GARETH Ainsworth scored and made a goal to help the R`s steal a point at home to incisive Preston North End.
Rangers found themselves two goals down, as the Lilywhites were running the show at Loftus Road and making things difficult for the R`s. Neil Mellor`s first half strike was added to in the second half with a Matthew Connolly own goal.
Ainsworth then entered the fray and the tide began to chance, he sent a looping volley into the back of the net for what seemed like a consolation, but then his pinpoint cross was glances home by Dexter Blackstock to give the R`s an unlikely home point.
Still reeling from the news that Rowan Vine would be out for the rest of the season, coupled with Akos Buzsaky`s ankle complaint meant a start for Martin Rowlands following a recent neck complaint. Mikele Leigetwood was accommodated in a right midfield position, whilst the R`s stuck with the same back four that kept a clean sheet at Portman Road.
Preston kept an unchanged line-up from the side that comprehensively beat Sheffield United last Saturday. In form striker Neil Mellor retained his place in the starting eleven following his brace at Deepdale, partnering Chris Brown. Bowler hats being sported in the School End, which also coincided with the 86th Birthday of PNE legend, Sir Tom Finney.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v PRESTON NORTH END
Preston made it difficult for the R`s from the off, closing the ball down at every opportunity and making it extremely difficult for Rangers to get any sort of play going. The wingwork of Simon Whaley was a constant threat in difficult conditions at Loftus Road.
The Lilywhites then forced the first real opportunity of the game, and it came from the aforementioned danger-man Neil Mellor. The ex-Liverpool striker latched onto a loose ball in the box on the left-hand side of the area; his rifled left-footed drive was matched by the agility of Rangers stopper, Lee Camp who tipped the ball over the bar from close range. Therein lied a real warning for the R`s.
Preston went close again moments later when Simon Whaley found himself in shooting range and once again brought a save from Lee Camp, who was finding himself the busier of the two goalkeepers in the opening exchanges.
All that Rangers could offer was the industrious play of Martin Rowlands, looking to get the ball down and pass to feet at every opportunity, but with Hogan Ephraim becoming increasingly isolated on the left wing, and Leigertwood evidently playing out of position on the right, chances were few and far between.
Then at once Rangers sprung into life, the ball fell at the feet of Dexter Blackstock in fortuitous circumstances 40 yards out, he and Agyemang held similar positions as defender Sean St. Ledger was left two-on-one. Agyemang peeled away giving Blackstock time on his left foot, the striker opted for power rather than precision and his shot was well dealt with by Andy Lonerghan. A rare moment of enterprise in an otherwise drab first half.
Rangers however were made to pay for not heading the earlier warning about the threat of Neil Mellor. When veteran midfielder, Paul McKenna`s corner was swung into the heart of the R`s penalty area, defender Youl Mauwene got the jump on his marker to flick onto Mellor on the far post. The striker slammed a right footed volley home from the left-hand side of the area, giving Camp absolutely no chance.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-1 PRESTON NORTH END
Bowler hats were floating down from the top tier populated by the Preston faithful, and giving the Rangers fans, enticed in by the club`s promotion, a nice souvenir of their day. What was occurring on the field however would scarcely entice them further.
Rangers mustered another opportunity when Michael Mancienne motored from his position at right back, to try and take control of a scrappy midfield battle. The full back kept his run going into the heart of the Preston half, and let fly from fully 25 yards out, his drive fizzed along the turf to drift narrowly wide of the left hand upright. A moment of spark that was all too rare, as the first half drew to a disappointing close. Both teams seemed happy for the teams to go in at one goal to nil, and re-group for what would no doubt have to be a better spectacle in the second half.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-1 PRESTON NORTH END
There was a half time substitution for Preston, as goalscorer Neil Mellor, who appeared to take a knock as the first period drew itself to a close, was withdrawn, and on loan striker Tamas Priskin entered the fray in his final loan appearance before returning to Watford.
Rangers remained unchanged despite a lacklustre 45, but experimented with Hogan Ephraim attacking down the right hand side, and Leigertwood the left, but from the off the problems began to rear their ugly head once more. Leigertwood and Connolly were struggling for any sort of connection down the left, and Callum Davidson was doing a marvellous job of keeping Ephraim quiet on the other flank.
