A CRACKERJACK from Italian forward Samuel Di Carmine handed Rangers all three points in a controversial affair at Loftus Road.
The major talking point came in the first half when referee ofGhost Goal fame, Stuart Atwell, was quick to whip out a red card to the surprise of everyone at Loftus Road when Mikele Leigertwood`s challenge with Lee Carsley was deemed to be dangerous.
The second half strike from the Fiorentina loanee galvanised Rangers marshalled by former Roma and Italian international Damiano Tommasi. The Italian rolled back the years to put in a sterling midfield display as Gareth Ainsworth`s team epitomised the man himself with 100% effort and commitment to see the team through.
Birmingham offered little in attacking play with misplaced passes and wayward shooting sending manager Alex McLeish into a fit of rage on the halfway line, as his side drew a blank in W12.
Damiano Tommasi came in for his debut, the man who wasn`t deemed anywhere near fit to play a week ago today by former manager Iain Dowie, started in a central midfield berth alongside Martin Rowlands.
Dexter Blackstock and Emmanuel Ledesma also joined the starting line-up at the expense of Gavin Mahon and Akos Buzsaky who dropped to the bench. Rangers lined up in a changed formation of 4-4-2 with Gareth Ainsworth`s side looking to build on a positive draw against Reading on Saturday.
Birmingham City were rocked by a late injury to star striker Garry O`Connor, meaning they had an able replacement in James McFadden to step up from the bench. He played as part of a three pronged attack with Kevin Phillips being flanked by the Scotsman and Carmon Jerome.
The Blues also named Rangers youth product Nigel Quashie on the bench, as McLeish`s side would look to emulate the way they started the month by beating Rangers.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Birmingham City
Rangers started the game in tentative fashion as the Blues were displaying why they are the divisions pace setters. Cameron Jerome broke a suspect offside trap to race clear and bring an outstanding save from Czech stopper Radek Cerny.
Barely moments later Cerny was called into action once again, a half-hearted clearance saw Kevin Phillips free on the right hand side of the area. Super Kev doesn`t need to be told twice to have an effort, as his well-placed volley was tremendously saved once again by Cerny.
Rangers began to pick up some momentum and Lee Cook was beginning to get into his stride down the left flank making some jinking runs before moving the ball inside. In fact it was Cook who had the R`s best chance of the opening stages as a clearance dropped to the winger outside the area, but some poor technique from Cook saw him screw his volley wide.
Following a good spell of possession from Birmingham City, Rangers were finding the going tough. Lee Carsley was orchestrating proceedings in the middle, with James McFadden looking impressive down the right flank. Kevin Phillips was his usual self, with some impeccable movement pulling the R`s defenders every which way, but to their credit they never buckled.
Emmanuel Ledesma missed the target after a useful flick-on by Blackstock, as the conditions began to take hold at a bitterly cold Loftus Road. But it was the hosts who continued to press against their table-topping opponents with Martin Rowlands in-swinging free-kick drawing a useful save from Northern Ireland international Maik Taylor.
Dexter Blackstock and Samuel Di Carmine got themselves in a muddle after a Lee Cook cross, with both strikers peeling away to the front post before the Italian guided his shot narrowly wide of Taylor`s near post, with the keeper rooted to his line.
Rangers were beginning to move the ball around well and playing positively with Tommasi the lynchpin in the midfield, orchestrating proceedings against a tough midfield.
Then came the major talking point of the first period as young Mr Attwell incurred the wrath of the Rangers faithful when he inexplicably dished out a red card for Mikele Leigertwood.
The full back`s poor touch in the centre of the field saw him stretching for the ball against experienced pro Lee Carsley. Carsley nicked the ball away from the former Sheffield United man, as Leigertwood caught him in the midriff with the sole of his boot.
What was in essence not a malicious challenge, albeit a late tackle, could have warranted a yellow card or stern warning. Mr Attwell gave himself absolutely no thinking time, brandishing a read card with immediate effect to the disbelief of all parties concerned.
Then came an arguably even bigger talking point when Birmingham City were on the counter-attack. Tommasi tussled with McFadden before winning the ball, after the ball had gone with McFadden on the floor, the Scottish international swiped a leg at Tommasi and make considerable contact. The referee next to the incident assumedly did not see it, with both other officials seemingly blind to what had occurred.
