QPR much improved, but still cast as awkward party guests at Deepdale - full match report Monday, 4th May 2009 18:37
QPR turned in a much improved, attractive performance at Preston on Sunday but couldn't stop the home team's ascent to the play offs as goals from Jon Parkin and Sean St Ledger cancelled out a strike from Patrick Agyemang.
Well it was nice to finish with a better performance, and a goal away from home, but with Preston’s need the greater they were always likely to step it up a gear or two in the second half and so once again QPR and their fans were left in the role of awkward party guests at full time.
To their credit the players didn’t, as I had suggested they may do in my match preview, roll over and die for the home team. In fact in many ways this was our best away performance for some time and ultimately only the lack of a serious cutting edge in attack cost us a point or more. With Vine and Ephraim to the fore QPR passed the ball excellently and more than played their part in a super match that had a little bit of everything – the quality of both teams and the atmosphere in the ground made this a real treat the likes of which you don’t often see in the Championship. Thoroughly enjoyable while ultimately being disappointed.
QPR, lining up in our traditional and wonderful looking new away shirt, gave starts to Hogan Ephraim and Rowan Vine after they were left out completely for the Plymouth game last week. Those two were our best players on the day. Vine partnered former Preston man Patrick Agyemang in attack, Ephraim played wide left of a four man midfield that also included Leigertwood, Mahon and Wayne Routledge. At the back there was no place for player of the year Damion Stewart as Connolly partnered Gorkss in the middle, Ramage and Delaney were the full backs in front of Radek Cerny.
Preston paired their reigning player of the year Jon Parkin with former Liverpool man Neil Mellor in a heavyweight forward line that would pose a serious physical challenge for Gorkss and Connolly. While Rangers had nothing to play for Preston could still make the play offs with one game to go – they had to beat us and hope that one of Burnley or Cardiff lost.
They looked pretty nervous about the whole situation right from the off although could well have caught us out and taken the lead in the seventh minute from a set piece. A long ball forward was aimed at Parkin and, obviously keen to assert is authority against a much larger in every sense of the word, opponent, Matt Connolly climbed over his back to win a header. It could have been a free kick to Rangers for backing in, or one to Preston for climbing, and our young referee Michael Oliver went for the latter. All attention was drawn to Parkin, Neil Mellor, Sean St Ledger and the other aerial threats in the penalty area but Preston instead knocked a long ball across to the far side of the penalty area where Billy Jones had come forward from the back unchecked and was able to meet the free kick completely unmarked at the back post and head it back across goal. Rangers, clearly surprised, muscled up and bundled it behind for a corner from which Parkin was penalised for too much physical contact on Radek Cerny.
In possession Rangers were looking unusually crisp and composed. Rowan Vine was at the heart of everything as play was spread right and left with purpose and flow. Sadly in the first ten minutes our only reward for that was a series of flags from the decrepit old linesman in front of the away end. Patrick Agyemang was, Wayne Routledge was but shouldn’t have been and then Rowan Vine managed to get flagged despite being five yards inside his own half. That decision brought laughs rather than complaints, nobody could quite believe it. That particular official was embarrassingly out of his depth all afternoon. More to come from him later.
Once Dr Death on the touchline took a back seat QPR put together an excellent spell of good football and pressure on the Preston goal. Youl Mawene had to be on is guard to head away three crosses in quick succession, although the former Derby man looked nervous whenever the ball was around his feet. Mikele Leigertwood hammered a twenty five yarder just over the bar with the first QPR shot of the game. The best chance of the opening quarter of an our or so fell to Vine when Wayne Routledge skinned Nolan, took the ball to the byline and cut it back to the near post where Vine miskicked from seven yards out and found Lonergan rather than the back of the net as he should have done.
Back came Preston and just after the quarter hour they had the ball in the net through Sedgwick when the former Rotherham man finished off a pass from Neil Mellor at the end of a flowing move from right to left – sadly for the jubilant home crowd desperate for some relief from the tension the flag had long since been raised. It has to be said this was an excellent game of football at this point with some flowing passing in a great atmosphere and both teams going for a win – you don’t get a game of such quality in the Championship very often and I was thoroughly enjoying it.
QPR’s strong running and intricate passing in attack brought two quickfire bookings for the home side just before the half hour. First Rowan Vine was crudely chopped down by Billy Jones and then Wayne Routledge cynically hauled back by Sean St Ledger as he thrust towards the penalty area. Both were just about the most obvious bookings you could ever hope to see but that didn’t stop the home crowd venting their fury at the match officials and quickly talking them into booking Mikele Leigertwood for a nothing foul on halfway. This crowd pleasing style of refereeing would become more of an issue in the second half. Sadly, for all the pretty build up, the two free kicks won with the bookings summed up QPR’s problem – poor final delivery, lack of cutting edge in attack. The same problems we have had all season, the same problems we said we would have last summer.
