QUEENS Park Rangers top scorer Dexter Blackstock came from the bench to hand the R`s all three points in dramatic fashion.
Visitors Preston North End had proved more than worthy advisories in W12, as twice they pegged Rangers back to draw the game level.
Heidar Helguson had put the R`s infront with a well-directed header, before Chris Sedgewick repeated the heroics at the other end.
Loanee Helguson wasn`t to be denied however as he effectively tackled the ball into the net to put Rangers back in front before half time.
Referee Alan Wiley took centre stage handing the visitors a penalty which Callum Davidson duly dispatched. However Dexter kept up his impressive record against Preston, scoring his third in three games against the Lilywhites in W12 with a perfectly guided header.
Loftus Road remained tepid throughout, before an explosion of atmosphere in the dying stages helped the R`s to a much needed, if slightly ill deserved three points.
R`s boss Paulo Sousa made one change from the side that drew down in Plymouth last weekend. Opting to take a more attacking stance, the Portuguese manager started former West Ham United winger Hogan Ephraim in place of Mikele Leigertwood.
The R`s once again opted for the diamond formation with Lee Cook sitting in the hole behind strikers Patrick Agyemang and Heidar Helguson. Gavin Mahon played the holding role, with the attacking prospect of Martin Rowlands and the aforementioned Ephraim sat just infront of him.
Jon Parkin was recalled to the starting line-up for Preston North End at the expense of Stephen Elliott. Alan Irvine recalled the man mountain forward after his recent goalscoring heroics, most notably against promotion hopefuls Birmingham City.
The former Everton number two opted to utilise Ross Wallace on the right flank, seeking to exploit Rangers frailties in the left full back position, while former Rotherham United man Chris Sedgewick marauded the opposite wing. The lofty strike force of Parkin and Chris Brown was looking to be a tough prospect for a resilient Rangers rearguard.
Queens Park Rangers v Preston North End
Rangers started in the ascendancy and looked to take the game to their opponents. Preston, who occupy a playoff place in the Championship were forced on the back foot as Lee Cook proved the lynchpin in many of the R`s early attacks.
His attacking prowess and opportunistic eye for goal proved a plus point after barely two minutes, when he laid on a big chance for Patrick Agyemang.
Cookie`s industrious running bought him some space on the right hand side of the area. The Rangers fan cut inside and fired a rasping drive which was parried by Andy Lonergan. The Preston stopper could only parry as far as Patrick Agyemang, who contrived to pick out the keeper again from close range.
Another blow to the fragile confidence of the R`s forward, as he somehow spurned the opportunity for his second goal of the season, against his old club.
Preston came back with Jon Parkin providing ample threat up front. The sizeable figure of the former Stoke City man was being used to effect as even Damion Stewart was struggling to cope with his presence.
With just after quarter of an hour gone the R`s struck and it was loanee Heidar Helguson who profited from some poor marking.
Lee Cook was once again at the centre of proceedings as he popped up on the left-hand side of the area following a throw in. His whipped cross found Helguson woefully unmarked on the far post, and the Bolton striker had the easiest of tasks to nod the ball home from close range.
Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Preston North End
Rangers looked rampant early on, and warnings that one day they could give someone a real hammering were starting to reverberate around Loftus Road, as the Preston defence looked shaky early on.
The R`s were starting to pour forward in numbers in search of the second, with Hogan Ephraim and Martin Rowlands providing the majority of width, no easy task when you consider they were being deployed essentially as central midfielders.
An end to end affair brought another goal, but this time the reaction wasn`t as joyous in W12, as visitors Preston rightfully bagged an equaliser, capitalising on some naïve defensive play.
The R`s inability to clear their lines was again highlighted as Ross Wallace neatly slotted the ball through to Paul McKenna. The veteran midfielder picked out a perfect cross, with Chris Brown and Chris Sedgewick lurking. With Brown being held, Sedgewick took full advantage of a lack of defensive cover to power his header home.
Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Preston North End
Preston were certainly in the ascendancy as they strode forward once more, and but for some poor finishing the visitors could have been infront. Barry Nicholson`s corner caused all sorts of worry in the R`s defence and Youl Mauwene volleyed inches over the bar.
In a ding-dong Championship affair the R`s were next to threaten as Ephraim`s cross narrowly evaded Helguson after some good work from Blackburn Rovers loanee Eddie Nolan. Nolan had been given a tough time in the full back position, but certainly proved his worth in that instance.
As the tide was beginning to turn back in Rangers favour, they duly took advantage of the pressure to hand them a coveted second goal – somewhat of a rarity in the climate of goalscoring woe.
