DJIBRIL Cissé sent Loftus Road into delirium with a stunning late strike as news elsewhere helped sweeten the deal in a potentially defining afternoon.
Rangers appeared to be on the cusp of relegation with Bolton Wanderers two goals to the good and Stoke City resolute in their infamous two banks of four.
Step forward substitute Cissé, ghosting in unmarked on the far post from Anton Ferdinand’s flick on to spank home an emphatic winner for a jubilant QPR.
For a long time it seemed like it was destined not to happen with the home side struggling to muster chances, while Stoke seemed content with a point from the off – delivering distinctly little ambition.
News from The Reebok Stadium started to filter through as West Bromwich Albion and notably James Morrison did QPR an almighty favour by coming from behind to take a point – Loftus Road grew in noise.
All the afternoon’s frustration and relief exploded when the final whistle was blown by Andre Mariner as Djibril Cissé ensured Rangers netted their first and only double this season.
Mark Hughes made one change from the side spanked at Chelsea, with Adel Taarabt returning from suspension to replace Djibril Cissé. Samba Diakité missed out, still struggling with a virus.
Paddy Kenny therefore started behind a back four of Nedum Onuoha, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill and Taye Taiwo. Joey Barton, Shaun Derry and Ákos Buzsáky started in the middle with Taarabt and Jamie Mackie playing wide of lone forward Bobby Zamora.
Stoke started with four strikers as they came to W12 – Thomas Sorensen started behind a defence of Marc Wilson, Ryan Shawcross, Matthew Upson and Robert Huth. Glenn Whelan and Rory Delap started in the middle with Cameron Jerome, Jon Walters and Ricardo Fuller starting behind former QPR man Peter Crouch.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v STOKE CITY
The importance of this fixture could not be emphasised enough. Rangers had one chance to try and put daylight between themselves and Bolton Wanderers, given the sides’ respective tough fixtures on the final day.
Stoke meanwhile would have a big say in who remains a Premier League club this season – playing both Rangers and the Trotters it the final two games – there would certainly be one eye on how Wanderers fared against West Bromwich Albion.
The nerves in the stands and on the pitch were palpable – none more so than when Peter Crouch laid in Cameron Jerome with consummate ease before the former Birmingham City man crashed wide of the right hand upright.
Adel Taarabt meanwhile was back to his tantalising self – tempered with the newly-discovered work rate and tackling prowess instilled by Mark Hughes, his effort early on drifted beyond the upright in an early warning for Stoke City’s giant rearguard.
From the off Stoke’s tactics were laid bare – and hardly a secret for those that have followed their progress in the top flight. Peter Crouch was the outlet of choice for the long, diagonal passes with Rory Delap on hand to fire in long bombs from the touch-line.
It was making for a fairly mediocre spectacle as Tony Pulis’ team imposed their typically dour style on the fixture. There is certainly more than one way to play the game and City’s search for a top half finish shows that it may not be pretty, but it’s evidently effective to an extent.
The Potters sought to use their aerial supremacy with a succession of corners only for a well-drilled defensive unit to put their bodies on the line and deny the visiting side – Ferdinand and Zamora notably heading away from danger.
Rangers’ flankers were certainly receiving some treatment with Taarabt this time reduced to rubble by Marc Wilson. The resultant set-piece was spilled by Thomas Sorensen only for Joey Barton to slam into the side netting – he looked up to see Zamora excellent placed in the heart of the area.
Another Delap long throw into the heart of the area caused more anarchy as defender Ryan Shawcross rifled an effort over Paddy Kenny’s upright. Despite having relatively little to do Kenny had to have his wits about him to snuff out any potential City threat.
Rangers continued to drive forward in spite of City’s domineering stature – and excellent work-rate from Zamora ensured he nicked the ball off Matthew Upson and held the ball well on the right-hand by-line – his excellently-weighted cross saw Barton hang expertly in the air but unfortunately divert a powerful header into the grateful arms of Sorensen.
It was a golden opportunity among very few for both teams as the QPR skipper caressed his header too true as the Danish stopper saved comfortably on his return to the Stoke City line-up – his team-mates meanwhile were doing their best to snuff out a growing QPR confidence.
A wealth of time-wasting tactics culminated in a substitution getting prepared and announced before Pulis changed his mind. Previously cited as a lenient referee, Mr Mariner cut the figure of a gullible and weak official giving a mere two minutes where five were warranted.
