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Preston North End 0 v 2 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Friday, 1st December 2023 Kick-off 20:00
"Football is about achieving, not deserving" - Preview
Friday, 1st Dec 2023 14:32 by Clive Whittingham

It felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off the shoulders of all who associate with Queens Park Rangers this week, but the result against Stoke masked a troubling performance, and the team will need to be better in every department tonight at PNE.

Preston (8-4-6 DLWWLL 8th) v QPR (3-4-11 LLDDLW 22nd)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Friday December 1, 2023 >>> Kick Off 20.00>>> Weather – Ice Station Zebra >>> Deepdale, Preston, Lancashire

Feel the noise. Look at the limbs. Marvel at the spectacle and empathise with the outpouring. Even without the whole Ben Pearson narrative, years of goblin shithousing roosting in the rafters of a schadenfreude-laced last minute own goal that blew the roof of the place, the culmination of Tuesday night’s game with Stoke was a moment for a club, team and support base that needed a moment more than most. The last time Queens Park Rangers won a home game, against anybody, was March, and here we are ticking into the month of December.

Hope felt lost at multiple points. Lyndon Dykes being accidentally played through on goal and missing the chance to go 2-0 up, Stoke storming to the other end through a brutal Jimmy Dunne mistake to equalise, all right on half time. Good teams don’t come back from setbacks such as those, and we’re the farthest thing from a good team. Going 2-1 down immediately after referee James Linington had followed an earlier penalty award with a Stoke red card. We couldn’t have had any more help the other night, from either our opponents or the match official, and we still couldn’t even thumb one in. If the visitors had been awarded a penalty when they should have been that would have been 3-1, game – and, arguably - season over.

Dykes’ second goal was one of technical excellence, and when he produces skill like that it only makes it more unfathomable that we have to spend so much of our time paying to watch him fall over his own feet. How does the same player spaff that finish in the first half, and then craft this in the second? Bi-polar centre forward play. Still, if he was any good he wouldn’t be playing for us would he?

It still didn’t particularly raise the crowd though, to my memory. A draw against a team playing with ten men and a defence that would struggle to hold its own two divisions lower was still a poor result. With two wins all season and a concerning gap to the teams above, draws are no good to us, particularly at home where our form is a standing embarrassment. “The other teams will not wait for us,” says Marti Cifuentes, and you ain’t catching them with a 2-2 against ten men from Stoke. We desperately needed a winner, but it still felt at that stage as if it was more likely to come at the other end.

It certainly won’t be troubling the judges at Landscape Artist of the Year. Larkeche, stubborn, determined, awkward, but never in control. Hoever, taking short cuts, stumbling about, falling over. The ball bobbling about, stuck, rebounding. A free kick? A goal kick? Park football on a professional stage. It was a night where everything bounced our way, and this one was no exception. As ever, a lack of bodies in the key parts of the box for the cross. So Stoke even had to do that bit for us. And so the outpouring began. Less hug a stranger, more let’s get a hotel room. A seething mass of mostly quite daft middle aged men in dark coats and hats suddenly jumping and crawling all over each other like somebody had taken the top off an ant hill. A beautiful moment to be a part of. We’ve had some wonderful times together in that ground and occasionally been spoilt with a glut of moments like that, but there is something to be said for that tiny sip of icy cold water after so long spent in a scorching desert of ineptitude. Just a little something to slake the thirst, every now and again, that’s all we ask. We’re not some sort of Newcastle United tribute act parading around like we somehow deserve a whole load of pots and trophies, this is all it takes. I chaired panels at a work conference on Wednesday with a jackhammer in my head, a voice like Madge Bishop, and a lob on the size of Greater Manchester. The Crown and Sceptre was full past 11pm, and everybody there was happy.

The manager was not. Nor should he be. You could, if you wanted to be harsh, say QPR have got worse in each of Marti Cifuentes’ four games. Bristol City wasn’t as good as Rotherham, Norwich was worse than both, and at 79 minutes this was the worst of the lot. The general consensus at the front of F Block was we didn’t have anybody on north of a five, and mostly threes and fours, as Rangers looks set to collapse to defeat against a poor side playing with fewer players. Cifuentes cut a bitterly frustrated figure on the touchline – at one point warned by the fourth official after charging out of his technical area to deliver a rebuke to Asmir Begovic personally, at another thrashing around like a captured tiger shark as his team threatened to implode having gone behind to ten-men and continuously made poor decisions with the ball. He has a very strong idea and philosophy behind how he wants his team to look and play, and it’s certainly not this.

