Preston North End V Queens Park Rangers
PRESTON came from behind to secure all three points against QPR, as Ian Holloway’s side lost 2-1 at Deepdale.
In truth, the result could’ve gone either way, but it was the hosts who clinched victory thanks to Jordan Hugill’s close-range finish 19 minutes from time.
Earlier, Kazenga LuaLua’s first goal in QPR colours deservedly put Rangers in front on 36 minutes, only for Aiden McGeady to level matters on the stroke of half-time with a fine finish from the edge of the box.
Despite chances at both ends, Hugill had the final say on 71 minutes, before the Hoops were reduced to ten men 12 minutes from time, when Luke Freeman was given his marching orders for a second bookable offence.
Following back-to-back wins in the last seven days, Holloway was forced into changes against the Lilywhites.
Grant Hall and Conor Washington both missed out owing to injury, meaning there were starts for James Perch and LuaLua.
Alex Smithies lined up in goal, behind a back-three of Nedum Onuoha, Perch and Joel Lynch. Darnell Furlong and Jake Bidwell occupied the wing-back roles.
Freeman, Ryan Manning and Pawel Wszolek were in midfield, with LuaLua playing just off Matt Smith in attack.
The hosts also lined up with three at the back, with in-form front-man Hugill leading the line.
The first effort of any note arrived on six minutes, when LuaLua broke into space, only to drag his shot horribly wide of the target.
The same player was on the front foot again moments later, this time seeing his deflected strike balloon up safely into the arms of Chris Maxwell.
The Brighton loanee was a constant threat and when he broke through the hosts’ offside trap on 13 minutes, Smith was inches away from converting inside the six-yard box.
The visitors thought they had a strong shout for a penalty in the 16th minute when Smith got goalside of his marker and appeared to be dragged to ground, but referee Mr Coote had other ideas and waved away the appeals.
Despite the R’s impressive start, Preston grew into the game as the half reached its midway stage, but the Hoops – with Perch, in particular, impressive – stood firm at the back.
Indeed, it was Holloway’s men who continued to fashion the better opportunities, with Wszolek letting fly from distance, only to see Maxwell save.
When the hosts did finally create their first effort on target on the half hour, Smithies was in the right place at the right time to expertly tip over Greg Cunningham’s close-range header from point-blank range.
However, the first goal of the game deservedly went the way of the visitors in the 36th minute – and there was little surprise that it was LuaLua who got it!
Furlong’s long throw caused mayhem in the six-yard box and when the ball broke to the DR Congo attacker, his audacious back-heel gave Maxwell absolutely no chance.
The goal was greeted with adulation by the travelling Hoops supporters – but the lead didn’t last long, with Preston drawing level on the stroke of half-time.
Working the ball into space on the edge of the box, McGeady’s 20-yard right-footed curler beat Smithies all ends up, as the teams headed in on level terms at half-time.
Undeterred by conceding so close to the break, Rangers came out on the front foot at the start of the second half, with Manning – who impressed once again in the heart of the R’s midfield – breaking into the box, only to thrash his effort over the crossbar when surely a more composed finish would’ve reaped dividends.
As play continued to ebb and flow from end to end, Preston’s Cunningham curled a terrific low shot a yard or so wide, before Hugill nodded wide.
It was a really entertaining affair now, as both sides looked to play to their counter-attacking strengths.
Preston had an effort correctly ruled out for offside on 64 minutes when Callum Robinson tapped home unopposed at the back post, before Holloway made a double substitution three minutes later.
Yeni Ngbakoto and Idrissa Sylla replaced Furlong and Smith respectively, with the R’s switching to a 4-4-1-1 formation.
But the changes didn’t have their desired effect, because it was Preston who scored the all-important third goal of the game on 71 minutes.
After seeing his effort spectacularly saved by Smithies, Hugill made no mistake at the second time of asking, slamming the ball into roof of the net from six yards to leave the R’s with a mountain to climb.
Holloway responded by introducing Jamie Mackie at the expense of goalscorer LuaLua, as the Hoops went in search of an equaliser.
But the R’s were soon reduced to ten-men when Freeman – having picked up a booking in the first half – was shown a second yellow card and subsequent red, allegedly for a challenge on Tommy Spurr.
Ngbakoto squandered a half-chance to draw QPR level late on, but it wasn’t to be for the ten men, despite another committed and whole-hearted away performance.