In a game of relatively few chances for either side, a battling defensive display by Rangers earned them a well-deserved point on their travels to SE London.
After the debacle at Watford last Saturday, Rangers fans were hoping for a much better performance from their team. Whilst there were still no away goals from the Rs, there was a marked improvement in performance from the team as a whole from both the Watford and Charlton games.
Rangers best chance came from Heidar Helguson in the first few minutes of the second period, but the loanee, having only just made his way onto the pitch, was not sharp enough with an open goal begging. Agyemang, in the first half, and Blackstock, with a header which nestled in the roof of the Palace goal in the second half, also went close for Rangers.
The third of the Rs` London derbies in the space of one week ended goalless, neither side being able to claim that they should really have walked away with all three points!
Rangers made two changes to the line-up that started against Charlton on Tuesday night. In a 4-4-2 formation, Patrick Agyemang started alongside Dexter Blackstock, with young loanee Samuel Di Carmine finding a place on the subs` bench. Gavin Mahon also retained his place in the starting XI, at the expense of Damiano Tommasi, who did not feature. Pleasingly, Rs captain Martin Rowlands was included amongst the substitutes, which also included new loan signings Heidar Helguson and Gary Borrowdale.
Warnock was again without Alan Lee, James Scowcroft and Danny Butterfield. However, Shaun Derry was included among the substitutes, having recovered from illness. Nathanial Clyne retained his place at right-back, in place of Butterfield. Paul Ifill passed a late fitness test to regain his place in Palace`s line-up, having missed their 2-1 win at Norwich on Tuesday night. On loan WBA striker, Craig Beattie, also retained his place in Palace`s attack.
Kick off: Crystal Palace v Queens Park Rangers
Palace started the more brightly of the two teams. WBA loan striker, Craig Beattie, tested Cerny in the Rs goal early on, after good work by midfielder Ben Watson. His shot was easily caught by the Rs` stopper.
Palace took heart from the opening exchanges with Rangers defence initially giving their opposition too much time and space on the ball. Watson himself tried a shot from 25 yards, but it flew wide of Cerny`s right-hand post. This was followed by an effort from Sean Scannell who deftly ran passed Delaney and fired a low shot which Cerny picked up.
When Rangers did attack, most of the work was down the left-hand side as, once more, Hogan Ephraim kept cutting into the middle of the pitch from his right-wing position. Blackstock managed to knock down a pass into the path of Patrick Agyemang, but he could not get enough power on his shot and Speroni, in the Palace goal, was able to gather the ball with ease.
Joe Oster tried his luck, after that, but again Cerny was equal to it. But he could do nothing about Nick Carle`s curling left-footed shot that was, luckily, deflected wide.
Leigertwood and, especially, Agyemang were looking dangerous for the Rs down the left-wing. The centre midfield and, particularly, the right-side of midfield for Rangers were looking decidedly lacking. Ephraim kept wandering in from the wing, narrowing the Rs` width and reducing the options available when the defenders had the ball. Parejo, as in so many matches for the Rs this season, looked like he wanted to be anywhere else rather than Selhurst Park and, too many times, moves broke down with him.
Rangers had an opportunity through Agyemang, late in the first half, who expertly controlled a long pass from defender Damion Stewart. He held off Clyne and burst into the Palace box only for the quick-thinking Palace goalie, Speroni, to dash off his line and smother the ball before Agyemang could get his shot off.
The half ended with a thundering shot from Ifill, which Cerny cleanly caught, but no goals.
Half time: Crystal Palace 0 – 0 Queens Park Rangers
The second half started with Sousa making a substitution. Daniel Parejo was rightly taken off and the Rangers faithful were treated to a glimpse of new signing Heidar Helguson – at last!
And Helguson could have made his name for himself within the first minute. Hogan Ephraim brilliantly sprayed the ball out to Agyemang on the left. Speroni came out of his goal, to the edge of the area, to try to avert the danger. But it was Agyemang who managed to touch the ball neatly through to Helguson. The goal was empty – it was begging – Rangers fans held their breath . . . but Helguson managed to shoot just wide of the right-hand post. Chance gone!
