Martyn Waghorn’s first half goal proved the difference between Derby County and Preston North End at Pride Park as the Rams ran out 1-0 winners.
Waghorn scored from point blank range from a corner just moments after coming off the substitutes’ bench, and although there was a marked improvement from the Lilywhites in the second half, it wasn’t enough to earn a point from the game.
Alex Neil made two changes from the side which beat Huddersfield Town at Deepdale a fortnight ago, with Ben Pearson and Daniel Johnson returning from injury and suspension respectively in place of Paul Gallagher and Ryan Ledson.
The hosts made a quick start with Tom Lawrence flashing a shot just wide from distance in the opening stages, but it was North End who saw the first clear opening come their way.
Alan Browne’s cleverly taken set piece saw him roll it low into the area from the left for Johnson to shoot, the effort blocked but falling still for Patrick Bauer, who fired just over the bar from ten yards.
Derby were forced into two first half changes, as Graeme Shinnie and Mason Bennett were forced off within half an hour and replaced by George Evans and Waghorn, with barely ten minutes between each change.
In the interim, Duane Holmes crashed a shot against the crossbar while Lawrence forced a smart stop from Rudd at his near post.
Jayden Stockley almost scored a remarkable opener at the other end as he intercepted just outside the area, taking the ball down before firing the bouncing ball, on his left foot, just wide of the top left corner.
Substitute Waghorn had an opportunity only minutes after his introduction from the bench, with Rudd again producing a strong save to deny him from close range.
But the striker did open the scoring shortly after in the 33rd minute. Lawrence’s corner was flicked on at the near post by Curtis Davies and into the path of Waghorn, the ball rather hitting the substitute rather than him appearing to know much about it, finding the back of the net nonetheless.
The Lilywhites came out much stronger after the break and had their hosts penned in their own half for much of the second half, with Billy Bodin and Gallagher coming on to replace Darnell Fisher and Stockley at the interval.
Browne moved to right back and produced some good deliveries from out wide in the early stages of the second half, while Gallagher’s passing range also gave North End more of a foothold in midfield.
The visitors had the ball in the net just before the hour mark, created from a Gallagher free-kick, but Tom Barkhuizen was deemed to have converted Ben Davies’ shot across goal from an offside position.
There were additional opportunities through Johnson who volleyed for goal after Kelle Roos had punched a Gallagher free-kick into his path, the effort a well-struck one but one which was headed clear.
Derby provided some threat on the break with Jayden Bogle having a couple efforts making inroads from his right back role, but North End rallied with Johnson again trying his luck from distance but placing over the bar.
Waghorn put the ball in the net in stoppage time, albeit well after the offside flag had been raised, and while there was one final chance for North End as Sean Maguire brought down Gallagher’s free-kick with neat control but couldn’t fire back across goal.
The Lilywhites’ four-match unbeaten run therefore came to an end, but they will have the opportunity to bounce back with a trip to Hull City next up on Wednesday night.
Derby County line-up: Roos, Forsyth, Shinnie (Evans, 15), Bielik, Lawrence, Martin (Wisdom, 78), Bennett (Waghorn, 28), Holmes, Lowe, Davies, Bogle. Subs not used: Hamer, Paterson, Dowell, Marriott.
PNE line-up: Rudd, Fisher (Gallagher, 46), Pearson, Davies (Storey, 73), Browne, Johnson, Rafferty, Stockley (Bodin, 46), Bauer, Maguire, Barkhuizen. Subs not used: Ripley, Ledson, Nugent, Potts.
Attendance: 27,417 (2,435 PNE fans)