It’s the first of back-to-back home games as a struggling Preston North End face a bang in form Queens Park Rangers side at Deepdale. The midweek fixture comes at probably the worst time for Alex Neil and his men after North End fell to a 4-0 defeat away at Cardiff City last weekend.
A Cardiff goal in the opening seconds of each half left North End with only themselves to blame as a terrible performance sparked an understandably negative reaction from a large portion of the fanbase. Indeed, many were calling for Alex Neil to be sacked. What the future weeks have in store in that department remain to be seen, but what’s important for now, is to get as many points as possible to ensure we don’t get dragged into a relegation scrap.
QPR have had a brilliant run of form since the beginning of the year. After a change in formation to a 3-5-2, Mark Warburton’s side have won six out of their last seven games, only dropping points against a reformed Derby County under the tutilage of Wayne Rooney.
The West London side have picked up some very impressive results during this run including wins against Cardiff City, Watford and back-to-back home wins against promotion contenders Bournemouth and Brentford.
Wednesday night’s visitors climbed above Preston in the league table last weekend on goal difference and also have 2 games in hand over the Lilywhites. It’s going to be a big period ahead for the club.
The first player I would pick out as a danger in this Queens Park Rangers side would be January signing, Charlie Austin. The 31-year-old re-signed for his former club from West Bromwich Albion for the rest of the season on loan and has shown strong form since returning to the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium.
The former Southampton man had previously scored 45 goals in his first spell at QPR and in his first seven games back at the club, he has notched three goals including one on his debut in a 2-0 victory over Luton Town.
He is a very experienced Championship striker with 170 appearances in the second tier under his belt, but after only featuring in 133 minutes of Premier League football in the first half of this campaign, he got his move to the Hoops. As well as this, his fitness might not be up to scratch given his lack of football in the early part of the season.
Austin has only completed 90 minutes once so far during his second spell with QPR, but nevertheless, he is undoubtedly a very solid option to have at your disposal.
Secondly, I would like to pick out Ilias Chair. The attacking midfielder has remarkably featured in every single championship game for QPR so far this season, contributing 5 goals and an assist in his 29 appearances.
The Morocco under-23 international can play in a number of roles, usually as an attacking midfielder or as a left-sided midfielder. He’s still young and is developing as a footballer but this season, he has managed to start adding goals to his game and that could really push the former Stevenage man on to become a top Championship player.
For this one, we’re joined by @LoftforWords on twitter. Below are his thoughts on QPR this season.
A very strange season for QPR so far.
Expectations were pretty meagre to begin with, we’d lost Ebere Eze, Nahki Wells and Jordan Hugill from last year’s team which was 45 goals gone for a start. They’d been replaced with punts and projects really – Lyndon Dykes from Livingston, Mac Bonne from Charlton, Chris Willock from Benfica B, George Thomas from Leicester and other punts similar.
Started… ok… but quite frequently we’d play reasonably well and not win the game. Very unlucky to lose to Bristol City and Brentford, and only draw with Bournemouth and Watford, and the more that happened the more the confidence seemed to go out of the side. Anything slightly below our best was an automatic defeat, and we were pretty dreadful in defeats to you guys and Huddersfield.
By Christmas, we’d gone ten without a win and it felt like Warburton was on his last legs, relegation a distinct possibility.
A few things happened around the turn of the year, however. Warburton finally called it a day on his favoured 4-2-3-1 and switched to a back three, which suits the three defenders (Dickie, Cameron and Barbet) back there really, really well. It also stops our substandard full-backs from being exposed as often as they were in a four.
Secondly, Stefan Johansen arrived from Fulham to stiffen the midfield and Charlie Austin the returning hero came in up front, taking some of the chances we were creating and giving the team a real voice on the pitch and some belief. We also had a number of games postponed, a couple of week to ten-day gaps between games for rest and some of Warbs’ much talked about “time on the training ground”.
And since all that, we’ve never looked back. Six wins from seven now and we’re just a completely different looking team.
Expectations for the rest of the season are still pretty modest. We’d only need Austin, Johansen, Dickie or Barbet to get injured to be back to something like square one. Those postponements are now coming back in the form of a daunting fixture list. But there are plenty of winnable games coming up so we’re hopeful of a much more entertaining and fulfilling second half of the season spent looking up the table, as opposed to the drag of a relegation battle looking down.
The message board has started talking about how far we are from sixth rather than how far we are from twenty-second, which makes a nice change.
Team selection unlikely to stray too far from Dieng; Dickie, Cameron, Barbet; Kane, Johansen, Ball, Chair, Wallace; Dykes, Austin. Amos and Carroll are the long term absentees.
As for the score, I’ll go 1-1. I quite fancy us actually, given our form, and your home form, but bar last season it’s not a particularly happy hunting ground for us.
A point here and then give that miserable tw*t Karanka a final shove over the edge on Saturday would be a fantastic week.
We discussed in detail on Monday’s podcast our feelings towards this match and it’s fair to say neither Jimmy, myself or Jake were overly positive. After claiming 6 wins from their last seven, QPR are bang in form and won’t be fearing anyone.
On the contrary and with just two wins since the turn of year, North End are short on confidence, two penalty misses within two minutes last time out epitomizes that statement. The performance at the Cardiff City Stadium has left unanswered questions of the manager and his decisions, and the upcoming two home fixtures have the potential to seal Alex Neil’s unfortunate fate as the pressure builds from supporters who perhaps expect performances to be proud of as much as results.
However, as spoken about on the most recent episode of the podcast, I’m not confident at all going into the clash at Deepdale. It’s probably the worst time to play QPR and the fixtures don’t seem to get any nicer.
As a scoreline, I’m going to go with 0-2 to the away side, with North End not in the form needed to play a side playing with so much confidence in my opinion.
In terms of a starting XI, this is a tricky one to call. Despite me getting just one player wrong in the last attempt, it’s unclear even what system Alex Neil will go with. QPR have been playing recently with a 3-5-2, a formation Alex Neil normally matches up but whether or not he will on Wednesday night is anyone’s guess.
I’m going to predict we will revert back to a 4-2-3-1 which is what he tends to use when playing at home. However, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see him match up the visitors man for man with a 3-5-2 system. Matching Cardiff clearly didn’t work as they man-marked our midfielders completely out of the game forcing us to go long, something that clearly didn’t work when the top two defenders in the Championship who have won the most headers play in that Cardiff back 3.
So, I’ll go with: Iversen; Browne, Storey, Huntington, Cunningham; Whiteman, Molumby; Gordon, Johnson, Sinclair; Evans.
I think we will see a change at the back with Liam Lindsay being given the night off after the manager admitted he was “mentally tired”. A break might do the loanee the world of good. Our options in midfield are currently limited with no current news on Ryan Ledson’s injury so I can’t see many changes occurring through the middle.
Finally, in terms of wingers, I think we will see Scott Sinclair and Anthony Gordon come back into the side at Deepdale and will hopefully bring some creativity to the side. Gordon looked like the only sort of a bright spark in the game at the weekend, after winning the first of the two penalties.
Three points would be absolutely huge for North End on Wednesday night, not just for Alex Neil but for the squad’s confidence which is clearly lacking at the moment.
Although I’m not entirely confident in the result, it would be refreshing to see at least a promising performance that provides the North End faithful with a bit of hope for the future. Something that seems to be fast disappearing during this rotten run of results and poor performances.
If you haven’t yet, make sure to give the latest episode of the From the Finney podcast a listen and give us a follow on twitter if you aren’t already – @fromthefinney.