This was not, however, the end of Rangers! This was not like many away games this season, when the Rs have ended the first half on an up-note only to manage to turn their good first-half work into a diabolical display in the 2nd period! Rather, Rangers opening move showed their intent and determination – clearly the new gaffer had fired the team up in the dressing room at half-time!
Next, Leigertwood tried his luck. He cut in from the left and struck his shot well and low; but Speroni was equal to it. Then, good work from Agyemang, this time on the right, holding off the defender, gave him a chance to cross the ball to Helguson. Helguson put in a good cross and Blackstock rose above everyone else – but only managed to put his header onto the roof of the Palace goal.
QPR were moving the ball about better across the midfield and switching play from wing to wing, stretching Palace. Then, to the great delight of the Rs fans, captain and stalwart, Martin Rowlands made his first appearance for new boss, Paulo Sousa, replacing the hapless Blackstock.
Blackstock had worked hard, but had had little or no service from the disappointing Parejo in the first half. But when Parejo first went off, Sousa changed the shape of the team to 4-3-3 – bold, but difficult to sustain a 45-minute continuous attack to ensure the midfield was not over-run. So, off went Blackstock for Rowlands who slotted into the centre of midfield like a hand in a glove.
Crystal Palace were reduced to the odd pot-shot from outside the area during the second period, as Rangers became more attack-minded. Ephraim tried to a chip from the right-hand side of the area, only for his effort to be deflected for Rangers first corner of the game! Shortly after that, Delaney crossed the ball into the area for Ephraim, but he could only head the ball into the side netting.
For Palace, substitute Shefki Kuqi and Sean Scannell had opportunities, but their headers hardly caused Cerny to break out into a cold sweat. Rangers fans were in good humour throughout and, as usual, sang their hearts out. But their biggest cheer was, in fact, not for Martin Rowlands but for Ben Watson, when he stepped up to take a corner. The Rs fans loudly sang that “Watson is a Ranger!” – reminding him of the summer saga!
Rob Styles, who all had feared would spoil the game with his antics, was relatively quiet throughout. The three bookings were all justified but this was not a controversial game and, despite the constant rain falling throughout the match, tackles were made fairly and in acceptable fashion (acceptable, that is, to Styles!) The biggest controversy of the afternoon came late in the game when the 4th official, Mr Wright, had to replace the linesman and spent two or three minutes warming up – which Rob Styles duly added to the extra time played at the end of the game!
Rangers looked stronger on the ball than they had against Charlton and, certainly in the second half, moved the ball about better. They began to try to create chances, even though not one was converted. All in all, it was a much better all round display. But, in the final 5 minutes of extra time, there was still a heart-stopping moment as Palace seemed to have carved out the chance to steal all 3 points.
When Samuel Di Carmine, on in extra time for the hard-working Agyemang, gave the ball away, Palace attacked with venom. Cerny parried the ball just in front of his goal, but it squirmed away from him. With a Palace player bearing down on him, and Cerny lying on the ground, the Rs stopper kicked out at the ball with his feet. He connected superbly and, from that prone position, was able to clear the ball away from danger.
That was effectively the last kick of the game and Styles blew the final whistle to bring the curtain down at the Palace.
Final whistle: Crystal Palace 0 – 0 Queens Park Rangers
Crystal Palace: Julian Speroni, Clint Hill, Patrick McCarthy, Jose Fonte, Nick Carlen (Shaun Derry 63), Sean Scannell Griffit 88), Craig Beattie, Paul Ifill (Kuqi 63), Ben Watson, John Oster, Nathanial Clyne
QPR: Radek Cerny, Damien Delaney, Damion Stewart, Gavin Mahon, Mikele Leigertwood, Daniel Parejo (Heidar Helguson 46), Dexter Blackstock (Martin Rowlands 57), Patrick Agyemang (Samuel Di Carmine 90+1), Kaspars Gorkss, Peter Ramage, Hogan Ephraim
Radek Cerny 6.5/10
He had another solid game, gathering everything he needed to and punching on one occasion only, when he couldn’t get to the ball to make a clean catch. But it was good punch with distance and deflected any possible danger. His brilliant use of his feet in the dying seconds of the game certainly saved us from conceding disastrously, and unfairly. Cerny gets better and better with every game!
