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Taarabt torments Preston again as Rangers fight back - full match report
Taarabt torments Preston again as Rangers fight back - full match report
Sunday, 28th Mar 2010 15:47

Adel Taarabt was the name on everybody's lips at Deepdale on Saturday as the young Moroccan ripped Preston apart in a 2-2 draw.

Neil Warnock said after the match that Tottenham want £4.5m for Adel Taarabt. At times this season you’ve wondered whether he was even worth a loan deal never mind that much money, but on Saturday he looked like he was worth every penny. Nobody was laughing about his La Liga ambitions at 5pm on Saturday, an all action display that included two assists and countless near misses had the travelling faithful purring and wondering how Rangers had failed to win the game from two goals down.

Preston, who surprisingly ignored Derby’s example of man marking Taarabt and paid a heavy price for that, must be sick of the sight of him after his goal of the season contender against them at Loftus Road before Christmas.

This was an enthralling game, ebbing and flowing from end to end throughout. Both teams were indebted to goalkeeping displays worthy of a higher level, required by defensive efforts in front of them that left a lot to be desired. When Rangers got the ball down and ran at Preston the home defenders were like rabbits in headlights, when Preston hit Parkin and Mellor early Stewart and Gorkss looked nervous and panicky. Both teams could come away from this one victorious or defeated quite easily.

Neil Warnock made changes to the team that started so well against Derby but faded in the final hour of the 1-1 draw at Loftus Road on Tuesday. Lee Cook, Jay Simpson and Rowan Vine dropped out – a mixture of fitness, injury and tactics behind the decision. The boo boys’ target of the moment Tamas Priskin was restored to the team to provide an aerial presence wide on the right against a club with whom he spent time on loan the season before last, Adel Taarabt partnered Antonio German in attack with the teenager charged with leading the line and providing strength and presence for the Moroccan to work off in a deeper lying position. Faurlin and Leigertwood were the central midfielders again with Ephraim wide on the left. At the back few surprised with Ramage and Hill against his former club the full backs, Gorkss and Stewart the centre halves and Ikeme in goal. Youth teamer Joe Oastler and new signing Dasko Tosic were included on the bench.

By all accounts Preston were excellent in defeat at Middlesbrough on Tuesday, an inability to convert chances when on top cost them points at the Riverside, and Chris Brown his place in the team on Saturday with Damion Stewart coming in for him. Paul Coutts was meant to return from a hamstring injury, but didn’t even make the bench.

Rangers were forced onto the back foot almost straight from the kick off when Kaspars Gorkss was harshly penalised for a foul on Neil Mellor by referee Andy Haines and Ross Wallace’s delivery went all the way across the face of Ikeme’s goal and behind without receiving a touch.

Rangers responded with two attacks of their own with the time still in single figures. Twice in quick succession Preston backed off Adel Taarabt as he collected the ball around the halfway line, turned and ran at the home team. On both occasions he unloaded low shots on goal from the edge of the area – the first was comfortably gathered by Preston keeper Andy Lonergan down low to his left, the second required a more difficult save and Lonergan had to rely on his defenders in front of him to clear the ball away after he had parried the effort away.

So began the Adel Taarabt show. Preston were clearly terrified of him and unable to cope when he ran at their defence, Taarabt realised this very quickly and spent the rest of the afternoon tormenting the hosts as a one man attacking force.

Having said that the two QPR centre backs were also struggling with their task – neither Gorkss nor Stewart played well on Saturday,. Both consistently failing to deal with the unique physical challenge posed by Mellor and Parkin in the Preston attack. When Stewart lost out in the air on the edge of his own box after ten minutes Mellor delivered an ambitious curling shot that Ikeme was happy to watch sail a foot or so over the bar.

A minute later Rangers failed to cope with a basic, long, straight free kick into the penalty area which Parkin won comfortably in the air and nodded down to Ross Wallace whose shot was blocked away for a corner. When not taking the free kicks himself Wallace made a point of standing a good five or six yards offside behind the QPR defence so it was frustrating on this occasion that having become active when receiving the ball from Parkin the flag was not raised – although the way the modern offside rule is structured he was technically ok to play on, however ridiculous that may seem to everybody in the ground apart from the officials.

It was Preston’s turn to feel aggrieved with the referee on the quarter hour though when Matt Hill gave the ball away with a poor pass, then rashly hacked down Billy Jones in an attempt to rectify the situation and escaped without a booking. With that offence still fresh in the mind Hill was yellow carded for a more meagre trip on Richard Chaplow ten minutes later with Haines keen to stress that the accumulation of fouls had brought the sanction, rather than that one particular innocuous incident.