Nevertheless it was enough to see both sides to the break as Hughes’ men still had it all to do – highlighted by Martin Petrov’s penalty putting Bolton Wanderers a goal to the good against West Bromwich Albion.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-0 STOKE CITY
Ryan Shotton was thrown on at the start of the second half at the expense of Marc Wilson in a like for like swap. The young full-back is Delap mark two and seen as the next logical man to deliver the powerful long centres from the touch-line. If Stoke were route one previously, their tactics were sharpened by Shotton’s addition.
It was Stoke that started the brighter with Ricardo Fuller the enterprising figure, featuring prominently on both flanks. His run and cross for Crouch culminated in the ball narrowly evading Jerome as a good chance went awry.
Fuller again was in the thick of the action as his mazy run culminated in the forward cutting inside from the right to unleash a powerful left-footed drive that curled inches wide of the left-hand upright. It was all too much for Tony Pulis who virtually celebrating on the field.
Hughes responded on 49 minutes by withdrawing the over-run Akos Buzsáky, his absence from this report does rather aptly suggest the anonymity of the Hungarian. In his stead came the lively Djibril Cissé – a striker champing at the bit was finally unleashed.
The Frenchman linked up well with Taarabt right away to drive powerfully and somewhat ambitiously towards goal – this was blocked by a resolute Stoke rearguard that appeared to be in more of a game with Cissé given the opportunity to display his potential.
Glenn Whelan’s effort in riposte was high, wide and handsome with the Republic of Ireland international failing to hit the target from a half cleared cross by substitute Shotton. It was a nervy spectacle that was borne out in some sloppy play on the field.
On 65 minutes Rangers had a chance from a set-piece with Upson finally being penalised for what was certainly consistent fouling on lone forward Zamora – the former Fulham man was finding the going extremely tough on his own against a dominant defence.
Taye Taiwo and Taarabt stood over the ball with the former firing into the wall in two opportunities. Just minutes later the latter waved some magic on the edge of the area before firing handsomely over of Sorensen’s upright.
More was to come from the more enterprising home side – Taarabt’s intricate footwork found Taiwo down the left. The Nigerian crossed for Cissé, who in turn drew a phenomenal reflex save from Sorensen – really heart-breaking stuff for the hosts who were watching the seconds tick away.
Jerome and Fuller were withdrawn by City with Kenwyne Jones and Dean Whitehead coming on in stead – Whitehead was part of a bizarre spat with a section of QPR fans early on with the fourth official and stewards merely watching on as the fractious relationship built.
Four minutes later, Rangers responded with their own changes – Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jay Bothroyd came on at the expense of the apparently injured Zamora and the visibly tired Shaun Derry – this was gambling time from Hughes in light of Bolton’s 2-0 lead against West Brom.
The mood was changing from optimism to desperation as the home fans were seeing their nerve starting to jangle – Stoke nearly seized on this feeling by staging a smash and grab – Peter Crouch stooping to head inches wide of the right hand upright from a Whelan corner.
A speech has aired at Loftus Road for the last few weeks prior to kick off – Al Pacino’s defining team talk from the film, ‘Any Given Sunday.’ – ‘it’s about feet and inches -‘ he said, ‘on this team, we fight for that inch.’
This could be epitomised no more than in the section of play that was to transpire. Given Crouch’s miss just a minute earlier, Rangers steeled their resolve and came forward with great intent. A corner given on the right hand side with Taarabt stepping up.
The Moroccan’s cross was glanced on by Anton Ferdinand with DJIBRIL CISSÉ on hand to drive home unmarked from mere yards out and sent Loftus Road into meltdown – joy unbridled and deafening noise as Cissé made that yard and was that defining difference.
This goal, but a minute from time, certainly galvanised the hosts and quashed the visitors’ resolve. News was filtering through that West Bromwich Albion had done the unthinkable and drawn level at the Reebok and life was suddenly sweeter in W12.
Crouch once again fluffed his lines from inside the area before Jay Bothroyd’s neat swivel and shot was well-fielded by Sorensen. Mr Mariner allowed four minutes of added on time and had the nerve to do what he had failed to do previously – warn for time-wasting.
Nevertheless it was enough for Rangers who celebrated a potential famous win – their fifth on the bounce at home, while also completing their first double of the campaign – Cissé continuing his interesting record of scoring in every game in which he hasn’t been sent off.
Could he be the hero of the season however as Bolton Wanderers now need to beat tough opposition in Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on the final day and hope that QPR are beaten at Manchester City.
It’s an afternoon that is potentially defining but it must be remembered that aside from what a pitch invasion may suggest – the job is far from complete. A point at the Etihad Stadium would be enough to secure safety, but can QPR get the job done without waiting on Stoke – time will ultimately tell.
FINAL WHISTLE: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-0 STOKE CITY