A first goal for the club for Ben Whiteman and second half strikes from Ched Evans and Ryan Ledson gave Preston North End their first double over Derby County for 18 years.
The Lilywhites put nine points between themselves and the Rams, with three games of the season to go, thanks to Whiteman’s first half header, followed by Evans’ low strike from eight yards and Ledson’s 30-yard free kick from the left touchline in the closing stages at Deepdale, as PNE came out 3-0 victors over Wayne Rooney’s men.
Interim head coach Frankie McAvoy made one change before the game, with Liam Lindsay returning at the heart of the back three, releasing Tom Barkhuizen from wing back duties, partnering Evans in a two-pronged attack – Emil Riis dropping to the bench.
In both halves the visitors started brightly, without creating too much to threaten Daniel Iversen, who recorded his third clean sheet in five games and it was the hosts who had the earliest opportunities.
Ten minutes in, a long throw from Barkhuizen was flicked on by Jordan Storey, eventually finding its way to skipper Alan Browne, who flicked the ball over a defender and hit a half-volley just wide of the right-hand upright from 12 yards out.
Whiteman had an opportunity to open the scoring before his goal, when Derby goalkeeper and captain David Marshal punched clear Greg Cunningham’s deflected shot, the ball falling to PNE’s January signing from Doncaster Rovers, who hit half-volley on edge of the area, but the effort bounced down and over the bar.
However, he didn’t have to wait long for his goal. The No.17 started the move inside the centre circle, finding Barkhuizen on the right. He played the ball down the line for Browne, who got to the byline and reversed a ball back to just inside the area where Whiteman had continued his run. Evans had driven into the six-yard box, taking Andre Wisdom with him, leaving space for a free header from the midfielder, that Marshall got a hand on, but could only push into the top left corner.
It could have been two just before half-time as Barkhuizen made a great break onto a loose ball down the right, put over a superb cross for the onrushing Ledson, but he was unable to repeat Whiteman’s effort, his header going over the bar, under pressure from Matthew Clarke.
The second half, as previously mentioned, saw the visitors come out re-invigorated and it needed an excellent block from Andrew Hughes on 53 minutes to deny half-time substitute Martyn Waghorn. A corner from Nathan Byrne had found the former Leicester City striker at the back post, who drove goalwards, the deflection off the PNE left-sider falling on the follow up to Max Bird, who brought a superb save from Iversen to keep the lead intact.
But the introduction of Brad Potts added a different element for McAvoy’s men at the mid-point of the latter period. His first touch saw the former Barnsley man win the ball in the middle of the Derby half, freeing Cunningham to drive forward and slide in a lovely ball for Barkhuizen in the left corner of the penalty area. He managed to get an excellent strike on the ball, but Scotland stopper Marshall made a great one-handed stop at full-stretch to put the ball behind.
But the second goal came on 73 minutes and again Potts was involved, his drilled shot from the left-hand side of the penalty area, about two yards from the byline, pushed out by Marshall to Evans, who blistered a volley into the bottom right-hand corner from eight yards out.
Barkhuizen was again denied by Marshall, with 14 minutes to go, as he collected a long ball from Iversen, cut in from the left and curled a shot that the Rams’ No.1 had to tip away, before at the other end the PNE keeper showed his abilities once again, to deny Tom Lawrence from 20 yards.
But the game was put to bed with three minutes left on the clock, when a free kick was awarded on the left-hand touchline and Ledson swung the ball in to the back post, flying through a crowd of players and the outstretched boots of both Browne and Evans and into the bottom right-hand corner of the goal, completing the win.
PNE line-up: Iversen, van den Berg, Storey, Lindsay, Hughes, Cunningham Whiteman (Potts, 65), Ledson (Molumby, 90), Browne (c), Barkhuizen (Riis, 85), Evans (Maguire, 90). Subs not used: Ripley, Bayliss, Huntington, Sinclair, Gordon.
b: Marshall (c), Wisdom (Edmondson, 34), Forsyth (Buchanan, 46), Shinnie (Ebosele, 77), Bird, Lawrence, Byrne, Kazim-Richards, Clarke, Roberts, Knight (Forsyth, 46). Subs not used: Roos, Sibley, Dixon, Watson, Brown.
Referee: Mr G Eltringham