Opportunity Lost in Drab Deepdale Draw
QUEENS Park Rangers stuttered to a draw against bottom side Preston North End in a disappointing afternoon at Deepdale.
Rangers were good value for their lead when Ishmael Miller supplied Heidar Helguson for the opener from close range, but the R's seemed to labour once they had their noses in front.
Preston came into the game a great deal more in the second period and the nervous QPR back-line eventually succumbed to conceding as Barry Nicholson's lobbed effort was too much for Paddy Kenny.
Adel Taarabt peppered the Lilywhites' goal in the latter stages but inevitably it would be to no avail as the resurgent hosts held firm in what proved to be a drab encounter.
Neil Warnock cut a frustrated figure on the touch-line as his side's inconsistency and inability to finish off the Championship's basement club proved to be a decisive factor on the day.
Results elsewhere were positive but Rangers failed to capitalise as the home fixture with Ipswich Town takes on an extra importance this Tuesday night.
Neil Warnock made two changes from the home draw with Nottingham Forest with Rob Hulse and the injured Tommy Smith making way for Ishmael Miller and Heidar Helguson.
Paddy Kenny started behind an unchanged back four of Bradley Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly and Clint Hill - Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry started in the middle of the park.
Wayne Routledge, Adel Taarabt and Miller started behind lone front-man Helguson with Ákos Buzsáky returning to the bench for the first time since the turn of the year.
Preston meanwhile started with Iain Turner in goal behind a back four of David Gray, Sean St Ledger, Leon Cort and Billy Jones.
Ian Ashbee, Barry Nicholson and Adam Barton featured in the middle of the park with Keith Treacy and Eddie Johnson in support of lone forward Nathan Ellington.
Kick Off: Preston North End v Queens Park Rangers
With the promotion chasing pack featuring largely against each other this weekend, Queens Park Rangers took to the field looking to capitalise on Preston's plight at the bottom of the Championship. Phil Brown's men meanwhile were desperate for points in a bid to save themselves from the drop.
North End's start against Watford last time out served as a reminder to the visiting side that the Lilywhites have by no means given up on their Championship status. Today QPR's mantra was to nullify that early threat and take the game to the Lancashire outfit.
Both sides started positively, looking to eke out opportunities and play attacking football in view of their respective ambitions. Preston had little to lose as Brown watched on from the television gantry while David Unsworth distributed the orders on the touch-line.
Pressure in either half failed to yield a positive chance, that was until Wayne Routledge found his feet through the middle of the park. His driving run and useful vision saw him find Adel Taarabt, and the Moroccan cut inside from the left before curling an effort into the arms of debutante Turner.
A rare sighter for Rangers despite their useful spell of possession, but nevertheless Preston continued to apply pressure of their own. The industrious Keith Treacy seemed the talisman going forward as he cut inside and distributed to great effect.
The clash of styles was made evident moments later when Preston's mission to stifle Taarabt came crashing down around them as he put David Gray on his backside with some fine skill and finesse before laying the ball off for Alejandro Faurlín.
He has looked for the Argentinean several times of late but on this occasion the midfielder could only curl the ball over the right hand upright. A positive piece of play from Rangers as Taarabt freed himself from the shackles imposed on him by the hosts.
Treacy then took the game by the scruff of the neck and nearly handed the hosts the advantage. The Irishman cut inside from the left before a right-footed effort deflected off Bradley Orr and skipped inches wide of the left-hand upright.
Ishmael Miller was looking somewhat stifled down the right hand side, being forced outside onto his weaker foot and appearing nullified at times in an unfamiliar role. Just under ten minutes before half time he switched flanks to great effect.
Receiving the ball from Shaun Derry through the middle, Miller shrugged off two challenges as he made his way to the left-hand by-line. His centre saw Heidar Helguson
beat his respective markers and slam home beyond Turner for his seventh of the campaign.
GOAL: Preston North End 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
It was perhaps just for the more positive of the two sides, and indeed that would only serve to epitomise the reason that the two sounds found themselves at opposite ends of the table. Nevertheless it was the hosts that would test Paddy Kenny before the break.
More suspect defending from the QPR back four led to Eddie Johnson finding space on the right hand side of the area. The Fulham loanee's snap-shot was well saved by the agile Kenny, who tipped the American's effort away to safety.
