Wayne Rooney’s free-kick helps Derby to vital win over Preston
The Rams are now a point behind sixth-placed Cardiff in the hunt for the play-offs.
Wayne Rooney’s free-kick secured Derby another win as they beat Preston 1-0 at Deepdale to close the gap between them and the Sky Bet Championship play-off places to a point.
Skipper Rooney curled the ball past Declan Rudd in the 18th minute, the 34-year-old’s sixth goal for the club since joining in January.
It was a fifth successive league victory for Phillip Cocu’s men as they moved a point and a place behind sixth-placed Cardiff.
Alex Neil’s Preston, previously in seventh themselves, remain outside the play-off berths by four points, following their fifth defeat in a six-game winless run.
Preston’s starting line-up showed five changes from the 3-1 loss to Cardiff on Saturday, with ex-Derby man David Nugent among those coming into the team.
There were four adjustments for the visitors from their 2-1 victory over Reading, including George Evans replacing Andre Wisdom, who had been recovering in hospital after being stabbed during an unprovoked assault and robbery.
Derby had the first attempt on goal in the fourth minute when Preston got into a defensive mix-up, Martyn Waghorn burst into the box and his rising strike was pushed behind by Rudd.
Nugent then produced a header lacking in power at the other end, before Derby grabbed the lead through Rooney.
Referee Jarred Gillett awarded a free-kick after Paul Huntington tangled with Louie Sibley – who it appeared was then stood on by Huntington – and Rooney sent the ball over the wall and into the corner of the net, with Rudd rooted to the spot.
As Preston looked to reply, shots from Alan Browne and Paul Gallagher were blocked and deflected wide respectively.
Derby were then back on the front foot, with Duane Holmes bringing a good save out of Rudd, before Gallagher fired over just prior to the interval.
Max Lowe shot off-target in the 56th minute and Brad Potts then called Ben Hamer into action with an attempt from just outside the box, but it was a comfortable catch for the Derby goalkeeper.
Derby substitute Chris Martin headed over from another Rooney free-kick in the 72nd minute and Max Bird sent an ambitious effort wide of the hosts’ goal in stoppage time.
The last few seconds then saw Rudd charge up the pitch for a corner and send a header over the Derby bar as Preston’s final efforts to salvage something proved in vain.