TWO scintillating strikes from Adel Taarabt propelled Queens Park Rangers back to the summit of the Championship.
Rangers took full advantage of Cardiff City slipping up at home to record a deserved win against bottom of the league Preston North End – who were in truth flattered by the score-line.
While the expectation may have been on a home victory, it didn’t show as Rob Hulse got the ball rolling early on – his first strike in a QPR shirt being bundled home from close range.
Despite dominating vast proportions of the fixture, the hosts weren’t able to take full advantage, that was until Adel Taarabt came to the fore and proved the catalyst for success.
The Moroccan cut through the Lilywhites defence like a knife through butter as he curled a delightful effort home. His country’s loss is Rangers gain as a refreshed playmaker was evidently on song.
If one special goal wasn’t enough Taarabt lashed home a sumptuous second to see QPR through at a canter against a side that seem destined to struggle at the wrong end of the table.
Preston did have their consolation as the game drew to a weary conclusion – Matt Connolly the unfortunate party, the defender putting through his own net from close range.
Despite struggling to cobble together the match-day squad, Rangers were able to use their quality to great effect as they soar back to the summit.
Neil Warnock made two changes from the side that drew at Nottingham Forest – Fitz Hall coming back in for the suspended Shaun Derry and the ineligible Tommy Smith dropped out for Leon Clarke.
Rangers therefore named Paddy Kenny behind a back four of Kyle Walker, Hall, Kaspars Gorkss and Clint Hill – the midfield duo was Connolly alongside Alejandro Faurlín.
Jamie Mackie, Adel Taarabt and Leon Clarke started behind lone striker Rob Hulse – former Lilywhite Patrick Agyemang on the bench for the hosts.
Darren Ferguson made four changed from the side that were beaten by Hull City – Richie de Laet, David Gray, Michael Tonge and Danny Pugh coming in.
They started with three debutantes in the line-up as Andy Lonergan started in goal behind, Sean St Ledger, former QPR loanee Wayne Brown, Gray and de Laet.
Adam Barton, Tonge, Darel Russell and Pugh lined up in midfield while Canadian Iain Hume partnered talisman Jon Parkin in attack.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Preston North End
A cold afternoon at Loftus Road as Queens Park Rangers were tasked with the pressure of expectation – facing a Preston North End side planted at the wrong end of the table. Neil Warnock’s men knew the importance of a win with promotion rivals Cardiff City also playing at home.
It was a fast-paced and positive opening from the hosts, intent on pinning Preston back in the early stages. Matt Connolly’s unfamiliar place at the heart of midfield didn’t seem to faze the former Arsenal man as both he and Alejandro Faurlín had the better of the early exchange.
Kyle Walker was also looking lively on the right flank and had his reward for some excellent endeavour. The Tottenham Hotspur loanee saw his run and cross set up an early opening goal as he beat two men before delivering into the heart of the area.
Andy Lonergan – normally a bastion of reliability in an unstable North End side – could only flap at the feet of Rob Hulse who, after what seemed an eternity of waiting, eventually prodded the ball over the line to claim an early advantage.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Preston North End
The goal seemed to relax Rangers and Hulse in particular – the striker evidently becoming desperate to open his account for the R’s. Faurlín in particular was playing with great freedom, and all this came with talisman Adel Taarabt seldom getting a touch.
The hosts continued to plough forward with full-back Walker fully justifying his billing at Loftus Road – jinking his way through a succession of defenders, and even the final ball that seemed to be his minor weakness had certainly improved on this evidence.
Nevertheless while QPR couldn’t net an important early second strike, Preston were always going to threaten. Debutante Richie de Laet was unfortunate not to haul his side level after a deflected effort flew wide of the right hand upright.
Paddy Kenny was at full stretch, but seemingly looked confident as the ball faded further away. The majority of play was being metered out in the Preston half however, as the R’s pressed with a view to doubling their advantage.
Adel Taarabt was now growing into the game and his run and pass to Connolly saw the former Arsenal man attempt an effort that subsequently skipped up to Mackie. The onrushing forward was always second best to reach the effort, but his persistence saw him slash at the effort that flew wide.
It encapsulated the best of Jamie Mackie who despite playing a full 90 minutes for Scotland during the week – something well publicised by boss Neil Warnock – he was never found wanting for effort and endeavour.
Rangers were creating countless chances, and none better than for Mackie moments later. That infectious persistence saw the Scottish international rob Wayne Brown on the edge of the area and charge towards goal.
His right-footed strike was well saved by Lonergan but parried only as far as Leon Clarke. The former Sheffield Wednesday man could only blast high and wide of the right hand upright with the goal at his mercy, and there was a nervousness now setting into the home crowd.
