Dave Seddon's verdict: Derby County 0 Preston North End 1 - another Boxing Day treat from Alan Browne
Quality was in a short supply during Preston North End’s visit to Derby County but the 96-minute wait for Alan Browne to light-up Boxing Day was well worth it.
The Pride Park contest was lumbering towards a goalless draw until a swing of Browne’s left boot brought joy to PNE and delivered a kick in the nether regions to the Rams.
It had been 10 v 11 since the 20th minute when Martyn Waghorn was sent-off for an over-the-ball lunge which caught Browne on the shin.
Despite their numerical advantage, North End found the organised hosts a tough nut to crack.
The longer the game went on, the blunter they looked going forward – until Browne stepped forward with his late beauty.
There’s something about St Stephen’s Day which the PNE skipper enjoys.
This was the third season on the bounce Browne had netted the day after Christmas and over time those goals have increased in value.
In 2018, he struck in a 2-1 home defeat to Hull City, then last year found the net in the 1-1 draw at Leeds United.
The skipper’s last-gasp effort on Saturday was enough for a sixth away win of the season, their travel stats the third best in the division.
This was a game when the fine margins which managers often reference, fell in North End’s favour.
The display wasn’t great, especially in the second half, the fact they were playing 10 men only adding to the frustration.
Alex Neil’s boys in blue found a way to win though, it being the result and the manner Browne found the net which will be remembered.
Victory was PNE’s second of the season on Derby turf, with them having triumphed there in the Carabao Cup in September.
However, not since 2002 had Preston won a league match at Pride Park, the last one coming when Craig Brown was manager.
The incident which shaped this game was Waghorn’s red card, it coming after a bright start from Derby.
When the ball broke near the halfway line, it was there to be won between Browne and Waghorn.
The Rams forward got his challenge all wrong, going in over the ball and catching Browne on the bottom of his shin pad.
It was reckless, referee Darren Bond straight away going for the pocket where his red card was stored.
Derby, unbeaten in six since Wayne Rooney became caretaker manager in his own right after initially sharing the coaching duties with three other members of staff, were suddenly on the back foot.
They went 4-4-1 and that enable PNE to take charge of the game for the remainder of the first half.
Their approach was to get the ball to Paul Gallagher sat in front of the back four.
Gallagher did his stuff from there, spraying passes out to the wings to move the hosts from side to side.
A combination of Derby changing to 4-3-2 after the break and Gallagher running out of steam, took the edge off North End’s creative edge.
In a bid to rediscover it, Neil switched to 3-5-2 with strikers Emil Riis and Jayden Stockley thrown into the fray.
That brought little joy, attacks and chances drying up despite the two up front approach.
Hence a goalless outcome looked on the cards until Browne brought his liking for Boxing Day to the party.
The foundations of the goal were laid down Preston’s left flank where Josh Earl took possession. He threaded a low ball across the pitch to Stockley who helped it on to Daniel Johnson.
In turn, Johnson swept a pass out to find Browne just outside the corner of the box.
Browne moved inside into the box on to his left foot, the run of Ryan Ledson taking a defender out of his path.
Using two home players to shield the ball from the view of goalkeeper David Marshall, Browne curled a shot into te far corner of the net.
Can you imagine the scenes which would have greeted the goal had fans been allowed in the ground?
As it was, the players had to celebrate among themselves and from the dressing room you could hear the ‘Baluga’ song being belted out.
Derby fans were to argue later on social media that the goal had come with in the sixth minute of time added on when in fact five minutes had gone up on the board.
The fact the hosts made a substitution in the 94th minute, replacing the limping Colin Kazim-Richards with Jahmal Hector-Ingram, was to contribute to the clock being allowed to run that bit more.
There was some merit to the argument that North End hadn’t done enough to earn their victory and that a draw might have been fairer.
However, they didn’t exclusively hit the brick wall thrown up by their hosts in the second half.
Just after half-time, Scott Sinclair shot forward down the left-wing, fed Sean Maguire inside who turned and laid the ball into the path of Tom Barkhuizen.
Moving into the box in a similar position to the one Browne would find himself in later, Barkhuizen drove in a shot which the keeper pushed behind at the near post.
Maguire had a shot touched into the side-netting after Johnson had run at the hosts and played him in.
Soon after that, Maguire and Darnell Fisher were replaced by Riis and Stockley, the accompanying change of shape not doing any favours.
Sinclair limping off and Gallagher’s race being run, led to further changes and players being switched round.
Preston lost their sense of rhythm, Browne thankfully regaining his when it mattered.
The Irishman was playing at right-back when he scored, having started in midfield and then gone to right wing-back.
By then the shape had flipped from 3-5-2 to 4-4-2, one last roll of the dice having pushed him up field.
Two good finishes in 24 hours from Browne – the first to polish-off his turkey dinner, the second to find the net and make it a Happy Christmas for North End.
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