Rangers picked up a point on an afternoon where Patrick Agyemang fell just short of breaking the Rodney Marsh goalscoring record, and Angelo Balanta scored his first senior goal for the club.
Balanta latched on to a Hogan Ephraim cross to score his first senior goal in his full home debut, his second in total following his start against Watford.
Sheffield United wouldn`t lie down and levelled through centre half Chris Morgan`s drive from the edge of the area, going through a crowd of players past the despairing dive of Lee Camp, to hand Rangers more home heartbreak, and the Blade`s their 6 draw in succession in all competitions.
Gavin Mahon dropped out of the 16 through injury, and was replaced by former Blade Mikele Leigertwood. Fitz Hall made a sensational comeback to the first team, having recently resumed training following a groin injury at the expense of Damion Stewart, and Matthew Connolly in place of Zesh Rehman.
There was a start for youth product Angelo Balanta in place of the suspended Akos Buzsaky.
For the Blades there was one enforced change. On-loan Manchester United winger Lee Martin was unable to join the squad owing to a rib injury, and he was replaced by Chris Armstrong in a formation reshuffle. With a 3 prong attack, with John Stead and Billy Sharp supporting dangerman James Beattie.
Sheffield United were positive from the outset and had Rangers on the backfoot in the opening exchanges. Some pressure from the Blades resulted in Michael Tonge being free on the edge of the area before drilling the ball well over the bar on 3 minutes.
Rangers then had a chance of their own when a pinpoint cross from Martin Rowlands led to a chance for Mikele Leigertwood, the ex Blade spurned the opportunity by heading over from the edge of the 6 yard box.
Rangers then began to assert some pressure on proceedings and a flowing move down the right. Neat work from Ephraim and Agyemang down the right, led to a pass for Rowan Vine. Vine, on the right hand side of the area, cut inside and drilled a left-footed effort from 20 yards narrowly over the bar.
This was a sign of things to come and Rangers broke the deadlock on 19 minutes through wonder-kid Angelo Balanta. A neat pass from Martin Rowlands set Ephraim free down the right flank, the winger turned his defender comfortably to fizz a cross towards the near post; Balanta who ghosted in from the left flank added a deft flick past Paddy Kenny to put Rangers 1 up.
QPR 1-0 SHEFFIELD UNITED
United then started to come back into the game, when a 25th minute corner from Michael Tonge, was contested fiercely by Chris Morgan and James Beattie, with Lee Camp making a tremendous save to his left knocking the ball airborne; the fallen keeper recovered in the presence of Matthew Kilagallon and John Stead to punch clear of danger.
Martin Rowlands then had a chance to double Rangers lead going into the break, his curling left footed effort few inches wide of the post. The team on top, were the team in Blue and White, and Rangers went into the break 1-0 up.
Half Time: QPR 1-0 Sheffield United
Rowan Vine had the best chance in the opening exchanges of the second period. The striker was laid in well, and found himself a loan runner being chased down by 3 defenders, he took his chance early, but in effect snatched at it with Paddy Kenny watching the wayward effort over the bar.
Rangers were trying to put the game beyond the reach of the Blades, Angelo Balanta wheedled his way into the heart of the United rearguard before releasing a tame effort straight into the diving arms of Kenny.
The Blades started to assert some real pressure on the Rangers backline, with Connolly thwarting an Armstrong volley across the box to lead to a succession of corners for the team in red and white. Rangers marshalled by the resurgent Fitz Hall continued to see off the Blades with relative confidence.
Kevin Blackwell then opted to make a change, the lively Billy Sharp was replaced by ex-Bristol City player Dave Cotterill, which prompted a formation reshuffle with John Stead joining Beattie upfront.
De Canio made changes of his own sending on Dexter Blackstock and Damion Stewart entering the field in place of the impressive Balanta and injured Matthew Connolly, who limped off. With chances few and far between at both ends, with the game descending into a scrappy affair and Blackwell used his last throw of the dice taking off Beattie and Stead in place of Luton Shelton and Rob Hulse.
The gamble paid dividends within a minute, with the ball coming into the box Chris Morgan challenged for the ball on the edge of the area, the ball bounced back to the defender, he composed himself to steer the ball through a multitude of bodies, and past the despairing dive of the unsighted Lee Camp.
