Preston North End were deemed 'too good to go down' by QPR boss Steve McClaren in the build-up to Saturday's fixture where PNE went someway to proving exactly that.
Goals from January signing Jayden Stockley as well as Jordan Storey, Alan Browne and Brad Potts secured a comfortable and impressive win for Preston against a QPR side that had been in good form.
January signing Stockley scored his first goal for the club in the 14th-minute after a woeful error at the back from QPR. Storey, who played with Stockley back at Exeter City, doubled Preston's lead with a fierce drive in the second half.
PNE extended their advantage, and in doing so secured the victory, late on with a far-post header from Alan Browne. Nakhi Wells managed to grab one back for McClaren's Rangers, but large sections of empty blue seats were already on show at Loftus Road by that point. And soon, that was even more blatantly obvious as Potts stuck home a fourth for Preston.
The emphatic victory, which saw the visiting fans chanting 'we want five', takes Alex Neil's side no further up the table than their pre-match position of 18th but shifts the momentum in that part of the table. QPR dropped down to 13th.
Story of the match
There’s something about a minute’s reflection at the football, whether it’s accompanied by silence or applause, that is so special. Two sets of fans joining to pay tribute to one or more someones. In winter, all in coats, but all with different lives. Two sets of fans who, in another circumstance, may be hurling abuse at each other. But for a minute both the person who leaps out of his seat to shout ‘w*nker’ at the referee and the person who covers his child’s ears when that happens join together. There’s just something quite perfect about that minute, the calm before the storm. And it’s always followed by the roar of both fans, ready for the afternoon’s football.
At Loftus Road on Saturday afternoon, QPR inducted three former-players into the Forever R’s club. Dave Sexton, Bobby Keetch and George Powell were all posthumously inducted into the QPR club at half-time. And so came the applause, and then the roar.
Yet the response to that roar of Loftus Road was for two teams to begin a scrappy game. A loose pass here, a late tackle there. Bad decisions all-round. That played into the hands of Preston North End, who have a great defensive record in the opening stages of games this season. They were not to be beaten once more, certainly early on, as they came up against a groan-inducing QPR side.
Instead it was Jayden Stockley, PNE’s new signing from League Two Exeter City, who scored Preston’s earliest goal in a game since November. And it was a gift.
QPR goalkeeper Joe Lumley played an acceptable pass to the feet of deep midfielder Josh Scowen. His touch took him into the path of the pressing Alan Browne who poked away at the ball and directed it fortunately into the path of £750,000 Stockley. The 25-year-old’s first goal for Preston was a superb one, curling into the top right corner beautifully past a stranded Lumley, well off his line.
It was a humiliating 20 seconds for QPR and they reeled in the mistake for some time, continuing their sloppiness. The manner of that goal set the tone for the whole first half. Loftus Road was decreed to be a ‘library’ by the PNE fans, but it was more like a group of Geordies watching a Rio Ferdinand Q&A: angry, confused, tiresome.
Preston defended as they set out to do, sitting deep and launching a counter-attack when the option presented itself. It had some effect, but they allowed QPR to regain some composure and they began to find the gaps that left Preston in 18th coming into this fixture.
Ebere Eze sparked Loftus Road temporarily into life, taking down a forceful pass that appeared to be running away from him and striking powerfully into the goalkeeper’s arms. It gave QPR the confidence they needed, and two corners followed, coming to nothing. Wszolek had a header saved by Rudd and Freeman directed his effort wide despite being free as a cross arrived into the box.
As soon as they came out for the second half, the fire was there to fightback. Nakhi Wells latched onto substitute Matt Smith’s knockdown and fired an early, long-range, dipping drive to Rudd, who tipped it well past the right post. It was the spark needed. The corner that followed was scrappy but eventually presented a flailing Darnell Furlong with a header, which he saw bounce off the top of the crossbar.
Another effort from Wells helped to regain the crowd’s support, swiping at a ball on the half-volley and earning a corner and Wszolek had cut the ball back from the right flank.
But before too long, the attacks had diminished in frequency and quality somewhat. PNE themselves regained some composure, if not control. They were reliant on QPR’s return to sloppiness and scrappiness.
The groans grew again, any slight delay in the restart of play met with boos in unison. Preston capitalised. It was Stockley, of Exeter City up until January, who netted the first. And to grab the second was another former-Grecian, Jordan Storey.
The Englishman was left in far too much space on the left side of the penalty area and when a Preston free-kick flew over the heads of all those in the box, Storey met it with a fierce drive and doubled PNE’s lead.
Another ball to managed to evade the heads and feet of the QPR backline and Alan Browne headed in at the far-post in front of the 1,272 Preston fans to spark a mass exit at Loftus Road.
Within five minutes, almost the whole stadium would be gone. Except for one end where the PNE fans jumped in jubilation celebrating a fourth goal.
Before that, though, Nakhi Wells grabbed one back with a header that squeezed into the bottom right corner. It was a strange, floated cross that took an age to come down but was eventually met by Wells. The QPR goal music that followed felt rather hollow. It was the Preston fans dancing to it, not the home support.
And within a couple more minutes, Preston substitute Lukas Nmecha's superbly powerful effort was parried into the path of Brad Potts. Off the psot and in, and Loftus Road went home. 'We want five' was the chant from the Preston end. They came close a couple of times, even in the final minutes. They were clinical and played simply. They took their chances. They pretty much did everything QPR couldn't.
Takeaways from the game
Stockley scores goals, and so do his teammates
Alex Neil’s side had been struggling for goals in so many games this season. Stockley’s signature, as Preston beat MK Dons and Wigan to sign him, is a huge January boost. QPR boss Steve McClaren insisted that Preston are “too good to go down”. Maybe that’s now true.
QPR did have chances, and usually in spells of three or four. But they were rarely easy opportunities. Wells worked a couple of good shots that Rudd did well to save. Freeman and Wszolek had headers that they saw saved or go wide. But at times, QPR overworked their moves, reaching the penalty area and looking for another two or three passes. In an area that Preston clogged up deliberately, it was often too much.