A SOLITARY first half goal from Dexter Blackstock was enough to hand the R`s all three points in the London derby at Loftus Road.
The striker`s fourth goal in five games ensured Rangers did the double over their London counterparts, and slammed the door shut on any possible play-off aspirations that the Addicks previously held.
A season record crowd of 17,035 were in attendance to see the R`s pull off a convincing victory. An admirable attendance, considering the away end was only close to three-quarters full.
Patrick Agyemang was unable to participate owing to a hamstring strain which caused him to withdraw from the Hull fixture at the weekend. He was replaced by young forward Angelo Balanta as Luigi De Canio looks to blood the youth in the latter stages of the season.
Michael Mancienne dropped to the bench at the expense of Matthew Connolly at full back; whilst there were also places on the bench for the returning Akos Buzsaky and Reece Crowther, the latter being preferred to compatriot Matt Pickens.
Charlton recalled veteran goalkeeper Nicky Weaver to the starting line-up which saw youngster Darren Randolph drop to the bench. Ex-Rangers winger Lee Cook was given a rapturous reception on his homecoming at Loftus Road, starting wide left.
Andy Gray was rewarded for a goal against Southampton with a starting place over Chris Iwelumo; whilst Portuguese central midfielder Jose Semedo dropped to the bench, with Darren Ambrose given a start.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v CHARLTON ATHLETIC
The London derby at Loftus Road started in blustery conditions, with both teams battling for possession early on. Rangers central midfield pairing of Gavin Mahon and Martin Rowlands were particularly influential from the off.
It was the R`s who began the stronger however and kicking towards the Loft, they set about their task with Hogan Ephraim sending in an early daisy-cutter which Nicky Weaver dealt with comfortably. Up the other end Greg Halford, who was tormented by Cook in their meeting at Layer Road last season, sent in a long throw from the right with Madjid Bougherra rising highest to loop his header over the bar.
Young striker Angelo Balanta then had a half chance for the R`s. An excellent ball from Gavin Mahon, whose vision spotted the run down the right of the young Colombian, Balanta`s touch was inspired, but he fairly snatched at the effort, sending it into the side netting of the near post.
If that was a warning for the Addicks defence, they evidently didn`t heed it, as on 15 minutes Rangers had the lead, and it was the dangerman outlined before the game, Dexter Blackstock, who notched for his fourth goal in five games. Another ball over the top appeared to be dealt with by McCarthy and Thatcher, but Blackstock never gave up before dispossessing the Irish centre half, before cutting inside and placing a well-placed shot into the bottom left hand corner. An expert finish from a striker in deadly form.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
The goal served to whet the appetite of the Rangers faithful, who were in good voice in the presence of messers Briatore and Ecclestone. Martin Rowlands continued to pull the strings in midfield, being workman-like off the ball, and industrious in possession. It was his strong challenge however that led to Lee Cook being withdrawn, owing to what appeared to be a knee injury. Cook was given a tremendous standing ovation from the sections of the Loftus Road crowd, with chants of “Sign him up” ringing around the terraces.
Paddy McCarthy was certainly having a day to forget and very nearly scored at the wrong end, when a clearance away from Balanta rocketed over the bar from close range with Nicky Weaver left stranded. The Charlton fans in the school end were growing restless in view of Rangers continued pressure and possession.
The R`s were then forced into a change when centre back Fitz Hall appeared to aggravate a previous groin injury, which will more than likely see him out of action for the duration of the season. He was replaced by Michael Mancienne in what will be his penultimate home appearance for the R`s, before he returns to Chelsea.
Chances were certainly few and far between for the Addicks, with their play being epitomised by Leroy Lita`s poorly timed effort, swinging his right foot out and totally missing the ball in what was a good opening for Charlton down the left.
Charlton were then incensed when referee Mr. Kettle missed what the Addicks perceived to be a high foot from Hogan Ephraim on Greg Halford, that incident, similar to an incident where Gavin Mahon was kicked in the face in the early stages, not only didn`t warrant a yellow card, but not even a free kick.
And with that a first half dominated by the R`s was drawn to a close, applause greeted the players as they departed the field, but there was much work to do to secure a victory in this London derby, because with Queens Park Rangers one goal never seems to be enough, as has been highlighted in recent fixtures.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
In the early stages of the second half, it was business as usual as Rangers continued their territorial advantage, with Gareth Ainsworth again marauding down the right, and creating a chance for Angelo Balanta, his header however was fairly glanced into the arms of Weaver.
That was the last action of the game for Ainsworth, with his presence on the pitch as crucial as his presence alongside De Canio on the bench, Rangers were able to call upon the returning Akos Buzsaky from an ankle injury, and he set about his task straight away. His corner from the right was glanced on by Dexter Blackstock, but the strikers header faded narrowly wide of Weaver`s right hand upright.
Martin Rowlands was one half of the Rangers engine room in the midfield, and his free kick caused Weaver untold problems from distance. The midfielder unleashed a rasping drive from fully 30 yards, with Weaver flapping at a ball, which scorched skywards in the latter stages.
Chants of “Pardew, Sort it out” began to resonate in the away end, and this prompted the ex-Reading and West Ham boss to send on towering striker Chris Iwelumo at the expense of Andy Gray, who was largely anonymous up till the hour mark. The striker nearly had an immediate effect on the game firing over from close range on the turn, after some good work by Darren Ambrose.
