Derby County's new American owners fly in today for their unveiling tomorrow with their identity still unknown. All the club will say officially is that the men are not from Disney, as has been rumoured. It is just as well because the cartoon headlines would be unceasing: Mickey Mouse wears a Derby County watch, etc.
Yet this went beyond humour. Derby were dramatically bad, so poor they stole the focus from a Preston side who were neat and, in front of goal, decisive. Paul Jewell has faced sticky situations in his time, at Bradford and Sheffield Wednesday and at Wigan he once oversaw a defeat at Canvey Island in the FA Cup. But 3-0 at half-time yesterday was a fresh low.
"It beggars belief some of the stuff that goes on here," Jewell said. "Make a mistake and they fall apart. I'm at a loss to explain it. I see them Monday to Friday and they're different people."
Of Derby's disenchanted fans, who turned on their side at home for the first time, Jewell said: "They're totally justified, they've been more patient than I would've been. The place is on the floor." But the Americans are coming. "As long as the deal's signed and they're not at the game," Jewell added.
Given that Derby have conceded 50 goals already in the Premier League, their shambolic defending should have come as no surprise. But it did. Andy Todd endured a career-ender of a display and was taken off at half-time. He was being booed heartily by his own fans and alongside him, Claude Davis and Marc Edworthy were also woeful. Lewin Nyatanga was equally poor and was sent off in injury-time for the foul on Neil Mellor from which the substitute got up to score Preston's fourth from the penalty spot.
As disturbing as anything was that once Karl Hawley put Preston in front after 13 minutes, they never looked seriously worried. "I felt right from the beginning we had control of the game," Preston's manager Alan Irvine said. "It took quite a whilebefore Derby had possession in our half. And about two minutes from the end I was actually able to relax."
Pressure release should have come much earlier. Hawley's opener was followed by a second from Simon Whaley after 32 minutes and any notion of a Derby recovery was eradicated when Hawley seized on Todd's latest error to curl in a third in first-half injury time.
The substitute Rob Earnshaw did pull one back with his first Derby goal and Andy Lonergan then made a good save to deny Robbie Savage. But there was nothing after that as the evergreen Kevin McKenna steadied Preston.
"I'm embarrassed," Jewell said.