Hill almost had an assist to his name in between the two fouls. German was fouled by St Ledger as he brought a long ball down and held it up in a manner befitting somebody much older and more experienced. Hill took the free kick in the centre circle, flighting it up nicely to the back post where Tamas Priskin came in from the right to head down low towards the bottom corner but Lonergan had read the direction of the effort and saved comfortably next to the post.

German didn’t see much of the ball in the first half, but that wasn’t for want of trying and he sustained a heavy knock on the half hour attacking a Taarabt cross at the near post and clashing with St Ledger again. The Preston man just about won through, although he conceded a corner, and after Preston cleared that behind a second wide set piece allowed Kaspars Gorkss to head for goal but his effort was headed out from under the cross bar by Jones back on the line. Lonergan was well beaten on that occasion.

Around the half hour mark the game became very ragged, flying from one end of the pitch and back again in a crazy five minute spell in which both teams seemed to lose all shape and pattern of play. It began with a Ross Wallace free kick that was clearly and obviously deflected over the bar by the four man QPR wall. To the astonishment of everybody in the ground Haines awarded a goal kick – quite how both he and the linesman could have missed the ball changing direction so dramatically I have no idea. That didn’t exactly inspire much faith in the man with the flag so when Neil Mellor was played clean through 30 seconds later, looking a fair distance offside, you could perhaps forgive our lack of faith in the decision. Rangers escaped by the width of a coat of paint as Mellor crossed to the near post, Parkin met it first time on the turn and the ball cracked against the post and flew back out into play.

Preston didn’t have to wait long for another opportunity as Haines continued to blunder his way through the game, this time penalising Damion Stewart for the cleanest defensive header you could ever wish to see. I have to say despite the outrage at the decision I couldn’t help but laugh at Stewart’s foot stamping, arm swinging, two year old in the super market tantrum in front of the referee – a six foot three, 16 stone Jamaican man behaving like that is quite a sight – and in the end it worked out in our favour as Wallace drilled his free kick into the wall and Rangers then stormed away down the left flank and a better first touch from Antonio German on the edge of the area would have had him racing clean through on goal after more quality approach play and a fine pass from Adel Taarabt. German, and his manager, both immediately put their hands on their heads knowing what an excellent opportunity that had been to take the lead.

Lonergan was called into action ten minutes before half time as Taarabt, absolutely on fire at this stage, tormented Preston again – turning Ward inside and then out as the loaned defender frantically backtracked in his own area, then smacking a low shot on goal which the keeper did well to save.

In an evenly contested game, Rangers had perhaps had the better of the chances to this point. Certainly Lonergan had been the busier keeper, called into action two or three times while Ikeme waited to make his first save of note. It was hugely frustrating therefore to see the R’s fall behind eight minutes before the break. A fine challenge by Kaspars Gorkss in the area toed the ball away from Mellor and out for a corner which Ross Wallace came across to take. The Scottish midfielder then plonked the ball down by the corner flag and absolutely leathered it straight at Hogan Ephraim, who had chased back to try and prevent the set piece and was now dealing with his socks a yard away from where the corner was to be taken. Wallace went absolutely mental, demanding Ephraim be booked and then sticking his forehead in Ephraim’s face like some wild stag. It was the most amazing piece of behaviour I’ve seen for some time on a football field and reminded me of that bloody Dario Gradi Crewe team that got players booked as a matter of routine by immediately slamming free kicks against any opponent who happened to be passing within the ten yard radius at the time of the award.

Ephraim seemed to find the whole thing very amusing but Rangers may well have switched off as the referee calmed things down by the touchline because when Wallace did eventually get round to taking a proper corner his mishit, low effort was allowed to fly right to the centre of the goal past the statuesque defenders and Billy Jones, up from the back for Preston, had time for two touches before he slammed the ball into the roof of the net with his third. As soft a goal as you’re ever likely to see conceded.

That was pretty much that for the first half, although Richard Chaplow did pick up a senseless yellow card for kicking the ball away from Ikeme after he had been flagged offside. Footballers really are thick sometimes.

After a thoroughly bizarre half time break when a man in a wheelchair appeared to be ejected from the away end for throwing packets of mustard around on the concourse, leading to a confrontation with the police and Preston’s always over-zealous stewards, the second half started with most of the attention turned to a brain dead idiot in the side stand who had come to the match in a Preston shirt – and Manchester United tracksuit bottoms. I’m not sure people this thick should really be allowed out in society unattended to be honest, I must remember to get my Chelsea baseball cap out of the wash in case it’s sunny at the Sheffield Wednesday game.

