QUEENS Park Rangers celebrated the anniversary of their League Cup victory by aptly from behind to claim all three points against Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City.
50 years on from the momentous Wembley victory – the heroes of yesteryear watched on as Ian Holloway’s modern-day QPR turned it on in an improved second half showing.
Warnock’s men did have the opening goal on the cusp of half time when man-mountain defender Sol Bamba powered home a set-piece header, but the game took on a different complexion after the hour mark.
The introduction of Yeni Ngbakoto made Rangers a more dangerous prospect and he netted the leveller after some neat interplay culminated with the Frenchman smashing into the roof of the net.
Matt Smith was to have the final say in this one however – he had threatened from set pieces throughout and on this occasion got the better of Bamba to glance across goal for Jazz Richards to put past his own ‘keeper.
The spirit of 67 more than alive in the current squad as despite falling behind, they came fighting back to net all three points in the fight for safety.
Five changes for Ian Holloway and QPR – two enforced as anticipated. Kazenga LuaLua (injured) and Luke Freeman (suspended) dropped out along with Darnell Furlong, Ryan Manning and Pawel Wszolek. In came Grant Hall, Massimo Luongo, Sean Goss, Jamie Mackie and Conor Washington.
Smithies started behind a back five of James Perch, Nedum Onuoha, Hall, Joel Lynch and Jake Bidwell. Mackie joined Luongo and Goss through the middle with Washington partnering Matt Smith in attack.
Cardiff meanwhile started with Allan McGregor behind a defence of Matt Connolly, Sean Morrison, Sol Bamba and Jazz Richards. Craig Noone, Aron Gunnarsson, Joe Ralls and Kadeem Harris played through the middle with Junior Hoilett playing off Kenneth Zohore in attack.
ONUOHA – HALL – LYNCH
PERCH – MACKIE – LUONGO – GOSS – BIDWELL
WASHINGTON – SMITH
CONNOLLY – MORRISON – BAMBA – RICHARDS
NOONE – GUNNARSSON – RALLS – HARRIS
HOILETT – ZOHORE
A minute’s applause was given pre-match for the League Cup winning side of 1967 to commemorate 50 years since the most unlikely of victors walked away from Wembley with silverwear. Alec Stock’s Third Division side conquered top flight West Bromwich Albion despite going two goals down – worthy of applause in anyone’s eyes.
There were some returning faces to Loftus Road – Neil Warnock and Matt Connolly received a warm reception; Junior Hoilett less so. Hoilett and in particular Kadeem Harris were lively in the early offing – but the latter looked far more like producing an end product for the visiting side.
Both sides traded early blows with their heads – Matt Smith nodding Jake Bidwell’s cross wide before Sean Morrison directed his effort at Alex Smithies. Defensively Rangers were struggling to cope with the pace and direct running of Harris and in particular James Perch appeared all at sea to defend his enterprising runs.
The home side did manage to carve out a useful opportunity before the 30 minute mark when a neat touch and turn from Conor Washington saw him caress a low effort back off the right-hand upright. A piece of play that deserved to culminate in a goal.
Sean Goss teed himself up nicely on 35 minutes but couldn’t work McGregor to any significant degree as possession continued to ebb and flow from one end to the other. Quality was hard to come by however with both sides gifting possession – at times with breath-taking ease.
Alex Smithies produced another sublime save synonymous with his time at Loftus Road to deny Joe Ralls on the stroke of half time, but the Bluebirds did not have to wait much longer before they took the advantage in W12 – it was the resultant set-piece that was Rangers’ undoing.
Noone’s corner from the left was powered home from just inside the six yard box by SOL BAMBA – the defender leapt highest to beat Smithies all end up and send the School End into raptures.
The disappointment was palpable around the home crowd, who by and large were as flat as the play in a somewhat nondescript opening half. Warnock was doing a Warnock style job on QPR and the home side now had it all to do.
The second half started much in the same way as the first had finished – Cardiff City were on the front-foot and making life difficult for Rangers. Hoilett could and should have done better when presented with an opportunity in the opening ten minutes – only to be denied by Lynch.
Zohore then flashed an effort well over the bar from close range and Cardiff more than threatened to double their advantage in the game. Holloway’s response wasn’t a particularly popular one – withdrawing Sean Goss didn’t go down particularly well among some supporters, but the introduction of Yeni Ngbakoto was well received.
It sparked a revival of sorts from Rangers who now got themselves on the front foot for the first time in the half. Perch flashed a cross across the target which eluded the onrushing Washington. The pressure paid dividends as the hosts levelled.
Neat interplay involving Luongo and Hall eventually saw Mackie with the ball approaching the area, his slipped pass to YENI NGBAKOTO and his powerful effort flew into the top corner via the aid of a slight deflection – game on for the home side.
Craig Noone curled a free kick just over the bar before being replaced by Anthony Pilkington as Cardiff doubled down in search of a winner. Hoilett nearly grabbed the headlines when he curled wide of the right-hand upright when well-placed.
Holloway wasn’t giving up on the win himself – Ravel Morrison and Pawel Wszolek taking to the field for the final ten minutes. Ngbakoto could have netted another stunning free-kick to add to the strike at Birmingham but his rasping drive was well palmed away by McGregor.
He could do nothing about the winning goal however – Ngbakoto was involved again as his near post set piece found MATT SMITH once again beating Bamba to the punch and this time his glanced header skipped up off Jazz Richards and over the line with little over five minutes remaining.
Only Pilkington could provide any riposte for the Bluebirds with his run from the right flank culminating in a curling effort just over Smithies’ bar. Five minutes of added on time caused the nerves to jangle but in truth Holloway’s men managed the closing stages well as they bested Warnock’s visiting side.
Queens Park Rangers: Smithies; Onuoha, Hall, Lynch; Perch, Mackie (Wszolek 81), Luongo (Morrison 76), Goss (Ngbakoto 58), Bidwell, Washington, Smith.
Subs not used: Ingram, Furlong, Sylla, Manning
Cardiff City: McGregor, Connolly (Bennett 86), Bamba, Morrison, Richards, Noone (Pilkington 72), Gunnarsson (Halford 90), Ralls, Harris, Hoilett, Zohore.
Subs not used: Murphy, Whittingham, John, Harris
Referee: Mr D England