New boss, but a similar story for QPR in Preston stalemate - Report
Sunday, 8th Nov 2015 15:44 by Clive Whittingham
QPR fans braving the West London rain hoping to see Neil Warnock roll back the clocks at Loftus Road were left disappointed by a drab goalless draw with Preston North End.
For a while at least, it felt like Warnock had never been away. A Friday spent talking about muck, nettles, headers and tackles fed into a Saturday afternoon watching a QPR team with their 2010/11 promotion-winning manager in the technical area and Ale Faurlin pulling the strings in midfield.
Warnock had seen enough in the four games he’s watched from the director’s box since he came in to “advise” Chris Ramsey, prior to the head coach’s sacking on Wednesday, to make changes to shape and personnel. The formation was a more basic 4-4-2, with Leroy Fer starting off Charlie Austin in attack. The much-maligned Karl Henry got a start at right back with James Perch suspended and Junior Hoilett was also recalled wide left. But it was Faurlin’s inclusion from the start, and the way Rangers placed him at the fulcrum of everything that was the most notable difference to begin with.
Warnock rates the Argentinean as one of the best players he’s ever worked with and in the opening half an hour he was charged with trying to pick a way through a Preston defence that hadn’t conceded a goal for five games prior to arriving in W12. A good deal of what he tried didn’t quite come off, there were some very near misses with clever passes along the way, but the style of play was attractive, the tempo was a good deal higher than it has been, the passing was quicker and more purposeful and QPR looked much the better of the two teams in the initial stages. Even Hoilett, who has fallen in a hole so deep over the past couple of years you wonder if he’ll ever be able to extricate himself from it, impressed in the early stages, forming an unlikely effective attacking partnership with Paul Konchesky who had one of his better games at left back.
But for all of that, chances and shots on goal were not so much few and far between as non-existent. Charlie Austin finished the move of the half with a powerful 20 yarder over the bar from a difficult angle after 34 minutes and Hoilett was also too high with a shot from a similar position a moment later when Fer nodded the ball into his path. Earlier Sandro, gracing the QPR fans with his presence for only the twenty first time in his 18 months with the club so far, had performed an outrageous double drag back to work space for his own speculator from long range but missed the target.
But that was it.
Preston, it turns out, haven’t kept five straight clean sheets, including at league leaders Brighton, by accident. Their defence was tight and well-drilled, led by hulking Australian Bailey Wright who was allowed to leave three cheap, late shots on Charlie Austin in the first ten minutes without comeback from referee Rob Lewis and dominated in the air and on the ground for the rest of the game. Lewis was, in many ways, the perfect referee for the Preston game plan, failing totally to clamp down on flagrant time-wasting throughout the second half and actually breaking the game up and slowing it down more with his pernickety, pedantic, nit-picking style of officiating.
But it would be the sourest of grapes on our part to mumble and grumble about Preston approaching the game in a negative manner, hoping to secure the 0-0 they got right from the first whistle, or the performance of the referee. The visitors are newly promoted from League One, have a good portion of their miniscule budget tied up in striker Jermaine Beckford who has been injured all season, and are struggling to get Joe Garner to fire as he did last season – no goals in 15 appearances so far after 27 in 43 last term. Of course they’re going to play to their strengths, and play to them they did – very effectively indeed.
And while it was utterly ball acheing to see just four minutes added on to the end of a match which had seemed to spend hours halted for one long, drawn-out substitution or injury after another, I’m not sure QPR would have scored if they were still playing now, so it was rather academic.
As time wore on, Neil Warnock started to find what Chris Ramsey had found in a number of cases. Faurlin was used sparingly by the previous manager, and that looked daft after 30 minutes here, but after 60 you could start to see why. Warnock knows, Ramsey knew, Harry Redknapp knew and Mark Hughes knew that for all the comings and goings at Loftus Road, and for all Faurlin’s faults defensively, he’s still the only player Rangers have who can receive the ball, while marked, on the half turn and produce an incisive ball forwards. Everybody else, an English-trait, receives it square on and tends to pass back or sideways.
But Faurlin barely has any knees left after three successive ACL injuries in as many seasons affecting him on both sides. Hughes picked him remorselessly after the first one, 90 minutes after 90 minutes, game after game, and eventually he suffered a relapse. It went again as Redknapp tried to make him a key part of his Premier League side a year ago. Ramsey looked after him, perhaps too much, but having played a full game at Derby on Tuesday, he was a spent force after an hour here. Admittedly, Preston spent half time reorganising to close the space he had to operate in the first 45, but he was obviously on the wane. Ramsey’s big problem was finding somebody else to do that job – Daniel Tozser was bought for it but hasn’t performed so far – and Warnock found the same here.
