|Preston North End 1 v 0 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 4th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
New season, new boss, but same old same old for QPR at Preston - Report
Sunday, 5th Aug 2018 22:51 by Clive Whittingham
Change the manager, change the team, change the season… same result.
Queens Park Rangers lost by a single goal to Preston North End at Deepdale on Saturday, just as they had done last year, and the year before that. If repetition is how you “teach thick boys to do stuff” then QPR are proving very slow to pick this lesson up despite the constant revision. This defeat bore all the hallmarks of the ones that went before, and Preston are now unbeaten against the R’s in seven matches.
There will be much justified ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ talk in the aftermath of a narrow away defeat to a good team, criminally underrated by the bookmakers and likely to push deep into the top ten this season. There are 45 games to go. When Reading won this league with 100 points and 100 goals, they started with a home defeat to Plymouth Argyle. Steve McClaren has been working with this group for little over a month, and is still in the market for another centre back and a centre forward with a better back-to-goal game than the squad currently possesses. The need for the latter, in particular, highlighted by Preston pressing high off QPR’s goalkicks and forcing them to go long to Matt Smith to no effect whatsoever. And but for a spectacular late save at point blank range from home keeper Declan Rudd, denying Idrissa Sylla amidst a goalmouth scramble, they’d have left Lancashire with a creditable point.
But this was a tremendously naïve display from Rangers. Out played for most of the first half, out thought for much of the second, they fell into all the same traps that Preston laid out for them at Loftus Road in April all over again. For all the talk of relying on youngsters this season, there wasn’t a single player under 20 in Rangers’ starting line up, and the more senior players really should have been wise to the darker side of North End’s game having fallen victim to it just four months ago.
Initially it looked like Preston might completely swamp and overawe their visitors - not so pretty in pink. Using the full width of the pitch Preston tried to isolate young Osman Kakay - standing in at right back for injured Darnell Furlong – by regularly switching play crisply and accurately from the right side to the left and Callum Robinson. He shot over rather hopelessly after six minutes, and struck a deflected shot wide after 25. In between, Tom Barkhuizen had QPR’s new number one Matt Ingram beaten all ends up from 20 yards after being teed up by Louis Moult but his thunderous shot missed the top corner and smacked into the stanchion behind the goal. Robinson would have been in again on the half hour but for a firm, thumping tackle from Massimo Luongo and then had another shot deflected wide by Kakay after a clever, quick reverse ball to him by Barkhuizen. Jake Bidwell also bundled another Preston shot round the post after Ebere Eze had conceded possession in a bad area.
How this team, which missed the play offs by just one place and two points last season, is 33/1 for the title this year is beyond me. They’re good. Really good. And not in a Millwall way of simply being intimidating and unplayable, in a properly good footballing way. There are players here – Pearson, Browne, Robinson, Barkhuizen – far superior to others who have moved for enormous money in recent years. I don’t know whether it’s the geography, the total lack of television coverage, the low gates, or what, but this is a very handy outfit at this level and it’s completely and utterly ignored by those paid to analyse and commentate on the division.
But Kakay, and the rest of the defence, held their shape and survived the steady flow of pressure impressively. New boy Toni Leistner was a dominant figure at centre back and by the end of the half Preston had waned slightly, restricted to mostly hopeful long range shots over the bar. McClaren’s side were able to force a couple of corners at the far end without ever really threatening a goal. The attempts to play out from the back off Ingram were entirely cut off by a strict man to man defensive set up high up the field from the hosts, and a mixture of his poor, panicky long kicking and Matt Smith’s inability to do anything other than flick it on to nobody blunted Rangers as an attacking force.
That said, Smith really should have scored four minutes before half time when Bidwell swung over the perfect left wing cross for him to steam in over the top of his man and head for goal – he planted the effort wide. There’s so much Smith can’t do, but you overlook it for the stuff that he can – finding the net with chances like that really needs to be in the latter category to justify his place in the team.
Still, half time, not behind despite Preston dominance, coming back into the game as the half drew to a close, there was some flotsam floating amidst the wreckage for QPR to cling to by way of hope. McClaren tried to shore the midfield up at half time by removing Bright Osayi-Samuel – disappointingly starved of the ball and ineffective after last week’s great showing against Union Berlin – and sending in Ryan Manning, with Luongo pushed further forwards into the three man attacking mission behind Smith. This moved Eze wide, where he continued to dazzle with the occasional flick or trick but couldn’t affect the game in the final third, and Freeman to the other flank where he, like Samuel, struggled to replicate his performance from a week ago.
And then, another trait from last season reared its ugly head. A third of the goals QPR conceded in 2017/18 came in the ten minutes immediately before and after half time and it took just two minutes here for Josh Harrop to hang a cross up to the back post and Alan Browne to send a looping header back the other way, over Ingram and into the net via a goal line scramble. Hint of an own goal about it. A very Championship, and very QPR, way to concede. Soft as Vaseline.
Given QPR’s lack of goal threat, that looked to be that despite the time remaining. McClaren tried to reintroduce pace to his attack by sending on Paul Smyth for Luongo, and finally lost patience with the ineffective Smith and sent on Idrissa Sylla who mixed his usual woeful first touch with a missed header from a Bidwell cross and the shot which Rudd saved which was as close as the R’s got to an equaliser. Preston still looked the more likely to score up to around the 75th minute – Robinson drawing a nervous save from Ingram after robbing Freeman, Harrop shooting over from ambitious distance.
