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Another late goal denies R's elusive Preston win
Another late goal denies R's elusive Preston win
Saturday, 19th Aug 2006 16:34

For the second consecutive season Rangers were denied a maximum points haul at Preston by an equaliser right at the death.

I think the term 'stop start game' was invented with yesterday's "entertainment" in mind. You could hardly describe this match, which ran to over 100 minutes in length due to injuries and stoppages, as any kind of advert for the Championship.

Still QPR aren't in a position for niceties - they need points on the board quickly to silence the doubters and relieve some of the tension created by eighteen months of poor performances on the field and bizarre soap opera style action upstairs. A point at Preston is a good result in whatever circumstances it's earned and sets the R's up for two home games in two competitions next week.

Gary Waddock was able to keep faith with the same starting eleven that had comfortably beaten Southend last weekend. Martin Rowlands was apparently fit again so he continued in midfield with Ward, Cook and Ainsworth were the wingers. Matthew Rose continued at right back with Stewart and Rehman at centre half and Milanese left back in front of Jones in goal. Up front Blackstock and Ray Jones were given another chance to work on their fledgling partnership.

Preston had the division's hottest property David Nugent in their attack fresh from goals in the league against Wolves and for the England Under 21's but they were without Danny 'Hammersmith Horse' Dichio who was injured.

As was the case against Leeds and Southend Rangers were by far the better team for the first fifteen minutes of the match but then faded. They took the lead inside four minutes, Gareth Ainsworth chased a lost cause down to the dead ball line and bullied possession out of Matt Hill. He swung in a cross but there were no Rangers players around and St Ledger needlessly headed the ball out for a corner.

Lee Cook sent an outswinging ball into the box where Damion Stewart climbed and nodded down for Ainsworth to bundle home after being left unmarked.

There was plenty of neat passing from Rangers in the opening stages and all the signs were good that they could go on and seal a first away win but after twelve minutes the turning point of the game went against them. A nice exchange of passes in the centre of the park ground to a halt when Rowlands kicked the ball out under no pressure - the visiting supporters were left wondering what the hell he was doing but it soon became apparent. Rowlands slumped to the ground as he had done last week against Southend and immediately he signalled that he would not be able to continue.

Rowlands has been the key figure in Gary Waddock's revolution over the summer. Gone are the days of two dogs in the middle of the team, breaking up opponents' play but offering nothing to Rangers when they have possession. Rowlands and Ward have shown that they can do both the attacking and defending sides of the central midfielder's role and have already scored three of QPR's five goals between them. But Rowlands is really struggling for fitness, he was taken off early in the second half at Burnley and Southend and lasted just twelve minutes here. If Rangers are to continue their progress under Waddock he must stay fit.

Steve Lomas came on to replace him and although some great play by Blackstock set up Ward for a shot on goal which he dragged wide from twenty yards a moment later, Rangers were never the same side once Rowlands had gone off.

Lomas sat very deep in the midfield, almost on top of his defence most of the time, and while that made Rangers difficult to break down it also saw an end to the free flowing football and creation of chances.

David Nugent's thirty yard shot that was blocked by Rehman in the twenty fifth minute was just the beginning of what was about to become a very long afternoon for QPR.

On the half hour Blackstock produced a lovely piece of skill to wrong foot McKenna wide on the right flank but the Preston man halted his progress with a crude challenge that left Blackstock riving in agony on the gravel track. McKenna was rightly booked - the first and last card of the game from referee Mike Pike.

The incident seemed to raise the temperature of the game somewhat and certainly lifted the home side. Good work down the left by Danny Pugh set up Simon Whaley for a run across the edge of the penalty area and when he slung a cross over to the back post Mauro Milanese had to be on guard and head it out for a corner which Preston wasted.

Rangers' best chance since Rowlands' departure came ten before half time. The impressive Ray Jones was hauled to the ground on the edge of the penalty area but Lee Cook sent a tame left footed free kick over the bar when it really looked better set for the right footed Ainsworth to hit.

As time ticked on towards half time it was Preston's turn to make an injury forced substitution. Mauro Milanese cleverly intercepted a through ball and headed for touch, Lee Cook flew into an unusually committed challenge on Kelvin Wilson to make sure and the ball went out for Preston throw.

Astonishingly Wilson stayed down and seemed to be genuinely hurt - by Lee Cook of all people. Cook stood by his victim as a leg brace was positioned and stretcher called for, he seemed a little unsure what to do. Clearly causing an injury in a full blooded tackle on an opponent isn't something Lee is used to and as Wilson was carried from the field Cook didn't seem to know whether to shake his hand, applaud, apologise or just get on with things. Alan McCormack got up off the bench to replace Wilson.