“Football is about achieving, not deserving,” he said afterwards. What immaculate turn of phrase this guy has in his second language. Certainly music to my ears after so many years rolling eyes at Dean Smith’s ‘justice league’ excuse-a-thon, or Russell Martin snidely carping on as if goals scored from corners or counter attacks somehow count for less than one scored on the end of a tedious 35-pass move. But Cifuentes knows full well we won’t beat many teams in this league playing the way we did on Tuesday. The penalty, the red card, the non-award of the Stoke penalty, them passing our centre forward clean through on their goal, the bounce of the ball for Larkeche when every other day of the week that goes out for a goal kick or gets awarded as a free kick the other way, the own goal… that’s a lot to go your way in 90 minutes of football, QPR cashed a lot of chips the other night, and still only scraped a win in circumstances so dramatic we greeted them like a win in an FA Cup quarter final.

How refreshing, though, to hear and see a manager acknowledging we’d been poor in victory and talking about how he plans to enact the improvement. The impact made by Reggie Cannon and Jake Clarke-Salter in particular offer hope for better when/if they start, but Cifuentes was detailed in his pre-game on what parts of the plans and the tactics we hadn't done well and must touch up on.

QPR have, in the recent past, often been too self-congratulatory at the merest hint of things starting to go right. They abandoned their financial and transfer plan to bring in Andre Gray, Charlie Austin and Stefan Johansen types, handicapping themselves for years to come, because four loan signings had helped them end a season being played effectively in neutral venues without crowds quite well. The hype and rhetoric around Mick Beale because he’d stuck a good run together in October, despite the club’s own analytics department knowing full well the results weren’t sustainable on the team’s underlying numbers, came back to haunt them. You just know that if we’d won like that under Beale he would have been talking about the “proper sort out” they’d had at half time, the impact of the substitutions he made. Gareth Ainsworth would have been beside himself, air guitaring round the pitch, talking about how far the boys had dug in, how much of everything they’d given, how this would all be the start of his oft-vaunted climb up the table. The look on Cifuentes’ face spoke a thousand words, and what words he did say were spot on.

QPR will need to be considerably better tonight to get anything from a frozen Deepdale. At least, now, we’ve got a manager who knows that.

Links >>> Consistently inconsistent – Interview >>> Early Taarabt vibes – History >>> Smith in charge – Referee >>> Official Website >>> Lancashire Telegraph — Local Press >>> From The Finney — Blog >>> Deepdale Digest — Blog >>> PNE Online — Forum

90’s Football Conspiracy Theories No.17 In The Series - Neil Redfearn has been living in a shack on a Peak District hillside for a year because he thought “Mainstream Water” was turning his beloved spaniel Don gay. “Water straight from hill is better for’t dog” he says.

Below the fold

Team News: Reggie Cannon and Jake Clarke-Salter improved QPR considerably when they stepped off the bench against Stoke on Tuesday night and both will push for starts here. Andre Dozzell and Sinclair Armstrong both dropped off the bench during the week, the latter a late withdrawal during the warm up with a knock picked up on Ireland youth international duty, but both are likely to be involved here. We wait to see if the knock Chris Willock picked up immediately after coming on is serious enough to keep him out – he went on to score his first goal in more than a year in injury time.

Cardiff’s dramatic injury time win at Deepdale last Saturday began when Robbie Brady was sent off for collecting two yellow cards. He served a one match ban fr the big midweek loss at Middlesbrough and returns to the fold tonight. As God gives with one hand he takes away with the other – Brad Potts collected a fifth yellow of the season at The Riverside and sits out for a one match suspension of his own here. Loaned Liverpool lad Calvin Ramsay could get a first start for the club in his place.

Ryan Lowe’s efforts have been hampered by a string of injuries already this season but there are some returning bodies ahead of tonight. Liam Millar, a Canadian on loan from Basel, is back after missing midweek. Ali McCann is in the squad for the first time since the first week of October and he’s joined by Greg Cunningham who hasn’t featured since October 28. Miluten Osmajic picked up a knock on Tuesday and will get a late check. Emil Riis is nearing the end of his year-long injury absence – back in contact training but not ready in time for tonight.

Elsewhere: The euphoria of Tuesday night’s long awaited home victory against Stoke was tempered slightly by Huddersfield heading up to Sunderland on Wednesday and getting a surprise victory. Without QPR’s late rally at Loftus Road that gap would now be nine points, rather than the already quite daunting enough thank you very much current gap of six. Playing Friday night gives us a chance to narrow that to three, or offer those sides around us encouragement for their weekend games.

Sheff Wed got a surprise result of their own during the week against Leicester, though a draw doesn’t do much for their predicament at the bottom really. They’re at home again this weekend with Blackburn in town looking to move into the play-off places for the first time after a series of big scoring away wins. Rotherham, now second bottom and still without a manager, haven’t won in six, and a defensively shambolic 4-1 walloping at Hull in the week means they’re into a fourteenth month without an away win. They go to Wayne Rooney’s Birmingham, one of the sides cratering down towards us from midtable. Bringing one of those sorts of clubs into play with a few victories would boost our survival chances substantially – see also Millwall, who followed up a big win in the manager’s first game with two chunky defeats ahead of a home game with Sunderland. Plymouth and Huddersfield remain our most catchable rivals on 19 points each – they’re at home to Stoke and away at Swansea (winless in seven again) respectively.

