QPR 2 Preston North End 2
By Ben Kosky VIRTUALLY nothing was riding on this game – not that you d have known it from the exuberant scenes of celeb-ration at the final whistle. QPR s dramatic last-minute fightback to snatch a point sparked rejoicing reminiscent of this fixture almo
By Ben Kosky
VIRTUALLY nothing was riding on this game - not that you'd have known it from the exuberant scenes of celeb-ration at the final whistle.
QPR's dramatic last-minute fightback to snatch a point sparked rejoicing reminiscent of this fixture almost exactly a year ago, when victory over Preston breathed new life into the Rs' battle against relegation.
One of the five survivors from that team, Gareth Ainsworth, was Rangers' inspiration on Saturday as he emerged from the dugout to score once and set up Dexter Blackstock's injury-time equaliser.
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Manager Luigi de Canio paid tribute to his senior pro and right-hand man, declaring: "Gareth is an extraordinary individual and, even knowing the spirit and heart of QPR, it is very much identified in Gareth.
"We've suffered quite a few comebacks from other teams this season and finally we got one of our own. It seemed to be a day when nothing would go our way.
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"What happened at the end was a great demonstration of character and the performance of the opposition and the quality with which they played adds to this result."
All true - and none of which should mask the fact that De Canio got his starting line-up horribly wrong, with Ainsworth, Kieran Lee and Angelo Balanta all confined to the bench.
That left Mikele Leigertwood like a fish out of water on the right flank - and it wasn't until he was brought infield in the second half that Martin Rowlands had the freedom to get forward and cause problems for Preston.
Rangers' defending was none too solid, either, and the visitors might well have scored twice inside the opening 10 minutes, but both Neil Mellor and Simon Whaley were denied by Lee Camp.
Darren Carter screwed a volley well wide after Whaley had broken through again and, although the Rs threatened in patches, it was Preston who took the lead eight minutes before the break.
Blackstock robbed Youl Mawene and fired a shot that Andy Lonergan punched clear to set up a counter-attack that brought Preston a corner - which Mawene headed on for the unchallenged Mellor to volley into the roof of the net.
Michael Mancienne, who got forward to good effect all afternoon, sent a 30-yarder whizzing just wide in response, but it needed a half-time reshuffle in midfield to get Rangers back into the game.
Without the injured Rowan Vine and Akos Buzsaky, it was painfully obvious that their hopes hung on the shoulders of Rowlands and two surging runs took him within sight of goal, but one finish lacked power, the other direction.
And Rangers appeared destined for defeat when Preston substitute Tamas Priskin made it 2-0 in the 64th minute, stabbing in after Camp and Matthew Connolly had got into a tangle trying to deal with Chris Brown's low cross.
It could have been worse as Camp sprang to his left to claw away Sean St Ledger's header - but, with every Rangers attack sputtering within sight of the penalty area, that seemed unlikely to affect the outcome.
Plenty of the faithful had lost faith by the time Mancienne crossed and Ainsworth, once a Deepdale legend, hooked a volley over Lonergan to make it 2-1 just before the clock reached 90 minutes.
Passion and belief are fuel to the likes of Ainsworth, though - and in the third minute of added time, his run and cross picked out Blackstock, whose glancing header into the far corner made the draw feel like a victory.
QPR: Camp; Mancienne, Stewart, Hall, Connolly; Leigertwood, ROWLANDS*, Mahon (Ainsworth 66), Ephraim (Balanta 61); Blackstock, Agyemang. Subs not used: Pickens, Barker, Lee.