QUEENS Park Rangers were held at home by struggling Plymouth Argyle as the final fixture at Loftus Road was truly a damp squib.
Rangers opted to blood the youngsters from the bench as they cantered towards the end of the campaign, but for the Pilgrims it was a more serious affair as they created many more chances than the hosts.
Blackburn Rovers loanee Paul Gallagher was the catalyst for the Greens` attack as they looked to bag the points that would retain their Championship safety, but after a handful of chances in a disappointing fixture both sides would have to leave with just a point.
The hosts would call upon Antonio German and Angelo Balanta to carve out their attacking threat but in the end it was both defences that were on top as a typical end of season fixture ended in a drab stalemate.
Rangers made three changes from the side that were defeated by Championship winners Wolverhampton Wanderers. Full back Peter Ramage dropped to the bench in favour of Mikele Leigertwood who started in an unfamiliar right back berth.
Damion Stewart and Kaspars Gorkss were once again partners at the centre of defence with Matthew Connolly at left full back. Wayne Routledge and Lee Cook occupied the flanks with Gavin Mahon partnered by Liam Miller in favour of Spaniard Jordi López who dropped out the 16.
Rowan Vine and Adel Taarabt were dropped from the squad as Heidar Helguson partnered the returning Patrick Agyemang with Gareth Ainsworth opting to place youngsters Antonio German and Angelo Balanta on the bench.
Plymouth started as predicted with Romain Larrieu in goal but opted to continue with ex-QPR full back Chris Barker and Marcel Seip at the centre of defence with Gary Swayer and David Gray occupying the full back roles. Alan Judge and Paul Gallagher lined up on the flanks with Carl Fletcher and Karl Duguid sitting in the middle.
The youthful duo of Jamie Mackie and Ashley Barnes were the forward pairing with the latter attracting interest from Premier League outfit West Bromwich Albion.
Kick Off: QPR v Plymouth Argyle
Rangers sported their kit for the new campaign but it certainly proved worrying if the start was a sign of things to come as the visitors had all the early running in the fixture.
Plymouth were still playing for their Championship survival and were markedly better than their counterparts in the early stages, this was primarily down to a greater ambition and endeavour from the visitors.
Blackburn loanee Paul Gallagher has enjoyed the adulation in the south-west for the majority of the season with some excellent displays initially up front but more recently from wide areas. It was he who had the majority of the Pilgrims early chances.
An excellent shot from distance tested Radek Cerny, with the Czech stopper holding on to the ball at the second attempt, before he hit an effort narrowly over the cross bar as the Rangers midfield were clearly struggling with the early green onslaught.
Up next was summer signing Karl Duguid, but the former Colchester United man could only pull his effort wide of the target after Radek Cerny was found wanting in goal. The Rangers support were evidently disappointed with the play on the field as silence took hold at Loftus Road.
The visitors continued their dominance in the early going with Carl Fletcher battling hard for possession in the middle of the park and looking for creative outlet Gallagher at every opportunity. Sturrock`s men were certainly showing more fight than at the weekend defeat at home to Doncaster Rovers.
Mikele Leigertwood`s disappointing effort epitomised the feeling around Loftus Road as he fired well wide of the upright with his weaker left foot. Plymouth were down the other end in a flash and Cerny can consider himself fortunate to pick up an effort which took a welcome deflection following a powerful drive from the aforementioned Fletcher.
Leigertwood was looking decidedly awkward at full back and burst forward at every opportunity to support Wayne Routledge. In Gareth Ainsworth`s earlier caretaker tenure Leigertwood featured heavily in this role and he and Routledge combined to create openings down the right.
On the other flank Lee Cook was trying to re-ignite some of the form that saw him shoot to prominence in a Rangers shirt a couple of seasons ago. However his audacious effort was well read by long-serving goalkeeper Romain Larrieu, who merely plucked the ball out of the air.
