Preston North End’s fortunes have been flipped on their head in the space of a fortnight, a 14-day downturn in results and mood.
Four defeats, no goals and a long queue to see the physio paints the picture of the dip, the opening spell of winter a bleak one for PNE fans.
The Lilywhites had their tails up as they resumed action after the November international break.
Unbeaten in four and with three wins on the spin to their name, they and 2,400 fans bounced their way to Derby on November 23, full of life and confidence.
A 1-0 defeat was written off as the usual post-international break hangover.
Unfortunately, losses to Hull, West Bromwich Albion and now Queens Park Rangers have followed.
It is not unfamiliar territory it has to be said, this the fourth time in two-and-a-half years that North End have lost four league games together.
Three of those sequences, including this one, have come when the treatment room has been bulging with bodies.
Five regulars missed this visit to West London – the two first-choice centre-halves, two midfield creative sparks and a right-back.
Defensively I thought PNE coped okay. That said, they still conceded two goals – the second a penalty.
It was going forward where absences were telling.
They had the numbers available in terms of a frontline which has featured a lot of late, backed up by bodies on the bench – three attacking players were on by the 62nd minute.
But no Paul Gallagher and no Daniel Johnson, both sat at home nursing injuries, stifled their creativity and service up to the front.
Did Preston lay a glove on their hosts? Not really.
A first-half opening for Sean Maguire which was blocked and a shot late on from Billy Bodin with home keeper Joe Lumley dealt with very well, was the sum total.
Gallagher’s penalty against Huddersfield on October 9 seems an awful long time ago, that the last time North End found the net.
It’s officially 400 minutes since then, plus whatever amount of stoppage time has been played.
While four defeats in a row have happened in 2017/18, 2018/19 (twice) and now 2019/20, not scoring in all four is a new phenomena for this group and the manager.
The last time North End failed to score in four successive league games was in February and March of 2012. Graham Westley had taken over a few weeks previously and in that run presided over three 0-0 draws and a 3-0 defeat.
A telling statistic from the clash at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium was that it was the first time QPR had kept a clean sheet this season.
Mark Warburton’s side know where the net is – they are on 30 goals for the campaign.
But they had shipped 37, the third highest number in the Championship. How annoying that North End could not increase that number.
This had been a happy hunting ground in recent visits.
They had won their last three visit to Loftus Road, a ground renamed in memory of Kiyan Prince, a promising player at QPR’s academy who was stabbed to death – the foundation set up in his name helps to educate youngsters about knife crime.
Previous to the three wins they had drawn there, hence there being a real air of optimism that this visit could end the run of defeats.
Johnson’s name missing from the team-sheet due to a knee injury was a sobering absence.
With Gallagher absent too, where would the midfield craft come from?
Alex Neil played Alan Browne and Brad Potts as attacking midfielders behind striker Jayden Stockley, looking for the second ball. The game bypassed Potts somewhat, Browne putting in the yards but unable to affect the game as he wanted.
Ben Pearson behind them in the holding role ended up as the more creative midfield force, albeit from deep.
A burst out of his own half set up Maguire for a chance, with Pearson more often than not the starting point for the visitors’ attacks.
One blot on his man-of-the-match display was him losing Ebere Eze when the QPR man darted into the box to score the opening goal.
Eze netted their second from the penalty spot which wrapped up the three points.
The home side have a real talent in Eze, who Tottenham are reportedly interested in.
He got the ball down and wanted to play on a day when QPR, in the main, chose a more direct style.
They put Preston old boy Jordan Hugill against Jordan Storey, with Nahki Wells pulling on to Paul Huntington’s side of the defence to feed off any knock-downs.
In the main, Huntington and Storey dealt well with the threat of those two.
A small ray of sunshine among the long injury list was a return for Andrew Hughes at left-back, while Tom Clarke was back on the bench, both having been out for some time.
QPR went in front in the 17th minute, a quick exchange of passes drawing Preston out slightly before Geoff Cameron knocked the ball over the top into the space behind.
Eze ran on to it, his first shot was parried by Declan Rudd straight back to him, the midfielder moving the ball on to his right foot before shooting into the net.
They made it 2-0 in the 67th minute, not long after PNE had introduced Bodin, David Nugent and Josh Harrop from the bench.
Eze threaded a low pass across the box to try and find Bright Osayi-Samuel.
Hughes slid in to cut it out, succeeding only in knocking the ball towards his own goal.
Marc Pugh nipped in and went down under a tackle from Rudd who seemed to get a nick on the ball.
Referee Andy Davies gave a penalty and then went to talk to his assistant – urged to by the protests of Huntington and Browne.
Mr Davies stuck with his decision, booked Rudd and Eze rolled the spot-kick low into the net off a stuttering run-up.