Craig Forsyth was the unlikely late hero as Derby County got their season off and running with a 1-0 victory at Preston North End.
The 27-year-old rose highest to power in a deft Will Hughes cross with just three minutes of the contest remaining as the Rams secured their first win of the 2016/17 season.
Before that, it had looked like another frustrating evening was on the cards as both Derby and Preston went hell for leather over the second 45 minutes in pursuit of victory.
It was the Rams, however, that came out on top as Nigel Pearson secured his first three points since taking charge of the club in May.
Last Saturday saw Derby slip to a 2-0 defeat at Barnsley and Pearson, the Rams’ boss, responded by making three changes and altering his formation slightly for the trip to Lancashire.
The visitors showed in a 4-1-4-1 shape and looked far more comfortable than they did only a few days earlier at Oakwell, against a Preston side that littered their play with mistakes in the early stages at Deepdale.
Johnny Russell, one of Pearson’s three alterations, showed great anticipation to intercept a pass deep inside the hosts’ half, but could only poke wide of goal after advancing into the area.
Similar circumstances led to a Tom Ince effort moments later, as he lashed at a half volley after seizing on a loose pass, whilst the same man cracked the far post after Preston had conceded a needless corner.
From there, Simon Grayson’s side found their feet and the rest of the half was evenly contested, cagey, and nothing separated the two sides.
No further chances were created until shortly after the half hour mark as Scott Carson was called into his first save to deny Callum Robinson after he had weaved his way into the Rams’ penalty area.
From the resulting corner, Alan Browne sent a header over, whilst at the other end, Chris Martin, leading the Derby attack, fired straight at Anders Lindegaard.
The second half was incomparable to the first 45 minutes. Frantic, end to end, and relentless, both sides pushed to find a breakthrough.
The Lilywhites signalled their intent early, delivering a series of testing crosses that Carson was equal to, whilst Robinson and Eoin Doyle both saw shots inside the Derby area crucially blocked.
Creeping towards the hour mark, Tom Clarke, the Preston captain, saw a clearance header send Carson nervously back-pedalling towards his own goal to claim, before Doyle sent a low drive a whisker wide of the Derby goalkeeper’s far post.
Now it was the visitors’ turn. Lindegaard, smartly, turned behind an effort from Martin and Russell should have done better moments later after collecting a beautiful pass from Hughes inside the penalty area.
The chances continued to fall Martin’s way. The forward, who notably scored a sublime free kick at Deepdale 11 months ago, sent a similarly placed dead ball over the crossbar and later drifted a header wide after connecting with Christie’s right wing cross.
Much to the delight of the travelling Derby faithful, Pearson introduced Abdoul Camara for his first appearance of the season.
The Guinea international did well on his first senior appearance of the campaign and looked a threat on the Rams’ right wing as Preston began to tire.
For all the attacking intent shown from both outfits over the second half at Deepdale, a second goalless draw of the season seemed to be on the cards for Derby. The visitors’ left back had another thought.
From Camara’s pass, Hughes advanced down the right and delivered a high cross to the back post where Forsyth showed determination in abundance to beat the nearest defender and power it into the back of the net.
In tandem, the away supporters burst into delirium as the Rams celebrated a crucial goal that saw them get their first league under their belt.
Preston North End: Lindegaard, Cunningham, Clarke (C), Wright, Browne, Beckford (Hugill, 77), Gallagher, Doyle (Maikenok, 85), Grimshaw (Humphrey, 88), Pringle, Robinson
Substitutes not used: Pearson, Johnson, Spurr, Maxwell
Derby County: Carson, Christie, Keogh (C), Shackell, Forsyth; Russell, Bryson, Hughes, Butterfield (Pearce, 88); Ince (Camara, 70), Martin (Bent, 90)
Substitutes not used: Grant, Baird, Johnson, Blackman
Attendance: 10,628 (1,150 Derby supporters)