Ravel Morrison’s late goal boosted Derby’s Sky Bet Championship survival bid as they beat Preston 1-0 at Pride Park.
Both sides were reduced to 10 men and the game looked to be heading towards stalemate when Morrison smashed home a loose ball 10 minutes from time.
Preston played for more than an hour a man down after Liam Lindsay was sent off for bringing down Tom Lawrence, but Derby had Max Bird dismissed early in the second half for a foul on Ben Whiteman.
But Morrison’s strike lifted the home fans and keeps Derby in with a chance of staying in the Championship.
It was a game Derby desperately needed to win but Preston started well and Cameron Archer should have done better with a 10th-minute header which he put tamely wide from eight yards.
Derby lifted their fans in the 19th minute when the ball broke to Jason Knight, who surged forward before unleashing a drive from 25 yards out that Daniel Iversen turned behind.
It was the start of a good period for Derby who should have gone ahead in the 23rd minute when Malcolm Ebiowei crossed from the right but Lawrence headed wide from six yards.
Derby were given a big boost in the 33rd minute when Lindsay tripped Lawrence on the edge of the box with the Welshman about to go through on goal and referee Geoff Eltringham produced a red card.
After Lawrence put the free-kick wide, Preston regrouped by bringing on defender Sepp Van Den Berg in place of top-scorer Emil Riis Jakobsen.
Derby started the second half strongly but they were reduced to 10 men in the 54th minute when Bird was shown a straight red for a challenge which left Whiteman needing treatment.
With emotions running high, the game was held up briefly when a spectator ran onto the pitch but he was quickly surrounded by stewards and escorted from the ground.
Derby were looking the more likely to score and, after Lawrence had a shot turned behind, they went ahead in the 80th minute.
Lawrence’s corner was met by Curtis Davies and although Iversen made a superb save and a second effort was blocked, the ball broke to Morrison who slammed a volley into the roof of the net.
Derby were close to a second five minutes later when Morrison played in Nathan Byrne but Iversen again kept his side in the game.
But the visitors hardly threatened as Derby held on for a vital victory to climb off the foot of the table.