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North End kicked off their 2002-03 campaign in fine style with an emphatic victory over an experienced Derby County side.

Both sides were missing a whole raft of players and had to rely on their depth in numbers to field a full eleven. Preston had their usual absences; Terry "The Cat" Quinn was again minding his litter whilst veteran Andy Watt was unavailable due to his appearance as a Page Boy at a celebrity wedding. The talented Craig Worthington had been plucked from Supporters Football obscurity to play for non-league Chorley, whilst there were late withdrawals from Gostelow (rearranging his furniture) and Cooper (finishing off his milk round). However, one man's loss is another man's gain, and debuts were handed out to midfielder James Wild and utility player Paul Godkin.

The match also signified something of a milestone with both the player-manager and his assistant turning out - player-manager Knowles taking the gloves and Stewart Black playing 45 minutes at left back.

The game kicked off in intense heat on the bone-hard surface, with both sides making threatenting attacks in an end-to-end opening. It was Preston, playing in their change kit of blue who netted first, when WILD created space for himself 25 yards from goal and thundered a shot in off the right-hand post to the glee of the travelling one fan.

County hit back with their best spell of pressure, and troubled the visitors with a succession of corners. North End's lack of height was exploited when a perfectly flighted corner was powerfully headed home by a Derby player from inside the 6-yard box, giving Knowles no chance.

The scores were not level for long, as newcomer Godkin stamped his authority on the match. On 20 minutes Preston won a corner, and GODKIN curled an exquisite ball over the keeper and into the net direct from the set-piece. Minutes later he was at it again, when good approach play from Chris Brennan sent the winger through on goal and GODKIN drew the keeper before calmly placing the ball low to his left.

Knowles was called into action to make a wonderful reflex save on the half hour, as he acrobatically tipped the ball around the post.

Derby were stung by this quickfire double, and despite a couple of sporadic attacks they offered little in the final third of the field during the remainder of the first half. Preston were rampant, and Allan McCormick and Chris Brennan both saw shots blocked by defenders as North End searched for their fourth. It duly arrived when the mercurial GODKIN ghosted in from the right to head home a beautifully delivered free-kick to seal his hat-trick. All three of his strikes had come in under a quarter of an hour.

On the stroke of half-time North End added to their lead, when an underhit backpass was seized upon by CASSIDY, who rounded the keeper and slotted into the vacant net.

Half time saw one change, with Karl Brown replacing Black, who was suffering from severe cigarette withdrawal.

Preston began the second half a little cautiously, with County coming back into the game with a series of efforts. Their centre-forward was guilty of missing a couple of gilt-edged chances to reduce the deficit. Both Andy Whaley and Don Herd were having inspired games at the back, and between them they frequently broke up the Rams' attacks. John Hunt, playing his first game since a successful brain transplant, was pushed into a more advanced position as Godkin sat back.

It was against the run of play when North End scored their sixth. CASSIDY tackled the Derby centre-half and then let fly with an audacious lob from the angle of the area which sailed over the keeper and into the far corner of the net.

The game became stretched as Derby's numbers were depleted through injury, with both sides guilty of further misses. Knowles and Whaley both made fine blocks whilst at the other end Steve Brennan had a couple of efforts blocked by last-gasp tackles, Cassidy had two shots saved by the keeper and Chris Brennan rolled one shot wide. Godkin had a header tipped against the bar as Derby defended resolutely.

The industrious Wild kept driving Preston forward and it was after good work by him that Chris BRENNAN latched onto a through ball and coolly stroked it into the net.

In the final five minutes Steve Brennan got the goal that he fully deserved. Another good pass was taken on and BRENNAN rifled a right-footed effort into the roof of the net at the near post, to maintain his record of scoring in each of the past five matches.

In injury time Karl Brown could have added to the scoreline but his shot came back off the post.

The final whistle sounded and the visitors celebrated the start of their fifth season with their first ever opening day victory, and their highest ever win. Special mention to all 12 NorthEnders who turned out with both debutants in particular catching the eye. Andy Whaley, Preston's answer to David Gower - celebrated the win by getting his butler to lather him down in the shower.

Man of the match: Paul Godkin