Leigertwood was once again in the thick of the action as he combined with Routledge to feed the returning Patrick Agyemang. The returning forward looked sprightly following a spell on the sidelines and crossed for Heidar Helguson – his headed effort was lacking in substance as Larrieu could once again claim with ease.
In what was a true blueprint for an end of season fixture, both sides looked decidedly lacklustre both on and off the ball in the first period. The half passed most supporters by with minimal creativity and effort providing for a drab spectacle in W12.
Many supporters were grateful that the half was drawn to a close by Mr Miller with a disappointing Rangers side being overrun by visitors Plymouth Argyle. The second half would have to bring inspiration if the fixture was to improve and capture the imagination of paying supporters.
Half Time: QPR 0-0 Plymouth Argyle
The second half began in familiar fashion with Rangers possessing great desire in the midfield by lacking the movement up front to truly test what was a makeshift Plymouth rearguard. QPR supporters were well accustomed to the frailties of central defender Chris Barker but both Helguson and Agyemang were failing to provide him with an appropriate test.
With ten minutes gone in the first period Gareth Ainsworth made his first change of the game with Lee Cook being replaced by young forward Angelo Balanta. In what was a like for like change Balanta would have to prove his worth from the left-wing region.
Earlier on it was clear that Rangers were ordered to get their crosses in early and often, with Lee Cook fizzing in a number of crosses without veering inside which has become his recent trademark. This change prompted Rangers to do more running at the heart of the Plymouth defence with Ainsworth hoping the exuberance of youth would carry Rangers through.
Balanta was looking lively on the flank but required more help from midfielders and forward to make a true impact on proceedings. He certainly gave Manchester United loanee David Gray a hard time on occasions, dribbling past him with ease on a couple of occasions.
Moments later and Rangers were forced into a second change as Liam Miller limped off after another wholly unimpressive performance. Peter Ramage replaced him in a move which saw Mikele Leigertwood revert to a familiar central midfield berth alongside Gavin Mahon.
Chances of note were at a minimum as Rangers were looking to stifle the creativity of the visitors before building a notable chance of their own. To the disappointment of the home crowd this wasn`t forthcoming as the Pilgrims proved resilient in the middle of the park.
The quick-fire changes continued for the hosts, but this particular substitution brought a lifeless Rangers crowd to light. A hard working Patrick Agyemang was withdrawn and youth product Antonio German took to the field for the second time this season.
It was the visitors however who turned the screw on Rangers as they searched for the goal that would secure their Championship safety. Matthew Connolly was unsure of his barings as he guided and effort narrowly wide of the post for an Argyle corner.
The Pilgrims piled forward from the subsequent corner and Rangers were beginning to let the pressure get to them as they failed to clear their lines correctly. Fortunately for them Blackburn Rovers loanee Alan Judge smashed an effort high and wide.
Chances were at a minimum in a game of few chances as the young Colombian Balanta linked up with Wayne Routledge down the left – he in turn fed full back Matthew Connolly who in turn put in an effort to befit the occasion firing a drive over the bar and into the Loftus Road end.
Heidar Helguson was looking desperate up front with disappointing service leaving him isolated alongside the youngster German. The Icelandic international dropped deep to pick the ball up in the midfield region before driving on and putting his effort disappointingly wide of the target.
Rangers were making hard work of bettering their struggling opposition as it became apparent that the end of season fixture was sparking little motivation and endeavour in the hosts despite positive numbers in the stands at Loftus Road.
The young strike partnership of Mackie and Barnes had provided little in the way of problems for a stubborn Rangers rearguard as the might and muscle of Stewart and Gorkss has kept them at bay for the majority of the fixture. However a glorious chance for Mackie infront of the Plymouth faithful would prove to be the best of the fixture.
He capitalised on some disappointing midfield and defensive work to wriggle through and test Czech stopper Radek Cerny. Cerny`s parry fell kindly for Barnes in what seemed a formality to dispatch from close range, but Kaspars Gorkss was on hand to make a valiant clearance and snuff the chance out for a corner.
