Ten-man Derby County left it late but secured all three points against ten-man Preston North End at Pride Park Stadium following Ravel Morrison’s emphatic finish.
Morrison, who had only been on the field 10 minutes, fired into the top corner from 12 yards to net his fourth goal in as many games on a crucial afternoon for the Rams.
Both sides, however, had to play a large portion of the game with only 10-men. Preston North End defender Liam Lindsay received a straight red card on the half hour mark, whilst Derby County’s Max Bird saw red for a strong challenge early in the second half.
Derby always looked the most likely to score but had to remain patient for their chance, but Morrison’s strike renews hope that Derby can avoid the drop with six games of the season remaining.
Manager Wayne Rooney made three changes to his side from the game prior to the international break as Jason Knight, Festy Ebosele and Luke Plange returned to the starting line-up.
The game did take a while to get going as Lee Buchanan saw a wayward effort fly wide, whilst at the other end, Ched Evans saw a tame header trickle wide of the post.
But, it was the Rams who started to get the upper hand and force the pressure on Ryan Lowe’s Lilywhites side.
Knight had the game’s first chance as he was allowed space to run into and he unleashed a fierce effort from 25 yards which forced a good fingertip save from North End goalkeeper Daniel Iversen.
Malcolm Ebiowei, who had impressed on previous outings, was at the centre of the action as his set piece deliveries fell onto the head of Curtis Davies and Knight but neither forced Iversen into a save.
Derby almost took the lead midway through the half and again it was Ebiowei who was the architect. He met the ball on the right-hand side after a dummy from Knight.
The winger created a yard of space to cross and delivered onto the head of Tom Lawrence, but his glancing effort fell wide of the far post.
And, the Rams skipper would be involved in the incident which resulted in Preston North End being reduced to 10-men just after the half hour mark.
He received the ball midway through the Lilywhites’ half and skipped past two players before being presented with a clear run on goal. However, he was brought down behind by last man Lindsay and the referee had no hesitation in reaching for the red card.
Whilst Lawrence fired the resulting free kick wide of goal, with the visitors a man lighter, they did their best to slow down the pace of the game and held on until half time with the scores goalless.
Derby probed after the half time interval and took the game to their visitors. Lawrence saw an effort flash past the post whilst he picked out the run of Buchanan on the left-hand side to create a good chance for the Rams.
The full back had advanced high up the field and found himself the furthest man forward. He received the pass and fired first time but Iversen stood tall and made a good save with his feet.
However, early into the second half, the Rams themselves were reduced to 10-men as Bird received his marching orders for a strong challenge on Ben Whiteman.
But, Derby kept coming forward. Ebiowei saw a free kick saved, whilst Lawrence was also denied by Iversen. Plange also saw a tame effort saved by the goalkeeper.
Preston, in an attacking sense, rarely threatened. Their best chance came with 20 minutes remaining as Daniel Johnson saw a deflected shot harmlessly go wide of Ryan Allsop’s near post.
Rooney turned to his bench and introduced Krystian Bielik and Morrison who had both enjoyed minutes for their respective international clubs over the last two weeks, as they eyed a winning goal.
And, that is exactly what they got with 10 minutes of the game remaining as Morrison struck the winner.
It was pinball in the penalty area as Preston goalkeeper Iversen twice denied the Rams from a corner, as Davies’ header was stopped which he clawed Buchanan’s follow up off the line.
But, he was beaten at the third attempt as the ball was partially cleared only to Morrison who rifled into the corner to send the South Stand into ecstasy.
And it could have been more before the end, too. Plange was denied by a great save from the Lilywhites’ goalkeeper, whilst he was also called into action to tip Nathan Byrne’s effort wide after the defender had made a strong run into the box.
And, the Rams saw the game out well, and limited their opponents who struggled to threaten throughout the afternoon as Derby picked up all three points on home turf.
Derby County: Allsop, Byrne, Bird, Lawrence (C), Buchanan, Ebiowei (Morrison 68’), Davies, Ebosele (Bielik 58’), Knight, Cashin, Plange (Stearman 85’).
Substitutes: Roos, Forsyth, Sibley, Cybulski.
Preston North End: Iverson, Whiteman, Bauer, Lindsay, Browne (C), Evans (Maguire 65’), Johnson, Rafferty, Hughes, Riis (van den Berg 35’), Archer (Murphy 75’).
Substitutes: Ripley, McCann, Sinclair, Potts.
Attendance: 23,600 (1,530 visiting supporters)