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Saturday, 25th February 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Freeman sees red as QPR slip at Preston – Report
Sunday, 26th Feb 2017 12:02 by Clive Whittingham
A disappointing end to an encouraging week as QPR slipped to a 2-1 defeat at Preston despite taking a first half lead. Luke Freeman was controversially sent off near the end.
Preston North End have had two matches televised by Sky this year – local derbies with Wigan and Blackburn – compared to QPR’s ten. Nobody seems to have noticed, nobody seems to care very much (fewer than 11,000 inside Deepdale for this one), but Simon Grayson’s side are actually quite good.
This latest victory, a fourteenth of the season, lifted them to eighth, just six points shy of the play-offs which are still well in play for them. Above big spending pre-season promotion favourites Derby, Norwich and Villa; above much bigger, better supported, former Premier League clubs like Forest, Birmingham and Wolves; above the likes of Brentford, Barnsley and Cardiff who are all being talked about as good teams on fine runs in decent respective seasons.
A mixture of geography, recent history, and the obsession this division’s broadcaster has with Newcastle, Leeds, Aston Villa and - bizarrely – Queens Park Rangers has seen Preston not so much fly under the radar as not even exist at all in the consciousness of Championship football fans. Despite QPR’s two wins already this week it was little surprise to those who have clocked Simon Grayson’s progress this season that the R’s came up just short at Deepdale. Though Rangers did rather shoot themselves in the foot, and could easily have taken something from the game, only a catalogue of missed chances by the home team, and the obligatory brilliant save or three from Alex Smithies, stopped this from being much more than 2-1.
With QPR’s recent improvements, and a start for Kazenga Lua Lua in attack with Conor Washington sadly seeing his recent un of form interrupted by injury, it promised to be a decent spectacle. North End have Aiden McGeady in the form of his life as part of a supporting cast of three behind lone striker Jordan Hugill – that three also includes the impressive Callum Robinson and was backed up on Saturday by Alan Browne, a 21-year-old signed from Cork City who pulled the midfield strings impressively.
A shame then that as soon as the game kicked off the wind increased to gale force and the rain and sleet started whipping across the pitch at a right angle, straight into the face of anybody unfortunate enough to be parked in the main stand. Somebody who thinks they’re funny played Boys of Summer over the public address after the match.
Nevertheless, a reasonably entertaining game by this division’s abysmal standards was soon up and running. Matt Smith headed down for Lua Lua to hit a shot that deflected kindly to home keeper Chris Maxwell. Then the standard brilliant left-footed pass from Ryan Manning had Lua Lua accelerating into the penalty area unchecked but he tried to square it rather than shoot and failed to pick out a team mate. Smith had what looked like a reasonable penalty appeal waved away after being wrestled to the floor by Clarke, who panicked after realising he shouldn’t have let the ball bounce. Smithies saved brilliantly from Hugill in Preston’s first serious attack although, as he was far too often on Saturday, the big forward had already been flagged offside. Bidwell got back to deny McGeady a sight of goal with a well-executed sliding tackle in his own area after referee David Coote had awarded the home side a generous free kick which they’d taken quickly.
So far so bloody windy. QPR had the better of the first 15, Preston the 15 after that, and only Smithies’ latest acrobatic one-handed save kept out Cunningham’s powerful header from a twenty-fifth-minute corner. Onuoha could count himself unfortunate to be booked.
The opening goal, when it came, was as route one as they come. In a replica of the move that would have brought Conor Washington a goal at Blackburn had we not had a blind shitgibbon running the line, Darnell Furlong heaved one of his high, looping long throws into the area, Smith turned it on closer to the danger area and this time Lua Lua was on hand with the finish – a cheeky back heel that completely caught Maxwell cold and flew into the net before he really knew anything about it. The triple summersault was a bit much, but it was a tidy finish all the same.
Half time felt like an important milestone to reach. Get there ahead, with the confidence consecutive wins can bring, and a little doubt in the Preston minds, a seventh away win of the season could have been on. But QPR didn’t look bright enough to do it. Too wild, too open, not street smart enough. They’d already got away with one, albeit at the cost of a booking for Luke Freeman who committed a deliberate and cynical foul on McGeady to stop him running away after possession had been lost in a bad area. They didn’t escape a second time having initially afforded McGeady too much space on the edge of the area – the former Sheff Wed man cut across Manning and fired an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner a minute before the break. There was another half-hearted penalty appeal to come at the other end as Furlong hit the deck on an overlapping run, but Rangers had missed a big opportunity.
The second half began in similar vein. Manning in behind the home defence volleyed a great chance over the bar, Bidwell in a similar position on the other side for some reason elected not to shoot and in the resulting counter attack only a firm tackle from Onuoha at the near post prevented a Preston goal.