Preston were offering little in riposte, only an error by Paddy Kenny nearly allowed them the opening they sorely needed. Kenny’s attempted punch landed about as well as an Audley Harrison special as the ball lurched agonisingly towards the line, Connolly was on hand to lash clear of danger.
Still the hosts pressed and this time Kaspars Gorkss looked to add to his growing tally this campaign as a Taarabt corner saw the Latvian glance an effort over the bar. As the game grew towards half time it was the visitors in the ascendancy.
Preston were starting to assert from late pressure – pressure more to do with the nerves among the Rangers players that the outstanding creative ability from the Lilywhites. To his credit Iain Hume was brimming with effort but getting very little in terms of support.
Warnock was evidently relieved to get the game to half time as were most of the supporters, as after a glut of chances in the opening period they were only a goal to the good going into the break.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Preston North End
The two sides took to the field in the second period, with Neil Warnock customarily keeping the opposition waiting on the pitch while he delivered what would have been a word or two of warning to his players.
What ensued wasn’t vintage as both sides pressed without reward. Unlike fierce rivals Burnley, Preston came out to play and to their credit could have drawn level after the QPR defence seemed at odds with a brisk counter-attack.
Fitz Hall was out of position to miss out on a challenge before allowing Jon Parkin to get away from him and play a scything pass to Adam Barton. The better side of Paddy Kenny was in evidence as he snuffed out the chance at his near post.
Rob Hulse was rejuvenated at the other end, winning the ball in the air and even having a good opportunity to notch a brace. His run and effort flashed across the goal and away to the left, an effort that was truly neither a cross nor a shot.
It was pure Taarabt genius that put Preston to the sword last season, and he was doing his best to torment the Lilywhites this time around. At times he baffled the opposition, so much so that Darel Russell seemed to spend the majority of the half on his back-side.
Taarabt was the icing on the cake however as despite keeping his shooting to a minimum he unleashed another cracker. Adel Taarabt cut in from the right flank before beating several men and curling a fine effort into the top right hand corner.
It was pure class from a player once again in fine form, Taarabt was now proving his considerable worth as QPR doubled their lead and in fairness killed off the Preston threat, that was begininng to wane after a positive second half opening.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 2-0 Preston North End
Rangers were now rampant and visibly more relaxed given the relief of the second goal. Indeed Taarabt was now enjoying his influence on proceedings with an excellently guided corner. Gorkss’ effort from the set-piece saw Lonergan parry only as far as Hulse.
The striker’s effort had to be hacked from the line by Parkin as Rangers were clearly enjoying their new-found confidence. It was fast becoming one way traffic and the only surprise from a Preston perspective was the lack of recourse to the substitutes.
Taarabt was in scintillating form as he pressed for Rangers third, but incurred the wrath of his fellow players when shooting from a tight angle. Several players were well-placed as the Moroccan soared towards target but Lonergan saved at his near post.
Mackie in particular lead the protest at the manner of Taarabt’s effort – but there was calm once again in the air as the subsequent Preston counter-attack was thwarted. Moments later however there was a moment that all could cheer as Taarabt lit up the stage once more.
Adel Taarabt was foolishly afforded the freedom at Loftus Road as he strode through the midfield. His subsequent drive from distance was hit with such venom and force that Lonergan barely saw it as it flew into the top left hand corner.
A stunning goal from a player in top form – Taarabt netted two successive strikes of such genuine quality and certainly hadn’t been marshalled man to man or anywhere near as physically as has been witnessed in recent games.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 3-0 Preston North End
The Moroccan was in sparkling form as nearly had a third as sensational as the previous two. He rolled his marker before dragging the ball perfectly into place. A powerful left-footed drive followed but unfortunately for him and Rangers it was blocked away to safety.
Preston did press late on and got a goal courtesy of some ponderous defending from Rangers. A deep cross from the right saw three home defenders standing on the far post and Matt Connolly watched as it brushed off him and into the back of the net.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 3-1 Preston North End
It was a mere consolation however as Preston never truly had the second half endeavour and drive to challenge the QPR lead. With news of the Cardiff score working its way around Loftus Road the fans started to enjoy themselves.
And like a hot potato the leadership was passed once more as Queens Park Rangers capitalised on a Cardiff City slip up to re-claim their place at the top. Preston meanwhile have a hard winter to contemplate given a lacklustre display today.
Queens Park Rangers
Kenny, Hill, Hall (Rowlands 81), Taarabt, Clarke, Faurlin, Mackie (Andrade 87), Gorkss, Walker, Connolly, Hulse (Agyemang 81).
Preston North End
Lonergan, St Ledger, Brown, Gray, Barton, Hume, Russell, de Leat, Pugh, Tonge, Parkin.