It was the visitors in the ascendancy in the latter stages with the QPR players evidently already in Bahrain on the basis of this display. Paul Gallagher was once again a thorn in the side as substitute Ramage coped admirable with his attacking guile.
He broke free from the former Newcastle man to curl and effort wide of the upright with minutes remaining on the clock. Time continued to tick down with fans never truly immersed in an end of season fixture.
It appeared however that Argyle would come closest to stealing the points as former Exeter forward Jamie Mackie steamed through the Rangers rearguard, only to place the ball squarely into the arms of grateful stopper Radek Cerny.
It wasn`t to be for either side however as a drab and disappointing end of season encounter would see both sides leave with a deserved point. Neither side truly bossed the fixture with only a handful of chances contributing to a disappointing game.
Final Whistle: QPR 0-0 Plymouth Argyle
Queens Park Rangers
Radek Cerny, Damion Stewart, Gavin Mahon, Mikele Leigertwood, Wayne Routledge, Patrick Agyemang (Antonio German 66), Kaspars Gorkss, Matthew Connolly, Lee Cook (Angelo Balanta 56), Liam Miller (Peter Ramage 62), Heidar Helguson.
Romain Larrieu, Karl Duguid, Paul Gallagher, Chris Barker, Gary Sawyer, Marcel Seip, Alan Judge, Ashley Barnes (Rory Fallon 84), Jamie Mackie, Carl Fletcher, David Gray.
Radek Cerny – 5/10
Looked decidedly shaky throughout and failed to claim on numerous occasions in the first half. The Czech keeper will be disappointed with his contribution as he failed once again to command his area effectively.
He did however stop Plymouth from claiming three points in the latter stages as he thwarted Ashley Barnes from close range, but it could be said that was more about the poor finish than the excellent save.
Mikele Leigertwood – 6/10
Not necessarily one of the better performers but certainly attempted to get more involved in the play that others around him. In an unfamiliar position of right full back Leigertwood set to work in linking up with Wayne Routledge down the right.
He never shirked from the action unlike some of his colleagues on the day and attempted to give Routledge some much needed support on the flank. His passing was sporadic but his effort was never lacking.
Damion Stewart – 7/10
The big Jamaican bounced back from an indifferent display against Wolves to snuff out any creative threat that the visitors had to offer. The defender showed great confidence to shadow several balls out of play when you consider his error against the league champions last week.
Stewart held firm alongside Kaspars Gorkss in what has become a formidable partnership at the heart of the Rangers rearguard. He looked dominant in the air and gave the ball a good clout when it was required.
Kaspars Gorkss – 7/10
What else is to say that hasn`t already been said about the Latvian international. Another clean sheet has added to a growing reputation for the defender who Iain Dowie did not deem worthy to play. Ever since Dowie`s departure Gorkss has proven himself a stalwart in the Rangers line-up.
On the day he held firm once again and while he didn`t do anything spectacular, he executed the basics effectively, with both he and Damion Stewart looking to retain their partnership into the new season.
Matthew Connolly – 6/10
Once again he looked to bring the ball forward for Rangers and was a useful attacking outlet at times as he looked to support Lee Cook. A couple of uncharacteristic errors put a blot on his performance as he nearly let the Plymouth attacking line in on a couple of occasions.
The former Arsenal man has proven himself versatile in recent times, able to adapt right across the back line and this versatility will no doubt keep him in the mind of any new manager that graces W12 over the coming months.
Wayne Routledge – 7/10
One of Rangers more stand out performers on the day, but lady luck did not shine on Wayne as he could not beat Gary Sawyer in the left full back region. The former Tottenham man looked inside on a couple of occasions to spark a threat but to no avail as the killer ball was never forthcoming.
Routledge looked like he would get some joy early on as he and Leigertwood combined well down the flank to bamboozle the full back – but it was the defence who had their joy in the end as the winger was never truly given the chance to display his potential in the second half.
