Rangers In The Deep End At Deepdale
03/05/09 at 1.15pm
And so I pen my final match report for this season! One thing I knew for certain, before this game kicked off, was that next season I would be covering the Rs in the Championship once more. Whereas Preston came into today`s game knowing that they had a realistic chance of finishing this season in the play-offs - a win, plus certain other results going their way, would give them the treasured final place in the top six.
Would we end the season with a bang or a whimper? Would we set ourselves up for an explosive start next season or limp back to London with our proverbial tails between our legs? I think, in the end, we didn`t embarrass ourselves but, once more, we didn`t do enough. Did we want to win as badly as Preston? I will leave it to you to decide! Suffice to say, once more we had an opportunity to spoil a party - an opportunity that we did not take. So Preston won! They knew only a win would give them a chance of the play-offs, and they went for it. The vital three points they took off the Rs today saw them leapfrog Cardiff into sixth place and so face Sheffield United in the play-offs this Friday.
I am not so disappointed with the Rs` final position - 11th - nor the points haul - 61 - as I am with the fact that, yet again, we have a negative goal difference (of -2) reflecting our inability to score this season. I think that, when the dust settles and we look back at this season, we will agree we have improved over last year - in that we were never in any danger of relegation at any time during the season. But neither were we realistic play-off or promotion contenders - because of our lack of finishing. Queens Park Rangers scored a grand total of 42 goals this season - of which only 14 were scored away from home. Whoever comes in during the summer as our new manager (or first team coach) will have to address our woeful scoring record as a matter of priority, if we are to improve yet again next season!
So to today`s game.
In his final game in charge as temporary manager, Gareth Ainsworth, made an important change to the line-up which started against Plymouth last Saturday. For the first time this season, Patrick Agyemang started up front alongside his old sparring partner Rowan Vine, a partnership which last season had proved incredibly fruitful for both players.
In defence Ramage and Delaney took up the full-back positions whilst Kaspars Gorkss partnered Matthew Connolly once more in centre defence. There was no place for player of the season Damion Stewart due to a foot injury, and Fitz Hall took the defender`s berth as substitute.
The midfield consisted of Mikele Leigertwood and Gavin Mahon in the centre, with Wayne Routledge and Hogan Ephraim occupying the right and left wings respectively. The final four substitutes included keeper Jake Cole and Matteo Alberti, along with youngsters Antonio German and Angleo Balanta.
Preston regular midfielders Lee Williamson and Ross Wallace were both suspended for this afternoon`s game. Callum Davidson, Michael Hart and Richard Chaplow were again missing through injury. Otherwise, the Lilywhite`s line up featured the same nine who had started in the 2-1 victory away to Birmingham last weekend; with Williamson and Wallace`s places being taken by Simon Whalley and Darren Carter. Neal Trotman and Liam Chilvers had recovered from injury and found themselves on the bench.
Kick off: Preston v Queens Park Rangers
As early as the fifth minute, Preston showed their intention, as Billy Jones tried a shot from a McKenna cross which was well blocked by Mikele Leigertwood. The Lillywhites continued to press, but it was QPR who had the better of the chances after 10 minutes, as Leigertwood himself took a shot from outside of the box which flew past the left-hand post.
Within a minute, QPR were on the attack again. This time, Wayne Routledge swung the ball over to Rowan Vine. Viney took a shot but it was not powerful enough to trouble Andy Lonergan in the Preston goal. Damien Delaney was getting down the wing and putting in some useful crosses forcing the Lilywhites into making important clearances.
But, on 12 minutes, Chris Sedgwick thought he had put his team ahead after neat play had stretched the Rs` defence. Having slotted the ball past Radek Cerny, Sedgwick turned to celebrate, only to see the linesman correctly flagging for offside. The goal was ruled out and, within a couple of minutes, Rangers - who seemed determined to spoil the party at that time - were on the attack again.
