"Heart and soul still Derby" ran one of the headlines in the local paper on Saturday morning.
That was a positive reference to the as yet unidentified new American owners of Derby County, and before kick-off one sensed an upbeat air around the place – Starbucks in the South Stand, big bucks in the boardroom, a new era and a possible place in the fifth round of the FA Cup to kick it all off.
But by five o'clock, after one of the lowest moments in the club's modern history, Derby fans were left asking: "What heart? What soul?" Today's announcement points to a landmark day in the history of a club 124 years old and a founder member of the Football League.
It is an important day for Derby County and English football. But circumstance has crowded the event. In 1888 losing at home to fellow founder members Preston North End, which Derby did, was tolerable. But this was not. This felt like the culmination of years of boardroom uncertainty, continual managerial changes and in-out teams who twice were inches away from relegation to the third tier.
There has not been much joined-up government at Derby of late and as their manager, Paul Jewell, said on Saturday: "If you can't spell, you're not going to be an author, are you?"
Jewell is Derby's seventh manager of the 21st century. He is an authentic football man, who wears bad shoes. But when he said he is "very comfortable" with the Americans who are taking over, he was sincere. That should offer some re-assurance to Derby's beleaguered following.
"I'm confident they are good people," Jewell said. "I've spoken to them on a couple of occasions and they're good business people. We'll run the football side, myself and the chairman, Adam Pearson. I'm very comfortable with the people coming in. The people from America understand, they haven't come in to make a quick buck and get off. They are here for the long term, I hope to be part of that to get this club to where it could be."
Given that Roy Disney, son of Walt, was initially interested, Jewell's joke – "He might let us have Minnie and Mickey Mouse, we could play them at centre-half" – was topical, if ruefully delivered.
"One of the reasons I came here was that I knew some American investment was going to come in," he added. "I spoke to them in Manchester, they know it's a tough job, they know what a state the team's in at the moment.
"But they, like me, see the bigger picture and the bigger picture is that, if we get it right here, it'll take off. Hopefully, in a year's time I'll be sat here saying all these tough times have made me and the team stronger.
"But I think the Americans are aware of the facts, they look at the League table and see one win in 23. Today is embarrassing, you don't expect that to happen. But the team is just not good enough, it needs major surgery."
Jewell is two months into the job. He is yet to see Derby win over 90 minutes and they host Manchester City on Wednesday night. He was an exasperated figure on Saturday evening but yesterday he was back to work, at Bramall Lane, watching City.
Jewell has experienced hardship before – as caretaker at Bradford he lost his first game 5-0 at Crewe – and at Wigan he went out of the FA Cup at Canvey Island. But Wigan won the division the next season with 100 points and Jewell is hoping the example inspires Derby.
But he is also a realist. Pride Park is not an apt name. Heads are down, one of the problems of the Premier League is that it demands of supporters of clubs from the Championship, especially those from the club who win the play-offs, that they literally buy into a season which is unsustainable. Then they get relegated.
Watford know the difficulties, and they got to 28 points last season. Derby, to date, have seven, and that is crushing to all but the most resilient of fans.
As Jewell said of this humiliation: "It's not just being 3-0 down at half-time to a team in the Championship, it's the way we were 3-0 down. There are ways to lose and the way we lose is unacceptable."
As Preston's Karl Hawley and Chris Brown eased themselves in, it appeared Jewell had selected Mickey and Minnie at centre-half. Andy Todd and Claude Davis were so bad they were booed by their own supporters who, as Jewell noted, have been "more patient than I'd have been".
Todd was at fault for the first and the third, neatly taken by Hawley, the entire defence for the second, steered in by Simon Whaley. Rob Earnshaw pulled one back 10 minutes into the second half and there was a brief spell, when Andy Lonergan saved from Robbie Savage, in which Derby suggested they could come back.
But no. Hawley hit the crossbar and Youl Mawene missed a five-yard header before the substitute Neil Mellor converted a fourth from the spot after Lewin Nyatanga had pushed Mellor over. "Pathetic," said Jewell, who was not referring to Nyatanga's red card.
Heart and soul still Derby?
Goals: Hawley (14) 0-1; Whaley (33) 0-2; Hawley (45) 0-3; Earnshaw (55) 1-3; Mellor pen (90) 1-4.
Derby County (4-4-2): Price; Edworthy, Todd (Barnes, h-t) Davis, Nyatanga; Ghaly, Savage, Pearson, Lewis (Teale, 24); Villa (Earnshaw, h-t), Miller. Substitutes not used: Hinchcliffe, Leacock.
Preston North End (4-4-2): Lonergan; St Ledger, Mawene, Chilvers, Davidson
(Hill, h-t); Sedgwick, McKenna, Carter, Whaley (Nicholls, 86); Hawley (Mellor, 85) Brown. Substitutes not used: Neal, Ormerod.
Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).
Booked: Derby County Pearson; Preston North End Sedgwick.
Sent off: Nyatanga (90).
Man of the match: McKenna.
Attendance: 17,344.Reuse content