Ramsey has been sacked because QPR believe they have the players, and are spending enough money, to push for promotion this year. The five players who were meant to leave during the summer but didn’t, raising expectations, all started here in the same game for the first time this season. You couldn’t fault Rob Green, Charlie Austin, Leroy Fer or Matt Phillips for effort and application, but then you couldn’t under Ramsey either. Sandro, typically, punched his card in after 50 minutes and limped off ten minutes later to be replaced by Jay Emmanuel Thomas – no doubt some mega-serious big toe complaint or other that will keep him out for another few weeks. I’ve seen scarier, more intimidating ‘beasts’ on Disney films.
As I said after the Derby defeat in midweek, I don’t think Ramsey was holding this team back, because I don’t think there is anything to hold back. This is as good as this QPR team can be. I’ll be surprised if there’s any kind of sustained new manager bounce, because I don’t think they weren’t playing for the previous manager and I don’t think there’s a lot else for them to give. They’re not as good as the board and a lot of people involved with the club think they are. I desperately hope I’m wrong.
That’s why, for all his faults, I didn’t think Chris Ramsey was the problem, and I thought the grief he got in recent weeks was excessive. One can only imagine the reaction he would have got in the ground and online, drawing 0-0 at home to Preston with Karl Henry starting at right full back while two other youngsters who could play that position are out on loan. One single shot on target in 90 minutes and only two substitutes used, Massimo Luongo not brought on to try and craft something. Leroy Fer, as against Sheff Wed, used as a striker while Seb Polter remained benched. This was all the sort of thing Ramsey was getting pelters for.
Rangers could easily have lost the game too. The visitors brought on Will Keane, not fondly remembered in these parts for a limp-wristed loan spell here two seasons ago, and when he initially burned round Henry with a turn of speed we never saw in his QPR days it felt like a book we’d all read before but Henry did well to get back and execute a good sliding tackle on him just as the situation was getting critical.
From a subsequent Preston corner, however, Bailey Wright, up from the back, flicked a header towards goal at the near post only for Green to produce an improbable save, diving full length across his goal from behind the line to claw the ball out to safety as it flew through a crowd in front of him. He’s cost us plenty of goals and points in 2015, but Green saved us one here with one of the best stops of his career.
When Matt Phillips then wasted a chance to put a good ball into the box, lofting a dangerously placed free kick hopelessly high into the hands of loaned Preston keeper Jordan Pickford, the reaction of the crowd was little more than a muffled groan. They’d have been turning over cars and setting them alight across the White City Estate had the same thing happened a fortnight ago.
I’m certainly not saying that we should be abusing Neil Warnock, who did such a wonderful job here last time and has only been in the hot seat for two days and one match, simply because we abused Chris Ramsey after nine frustrating months in the job – quite the opposite. What I am saying is the expectations being placed on this team, and the reaction that has created at matches over the past few weeks, are excessive for the ability of the players. People wanted Ramsey gone and he’s gone, people wanted 4-4-2 and we played it here, people wanted two in attack and here they were – result QPR 0 Preston North End 0. Everybody, particularly the board, needs to readjust their sights with this group of players and stop looking for scapegoats.
The frustration grew as the game went on. Nedum Onuoha tried to make something happen by charging down the middle of the field with the ball only to be fouled and have referee Lewis wave play on. Onuoha was booked for dissent as he ran back into position and a free kick was awarded against him. Charlie Austin, too, saw yellow in harsh circumstances after he and Marnick Vermijl both slid in to challenge for a loose ball.
Four minutes of stoppage time brought a fierce volley from Browne that was well blocked, and another frustrating stoppage when Daniel Johnson made out like he was mortally wounded, slightly tarnishing a very tidy display in the centre of the park from the Jamaican.
In the end the final whistle came as a blessed relief.
QPR: Green 7; Henry 6, Onuoha 6, Hall 7, Konchesky 6; Phillips 5, Faurlin 6, Sandro 5 (Emmanuel-Thomas 64, 5), Hoilett 6 (Chery 74, 5); Fer 6, Austin 6
Subs not used: Luongo, Smithies, Angella, Tozser, Polter
Yellow Cards: Onuoha 69 (dissent), Austin 78 (foul)
Preston: Pickford 6; Vermijl 6, Woods 6, Wright 7, Huntington 6; Reach 6, Browne 6, Gallagher 6, Johnson 7 (Kilkenny 90+4, -), Doyle 5 (Keane 75, 6); Garner 5 (Hugill 88, -)
Subs not used: Davies, Brownhill, May, Kirkland
QPR Star Man – Rob Green 7 Bloody difficult really. Faurlin was tremendous for the first 30 minutes and then faded away. Everybody else was much of a muchness. Green gets it for the second half save, the only real incident in the entire game.
Referee – Rob Lewis (Shropshire) 5 Very frustrating official. Did nothing about the constant time wasting, wasted a load of time himself fussing over the placement of everything, stopped the game several times when there were obvious advantages in progress. Just picky and annoying really, and you could see he was irritating the players.
Attendance – 15, 190 (1,000 Preston approx) Decent sized-following from Preston all in all, but the atmosphere around the place, which started in a much more relaxed and upbeat tone than there has been for several weeks, drained away with the game.
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