Dave Seddon's verdict on QPR 1-4 Preston North End: Lilywhites look back to old selves as new boys get off the mark
Parts one and two of Preston's win at Queens Park Rangers were made in Exeter, parts three and four in Cork and Barnsley.
An enjoyable afternoon in West London saw North End hit four league goals on the road for the first time since February 2015.
Four different names were on the scoresheet, three of them for the first time as PNE players.
Jayden Stockley got the ball rolling on victory with the opener in just his second game since signing from Exeter.
Six months ago, Jordan Storey had beaten the same path as Stockley in moving from Devon to Lancashire. The centre-half got in on the scoring act with Preston’s second goal.
Alan Browne has been a regular supplier of goals over the last season-and-a-half. His header for the third was the Irishman’s ninth of the campaign – matching last term’s tally.
Brad Potts’ tidy finish to wrap-up victory saw him off the mark after a big-money move from Barnsley.
When did three North End players score their first goals for the club in the same game?
Answers on a postcard please because I can’t recall anything similar in recent years off the top of my head.
The nice twist in terms of who scored the goals formed just part of the tale.
North End were very good all over the pitch throughout the 90 minutes.
Ben Pearson was at the heart of it, his use of the ball and desire to get it back off the home side as good as it has been all season.
He had looked rusty the week before on his return from a four-game suspension but on Saturday afternoon moved like clockwork.
Post-match, Alex Neil was to repeat his assertion that Pearson was the ‘best No.6 in the Championship’.
On this form it was hard to disagree with the PNE boss and it is just frustrating that Pearson has already sat out eight games because of bans this term.
Him and his team-mates had far too much for QPR on the day, their hosts only just recently off the back of a six-game unbeaten run.
The Loftus Road outfit are up there with Bristol City in terms of being opposition who Preston have the sign over.
This was a sixth win on the bounce against QPR and a ninth game unbeaten.
From the 14th minute when Stockley swept PNE in front, it looked likely that the good run would continue.
They did have to wait until the 68th minute to put some more daylight between themselves and the home side through Storey’s volley.
Then came a madcap five minutes late on as Browne made it 3-0, QPR pulled one back, before Potts made sure with the fourth.
It was no coincidence that a first win since December 15 came with a squad which was as fully staffed as it has been for quite a while.
Neil was able to team-up Storey with Ben Davies in the centre of defence, a pairing not used too often.
Pearson was in front of them, Sean Maguire was on the wing. Stockley led the line with a real presence.
When the mass absences bit deep over the Christmas games, Neil’s side effectively chose itself.
Now he has options, that shown by the strength of the bench – Tom Barkhuizen and Lukas Nmecha came on but Ryan Ledson, Daniel Johnson, Paul Huntington, Calum Woods and Connor Ripley weren’t needed.
Brandon Barker and new boy Josh Ginnelly made the trip but missed out on the 18 on duty.
There’s still Tom Clarke and Louis Moult to return, so too Josh Earl who was suspended for this one.
North End’s performance had the traits of last season. They pressed QPR well, moved the ball efficiently and annoyed the home fans when it came to managing the game.
There was a slight shift in system for this one, with PNE’s formation more 4-1-4-1 than the usual 4-2-3-1.
Pearson started deeper, with Browne and Potts in front of him, Paul Gallagher on the right and Maguire on the left.
They found room to play, to work their way around Steve McClaren’s side.
Mind you, the origins of the first goal came gift-wrapped.
Browne had just got on the end of Maguire’s hooked pass and fired over. QPR keeper Joe Lumley played the goal kick short to Josh Scowen on the edge of the box.
Browne was straight on to him, the ball squirming square to Stockley who sent a fine first-time shot curling into the far side of the net.
That’s him off the mark in the Championship to add to the 16 goals he’d already got for Exeter in League Two.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, Declan Rudd saving well from on-loan Burnley man Nahki Wells early in the second half .
Soon after, a header from Darnell Furlong hit the top of the bar and bounced behind.
Set-pieces led to Preston’s second and third goals.
Gallagher won a free-kick in the 68th minute, Scowen having blocked his path with a lack of grace.
Having dusted himself down, Gallagher delivered the free-kick into the box, Davies headed on and Storey volleyed back across goal into the top corner.
Storey had a part to play in the third goal, flicking on a Gallagher corner with eight minutes left.
The ball travelled to the far post where Browne threw himself at it to head home.
It was somewhere between a stooping and diving header, the main thing being that it hit the back of the net.
Within two minutes QPR pulled a goal back without causing too much worry.
Substitute Matt Smith got above Davies and Andrew Hughes to head home from a Jake Bidwell cross.
It mattered little as North End scored the contest’s last goal in the 87th minute.
Nmecha, on as sub for Stockley, ran towards the box and hit a right-foot shot which the keeper saw late and could only push out.
The rebound came Potts’ way at some speed with the midfielder showing a good technique to drive a first-time shot into the far corner.