Dexter Blackstock led the front line admirably in the absence of Patrick Agyemang and once again drew and good save from Nicky Weaver, who was by far the more overworked of the two stoppers. Some excellent interplay between Blackstock and Buzsaky saw Rangers in on goal once again, Buzsaky however made a wrong decision in opting to try and square the ball instead of go for goal himself, with the goal at the Hungarian`s mercy.
It was all too much for Addicks striker Luke Varney, whose display of petulance earnt the former Crewe striker a yellow card. Throwing the ball away was easy picking for Mr. Kettle who picked up on the most minor offences throughout the 90 in a bid to keep his card count up.
When Damion Stewart was booked for a foul on the left hand side of the area. Charlton finally had a good chance to draw level in a game they had scarcely played a part in. Greg Halford`s free kick was lifted over the wall, but into the grateful arms of Lee Camp, for his first real save of the day.
Rangers don`t do things simply however, and as the injury time board displayed 4 minutes, Rangers defensive legs turned to jelly and pessimism began to set in amongst the fans, with three goals in the last two games being scored in injury time. A scramble ensued in the Rangers penalty area, and culminated with Darren Ambrose testing Lee Camp from close range with a header, and the cleared was volleyed against an onrushing Addick by Dexter Blackstock, to relieve the pressure, and Rangers fans could breathe again.
As fans in red and white, fully disgruntled by their sides performance began to stream out of the away end, the Rangers counter attack was in full flow, with Mikele Leigertwood surging forward for one final chance, he galloped in from the left flank to scuff a shot inexplicably wide of the near left hand post.
This was the final action of a fantastic London derby performance from a Rangers perspective, with Charlton offering little in terms of optimistic signs for next season, with clear opposition to Pardew from the away faithful being a notable observation as the Addicks show no evident signs of being ready for a promotion push next season.
By stark contrast it seemed Rangers are starting to put together some real form, with the season finishing too early for Rangers, but building for next season, it appears the R`s are in for exciting times ahead.
FULL TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-0 CHARLTON ATHLETIC
Lee Camp: 7/10
Didn’t have an awful lot to do in truth, but when he was called upon he dealt with the incident accordingly. Saving from Halford’s free kick, and Ambrose’s late header were the only chances of note. Came off his line to foil Lita. An excellent performance.
Matthew Connolly: 7/10
Moved from right back to centre back and coped well in both positions. Did well snuffing out any crosses that came in, and was one of the first lines of defence, never letting Lita get in behind.
Damien Delaney: 7/10
The full back continued his return to the side with another solid performance at left back. Moved forward with confidence and marshalled the left flank limiting crosses to a few.
Fitz Hall: 6/10
Left the field with an injury that’ll end his participation this season. Looked fairly solid, but it was no hardship losing him with the strength in depth now in evidence in the Rangers squad.
Damion Stewart: 8/10
The big Jamaican was in outstanding form, marshalling the back line with confidence and dealing with Iwelumo comfortably and Andy Gray didn’t get a touch as Damion was totally dominant.
Gareth Ainsworth: 7/10
Had a good first half and really tormented Thatcher down the right, a succession of good crosses and never giving up against what appeared on paper to be a good defence.
Hogan Ephraim: 7/10
Some clever trickery at both ends of the field to create space and chances for the R’s. Linked up well once more with Delaney, and caused untold problems to Charlton. Hogan is really coming of age and next season we could start to see the best of him.
Martin Rowlands: 8/10
As mentioned above, looked comfortable in possession, and worked hard when he didn’t have the ball. Certainly in the best for of his career, and an electrifying free kick nearly extended the R’s lead.
Gavin Mahon: 8/10
Another player who had an excellent game. He was strong in the tackle and in the air, and passed the ball well. An extra defender when under pressure, and an extra sriker when on the attack. A really useful asset.
Dexter Blackstock: 7/10
Yet another excellent performance from Dexter who has had an upturn in form and confidence. A really cool finish for the goal, and generally looked confident in possession and linking up well with Balanta.
Angelo Balanta: 6/10
Found it tough going in spells, but it was refreshing to see him given a go upfront taking into account his good goalscoring record in the youth teams. His lack of strength was an undoing, but can only get better as he gets more games under his belts.
Michael Mancienne: 7/10
Replaced Fitz Hall
Came off the bench and slotted in well at right back. A player that Rangers may look to sign as he really suits the Rangers style of play, defending well and supporting Buzsaky down the right.
Akos Buzsaky: 6/10
Replaced Gareth Ainsworth
Alot of talent was evidently coming from the right boot of Buzsaky, but some of his decision making was poor on the break. Really looked talented on the ball but couldn’t execute that killer pass.
Replaced Hogan Ephraim
Missed a guilt edge chance at the end but sured up the rearguard at a vital stage in the game.
Luigi De Canio 7/10: Put out a strong team, and they played excellently in spells, playing the right way and putting a good Charlton line-up to the sword. Gave himself options on the bench. A well deserved victory for Gigi.
Alan Pardew 5/10: Was vilified in the away end for his lack of tactical nouse and his teams lack of motivation, guile and creativity. His changes didn’t inspire change and he’ll be desperately disappointed.
Trevor Kettle 4/10: Gave alot of pernickerty decisions, and looked to get his book out on every occasion for the most minor of offences. Spent most of the time in the centre circle and so was badly placed for big decisions, looked extremely unfit and short of breath on occasions.
1-0 seemed about right before the start of the game. If we could get ahead their heads would go down and we could even nick a second. However our lack of consistent goalscoring meant that one was all we got, but it was more than enough.