Rangers ended the half in a furore of emotion with the officials booed off the field. Damion Stewart had to haul players away from the referee, with Gareth Ainsworth himself keen to have a word as they went down the tunnel.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Birmingham City
Gareth Ainsworth reacted instantly to being reduced to ten men, introducing defensive midfielder Gavin Mahon in place of winger Lee Cook, who has been sacrificed once again in face of negative numbers.
The sending off seemed to be counter-productive for the Blues, as a previously dormant Rangers crowd was brought to life and galvanised their side as Loftus Road was rocking early in the second period. Every touch was cheered by the home faithful, and every puff on the referee`s whistle was jeered, as Rangers fans must have thought the world was against them.
That was until Samuel Di Carmine somehow gave Rangers the lead, in a goal worthy to grace any encounter. In the warm up Di Carmine lashes the ball in the top corner for fun, displaying unbelievable technique. However the main difference is the amount of time he takes to get his shot away.
Some excellent interplay between Tommasi and Blackstock found Di Carmine and Blues gave the young Italian as much time as he needed as he fired a rasping drive past Maik Taylor. The strike nearly brought the roof down at Loftus Road in wet and windy conditions in W12.
The emotions were no more diverse than on the touchline with Alex McLeish with his head in his hands, and Ranger caretaker boss Gareth Ainsworth performing a Klinsman dive on the pitch, as everyone`s emotions in the ground seemed to get the better of them.
Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Birmingham City
With Ainsworth getting carried away on the touchline it was difficult to pull his players feet back down to the floor, and they nearly paid the ultimate price with Gavin Mahon hacking the ball off the line to preserve the R`s clean sheet.
With the atmosphere in the first half tepid at best, Loftus Road was now a cauldron of noise, as they made up the 11th man that they had lost late on in the first period. Noise coming from all four corners of the ground as home fans populated the lower school end once more in the face of depleted away travel.
Emmanuel Ledesma nearly gave Rangers fans something further to cheer when his left-footed free kick was well saved by Maik Taylor to his left. The Argentinean was beginning to come into his own, as it appeared the shackles had been let off.
Alex McLeish was growing visibly frustrated with his side on the touchline as wayward passing and inability to create meaningful chances caused him to throw on the quality of former Arsenal forward Quincy Owusu-Abeyie and Marcus Bent, Rangers would have their work cut-out in the final moments of the game with several strikers populating the Blues front-line.
A backs to the wall final quarter of an hour saw Rangers defend stoutly, and the introduction of Hogan Ephraim gave them a different depth to their attacking threat. Ephraim making his first appearance of the season was hardly imposing in the air, but his effort and commitment gave Martin Taylor and Liam Ridgewell plenty to worry about.
After a while Hogan reverted to right midfield with an exhausted Emmanuel Ledesma forced to pursue the lone strikers role. The aforementioned pair of Ledemsa and Ephraim linked up on numerous occasions with midfielder Tommasi showing no signs of any previous fitness issues of which Iain Dowie deemed him not worthy for a starting place.
Birmingham fans were dancing in the school end when Kevin Phillips netted from a swift counter attacking move, but the Rangers nemesis was this time thwarted by the linesman`s flag, much to the relief of myself and Rangers fans sitting around me. Could Rangers hold on for this momentous win?
Teeth were chattering and nails bitten down to the bone, in deteriorating weather conditions as the Blues continued to pile forwards into the box , with manager McLeish and his assistant Roy Aitken barking the orders from the touchline – but in the end to no avail.
With that Rangers had their win, running down the clock in expert fashion before the ten heroes on the field defended stoutly to hand Gareth Ainsworth his first win as caretaker boss.
Carnival de Paris rang around Loftus Road as Rangers had put in a truly tremendous shift which culminated in three hard found and well-deserved points.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Birmingham City
QPR: Radek Cerny, Damion Stewart, Fitz Hall, Mikele Leigertwood, Dexter Blackstock (Akos Buzsaky 69), Martin Rowlands, Matthew Connolly, Lee Cook (Gavin Mahon 46), Damiano Tommasi, Emmanuel Ledesma, Samuel Di Carmine (Hogan Ephraim 74).
Birmingham City: Maik Taylor, Martin Taylor, Liam Ridgewell, James McFadden, Kevin Phillips, Cameron Jerome (Marcus Bent 64), Mehdi Nafti (Quincy Owusu-Abeyie 64), Kemy Agustien, Franck Quedrue, Stuart Parnaby (Wilson 12).
Radek Cerny – 8/10
His best performance yet, no mistakes to report. He was truly inspired catching crosses, and punching all he couldn`t catch. He kept the R`s in the game early on saving well from Phillips and Jerome as well as taking the pressure off in the late stages by catching the ball, well done Radek.
