West end town lost in a North End world – Report
Sunday, 15th Apr 2018 12:07 by Clive Whittingham
Preston continued their recent good record against QPR with a win at Loftus Road on Saturday after Ian Holloway, once again, made multiple changes to his team after a win.
After two rip-roaring goal fests at Loftus Road against Norwich and Sheff Wed in which QPR’s bright young things tore into more senior opposition with gay abandon, came one of those games against Preston where you churn enough stomach acid to burn a hole in the hull of a ship.
As per usual when things are going well, it started with a raft of changes to the team ranging from understandable to completely unfathomable. Alex Smithies has played every minute of every game in the league while Matt Ingram has been inactive since returning from loan at Northampton so, with Rangers officially safe, you can perhaps see the logic in giving the latter a run in the remaining games. Josh Scowen may have reasonably expected to share protection duties with Grant Hall this season, were Hall ever fit enough for anything other than Instagramming us bits of the Far East – again, maybe a rest is in order. Luke Freeman carried the team for long periods of the season and looked tired and indecisive against Sheff Wed, so another chance for Ebere Eze instead wasn’t an outlandish idea.
But who in their right mind could watch that Sheffield Wednesday game, particularly the first 15 minutes of it, and think ‘what this needs is less Paul Smyth and Idrissa Sylla’ (who scored three of the four goals against the Owls between them) I do not know. Neither had played a great deal of football this season, neither needed a rest, neither deserved to be left out. The benching of Smyth in particular I just can’t get my head around. Had he not earned the right for another start here with that display during the week? Will he not be left frustrated and confused at playing like that and being left out? Why oh why does Ian Holloway insist on fiddling with things whenever they’re going well?
And, as we’ve said before when we do it for cup matches, making so many changes all at once rarely works. Giving a player a chance is putting him into a settled team, making half a dozen changes and throwing a team together is giving nobody any chance at all.
Initially it didn’t look like it was going to matter too much. Given a second chance at delivering a set piece from wide left, Ryan Manning produced a peach of a cross for Matt Smith to finish from close range. Soon after Manning instigated a great counter attack, feeding Bidwell who crossed for Smith to nod back from the far post and Manning got on the end of it but saw a header saved by Declan Rudd.
But Preston were deservedly level before half time. They’d sparked a panic with a seventh minute corner that Baptiste headed behind, then done so again immediately with Ingram flapping at the first one and then gratefully collecting during a scramble from its return. Clarke had gone close with a header from a sixteenth minute free kick, albeit from an offside position. The excellent Alan Browne was denied a clear run on goal on the half hour only by an excellent recovery tackle from Alex Baptiste and Ingram had escaped with just a yellow card from referee Rob Jones for charging out of his area and committing a foul in the left back area. A goal mouth scramble just before half time ended when Furlong stabbed the ball behind and, although a Manning free kick looked goalbound at the other end until Daniel Johnson thrust out a leg, a Preston equaliser felt like it was coming and was duly scrambled just over the line by hotpants enthusiast Callum Robinson from close range.
It is yet another goal conceded in that witching hour between 35 and 55 minutes which has plagued QPR all season. In all, 26 of the 64 goals we’ve shipped this season have been in that spell just before and after half time, and this was the seventh scored in first half injury time (35, 36, 37, 38, 38, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 45, 45, 45, 45, 45, 45, 47, 48, 48, 50, 50, 51, 52, 52, 54, 55, 55). It speaks to all sorts of failings – concentration, game management, intensity – and QPR were about to get another lesson in all of that from North End in the second half.
Preston are fast turning into a bogey side for Rangers. They’ve now won three consecutive games at Loftus Road conceding only once and are unbeaten in seven meetings between the two sides. Recent games in West London have seen Rangers frustrated by a shrewder tactical set up and the switch in manager from Simon Grayson to Alex Neil hasn’t interrupted that at all – they were the better side here all the way through, with Browne the game’s outstanding player. Only champions Wolves (four) have lost fewer than Preston (five) away from home this season and you can really see why, particularly when put in direct contrast to a team that has only won three road games all season and has an away record that’s the third worst in the division.
Yes, Neil’s team still have something to play for, whereas Holloway’s team doesn’t, so you can perhaps understand and allow for an extra bit of determination and tenacity in their play. But you look at them here, compared to QPR at Hull last week, and it’s not hard to see why one rarely loses away from home while one rarely wins is it? They were incredibly difficult to play against. Big and physical at the back, with Browne and Pearson dominating the midfield, and decent numbers committed to the attack with three creative players doing bits behind Robinson. Repeated attempts to cut through the middle of them, as Hull did to us a week ago with ease, failed with Ebere Eze crowded out of the game.
They took the lead from close range on 72 minutes when Robinson poked home from less than a yard after Browne had headed a free kick over Ingram. Browne had earlier had a similar effort disallowed for offside when it looked like it would have counted had he left it to drop in without a touch. Again, the goal felt like it had been coming, Rangers had barely threatened.
They were aided and abetted thereafter by an increasingly extraordinary refereeing performance from Merseyside’s Rob Jones. I’d been really impressed with him in our home game with Sunderland a month ago, and thought his calm authority and willingness to allow the game to flow showed why he’s been fast tracked up from Conference to Championship level in little more than 18 months. But here, the decisions got more mystifying as the game went on.