It was around this time that news started to filter through that Burnley had taken the lead against Bristol City. That made the atmosphere very flat all of a sudden and the QPR fans, who let’s not forget kicked up a hell of a fuss when Sheff Wed celebrated the Bristol City goals on our big promotion day at their ground, rubbed a few noses in it with some chants about The Clarets and their current score. Sean St Ledger had a chance to swing the emotions right round when he went up for a free kick but he scuffed his shot from close range. The ball ballooned up off the former Peterborough man’s boot and Damien Delaney had to be brave against Parkin at the back post to deny the giant striker a free header. Delaney came out of the challenge a little the worse for wear, but he had saved a certain Preston goal at the mere expense of a corner. St Ledger certainly doesn’t appear to be the biggest centre half, alongside Mawene he’s not even the biggest centre half in the Preston team, but he seems to find space and chances in the penalty box in attacking situations with an almost Tim Cahill like technique and was a constant threat to us.
St Ledger was causing problems in the penalty area again ten minutes before the break, diving rather blatantly attempting to win a spot kick but Oliver rightly showed no interest. That was from a corner, Preston had gone somewhat closer to scoring in the lead up to that – Simon Waley tried his luck from distance, enjoyed the benefit of an enormous deflection, and then watched with baited breath as the ball cleared Radek Cerny as he scrambled across and, thankfully from the Czech’s point of view, the cross bar as well.
Neil Mellor hammered the ball over the cross bar when he was in a better position to cross and it looked like that would be that until half time. The game was evenly contested, QPR were possibly the more attractive side in possession while Preston posed more threat, and nil nil looked like a potentially fair half time score. How typical of QPR therefore to throw all that hard work away by conceding a goal of such high farce I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. Clearly an instruction for the back five going into this game was for Cerny to play or throw the ball short whenever possible and this had worked well with Ephraim and Routledge enjoying decent possession in good areas for a change directly from Cerny’s gloves. However, there is a time and a place. Three minutes before the break the plan, worthy and welcome though it was, fell apart around the Czech keeper’s ears.
First Cerny left a short goal kick to Gorkss so short it barely made it out of the penalty area. That left the normally unflappable Gorkss with a problem, and the formidable figure of Jon Parkin bearing down on him. The Latvian tried to play it back to Cerny but left it short, Parkin swooped in, Cerny dived forlornly down at the striker’s feet and then although the angle was against him there was only ever likely to be one outcome: Parkin finished crisply into the far corner of the open goal. Gareth Ainsworth must have been furious. A very creditable performance and game plan, matching Preston stride for stride, comprehensively pissed up the wall with the sloppiest of sloppy pieces of play minutes before the oranges.
Having said all of that Rangers could easily have been level from the kick off. More good, intricate play on the edge of the box played in Delaney, marauding forward from deep as he used to do so often under Luigi De Canio, but he lifted a sitter over Lonergan and the cross bar as well. Victor Meldrew had flagged him offside by that stage although I’d given up paying any attention to that tit quite sometime before that.
There was time before the break for Cerny to save sharply on his goal line after Simon Whaley had directed a goal mouth scramble towards the net – 1-0 was harsh on QPR who had contributed much to an attractive first half, 2-0 would have been a travesty.
After playing a big role in Preston’s opening goal just before half time Kaspars Gorkss made another uncharacteristic error just after when a poor clearance allowed Darren Carter a clear sight of goal but his shot deflected wide. From the corner St Ledger was again the danger man, diving full length at the far post to head the ball back across the face of goal with no touch and out.
QPR were soon back into their passing groove though with their two most impressive players on the day, Vine and Ephraim, to the fore early on in the second half. The pair were first involved in a flowing move that ended with Patrick Agyemang seeing a shot deflected wide with the goalkeeper beaten and then almost immediately Ephraim had a chance to strike but he curled the ball wide of the top corner from the corner of the penalty area.
In the first quarter of an hour in the second half Mellor twice incurred the wrath of his own supporters and team mates by selfishly blasting over the bar when he had other Preston player better placed in support. Mellor’s impressive, all action display at Loftus Road last season really caught the eye but he looked low on confidence and lacking awareness of other team mates in this one.
The crowd’s angst at the former Liverpool man only further enhanced the feeling around Deepdale that QPR were the better side, and if they could find a cutting edge an equaliser was inevitable. So it proved. On the hour, a former Preston North End player stepped forward to put a dagger in their promotion hopes. Another neat move, a final through ball from Rowan Vine, and deflected finish from Patrick Agyemang and Rangers were level – thoroughly deserved it was too. Agyemang performed some weird dancing routine at the far end of the field, the atmosphere was flat as a witch’s tit inside Deepdale at this stage.
