Five Star Performance
Attendance: 26, 993
Derby County eased into the top half of the table for the first time in nearly six months after getting the better of Preston in an entertaining eight goal encounter at Pride Park with the final score line flattering the visitors a little after there were torn apart by Rob Hulse and Kris Common. After a bright opening to the match from the home side Preston took the lead with their first attack of the match but it was virtually one way traffic for the remainder of the half although The Rams only had on own goal to show for it as they went in level at the break. A spell of five goals in twenty seven second half minutes saw Derby claim the win with two goals from Rob Hulse sandwiching a Shaun Barker header after Kris Commons and Chris Sedgwick exchanged strikes to give them a 5-2 lead. An injury time consolation made the final score closer than the match itself and despite losing a bit of the defensive solidity from previous matches it was a well deserved three points for Derby,
Nigel Clough had the luxury of naming an unchanged side for the fourth game in succession with Rob Hulse recovering sufficiently from a stomach bug to start up front and David Martin was again the only change to the match day squad as he was named amongst the substitutes after being cup tied on Saturday. The Rams started brightly and nearly took the lead inside the first minute when Rob Hulse burst into the area wide to the left of goal and cut the ball back but Kris Commons couldn`t get enough on his effort and it looped into the grateful arms of Andy Lonergan. Paul Coutts was then called into action as he cleared off the line from Jake Buxton after he was first to a Commons corner as the pressure continued.
All the play was Derby`s and it was somewhat against the run of play that Preston took the lead with their first attack of the match, a long ball down the middle picked out Jon Parkin who found room between Buxton and McEveley and he took the ball on chest before firing low across Stephen Bywater to stun Pride Park. It was only a momentary break in the flow of the game however and Lonergan was soon in action again palming away a Commons free kick from thirty yards that was heading for the top corner. Stephen Pearson should have equalised on eighteen minutes but he somehow failed to make contact with Nicky Hunt`s low cross from the right with the goal at his mercy.
Kris Commons was looking threatening again and Lonergan had to be on his toes to make two saves from the striker, the second a sharp reaction save on his near post from Commons` right foot effort from a tight angle. The chances kept on coming and Derby deservedly drew level on 34 minutes when a Hunt cross into the area was helped on by Hulse and found Paul Green who took the ball on his chest before volleying at goal from eight yards, Lonergan made another sharp save but the ball rebounded off of Billy Jones` and into the net to equalise.
Derby were still pressing for more and Jay McEveley nearly added to his goal against Birmingham when he hit a powerful cross from the left that beat Lonergan only to bounce down off the bar to safety. In a rare foray forward Preston came close to retaking the lead when Jon Parkin got his head to a corner only for a combination of Paul Green on the line and the crossbar to keep the ball out. The visitors enjoyed a little more possession in the closing moments of the half but could count themselves fortunate to have gone in level at the break.
The Rams opened the second half in the same manner and were soon on the attack with Lonergan blocking a Jake Buxton header from point-blank range but he was soon beaten. A corner from the left caused panic in the Preston defence and the ball eventually reached Kris Commons who lashed home a volley from six yards for Derby`s first lead of the night. The visitors nearly struck back straight away when Jon Parkin found room on the edge of the area but he blasted his shot straight at Bywater from eighteen yards.
Derby began to sit back after taking the lead with Preston suddenly seeing more of the ball although they were mainly playing on their own side of the halfway line. However, one such passing move saw Parkin muscle his way through a weak challenge in the area with the ball breaking to Chris Sedgwick who calmly side footed the ball past Bywater into the far corner to bring his side level again just after the hour. The parity didn`t last for long as Rob Hulse equalised in Derby`s next attack. A neat ball chipped into the area by Jake Buxton was taken on his chest and he turned and volleyed low past Lonergan to put the home side back in front.
Hulse went close again moments later when he met a McEveley cross with a diving header but his effort was dealt with by Lonergan although the keeper was beaten again on 68 minutes. Kris Commons delivered an inviting ball into the area which was met by Shaun Barker who guided his header across the keeper and in off the far post for his second goal in successive home league games. The play was all towards Preston`s goal and with thirteen minutes to go The Rams scored their fifth of the night when Lonergan could not hold a near post cross and Hulse stabbed in his tenth goal of the season from close range despite protests for a foul on the Preston man.
Nigel Clough made use of his substitutes with the game won and brought on David Martin, Russell Anderson and Chris Porter in quick succession in place of Stephen Pearson, Kris Commons and Robbie Savage respectively. Five minutes of added time were signalled and with Derby cruising they fell asleep at the back when a deep cross appeared to be heading out of play. Shaun Barker let this go only for the ball to be knocked back for Chris Brown to head in from close range to give the score a kinder reflection for the visitors who had been outplayed for large periods of the match.