WHAT is the key to getting Preston North End off the mark in the Championship this season and will it be fourth time lucky at Queens Park Rangers?
It is a bit uncomfortable to be heading to Loftus Road with three league defeats in a row – something which only happened to the Lilywhites once last season.
That was when the campaign was in its infancy too, although not quite as early as this.
They lost three on the spin at the end of August and going into September – with a League Cup win against Watford thrown in to soften the blow slightly.
It is similar this time, the Hartlepool victory in the same competition the single rose between the thorns.
Maybe it is just a case of PNE not doing starts of seasons too well rather than anything else.
Actually, they didn’t start last year too badly, with five points gathered from the first three games.
The dip came after that, leaving them on the foot of the table with seven points gathered from 30 available.
Preston recovered then, and now they have to pull themselves up by their bootlaces in similar fashion.
This term’s start has been frustrating more than anything.
Reading, Fulham and Derby had their good points as teams but were not special in any shape or form.
On the opening day granted, Reading’s movement going forward caught the eye in the first half.
In the second, the Royals rarely raised a trot, running out of steam – North End unable to take advantage and find an equalise.
Fulham were well organised and had some flair in the shape of their No.10 Tom Cairney.
But again they were there to be got at, Preston doing so in spells in the second half.
Make no bones about it, I felt their efforts deserved a draw against Derby on Tuesday night, once they had got a nervous first 15 minutes out of their system.
So now it is off to Loftus Road, an away day always looked forward to by the travelling faithful.
The pints and train ride will certainly be more enjoyable for the fans should a point or three accompany them home.
For me, North End are just falling between two stools at the moment.
While still wanting to be hard to beat, I get the impression there is a desire to be a bit more adventurous too.
At half-time in the Reading game, the 3-5-2 was knocked on the head and the system changed to 4-4-2.
For the second half at the Madejski Stadium and for the Hartlepool and Fulham games, the midfield four were Ben Pringle, Alan Browne, Daniel Johnson and Paul Gallagher.
Against Derby, Johnson gave way to Callum Robinson, a change which, it has to be said, worked well bearing in mind Robinson’s contribution.
In those two versions of the midfield, you had four midfielders who like to pass and are comfortable on the ball – mind you some of the short stuff against Derby left a lot to be desired.
The inclusion of Robinson at least provided some pace and width which gave the engine room a better balance.
Judging by comments from supporters, I am not alone in thinking that the midfield just needs a harder edge at the moment.
Whether it is Ben Pearson or the popular John Welsh, they can put a foot in and toughen up what is perceived to be a too soft a centre at present.
I know 3-5-2 isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it might be the way to go at QPR.
It needs the right people to play in it, Chris Humphrey at wing-back for example.
Liam Grimshaw is starting to get used to his surroundings at right-back but wing-back is a whole different kettle of fish.
Perhaps Simon Grayson will still go with a 4-4-2, keeping faith with those who featured in the improved Derby display.
If North End are off the mark in terms of points coming away from Shepherds Bush, it will have been the right choice.
The PNE news agenda this week has been dominated, and rightly so, by Joe Garner and Rangers.
It is sad to see Garner go, a rare breed these days in terms of someone playing for the club they supported as a child.
Stepping away from the emotion of the exit, the deal makes sense for both parties.
Garner gets a new challenge, more money and a big move at the age of 28. Preston are getting a decent fee of around £1.7m.
Invest it wisely and it could be put towards two or three incoming deals.
I do fear for the future of coffee shops in the region though – rarely is Garner seen without a cup in his hand!