Happy returns Billy
1st January 2007
Attendance: Att: 19,204
Happy returns Billy
Billy Davies made a happy return to Deepdale and the Rams left with all three points, after striker Steve Howard scored two goals in three minutes - the second from the penalty spot - to hand the Rams a massive three points and sent themselves clear in second spot on the table.
The victory also ended the Lilywhites' unbeaten 31-game home run, which had started back when Davies himself was manager of the club.
Howard pounced to poke home from close-range in the 48th minute and then completed his brace from the penalty spot two minutes later after Jon Stead had been tripped. Midfielder David Jones recovered from the groin injury he picked up against Plymouth to face his former club.
Giles Barnes returned to the starting eleven in place of Bob Malcolm and in a surprise move, Michael Johnson was favoured in defence instead of Darren Moore. Both Malcolm and Moore took places on the bench.
It was an even opening the first real chance fell to the home side, Matt Oakley was caught in possession in midfield and Callum Davidson was sent clear, but he could only fire high over Stephen Bywater's goal from 25-yards.
The Rams were defending well, but on 14 minutes a free-kick from the home side was headed inches past his own post by Howard. The Rams settled and on 22 minutes they went desperately close to taking the lead. Jones curled in a free-kick that Nash fumbled and the goal-shy Johnson headed against the underside of the bar, and Morten Bisgaard and then Stead saw efforts blocked by some last-gasp defending.
The best chance of the half fell on the half-hour to Preston, after David Nugent squared the ball to Brett Ormerod he fired high over when it looked easier to score.
The game heated up just before the break, Howard and Leacock were booked, for the Rams and Davidson for Preston, and at the half time whistle the players let their frustration out and they had to by separated by club officials.
The Rams made a perfect start to the second half and they were ahead in the 48th minute. Derby hit Preston on the counter attack down the right and Bisgaard whipped in a shot that Nash could only palm into the path of Howard who stabbed the ball home from close-range.
It got better for the 2,000 travelling Rams supporters, and three minutes later it was 2-0. Stead was up-ended in the box by Liam Chilvers and Howard coolly stepped up to fire the resulting penalty past a despairing Nash, who had guessed the right way and got a hand to it.
The Rams were dominating and Jones` curling free kick was narrowly over Nash's goal as the Rams picked up the pace. Preston made changes and began to get back into the game, Johnson did well to block Miller's shot and the Rams were now forced to defend.
However, the Rams hit on the counter attack on the hour mark and Jones sent a fizzing volley just wide from 18-yards out. On 76 minutes Preston went close Danny Pugh flung himself at a Graham Alexander cross and his volley rebounded off the crossbar, to the relief of Bywater.
Three minutes later Preston was back in the game, and Alexander was again the provider. His cross from the right found Nugent, who slotted calmly past Bywater from six-yards.
It was the last thing the Rams wanted with ten minutes of the game still to go and the goal certainly ensured there would be a grandstand finish.
Preston pressed and Howard was in the right place at the right time to clear a header of the line, and McKenna fired a free kick high over late in the match. The rain lashed down and the Rams had to defend as a man, which they did with Leacock again outstanding
The referee`s assistant held up the board and the Rams had five more minutes to hold on, but they almost nicked a goal at the other end. Substitute Lupoli was sent clear and forced a save from Nash. The whistle sounded and the Rams begin 2007 with a superb victory, much to the delight of Davies and the Rams faithful.
Preston: Nash, Alexander, St. Ledger, Chilvers, Hill, Sedgwick (Whaley 61), Miller (Lewis Neal 75), Davidson (McKenna 62), Pugh, Nugent, Ormerod.
Subs Not Used: Lonergan, Wilson.
Booked: Davidson, Ormerod.
Goals: Nugent 79.
Derby: Bywater, Edworthy, Leacock, Michael Johnson, Camara, Jones, Bisgaard (Lupoli 69), Barnes (Malcolm 84), Oakley, Howard, Stead (Moore 88).
Subs Not Used: Grant, Seth Johnson.
Booked: Howard, Leacock, Oakley, Stead, Jones.
Goals: Howard 48, 51 pen.
Ref: L Probert (Gloucestershire).
Derby County boss Billy Davies:
'We are ahead of schedule, that's for sure. Nobody had thought for one second that we would be where we are in such a short period of time.
'We plan for a long term strategy but it's remarkable what we have done.
'But it's only three points. It's an enormous three points, but it is only three points. Forget all the euphoria.'
'From what people are telling me it's a shocking decision by a referee who has been very weak.
'I don't think he knew what he was doing. There were some really clever time wasting tactics used and you hope the ref is strong enough to notice it.
'But we are judged on the result and it's rubbish for us because of two moments of madness in the second half.'