This time, it was Hogan Ephraim who tested the Preston goalie. Rowan Vine had been fouled by Billy Jones and Damien Delaney floated in the free kick only for Ephraim to see his centre saved by Lonergan. The Rs continued to press, and on 16 minutes, Agyemang had a headed effort on goal from deep within the area, which just missed to the right of the Lilywhites` goal.
Cerny was not exactly a total spectator at that time, and had to save from Sedgwick on 17 minutes. A couple of minutes later, Cerny was unable to do anything about Eddie Nolan`s header from close range, but thankfully the ball flew over the crossbar.
Preston seemed to be getting frustrated and a couple of unnecessary fouls ended up with two of their players getting early bookings - Billy Jones and Sean St Ledger.
After about half-an-hour, Preston started to turn up the heat. Simon Whaley took a shot, which Kaspars Gorkss did well to block, sending the ball over the bar and out for a corner. Then, on thirty-seven minutes, Jon Parkin made the break-through that the Lilywhite fans had been baying for.
Sadly, Rangers gifted them the goal, following a mix-up in defence between the usually stalwart Cerny and Gorkss. Cerny took a quick goal kick to Gorkss, who played the ball back to Cerny. Unfortunately, Gorkss misjudged the pace of his kick and Parkin nipped in to intercept the ball and then slotted it home from the narrowest of angles.
Goal: Preston 1 - 0 Queens Park Rangers
For the final seven or so minutes before half-time, Rangers came under pressure as Preston searched for their second. McKenna delivered a dangerous-looking cross into the area which Peter Ramage did well to clear. Then Simon Whaley sent in a cross which needed Leigertwood to clear for a corner to avert danger. Darren Carter then crossed for Sean St Ledger, but his header from deep inside the six-yard box flew over the crossbar. Whaley himself then tested Cerny, who was not found wanting; and this was followed by a six-yard scrap which resulted in Whaley firing a tame shot at Cerny, when it seemed certain he would score.
Ramage was then called upon again - to clear from Billy Jones. But it was Rangers who had the last word of the half, following another foul on Rowan Vine. Viney himself took the free-kick and his effort was claimed by Andy Lonergan, bringing the first half to a close.
Half time: Preston 1 - 0 Queens Park Rangers
The second half started with Rangers on the attack, Damien Delaney forcing a save out of Preston goalie Andy Lonergan. This was followed by a great effort from former Preston-man Patrick Agyemang. Ephraim worked his magic down the left-wing playing Agyemang in. The Lilywhites thought it was offside, but the flag was not raised, and all Agyemang had to do was pick his spot. Unfortunately, Billy Jones managed to block Pat`s shot and the ball was cleared by the Preston defence for a Rangers` corner, taken by Rowan Vine.
Hogan Ephraim himself tried his luck shortly afterwards. He was deep inside the penalty area but his shot flew wide of the right-hand upright. It was all Rangers after that, other than a couple of attempts to relieve the pressure being piled on by the visitors, courtesy of Neil Mellor. But following an effort by Rowan Vine, which cleared the crossbar, and a couple of good, quick corners taken by Wayne Routledge, Rangers got the goal their play and their pressure deserved.
The magic of the Vine-Agyemang partnership sparked into life, as Vine slid the ball through into the path of Patrick Agyemang. Big Dave slammed the ball home from 14 yards, the ball flying high into the middle of the Preston goal.
Goal: Preston 1 - 1 Queens Park Rangers
Our goal seemed to wake Preston up. Mellor, again, took a right-footed shot at the Rs` goal from deep inside the six-yard box which flew wide of our right-hand post. Sean St Ledger then called Cerny into action once more, as he let fly; and within a minute Cerny again had to clear this time from a Paul McKenna cross.
There were a series of corners and free-kicks awarded to Preston, and the Rs` defence were grateful for the assistance of the midfield duo of Mikele Leigertwood and Gavin Mahon, who both made important clearances.
