|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 4 Preston North End|
Saturday, 19th January 2019 Kick-off 15:00
QPR fall in familiar Preston hole – Report
Sunday, 20th Jan 2019 10:57 by Clive Whittingham
QPR lost to Preston for the sixth time in a row on Saturday, soundly thrashed 4-1 at Loftus Road by a vastly superior North End side.
First an oddly lacklustre showing at Sheffield United, now this aberration at home to Preston.
QPR always struggle with this Preston side. They’ve won none of the eight games played since they returned to this division in 2015/16 and have now lost the last six. On Saturday there were a lot of familiar tropes and mistakes, mixed with a whole load of new horrors cooked up especially for this meeting.
Preston were stronger in defence, more dangerous in attack, and dominated the midfield. In Alan Browne and Ben Pearson they had the two best players on the pitch. They were better than QPR at everything QPR were trying to do and never once looked in danger of relinquishing the lead having taken it. So far, so last season. And the season before that.
Where this story deviates from the one you’ve heard all too often before, is that this time QPR gave North End their first goal rather than them bundling some scrambled chance in from half a yard out. Josh Scowen had already been harshly booked for a foul in back play by referee Andy Madley – though he initially showed the card to Luke Freeman – when Joe Lumley played him a hospital pass on the edge of the box after 14 minutes. Immediately under pressure, Scowen got the ball caught under his feet and surrendered it to Browne who teed up Jayden Stockley to sweep the ball empathically into the far corner for his first goal since a transfer window switch from Exeter City.
From there it became the worst performance Steve McClaren’s team has turned in in the league since that nightmare August of four defeats from the first four matches. In those games against Bristol City, West Brom, Sheffield United and Preston again Rangers handicapped themselves by trying to play an advanced version of total football out from the back without the players to do it. Matt Ingram, Toni Leistner, Joel Lynch and Scowen just couldn’t cope with it and it was only when Joe Lumley was picked to play in goal and the fancy, new-age, split centre backs at every goal kick set up was abandoned that results started to improve. They’d stayed improved ever since too, so why you’d suddenly go back to style here, in this game, against this opponent, God only knows. We really shouldn’t be left alone unsupervised.
It could have been worse had Leistner’s fourth minute interception at the near post crept into the bottom corner for the own goal that looked certain from the moment he thrust his boot out, or Browne’s fierce volley after 13 minutes dipped under the bar rather than over it, or Maguire’s curled effort during a thirty eighth minute counter attack not flashed wide of the post. In truth, it rarely looked like it was going to get better. Rangers only played two bits of football in the entire half, either side of the 30 minute mark with first Eze shooting at Declan Rudd after a couple of passes had been strung together down the right at last, then Freeman getting on the end of a great pass from Eze and crossing for Pawel Wszolek to head straight at the keeper at full stretch.
That combination of the unusual and the monotonous returned at half time. Highly out of character for Steve McClaren to turn to his bench so early in a game, but no shock at all to find that we were going to be flogging that idea that Matt Smith fits into this team to death again for the twenty third time this season. As if Ben Davies and Jordan Storey hadn’t had it easy enough in the first half the two Preston centre halves needn’t have changed out of their club suits for the second as Rangers went long and direct down the middle to an isolated Smith to no positive effect whatsoever. My kingdom for five minutes of Aramide Oteh every now and again.
There was a brief rally of sorts. Nahki Wells pulled a good save from Rudd with a volley, Darnell Furlong headed the resulting corner over via a combination of goalkeeper and bar (the referee erroneously gave a goal kick) and Wszolek caused a minnor penalty box scramble when he cut the ball back from the byline just before the hour. That really was it though, and PNE looked supremely confident and comfortable even at 1-0 – this a team without a win in six, recently dumped out of the FA Cup by Doncaster Rovers, and sitting bottom of the Championship form table prior to kick off.
If there’s one thing worse than going one nil down to Preston it’s going two nil. Defend as QPR did in the second half here and that becomes pretty inevitable. Free kick from the right, flicked on by Davies at the near post, finished into the top corner by Storey at the far. Not a QPR player within touching distance of any of them.
