Preston North End racked up their fourth home win in five on cold, rainy afternoon at Deepdale.
Although it wasn’t all straight forward for the Lilywhites in this one, key players Tyias Browning and Ben Pearson were both ruled out through injury, which forced the side in to a bit of a formation and personnel change.
The 3-4-3 system is what Simon Grayson opted for initially, with Tom Clarke, Paul Huntington and Tommy Spurr teaming up as a three centre-back partnership.
Greg Cunningham and Daryl Horgan took the wing-back roles, with the deeper role not really suiting Horgan, taking his influential, and creative side out of the game a little bit.
It was no doubt a bid to cover the shortage of right-backs that North End have run in to, with Woods, Baptiste, Vermijl and Browning all now out injured.
It was a gamble that didn’t really pay off though, as it was a fairly below par first 45 minutes, which the boss himself held his hands up too.
QPR took advantage of the home side’s poor early showing just past the half hour mark when a long throw in bounced through the legs of Spurr, and fell to Kazenga LuaLua who produced a back-heel past Maxwell from six yards out.
With the visitors having not picked up a win at Deepdale since 1980, a run that stretches 11 games, they could be forgiven for thinking that their fortunes might be changing.
Preston were just really struggling to hit top speed, things weren’t working properly, it just wasn’t really clicking like it so often does for the side.
But just as half-time approached, it took another moment of class from Everton loanee Aiden McGeady to level things up for the home side.
After widespread praise in recent weeks for the wingers after a run of extra impressive performances, he produced another wonderful goal.
After latching on to fellow Irish international Cunningham’s pass, McGeady cut inside two defenders before unleashing a pinpoint shot in to the bottom right-hand corner.
Just a little bit of magic on the brink of half-time was exactly what the home side needed after a below par first half.
The break saw a switch in formation for North End, reverting back to their normal 4-4-2 system, rather than the 3-4-3 that had been executed in the first 45.
The switch meant Greg Cunningham dropped back from his wing-back position in to the unfamiliar right-back slot, although if last season’s Player of the Year was out of his comfort zone, it wasn’t obvious to see.
The return to familiarity worked wonders for North End, it was a more improved performance in the second half.
Jordan Hugill was in the fans bad books last week after his penalty miss at Wigan cost the side all three points, but the clubs top scorer popped up with the winner this week.
With 18 minutes remaining, Horgan’s corner was met by Hugill who had his initial effort palmed back out by Smithies, but the striker was quickest to the rebound to poke home his 11th of the season.
The goal was a deserved one for North End, who had put the pressure on after the break.
Moments after Hugill’s winner, things slipped further downhill for Ian Holloway’s side as Luke Freeman was given his marching orders after receiving his second yellow card for a late tackle on Tommy Spurr, after already receiving a caution for a tackle on McGeady in the first half.
It was a decision that infuriated Holloway on the sidelines, but his protests fell on deaf ears as Freeman walked off down the tunnel.
The man advantage showed late on as Preston ran rings around the R’s defence and there could have been no complaints if the scoreline had stretched to a two or three goal advantage in the closing stage.
The three points were a big one for North End, one that put them back in contention for the top six and a few slip ups from teams around them.
Now ninth placed Preston travel to seventh placed Fulham next week in what is set to be a huge game with just one point separating the two sides, as well as it being the club’s annual Gentry Day.
Fans have sold in excess of 2,300 tickets for the trip to the capital already, but the performance will have to be better than what the side mustered up in the first half this week.