QPR 1-1 SHEFFIELD UNITED
Rangers ploughed forward in search of regaining their advantage with Patrick Agyemang coming close to extending his stunning goalscoring run when he broke into the box, but he delayed his shot; and it was eventually blocked by the on form Kilagallon, who denied the R`s with a hand on a month or so previous.
It was a blessing for Kevin Blackwell who has suffered last minute heartbreak at Loftus Road on every occasion he has visited, twice with Leeds and once with Luton.
United were the better in the closing stages forcing a succession of corners, but it wasn`t enough for the them as a point seemed a fair result for both sides as Steve Bennett drew proceedings to a close at Loftus Road.
Full Time QPR 1-1 Sheffield United
Lee Camp 7/10
The keeper put in a good display in difficult circumstances. Had the ominous figures of Beattie and Morgan bearing down on numerous occasions, and dealt with them with aplomb. Nearly got the ball that hit the back of the net when a lesser keeper would have been left standing.
Michael Mancienne 7/10
Never gave Billy Sharp a sniff despite the forward man bombing forward several times. Mancienne cut the attacks coming from the left flank which left the Blades seeking other avenues.
Damien Delaney 6/10
Was given a hard time on occassions by the attacking threat late on, but on the whole did a good job at left back, certainly in an attacking capacity, bombing forward and drilling some excellent passes to the front two.
Matthew Connolly 7/10
Dealt well with Beattie for the majority of the game, and stopped attacks coming through the midfield. Won a number of headers and displayed alot of grit to make several tackles. Left the field injured.
Fitz Hall 8/10
A commanding display from the returning Fitz Hall, which on paper I consider De Canio’s best signing yet. Such an impressive figure in defence, very strong in the air against Beattie. Good solid display.
Hogan Ephraim 7/10
The winger dipped in and out of the game, and proved himself a useful asset with several marauding runs down the right. Rangers looked at their most dangerous when Hogan was on the ball.
Mikele Leigertwood 5/10
The ex-Blade never really got going and seemed unable to retain possession with Rangers ever searching to win that illusive ‘second ball’. Mahon was definately missing in the middle and Leigertwood didn’t do himself any favours in displacing the injured man.
Martin Rowlands – 7/10
Performed admirably in the centre of midfield with his array of passing cutting a hole into the Blades rearguard on a number of occassions. Once again dipped in and out of the game, and could have done better in thwarting Blades’ attack.
Angelo Balanta 8/10
The young striker was played wide left in his first home start for the R’s and excelled in his role. His goal was of strikers instinct an excellent flick past the keeper. There is alot of promise in the youngster from Bogota, and needs his talent to be nurtured.
Rowan Vine 6/10
A disappointing display from Vine as he constantly surrendered possession to the opposition. Made some intelligent runs, and looked at his best with the ball at his feet charging towards the area, however this was not a common occurance.
Patrick Agyemang 7/10
Not a display he’ll put at the forefront of his Rangers career thus far, but nevertheless, a goalless Agyemang played well, coming deep to get hold of the ball and laying off the midfield players. His intelligent running made for difficult defensive duties for the Blades.
Dexter Blackstock 5/10
Once again contributed very little from the bench when asked upon to change the course of the game by his manager. Needs to improve off the bench in order to get a start.
Damion Stewart 6/10
Dealt admirably with late threats posed by opposition strikers. Damion will look to break back into the squad for the Barnsley game.
Luigi De Canio – 6 – On the whole did ok, and interesting selection of players, opting to leave Kieran Lee on the bench, and starting teen Balanta, it worked to perfection, but we need to stop conceding sloppy second half goals, and he will be looking to redress that.
Kevin Blackwell – 7 – Will be happy with a point I’m sure, his players didn’t really do him justice as he looks to transform a team bereft of confidence from a previous era. Got his tactics correct today, and his substitutions worked well.
I predicted a 2-1 win to Rangers, it could have come to fruition if Agyemang had finished off that late chance, but in all fairness it wouldn’t have been deserved as both teams looked good value for a point a piece.