Derby County got back to winning ways in superb style as Tom Lawrence’s second-half free-kick secured a 1-0 victory for the Rams against Preston North End at Deepdale.
Gary Rowett’s side were forced to defend in numbers during the opening stages and they were fortunate to see Alan Browne place his penalty wide of the target after 36 minutes.
But Derby’s Welsh star provided the vital moment of inspiration just eight minutes after the break with a fantastic long-range effort that swung past Preston ‘keeper Chris Maxwell.
The Rams started the game in the ascendency but clear chances were hard to come by, with Andre Wisdom having the best sight of goal after neat work from Andreas Weimann and Matej Vydra, but Preston managed to clear.
The No.23 made a superb run to latch onto David Nugent’s pass moments later, but it had too much power and the ball bounced off Vydra and into the arms of Maxwell.
Callum Robinson tested Scott Carson after half an hour but the Derby ‘keeper was equal to it, before the hosts were gifted a golden chance to take the lead.
Wisdom tangled with Browne inside the penalty area and the referee, somewhat harshly, pointed to the spot.
Browne stepped up and although he sent Carson the wrong way, his effort went well wide of the target, much to the relief of the travelling Rams’ fans behind the goal.
After the break, the Rams took the lead with the first attacking action of the half and their first effort on goal in the game.
Nugent was brought down 25 yards from goal and Lawrence stepped up to fire a low, dipping free-kick beyond Maxwell and into the far corner.
Preston stepped it up from that moment and Paul Huntington had a clear sight of goal after a wide set piece, but he blazed his effort over the crossbar.
Substitute Kasey Palmer had a great chance to make it two with 10 minutes to play after shrugging off his marker, but he struck inches wide of the far post.
In the end, it wasn’t important as Lawrence’s strike was enough to see Derby to their first win since the start of February.
Preston North End: Maxwell; Fisher, Huntington, Davies, Cunningham; Gallagher, Pearson; Barkhuizen (Bodin, 74’), Browne (Moult, 60’), Robinson (Johnson, 78’); Maguire.
Substitutes not used: Rudd, Clarke, Harrop, Earl.
Derby County: Carson; Wisdom, Pearce, Davies, Baird; Huddlestone, Ledley; Weimann, Vydra (Palmer, 74’), Lawrence (Hanson, 87’); Nugent (Jerome, 90').
Substitutes not used: Roos, Keogh, Forsyth, Thomas.
Lawrence was kept under wraps for much of the opening period but he kept battling against close attention, and he showcased his quality early in the second half.
After Nugent was fouled, it was all down to the Welsh winger and he struck a swinging free-kick that dipped and deceived the Preston ‘keeper to nestle in the far corner.
Curtis Davies took the captain’s armband for the first time and just as he has for much of this season, he performed exceptionally.
Derby came under intense pressure in the first half but Davies and his defensive partners stood firm to keep out a wave of attacks from the home side.
The Rams are back in action on Saturday at Pride Park Stadium, when they face Bolton Wanderers, before a trip to Molineux to face Wolverhampton Wanderers the following Wednesday.