A DOMINANT Queens Park Rangers will rue mussed chances as they put in a stunning display to bounce back from the Ipswich defeat at the weekend.
An excellent midfield performance marshalled by super skipper Gavin Mahon epitomised the R`s turn of form and fortune as they reduced a packed house at Ninian Park to silence.
The R`s ran the show most notably in the second half took control of the fixture with the returning Wayne Routledge and QPR fan Lee Cook pinning Cardiff back in their own half with an excellent display of classy wingwork.
Heidar Helguson will be most disappointed that he didn`t make two guilt edge chances pay, albeit one being in an offside position, while Liam Miller`s first half effort was thwarted by Cardiff debutante Dimi Konstantopoulos.
A near capacity home crowd was reduced to a hush by the excellent travelling support who sang their hearts out for the visitors and were inches away on numerous occasions from giving them the result they truly deserved.
Paulo Sousa made three notable changes from the side that lost in disappointing fashion against Ipswich Town at the weekend. Damion Stewart was unsurprisingly reinstated at the centre of defence at the expense of Fitz Hall, while Lee Camp made way for the returning Radek Cerny.
Samuel Di Carmine dropped to the bench with Heidar Helguson looking to rekindle some goalscoring form that pushed Rangers towards a playoff place earlier this season. Recent signing Jordi López was named among the substitutes as Angelo Balanta dropped out of the 16.
Cardiff made two enforced changes from the side that drew 2-2 against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend, with injuries taking their toll on the Bluebirds. Former QPR trialist Gabor Gyepes and Jay Bothroyd dropped out owing to niggles and they were replaced by Darren Purse and Chris Burke – a move which saw Ross McCormack slot into a familiar strikers role alongside Michael Chopra.
Dimi Konstantopoulos made his home debut after dropping a clanger which cost City two points at Molineux while Quincy Owusu-Abeyie would have to make do with a place on the bench with three left wingers in the squad for the hosts.
Kick Off: Cardiff City v Queens Park Rangers
The home support was ardently behind their side in the opening stages with the halfway line terrace bustling with noise and anticipation as their side went on the early offensive. Chris Burke and Paul Parry were pushing forward to support forwards Chopra and McCormack in the opening exchange.
Wayne Routledge was treated to a barrage of boos – more so than sections of Rangers support to Gavin Mahon at the weekend. The former Cardiff loanee rejecting the Bluebirds for a move to Rangers in January, something that raised the ire of the home crowd, citing Routledge as greedy.
His early showing looked nervy as both sides waited with baited breath on his every move. A couple of mistimed touches to the glee of the home support was soon alleviated as he got the ball down and moved it with his customary confidence and skill.
It was the hosts who had the best chance in the early stages with Roger Johnson`s flick from a corner finding Darren Purse. The former West Brom man hit a deflected effort towards the target and it looked for all the world that the net would ripple. The touch off Mahon brought a stunning reaction save from replacement stopper Radek Cerny who certainly earned his recall after that stop.
The R`s then had an excellent chance to take the lead and it was the former Bluebird, Routledge, at the centre of the move once more. After doing well to take on a ball from Matthew Connolly, Routledge did excellent to manoeuvre the ball in the direction of Liam Miller. The former Celtic and Manchester United man drove into the box before beating his man and drawing a good save from Konstantopoulos.
The Cardiff crowd were beginning to wane as the R`s grew in stature throughout the encounter. However it was they and Ross McCormack who had the next key chance. Damien Delaney had an isolated slip up letting the Scotsman take the ball on – but his shot flew wide of the upright.
Gavin Rae was his next to try from distance from a similar position which incurred similar disappointment as the R`s really kept their opposition to a minimum of chances.
The R`s midfield was working hard to retain possession of the ball with Routledge acting as tormentor to the hosts and former Rangers loanee Mark Kennedy. Lee Cook was disappointing on the other flank in the opening period, getting caught offside in a disappointing position on a counter attack.
Heidar Helguson was proving a handful for Roger Johnson and Darren Purse as he prowled the front line on his own feeding off scraps from a solid defensive unit. There was however some inconsistency from rookie referee Mr East in the first period when it came to bookable offences.
The weather began to grow worse in the Welsh capital with the rain hammering down, making for a lush surface. Liam Miller was booked for a late tackle on the a member of the opposition rearguard, something which was fairly innocuous, while Gavin Mahon got away with a stern follow through just moments later.