Martin Rowlands this time swung his corner into the six yard box, an improvement on recent efforts as he strived to beat the first man. The ball was attacked by Damion Stewart, before it deflected loose to Heidar Helguson who tackled the ball past Callum Davidson and into the back of the net. Once again no chance for the impressive Andy Lonergan.
Queens Park Rangers 2-1 Preston North End
Rangers were looking good for their advantage, playing some of the most free-flowing football seen in W12 in recent years. While he was not putting away his chances, Patrick Agyemang`s all round game proved to be benefiting the Rangers cause. Full of effort, running and enthusiasm the former Preston man was proving to be the driving force behind many of Rangers attacks.
He slipped in Lee Cook for a chance, before combining with the midfield to carve out another for Martin Rowlands, but Rangers seemed unable to add to their one-goal lead. Something that is becoming synonymous with QPR at Loftus Road.
Premier League official Alan Wiley drew a thoroughly entertaining first half to an end, as Rangers went in infront, with the game perfectly poised for the second period.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 2-1 Preston North End
Rangers came out looking strong in the second period, with Patrick Agyemang peeling wide more often to support the midfield. Chances were still being created and spurned as the R`s goalscoring conundrum looked set to continue despite bagging two goals at home.
Lee Cook`s trickery on the edge of the area bought him a chance and he kept the ball going in the air, before releasing a tame volley straight into the arms of Lonergan. A rare moment of delight for Rangers fans, seeing the winger show glimpses of his best ahead of what seems a done deal to return to the club in January.
Further chances came as Heidar Helguson popped up on the left by-line and chipped the ball back delightfully for Patrick Agyemang. The Ghanaian timed his shot to perfection, watching the ball onto his foot before unleashing a right-footed drive. Unfortunately for him and Rangers it was straight at Lonergan who was more than equal to it.
Preston began to pile forward in reply and their flanks were proving to be their biggest plus point as they looked to capitalise on some shortcomings in the R`s full back positions. Wallace and Sedgewick were proving a real nuisance, but the R`s didn`t bank on Callum Davidson carving out a chance for the Lilywhites.
The former Leicester City man bagged a goal at Loftus Road a few seasons ago, and his rasping, left-footed drive was well charged down by Gavin Mahon. Make no mistake about it the R`s were under pressure, and Preston were looking to assert their playoff credentials.
With the R`s defending resiliently it seemed Preston were in for a hard time, however they didn`t account for some suspect officiating from Premier League official Alan Wiley. By and large a good referee whenever presiding over a Rangers game, Wiley had lost the plot on several decisions and this was the latest in the line of strange ones.
Sean St Ledger somehow worked his way a shooting position in the box before Cerny came out and appeared to palm the ball away from his feet. With no-one appealing the game was poised to continue. Fans and players alike seemed content, but the crucial man was Mr Wiley who deemed the incident a penalty kick.
Not so much anger, but bemusement and bewildering worked its way through the stands as fans were trying to see what the official had given. It mattered not for the aforementioned full back Callum Davidson who fired his penalty down the middle past the despairing dive of Radek Cerny.
Queens Park Rangers 2-2 Preston North End
Rangers confidence seemed shot as the visitors piled the pressure onto a nervy defence. The R`s had been infront twice, with a hat-ful of chances to accompany, but still they could not get clear of a gutsy Preston North End, who have evidently worked hard to attain their current position in the league table.
Sousa had to react, and duly did so, replacing Gavin Mahon with Mikele Leigertwood, what seemed a like for like substitution in the centre of midfield actually pushed the R`s into a 4-4-2 formation. With Cook and Ephraim the wide men in a more familiar formation.
Mahon was replaced by Ainsworth in the last meeting between the two sides, which proved to be the catalyst for success, only time would tell if this latest substitution would prove successful as the new substitute Leigertwood fired inches over the bar from 25 yards out.
Eddie Nolan went close at the other end, in what was a carbon copy to Mawene`s first half effort. He found some space in the six yard box but failed to hit the target, firing the effort into the Rangers fans in the School End, all taking the opportunity of family ticket discount.
Hogan Ephraim was the next to try his luck from distance, as he strode forward from the right flank. He had Ramage free alongside him looking to cross the ball, but the winger went for the target and wasn`t far off from the top right hand corner.
It was gamble time from Paulo Sousa, as he threw on two substitutes. Dexter Blackstock replaced Peter Ramage and Fitz Hall for Damien Delaney. Sousa had withdrawn all width in favour of a 3-4-3 formation. A bold move as the game was playing itself out.
The changed nearly had the desired outcome as Hall`s excellent cross field pass found Lee Cook. Cook worked his way past Nolan with ease before sending an excellent cross which Agyemang reacted to before placing back into the heart of the area. A game of pinball played itself out before heroic goalkeeping from Lonergan, as he came to claim the ball.