Strangely the goal, combined with news of a Sheff Wed goal at Hillsborough against Cardiff, brought the home crowd back to life and seemed to bring the Preston team out of themselves. Having been second best for long periods of the first hour Preston suddenly upped it a gear or two to a level QPR either couldn’t or couldn’t be arsed to reach and there was only one winner from that moment on.
Almost immediately after drawing level QPR could have been behind again when Radek Cerny seemed to be caught in two minds as to whether a tackle by Connolly constituted a pass back or not and skied an attempted clearance straight to Neil Mellor who found his favourite spot in the stand behind the goal yet again with a first time volley. Cerny redeemed himself with a fine save from McKenna when his drifted free kick missed everybody in the penalty box and looked destined for the far corner until the QPR keeper flung himself across the face of his net and clawed the ball out from under the cross bar.
A last ditch clearance from Gorkss denied Parkin a chance from a low cross, and Cerny came out to punch as Parkin threatened to move in and head home a second. In the ten minutes after conceding an equaliser PNE were completely dominant, flooding forwards in numbers, and with the crowd now at fever pitch our match officials started to crack under the pressure. From the moment QPR equalised Oliver’s arm only went one way, and Mr Dead on the touchline swooped back into the action with a number of joke decisions.
First QPR had to defend a free kick from wide that was given against Rowan Vine when he seemed to be sinned against, then after scrambling that out to the edge of the box Rangers thought they’d won a free kick when Delaney was clearly upended only for the pair of pillocks in charge to award a Preston throw. Later Matt Connolly was booked for berating the referee after a corner had been awarded against him – Connolly seemed to keep the ball in and the referee five yards away initially agreed before allowing himself to be overruled by our representative from the Royal Society for the Blind a good 50 yards away on the other side of the pitch with a goal net in the way. When Matt Connolly loses his temper you have to wonder about the decision you have just given.
Preston had an ideal chance to take the lead when first Wayne Routledge was harshly punished on halfway and then Kaspars Gorkss also found a free kick awarded against him on the edge of the penalty area when he appeared to have been fouled by Parkin. McKenna could only find the end of the wall with his set piece and Rangers were able to clear. That was about the worst thing McKenna did in the second half and he was superb apart from that. He always seems to play well against us and his all action midfield display was the driving force behind Preston’s eventual victory – the sponsors gave St Ledger man of the match but I thought McKenna was superb, Jimmy Bullard like in both appearance and style of play. He was a whisker away from getting the winner himself when he met a bouncing ball full on the volley on the edge of the box and sent it whistling a foot or so wide of the post with Cerny well beaten.
Rangers were struggling to get out of their own half in the face of relentless Preston pressure and harrying of the man in possession and a goal seemed inevitable. Ultimately the R’s were caught out by the home team’s physical presence at another set piece. Jon Parkin took a long throw in front of the away end, unusual in itself because you would expect him to want to be on the end of such a delivery rather than making it himself, and when Cerny came out to claim the first flick on and missed it under heavy pressure from Brown a goal always looked likely. Sean St Ledger headed into the roof of the net with Matt Connolly just unable to keep the effort out on the line. St Ledger’s fifth goal of the season that one, the home crowd went absolutely crazy.
Ainsworth reacted immediately by sending on youngsters Antonio German and then slightly later Angelo Balanta for the tiring Agyemang and more defensively minded Mahon. Balanta’s first action in the game saw him dribble the ball half the length of the pitch and win a corner when trying to get a shot away. The QPR goal brought Preston back into the game and likewise Preston going back in front seemed to relax Rangers again and build the nerves in the home ranks. One of Alan Irvine’s three subs Chris Brown should have done better when he hooked the ball straight to Cerny from close range as another harsh free kick awarded against Rangers was whipped into the penalty area but apart from that in the final ten minutes or so Rangers played the better football and could perhaps have counted themselves unlucky not to take a point.
Oliver added three minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game and by that point it was clear that several thousand Preston fans were preparing to ignore the pleas broadcast over the public address system and run on the field to celebrate with no news of a Cardiff goal at Sheffield Wednesday. However in that stoppage time QPR forced a free kick and two corners. Radek Cerny ventured forward for them, although perhaps that had more to do with getting closer to the tunnel than actually thinking he could score. Anyway as it turned out another man up from the back searching for his first goal for the club caused all the problems – Matt Connolly met Ephraim’s near post delivery with a header that beat Lonergan all ends up but was headed off the line by Darren Carter at the back post. The final whistle sounded a second later sparking a mass pitch invasion. God only knows what the Preston fans, or the QPR faithful for that matter, would have done had Connolly’s header gone in although I think ‘run away’ may have been fairly near the top of our to do list.