In truth the official wasn`t being helped by a linesman that was at least several stone overweight, not able to keep up with play and puffing out his sizeable chest with every decision he decided to see.
Kaspars Gorkss had been a rock once again at the heart of the Rangers rearguard and he was at his best to deny skipper Joe Ledley on the stroke of half time with a stunning last ditch tackle after the Welsh international was played in by third time home debutante Michael Chopra.
That drew the first half to the close with both sides relatively happy at their respective displays, Rangers were useful in possession if not a little tentative in the final third while Cardiff were being reduced to pot shots from distance. However a keenly fought contest promised much for an action packed second period.
Half Time: Cardiff City 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
Dave Jones made a half time chance with Miguel Commingues replacing Kevin McNaugton in the right back slot.
Cardiff started the second period how they had ended the first trying their luck from distance in a bid to test returning keeper Radek Cerny. Michael Chopra was looking a shadow of his former reputation as he fired a poor effort wide of the target. Moments later it was Ross McCormack to try his luck, as the ball flew tamely wide.
The full backs were continue to press forward with Damien Delaney and Matthew Connolly joining their respective wingers in opposition territory. Delaney in particular looking to have recaptured the form that brought him to prominence at the end of last season – marauding forward infront of Paulo Sousa in the left back area.
Connolly was continuing to impress in his right back berth as nothing has been seen from Peter Ramage since the former Arsenal man filled in the role after the turn of the new year. Connolly`s run culminated in a confident left-footed shot which dipped over the bar.
Makeshift left back Mark Kennedy wasn`t having a great time of it up against Wayne Routledge but this time it was his turn to attack as he tested Cerny from distance. But the happiness of the boisterous travelling support was epitomised by Chopra clipping a poor effort a distance wide of the target right infront of their eyes. A decision which some may deem a tad selfish with other options available to him.
Liam Miller had misplaced three passes in a short space of time and was clearly flagging as he worked his way back to full fitness. He was promptly replaced by Matteo Alberti who was being deployed in the centre of midfield for the first time since his arrival in W12.
Rangers were now looking more comfortable on the ball and Delaney`s new found confidence was on display as he and Helguson shared a neat one-two before the former Hull man had his effort blocked by defender Roger Johnson. A similar move only a few moments later saw Delaney`s shot pick out row Z in the stand – but encouraging signs were emerging from the full back once more.
The home crowd was drawn to a hush and a you could have heard a pin drop at Ninian Park if it wasn`t for the travelling support that cheered their side on with a seemingly never-ending chorus of Paulo Sousa`s Blue and White Army! – something in stark contrast to the kind of feeling mooted at the weekend by sections of the support.
Matteo Alberti appeared to be auditioning for Soccer AM`s showboat as his neat flicks and touches were proving to work to excellent effect having back-heeled Routledge in behind the back line.
Michael Chopra incurred the wrath of the travelling fans as he took one too many tumbles in the area in his quest to win a penalty. Mr East wasn`t conned by what was flagrant cheating at times, borderline embarrassing with the official not even dignifying most appeals with a shake of the head.
Gavin Mahon was rejuvenated in the middle of the park, and was doing an excellent captain`s job of marshalling the midfield and protecting the back four. His deflected effort appeared for a moment to be goalbound, only for Konstantopoulos to watch it sail into his arms in fortunate fashion.
The keeper nearly handed the Rangers the lead moments later with his second crucial mistake in two games as the quick thinking of Wayne Routledge nearly capitalised on a poor kick as he fired an effort towards goals which narrowly evaded the target.
Then came the moment of the match as Heidar Helguson missed a defining chance for the visitors. Lee Cook by now was in scintillating form down the left flank, mixing up his game somewhat by both coming inside and peeling wide to cross.
His delightful cross to the far post was one of many teasing crosses from the QPR fan and it found the Icelandic international in space and time. Helguson was caught in two minds whether to head or strike and ended up doing none to scuff a left-footed effort wide of the right hand upright. A sensational let off for the hosts but a crucial miss for Rangers.
