson in the starting line-up - with a move to three at the back. The pacy striker bore down on Maxwell and fired hard and low, but the North End custodian did well to save with his legs and Darnell Fisher mopped up.
The second half began with Gary Rowett’s side again on the attack and after a run by Weimann into the box on the right hand side, he cleverly reversed the ball to Nugent, who seemed destined to fill the empty net, only for a wonderful block from Fisher, who appeared from nowhere on the six yard box to keep the ball out of the goal.
On the counter attack the visitors broke with pace and Hugill ran 40 yards to the edge of the box before seeing a low shot deflected just wide of the left hand post.
But it was end to end and Maxwell was needed before the fifth minute of the latter period, this time keeping out a Johnny Russell from a Nugent cross from the right. It was a superb stop from the Welshman, who pushed the ball away to safety after the cross was lofted into an open space for the Rams’ winger.
However, on 57 minutes a penalty was awarded by referee Eltringham for some apparent pushing in the box. Vydra stepped up and whilst Maxwell chose the right way, the ball squeezed into the bottom left hand corner of the goal.
Paul Gallagher, Daryl Horgan and Sean Maguire were introduced by Alex Neil in an attempt to add to the attacking options – all before the 70th minute, reverting to a back four in the process.
Maguire was lively from the off and after creating an opening for Hugill, the Irishman – who received his first Irish call up 24 hours before - won a free kick on the edge of the ‘D’ for Gallagher to whip a free kick around the wall, but also straight into the arms of Carson, who was well positioned.
In the first of five added on minutes Alan Browne found himself in a good position at the back post, after Horgan’s right-footed cross from the left had bounced through to him, only for Carson to smother the shot in the six yard box and that was enough for the home side to hold on for the win.
Derby County line-up: Carson, Keogh (c), Russell (Bennett, 85), Wisdom, Johnson, Weimann, Vydra (Bryson, 68), Nugent (Martin, 76), Olsson, C Davies, Huddlestone. Subs not used: Mitchell, Baird, Pearce, Butterfield.
PNE line-up: Maxwell, Fisher, Cunningham (c), Huntington, Spurr (Maguire, 70), B Davies, Browne, Johnson, Robinson (Gallagher, 59), Hugill, Barkhuizen (Horgan, 62). Subs not used: Hudson, Vermijl, Boyle, Harrop.
Attendance: 24,371 (939 PNE fans)
Referee: Mr G Eltringham