Mikele Leigertwood – 6/10
His day was cut short by an inexplicable refereeing decision, but nevertheless seems to be a good right back and may well have found his place in the absence of Peter Ramage. Time will tell whether he can make the place his own, especially considering the potential ban he`ll have to serve.
Matthew Connolly – 7/10
Performed well once again at left back being face with two experienced forwards in Cameron Jerome and James McFadden. His last ditch tackling was truly excellent as he thwarted the Blues on numerous occasions. He brought the ball forward well providing the R`s with an extra attacking head at times, a good display.
Damion Stewart – 8/10
Another excellent display, and I am running out of superlatives to describe Damion. Another shut out for the defence, that`s three clean sheets in a row. Stewart has been the integral lynchpin in this success. Such a vital player for QPR, and they`ll hope to keep this unit together for the remainder of the season and beyond on this evidence.
Fitz Hall – 7/10
Fitz did excellently alongside Damion Stewart, marshalling Kevin Phillips very well in difficult conditions. The defenders got out infront of their respective attackers to nullify any potential attacking threat. Another clean sheet and an excellent display.
Emmanuel Ledesma – 7/10
Had a good game, and will be delighted to be re-introduced to the line-up on the right. He did very well to hold the ball in the latter stages, and won a few key free kicks in attacking areas for the R`s. His trickery was causing Franck Quedrue all manner of problems as he helped the R`s to win.
Lee Cook – 6/10
Struggled to make any notable impact and was withdrawn at half time due to the sending off. Cook was visibly struggling in the difficult conditions but his early withdrawal will ensure he is fresh for Saturday after a brutal second period.
Damiano Tommasi – 8/10
The debut for the former Roma and Italian international yielded a positive performance, as he really rolled back the years to provide the R`s with the central midfielder they have cried out for, for many years. His effectiveness on and off the ball were evident as he played with real vigour at the peak of fitness.
Martin Rowlands – 7/10
He worked well with Tommasi in the middle before taking up the right back berth vacated by Mikele Leigertwood. He performed so well in this position that it may well see him continue their on Saturday. An excellent defensive display that will win him many plaudits.
Dexter Blackstock – 6/10
Dexter couldn`t quite make the impact that he made against Reading on Saturday, but he won a number of key headers in attacking areas only for his fellow players not to capitalise on his good vision. Dexter was withdrawn but nevertheless is set to continue on Saturday.
Samuel Di Carmine – 9/10
Samuel rounded off an excellent display with a world-class strike from distance. He beat Taylor all ends up with a rifle of a right footed drive. He played a lot with his back to goal reminding fans of Kevin Gallen in his hey day, before showing the strength and vision to lay the ball off. Here`s to hoping there`s many more to come!
SUB: Gavin Mahon – 7/10
Replaced Lee Cook
Gavin was integral in the middle of the park alongside Tommasi in order to stfile the creativity of the Blues midfield. He found himself in the unfamiliar position of left wing on a couple of occasions, and looked effective in his ability to keep hold of the ball, drawing on his strength and passing ability.
SUB: Akos Buzsaky – 6/10
Replaced Dexter Blackstock
Didn’t have that much of an impact on proceedings but neverthless contributed to the occasion. His gave Ledemsa some options as he crept over from the left flank.
Replaced Samuel Di Carmine
Hogan didn’t get that long on the field but looked lively both wide and upfront. He got the ball down and ran at defenders, who looked terrified at the skills and trickery of the former West Ham United forward.
Gareth Ainsworth: 9/10 – The R`s caretaker boss did an excellent job in stifling the creativity of the Blues before Rangers launched many threats on the counter attack despite being down to ten men. He rallied his troops at half time for a truly epic second half display with envigorated the crowd and inspired many. Well done Gareth.
Alex McLeish: 5/10 – His side created very little against 10 men, and while the referee was poor both ways, the Blues had very little to offer in terms of their numerical advantage. He will be very disappointed with his sides display and will no doubt ring the changes on Saturday.
Mr S Attwell: 4/10 – Such contrasting styles in officiating in recent weeks with Mr Foy performing so well against Reading, this young referee displayed why he is in the Premier League. His ability to dish out cards like confetti and officiate in a clueless manner have made him popular with the refereeing chiefs. Should Rangers appeal and succeed, Mr Attwell may not get much more top flight cheer any time soon.
To view all the match stats for QPR v Birmingham City Click Here >>>