And, much like the first half, Preston recovered from a good QPR start to begin dominating proceedings. A lovely move that saw McGeady feed it into Huntington in the area who in turn passed it back into the space McGeady had vacated so Cunningham could arrive late and drive a shot through the six-yard box and just wide of the far post probably deserved a goal. North End did have the ball in the net after the hour when Robinson finished from close range, but he’d been flagged offside. You felt it was coming and sure enough Hugill was able to get in front of Bidwell (why the left full back was marking their main striker only QPR will know) and finish first with a volley, and then with a side foot on the rebound after Smithies had failed to either hold the ball or push it away to safety.
QPR made a couple of subs immediately before the goal and, not for the first time in Ian Holloway’s second spell in charge, they didn’t really help at all. Firstly, Idrissa Sylla replaced Matt Smith up front and although Smith had looked isolated and tired, Sylla added nothing positive. Easy to stereotype a Guinea international being thrown into the teeth of a Lancashire gale, but he really didn’t look up for this one at all and what threat Smith had carried died away completely.
Ngbakoto also came on for Darnell Furlong as Rangers went to a pure three at the back and started throwing men forwards. Robinson, in particular, enjoyed the wide-open spaces that left behind – crossing low for Hugill to somehow miss from close range at the near post. Then from a similar move Joel Lynch, who’d had a dire afternoon, somehow got his feet so tied up he ended up sidefooting the ball against his own post under no pressure. Smithies also saved full stretch from home sub Tom Barkhuizen as PNE turned the screw.
Initially the fourth official had suggested it was Freeman to be replaced before Furlong’s number came up, and given the effect of taking the young full back off, and what happened to Freeman next maybe Rangers should have let him get on with that change. Chasing a loose ball back towards halfway, Freeman received a fairly rash tackle from behind from Tommy Spurr. Now either angry at the over-zealous nature of the tackle and reacting to it, or simply losing his balance and bringing his foot down in an unfortunate place, Freeman planted his left boot on Spurr’s outstretched left calf. Referee David Coote stopped the play, awarded Preston a free kick, handed out the first yellow card in the history of the game for stamping on an opponent (a straight red if that’s what you have decided) and Freeman was gone, to the QPR bench’s very public fury.
It’s a judgement call. It looks a bit of a joke to me but I can see why he gave what he gave – although as he issued a yellow card rather than a red (which means we can’t appeal it) I’m not entirely sure he knows what he’s really given at all. Yeni Ngbakoto’s fairly hopeless finish over the bar with his right foot when the shot needed a left was as close as Rangers got with ten men – Preston finished much the stronger and deserved their win.
Beaten by a better side, but lot’s QPR could have done to prevent it, and plenty they did to contribute to their own downfall. Annoying.
PNE: Maxwell 6; Huntington 6, Clarke 6, Spurr 6, Cunningham 6; Browne 8, Johnson 7; McGeady 7, Robinson 7, Horgan 7 (Barkhuizenat 86, -); Hugill 6
Subs not used: Lindegaard, Makienok, Beckford, Gallagher, May, Boyle
Goals: McGeady 44 (unassisted), Hugill 77 (assisted Horgan)
Bookings: Clarke 66 (foul)
QPR: Smithies 7; Furlong 6 (Ngbakoto 67, 5), Onuoha 6, Lynch 4, Bidwell 5; Freeman 6, Perch 7, Manning 6; Wszolek 6, Smith 6 (Sylla 67, 5), Lua Lua 6 (Mackie 73, 6)
Subs not used: Ingram, Goss, Ingram, Petrasso
Goals: Lua Lua 36 (assisted Furlong/Smith)
Red Cards: Freeman 78 (two bookings)
Bookings: Onuoha 21 (foul), Freeman 41 (foul), Lua Lua 62 (foul), Freeman 78 (stamping)
QPR Star Man – James Perch 7 Not everybody’s favourite, not my favourite, but asked to fill in the crucial Grant Hall role between the midfield and centre backs he not only did a very sound job, winning a number of crucial headers, tackles and interceptions in his own area, he also did most of Joel Lynch’s defending for him as well as the former Huddersfield man had a complete nightmare. Played the ball out well from the back as well.
Referee – David Coote (West Yorkshire) 5 Is it just me, or has the opening of another vacancy on the already stretch Premier League refereeing list coincided with a sudden onset of picky, by-the-book, is-my-assessor-watching, totally-lacking-in-common-sense officiating in our Championship games?
Attendance – 10, 848 (500 QPR approx) And there’s Preston’s problem: reasonably small town, surrounded by easily reachable football clubs (including the two Manchester giants and both Liverpool clubs), they just can’t get enough people through the door to push on beyond the level they’re at now. A team, a club and a manager that deserve more support, but there’s only so many Preston fans around.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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