The Rangers attacking line-up looked positive at glances in the first period, but an inability to finish the hosts left the game still finely poised going into the break. Miller's carbon-copy run down the left saw his centre go awry as Helguson couldn't be on hand to finish off on this occasion.
The game - while entertaining in spells - was proving a war of attrition at times as the two sides battled for supremacy going into the break. As it stood, Rangers held onto their advantage and Neil Warnock's men went into half time with their lead intact.
Half Time: Preston North End 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
There was some purpose about North End as Phil Brown sent his side out five minutes before QPR - but Rangers were nearly worth the wait as they caught the Lilywhites cold in the opening moments of the second period.
It came from a set piece as Matt Connolly clipped the ball into the area and Helguson rose above two men before sending a dipping header beyond Turner. Unfortunately for him and the visiting side the ball clipped the cross bar and fell away to safety.
The tough tackling on Taarabt was proving effective as the Moroccan seemed relatively ineffectual owing to the aforementioned tactics by Brown, with Ian Ashbee the lynch pin in stifling the Rangers play-maker.
In stark contrast to their attacking endeavour, the defensive line appeared lacking confidence and surprisingly morose considering they are the best unit statistically in the npower Championship. This was made a mockery of at times as Preston stretched the R's rearguard.
Preston were not creating a great deal in truth, but threatened to get at the QPR back-line. Nathan Ellington in particular was the key tormentor, holding the ball up effectively and bringing some fellow creative players into play.
Kaspars Gorkss was rather harshly judged to have brought down Ellington on the edge of the area and when Treacy's subsequent free-kick took a wicked deflection it appeared that the writing would be on the wall for the visiting side.
The ball in fact drifted wide of the left-hand upright and lifted the home crowd for the first time in the encounter. The defensive unit was still struggling to deal with the simplest passages of play and eventually the tide told after the hour mark as Preston drew level.
Once again a ball over the top from Barton was taken down well by Barry Nicholson
, who was disappointingly left without a marker in the heart of the area. His sublime touch and vision saw him lift the ball over Kenny and into the bottom right hand corner.
GOAL: Preston North End 1-1 Queens Park Rangers
In fairness the goal was deserved on the balance of play as Rangers appeared to be coasting at times, possibly missing the creative Miller, who was replaced by Petter Vaagan Moen moments before the goal was scored.
There wasn't a great deal in terms of outlet up front with Helguson now being marked tightly by his defensive counterpart Cort. It would appear now that the hosts had their tails up and QPR were proving extremely nervous in defence.
Taarabt was starting to grow in terms of influence on the encounter, breaking free of his markers before attacking the Preston back-line. His efforts were to varying degrees of success as he took several pot shots at the hosts' target.
Helguson was soon replaced by Rob Hulse as Rangers looked to freshen matters up in the attacking line, but it only served to reinforce Preston's dominance of the closing stages. Hulse's inability to hold the ball had the hosts breaking in numbers.
The game appeared to be fading away as Ákos Buzsáky made his first appearance since a home draw to Norwich City earlier in the season. Paul Parry and Paul Hayes were the latest additions for the Lilywhites who looked positive in their approach.
Taarabt nearly won it for Rangers with less than ten minutes on the clock as his excellent run and eventual effort was agonisingly wide of the right hand upright. The writing now appeared on the wall as Preston ploughed forward.
Many times QPR have witnessed North End score last minute heart-breakers at Deepdale and after four minutes of injury time was displayed by the fourth official you would be forgiven for thinking this wouldn't be the leaders' day.
As it transpired that two sides went away with a point and Queens Park Rangers must now look to Ipswich Town on Tuesday night for their first win in three and keep the chasing pack at bay. A disappointing draw but another game with a five point gap intact.
Final Whistle: Preston North End 1-1 Queens Park Rangers
Turner, St Ledger, Nicholson, Treacy, Gray, Barton (Parry 75), Ellington (Proctor 82), Jones, Ashbee, Johnson (Hayes 55), Cort.
Kenny, Orr, Hill, Derry, Taarabt, Helguson (Hulse 74), Faurlin, Gorkss, Routledge (Buzsaky 86), Connolly, Miller (Vaagan Moen 61).
Despite not being gifted with great mobility, Helguson tormented the Preston rearguard with some useful aerial prowess.
He put away an excellent poachers' goal before hitting the cross-bar in the second period with a looping header. His influential ability was displayed by how ineffective Rob Hulse proved when he entered the fray.