Gavin Mahon – 6/10
Not a vintage performance in the middle of park from the R`s midfield general but nevertheless he was solid at times to stop Duguid and Fletcher creating chances.
The former Watford man was dominating the aerial battle but he found the going tough when the ball was beyond him and Plymouth had a chance to get in behind. He will have a role to play next season more as part of the squad than as a first team regular.
Liam Miller – 5/10
Once again vastly ineffectual and did very little to convince Rangers chiefs that he is worthy of a new contract, which was presumably the only reason why the Irishman started.
His passing was fairly wayward and he subsequently disappeared from the game as a spectacle before being taken off.
Lee Cook – 6/10
Cookie looked useful in spells as he was fed the ball out on the left flank in the first period. He looked to put early balls into the box which would have proved effective with a different strike force, but the lack of alertness from the front two meant Cook`s balls went array.
He was taken off rather unfairly in my opinion in the second half in favour of Angelo Balanta, when in fact the young forward would have been better served lining up among the strike force. He has improved in recent weeks with his end product rather than his overall performance and will be looking to round off the season well at Preston.
Patrick Agyemang – 6/10
Some might say a shock inclusion, myself included as Patrick returned after three months out straight into the starting line-up while the likes of Vine and Di Carmine were left out the squad.
Agyemang found the going tough but never lacked the effort required as he chased down the makeshift Plymouth rearguard. He will be disappointed that he couldn`t attack the likes of Chris Barker in the central defensive region and truly make him earn his money.
Heidar Helguson – 5/10
Helguson put in another lifeless display upfront as he failed to lead the line effectively once again. It was not quite as bad as the display he put in at Wolves but nevertheless he failed to make his mark once more on the Rangers front-line.
There was no end of crosses from Cook in the early stages but Heidar failed to get on the end of any of them as his baron run continues.
SUB: Angelo Balanta – 7/10
Replaced Lee Cook (56)
Angelo replaced Lee Cook on the left flank in a like for like swap, in what was quite a surprising move by Gareth Ainsworth. The fans were dying out for a change up front and Balanta was confined to displaying his talents on the flank rather than infront of the centre of defence.
A couple of moments of brilliance from Balanta displayed just how effective he can be, and once again poses the question as to why he hasn`t been among the squad in recent weeks.
SUB: Peter Ramage – 6/10
Replaced Liam Miller (62)
Ramage replaced an injured Liam Miller just after the hour mark which prompted Mikele Leigertwood to move back into the centre of midfield. Ramage did his defensive duties accordingly snuffing out any major threat that Gallagher provided down the left.
He was strong in the tackle and ensured that Rangers remained solid in defence right up to the final whistle.
Replaced Patrick Agyemang (66)
The young forward came on for the returning striker with just short of 15 minutes remaining but struggled to make an impact primarily owing to a lack of service from midfield.
German made himself available for the ball on numerous occasions but the service was not forthcoming from both wide areas and the centre of the park. The potential is certainly there should he be given the ball in key areas.
Gareth Ainsworth: 5/10 – His selection must come under the spotlight today as both López and Vine were left out of squad with no real option coming from the bench other than youngsters.
Choosing Agyemang from the start after an extended period on the sideline was a strange decision as was the fact that Cook was brought off in favour of Balanta. While Balanta`s introduction was required it was perhaps needed instead of one of the ailing front two rather than the improving Cook.
Paul Sturrock: 6/10 – Sturrock fairly much got what he came for today as he looked to get a foothold on the game and wherever possible create chances on the break.
He has admitted himself that his side ran Rangers close on occasions and had the lion`s share of chances through Barnes, Mackie and Gallagher. With a little more attacking thought Plymouth may well have left with all three points and with it Championship safety.
Mr Nigel Miller: 7/10 – Nigel Miller put in a good display today as he was hardly noticeable on the field, fairly much like most of the players. He has a reputation of Jekyll and Hyde official but today we saw the better side of him.
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