|Preston North End 1 v 0 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 2nd December 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Late heartbreak, and two red cards, for battling QPR – Report
Sunday, 3rd Dec 2017 21:19 by Lee McAlpine
Lee McAlpine reports for QPR from Deepdale in Preston where QPR had Jamie Mackie harshly sent off, conceded in the last minute to Jordan Hugill and then saw Alex Baptiste dismissed at full time.
Another away day comes and goes with a predictable defeat for QPR, but I’m not taking much notice of the social media calls for manager Ian Holloway to be sacked or accusations the team was crap.
This was a typical dull, keenly contested, low-quality Championship affair, which was ultimately settled by an iffy red card and a very late winner for the home side. QPR didn’t do enough to win, and haven’t won on their travels since February, but having to cope for more than 70 minutes with ten men and putting up such stiff resistance was a valiant but ultimately pointless exercise.
It’s been another bonkers week in the life of our beloved Hoops. Why does it always have to be so frustrating, worrying and so down right predictable? In a week when two goals in added time, to salvage a draw, was overshadowed by our manager’s ill-considered (probably not considered at all and borderline stupid) post-match comments. Just when an extended run of defeats was looking like becoming never-ending but had actually been brought to an unlikely halt.
With general spirits about our team subdued, and for some extremely frosty, a trip up to Preston with our best attacking player suspended was never really likely to do anything but add to the angst. An away game up north, and it really was grim with chilly temperatures and horrible leaden skies; the perfect meteorological ingredients for a typical Ranger’s surrender. But we didn’t lay down and have our tummies tickled, to a man they stuck to their task and despite defeat were clapped off the field by more than 500 hardy, travelling lunatics. I suppose the one positive was that Tuesday’s late rally meant that this defeat was now only number one in a sequence and not five.
As I’ve said in other reports, I’ve seen us play (and lose) in most grounds north of Birmingham in the last 20 years, including many visits to Deepdale. But I’ve never seen us win here. I’ve seen victories tossed away in added time and lots of defeats. I don’t like the place, it always seems half-empty and the atmosphere is generally crap, with a few hundred of us rattling around in a seemingly deserted away end. Despite recent events the mood amongst us was not particularly grumpy; in fact the gang at the back of the stand made a fair amount of noise throughout the match. It’s sport and if you haven’t noticed by now, we are not that great and this division is unrelentingly tough with victory always less likely than the other two results, especially in away games at Deepdale (or anywhere come to think of it!).
To be honest, we now have the kind of results and performances many expected pre-season. Until today, Alex Baptiste had gone from a regular man-of-the-match contender to a slow, League One journeyman. Jake Bidwell was back to his normal 5/10 efforts. Joel Lynch has been operating on one leg and “back from the morgue” Jordan Cousins has been shoe-horned into another position that is clearly wrong for him. Jack Robinson is the only one of defensive unit that has been looking like a defender, but he too lacks pace and has a regular mistake in his game. Of course Alex Smithies is now being called in to stop the score from becoming embarrassing on a far too regular occasion and fortunately still seems well up to the task.
Any team that has it in them (and most have recently) to play reasonably quick(ish), passing football can tear us open with regularity and a clean sheet looks an impossibility. Why can’t teams just lump straight long balls from the back all the way forward and let us head them simply away? Why do they see the need to pass quickly and accurately in forward moving triangles and use players with speed and skill in wide positions? It would be a much more comfortable watch for us if the opposition would adopt our tactics rather than try and play us off the park.
On a more serious note/question about our defence, why did Ramsey see it as OK to give 13-year-old Darnell Furlong his debut in an away game at Hull in the Premier League, where he acquitted himself pretty well? But Holloway is unwilling to give any of the defenders from the successful under 23 outfit, a runout in Championship games? The top-flight is littered (admittedly teams from the bottom end) with young defenders being given a chance to prove themselves. Are ours so far behind that they’re not able to do a similar, if not better job than the likes of Cousins and Wszolek in the wing-back role? At least they should know the art of defending and have some youthful speed and enthusiasm. If they haven’t they probably need to be let go and think about a different career because recently our defenders seem to have lost the ability to do the simplest part of the game.
You need 11 fit footballers to win a Championship match, so thankfully Lua Lua has returned to Brighton and there was no sign of N’gbakoto in the squad. Obviously Smithies was in goal, protected (well they certainly did today!) by a back three of Bidwell, Robinson and Baptiste. Wszolek was kind of a roving wing back with Luongo and Scowen in their usual slots, debutant Chair and Wheeler were in wider positions, with Mackie (temporarily) supporting Washington.
Rangers started the game on the front foot and seemed to be camped out in the Preston half. We didn’t create any significant chances but early signs were promising, with some good interchanging of passes. New boy Chair looked confident and bright, but incredibly small up against a number of Preston giants. Scowen fired a free kick narrowly over from a promising position after a cynical foul resulted in no yellow card and Wszolek got free down the right only to over hit the cross with bodies waiting in the middle.
One early talking point was the Preston goalkeeper’s kit; he wore our green socks and shorts with a black top. All he was missing was the green hoops! Ridiculous, no amateur referee would allow such an obvious clash. In fact in the second half we looked certain to score from a corner but instead of heading it in, the bloke in green and black caught it comfortably.
