Having garnered an impressive reputation during his teenage years at Manchester City and then West Bromwich Albion, much was expected of Ishmael Miller. Tony Mowbray, his former manager at The Hawthorns, even suggested he would be prepared for bids of £10-£15m for the striker after he gave Arsenal's defence an unsettling afternoon on the opening day of the 2008-09 Premier League season.
A succession of injuries since has stunted Miller's progress and he has almost become the forgotten man at 23, loaned out to Queen's Park Rangers, leaders of the Championship, in the hope that he will find fitness and form.
A forceful run and cross to set up Heidar Helguson's goal at Preston were a reminder of the past and the match-winning qualities the powerfully built, pacy player possesses.
Neil Warnock, the QPR manager, believes Miller can reach the top again. "I see a desire in him. He's a dedicated lad, genuine, but has just had so many blinking injuries," he said. "It's down to him to get back into the Premier League. We have 14 games and he has to show in those games that he can keep himself fit and do well. If he can do that, he's got an opportunity. When he's fit he will be tough to cope with. He will give us something we haven't got. Adel [Taarabt] has got different skills, [Wayne] Routledge has. They've all got something different that wins you games."
After finding bottom club Preston stubborn to overcome, what could also be crucial for Rangers is Miller's experience of a promotion challenge. He was part of the Albion side that went up in 2008 with a two-point advantage over Stoke City. It could be just as tight this time with Rangers five clear of Nottingham Forest, who have a game in hand and host Preston tomorrow.
Warnock added: "Other teams will have good and bad results and they will be nervous too, probably more than ourselves. We need to keep our heads to get us through this period. If the players enjoy it, they will play better."
Barry Nicholson gave Preston a deserved point with a lovely lobbed finish – his first league goal since 2008. "It is something I can improve on," said the Scotland midfielder. "I got off to a flyer when I first moved here [from Aberdeen] and then had a dry spell."
Like Miller, Nicholson has had injury problems, breaking the same leg twice, but he hopes similar courage in coming back from the depths of despair will be evident in Preston's run-in. They are 11 points adrift of safety, have just one win in 19 games and no clean sheets in the last 11. It does not augur well, but he added: "We definitely believe we can get out of this situation. When one win comes we will quickly get two or three and, hopefully, that will cut the points gap. The gaffer has got us more organised – he has a clean sheet mentality. Hopefully, we can get one of those, sneak a goal and then go on a run."
Preston North End (4-4-2): Turner; Gray, Cort, St Ledger, Jones; Barton (Parry, 75), Ashbee, Nicholson, Treacy; Johnson (Hayes, 55), Ellington (Proctor, 82). Substitutes not used Lonergan, Morgan, Russell, Carter.
Booked Gray, Treacy, Ashbee.
QPR (4-4-2): Kenny; Orr, Gorkss, Connolly, Hill; Faurlin, Derry, Routledge (Buzsaky, 86), Taarabt; Miller (Moen, 61), Helguson (Hulse, 74). Substitutes not used Cerny, Hall, Chimbonda, Shittu
Booked Routledge, Gorkss, Derry.
Possession Preston 46%, QPR 54%.
Attempts on target Preston 5, QPR 8
Rating 7/10. Man of the match Nicholson.
Referee A Haines (Tyne & Wear). Att 10,521.Reuse content