Derby County moved to an impressive five-game winning run in the Sky Bet Championship with a 1-0 victory over fellow Play-Off chasers, Preston North End at Deepdale Stadium on Wednesday night.
It is the longest winning run for a Rams side since Steve McClaren's team in 2016. The only goal of the game came inside the opening 20 minutes through a beautiful curling free-kick effort by Wayne Rooney for his sixth goal for the team since his arrival in January.
The win ensured Derby leapfrogged Preston in the Championship standings to seventh, just behind Cardiff City who the Rams will meet in two weeks time.
Cocu made four changes to the starting line-up with George Evans, Max Lowe, Duane Holmes and Jason Knight coming in. Tom Lawrence was unavailable with a three-match suspension, as was Andre Wisdom who was victim of an unprovoked assault and robbery at the weekend. Chris Martin and Craig Forsyth were named on the bench to start the game.
It took just four minutes for the Rams to have their first chance of the half, and it came courtesy of a mix up in the Lilywhites’ defence. Centre-backs Paul Huntington and Ben Davies collided in the Preston half and Martyn Waghorn swooped in to take advantage and was all alone as he drove towards the area. He struck well, but Declan Rudd made a good save to deny him.
The remainder of the opening 10 minutes was relatively quiet for both teams but while Preston struggled to find their feet in the game, Derby were building. Lovely, patient build-up play almost paid off on the 12-minute mark, when Rooney prayed the ball to Jayden Bogle down the right, his cross found Louie Sibley infront of the goal, but the referee whistled for a hand ball from the youngster.
The 18-year-old midfielder looked dangerous again just five minutes later. Duane Holmes swivelled on the ground and managed to maintain possession before sliding the ball to Sibley who drove forward and was fouled on the edge of the box.
Waghorn and Rooney looked over the ball with the Rams’ leading scorer Waghorn looking set to take, but Rooney stuck with a sensational strike. The Derby Skipper beautifully curled the ball into the corner while goalkeeper Rudd could only watch as he remained rooted to the ground.
Preston were yet to find a way in the game, but almost found an equaliser just after the 20-minute mark. Former Ram David Nugent won a header in the middle of the park and quickly sent it down the line to Brad Potts. He crossed into an open Alan Browne in the middle of the box, but he scuffed his shot and sent the effort wide.
Another nice move for the Rams came half an hour in, again through Bogle down the right flank. He burst forward and the ball moved quickly to Holmes through Waghorn 25-yards from the goal. The US international created space before rifling a shot that looked to sneak just inside the post, but a great diving save by Rudd kept the Rams from doubling the lead.
The Lilywhites came out for the second half looking for the equaliser, enjoying more of the ball in the Derby half than in the first 45 minutes. Ben Pearson lead the counter-attack for the hosts and found Potts on the edge of the box. He struck from the edge of the box and curled a well hit shot goal-bound, but it ended in a comfortable save for Ben Hamer.
Derby suffered a blow just after the hour mark when Bogle went down and was forced to leave the game. Craig Forsyth came into the left-back position while Max Lowe replaced Bogle on the right.
Immediately after, Lowe came close to extending the Rams’ lead when he was played through by Waghorn. The defender was knocked just off balance by his marker by the post to give Rudd chance to scoop up the ball.
It was then Chris Martin’s turn to come close minutes after coming off the bench as Rooney looked to turn provider from his free-kick. He sent the ball into the box and the striker rose to head his close-range effort just over.
Derby’s defence held strong to close out the game to ensure a fifth-straight league victory and leapfrog Preston to move to seventh in the Championship.
Max Bird almost had a sensational first goal for the club deep into extra time when Knight challenged Preston ‘keeper Rudd well out of his area and the Rams regained possession. The youngster drilled a ball from by the halfway line that bounced inches wide.
Preston North End: Rudd; Rafferty, Huntington, Davies, Hughes; Pearson (Stockey, 77), Gallagher (Harrop, 73); Potts, Browne, Sinclair (Barkhuizen, 73); Nugent (Maguire, 61)
Unused Subs: Ripley, Bauer, Fisher, Ledson, Bodin
Derby County: Hamer; Bogle (Forsyth, 65), Evans (Davies, 82), Clarke, Lowe; Rooney (Malone, 90+3), Bird; Holmes (Martin, 65), Sibley (Shinnie, 65), Knight; Waghorn
Unused Subs: Roos, Jozefzoon, Whittaker, Hector-Ingram