QUEENS Park Rangers were forced to take a share of the spoils despite displaying great dominance against relegation-rivals Derby County at Loftus Road.
Rangers blew their opposition away in the early stages of the first half and despite their performance dipping going into the break Lee Cook’s well-taken injury time strike seemed the perfect tonic for Warnock’s men.
A sluggish start to the second period saw Derby gain a brief foothold and in testing conditions the Rams drew level as Shaun Barker placed home after a set-piece was only half cleared.
Undeterred Rangers pressed for the winner late on with County seemingly happy with a share of the spoils, with Antonio German particularly lively and Rowan Vine striking the bar.
Nevertheless it was the Rams that achieved the desired result of a point, remaining unbeaten in W12 since 1982, while Warnock’s QPR inch closer to securing their Championship status for next season.
Neil Warnock rather uncharacteristically made four changes to his side with first starts for the likes of Rowan Vine and Lee Cook under his guidance.
Carl Ikeme started in front of a back four of Peter Ramage, Kaspars Gorkss, the returning Damion Stewart and Matt Connolly – Matt Hill dropping to the bench.
Mikele Leigertwood and Alejandro Faurlín remained the central midfield partnership with Lee Cook and Rowan Vine occupying the flanks – Adel Taarabt sat just behind Jay Simpson in attack.
Derby lined up with Stephen Bywater in goal behind a back four of Nicky Hunt, Shaun Barker, Russell Anderson and Jay McEvely with Michael Tonge, Robbie Savage and Paul Green in the middle.
Stephen Pearson and Gilles Sunu lined up wide with Chris Porter starting in favour of man-mountain Rob Hulse in attack.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Derby County
As the teams were read out before the start of the game it seemed that some still harboured some anger over the recent performances of Tamás Priskin. The Hungarian’s name was booed by a minority as he took his place on the bench.
Windswept and rain-soaked conditions would surely make for difficult playing circumstances as the players took to the field under a deluge of drizzle at Loftus Road. It mattered little for Warnock’s Rangers who started the game with fire in their belly.
Adel Taarabt was once again in sprightly form early in the fixture as he looked to continue his fine form in a QPR shirt. He forced an early corner from a nervy Shaun Barker, and the resultant set-piece was claimed well by Stephen Bywater just inches from the onrushing Kaspars Gorkss.
Matt Connolly was soon at the centre of the action as his sublime through ball presented an opportunity for Taarabt. The Moroccan latched on to the pin-point pass and forced Bywater into a smart reaction stop – Connolly wasn’t finished however as the former Arsenal man threatened the target.
Alejandro Faurlín’s excellent vision found the make-shift full-back with a cleverly chipped ball beyond the Rams defenders, and Connolly hit a rasping right-footed drive goal-bound. Once again it was the stunning reactions of Bywater that thwarted the rampant Rangers once more.
Derby were offering their supporters little in the way of respite as the defensive communication continued to lapse between messrs Barker and Russell Anderson. The former was looking particularly nervy as he sliced successive headers straight to Rangers’ attackers.
It seemed that the ball was sticking to QPR players with Derby unable to break out of their half and utilise the pace of Arsenal wide-man Gilles Sunu. Rangers meanwhile continued to assert their dominance without reaping the rewards.
The Argentinean Faurlín is still searching for his first goal in the blue and white hoops and came very close as his left-footed drive fizzed across the floor. It was tipped away by an inspired Bywater – the ‘keeper retaining Derby’s clean sheet for the time being with a string of excellent stops.
Inevitably supporters were left wondering how long the feel-good factor would last while the opportunities were not being taken, and they had a scare when Sunu and Porter combined for the latter to nod straight at Carl Ikeme.
A soft decision nearly handed Derby the advantage as Mr Russell saw fit to find a foul on the edge of the penalty area and Robbie Savage stepped over the ball. Savage – who scored a set-piece at Pride Park against the R’s struck his effort straight at Ikeme.
Savage himself seemed charged with the task of quelling the talent of Taarabt. It proved more effective as the half wore on, but the odd occasions the Moroccan broke loose the R’s attacking effort dramatically improved.
Disaster struck when Rangers were forced to withdraw Matt Connolly through injury after the half-hour mark. Matt Hill – who had been dropped for the return for Damion Stewart – came back in at left-back, with strange murmurings of discontent among a minority of supporters.
Taarabt’s pot-shot with minutes remaining on the clock seemed to be all that Rangers could muster despite their great potential, but in the final minute of added on time the Spurs loanee displayed a moment of great enterprise and class to carve out an assist.