He spent the first half spoiling an already fairly rancid game by penalising absolutely every little tiny thing that went on. That’s a foul, that’s a foul, that’s a foul, that’s definitely a foul, don’t do that, or that, or that, stop that, foul, that’s a foul, that’s a foul. Foul. Foul. That’s a foul. Foul. Foul. That’s a foul. Foul there. That’s a foul, that’s a foul, that’s a foul, that’s a foul. What an absolute fucking ball ache. There was then a weird moment on half time where Robinson was the victim of a horror tackle for which no free kick was awarded, only for Cuningham to be blown up and booked for a lesser offence on Bright Osayi-Samuel. From that moment on, and with Browne and Pearson leading a four-man refereeing committee who surrounded Jones after every decision for a prolonged debate, and again on the way off at half time, and again on the way on for the second half, his control slipped further with each passing minute. This culminated in an outrageous final quarter of an hour in which Preston, now leading, were allowed to take three separate water breaks during stoppages in play with no cards shown, and Ebere Eze was hacked to the ground without even a free kick being awarded. It had no impact on the result, Preston were better and deserved their win, QPR would have lost with a competent referee, but my good God this was quite something.
North End’s use of the game’s darker arts was masterful, and allowed to continue completely unchecked by the officials. QPR lost the plot through the frustration of it all. Matt Smith, in particular, was guilty of giving up and sulking when it became clear he was getting nothing from the referee all afternoon. Idrissa Sylla replaced him but he too quickly became embroiled in arguments - at one stage hilariously taking a Preston free kick for them when the time wasting became too much to bare - rather than focusing on chasing an equaliser. Sylla had a weak penalty appeal waved away immediately, then straight away at the other end Bidwell seemed fortunate to get away with handball in his own area.
Rangers barely threatened and when they did finally force a corner nine minutes from time, they took the bastard thing short, gave the ball away and Massimo Luongo was booked for interrupting the subsequent counter attack with a foul. No shots on goal, no meaningful possession in the opposition final third, losing the game, running out of time, and you turn down a free chance to put a cross into a loaded penalty box in favour of playing a short bloody corner. We really are thick as pig shit sometimes.
The time wasting did at least lead to seven minutes of added time, though most of that was taken up by the substitution of Callum Robinson who left the field at the speed coasts erode – again, with no action from the referee.
Rather than bitch and moan and complain about the time wasting, the water breaks, the refereeing committee and the refereeing – learn from it. I say again, Preston have only lost five away games all season and remain in play-off contention on a miniscule playing budget. QPR have only won three away games all season and are way too easy to play against, way too easy to score against, and way too nice when they play away from Loftus Road. Preston are something to aspire to, not whine and mither about. They outplayed QPR for the first 75 minutes, and then sucked us into doing exactly what they wanted us to do for the final quarter of an hour when we should have been concentrating on chasing an equaliser. In the end, I’m not sure Declan Rudd had a proper save to make second half - though a late volley from Smyth looked goalbound until it struck a defender.
And so the pattern of the second half of the season, and much of Ian Holloway’s second spell in charge, continues. Upward progress, positivity, optimism interrupted by over thinking, fiddling, multiple team changes and a poor performance and defeat. On a day when there was actually a half decent crowd inside Loftus Road, when we’d suddenly started scoring some goals at home and looking a good side, you couldn’t help but think, once again, that Holloway doesn’t help himself sometimes.
QPR: Ingram 6; Furlong 6, Baptiste 6, Robinson 6, Bidwell 6; Cousins 5 (Freeman 73, 5), Luongo 5, Manning 6; Eze 5, Osayi Samuel 5 (Smyth 63, 6), Smith 5 (Sylla 63, 5)
Subs not used: Smithies, Scowen, Wszolek, Kakay
Goals: Smith 13 (assisted Manning)
Bookings: Ingram 38 (foul), Robinson 70 (foul), Luongo 83 (foul)
Preston: Rudd 7; Fisher 7, Clarke 6, Huntington 6, Cunningham 6; Pearson 7, Browne 8; Barkhuizen 6, Johnson 7 (Harrop 63, 6), Bodin 6 (Gallagher 63, 6); Robinson 7 (Horgan 90+4, -)
Subs not used: Davies, Moult, Maxwell, Earl
Goals: Robinson 45 (assisted Fisher), 72 (assisted Browne)
Bookings: Cunningham 41 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Alex Baptiste 6 Very tough on a poor afternoon. Nearly didn’t award one at all. But Baptiste defended reasonably well against a good attack with zero protection in front of him.
Referee – Robert Jones (Merseyside) 2 Here’s what we said about him post Sunderland, when we gave him 8/10: I liked him a lot, and can see why he’s climbed so rapidly from Conference to Championship in little over 18 months. Calm, keen to let play flow, lenient to the point of generous but absolutely right to show the three yellow cards he did and no choice with the sending off. Where the hell did that guy go? First half, everything was a foul. Everything. Ball was in play for about seven minutes all half. Second half, do what you like, knock yourselves out. Prolonged water breaks while leading 2-1 in the last ten minutes? Fine. A substitution that wouldn’t have taken as long if it had included a parade around Shepherd’s Bush and civic reception at Hammersmith Town Hall? Fine. Deliberate, violent and successful attempt to completely take Eze out as he looks like he might break over the halfway line? Fine. Everything fine, except Ryan Manning’s tackle of the game, which was a free kick apparently. Built like a brick shit house and to be honest we’d have been better with one of those out there. Important point though – nothing to do with the result, QPR would have lost with a proper referee as well.
Attendance 13,760 (1,400 PNE approx) Doubly disappointing that after a series of low attendances at Loftus Road we do get back up towards the 14,000 mark and Holloway messes about with the team again resulting in a performance far inferior from the two that went before it. He really doesn’t help himself sometimes.
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