Rangers seemed desperate for a midfield playmaker, and the Loftus Road crowd were buzzing with the names of Buzsaky and Vine, and the gaps in creativity their absence had left. Step forward Martin Rowlands, at last the central midfielder started to take the impetus in the fixture, driving forward at every opportunity as Rangers searched for an illusive equaliser.
Rowlands defence splitting runs were beginning to cause strain on the Preston rearguard, laying balls wide to Ephraim, and trying an audacious shot himself that drifted inches wide of the right hand upright, with Lonerghan beaten all ends up. All too often his runs were being crowded out, with the movement between the strikers which can only be described as negligible failed to provide any clear cut opportunities for the R`s.
De Canio made a bold change just after the hour mark by withdrawing the ineffective Hogan Ephraim, with teenage sensation Angelo Balanta. Fresh from his call-up as stand by for the England Under 18`s, Gigi turned to the young striker to help turn the R`s fortunes around.
With Rangers pushing forward in search of the goal they craved, they were caught out on the counter attack as ruthless North End, seemingly put Rangers to bed, courtesy of an Matthew Connolly own goal. A counter-attacking move developed into the left-hand side of the area, with more intelligent wing work by Chris Sedgewick. Sedgewick, drilled a left-footed shot on target and with Camp prepared to stop Connolly arrived first and was helpless to divert the ball past his own keeper to send the travelling fans into delirium.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-2 PRESTON NORTH END
Preston were then entrenched in the Rangers half, with a succession of corners and consistent possession in key areas. Corners were proving a real difficulty for Rangers to defend with free headers for Sean St. Ledger and Tamas Priskin, the latter bringing another world class save from Lee Camp, with the stooped header seemingly destined for the top left hand corner.
The introduction of Gareth Ainsworth at the expense of Gavin Mahon, failed to quell the pressure, but momentarily the R`s found themselves in the correct half, and they managed to force the corner. Lee Camp opted to bound towards the loft to take part in a potential goalscoring opportunity, evidently against the wishes of Luigi De Canio, whose face was an absolute picture, whatever language you speak that was a look of sheer surprise! The move broke down and Preston raced clear with Priskin, who opted to run the ball out of play instead of shoot whilst under the attentions of Angelo Balanta.
The clock was ticking down and Preston were buying every second they could to run down the clock. Andy Lonerghan warned several times by Mr. Penton; who persistently looked at his watch to alert players to his intentions.
As the clock ticked through to ninety, Loftus Road was emptying in patches with some fans having seen enough, what was to follow could only be described as unbelievable. As previously mentioned chances were becoming few and far between with the R`s becoming desperate, but they finally made a breakthrough, courtesy of a substitute inspired.
Gareth Ainsworth latched onto a wayward shot, diverting the ball expertly on target and the dipping drive flew over the head of Lonerghan, to send a ripple of belief, however small, back onto the terraces in W12, with Ainsworth geeing up the fans and his fellow players.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-2 PRESTON NORTH END
Lonerghan`s stunt of kicking the ball away in the celebrations that ensued didn`t impress the referee, who had previously signalled a minimum of four minutes of added time, and the goalkeeper picked up a yellow card for his troubles.
Loftus Road was now buzzing with anticipation with wave after wave of attack from the R`s flooding forward in search of what would be an incredible goal. The Loft was were trying to suck the ball into the net as the atmosphere grew louder in sheer anticipation at Loftus Road, and incredibly enough for Rangers, it came.
Gareth Ainsworth was now becoming a torment to the side with which he is held in high regard following his three spells. He was applauded onto the pitch from the North End fans for his effort during those spells, but soon after they must have been cursing the midfielder. His cross was dug out into the box from the right, and it was striker Dexter Blackstock who was lurking in the box who glanced the ball home. In stark contrast to the celebration for the first goal, this was less a ripple than a boom, Loftus Road electrified as Dexter Blackstock made it 4 goals in a difficult season.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS 2-2 PRESTON NORTH END
Hearts were in mouths for moments as Preston then threw caution to the wind, winning a free kick on the left hand side of the area, but it was cleared eventually and Rangers could celebrate an unlikely point in somewhat poetic justice as the goals were scored in the time added on, in the most part, for time-wasting tactics.
