QUEENS Park Rangers came from behind to take a solitary point from a crucial encounter against a seasoned Premier League opponent in Everton.
Royston Drenthe opened the scoring for the visitors with an excellently-taken strike from distance – the mood around Loftus Road was bleak given a poor recent run of results.
Bobby Zamora levelled for the relegation-threatened hosts with a close range header from an Akos Buzsaky free-kick – it sparked a smattering of renewed hope and optimism among the home faithful as they embarked on a more positive second period.
Despite reducing the Everton attacking line to a modest selection of opportunities, Rangers were unable to capitalise on their improved endeavour and better chances.
It’s another fixture chalked off but for Queens Park Rangers time is running out if they are to retain a Premier League status that appears to be living on borrowed time given the tricky nature of the run-in.
Three changes for Mark Hughes with Samba Diakité suspended and Jamie Mackie and Taye Taiwo dropping to the bench – in came Armand Traoré, Akos Buzsaky and Shaun Derry – able replacements for a crucial fixture.
Paddy Kenny started behind a back four of Nedum Onuoha, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill and Traoré with Joey Barton, Derry and Buzsaky sitting in the middle. Shaun Wright-Phillips and Adel Taarabt flanked lone forward Bobby Zamora.
Everton started with Tim Howard in goal behind a defensive unit of Tony Hibbert, Sylvan Distin, Johnny Heitinga and Leighton Baines. Phil Neville and Marouane Fellaini were in the middle with Royston Drenthe and Steven Pienaar starting wide. Tim Cahill started behind Denis Stracqualursi.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v EVERTON
The pre-match talk surrounded Rangers horrendous run-in, with the division’s elite six running out against a relegation threatened side who have now slipped perilously close to the division’s trap door.
Mark Hughes as well as a succession of his playing staff have come out in defiance in recent days, stating that errors must be put right for the newly-promoted QPR to prevent them from slipping into the abyss and back into the npower Championship.
Everton by comparison have banished their early season jitters to cobble together a useful run of form. Their defeat against QPR at Goodison Park was a surprise indeed, but nevertheless the Toffees have come back to prove their made of sterner stuff.
The hosts had been caught cold in weeks gone by, Blackburn Rovers and Fulham putting QPR to the sword in the opening exchange and Everton seemed intent to get off to the best possible start in the early offing.
Marouane Fellaini flicked on a Leighton Baines header only for Tim Cahill to crash a volley off the cross bar. Excellent technique from the Australian who had Paddy Kenny beaten all ends up, the Yorkshireman rooted to the spot.
Rangers fired their early warning shot when Buzsaky’s scuffed effort fell kindly for Clint Hill, but the central defender could only place wide of Tim Howard’s upright. A useful early chance for the hosts, who are now desperate for goals.
The pair combined once more minutes later when a Buzsaky centre saw Hill beat his man in the air and sky the header beyond Tim Howard and the upright. While the Liverpool-born defender sought a neater effort, perhaps getting it on target first and foremost was what the doctor ordered.
Joey Barton drove straight at Tim Howard while Royston Drenthe seemed intent to pepper the Rangers target with a string of chances. Meanwhile QPR again were having opportunities to open their account for the afternoon.
A free kick was given for a tug on Wright-Phillips – a decision that perhaps should have been delayed given the great position of Taarabt subsequently. The Moroccan was ushered away from the free-kick by skipper Barton only for Buzsaky to draw a smart save from Howard.
Drenthe forced a good save low down by Kenny before blazing a speculative effort into the stands. A Sylvan Distin knock-down somehow saw defensive partner Johnny Heitinga place a tame effort into the arms of Kenny from close range – epitomising the knife-edge nature of this fixture.
An interesting effort from Wright-Phillips nearly caught Howard off guard with a diving header. The pint-sized wide-man nodded wide of the right hand upright after a useful ball across goal from the left.
Everton were hardly enterprising but looked to individual figures to create with the likes of Steven Pienaar and Drenthe looking the players that made the Toffees tick going forward. Cahill was mixing things up in behind Denis Stracqualursi.
They had the opening goal to belie Rangers decent early showing – but a goal nevertheless fitting to separate and two teams at this level. Taarabt was guilty of gifting possession away in his own half with Pienaar foraging forward for the visitors.