The tide was beginning to turn, and the Loftus Road crowd was roused by the positive substitution and positive overall play. Lee Cook was looking his old self on the left flank, and when Ross Wallace stepped in to stop the winger the R`s had a free kick on the left hand side.
Ultimately it was the free kick that fired the R`s to all three points. Martin Rowlands at last put in a telling free kick, as super sub Dexter Blackstock rose highest to glance his header into the top right hand corner and raise the roof at Loftus Road.
Dexter celebrated with the supporters, and Paulo Sousa couldn`t hide his delight, charging down the touchline to congratulate the R`s top goalscorer.
Queens Park Rangers 3-2 Preston North End
Reality was setting in at Loftus Road, could Rangers hold onto their advantage this time? Having being pegged back twice an electric atmosphere remained relentless, but was tainted with the biting of nails and gnashing of teeth with every Preston attack.
The fans were singing once again, a sight that has been missing from Loftus Road – some might say prices, some might say entertainment, but on this evidence the voices are out there. Helguson nearly sent the crowd into further raptures when his near one-two with Dexter Blackstock nearly provided his hatrick, but he was thwarted by a timely tackle from Callum Davidson.
Moments later, the moment that Rangers fans had waited for. The final whistle confirmed three much-needed points in the playoff chase against what could prove to be rivals in the shake-up.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 3-2 Preston North End
QPR: Radek Cerny, Damien Delaney (Fitz Hall 81), Damion Stewart, Gavin Mahon (Mikele Leigertwood 62), Patrick Agyemang, Kaspars Gorkss, Martin Rowlands, Peter Ramage (Dexter Blackstock 81), Lee Cook, Hogan Ephraim, Heidar Helguson.
Preston North End Andy Lonergan, Callum Davidson, Youl Mawene, Chris Sedgwick (Simon Whaley 90), Chris Brown, Barry Nicholson, Sean St Ledger, Paul McKenna, Ross Wallace, Jon Parkin, Eddie Nolan.
Radek Cerny – 7/10
The Czech stopper didn`t in truth have a lot to do other than pick the ball out the back of the net. He came out well for crosses and either claimed the ball to relieve pressure or punch it away, which has become a Cerny trademark.
He had absolutely no chance with either of Preston`s goals, as a pin-point header and a blasted penalty were all he conceded on the day. Radek also wasn`t helped by some wayward backpasses, and an insistency to use the custodian whenever possible for an outlet.
Peter Ramage – 6/10
Peter did what he does best today, and that was defend. He had a difficult task to keep reigns on Chris Sedgewick, but proved his worth on numerous to stop the winger in his tracks. He headed clear when it was required, and also came up in support of Hogan Ephraim.
The former Newcastle United man has had a lot of unnecessary and ignorant abuse in recent weeks because he is being played out of position. The man is a defender and has certainly proved his worth for me in that position. Perhaps there are other players that put in far less effort and get little to no abuse.
Damion Stewart – 7/10
A tough opponent in Jon Parkin found Damion wanting at times during the game, with one of the most toughest physical challenges he is likely to face this season. The big Jamaican wasn`t to be outdone a lot of the time in the air and certainly didn`t disgrace himself against a worthy opponent.
The aerial battle was always going to be the major talking point with two large strikers, but Damion performed well, striking up a good understanding with Kaspars Gorkss as the partnership continues to flourish.
Kaspars Gorkss – 7/10
Kaspars played well once again with Damion Stewart at the heart of defence, and his aerial ability was tested to the maximum against Parkin and Brown, but once again he came out of the challenge with his head held high.
Despite conceding two goals, the Rangers defence was never really under that much pressure, and this is reflected from a good performance from the Latvian who is starting to prove why he was highly sought after in the summer.
He looked to bring the ball out of defence without just thumping it forward, and when he had to play the ball long, he looked intelligently. Short passing was his priority however, looking for Delaney, Stewart or Mahon for the short pass.
Damien Delaney – 5/10
Delaney once again put in a below-par performance, and looks unable to recapture anything like the form that got him into the Ireland squad last season. Many passes went astray, several poor challenges could have seen him sent off and overall it wasn`t what the R`s would look for in a full back.
However there was some positives to be had in the aerial battle with two sizeable forwards. Whenever Damion Stewart of Kaspars Gorkss were found wanting in the air, there was a capable deputy in either Ramage or Delaney to slot in and cover.
Gavin Mahon – 6/10
Gavin played the holding role in the centre of midfield once more, and played it rather effectively, letting more creative players flourish infront of him. He supported the defence very well and acted as another head in times of defence.
His passing was also good, and his array of intelligent distribution is something we`ve come to expect from the R`s number 4. He seems to relish the defensive role in the centre of the park, but it was his withdrawal today that paved the way for a more attacking prowess and ultimately helped the R`s to the game.
