QUEENS Park Rangers took a giant leap towards Championship safety this afternoon, dispatching of relegation rivals Crystal Palace in breathtaking fashion.
All the pre-match talk surrounded the return of Neil Warnock, but it was the twin pistons of the R’s attack, Ákos Buzsáky and Adel Taarabt that stole the show at Selhurst Park.
Buzsáky set a dominant Rangers on their way with 20-yard thunderbolt after neat build up play culminating in a well-timed lay off by Tamás Priskin.
The visitors’ pressure was relentless and despite accruing the majority of possession and chances they had to wait until the second period to bag the second and make the game safe.
Adel Taarabt – a constant tormentor throughout – swung in a corner from the right and Kaspars Gorkss rose highest to glance home for Warnock’s men.
The R’s boss was coy in accepting praise from the travelling faithful, showing respect to his former club – a class that belies his maligned reputation.
The nerves and pressure around Loftus Road will now surely be alleviated with not only Warnock’s first away win, but another unprecedented clean sheet.
Returning boss Neil Warnock made four changes to the side that were thumped at Leicester with Radek Cerny, Dusko Tosic, Ákos Buzsáky and Tamás Priskin starting for the R’s.
Cerny claimed the jersey owing to Carl Ikeme’s departure with Peter Ramage, Damion Stewart, Kaspars Gorkss and debutante Tosic starting in the back four.
Alejandro Faurlín and Mikele Leigertwood started in the middle with Hogan Ephraim, Adel Taarabt and Ákos Buzsáky playing behind lone front-man Tamás Priskin.
Palace meanwhile started with a plethora of reported R’s targets – one being Julian Speroni who started behind a back four of Danny Butterfield, Matt Lawrence, Paddy McCarthy and Clint Hill.
Sean Scannell and Darren Ambrose started wide with combative duo Neil Danns and Shaun Derry through the middle – Calvin Andrew and Stern John lined-up in attack.
Butterfield – Lawrence – McCarthy – Hill
Scannell – Danns – Derry – Ambrose
Andrew – John
Ramage – Stewart – Gorkss – Tosic
Leigertwood – Faurlín
Buzsáky – Taarabt – Ephraim
Kick Off: Crystal Palace v Queens Park Rangers
It was apparent that from the minute the players took to the field this would be a London derby to savour. The R’s and Palace came out of the tunnel to a rapturous reception and credit must be paid to the majority Eagles fans for the reception given to Neil Warnock.
The R’s fans that populated the Arthur Wait stand were in a boisterous mood before the start of the game with a cacophony of noise emanating from the travelling fans. It didn’t take long however for the first incident of the fixture.
Palace kicked off and Shaun Derry’s long ball saw Damion Stewart and Calvin Andrew challenge in the air. Andrew and the big Jamaican clashed heads and both players staying down for a prolonged period.
Both were able to walk off the pitch but it quickly became apparance that Stewart would not be able to continue following the full-blooded header. So much so that he had to be stretchered away from the dug-out area appearing in a bad way.
He was replaced by Jay Simpson as Peter Ramage moved to the centre of defence, Mikele Leigertwood slotted into right back with Tamás Priskin dropping off the Arsenal loanee. It seemed to galvanise the R’s however who hardly gave Palace a sniff in the early offing.
The R’s were looking at their most useful down the left-flank with Dusko Tosic and Hogan Ephraim executing some excellent link-up play. Ephraim got in behind Danny Butterfield on a couple of occasions but failed to produce the telling cross.
The pressure was relentless with Palace unable to get out of their half at times, and soon enough it told as Rangers had a highly-sought advantage with a goal crafted from the back and central defender Peter Ramage.
His link-up play with Alejandro Faurlín found Ephraim foraging away down the left. His pull-back found Priskin with his back to goal who in turn laid off for his compatriot Ákos Buzsáky. The central midfielder rolled back the month to send a scintillating strike beyond Speroni from the edge of the area.
