A tough one to take on Saturday. The defeat came at a very crucial time in our season which is one of the reasons I think this is the probably our worst result of the season.
QPR at home was a game we headed into with, I suspect, the majority of fans expecting a win. That’s not being overconfident, but given how we know how we can play, especially at home, 3 points would have been huge and would have put us 4 points clear of 7th placed Bristol City.
Losing by 2 goals to 10 men isn’t good enough and there can’t be any excuses for that and as the lads said in this week’s episode of the pod, the blame lies solely at the door of the manager. Here are five things we learnt from the QPR game.
Awful Form at the Wrong Time
There are just nine games left this season, and this is the time where a couple of clubs put a good run together and end up sneaking into the top six.
Blackburn and Millwall are the in-form teams that fall into that bracket, and even though we’ve been poor of late we’ve managed to cling onto 6th place somehow.
Whilst that is good it makes you wonder how comfortable we would be if we hadn’t been so poor over the last few games. We’ve lost four of the last five and we’re missing opportunities to make ground on the other teams faltering around us.
It’s a crazy league but in truth, we haven’t played well since perhaps the first half of the Wigan Athletic game. The last complete performance came with our 3-0 win against an average Barnsley side.
There are no excuses at this stage, we’ve got ourselves into a great position and we need to make the most of it, otherwise this time next season could be a very different picture.
There’s a Need for Ambition
A quick look over social media will give you a range of different opinions following the 3-1 defeat on Saturday. In my opinion, a lot of fans are rightly annoyed at the performance and are very critical of the players and the manager of late because it hasn’t been good enough.
Then at the other end of the spectrum, there are the fans who say ‘we’re still 6th’. Yeah agreed it could be a lot worse but it should be a lot better.
I don’t think anyone was necessarily expecting us to be in this position at the start of the season. However, given how well the campaign did start and being top of the table briefly in November it’s frustrating to see things slowly slipping away.
I’m desperate to see success with this team and whilst I know we probably are ‘punching above our weight’ in this league with plenty of bigger clubs than us, I’m still going to be incredibly annoyed with inept performances and missed chances. This is our most talented squad for a number of years and it feels like it’s getting to crunch time. As Oli wrote in the summer, this season was and still is the chance of a lifetime for Preston North End.
Our successes and failures seem to come in cycles. We shouldn’t just be happy with overachieving with the budget we have. Ben Pearson, Alan Browne and Ben Davies are three of the best players we’ve had in the last decade.
With their contracts up in 2021 if we don’t go up this season it’s very likely they will all leave in the summer, possibly with a few others. Given that we struggle to replace key players (Jordan Hugill being the case in point here), I worry about the future of this squad.
The next three games are crucial. Away to Luton who have picked up a bit of form of late but we need to go there expecting three points. Then two more home games follow against Cardiff City and Derby County. With even tougher games than these to follow before the end of the season I’d say 7 points is the minimum. Let’s be ambitious, let’s back the lads for the full 90, let’s not just settle for a draw and be happy come the end of the season because we ‘gave it a good go’.
Lack of Goals from Open Play
Another penalty was converted on Saturday. Daniel Johnson applying the finish this time as he and Paul Gallagher continue to take turns.
It’s great how successful we are from the spot and how we can get ourselves into dangerous situations to win the penalties. It was Darnell Fisher again who won the penalty, quite often he is one of our main attacking threats when he gets forward on the right. In the first half, we had success down that right with him and Tom Barkhuizen and created a few opportunities.
However, the closest we came to another goal was through a quick counter-attack via Seani Maguire who hit the post and then a quickly taken free-kick which Seani headed over the keeper only for it to come back off the bar.
In the second half, we matched QPR up and switched to a diamond formation and created nothing. Our attacking play can be frustrating with limited creativity despite the talent we have.
When we brought Jayden Stockley on we sent balls up to him but we never actually got to the byline and whipped one in for him to attack. There’s no point just using him as someone to flick balls on.
One goal from open play in our last five games; not playoff form. Some teams cry out for a 20 goal a season striker. Most would settle for a 10 goal a season striker. We don’t even have one that can get to 5 at the moment. Jayden Stockley is in fact the 3rd most booked player at the club this season, he’s contributed more bookings than goals with 5 yellows and 3 goal contributions (2G, 1A).
A High Press Worked in the First Half
When QPR had goal kicks we pushed the front three very high and it put them under pressure straight away. This is one of our best strengths, our team and setup is ideal for this and it’s something that was a huge positive at the start of Alex Neil’s tenure here.
This is probably why he likes Seani Maguire so much and why he continues to keep his place in the side. It’s a strong aspect of his game and he did set the press well on Saturday.
Getting behind their defence and cutting balls back into the box is when we are at our best but we can’t seem to do it often enough lately and when we do we’re still not converting the chances that we are creating. Rarely getting a shot on target as we have only managed 4 shots on target in our last 3 games.
Much Better from Seani
You had to feel for Maguire on Saturday, hitting the woodwork twice, he could hardly have come closer to ending his goal drought.
Early on in the game he was released by DJ and had a lot of time to decide what to do. He looked hesitant and was waiting for Josh Harrop to get into the box but in the end, he took on a shot from a wide-angle that came back off the post.
In the second half a quick free-kick from Darnell Fisher led to Seani beating the ‘keeper to the ball and looping a header over him only to see it come back off the bar. Unfortunately, the rebound came back too quick at him and the chance was gone.
Recently, against Fulham and QPR respectively, he’s had chances but it just underlines how things are not going his way of late. I’m sure Alex Neil will stick with him and hopefully, he can kick on in these last 9 games and get himself a few more goals before the end of the season.
Finally, if you haven’t listened to this week’s episode of the From the Finney podcast, it’s available to stream on all good streaming platforms now. Or, you can listen directly in your browser by pressing play below.
There’s also Episode #7 of From the Finney Meets… Andrew Lonergan. Same rules apply for streaming.