QPR on Eze street as Warburton changes tack - Report
Sunday, 8th Dec 2019 18:27 by Clive Whittingham
Ebere Eze scored twice as QPR got back to winning ways against Bogey side Preston North End at Loftus Road on Saturday.
Preston North End, who enjoy permanent status of LoftforWords’ outside tip for the play-offs each year, have actually been threatening to gate-crash the top six this season with a promising start and a flood of goals that have seen them top the division’s scoring charts. They were second less than a month ago.
Quite what’s happened to them since isn’t clear. That usual mixture of injuries to key players and some questionable refereeing decisions going against them – none more so than West Brom’s scandalous injury time penalty winner against them on Monday – has suddenly seen them lose three on the spin without scoring a goal.
No matter, a trip to Loftus Road to face Queens Park Rangers would surely cure what ails them. Not only because QPR’s own fine start to 2018/19 has drained away into a seven match winless run that included a 4-0 shellacking by Nottingham Forest in their last home game, and Rangers would be taking on the division’s most potent attack with a defence that hadn’t kept a clean sheet since April, but also because when you’re Preston North End games against QPR have become almost gimmes.
North End had won the last six meetings prior to Saturday, including a 4-1 win at Loftus Road when last we met in January. Rangers were without a win in nine attempts dating back to 2010/11, the days when Adel Taarabt used to beat the Lancashire side by himself. Rangers had failed to score in four of those meetings and managed only one in each of the other five.
This is a game with a set plot. Preston scout their players better than QPR, make shrewder signings than QPR, and do it all on half of QPR’s budget. Rangers like to compound this by presenting them with soft goals, none more so than Jayden Stockley’s first on this ground last year, beautifully gift wrapped by Joe Lumely and Josh Scowen. Rangers then ignore warning signs, barbed wire fences and hours of previous experience by willingly entering Ben Pearson’s cave of wonders, stumbling into every trap the little goblin has left for us along the way. We finish the game battered, bruised, moaning bitterly about a series of perceived injustices, and beaten.
Wait a minute though, what’s this? Lining up in a lesser-spotted 5-0-5 formation, QPR decided on Saturday to bypass the midfield altogether, leaving Pearson with nobody to kick, niggle, antagonise and scream at. Mark Warburton, the man with “no plan B”, sent his team out to go more direct than I suspect he ever has in his entire career. Ball was kept away from areas where talents like Sean Maguire, Alan Browne and Tom Barkhuizen have caused us problems previously, and placed repetitively and deliberately into parts of the pitch where Ebere Eze and Bright Osayi-Samuel could have a lovely old time. There was precious little pisballing about in their own penalty area, and an unprecedented amount of stuff played up to Jordan Hugill who gamely attacked a wrestling match with Paul Huntington referee Andy Davies seemed happy to watch rather than officiate.
The visitors looked surprised, and who could blame them? I’ve seen every QPR game this season and I absolutely did not anticipate anything like this approach. Hugill smashed into his man after literally ten seconds to concede the first free kick of the game and set the tone. A loosener. Soon Todd Kane, in for Angel Rangel at right back despite the Spaniard’s impressive showing at derby a week ago, was threading a terrific pass through the right channel for Osayi-Samuel to get a clear sight of goal but visiting keeper Declan Rudd rushed from his line to save excellently and then jumped up to kill the rebound.
There was a dangerous cross shot from Browne to test home side nerves but when QPR got the ball down and played it with purpose in the PNE half on 11 minutes a slick move ended with Geoff Cameron chipping a pass in behind for Ebere Eze to run onto and smash into the net at the second attempt after Rudd had saved the first one impressively. Osayi-Samuel wasn’t far away from a goal of his own soon after that when he squared up Rafferty, beat him, and then shot wide of the far post.
Visiting boss Alex Neil may also have anticipated getting some joy from Rangers’ beleaguered goalkeeper Joe Lumley. Personally culpable for a clutch of goals conceded already this season, and openly admitting the disgusting and vile abuse he’s received from the sort of shit-for-brains morons that dominate social media has got to him, Lumley has had no choice but to try and plough his way back into form with understudy Liam Kelly out injured. As the game opened out into an end-to-end bare knuckler after the half hour Grant Hall got him out of one problem with a superb goal saving tackle on Stockley as he threatened to go through one on one. However when Andrew Hughes was given too much time and space to put over a cross and Stockley planted a dangerous back post header back into a crowded goal mouth, Lumley confidently came through with a brave and important catch.
Back at the other end another long ball up to Wells was guided down expertly for Hugill to try one of those wild, lean-back shots high over the bar which he loves so dearly.
Half time, 1-0, Warburton winning the chess match and Neil with a to do list a mile long.
Initially the approaches weren’t a great deal different. QPR going direct, Preston looking perplexed. One punt drew Declan Rudd into the sort of deep water Jason Steele drowned in at this end of the ground a couple of seasons back but just when it seemed the ball had made it over his head to present Rangers with an empty netter he climbed just high enough to get a skimmed header on it. Two minutes later Eze was trying his luck from 25 yards and drawing a routine save. Within seconds the influential QPR youngster was turning into space in the area and surely would have made it 2-0 but for a quite superb tackle on him by Huntington.