GOAL: Crystal Palace 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
To say that it met with the appreciation of the away fans would be an understatement with supporters sent into delirium by the returning Buzsáky. Warnock’s reaction was tempered on the touch-line but you there was no hiding the joy in the stands as the R’s drew first blood.
Paul Hart’s Palace weren’t showing their safety credentials and fighting spirit displayed in previous games and despite glimpses of endeavour they were being swamped by shirts in blue and white. Simpson managed to force Speroni into a save from an acute angle following a useful ball from former Eagle Leigertwood.
The attacks continued with Taarabt’s corner cleared only as far as Buzsáky, and the rejuvenated Hungarian clipped an effort inches over the left-hand upright. There could be no mistake however that the R’s meant business.
Palace were offering little in riposte with Taarabt twice fooling Derry in the middle of the park. The veteran midfielder resembling Peter Reid chasing the heels of Maradona with a grimace on his face as the fleet-footed Moroccan played architect once more.
Ephraim was also looking impressive down the left despite a disappointing lack of cutting edge – his centre was held up well by Simpson whose shot on the turn drifted wide of the right-hand post in another big opportunity for the R’s.
Palace conjured what would be their first and only chance of the half moments later as Ambrose got in behind the R’s defence and laid in Hill. The Eagles defender forced Radek Cerny into a smart save high to his left.
It would have been a cruel blow on QPR who had dominated the opening period, but as the sides went into the break it was the visiting side that justifiably kept their advantage – but it was a case of what could have been had they taken their glut of opportunities.
Half Time: Crystal Palace 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
It was a case of more of the same for boss Neil Warnock after the break, who would have wanted his side to continue pressing and creating opportunities while remaining as solid at the back as they had previously proven.
Taarabt and Ephraim linked up in effective fashion once more before the ball was laid back to Priskin – not quite blessed with the skill of his fellow countryman he blazed over with a stinging right-footed drive.
Palace were looking more threatening however and were certainly fighting for possession. So much so that Stern John hauled Ramage away from the ball – unnoticed by Mr Miller – before lashing a wayward effort over the bar.
The Argentinean central midfielder Faurlín was having a particularly good game despite stubbing his toe in a clash in the centre of the park. He was in visible pain as he ploughed forward in search of a goal.
Ephraim once again worked the by-line to perfection beyond Butterfield before cutting back to the midfielder who somehow from the edge of the area found the goal – unfortunately it was the one displayed on the big screen on top of the stand.
There was a genuine hearts in mouths moment as Danns got the better of Gorkss and raced towards the target. Only Cerny to beat for the former Birmingham City man but somehow he rolled wide of the left hand post.
Palace were now showing far better and this owed much to the substitute Nathaniel Clyne down the right. The defender that Warnock debuted and rejected a January move away from Selhurst was linking up well with stand-in striker Scannell.
Priskin nearly had a chance to double the lead moments later as he created some space down the right but hit a rasping drive over Speroni’s bar from a tight angle. The margins were that fine and a goal either way could have decided the fate of the game.
Fortunately it was Rangers that took one of their many opportunities in the second period capitalising on the wealth of possession they were seeing and ultimately extending the lead through a set-piece rooted in simplicity.
Taarabt sent in his corner from the right and Kaspars Gorkss rose highest to glance beyond a forlorn Speroni. He and his fellow players celebrated and the supporters now started to enjoy themselves after a period of uncertainty.
GOAL: Crystal Palace 0-2 Queens Park Rangers
From here on Rangers barely surrendered the ball and looked good value for their advantage. The olés from the crowd suggested the enjoyment and buoyancy being felt in the away end after what was an overdue display.
Priskin again had an opportunity in a carbon copy situation as he was once again afforded the time and space to get his shot away on the right edge of the area. This time however Speroni thwarted the effort as the Hungarian stays on one goal.
A Paul Hart moment followed moments later – two goals down – you’ve just brought on a centre forward. He decided to bring on a defender in Johannes Ertl for the disappointed Alan Lee who in fairness to him was giving Gorkss a hard time.