After about 15 minutes of the re-start, Alan Irvine made his first substitution, bringing on Chris Brown for the industrious Neil Mellor. The Rs` defence seemed to be under increasing pressure now, relieved only by a brief foray into the Preston half, as first Ephraim and then Vine tried to get a Rangers` attack going. It didn`t help matters that the Preston fans had, by then, announced, very loudly, the fact that Sheffield Wednesday had taken the lead against Cardiff - the possibility of that final sixth place becoming a more realistic target for the Lilywhites.
And, in the 74th minute, Sean St Ledger finally gave the Lilywhites what they and their fans wanted most - that precious second goal. Jon Parkin took a long throw-on from the right, which was flicked beyond Cerny by the substitute Chris Brown, and St Ledger popped up to head the ball home from inside the six-yard box. Matt Connolly tried to clear the ball from underneath the crossbar - but it was not to be.
Goal: Preston 2 - 1 Queens Park Rangers
At that point, Gareth Ainsworth decided to try a fresh pair of legs, and brought youngster Antonio German on in place of Patrick Agyemang. I am sure that Big Dave would be satisfied with his brief appearances in the final two games of this season, one of which netted him a goal. His link-up play with Vine today showed that they had not lost any of last season`s intuitive play and bodes well for next season for the Rs.
Rangers immediately went on the attack, in search of an equaliser, but with little success. And in the final 10 minutes, it was Preston who had more of the attacking play, once again.
Barry Nicholson was brought on as a substitute for Simon Whaley with 12 minutes to go. And Ainsworth took Gavin Mahon off, on 82 minutes, for the hard-working Angelo Balanta, in an effort to take the pressure off the Rs.
Balanta immediately won a corner which was taken short by Mikele Leigertwood, but it amounted to nothing. Ephraim then tested Andy Lonergan once more, but the Lilywhite`s keeper was not found wanting. And shortly after this, Radek Cerny was called into action following a shot from about 12 yards in front of goal by Chris Brown.
With five minutes left, Routledge got a good cross in which was just cleared by Darren Carter. Matthew Connolly had a header which was cleared off the line in the dying minutes of the half, denying the Rs a late equaliser. And it was the Rs who finished the game on the attack, as first Routledge tested the Lilywhites` defence and then Antonio German did. But each time the Preston defence held firm and the game ended with Rangers having nothing to show for a spirited effort, which was appreciated by the Rs` faithful who had made the trek up north for the final game of this season.
Final whistle: Preston 2 - 1 Queens Park Rangers
The curtain thus comes down on the 2008/2009 season, with QPR finishing better than last year by three places - in 11th on 61 points. Preston take their place among the elite four who now battle it out for that all-important third place for promotion to the Premier League. Good luck to them!
QPR`s season has not exactly set hearts racing. There have been the odd moments, like at home to Birmingham, Preston and Sheffield Wednesday, when we were treated to football played with guts and determination like we all love to see; and not forgetting the great Carling Cup victory up at Villa Park last October. But there have been most disappointing points to reflect on, not least the number of managers who have led the team this season, our inability to score and the number of serious injuries our squad has sustained - all of which I am certain have contributed to our failure to light up this season as we all hoped and prayed last August.
Oh well - let`s put this season behind us now and hope that we bring in the right manager quickly, do the right business in the transfer market, have a good pre-season and a great start to 2009/2010. I can`t wait!!
Preston: Andy Lonergan, Youl Mawene, Chris Sedgwick, Darren Carter, Sean St Ledger, Simon Whaley (Barry Nicholson, 79), Paul McKenna, Billy Jones, Joe Parkin (Stephen Elliott, 88), Eddie Nolan, Neil Mellor (Chris Brown, 61)
QPR: Radek Cerny, Damien Delaney, Matthew Connolly, , Kaspars Gorkss, Peter Ramage, Mikele Leigertwood, Wayne Routledge, Hogan Ephraim, Gavin Mahon (Angelo Balanta, 83), Rowan Vine, Patrick Agyemang (Antonio German, 75)