Preston North End 1 Daniel Johnson 90+12
Derby County 2 Chris Martin 23, 36
With a sense of relief, and some characteristic jitteriness at the end of the game, the Rams won their first match of the season at the seventh attempt with this victory at Deepdale.
The win was overshadowed by a serious looking injury to skipper Chris Baird that lead to 15 minutes of added time following him being stretchered off the pitch. Fortunately Baird was released from hospital following a scan later in the evening.
This was a game where Derby looked comfortable for long periods, scored two excellent goals and played some attractive incisive football.
As is often the case, though, we fell deeper and deeper as the game moved to its end and invited the hosts onto us.
Is this a fitness and stamina thing I wonder? It is to be hoped that as the season progresses we will look stronger and fitter towards the end of games.
Hearing a Paul Clement team announced is turning out to be an exercise in surprises and this game was no exception.
Lee Grant was one of five changes from the team that lost at home to Leeds United. Scott Carson was not injured as he was named on the bench, and this was not I change I would have predicted or indeed wanted.
To be fair to Granty and the boss though he played very well and made a couple of important saves in the second half – so what do I know ?
Other starting changes included the two deadline day signings Bradley Johnson & Jacob Butterfield, Stephen Warnock & Cyrus Christie.
Along with Scott Carson the injured George Thorne stepped down while Craig Forsyth, Jeff Hendrick and Jamie Hanson moved to the bench.
The debutants looked good and gave us something new, Johnson particularly adding urgency, physical presence and a bristle to our midfield
Both Johnson & Butterfield made their presence felt in the first minute with strong challenges and Johnson was much in evidence in the first quarter of an hour including a trademark left foot pile driver of a shot which was deflected away for a corner.
The Rams took the lead for the first time this season with a goal on 23 minutes born of Johnny Russell’s superb pass, played into Chris Martin who put the ball away with coolness for his third goal of the season.
It was almost immediately 2-0 as Tom Ince broke into the area, his chance for a shot gone he played it to Bradley Johnson who clipped the post with his effort.
Why doesn’t Chris Martin take more free kicks?
I’ve seen him score a couple of belters and on 36 minutes he put another one away after the ever impressive Johnny Russell ran the Lilywhites’ defence ragged and won a free kick on the edge of the D to put us 2-0 up.
This was our best half of the season, the home team didn’t carve out a meaningful chance and Lee Grant had little to do.
The Rams started well in the second half, moving the ball well around and into the Preston area but the momentum eased off as the hour mark neared and the home team pressed more.
Lee Grant pulled off two excellent saves on 70 & 75 mins from Stevie May & Daniel Johnson and then a Joe Garner shot struck the post and flew back into Grant’s arms to the relief of the army of 3,000+ travelling Rams.
The injury to Chris Baird looked a bad one as he came off worst in a clash of heads and required treatment on the pitch before being carried off.
This left the Rams one player short for the remainder of the game with Hendrick, Weimann and Forsyth already having been brought on for Butterfield, Ince & Warnock.
The long delay seemed to take the wind out of Preston’s sails, their energy being diminished after the restart.
Without over committing the Rams carved out another chance with Hendrick pulling the ball back for Weimann whose excellent shot was pushed away by Jordan Pickford.
As the half moved into the 57th minute and, everyone was wondering just when the game would finish, the season of deflected goals chalked up another one as Daniel Johnson’s shot looped past the helpless Grant.
Flashbacks to the Birmingham game last season not withstanding we held on for those valuable three points.
Chris Martin and Johnny Russell were excellent again and, indeed, are solely responsible for our league goals so far this season.
Getting this first win was important and takes some of the pressure off. Next up is a trip to Reading, fresh from a 5-1 thumping of Ipswich Town.
With a busy treatment table this is going to be another test of the Rams squad.