At the top end there are four clubs in red hot form looking to close down that massive gap between the automatic promotion spots and the rest. One of them, fifth placed West Brom, get to host Leicester this weekend in the early Saturday TV game having won five of their last six games. Above them in third are Leeds with seven wins in nine and a home game against Boro, and Southampton who haven’t lost in ten and now host Cardiff. Liam Rosenior continues to furnish his burgeoning reputation at Hull, now sixth in the league with also-rans Watford in town. Ipswich meanwhile continue to truck along nicely in second and have lowly Coventry to face next.

The weekend is rounded off with Bristol City hosting Norwich, who looked to be getting their act together after two victories but having blown a two goal lead at Vicarage Road in the week are now in open revolt once more.

Referee: QPR had been unbeaten in five matches with young referee Josh Smith prior to the debacle against Blackburn at Loftus Road recently. The official is in his first season on the Premier League list and has refereed Preston more than any other club. Details.

Form

Preston: Had we arrived here a week ago Preston would have been running hot after successive victories, including a fine performance in the derby over at Blackburn. Instead they’ve lost two in a week, including the Tuesday night thrashing at Middlesbrough. That rather sums up their season so far. Ryan Lowe’s team, wholly unfancied in the summer previews, set the early pace by winning six of their first seven matches. They only conceded five goals in the process too. They then went seven without a win, conceding 17 times, including a 4-0 home loss to West Brom and 4-2 beating down at Ipswich. Unbeaten in the first seven, winless in the next seven, they then beat Coventry 3-2 here and Blackburn 2-1 away, only to lose 2-1 at home to Cardiff last weekend and then 4-0 at Boro in the week. Not an easy team to call. At home they’re 5-2-2 with West Brom (4-0) and Cardiff (2-1) the victors here. The Welsh side’s victory came with two goals in nine minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game last Saturday. Osmajic is the top scorer here this season with four, followed by Mads Frokjaer, Duane Holmes and centre back Liam Lindsay on three each.

QPR: The copy and paste paragraph is no more – obliterated by Tuesday night’s chaotic 4-2 victory against Stoke. A first victory in 13 games, a win at home for the first time in 14 attempts going back to March, the first time they’d scored twice at Loftus Road for since October 22 last year, and scored three for the first time anywhere since October 18. It was the first time they’d scored four in a game since Reading H at the end of January 2022 (4-0) and and the first time they’d scored there goals at the Loft End of the ground in a game since a comeback 3-2 win against Millwall during the lockdown in March 2021. From three goals at the Loft End in 15 games, to three in ten minutes. Chris Willock’s injury time goal was his first in 32 games going back to the start of last October at Sheff Utd - QPR have still never lost a game on any of the 17 occasions Willock has scored for them. Lyndon Dykes’ brace snapped his latest long scoreless run of 13 games, and were as many goals as he’d scored in his previous 19 outings combined.

QPR won this fixture 1-0 here last December, the only win they managed in a dozen games under manager Neil Critchley who has since returned to PNE’s bitter rivals and near neighbours Blackpool. Ranger shave now won two and drawn one of their last four visits to Deepdale which is quite the turnaround on what went before – 13 visits without a win going all the way back to 1979/80. This is a decent bet for a draw on your coupon usually mind – seven of the last 12 meetings here have finished level.

Prediction: We’re once again indebted to The Art of Football for agreeing to sponsor our Prediction League and provide prizes. You can get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s newly extended QPR collection here. Let’s see what our reigning champion Aston got for us this week…

“We come into this with our first win and against a Preston side who have been blowing hot and cold much like Stoke. I think we'll continue to see an improvement but we'll be settling for a 1-1 draw here. Chris Willock to score.”

Aston’s Prediction: Preston 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Chris Willock

LFW’s Prediction: Preston 2-0 QPR. No scorer.

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Pictures — Ian Randall Photography

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Paddyhoops added 15:09 - Dec 1
On the plus side. we are creating chances!
Something we haven’t done for a while.
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Addinall added 16:17 - Dec 1
Hell of a third sentence there.
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gazza1 added 16:40 - Dec 1
JCS, Willock (if fit) & Cannon should get starts tonight.......amazing what a win does to the team.....its an improving team in my book.

Could have been a bit more positive Norf, that was the/our best night for a year!!! I thought we didn't do too bad, I know Stoke were not good, down to 10 and our expectations are low, but we drove forward despite being 2-1 down, we were positive as we could be and the Manager appears to be well focused in the right way. Who knows if we will get anything from the game but the oppositions are not anything special.
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Loft1979 added 17:24 - Dec 1
Clive, If the ball bounces our way we could easily be talking of 8-9 points or so in Marti's 4 games. The chances have been there. Also, 4 goals conceded, 2 on the road compared to what happened before. Lots to be optimistic about. Not to mention the players seem to be up for it again.
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