Minutes later Helguson was a little more relieved to see the offside flag as he clipped another near post effort wide of the left hand upright after latching on to a ball from Mikele Leigertwood. Cardiff were attempting to break up the pressure by introducing Quincy Owusu-Abeyie and Peter Whittingham into the fray for Chris Burke and a disappointing Michael Chopra.
Rangers responded by throwing on Dexter Blackstock for Gavin Mahon in a bid to take the fixture. Mahon this time applauded off by the Rangers supporters who recognised his vital contribution to the game and the asset he proved to be on the day.
Moments later Samuel Di Carmine was brought on in place of a tired Heidar Helguson as Rangers went 4-4-2 for the latter stages with three minutes of injury time promising much.
Wayne Routledge nearly provided the cutting edge for Rangers in the final moments of the fixture, as hearts were in mouths as he flashed the ball across the target which somehow evaded everyone.
With that the final whistle was blown. An excellent display by Queens Park Rangers that was undoubtedly an improvement on Saturday`s display, but just not enough in the final third to claim all three points. The very fact we leave in disappointment is a marker of how well the R`s performed.
Particular mention must go to not only Paulo Sousa and Gavin Mahon for bouncing back in style from a smattering of boos in W12, but also to the travelling support that never stopped cheering and encouraging their side even when faced with a dismal atmosphere despite the sheer numbers in the Welsh capital.
Final Whistle: Cardiff City 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
Cardiff City: Dimitros Konstantopoulos, Kevin McNaughton (Miguel Commingues 46), Gavin Rae, Darren Purse, Paul Parry, Roger Johnson, Joe Ledley, Michael Chopra (Peter Whittingham 66), Mark Kennedy, Chris Burke (Quincy Owusu-Abeyie 72), Ross McCormack.
Queens Park Rangers: Radek Cerny, Matthew Connolly, Damion Stewart, Kaspars Gorkss, Damien Delaney, Wayne Routledge, Gavin Mahon (Dexter Blackstock 88), Liam Miller (Matteo Alberti 88), Mikele Leigertwood, Lee Cook, Heidar Helguson (Samuel Di Carmine 90).
Radek Cerny – 6/10
Cerny reclaimed his place in the starting line-up and was left with relatively little to do by a disappointing Cardiff attack. He made a good save in both halves to deny the Bluebirds but other than that was reduced to watching effort fly wide of the target.
Reclaimed the goalkeeper`s jersey from Lee Camp, who despite warming up was left out of the sixteen owing to Sousa`s tactics of no stopper on the bench. The Czech keeper will be looking to build on a positive clean sheet by taking another up at Barnsley.
Matthew Connolly – 7/10
An accomplished full back display as Matt really got to grips with Chris Burke – a man who will have to get used to the fact that he was a second choice to Wayne Routledge at Cardiff City. The former Arsenal man kept him at bay before kicking forward to help Routledge in attack.
He looked excellent in his right back berth and the lack of Peter Ramage shows how good a job he is doing in a makeshift position. His comfort and ease on the ball was a joy to behold and he searched forward to get the ball and move it on.
Damion Stewart – 8/10
Absolutely immense at the centre of defence with the two strikers no match for the raw power and strength that the big Jamaican provided on the night. On two or three occasions the likes of Burke and McCormack attempted to outmuscle Stewart to no avail.
His reintroduction was inevitable after the R`s conceded three goals against Ipswich and it certainly proved to be the right decision as he and Gorkss continue to strike up a truly classy understanding which has emerged as one of the best partnerships in the Championship.
Kaspars Gorkss – 8/10
Kaspars performed his duties to a similar ability to Damion Stewart, and looked effortless in his class at times as he headed the ball away or simply took the ball from a striker`s foot. He was thoroughly dominant in the air throughout the game and was given little bother from the opposition strikers.
Chopra only got in behind the Latvian once and it proved to be nothing of substance as Kaspars recovered from this minor setback in his otherwise classy performance. He and Damion cannot be separated again in the near future.
Damien Delaney – 7/10
One of his best performances of the season as Damien defended very well after a shaky opening, but also posed a real threat going forward and linking up with the rejuvenated Lee Cook. The former Hull and Leicester City man was an asset to QPR in every respect as they chased an illusive winner.
His connection with Cook was something rarely seen from Damien this season as he not only got the ball to Lee – but supported him and occasionally went beyond the left winger to supplement R`s attacks. Seems to be improving game on game.
