QUEENS Park Rangers did just enough to edge out Bolton Wanderers with Charlie Austin leading the way once more in attack.
The hosts laboured once more in the first half that culminated in Austin – remaining on the field against the physio’s advice – nodding beyond Andy Lonergan with consummate ease.
A nervy Rangers doubled their lead with Karl Henry powering home a scintillating low drive with Wanderers quite comfortably one of the most visibly deflated teams to visit Loftus Road.
Visiting fans heckled Dougie Freedman when he withdrew forward Craig Davies but they halved the arrears when tentative defending allowed Jay Spearing to power home via a deflection.
A nail-biting finale where there shouldn’t have been – Rangers even threw on Bobby Zamora and Shaun Wright-Phillips as a charitable favour as they edged out a poor Wanderers outfit.
Harry Redknapp named two changes from the side that edged out Huddersfield Town ten days ago – Danny Simpson and Gary O’Neil dropped out with Armand Traoré and Matt Phillips coming in – Benoit Assou-Ekotto slotted in at right back.
Rob Green therefore started behind a defence of Assou-Ekotto, Richard Dunne, Clint Hill and Traoré. The midfield quartet consisted of Phillips, Tom Carroll, Karl Henry and Niko Kranjcar with Andy Johnson partnering top scorer Charlie Austin.
Bolton lined up with Andy Lonergan behind a back four of Tim Ream, Zat Knight, Matt Mills and Alex Baptiste. Jay Spearing and Medo played in behind Darren Pratley, Mark Davies and Neil Danns with the lone forward Craig Davies.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v BOLTON WANDERERS
The game was barely seconds old when Tim Ream’s aerial dual with Charlie Austin saw the American defender motionless on the turf. Austin was treated for a head wound while Ream had to be withdrawn with what appeared to be a broken nose.
Hayden White came onto the pitch for his professional debut and slotted into the right back-berth. The break benefited the Trotters, who took the game to the hosts despite Rangers’ pre-match talk of ‘starting better’.
Firstly Rob Green was grateful to see Mark Davies’ centre and subsequently Darren Pratley’s shot deflected into the stopper’s grateful arms. Pratley went one closer moments later, flashing across the target when well-placed on the edge of the area.
These incidents and more caused a nervous stir among the home support – the visitors who had shipped seven in their last trip, were firmly on top in this encounter. Charlie Austin stayed down following a strong challenge – the silence from the home crowd was deafening.
Such is the importance of the Rangers forward, gasps were heard as Andy Johnson the physio Nigel Cox signalled Austin’s part in the fixture was over owing to a shoulder injury. Bobby Zamora stripped off, but Austin elected to strap up his shoulder and play on.
Still the visitors continued their positive start – former Fulham man Pratley leading from the front by curling a dipping right-footed effort that had Green rooted. The effort came back off the bar and prompted a sharp increase in noise from the home crowd.
Johnson chanced his arm from distance but managed to find the top tier, but from nothing Rangers had the advantage. Phillips’ fine run down the right saw him beat Baptiste all ends up before delivering a hanging far post cross.
CHARLIE AUSTIN was the man waiting on the far post to out-jump his marker and nod back beyond Lonergan. An excellently worked goal that sat apart from the abysmal passage of play that was this opening half.
Rangers rounded off the half with Richard Dunne nodding an Assou-Ekotto corner wide and Tom Carroll’s speculative effort failing to test ‘keeper Lonergan. It was a half that hardly inspired, but somehow Rangers found themselves in front.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-0 BOLTON WANDERERS
The home side started with a little more purpose in the second period – Assou-Ekotto cut inside from the right to lash a shot wide of the left hand upright. He was struggling defensively in his right-back position but gave a different dimension going forward.
It was his corner that helped Rangers double the lead. The defender’s corner was cleared only as far as KARL HENRY. Implored to shoot by the Rangers faithful, the combative midfielder rifled a rasping drive beyond Lonergan and into the bottom left hand corner.
Pratley seemed to be the lone talisman for the Trotters, firing a shot just wide of Green’s upright. Chung Yong Lee entered the fray at the expense of Neil Danns and immediately perked up the visiting side.
His wayward shot after the hour mark was hardly accurate but it helped to inspire his colleagues. Medo – who hit the upright earlier this campaign – tested Green from distance with a stinging right-footed drive, the Rs keeper palmed the ball away.
The visiting fans reacted badly to the withdrawal of Craig Davies for debutante Lukas Jutkiewicz – the visiting 500 chanted ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ at young boss Dougie Freedman – presumably for persisting with one forward despite the numerical disadvantage.
Bobby Zamora and Shaun Wright-Phillips were thrown on at the expense of Charlie Austin and Niko Kranjcar – the cabaret was in full flow at Loftus Road. The players were backed from the off and it reflected particularly in Zamora’s improved performance.
Lee struck wide for the visitors before Medo found the corner flag with a wayward effort – it was becoming uncomfortable but manageable for the hosts who were attempting to pick off their beleaguered opposition on the counter-attack.
Zamora was getting cheered from the rafters and only a last ditch block prevented firstly he from opening his account, then Lonergan denied Johnson after a sublime through ball from a rejuvenated front-man.
Then disaster struck for the home side. The impression was never given that the lead was set in stone and when a succession of missed and feeble clearances afforded JAY SPEARING the time and space to shoot with a cruel deflection off the studs of Richard Dunne taking the ball past Rob Green.
The final moments made for uncomfortable viewing. Wright-Phillips’ one man comedy show down the left flank was less and less amusing, even as he elicited a useful drive that kept Lonergan alert in the latter stages.
The final whistle was blown to relief around the ground, despite the commanding position throughout the second half. The decision to rest Austin and Kranjcar was justified, although Redknapp I’m sure will admit his nerves were frayed as the fixture wore on.
Never one to unnecessary barrack oppononents, Bolton were sadly one of the worst team to visit this season, and had they a little more ambition in the final third they may well have come away with more than a slender defeat.
Rangers can now open up a good gap on Burnley this weekend providing they can pick up the maximum against this season’s high flying Clarets.
FULL TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 2-1 BOLTON WANDERERS