Breaking forward Taarabt’s incredible vision found an unmarked Lee Cook down the left. The wide-man took a touch before firing beyond Bywater at his near post. It was just deserts for the R’s first half dominance as Cook celebrated his first start under Neil Warnock with a goal.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Derby County
Rangers had set themselves an incredible early standard to live by and despite their performance inevitably dipping throughout the half Cook’s quality in front of goal was the difference as Mr Russell blew his whistle to end the half.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Derby County
Derby took to the field in the second period undoubtedly relieved that Rangers were unable to convert their many first half opportunities – it was an opportunity now for the Rams to gain a foot-hold on the game and present an attacking prowess of their own.
The Rams introduced Dean Leacock into the action at the expense of Sunu, who threatened to cause danger down the left without ever truly causing Connolly then Hill any significant danger. Former Fulham defender Leacock moved into right-back with Hunt slotting in at right midfield.
The point of attack seemed to change for the Rams who were now more focused on set-pieces rather than pace on the counter-attack. It nearly reaped the desired rewards early in the first half when an Ikeme nightmare allowed the ball to roll free in the heart of the penalty area.
Fortunately for him the Michael Tonge corner was subsequently lashed away from the onrushing Porter by Stewart as the ‘keeper lived to fight another day, even though his days at QPR seem numbered with Warnock’s apparent desire to bring in another loan player.
Derby had evidently been motivated by boss Nigel Clough during the break with QPR now starting to sit back and let the Rams coming into the game a little more. Warnock decided that a change was required and Lee Cook made way for young striker Antonio German.
German partnered Simpson in attack with Taarabt dropping deeper into midfield and Vine supporting from the other flank. Derby however were maintaining consistent flurries of pressure in the R’s half, and while Rangers couldn’t create chances of note, Derby started to threaten.
With what was their first genuine opening of the game the Rams, the R’s displayed tentative defending to allow Shaun Barker the time and space to roll home a Savage free-kick on 67 minutes. On the balance of chances it was cruel on QPR who had been taught a lesson in clinical finishing.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Derby County
Substitute Steven Davies was proving useful down the right-wing as he replaced Bolton loanee Nicky Hunt – mainly with his instinctive passing with the outside of his favoured left-boot, but Derby seemed content now to soak up the pressure and let the seconds tick away.
Savage was a player incredulous as Rangers took too long on a set-piece was now the key player in Derby’s time-wasting crusade, ably accompanied by Stephen Bywater between the goal. The ‘keeper who had impressed with his ability early on was now displaying a disappointing side to his game.
In truth it was down to the referee to not only warn the culprits but add the time on, and while opting not to warn the Rams’ players – even with the timely reminders of Loftus Road – the fans only hoped that the seconds would be reflected in the time added on.
The game was beginning to truly peter out with neither side able to carve out any opportunities of real note. QPR in fact looked a side bereft of the attacking confidence that had been displayed in the opening quarter of an hour.
The crowd began to impart with some pearls of wisdom for some players with Matt Hill in line for the majority of the criticism despite evidently pleasing Neil Warnock on the touch-line. His long clearances searched for German and the surging runs of Rowan Vine with varying degrees of success.
Taarabt’s run and shot bent away from the right hand upright in what was truly one of Rangers’ more clear-cut opportunities in the second period. The Derby defence was now holding firm and not allowing a more attacking outfit a way through to the now under-worked Bywater.
Derby had clearly set their intentions as the game began to draw to a conclusion with all 11 County players entrenched in their own half, awaiting the next high ball into their box. Indeed they were a side with as much endeavour as Swansea, with a lesser degree of attacking talent.
Faurlín went close towards the end of the fixture as his goal-bound effort was blocked away from the target and away for a corner, but it was Rowan Vine that nearly brought the house down with a wonderful effort moments from time.
The former Birmingham forward was full of running and effort throughout the ninety despite his ever-decreasing energy levels. Substitutes Hogan Ephraim and Antonio German linked up with Vine whose rasping, venomous drive cannoned back off the cross-bar to compound the R’s misery.
Moments later Mr Russell blew the whistle on what was a rather uneventful second period. Rangers had dominated without taking their just rewards, but Derby can be happy with a point gained after what was an early onslaught from Queens Park Rangers.
Full Time: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Derby County
Queens Park Rangers
Carl Ikeme, Peter Ramage, Kaspars Gorkss, Damion Stewart, Matt Connolly (Matt Hill 33), Lee Cook (Antonio German 59), Alejandro Faurlín, Mikele Leigertwood, Rowan Vine, Adel Taarabt, Jay Simpson (Hogan Ephraim 78)
Stephen Bywater, Nicky Hunt (Steven Davies 61), Russell Anderson, Shaun Barker, Jay McEvely, Gilles Sunu (Dean Leacock 46), Paul Green, Robbie Savage, Michael Tonge, Stephen Pearson, Chris Porter (Rob Hulse 82)