The shithousery that came to define PNE’s performance at Loftus Road last season started in earnest with 15 minutes to go. Numerous instances of kicking the ball away, including by manager Alex Neil, left unchecked by referee Darren England and therefore allowed to fester. Goalkeeper Rudd swapping and changing the sides of his goalkicks (easy rule to change that one) and then hitting the floor clutching his face pretending Paul Smyth had struck him while awaiting a corner – he should be absolutely embarrassed to watch that incident back again in the video review, it was among the most pathetic things I’ve ever seen. In that final quarter of an hour three different Preston players on three separate occasions decided they’d suffered head injuries and got the game stopped. Only one of them looked legitimate, after clearing a corner, and one of them seemed to just stick his hand up and say his head hurt a bit despite being nowhere near any of the action. All were, miraculously, able to continue. Again, a rugby league style rule change where anybody who thinks they have a head injury has to go off for a 15 minute concussion assessment, would soon stop this, but you can also be stronger as a referee under the current rules. We saw several times in the World Cup referees ignoring such play acting and allowing the game to go on, making very clear they knew what the players were up to and wouldn’t stand for it. Ignore one of them rolling round on the floor once, play on and force them to get back in position and get on with it. It soon stops it. Darren England was complicit in 15 minutes of flagrant cheating here.
But so were QPR. Just as they had been at Loftus Road in April, they allowed themselves to get sucked into it all. Rudd’s actions should embarrass him and his family, but don’t give him the opportunity to do it – it’s our corner, leave him alone, don’t let him run another 90 seconds off the clock like that. Free kick given, get it taken, get the ball moving, get the tempo up, don’t let them slow it down. Two or three QPR players bitching and whining to the referee, getting involved with Bens Pearson and Davies, is playing into their hands, slowing the game down, distracting attention, losing concentration. As before, QPR went down to that level and were then soundly beaten by experience. Pearson, king troll under this particular bridge, escaped a yellow card altogether while controlling the game, Ryan Manning meanwhile saw yellow for deliberately kicking him up in the air.
I said after the April game, don’t bitch and moan about this, learn from it and take it on board. This is a team playing our shape the way it’s meant to be played, succeeding and pushing for the play-offs despite operating on a fraction of even our new vastly reduced budget. I would love Pearson in our team, it’s what Josh Scowen could and should be for us. Several of you disagreed, said we should be above those sort of dark arts, said you’d rather lose the game than stoop to such a level. But this is a team that only lost 11 games last season, just five away from home. Sure they went horribly, cynically pragmatic for the last 15 minutes but they’d played very well, and expansively, before that and the gamesmanship frustrated the opposition and saw the job through. You’ve got be pragmatic when you’re competing in a league of haves as one of the have nots, and Preston have got it down to a tee. This isn’t a fucking bridge club.
We’ve won six away games in two years now, and there were few indications here that we’ve grown the sort of backbone, or attacking threat, needed to better that this season. I’m sick of that, and I’m sick of watching Preston do this to us. We’re too nice and we need to wise up.
PNE: Rudd 7; Fisher 6, Clarke 6, Davies 6, Hughes 6; Pearson 8, Browne 7; Barkhuizen 7 (Horgan 71, 6), Harrop 6 (Ledson 83, -), Robinson 7; Moult 6 (Gallagher 77, 6)
Subs not used: Woods, Burke, Maxwell, Huntington
Goals: Browne 50 (assisted Harrop)
QPR: Ingram 5; Kakay 6, Leistner 7, Lynch 6, Bidwell 5; Scowen 6, Luongo 6 (Smyth 66, 6); Osayi-Samuel 5 (Manning 46, 6), Eze 6, Freeman 5; Smith 4 (Sylla 77, 5)
Subs not used: Cousins, Washington, Lumley, Baptiste
Yellow Cards: Manning 66 (foul), Scowen 73 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Toni Leistner 7 With Nedum Onuoha and Jack Robinson gone, QPR need some physical strength and leadership at the back. Leistner gave every indication that he can provide that on an impressive debut here. The whole back four stood up well to a stiff examination actually, with Kakay doing well to keep hold of Robinson despite Preston frequently isolating him, and Lynch giving a steady performance. Bidwell’s rank distribution knocks his mark down but overall the defence was ok, and Leistner was the best of them.
Darren England (Barnsley) 5 It’s all very well dramatically pointing to your head and making out like you have no choice but to stop the play for another three minutes because it could be a fatal brain injury, but when it’s the third or forth time it’s happened in ten minutes, and the player hasn’t been anywhere near any of the recent action, and it’s set in the context of a litany of other time wasting, there has to come a time where a strong referee says ‘either go off for treatment or carry on but we’re not stopping again’. We saw strong clampdowns on play acting, time wasting and general arseholery during the World Cup and it wasn’t surprising how quickly it stopped once the players realised the referee wasn’t buying it. England bought everything Preston had to sell in the last 15 minutes here. Piss weak refereeing that encouraged worse and worse behaviour as the game went on. If he’d given short shrift to, say, Rudd for moving his goalkicks here there and everywhere, or Alex Neil kicking the ball away down the touchline, earlier in the game he could have nipped it all in the bud. Instead he allowed it to fester to the point of farce. Strap some on if you haven’t got a pair of your own.
Attendance 13, 418 (1,064 QPR) A creditable following in number and noise given our poor record on this ground and that wanker Branson demanding upwards of £60 for even the advance train tickets purchased many months ago. The scandalous pricing of the West Coast line, which unlike the East has no other operators you can use to get the price down, is really going to chew hard on our wallets this season with every bloody game in this league seeming to be to, through or around Bolton and Preston.
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