Overall there was much to be positive about here and QPR deserved at least a point – they probably would have got one under normal circumstances but with the news from Hillsborough bringing the crowd to life and Preston’s greater need it was always likely that they would be able to up the intensity a little bit more than us. I thought Hogan Ephraim and Rowan Vine were our best players, at the heart of some very attractive football and pacy attacks. Wayne Routledge played well with the ball, going past Nolan with embarrassing ease, but didn’t do a lot of work without it. Gavin Mahon played well, Mikele Leigertwood did not. In the end an uncharacteristic defensive mistake between Cerny and Gorkss cost us at least a point, and at least that was done trying to play the ball out from the back which we did well for the rest of the day.
Preston now face Sheff Utd in what is sure to be a very physical encounter – a strong referee will be required for both legs, certainly a lot stronger than the one we had on Saturday who seemed to get caught up in the atmosphere. I was impressed with St Ledger who remained calm alongside a nervy looking Mawene, and McKenna who absolutely dominated the midfield in the second half and was clearly the best player on the pitch. Parkin is hard to miss but I thought Connolly played him pretty well.
And that’s it. Another campaign over and I cannot ever recall being so glad to see the back of a football season before in my life. The joint worst record for goals scored away from home, only three wins on the road all season which is as bad as Norwich and Charlton who went down, failing to score on 23 occasions, drawing 0-0 eleven times, going through two permanent managers and a caretaker on two occasions – we didn’t sign up to any of this when Flavio and Ali told us our season tickets were going up to £600 to pay for an ‘improved product’. Some progress has been made, but it’s been dull and farcical at times and a number of people have to go away and have a good luck at their current involvement at QPR and question whether they have made a positive contribution to the football club this season. Gareth Ainsworth says the team will not be far away from doing very well in this league with Buzsaky and Rowlands to come back in and he is right – we’re one genuine goalscorer away basically. However there are a small number of negatives – the turnover of managers, the way we buy and scout players, the contracts we hand out, the way information is still leaked to favoured supporters – that hold back the positives and need to be addressed if we are to move on next season.
Even if those problems are solved if we don’t make significant additions to our attack then there will be more of the same next season – we said this last year of course and it was ignored, and there are still people out there who blame tactics and negative attitudes of managers for our lack of goals, even though we’ve had three different managers and the problem has remained constant throughout. If we do nothing else this summer we must buy a couple of strikers.
From a LoftforWords point of view it will be nice to have a bit of a break, although I’ve got plenty of summer features planned for the coming couple of months so stick around and take part in those if you can. Websites like this over the summer can become a bit like seaside towns in the winter and your continued support and contributions will keep us alive through until August. Thank you to everybody who has continued to read this drivel this season, contributed comments, used the interactive player ratings feature and other new additions and posted on the message board. No users means no website and your support has been much appreciated.
QPR Star Man – Hogan Ephraim 8 Between him and Vine for the award. Both seemed to benefit from a no pressure game for QPR where the instruction fromn Ainsworth was clearly to pass the ball and express themselves. Ephraim’s passing, tricky runs and awareness was excellent all day however his set pieces were poor. A really good striker would thrive off service from those two, Buzsaky and Routledge. The summer priority is very clear.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland) 4 In my opinion he allowed himself to be influenced by the crowd. I say this because firstly having booked to Preston players, justifiably it has to be said, the home fans screamed for a booking after every minor foul and sure enough within minutes Mikele Leigertwood was booked for a nothing tackle on halfway. Then later in the game when the home crowd were at their deafening best demanding the pursuit of a winner from their team Oliver awarded one free kick after another to the home players. The free kick on the edge of the box awarded to Parkin was a joke, as was the one awarded against Vine and the decision to then award a Preston throw after Delaney had been chopped down. I could rant about the insistence on promoting young kids too high too quickly again but I won’t. The linesman nearest the away end looked like he had plenty of experience but was absolutely awful – completely incompetent. It’s been a very long time since I saw a player flagged offside in his own half as Vine was in the first half. Poor all round really.
Attendance: 18,264 (900 QPR approx) A good following from W12 with many taking advantage of a Bank Holiday weekend in Blackpool. The atmosphere was pretty upbeat in the away end with some good banter at the back of the stand between some QPR fans and their home counterparts. The Preston fans were pretty subdued for the first hour but once Cardiff had gone behind the atmosphere was electric and they roared their team onto victory.