The two big injuries during the first half meant that five minutes was added on before half time and in that period there could have been three goals. First David Nugent headed a right wing cross towards the bottom corner which Paul Jones turned around the post. Then at the other end Dexter Blackstock snatched at a twenty yard shot when he really could have taken the ball on into the area - Nash saved the effort easily.

With the last kick of the half Pugh sent a devilish low cross into the six yard box and although Nugent got there before Rehman and Jones his effort bounced down into the turf and went over the bar.

The second half didn't start until ten past four leaving several QPR fans with train reservations nervously looking at their watches. The situation only got worse as the half progressed with Ainsworth, Blackstock, Jones and others all requiring lengthy treatment at one point or another. This led to a poor second half for the neutral fan.

Rangers were happy to hold their goal advantage and Preston lacked the necessary cutting edge to break them down. Whaley and Ward had an effort on goal each at the start of the half but Jones saved from the former and the latter sent his shot bouncing wide.

With Rangers' attacks becoming few and far between as the half wore on Lee Cook frustrated the travelling fans and his team mates by wasting two corners in quick succession. Both were attamepted outswingers that the linesman judged had gone out before reaching the crowded penalty area.

Cook did manage a dangerous inswinger twenty one minutes from time and when Blackstock nodded the ball into the six yard box at the back post a goal looked certain but Preston were let off when Ainsworth's effort bounced high onto the roof of the net.

At the other end the home side were struggling to create anything more than half chances despite totally dominating possession. On the hour Danny Pugh sent a testing low shot towards Jones from twenty five yards but although the ball skipped up off the sodden turf Jones held the shot well and denied Nugent any opportunity to pounce on a rebound.

Two minutes later Pugh was at it again but he fired wide when well placed to do better. In the seventy second minute David Nugent wriggled free of Rehman for the first time in the half and set up Jason Jarrett for a long range shot but Jarrett was always leaning back, never looked confident and in truth didn't look too surprised when he skied the ball into a frustrated home crowd.

Whaley sent a tame long range effort straight at Jones and despite the almost relentless pressure it was starting to look like QPR may hang on. Certainly some PNE fans thought so and they started to file towards the exit.

Manager Paul Simpson was understandably reluctant to give in so easily and he finally found the key to unlocking QPR when he introduced Lewis Neil from the bench to replace Matt Hill. Neil was too much for Rose to cope with in the closing fifteen minutes and when Simpson slung on Agyemang to add weight to the attack in the eightieth minute the writing was on the wall.

Half the Rangers players seemed to be dead on their feet - grateful of any little break in play. Ray Jones limped off after working tirelessly in attack, he was replaced by Kevin Gallen. The sub almost sealed the game with a second goal, picking the ball up on the edge of the penalty area and engineering space for a curling shot towards the bottom corner but the ball flashed wide of the post.

It was rare respite for the defence. Rehman and Stewart were working manfully but the ball wasn't sticking up front and too often Lomas was just hooking the ball over his head into the air instead of bringing it down and keeping possession.

With four minutes remaining Rangers cracked. Lewis Neil sent over a cross from the Preston left and McKenna arrived late in the box at the back post, held off Ward and headed home. Certainly no more than Preston deserved but disappointing for Rangers who hadn't looked too threatened in the second half.

Ainsworth was taken off by Waddock before the end and replaced by Baidoo but despite another five minutes of added time the game finished level.

Of course this feels like two points lost at the moment but Burnley are a very similar side to Preston and they beat us easily a fortnight ago. A point is a good result, certainly one we would have taken prior to kick off. It will be an even better result if the R's can put something together next Friday and get a rare victory on Sky.

Teams:
Preston: Nash 7, Hill 7 (Neal 73, 8), St. Ledger 7, Chilvers 7,Wilson 6 (McCormack 41, 6), Sedgwick 5 (Agyemang 80, 6), McKenna 8,Jarrett 7, Pugh 8, Nugent 7, Whaley 7.
Subs Not Used: Lonergan, Stock.
Booked: McKenna.
Goals: McKenna 86.

QPR; Paul Jones 8, Rose 7, Rehman 8, Stewart 8, Milanese 6, Ainsworth 7 (Baidoo 90, -), Rowlands 7 (Lomas 12, 4), Ward 7, Cook 5, Blackstock 6, Ray Jones 7(Gallen 82, -)
Subs Not Used: Cole, Kanyuka.
Goals: Ainsworth 5.

Attendance: 11,879

QPR Star Man - Zesh Rehman 8 - Started pretty shakily but soon settled to his task and between them him and Stewart were the main reason why Rangers were able to hang on for so long and subsequently win a point. Certainly this partnership looks like it could go a long way.

Ref: M Pike (Cumbria) 8 - Only one card and that was deserved, tried to keep play flowing (which was very difficult with all the injuries in the second half) and all in all was pretty good. He was very stingy with the second half stoppage time, five minutes may sound like a lot but really I wouldn't have been surprised to see seven or eight added on.

Photo: Action Images



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