It could only have been an injury but it was this calibre of change at Loftus Road for which he was famed with Nick Carle a more attacking option given that the Eagles were two goals down in an important fixture.
Priskin again found himself in space down the right and like supporters could hardly believe he was afforded the time once more. He laid back for Ephraim but the former West Ham United man scuffed his shot wide of Speroni’s right-hand post.
Scannell made impressive inroads to the QPR side down the right, beating three men before attempting to square, but a lack of options saw Cerny dive out of his goal to claim with consummate ease before receiving the acclaim of the Rangers faithful.
Cerny thwarted Danns once more moments later in a bid to keep hold of the highly coveted clean sheet, and in fairness to him there was little for the Czech stopper to do throughout the game. The referees whistle was blown and the R’s claimed an important first win at Selhurst Park since December 1989.
Warnock meanwhile cut a discrete figure as he walked down the tunnel, applauding the Palace fans before leaving his players to receive the plaudits and accolades from a set of thoroughly happy Queens Park Rangers supporters.
Final Whistle: Crystal Palace 0-2 Queens Park Rangers
Julian Speroni, Danny Butterfield (Alan Lee 58) (Johannes Ertl 70), Matt Lawrence, Paddy McCarthy, Clint Hill, Sean Scannell, Shaun Derry, Neil Danns, Darren Ambrose, Calvin Andrew (Nathaniel Clyne 23), Stern John.
Queens Park Rangers
Radek Cerny, Peter Ramage, Damion Stewart (Jay Simpson 8), Kaspars Gorkss, Dusko Tosic, Alejandro Faurlín, Mikele Leigertwood, Ákos Buzsáky, Adel Taarabt (Josh Parker 90), Hogan Ephraim, Tamás Priskin.
Radek Cerny – 7/10
Didn’t have a great deal to do but was able to stop Palace getting a foot-hold in the game, performing his duties with excellent poise and making a few excellent saves from Hill and Danns. The Czech ‘keeper returned with Ikeme out of the side as is staking his claim for next season.
Warnock must be looking at Cerny’s performance today with a view to keeping a custodian like this for the next campaign, because despite not being as confident on crosses his shot-stopping ability is unrivalled.
The sad thing is that if you amalgamated the positives of both he and Ikeme, you would have a world-class ‘keeper at your disposal. As it stands despite being in the twilight of his career Cerny turned in a good performance today.
Peter Ramage – 9/10
Ramage hardly put a foot wrong today and continues to prove his doubters wrong – in fairness the doubters have dwindled this campaign and what started off as a tongue in cheek chant now becomes genuine for most as we’re ‘Walking in a Ramage Wonderland.’
Starting his career as a centre back the Geordie has since been converted to a full back by firstly Kevin Keegan then a succession of QPR managers, but this would undoubtedly stake his claim to retain his spot alongside Kaspars Gorkss.
He slotted in with great ease after Stewart left the field and his distribution and clearances were excellent throughout. Any aerial threat was counter-acted by Gorkss and he, with Ramage nailed on to start on Saturday.
Unfair to judge his display since he was on the field for less than ten seconds and already rumours have begun that he could be out not only for the season but for longer owing to the complication of his injury.
A sad end to the season for Stewart who clashed with Calvin Andrew in the air, and he unfortunately will be carrying more than just a headache as he wakes up tomorrow morning. We hope that he makes a speedy but more important full recovery.
Kaspars Gorkss – 8/10
Gorkss looked in good form throughout winning the majority of aerial challenges and distributing as he thought appropriate with a great deal of through going into the Latvian’s defender. It was a positive come-back from the central defender.
He hasn’t been in good form of late but showed that he has got the ability to bounce back and put in a display of note, beating John in the air with relative ease before lashing the ball away or passing short to his central midfielders.