The good start came to nothing and unravelled significantly when Mackie received his straight red in the twenty third minute. It may or may not have been the correct call, we couldn’t tell from our distant view point, but the referee didn’t hang about in flashing the card. The Preston players certainly helped him with his decision, as one lay poleaxed as if shot, and the assistant refs in white surrounded Mr Simpson. When Mackie finally departed and the “dead” Preston player recovered, we all knew the game was up and the new sequence of defeats was off and running. But why did it have to take until the final two minutes for the winner to arrive? It’s always the hope that does for you. Even with ten men, the home side hardly laid a glove on us in the first half. We continued to look composed in possession but of course didn’t threaten their goal either.
Preston made two changes at half time, but initially nothing really changed as two bang average side conceded possession to each other with plenty of misplaced passes and long straight balls that were headed away. But as the half wore on, turgidly, and the away fans started to look at the clock, Preston did begin to use their extra number to better effect. They created a number of half chances, often from wide positions, but found the shots determinedly blocked by Rangers defenders. Smithies was called on to make a couple of smart saves but these were little more than routine for our first rate stopper. Mid-way through the half we broke out of defence through Luongo, but as he charged towards the Preston box he chose to shoot from distance when a simple pass to his left would’ve released Chair into the box. The resulting shot was high, wide and pig-ugly.
Smith replaced Wheeler on 73 minutes and his introduction certainly improved our attacking prospects. Washington had worked extremely hard but had looked isolated and understandably spent more time defending than attacking. Smith gave us a focal point and something different for the somewhat underworked Preston defenders to think about. From a high ball Smith was flattened in the box but there was no way we were getting that decision. Instead we got the free kick outside the box a few moments later for an identical situation, and another one not long before the Preston winner.
There was certainly a feeling of inevitability about the Preston winner. The home fans would say it had been coming but we did seem to have weathered the storm and a point each would’ve been fair. But as so often on the road, you don’t always get what you deserve and with a little over a minute to go you know what happened. For the only time in the game Hugill got in behind our defence and rolled the ball under the advancing Smithies. This was accepted with resignation in the away end.
The fans stayed with their team and we even managed to create a couple of opportunities. Robinson broke forward and hit a shot that was on target but well parried by Maxwell, of course the rebound went in between attackers rather than to one, and Smith hit a smart over-the –shoulder effort that went straight to the keeper. Holloway sent on Sylla for a pointless couple of minutes, where Preston successfully kept the ball safely away from their own half and managed to frustrate Bidwell and Baptiste into unnecessary bookings. Baptiste’s obviously proved far more important as he managed to make it two yellows and a red after the final whistle- cheers.
Ultimately it was a disappointing result but anyone who was actually at the game or watching it on the club feed, will tell you the team did OK. I know that’s not enough for the angry internet mob but tough, that’s the way it was today. There was no booing at the end and the vast majority stayed and applauded the players after the final whistle. The red card was a pretty huge blow to us and we made the home side work right to the death for their victory. The defence returned to their best form but we did struggle to create many good chances with our top attacking player suspended. It was also encouraging to see a full debut for Chair who didn’t look out of place in a Championship match.
We had an enjoyable away day experience (bar the result) in Preston today. It’s great to catch up with mates, drink some quality beer and support the team you love and we’ll do the same in Birmingham in a couple of weeks’ time.
PNE: Maxwell; Fisher, Clarke (O’Connor 45), Huntingdon, Davies; Gallagher, Pearson, Barkhuizen, Browne (Harrop 45); Robinson, Hugill
Subs not used: Rudd, Boyle, Horgan, Pringle, Welsh
Goals: Hugill 88 (assisted Gallagher)
Yellow cards: Huntingdon 79 (foul), Pearson 79 (dissent)
QPR: Smthies 7; Wszolek 6, Baptiste 8, Robinson 8, Bidwell 7; Luongo 6, Scowen 6, Wheeler 5 (Smith 73, 6); Chair 6 (Sylla 90, -), Mackie 4, Washington 6
Subs not used: Lumley, Cousins, Smyth, Manning, Goss
Red Cards: Mackie 22 (serious foul play), Baptiste 90+6 (two yellows)
Yellow cards: Luongo 86 (foul), Bidwell 90 (foul), Baptiste 90+5 (dissent), Baptiste 90+6 (dissent)
QPR Star Man – Jack Robinson 8 A toss up between Robinson and Baptiste, both who put in a pretty heroic effort. Went with Robinson because of his fine run and shot and Baptiste’s stupid red card after final whistle. Was great to see defence look far more solid than of late
Referee – Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire) 5 Just like our players, the performances of the men-in-the middle have faded recently. The last score I gave, to a Mr Martin at Sunderland, was as close to a ten as is possible, but here Mr Simpson has brought the average score down. Until the red card I thought he looked pretty solid. Mackie’s dismissal came as a shock to us, but we were a long way from the incident. If it was the right call, fair enough, you can make him a 6. But here we have another ref who seems to allow one set of players to berate him with no consequences. Smith could’ve /should’ve earned a penalty when forced to the ground late on. Instead the coward chose to award a free kick for an identical offence outside the box moments later. He also wimped out of sending off the violent Huntingdon, who was already on a yellow, when he flattened Smith again late on.
Attendance 11,290 (QPR 508)
The Twitter @LeeMcAlpine1
Pictures – Action Images
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