At the School End Rangers were indebted to Todd Kane for a crucial header to safety at the back post and you started to wonder whether we might have to hunker down for one of those torturous half hours where time seems to stand still and you feel like you’d rather be anywhere else than the place you’ve chosen to come every Ssaturday for your entire life for – in theory – pleasure. In truth though, Preston had been poor, and they got steadily worse for each second half substitution they made to try and correct the situation. David Nugent, who looks like he’s been on the Do You Want An Arse Like Chris Martin’s? suet pastry diet, for Tom Barkhuizen was a particular disaster. Thicken up that runny low fat yoghurt by stirring in a spoon full of lard – Viz top tip.
The game would move away from them permanently after the hour when a ball was inadvertently sent into Marc Pugh’s path in the penalty area via a series of deflections and Rudd had little option but to hack the former Bournemouth man down as he prepared to roll a simple second in from six yards out. Pearson immediately set about screaming in the face of the linesman – poor little troll must have been lonely, it was the first time another human had been within 20 feet of him all afternoon – and referee Andy Davies did go over and have a long chat with his assistant, which I can only assume was to decide whether Pugh was offside when he received the ball (which he was) and whether the ball had actually been touched to him by a defender (which it had).
Penalty eventually decided upon, Ebere Eze afforded himself a laugh at Huntington’s rudimentary attempts to stress out the world’s most laid back lad before going through his usual stuttered run up to sit Rudd down and make it 2-0 with consummate ease. Somewhere in a backroom Lee Hoos rubbed a number eight off a white board and replaced it with a ten.
Now it was all about whether a first clean sheet of the season could be maintained. There were two significant moments to come in that quest. The first was a big penalty appeal, that I’d personally have been screaming for, when substitute Billy Bodin seemed to be sandwiched between two defenders in the area. Toni Leistner had been a man on a mission to this point, bastarding his way through a succession of head-it and kick-it basics, but I wondered if he’d gone too far on that occasion. Davies gave the German the benefit of the doubt. Preston’s frustrations will only have grown when Lumley stretched out to his left and made a terrific one-handed save to keep out a fierce drive by Bodin that looked a goal all ends up.
Josh Scowen was brought on to shore things up, and was immediately booked. A twenty sixth yellow in 100 QPR appearances for rat boy – I’m starting to think referees should just book him in the tunnel before we come out and get it over with.
Four minutes of stoppage time were actually spent with QPR looking for a third rather than trying to hold onto their nil. Bright Osayi-Samuel, outstanding for a second successive game, burst through a crowd scene of five would-be tacklers to set himself up for a goal of the season attempt before being chopped down right on the boundary of the penalty box. With Eze removed to a standing ovation, Pugh stuck the free kick straight into the wall.
An important, deserved victory, building on the improvements seen at Pride Park last week. The mix of pragmatism with ideals I’ve been asking for over the last few weeks was perfect here, with football played when it was there to be played and not for the sake of it in dangerous situations or times of the game. A shrewd and clever change of approach, catching an opponent cold, from a manager we’ve been repeatedly told will only play one way regardless or situation and circumstance.
QPR: Lumley 7; Kane 7, Leistner 8, Hall 7, Manning 7; Cameron 7; Osayi-Samuel 8, Eze 8 (Amos 87, -), Pugh 7; Hugill 7, Wells 7 (Scowen 68, 6)
Subs not used: Wallace, Barnes, Smith, Ball, Chair
Goals: Eze 17 (assisted Cameron), 67 (penalty, won Pugh)
Bookings: Scowen 79 (foul), Osayi-Samuel 90 (foul)
Preston: Rudd 6; Rafferty 5, Huntington 6, Storey 6, Hughes 5; Pearson 5, Browne 6; Barkhuizen 6 (Nugent 62, 4), Potts 5 (Harrop 66, 5), Maguire 6; Stockley 6 (Bodin 57, 5)
Bookings: Rudd 65 (foul, penalty concession), Bodin 90+2 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Bright Osayi-Samuel 8 Well, call me contrary if you like for ignoring the two-goal match winner, and perhaps we are now starting to take for granted his consistent levels of excellence this season, but I thought for the second week running Bright Osayi-Samuel was brilliant going up and down the right side. A persistent threat in attack right through to the end when he almost forced a third goal with a tricky run past multiple opponents, strong on the ball and tough in defence with some notable tracking back to help out when needed. I also thought Toni Leistner was a man on a bit of a mission.
Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 6 Both teams, historically, have had quite a lot of out of this referee in recent times and it was QPR who benefited from the big marginal call this time with the game clinching penalty. I thought it was, pretty obviously, a spot kick and wasn’t really sure what the big chat with the linesman was all about, other than perhaps deciding whether Pugh was offside (which he was) and whether it was a QPR player who’d passed it to him (it wasn’t). I find Alex Neal’s assertion that the referee said he wasn’t sure whether it was a penalty or not and the lineman admitted he didn’t see it rather fanciful – if that was the case I very much doubt they’d have awarded it, and certainly can’t imagine they’d actually admit it to the players. Licence for Preston defenders to do whatever they liked to Hugill, including several incidents where arms were clearly wrapped around his shoulders and neck when contesting high balls, was odd.
Attendance 12,279 (1,305 PNE)
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