Sadly the dregs of society to the left of the away end were able to leap around like caged zoo animals ten minutes after the break as Preston doubled their advantage. Again it came against the run of play, Taarabt had had a shot saved by Lonergan just before it, and again it came from Stewart and Gorkss’ total failure to deal with the physical threat posed by the Preston forwards. A routine ball into the area from the left caused all manner of problems with Gorkss never once the right side of his man, in the end the Latvian wrestled Parkin to the ground for, whatever Neil Warnock says, a clear and obvious spot kick. As Rangers have found out before Preston are just about the worst side you can give a penalty away to as the division’s most reliable spot kick taker Callum Davidson rarely gives goalkeepers a sniff of a chance. You’ll never see a better finish from 12 yards than his one on Saturday – it went like an exocet missile into the top corner before Ikeme even realised it had been taken. Superb.

And so it looked like Rangers’ abysmal run on the road, no wins in eleven and five defeats from the last six, was set to continue. When two goals down at Middlesbrough and Forest recently the R’s had simply given up and looked desperate to get back on the coach – here they rolled their sleeves up and played their way back into the game. With some flowing football not seen from the R’s in several months and Adel Taarabt, half time sub Rowan Vine and Hogan Ephraim to the fore Rangers stepped it up a gear or three. They were level in the game within a quarter of an hour and should have gone on to win such was the quality of the approach work and domination in the game.

It helped that the deficit was halved almost immediately after the Davidson goal. Taarabt carried the ball to the edge of the area and timed a pass to the right to absolute perfection. Ramage’s overlapping run arrived on the end of it right on time and the right full back emphatically rammed his second goal of the season under Lonergan and into the net. By all accounts Ramage had a good game against Derby on Tuesday and the much maligned full back was our best defender here as well – fully deserving his rare goal.

Preston’s Taarabt shaped nightmare loomed large again just after the hour as they tripped the Moroccan on the edge of the area and then didn’t have time to set for the quick free kick which he squared to Faurlin who saw his 20 yard effort deflected wide. From the corner Ephraim whipped a wonderful delivery right under the cross bar at the near post and the increasingly busy and ever excellent Lonergan had to be on his toes to palm the ball over the bar.

With Rangers throwing every man possible forward gaps at the other end were inevitable. Mellor volleyed a half chance over the bar in Preston’s next attack, then missed a glorious chance to seal the victory when the Rangers defence melted away in front of him, although Gorkss had good cause to seek explanation from the referee as Parkin blatantly barged him over off the ball to prevent him getting to Mellor, but Ikeme produced a superb save one on one to deny the former Liverpool man. That miss proved crucial as Rangers stormed to the other end and equalised.

It was no surprise that the irrepressible Taarabt was at the heart of the equaliser. In an almost identical way to the first goal he drew Preston defenders to him on the edge of the area before slipping the ball through to Priskin in the right channel and the Hungarian loanee made no mistake with a crisp finish into the bottom corner against his former club. Priskin is heavily criticised by QPR fans, rightly so most of the time, but he does provide heading ability to our otherwise small midfield and he didn’t play too badly on Saturday – certainly he finished his goal very nicely indeed.

The away fans were in raptures at this stage and the celebrations could have been even more jubilant had Rangers taken a golden chance to take the lead for the first time in the game a minute after equalising. Rowan Vine, playing better than he has for many months, turned inside and out in the penalty area to create space for a low shot that Lonergan saved. The rebound flew out to Faurlin who just could net get his foot round the ball to convert the chance, volleying high into the relieved Preston fans behind the goal instead.

If you thought that was a bad miss, the worst was still to come. Taarabt ran at Preston again, repetitive to write but brilliant to watch, after a poor defensive header from Davidson. In almost identical fashion to the two QPR goals the Tottenham man slipped the ball into the right channel once more but where Priskin and Ramage had kept their cool with clean finishes, Vine somehow contrived to sky an absolute sitter high over the bar. A real shame, QPR deserved to be in front and Vine deserved a goal for his performance.

Davidson may take a nice penalty but he was absolutely murdered defensively in the second half as QPR outnumbered him in almost every attack.

