QPR pile the misery on Preston North End as turgid Lilywhites suffer third straight defeat

Paul Smyth and Chris Willock scored the goals as QPR won 0-2 at Deepdale
Ched Evans of Preston North End is challenged by Sam Field of Queens Park RangersChed Evans of Preston North End is challenged by Sam Field of Queens Park Rangers
Ched Evans of Preston North End is challenged by Sam Field of Queens Park Rangers

Friday night's encounter had the feel of an important one for the Lilywhites, having been stung by Cardiff and slaughtered by Middlesbrough in their previous two outings. North End headed into the match in eighth spot, but with two wins from 11. And the rankings displayed by Sky Sports pre-match - Preston 22nd for expected goals and goals conceded while 23rd for shots and clean sheets - justified any bubbling concern on the Deepdale terraces.

With the Lancashire temperature hitting the minuses, Ryan Lowe's side needed to be up for the fight in frosty conditions - with away boss Martí Cifuentes not impressed by the decision to let the game go ahead. Four changes were made from the Riverside debacle, with captain Alan Browne back in the team along with Duane Holmes and Ched Evans. In the absence of suspended stalwart Brad Potts, a full debut was handed to Liverpool loan man Calvin Ramsay.

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Much was made of Gareth Ainsworth's direct style during his stint in the Rs dugout; a more attacking Rangers were expected here, with Cifuentes at the helm and his team having put four past Stoke City in midweek. Those who braved the cold, though, were not warmed up by the first half spectacle - in which the visitors sat deep, in a compact shape and asked Preston to come and break them down. The struggle to do so was evident.

Ben Whiteman and Alan Browne - operating as a double pivot with PNE in a 4-2-3-1 formation - were locked on to. Preston failed to carve out anything clear cut during a drab first 45 minutes, in which the home side tried to play out and through but to no avail. At the start of the season, North End adopted a far more direct style in order to get the ball forward faster, into promising positions. Friday was a shift back to last season, with North End keeping the ball on the deck but lacking a creative spark.

With Mads Frokjaer and Duane Holmes operating down the sides, the onus was on PNE to utilise that duo. The two teams headed in at half time with it goalless - a low, tame Ched Evans shot on target the only real opportunity of note. QPR front man Lyndon Dykes will have been relieved to only see yellow, having left Andrew Hughes with a bleeding nose following a debatable aerial duel.

North End were crying out for an injection of pace and flair, so the immediate introduction of the returning Liam Millar came as no surprise. Will Keane - playing in the pocket - was the man to make way, having struggled to impact proceedings. QPR made an attacking change of their own too, with Ilias Chair replacing Jack Colback. Kicking towards the Alan Kelly Town End - which has shown its ability to suction over the years - PNE had 45 minutes to break the deadlock.

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The Rs had barely shown a desire to threaten in the first half, but the introduction of Morocco international Chair was a sign that the visitors were ready to move up the gears. Ten minutes into the second half, QPR's number ten found space in and around the box and guided his cross to the back post - where Paul Smyth came alive and squeezed home the opener.

Deepdale became increasingly frustrated, with the home side's passing becoming sloppy and there very few signs of PNE creating a goal scoring chance - never mind taking one. Ali McCann and Ben Woodburn were introduced on 73 minutes, but it was the Rs pushing for a second goal, to kill the game. Freddie Woodman kept out Elijah Dixon-Bonner brilliantly from distance. With three minutes of normal time to play, Layton Stewart was thrown on by Lowe but the ball was in Preston's net again just seconds after his arrival on the pitch.

Chair popped up down the left and picked out Chris Willock with a low cross; the QPR man was never going to miss. That was the sign for several home supporters to make their way home and you could scarcely blame them, on a bitterly cold night in which North End put in a turgid display and registered one shot on target. North End's three games in seven days resembled a real opportunity to kick on from the win at Ewood Park, but with zero points from nine that derby night victory feels a long time ago now. It simply must improve - the pressure is on.

Attendance: 14,280 (476 away)

PNE XI: Woodman; Ramsay (Stewart 87'), Storey, Lindsay, Hughes, Whiteman (McCann 73'), Browne, Holmes, Keane (Millar 46'), Frokjaer (Woodburn 73'), Evans. PNE unused subs: Cornell, Cunningham, Best, Ledson, Brady

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