MATCH REPORT: Derby 0 PNE 0
Derby bossed the game and racked up 67 percent of the overall possession but failed to find a clinical touch in front of goal.
As a result they were booed off at the final whistle as their winless run stretched to six games.
The Rams had 16 dubious attempts on goal but not a single effort on target as PNE’s debutant keeper Anders Lindegaard shivered on a cold winter’s night as he watched his defence block and absorb the pressure - despite a shaky start.
In fact the best chance of the match fell to North End as Paul Gallagher attempted, and oh so nearly, pulled off the spectacular as his 25-yard shot flew towards goal but his thunderous effort was just clawed away by Derby No.1 Scott Carson.
In the end a draw was a deserved result but as promotion chasing Derby moved up to fourth in the Championship table it seems there is but a slight ripple in the ocean rather than a huge gulf between these two sides.
PNE boss Simon Grayson made two changes to the side that lost 3-1 to Brentford.
Tom Clarke returned from injury and replaced striker Eoin Doyle as Grayson shifted to a 3-5-1-1 formation.
Clarke moved into a back three with Bailey Wright and Paul Huntington as Adam Reach was pushed up to play just behind Joe Garner.
And West Brom loanee Lindegaard came in for Sam Johnstone who has returned to parent club Manchester United.
Derby threatened three times in the opening three minutes as Jeff Hendrick’s left footed shot just fizzed past the right post, Nick Blackman’s strike was deflected over and Jason Shackell headed wide from the subsequent corner.
But those three key chances were to be some of the only clear cut chances the Rams had as they lacked the all important killer instinct in the final third.
Ben Pearson carved open Derby’s defence as he played a neat one-two with Adam Reach. The former Manchester United man used his pace to latch on to Reach’s first time pass but unfortunately he could not end the classy move with a champagne finish as he hoofed the ball straight at Carson.
Apart from that one flash of brilliance from Pearson and Reach North End struggled to get a grip on the game in the opening 20 minutes as Derby dominated and constantly tested the back line.
Tom Ince outfoxed Wright on the right before whipping a teasing cross into the mix that was just claimed by new boy Lindegaard ahead of Martin.
Gallagher thought he had one hand on the goal of the season trophy as he steamed towards goal and let rip from 25-yards but his sensational strike was just tipped away by a diving Carson as PNE’s counter-attack tactics started to pay dividends.
Gallagher tried his luck once again but his first-time right-footed effort flew way over the bar just after the half hour mark.
The half ended with Derby on the top as the host’s had two shots deflected and fired a number of balls into the box but it was to no avail as North End’s defence and new keeper held firm under the mounting pressure.
Derby had a number of half hearted chances in the opening stages of the second 45.
But those wasted opportunines allowed North End to grow into the game and the Lilywhites got themselves into some good attacking positions but at times some sloppy passing in the final third let them down.
Johnson had the first meaningful effort of the half as Reach - who was enjoying his new role playing just off Garner - slipped the ball from the right wing into the path of the unmarked Johnson and his curling effort from outside the box was just claimed at the second attempt by Carson.
Butterfield was nimble at the top of the box as he used his quick feet to fire the ball just past the right post.
Garner thought he should have had a penalty in the 66th minute as he chested the ball down and just edged ahead of Cyrus Christie. Christie appeared to impede the striker and Garner clattered to the floor but referee Oliver Langford waved away the striker’s claim.
Calum Woods summed up the Lilywhites’ night as he cut in from the right and honed in on goal but instead of pulling the trigger as he approached the top of the box he tamely back heeled it to Pearson but the ball - and a great chance - rolled away from North End.
Pearson fouled George Thorne after the referee had stopped play because Garner was on the floor clutching his head. Thorne reacted angrily towards Pearson and tempers flared between both sets of players as a melee broke out on the half way line.
Pearson and Thorne were both shown a yellow card once the situation had simmered down.
After the game Derby boss Paul Clement said he thought it was a bad tackle and that Pearson should have been sent off but he dismissed the aftermath as ‘handbags’.
But the yellow card is still detrimental to North End as it is Pearson’s tenth of the season and he will now miss the next two games.
Greg Cunningham made a superb solo run down the left flank towards the bye line before cutting the ball back to Reach at the top of the box but Shackell made a crucial last ditch block as Reach’s first time shot looked destined to trouble Carson.
Substitute Alan Browne made a fine block as Derby launched a late and lacklustre onslaught but PNE could not clear the ball and it eventually fell to substitute Craig Bryson at the top of the box and his low effort just whizzed past the right post.
Derby had a late chance to steal the points as Thorne met Johnny Russell’s corner from the right at the back post but fortunately for North End he nodded wide.
PNE: Lindegaard, Clarke, Wright, Huntington, Woods, Cunningham, Pearson, Gallagher (Browne, 86), Johnson, Reach (Hugill, 90), Garner. Subs not used: Kirkland, Vermijl, Kilkenny, Doyle, Robinson.
Derby: Carson, Christie, Keogh, Hendrick (Bryson, 72), Martin, Shackell, Butterfield, Blackman (Camara, 67) Ince (Russell, 86) Thorne, Warnock. Subs not used: Grant, Baird, Johnson, Olsson.
Referee: Oliver Langford (West Midlands)
Attendance: 27,252 (PNE 631)