Dave Seddon's verdict: Preston North End 1 Queens Park Rangers 3 - Taking the lead for once doesn't pay off for PNE
Preston North End’s lengthy run of not losing a game after taking the lead was halted by Queens Park Rangers flipping this contest on its head late in the second half.
The last time they had gone in front in a league fixture and finished empty-handed was at Swansea in August.
Since then there had been 17 Championship games when a win or draw came after netting first.
Points have been gathered from losing positions and from a solitary 0-0 draw but in the main scoring first had been the default setting for a successful outcome.
This clash with QPR was not a game when we should have needed to lament an end to the scoring first run.
North End were more than comfortable having taken a first-half lead through Daniel Johnson’s penalty.
Even when the visitors levelled just past the hour there seemed little alarm.
Geoff Cameron’s red card for two bookings in the space of 12 minutes should have been the signal for PNE to take advantage of the extra man and go on to win.
It wasn’t. It went the other way, the West Londoners finding fresh inner belief to score twice with 10 men.
They got a helping hand from nervous North End.
Alex Neil had chosen a change in system during the second half to match QPR up when there hadn’t been much wrong with the initial one.
In that second period too, there were players who dropped off the pace and could not impose themselves on the game as much.
Everything came to a head in the closing stages, quality finishes from Ryan Manning and Ebere Eze five minutes apart settling the game.
Taking nothing away from the manner in which the pair found the net, the defending in the build-up for both goals wasn’t great from Preston.
This was a third defeat on the bounce for Neil’s men, a fourth in five matches.
Of the three goals scored in that run, two have been from the penalty spot.
Goals and points have dried up to indicate North End are currently finding it tough handling both the challenge and expectation of being in the play-off mix.
They have camped in the top six for most of the season and have to find a way of making sure they stay in and around it over the next two months.
Their flirtations with the play-offs in the previous two seasons had seen them rise out of mid table to challenge.
Things are different this time, they’ve largely stayed with the pace and that has rightly raised the fans’ expectations.
Losing that winning feeling is not unique to PNE in the race to be in the top six.
The fact it’s not and other sides have been wobbling, has helped keep them right in the mix.
Sooner rather than later though, they need to get back to helping themselves.
For an hour or so against QPR, they looked like they were doing that.
The lead given to them by Johnson was deserved and their first-half play might have deserved more than a single goal lead.
Not that they created many clear-cut chances but they were the better side by some margin before the break.
So much so, QPR boss Mark Warburton made a double change at the interval to prompt his side into some sort of life.
Even after Waburton’s men pulled level through skipper Grant Hall, Sean Maguire was the width of the bar away from restoring PNE’s advantage.
Maguire had hit the post at the other end early doors with an angled shot.
Just two minutes after QPR levelled, the Irishman saw a looping header come back off the bar.
He was first to the rebound too but the pace the ball came to him seemed to catch him out and it hit him on the head and bounced wide.
The luck Maguire has been having of late suggests he’s walked under several ladders, forgotten to salute magpies and hasn’t set eyes on a black cat in months.
Maguire’s goal drought has seen him shoulder more than his fair share of criticism.
In truth he was one of PNE’s better players on Saturday but the longer his barren run goes on, what he contributes won’t get the recognition.
For the closing quarter of an hour or so, he had Jayden Stockley’s company up front.
There are many who will argue that Stockley deserves a start, whether that be in place of Maguire or by someone else dropping out.
The issue with Stockley’s presence in the front line was that too often his team-mates resorted to lumping the ball up to him from deep positions.
He was having to battle to win it in the air with his back to goal when what was needed was PNE to get the ball down the wings and put in crosses which Stockley could attack facing the QPR goal.
It all got rather frustrating as deliveries were hoisted into the box from deeper positions and dealt with all too easily.
North End had been decent in the first half, moving the ball well and giving their visitors little chance to play.
Maguire’s low shot from the right-hand side of the box which beat goalkeeper Liam Kelly and came back off the far post was an early sign of the hosts being the better side.
The earned their penalty when Darnell Fisher moved up the pitch on the right, exchanged passes with Tom Barkhuizen and was sent tumbling by Marc Pugh.
Johnson tucked the spot kick into the bottom corner for his sixth successful penalty of the season and 11th goal.
QPR equaliser in the 61st minute came after Ben Davies had given away a free-kick for a foul on Jordan Hugill.
Eze’s free-kick travelled to the far post where Hall was too strong for Andrew Hughes to turn a low finish into the net.
Cameron saw red after a foul on Fisher brought him a second yellow – he had been booked previously for a challenge on Gallagher.
Manning sent a left-foot shot from the edge of the box dipping over Declan Rudd and in off the underside of the bar for QPR’s second.
The third goal saw Bright Osayi-Samuel feed a pass to Eze who checked on to his right foot inside the box and curl a shot into the far bottom corner.