Wayne Routledge – 7/10
Routledge seemed nervy in the early stages with a few errant touches to the glee of the home support that seemed more intent on barracking the R`s winger than supporting their own side. He grew in stature however and put in a performance of real exception.
He gave Mark Kennedy a torrid time in his makeshift full back role as his most tricky aspect to deal with, his pace, was proving a real handful for the Cardiff rearguard. He put in a performance that his Cardiff replacement Chris Burke didn`t come close to matching.
Gavin Mahon – 8/10
The midfielder orchestrated proceedings from the defensive midfield role and bounced back in style from his weekend disappointment. The very fact that Mahon was given a standing ovation from the away support upon his withdrawal speaks worlds for the improvement in his display.
His passing was excellent and I`m scratching my head to think if there was a pass that went array, but everything seemed to stick to Mahon on the day. He battled well in the air and on the ground to regain possession for Rangers and get the R`s moving forward.
Mikele Leigertwood – 8/10
Mikele put in an excellent performance at the heart of midfield and didn`t put a foot wrong all evening with even some audacious one touch passing coming off to full effect as he linked up with Liam Miller then Matteo Alberti in the middle.
The former Palace and Sheffield United man was more than adept in keeping hold of the ball and moving it on with style and it was he who was the driving force for the R`s from midfield in the second half – linking the play from midfield to attack.
Liam Miller – 6/10
A disappointing performance from Miller who failed to impress in his central midfield berth, potentially owing to an early booking picked up for a tackle from behind. The former Manchester United midfielder struggled to get going in truth and was duly replaced.
Miller was taken off early in the second period after persistently handing possession to the hosts and Matteo Alberti was sent on in his stead to try and retain the ball and take the pressure off the defence, which he duly did.
Lee Cook – 7/10
Cook was almost back to his best in the second period after a first half littered with errors and mistakes that were a growing frustration for myself. Indeed getting caught offside in the most innocuous position showed a lack of concentration and really scuppered a crucial R`s break-away.
In the second half however we saw the Cook of old who predominantly stuck to the left flank cutting inside a handful of times – but more importantly getting quality crosses into the heart of the Cardiff rearguard and making the defenders work. His cross for Heidar Helguson`s guilt edge chance was a particular highlight.
Heidar Helguson – 6/10
His all round performance was OK but there was a couple of glaring misses as Heidar twice couldn`t win the game for the R`s despite getting into some good positions evading the opposition defence.
He was winning a lot of flick ons and supplementing the R`s attacks well after dropping deep to pick up possession, but his lack of goalscoring prowess arguably cost the visitors two much needed points as chances went begging past both uprights.
SUB: Matteo Alberti – 6/10
Replaced Liam Miller (58)
Some neat touches and flicks from the former Chievo man made for impressive viewing, but did overdo the touches somewhat in the final third on occasions. His backheel for Routledge down the right was a particular highlight as the touch found the former Cardiff man.
His performance waned throughout the second half however as his influence on the game slipped, nevertheless it was the right change at the right time for the R`s to give them something extra in the middle of the park.
SUB: Dexter Blackstock
Replaced Gavin Mahon (89)
Replaced Heidar Helguson (90)
Paulo Sousa: 7/10 – Paulo responded to the supporters cheers and chants and really looked like he had his side playing the stuff which he desired with some quality football on display from the visitors in the second half.
The Portuguese legend had his side playing some stunning possession football as they appeared a different side from that which were defeated at home by Ipswich at the weekend. A great performance which saw the R`s bounce back.
Dave Jones: 5/10 – He will be disappointed at his sides lack of retention of the ball as the visitors were allowed to run the show in the second period. His goalkeeper didn`t help matters with some poor distribution and his side were largely overshadowed in the middle of the park.
His big guns certainly didn`t fire this evening with McCormack and Chopra kept quiet by the formidable partnership of Stewart and Gorkss – two immovable objects that weren`t going to be displaced.
Mr R East: 6/10 – I had prepared myself for the worst when it came to this guy but it was a refreshing performance that surprised me as he kept control of a tough fixture with some good decisions.
His decisions were rarely called into question as he could spot the simulation from a mile off and wasn`t afraid to dish out a booking where he thought necessary. Perhaps a slight inconsistency in booking Miller and not Mahon but nevertheless I`m only nitpicking.
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