Ravel Morrison’s late goal boosted Derby’s Sky Bet Championship survival bid as they beat Preston 1-0 at Pride Park.
Both teams were down to 10 men and the game appeared to be heading for a stalemate when Morrison smashed a stray ball 10 minutes from time.
Preston played for over an hour against a man after Liam Lindsay was sent off for knocking down Tom Lawrence, but Derby had Max Bird sent off early in the second half for a foul on Ben Whiteman.
But Morrison’s strike lifted the home fans and kept Derby 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 that he put in softly from eight yards out.
Derby lifted their fans in the 19th minute when the ball fell on Jason Knight, who surged forward before sparking a drive from 25 yards that Daniel Iversen spun behind.
It was the start of a good period for Derby who should have taken the lead on 23 minutes when Malcolm Ebiowei crossed from the right but Lawrence headed six yards wide.
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 on goal and referee Geoff Eltringham produced a red card.
After Lawrence cleared the free-kick, Preston regrouped by bringing in defender Sepp Van Den Berg in place of top scorer Emil Riis Jakobsen.
Derby started the second half well, but they were reduced to 10 men in the 54th minute when Bird was shown a straight red for a challenge that left Whiteman in need of treatment.
With emotion running high, the match was briefly interrupted when a spectator ran onto the pitch, but was quickly surrounded by stewards and escorted from the ground.
Derby looked the most likely to score and, after Lawrence had a returned shot, they took the lead 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 burst to Morrison who slammed a volley into the roof of the net.
Derby was close to a second five minutes later when Morrison played Nathan Byrne but Iversen again kept his side in the game.
But the visitors posed little threat as Derby clung to a vital victory to climb from the foot of the table.