Personally, I thought Walker was a MOTM contender again, along with Adel (again). And Gorkss deserves a mention in despatches for keeping Parkin quiet, and don’t snigger, as any player who has scored 7 goals in a team bottom of the league, must be doing something right. The form book wasn’t upset today with North End being involved in 31 goals in 8 away games, including a 6-4 win at Elland Road and a 3-4 reverse with their bitter rivals Burnley, in front of the BBC cameras. Warnock made three changes with Hall starting his first game since 14th August when he got his usual injury, replacing Connolly in the centre of defence. Matt Connolly in turn replaced the banned Shaun Derry in the holding midfield position. Leon Clarke started for the first time in the league this season, replacing Tommy Smith.
The game was barely 5 minutes old when Walker bombed down the line and crossed it into the danger area. The keeper Lonergan, had an easy save to make, but somehow he spilled the ball and Hulse was there to bundle it in with the use of his chest, hip, leg or whatever. About 10 minutes later it should’ve been two as Mackie robbed a defender 25 yards out and went one-on-one with Lonergan, but the keeper saved his close range effort. The ball ran loose to Clarke who somehow managed to hit the upper tier with the goal gaping. A real shame as Clarke was showing some good touches and was working hard tracking back when needed.
Clarke did eventually get the ball in the net when a high ball was spilled by the keeper under pressure from Hulse. He took the loose ball down and hit a low shot from about 15 yards, but was adjudged to have handled when controlling the ball. Of all people, it was Adel who was having a quiet game first half and his main contribution was when he beat a player out left, cut inside and curled a lovely cross to the far post where Hulse was lurking, but he couldn’t reach the ball although his lunge was very close.
Our main threat first half seemed to be the lung bursting runs of Walker who time and again beat two or three defenders and got to the bye-line to deliver crosses into the box. Preston were looking like a bottom of the league outfit and offered nothing much, even when they tried, Gorkss was winning his personal battle with Parkin. There was a slightly unsavoury incident on 40 minutes when Mackie went down from what looked like a stamping challenge yet the referee waved played on. Warnock was fuming as were a lot of the home crowd. Half-time: 1-0.
Second half, Preston started to put in a bit more graft, in particular Iain Hume who was here, there and everywhere, trying to inspire his team mates to better things. Paddy Kenny was even called into action as he raced off his line to block an effort from Barton who was sent clear by a Parkin through ball. But all the early promise disappeared when Taarabt collected a pass 40 yards out and ran the next 15 yards with the ball before looking up and curling the ball expertly around the diving keeper and into the top corner of the net, a definite contender for our ‘Goal of the Season’. If memory serves me correctly, he won the award for another superb strike last season against Preston.
Soon after, Gorkss had a header from a Taarabt corner, saved by Lonergan and Hulse pounced on the loose ball, but his effort was again saved and diverted wide for another corner. But the third goal wasn’t long in coming and once again it was Adel Taarabt with another screamer. Picking up a loose ball 30 yards out, he took a couple of paces and hit a belter. The keeper dived full length, got both hands to the ball, but somehow he couldn’t stop our captain from scoring his 8th goal of the season. The keeper was at fault I think.
On 80 minutes, Martin Rowlands made an appearance as a sub and all sides of the ground stood to applaud a player whose luck with injuries has been awful the past two years. It was his first appearance at Loftus Road in over a year. Patrick Agyemang also came on in a double swap for Hall and Hulse. And with 3 minutes of normal time remaining, Warnock brought on Bruno Andrade and he also got a great reception which must’ve helped his nerves as he was immediately in the thick of the action and showed some good touches and a decent turn of speed. With about 30 seconds of normal time left, Iain Hume hit a hopeful punt from a freekick by the touchline into our box. No PNE player was anywhere near the ball, and we had three defenders all covering the cross, when Connolly appeared to chest it back to Kenny and the ball crept in just by the post to give the long suffering fans huddled in the away end something to cheer.
Another 3 points puts us back on top as Cardiff lost at home for the second game running with the mother of all top of the table clashes to come next Saturday. An 18 game unbeaten start means that come what may, (no pun intended) at the end of the season, this team has made it into the history books.
Team with ratings: Kenny: 7, Walker: 8, Hill: 7, Hall: 6, Gorkss: 7, Faurlin: 7, Mackie: 7, Taarabt: 8, Connolly: 7, Clarke: 6, Hulse: 7.
Attendance: 13,505 (including about 300 Preston fans).
Referee: D.J. Phillips: 7
MOM: Adel Taarabt. A quiet first half, especially for him, was followed by two brilliant pieces of skill which resulted in another 3 points.
(Both images were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)