He laid the ball to ROYSTON DRENTHE who made no mistake from distance. The ball exploded off his left boot before nestling perfectly in the bottom left hand corner – an even encounter separated by a goal of genuine class.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-1 EVERTON
There could be little question that the game was hanging in the balance and despite having a glut of good openings, Rangers were made to pay – punished emphatically in a fixture that was looking finely balanced.
Rangers to their credit didn’t allow the scoreline to faze them – and continued to work hard and carve out opportunities. Talisman Taarabt working his magic down the left hand byline before being hacked by goalscorer Drenthe.
It proved to be a decisive piece of skill indeed as Buzsaky’s set piece was directed powerfully in the direction of BOBBY ZAMORA. The R’s front-man beat Howard to the ball and directed his header low into the ground, before it nestled into the roof of the net.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-1 EVERTON
A rapid response was required and it came to fruition in a moment of magic and a well-taken set-piece. Everton’s defence seemed distraught with the nature of the goal, with Zamora taking his header well indeed.
Rangers sensed fear and nearly capitalised. Taarabt surged forward before unleashing a curling drive back off the right hand post as it rolled agonisingly across the target. The ball fell back to the architect of the move – Zamora – who rolled back to Buzsaky.
Only the Hungarian will know how he managed to place his effort back off the left hand post from four yards out – a miss that some will argue is season defining as the midfielder couldn’t round off a good first half display with a goal.
The referee drew time on the first period after a surprisingly low one minute of injury time – an injury and two goals would normally necessitate more time – but nevertheless Rangers went in a little happier and a little more confident after an improved display.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-1 EVERTON
Rangers came out with a renewed vigour and desire, only for their own profligacy and wasteful nature in possession blighting their progress and causing for nerves to jangle across a packed Loftus Road.
Akos Buzsaky and Shaun Derry tested Howard from distance in the opening exchange and sparked a better belief among the home crowd despite the game played against the back drop of a perilous league position.
Everton were putting themselves about, particularly Fellaini who was proving combative indeed in the middle of the park. His challenges and moreover his elbows hit close to the mark a couple of times being warned several times by referee Friend.
Not to be judgemental regarding an official for what seems the umpteenth week, but with Samba Diakité doing something very similar and being perhaps justifiably sent off – it beggars belief that Fellaini would avoid a caution from the lenient official.
On the hour mark Everton made changes, Leon Osman and Nikica Jelavic coming on for Royston Drenthe and Tim Cahill – a change that saw Jelavic rifle an effort beyond Kenny when a distance offside – once again evading a card despite the blatant nature of his infringement.
The visiting side were fighting hard for possession and proving testing opposition indeed. The fixture was certainly not vintage – Tony Fernandes now having moved from his seat in the Lower Loft and back to the Directors Box. It will be interesting what perspective he had on the encounter from his position.
Buzsaky was proving a man possessed in the middle, fighting off Fellaini before firing a brave effort, a dipping drive, just over the bar, with Howard in fairness not unduly worried by the shot – signs were positive however despite the evident nerves around the ground.
Taarabt was once again showing signs that he might be the man to separate the sides, first placing wide of the right hand post with his weaker left foot, before coming inside from the left to curl an effort wide of the same upright.
Buzsaky then forced Howard into a useful stop before the aforementioned talisman Taarabt withdrawn to the visible chagrin of the Loftus Road crowd. He was replaced by favourite Jamie Mackie who allayed the bad feeling somewhat in the stands.
Very few chances came to pass in the latter stages with Everton shutting up shot with Seamus Coleman coming on for the ineffectual Stracqualursi. It did however put the frighteners on the Rangers back line, who were now under a bit of pressure.
Traoré was gambling at left back with a view to building some attacking intent, but sometimes it proved to be to the hosts’ detriment. Derry hacked cynically at Coleman to snuff out a fledgling final attack and will take a booking to secure Rangers a point.
A useful point on the face of it, but nevertheless Rangers are desperate for points and with a fixture of this nature hanging in the balance, supporters went away from the ground feeling a little dejected.
FULL TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-1 EVERTON
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Paddy Kenny, Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Adel Taarabt (Jamie Mackie 81), Armand Traore, Akos Buzsaky, Joey Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Anton Ferdinand, Nedum Onuoha, Bobby Zamora.
Tim Howard, Tony Hibbert, Leighton Baines, Johnny Heitinga, Royston Drenthe (Leon Osman 63), Denis Stracqualursi (Seamus Coleman 89), Sylvan Distin, Tim Cahill (Nikica Jelavic 63), Phil Neville, Steven Pienaar, Marouane Fellaini.