Damien Delaney 5.5/10
He made some mistakes in the first half, letting Palace players get past him a little too easily. But he got better in the second period and was even able to make some forays into the Palace half, once to put in a good cross for Ephraim.
Peter Ramage 6/0
A sound defensive display although he didn’t get much chance to go forward down the right as most of our work was down the left. But he dealt with most things effectively enough and was never really troubled by the Palace attacks.
Damien Stewart 6/10
Another solid performance, although once or twice his headers were a little wayward. He seemed very comfortable side-by-side with Kaspars Gorkss and the centre pair rarely looked troubled.
Kaspars Gorkss 7/10
A cool, well-thought-out performance. Self-assured. Possibly his best performance for us so far this season. He made all his headers and they were true and straight – straight out of danger. I hope he now gets a chance to have a run in the team so we can all see what he really is about!
Mikele Leigertwood 6/10
A good performance in an unfamiliar position – left wing. He linked up well with Patrick Agyemang down the left on several occasions. He is hard-working and it is just a pity he had to play in such an unfamiliar position.
Gavin Mahon 6/10
A captain’s role. He ran his heart out even though, as a defensive midfielder, he did little to influence our attacks. But he got stuck in and managed to break up many of Palace’s efforts in midfield.
Hogan Ephraim 6/10
When he sticks to the right-wing, he can produce excellent crosses which, as Blackstock showed on Tuesday night, can be converted into goals. So why, oh why, does he persist in cutting into the centre of midfield all the time? By doing so, he constantly reduces our options as well as narrowing the midfield unnecessarily.
Daniel Parejo 3/10
And that’s being generous. When are we going to see what all the fuss was about that accompanied his arrival in the summer? He is so slap-dash – attacks break down with him as he swings a foot towards the ball carelessly or makes the wrong decision, crossing instead of shooting or shooting instead of crossing!
Dexter Blackstock 5/10
Ran his heart out, as usual, but to no avail. His best chance was the header which landed on top of the Palace goal. His problem was that, with Ephraim cutting inside all the time and Parejo creating absolutely nothing, Blackstock had to do all the work himself so couldn’t remain in a dangerous position up front – until the second half, but then he was substituted.
Patrick Agyemang 7/10
Another strong and solid performance. He could have been my man-of-the-match! Agyemang ran non-stop all game and was very dangerous down the left. He holds off his man very well and holds the ball up expertly. He has deft touches and it would be nice to see him convert one of the many chances he makes, like the chance he created for himself in the first half.
Heidar Helguson 5/10
Replaced Daniel Parejo.
Helguson did alot of running and made a good cross for Blackstock. But this was his first game for a while and he is not quite sharp enough yet, as shown when he screwed his shot wide in the first minute of the second half, with the goal begging. The goals will come though – I am sure!
Martin Rowlands 5/10
Replaced Dexter Blackstock.
As usual, Rowlands did not stop running, harrying and chasing. He also had a speculative shot from outside the area, which went well wide. Glad he’s fit again!
Replaced Patrick Agymeang.
He came on in the last 5 mintues of the game – too little time to be effective or to be rated!
Paulo Sousa: 6/10 – It is early days and Sousa is hampered by injuries to key players. But he managed to turn basically the same team which stuttered at times against Charlton into a more of a co-ordinated unit in the space of 4 days. He was not afraid to make substitutions early in the 2nd half, which substitutions were astute and sensible. He now needs to work with our strikers to put the ball in the net – and with Ephraim to stop him cutting in from the right all the time!
Neil Warnock: 4/10 – His team did not look like they were really going to get anything out of this game. Most of their chances were restricted to pot shots and, even though he made substitutions at sensible times for those subs to make a difference, they made no difference at all. For a home team, this was not a particularly spectacular display.
Mr R Styles: 6/10 – yes, you have not read me wrong! Despite all our misgivings and fears, Styles actually had a decent game. He let a few things go Palace’s way, but they were minor, like the odd push here and there. The three yellow cards he issued were justifiable. He needed the issue with the linesman to get his blood up – but even then, there was no controversy in an uncontroversial game and he did look to play the advantage as often as possible, so did his best to let the game flow. Styles was the best ref I’ve seen for quite some games – go figure!