Preston were indebted to Lonergan for a brave piece of keeping with a quarter of an hour left to play. Priskin was fouled wide on the left by Billy Jones, Taarabt whipped a superb inswinging ball in towards the goal and Lonergan somehow kept out Stewart’s close range header, taking out the ball and the man in one bone crunching swoop that left the big Jamaican requiring treatment. The natives were restless with their side, and murmerings of discontent rumbled round the ground as Darren Ferguson replaced the unorthodox but effective Jon Parkin with Chris Brown – a sub that must have been fitness related as Parkin was the only Preston outlet causing Rangers any problems at all in the second half.

Having said that Preston did come back into the game after the change. With ten minutes to play Rangers were lucky to survive when Mellor ran in behind the defence again, Ikeme came out of his area to clear but leathered his clearance against Damion Stewart who somehow had enough about him to sweep it clear when it looked like it would either rebound into the net off the QPR man, or fall back to Mellor with the goal gaping.

Five minutes later another defensive error, by Matt Hill this time who failed to intercept a routine ball down the Preston right, gave home sub Chris Sedgwick a chance to race into the area but Gorkss got back and blocked the shot away for a corner. Ikeme dealt with that, and a further wide set piece, very well and Rangers almost snatched a winner of their own when Buzsaky, on for Taarabt in the last minute, whipped a corner over and Gorkss missed the top corner with a hooked effort by inches with Lonergan’s facial expression telling you everything you needed to know about just how close it was. Taarabt was applauded by both sets of fans on the way off, although he did blot his copy book slightly just before going off when he was booked for kicking the ball away after being flagged offside in the same stupid way Chaplow had been in the first half.

It could all have been for nothing though. In the very final seconds of the four minutes of added time Preston had a golden chance to win the game. Yet again poor centre half play from Rangers, Stewart the culprit this time allowing the ball to bounce on the edge of his own box, gave Mellor a chance to nip it away from him, and run clean through on goal in the penalty area. A Preston winner seemed inevitable, but Ikeme made a superb save to deny him and the whistle was blown immediately afterwards. Stewart owes Ikeme a tall frosty one for that.

Rangers were criticised for a direct and dull style of play against the Rams, but were at their free flowing best in the second half here with Taarabt, Rowan Vine and Hogan Ephraim all turning in their best performances for some time. The R’s were entertaining, full of effort and invention, and thoroughly good value for their point. A combination of poor finishing, and rank centre half play in the face of a tough physical challenge, cost them two points and could have cost them all three but for Ikeme’s save at the death.

I thought Vine, Ephraim, Leigertwood and Ramage were impressive, Gorkss, Stewart and Hill less so. The man of the match is a clear and obvious choice though.

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Preston: Lonergan 8, Jones 7, St. Ledger 6, Ward 5, Davidson 5, Wallace 6, James 7, Chaplow 6, Carter 6 (Sedgwick 59, 7), Mellor 6, Parkin 7 (Brown 71, 6)
Subs Not Used: Henderson, Hart, Mawene, Chilvers, Barton
Booked: Carter (foul), Chaplow (kicking ball away), St. Ledger (foul), Mellor (foul)
Goals: Jones 37 (assisted Wallace), Davidson 56 (penalty)

QPR: Ikeme 8, Ramage 7, Stewart 5, Gorkss 5, Hill 5, Faurlin 6, Leigertwood 7, Priskin 6, Ephraim 7, Taarabt 9 (Buzsaky 90), German 6 (Vine 46, 7)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Cook, Balanta, Tosic, Oastler
Booked: Hill (repetitive fouling), Taarabt (kicking ball away)
Goals: Ramage 57 (assisted Taarabt), Priskin 66 (assisted Taarabt)

QPR Star Man – Adel Taarabt 9 Almost totally unplayable, as close to a ten as you’re ever like to get on LFW. Set up both goals and a couple of other gilt edged chances besides, tormented the Preston defence throughout. Brilliant.

Referee: A Haines (Yorkshire) 6 A bit card happy, it was never a six card match, and had a crazy ten minutes in the first half where several dodgy free kicks were awarded on the back of failing to spot an obvious Preston corner from Wallace’s free kick. Got the penalty decision right though I think.

Attendance: 12,080 (500 QPR approx) Such a shame that with tickets at Deepdale so reasonably priced and the match so entertaining that the crowd was so low. A bit of banter back and forth between the two sets of fans behind the goal, and the QPR fans enjoyed winding up the idiots to the left of the away end although such was their mental capacity we probably could have just pointed and shouted “look at that over there” and occupied them for a good hour or so.

Photo: Action Images

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