What usually happens at this point is Preston start coming up with creative and innovative ways to make sure the ball goes out of play and stays there. The medical staff become frequent visitors to the field and goal kicks, throw ins and free kicks become long drawn out affairs. Initially, that’s exactly what happened. I could have done a reasonable oil painting of Rudd in the time it took him to get one of his kicks away and first Darnell Fisher and then Jordan Storey collapsed to earth holding hands to non-existent head injuries – a blatant fallacy that referee Andy Madley was happy to accept at face value each time; stopping the play, having the physio trot on, establish there’s nothing wrong, stroll to the touchline, sprint back into the game as soon as it starts again.
Out played, out fought and out thought. QPR v Preston. Again. Except, this time, it occurred to Alex Neil’s side that their opponent was so woeful, that they were so superior, that the game was so comfortable for them, that, actually, they didn’t need to run through Ben Pearson’s Big Ladybird Book of Wankery on this occasion. In fact, there was more here for them. Once this realisation dawned, then QPR really were in trouble. They conceded twice more, first through Browne at the back post amidst more utterly shambolic marking at a set piece while some sex case was trying a one-man pitch invasion at the Loft End. Then, rather stylishly, through another January signing Brad Potts after Joe Lumley had beaten an initial shot from substitute Nmecha up into the air. That was four and but for Jake Bidwell’s heroic tackle in injury time it might have been five. There would have been few complaints from the few home fans that were left had it come to that.
Amongst it, Rangers did get a consolation goal, by finally putting a cross into the box for Smith to attack rather than a long ball down the middle for him to try and flick on. Bidwell with the eureka moment from the left, Smith with the downward header from eight yards. Rudd maybe should have done better. I doubt he cares.
As well as all the usual Preston players doing all their usual things to QPR, it looked like a few things were starting to catch up with McClaren’s side here. The absence of the two first choice midfielders, Massimo Luongo and Geoff Cameron, was keenly felt, with Scowen and Cousins completely outplayed and overawed. Playing the same team in the same way every week has made Rangers rather predictable, and asked a lot of these players to get through big minutes in a short period of time over Christmas. Here, as at Bramall Lane a week ago, there didn’t look a lot left in the tank – Wells and Wszolek in particular way below par. And Preston, like Sheff Utd before them, were wise to everything we were trying to do.
The warm, familiar embrace of sixteenth position looms on the horizon. It’s beginning to feel like a season that at times has promised so much now hangs on next week’s FA Cup tie at Portsmouth.
QPR: Lumley 4; Furlong 5, Leistner 5, Lynch 5, Bidwell 5; Scowen 4, Cousins 4 (Smith 46, 5); Wszolek 5 (Osayi-Samuel 76, 5), Eze 5 (Smyth 85, -), Freeman 5; Wells 5
Subs not used: Ingram, Hall, Manning, Oteh
Goals: Smith 84 (assisted Bidwell)
Bookings: Scowen 9 (foul), Furlong 90+2 (foul), Lynch 90+3 (foul)
Preston: Rudd 6; Fisher 7, Storey 8, Davies 7, Hughes 7; Pearson 8; Gallagher 7, Browne 8, Maguire 8 (Barkhuizen 68, 7), Potts 8; Stockley 7 (Nmecha 77, 6)
Subs not used: Johnson, Woods, Ledson, Huntington, Ripley
Goals: Stockley 14 (assisted Browne), Storey 68 (assisted Davies), Browne 82 (assisted Storey), Potts 87 (assisted Nmecha)
Bookings: Maguire 23 (foul), Fisher 90+5 (foul)
QPR Star Man – N/A
Referee – Andy Madley (Yorkshire) 5 Started the game with a lesser spotted rescinded yellow, having booked Freeman when it was actually Scowen and it wasn’t a foul worthy of a booking anyway. From there on, like so many referees in this division this season, was complicit in and actively encouraged the time wasting by stopping the game to allow treatment for players who blatantly weren’t hurt and were just running the clock. Nothing to do with the result, but sooner or later (please let it be sooner) a referee is going to have to strap a pair on and stand up to this because it’s now happening every week in every game I watch at this level.
Attendance – 13,736 (1,500 Preston approx.) And do you know what really put the tin hat on it? I’d decided to make my exit at 3-0, which is pretty rare and always stirs in me a blind terror that I might miss out on a Brentford/Derby/Port Vale-style comeback. I heard the noise for Matt Smith’s goal as I was going down the back steps so decided to dip into the Paddocks for the final moments – just in case. This got me nicely in position just in time for the Potts goal. Sometimes it’s just not your day.
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