A harsh result on a Preston side that truly bossed the encounter, not giving the R`s time to play, and quieting the Loftus Road crowd, but you can be certain that point epitomises Rangers` attitude as the season draws to a close, we`re not done yet!
FULL TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 2-2 PRESTON NORTH END
Rangers Team: Camp, Mahon (Ainsworth 67) Stewart, Mancienne, Blackstock, Rowlands, Connolly, Agyemang, Ephraim (Balanta 62) Hall, Leigertwood.
Lee Camp: 7/10
Was helpless for both goals, and without him Rangers would not have got anywhere near a point, saving from Mellor and Whaley in the first half and Priskin in the second. Another quality performance, which with some cajoling could flicker the eyebrows of another Italian manager.
Michael Mancienne: 7/10
Mancienne looked very composed on the ball, and neither goal was really down to him despite the balls being knocked home from his position at the right side of defence. He was excellent coming forward and was a real driving force when the going got tough.
Matthew Connolly: 5/10
Looked out of position once again, but nevertheless I believe him to be the lesser of two evils when it comes to himself and Chris Barker. His distribution and lack of enterprise coming forward was a real drawback at times, and it cost us dear on occassions.
Damion Stewart: 5/10
Lost concentration at vital moments and lacked composure on the ball. Tried to bring the ball forwards on occasions, but his poor touch was a drawback. Hasn’t exactly made himself undroppable with the imminent return of Damien Delaney, and it will be interesting to see what De Canio does.
Fitz Hall: 6/10
Not one of Fitz’ better games for the R’s. Won quite alot in the air, but struggled in spells against some good movement, notably from Mellor in the first half. His shot in the second half was a poor decision, it drifted woefully wide as the R’s looked like offering little.
Mikele Leigertwood: 4/10
Played out of position and looked lost out on the right wing, and the left. Kept drifting inside and leaving gaps for Mancienne to try and fill. I can only assume he was put there to help cover Mancienne, but he didn’t give enough cover to the young full back.
Hogan Ephraim: 6/10
Barely got into the game, but when he got glimpses of the ball he looked dangerous. He runs at people and tehy get worried, but firing the ball at his neck, we will not see him at his most effective. Hopefully gets better service next time out.
Martin Rowlands: 7/10
As mentioned above, really looked a solitary threat for the R’s, and the only one with the sufficient class to break the deadlock.
Gavin Mahon: 6/10
Found it tough going at times. From todays display didn’t appear fully fit. Won alot of aerial challenges, but he and Rowlands were being overrun on occassions by a good Preston side full of confidence.
Dexter Blackstock: 7/10
Alot of effort from Dexter today, coming deep to get possession before laying off to midfielders. Took his chance very well at the end, putting the ball right in the corner, a perfectly glanced header.
Patrick Agyemang: 6/10
Agyemang had a hard time from a defence that was all too familiar with his style of play. Showed alot of strength at times, and his effort on an off the ball was first class.
Angelo Balanta: 7/10
Replaced Hogan Ephraim
Looked useful following his introduction with a performance that transcended his age, may be a permanent fixture between now and the end of the season.
Gareth Ainsworth: 7/10
Replaced Gavin Mahon
Was a catalyst for change, and really pushed Rangers on from the sideline and on the pitch, first class from Ainsworth who may be used in more cameo roles in the near future.
Luigi De Canio 6/10: He seems to be accomodating his best players regardless of positions they play best. May consider turning to youth on the flank in the shape of Balanta in the near future. The right changes were made, and perhaps made earlier could have won the game for the R’s.
Alan Irvine 6/10: His team looked the better throughout, and had they not sat back in the later stages and with a little more luck they could have closed the game out. However his defence caved and the R’s managed to claim a useful point.
I predicted an ambitious 2-0 win for the R’s. Once the R’s were two down in the second period I would have accepted this score in reversal, as PNE threatened 3 and 4. But credit to the players for pulling out a draw and working hard till the death.
Clive Penton 6/10: Was refreshing to get a good referee for a chance, let the game flow without letting it get out of control, and added on the time for time-wasting, which weaker referee’s may not have done. A good performance.