Gardner, on loan at Forest from Aston Villa, played the full 90 minutes of the victory, which was handed to the club by a Nelson Oliveira goal in the first half.
The victory moved Forest into 13th place after 35 games, whilst Preston sit in 10th place with 36 games played.
Dougie Freeman’s men failed to dominate the ball, but they registered more shots and a better pass completion rate than their opponents, and just looked more threatening throughout the game.
The result leaves Forest in with a small chance of still qualifying for the play-offs, but fans would be fooling themselves if they believe the Midlands club can get into the top six before the end of the season.
They are mathematically able to, but the strength in their squad just cannot match up with the teams above them, but this should not mean Freedman’s achievements are overlooked.
He has built a competitive side at the City Ground, despite a transfer embargo severely limiting his means, and fans should be looking forward to what the manager can achieve when given free reign in the transfer market.