Dave Seddon's big match verdict
It does not matter how it is done, it is the achieving which counts – a tick in the box.
Before Saturday, North End had to go back all the way to September 12 for their last win in front of the home fans.
Away results had been good in the meantime, with 11 points gathered on the road since Cardiff were put to the sword so impressively.
It had been on their travels where PNE had started to get their act together of late after October and November’s dip in form.
What was required to build on those results at Bristol City and Norwich, was to get the home form going.
Home is where the heart is, home is where three of the first four games in December are being played.
This win was not pretty, in fact you might want to have a trawl through QPR manager Ian Holloway’s back catalogue of quotes to find the words to sum it up.
For 88 minutes, North End hit the brick wall which was the visitors’ defence.
From the 22nd minute, the hosts had an extra man after a red card for Rangers winger Jamie Mackie. But only as the clock hand moved closer to the 90-minute mark did the breakthrough come, Jordan Hugill running on to the pass of the game from Paul Gallagher to score.
Even after that, it needed a fine stoppage-time save from Chris Maxwell to keep hold of the three points.
Job done. Be thankful for what you’ve got and move on to the next one – in PNE’s case that is Burton away.
While this victory might not have been aesthetically pleasing, you could not fault North End’s effort.
In terms of having the ball, they bossed the contest with a 66% possession count.
Twenty times they tried their luck on the QPR goal, with nine of those chances going on target.
Alex Neil adopted a couple of different approaches to try and burst the visitors open.
The PNE manager switched to 4-4-2 from 4-2-3-1 and then back again.
He made two tactical changes at the interval in a bid to find a way through QPR’s two banks of four which they put in place after Mackie’s sending off.
The visitors will argue that their resilience deserved more, in the shape of a share of the spoils to take back to West London.
That said, North End can point to the fact they kept their foot on the gas until the very end to make sure all three points stayed in Lancashire.
They stayed patient, passed the ball rather than fall into the trap of pumping it long.
At times it was frustrating to watch as space was found down the side of the QPR defence, only for PNE’s crosses to be dealt with too easily.
The way to goal and to the victory was to be found with a slide-rule pass which cut at the heart of the visitors’ back four and allowed Hugill to take his goal tally to eight for the campaign.
Post-match, plenty of talk centred on the red card for Mackie.
The ball was there to be won when Mackie went in to challenge Tom Clarke.
But it did appear that his foot went over the ball and the follow-through connected well above Clarke’s left ankle.
Referee Jeremy Simpson was quick to brandish the red card, having formed the view that the tackle was reckless though maybe not malicious.
Holloway said that an appeal would go in, one for the FA to deal with this week.
Another of Holloway’s players was to see red after the game had ended.
Mr Simpson took exception to something said by Alex Baptiste as Ben Pearson went to shake his hand.
It earned Baptiste a second yellow and then red, spelling an unhappy return to the club he served on loan last season.
For the 90 minutes before his red card, Baptiste had done battle with Hugill.
Both gave as good as they got, perhaps frustration on Baptiste’s part playing a part in his dismissal as the teams left the pitch.
Baptiste was still on PNE books the last time Clarke had started a first-team game.
His was a surprise return to the starting XI, a hamstring strain suffered in training by Calum Woods having been kept quiet.
Clarke resumed his place alongside Paul Huntington in the centre of defence, with Ben Davies moved to left-back to fill in for Woods.
The skipper lasted until the interval, Neil making two attacking substitutions in an attempt to get PNE firing.
Kevin O’Connor came on to play at left-back, releasing Davies to shuffle across into the middle in place of Clarke.
Alan Browne was sacrificed too, his No.10 slot given to Josh Harrop.
Neither Clarke or Browne had done much wrong, it was just that Neil wanted a different approach in the second half. The fact both O’Connor and Harrop were lively, the fact Preston eventually made the breakthrough, showed that it was a good early call from Neil.
North End’s main threat in the first half had come from set-pieces. That said, two chances in quick succession for Browne arrived via open play.
The dynamics of the game changed with the red card, as it became very much a case of PNE on the front foot with QPR looking to counter.
Tom Barkhuizen’s volley early in the second half led to a double save from keeper Alex Smithies – he gloved the shot up into the air and then helped it over the bar.
Chances fell for Gallagher and Callum Robinson, while a couple of openings for Ilias Chair at the other end caused some anxious moments.
Any PNE fans who had left early to beat the traffic will have missed the winner.
Darnell Fisher’s pass inside came to Gallagher, who slid a first-time pass between the two QPR centre-halves.
Harrop let it run past him, giving HUGILL the chance to run clear.
His first touch was heavy but he held off Pawel Wszolek to poke the ball underneath Smithies as he dashed out to try and smother.