PNE 1 QPR 1 – Dave Seddon’s big match verdict

Eoin Doyle heads PNE's equaliser
Eoin Doyle heads PNE's equaliser
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Eoin Doyle sneaked under the radar to be Preston’s late hero for the second week running, earning his side a point from this spiky clash.

All eyes were on Jermaine Beckford as he made his long-awaited return from knee surgery, the striker given a standing ovation as he came off the bench in the 85th minute.

Doyle had made the same journey from the bench 24 minutes earlier, put on just after the hour mark as PNE chased the game following an early QPR opener.

The fairytale script was for Beckford to score for the first time since that glorious May afternoon at Wembley.

He did not manage it but Doyle provided the sub plot by heading a 92nd minute equaliser.

The Irishman flexed his neck muscles to head Greg Cunningham’s cross past keeper Alex Smithies at the near post.

A week earlier, he had got the last touch to North End’s winner at Bolton, so perhaps things are starting to go the way of Doyle after an average first six months on loan.

It was a deserved leveller despite what QPR manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink would argue post-match.

Yes, Preston did have two lucky escapes in the last 10 minutes while they were still trailing.

Tom Clarke should have seen red rather than yellow for a tug of Tjaronn Chery’s shirt when the Dutchman looked through on goal.

Soon after that, Chery got clear again but this time was denied by the big frame of Anders Lindegaard.

Overall though, the hosts had the better of the play and their continual knocking on the door deserved reward.

North End had 63% of possession which I would hazard a guess at being their greatest share of the ball in a game this season.

What they lacked to turn those stats into something more meaningful, was a touch of quality in the final third of the pitch.

The final pass and cross lacked a bit of zip, that was until Cunningham’s great delivery which set up Doyle.

He might have netted again soon after, North End getting the hang of putting in a quality delivery, this time a cross from Paul Gallagher finding Doyle in the middle.

But with defenders in closer attention, this time Doyle put his header too near to Smithies who saved.

Until the late equaliser, the focus of the afternoon had mainly been trained on Beckford.

He had spent the last six months on the injured list, a seemingly innocuous twist in July’s pre-season friendly against Motherwell turning into something much more serious.

Damaged knee cartilage required microfracturing surgery which in layman’s terms, involved holes being drilled into the bone to help the growth of new cartilage.

It is not an operation which players can rush back from, slow but steady being the fitness bulletin regularly provided by Simon Grayson these last few months.

Saturday was at last the occasion when the shackles could come off, 50 minutes of action in a bounce game last Tuesday preparing him for this cameo appearance.

Beckford’s time on the pitch was always going to be brief, Grayson using him as his third and final substitute in a last throw of the dice to try and unlock the visitors’ defence.

Just seeing his name in the squad again, provided a big boost pre-match, with him cheered on to the pitch by the early comers for the 2.15pm warm-up.

The cheers got louder each time he went for a stretch down the touchline during the game.

It reached a crescendo when he stood stripped for action on the half-way line, ready to replace Adam Reach.

Beckford did not hold back, getting involved in a tangle with Hoops defender Gabrielle Angella which saw both of them booked.

The question now is when will he be ready to start a game?

He has the international break to further work on his fitness, with two friendlies pencilled in to help him.

If Beckford does come into the equation to start against Blackburn on Saturday week, it gives Grayson plenty to think about.

It will be hard to overlook Doyle after his two goals and Joe Garner is available after completing a two-game ban.

For QPR’s visit, Jordan Hugill led the line up front with support either side from Reach and Callum Robinson.

After regularly changing to 4-3-3 at half-time in the past few weeks, Grayson went with it from the start.

During the second half, we saw more of a 4-4-2 for a while and by the time Preston got their equaliser, they had three strikers on, together with Gallagher on the wing.

In terms of position, PNE stayed in 10th place after this draw but the result makes any involvement in the play-offs look unlikely now.

Sheffield Wednesday, in sixth place, are nine points better off with eight games to play.

Never say never, however such a points swing in a short space of time would take some doing.

Not that this state of play should be taken as an excuse to put the flip-flops on ready for the summer.

Some big games lay ahead, not least the Blackburn clash when 7,000 North Enders will descend on Ewood Park.

Saturday saw PNE in the rare position of having to chase a game from its very early stages.

QPR were ahead by the fifth minute, that being the first time Grayson’s men had conceded a league goal in the opening 20 minutes this term.

It came from a corner which had been needlessly conceded by Cunningham.

Alejandro Faurlin swung it over left-footed deep to the far post for Sebastian POLTER to head it past Lindegaard.

The German striker was unmarked having lost his man and you have to wonder whether Lindegaard could have come to claim.

It was mainly North End on the attack after that, with QPR putting men behind the ball and being content to rely on the break.

The second half had a real niggly feel about it, with the visitors slowing things down whenever possible.

Referee Andy Woolmer in wanting to keep his cards in his pocket, lost control.

By full-time, he had taken six names, four of those being in stoppage-time.

Grayson put Doyle on for Ben Pearson in order to change to 4-4-2.

John Welsh’s arrival in the centre of midfield saw a switch out wide for Gallagher in place of Robinson.

Beckford coming on for Reach signalled a final push and in the second minute of the six added on, PNE cracked QPR’s red and black wall.

Clarke’s over hit a cross from the right-wing, with it retrieved by Gallagher over on the far side.

He laid it back into the path of Cunningham who took the ball down the side of the box and crossed invitingly for DOYLE to send a header bouncing into the net.