The defender was given a bit of trouble by Alan Lee, but fortunately for whatever reason Paul Hart withdrew the man-mountain forward, and Warnock will know the influence that an Alan Lee could have on a fixture.
Dusko Tosic – 7/10
An impressive debut from the Serbian who will have no doubt alerted some other clubs with what was an assured display first time out. His passing, running and link-up play were excellent and he seemed to have an understanding with Ephraim.
His stamina as well was impressive considering his lack of game time, and Rangers will be hoping that firstly he can maintain this level of performance and ensure they can capture a player of his talent in the summer.
This performance came off the back of an excellent display in the reserves and Warnock must have had that in mind when selecting him ahead of Matt Hill who is due to be sent back to Wolves soon given the boss’ previous promise.
Alejandro Faurlín – 7/10
Faurlín was once again a key player in the middle of the park as he linked up well with Ákos Buzsáky and gave the Hungarian more licence to attack while he picked passes from deep and won midfield battles against Danns and Derry.
He was good in the tackle and strong in the air, never once looking overawed by a physical Palace side – showing how far he has come in the past few months and what potential he has going forward under Neil Warnock.
The Argentine has already had praise heaped on him by the R’s boss and today he showed a tempered side to his game alongside Buzsáky once Leigertwood slotted into the right full-back role.
Mikele Leigertwood – 8/10
An assured display at right-back from Leigertwood and here was another player able to adapt and prove his worth in different positions on the field. He was strong to deny one of the Championship’s finest in Ambrose and looked good going forward.
The key thing from his aspect was that it was tempered and gaps left in behind against Middlesbrough for example were eradicated as he distributed well and read the tackles to perfection.
He has shown that he is able to play at right back, despite having his critics in that region and I would be toying with keeping the same back four for the Cardiff fixture next weekend to nullify the threat Peter Whittingham possesses.
Ákos Buzsáky – 9/10
The Hungarian returned with a bang, showing that he still has the ability and talent to help drive Rangers’ promotion push next season. His goal was crafted through sheer class and expertise hitting a pint-point effort beyond Speroni.
A good display saw him link up effortlessly with his fellow midfielders and play well in his favoured role behind the front-man. A position in which he excelled under Luigi De Canio and briefly under Jim Magilton.
This performance should hopefully kick-start his season and get him some game-time for the remaining clashes. Next season should then a key one for him and QPR as he looks to finally help Rangers to promotion.
Adel Taarabt – 8/10
Taarabt at times was unplayable as I’m sure Shaun Derry will testify. Effortlessly drifting past his marker on numerous occasions before attempting to set up Rangers’ chances for Simpson, Ephraim, Priskin or going alone.
The only negative on his part was knowing when to pass and timing the pass. More often than not he was looking to pass which is a vast improvement on this season and last, but passes to Simpson were either too late or early.
Nevertheless he proved his immense talent and if he knows how to temper his instinctive tendencies and use them for positive means.
Hogan Ephraim – 7/10
Once again performed well and continues to keep Lee Cook out of the side, and contributed to the opening goal with some direct and purposeful running. Danny Butterfield was unable to control him at times.
The one black-spot on his performance is the lack of genuine end product. His crossing on the day was a tad sporadic, sometimes to feet sometimes behind the man sometimes too far beyond the men in the middle.
Ephraim, like Taarabt, possesses the attributes to be a regular starter and if he can harness this ability and produce more consistent deliveries then his future at the club in whatever division will be nailed on.
Tamás Priskin – 6/10
Not a bad display from Priskin judging against the back-drop of previous displays as he showed willing an effort to get involved in the game before shooting towards goal a few times, forcing Speroni into a smart save at his near post.
It could be more of a case of his off the ball ability and nuisance value that the R’s missed at Leicester because despite his perceived lack of importance Rangers seem to play that little bit better when then Hungarian starts.
The striker was also able to adapt dropping deep and playing wide once more, supporting Jay Simpson along with Ephraim and Taarabt – a good performance that will hopefully give him more confidence in future.