Hogan Ephraim – 6/10
Perhaps not as effective as he could have been, but nevertheless a good display from Hogan. He certainly provided a challenge for the Preston defence, if not pushing them to full stretch, which he has proven he can do at some points this season.
His crossing wasn`t perfect on the day, but his bright running was a definitive plus point. His choice to shoot towards the end when there was other options available too was a tad naïve, but nevertheless over the course of the 90 maybe he deserved a moment of over-ambitiousness!
Martin Rowlands – 7/10
Rowley was impressive in the centre of midfield once more, really getting a firm foothold on proceedings, with Gavin Mahon sat behind him to sure things up.
The former Brentford man continues to flourish in his central midfield role, and this latest display will not have gone unnoticed by Eire boss Giovanni Trapattoni when he selects his next squad. His intelligent passing and sheer ability on the ball was a joy to behold at times, and provide Rangers with a much needed creative outlet.
Lee Cook – 8/10
Cookie was on top form today, and really looked like recapturing some of the form that saw him move to Premier League Fulham last summer. He sat at the point of the diamond and all of Rangers early creative threat went through the self professed Rangers fan.
He then reverted back to familiar ground on the left flank, and rolled back to two years ago when he was putting in crosses for fun. Late on in the fixture his creative threat proved integral and ultimately it provided the winner.
Patrick Agyemang – 7/10
Effort, commitment, passion but still no goals for Pat. It wasn`t for the want of trying as he peppered the target early on to no avail. A confidence player, Agyemang needs a couple of goals under his belt to round off a succession of effective displays.
He continues to flourish alongside Heidar Helguson and causes untold woes to opposition defences, whether it be central defenders or full backs. He seems to make very intelligent runs and drops into all the right gaps – if he finishing was up to scratch he would be a real force, as proved last season.
Heidar Helguson – 8/10
Heidar put in another sterling display up front and he could prove to be that missing link that Rangers are searching for. He bagged two goals today, the first an excellently guided header, and the second the culmination of a goalline scramble. He was able in the two instances to display his composure in front of goal and also his ability to be a poacher.
As time goes on Heidar could prove to be one of the most effective deals that Ranger have pulled off this campaign – If he can keep his shooting boots on permanently!
SUB: Mikele Leigertwood – 6/10
Replaced Gavin Mahon
Mikele came on and nearly made an immediate impact with a strike from distance – whistling narrowly over the bar. The combative midfielder came on and sured things up after Gavin Mahon was running out of steam in his defensive midfield role.
The former Sheffield United man prompted a more attacking mentality as the R`s moved to a 4-4-2 formation. Sousa noticing that Mikele is perhaps not as defensively adept as Mahon.
SUB: Dexter Blackstock – 9/10
Replaced Peter Ramage
His introduction prompted a radical shift in formation and ultimately it paid off. Dexter had an immediate impact on the game scoring a truly excellent header. He latched onto Rowlands` cross and sent a sublime glancing header into the top corner.
The R`s top goalscorer is starting to prove his worth most notably in the air, and his performance today showed that he has kicked up a notch since the arrival of Helguson and the return to form of Patrick Agyemang.
Replaced Damien Delaney
Fitz slotted in as part of three centre backs, and despite not being tested all that much, the back three looked very comfortable. Fitz proved dominant in the air and certainly seems more adept at the centre of defence than at full back where he came on at the weekend.
He has fallen out of favour in recent weeks with Kaspars Gorkss performing so well, but nevertheless there is always the potential for Fitz to come in and do a job, the very mark that he was an integral cog in the good run last season says a lot for how the defence has improved.
Paulo Sousa: 8/10 – Paulo got it absolutely spot on knowing when to change the formation and how. The Portuguese boss started with diamond formation to strangle the game, then when things needed a more attacking impetus 4-4-2 came in, following by the untried 3-4-3 – a bold gamble which ultimately paid off. Well done Paulo!
Alan Irvine: 7/10 – Will be bitterly disappointed that despite his side scoring two goals away from home and playing admirably they go away with nothing. Very tough on Irvine`s men who certainly deserved a point at least from a ding-dong fixture.
Alan Wiley: 4/10 – A really disappointing display from what was a Premier League official. He looked a shadow of the official that has presided adequately over many Rangers fixtures previously. He seemed to lose the plot over the most minor of incidents, at his grasp of the advantage rule has to come into question.
A Rangers player was fouled in an area for a direct shot on goal, the ball rolled about 20 yards to a defensive player and the referee constituted it as advantage despite the fact every Preston player was behind the ball. On other occasions he would either blow direct for the foul, or stare ponderously for a few seconds before deciding.
Not what you`d come to expect from one of the foremost officials in the country.