QUEENS Park Rangers marked the return of Ian Holloway with a victory over ten-man Norwich City.
It was a spectacle with all the hallmarks of a Holloway side – excitement, goals and sheer nerve-jangling emotion – worlds apart from the pragmatic Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink which could be construed as a positive or a negative.
Rangers got off to a flyer when Martin Olsson handled on the goal-line in the first minute – no complaints from the visiting support as the Swede was handed his marching orders – Tjaronn Chery didn’t read the script as he blazed wide in front of the Canaries fans.
The home side made their pressure tell however when strike duo Seb Polter and Conor Washington combined for the latter to tap home unmarked from close range.
Polter notched the second himself when Chery`s sublime through ball found the German well-placed to slide under the onrushing John Ruddy. Rangers coasted into the second half as the Canaries grew into the game.
The lively Jacob Murphy hit the cross bar from the edge of the area before his cross found Steven Naismith to halve the arrears and send the nerves jangling around Loftus Road. Rangers did see the result out however and a first maximum was deserved for a dominant Holloway side.
Ian Holloway made two changes from Rangers 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest. Pawel Wszolek joined the suspended Karl Henry on the touchline with Joel Lynch and Massimo Luongo coming into a 3-5-2 formation.
Alex Smithies started behind a central trio of Lynch, Grant Hall and skipper Nedum Onuoha. James Perch, Luongo, Jordan Cousins, Tjaronn Chery and Jack Robinson played across midfield with Seb Polter and Conor Washington starting in attack.
Norwich started with John Ruddy in goal behind a defence of Russell Martin, Ryan Bennett, Sebastian Bassong and Martin Olsson. Alex Tettey and Graham Dorrans played through the middle with Jacob Murphy, Steven Naismith and Robbie Brady playing in behind Nelson Oliveira.
PERCH – ONUOHA – HALL – LYNCH – ROBINSON
LUONGO – COUSINS – CHERY
WASHIGTON – POLTER
MARTIN – BENNETT – BASSONG – OLSSON
TETTEY – DORRANS
MURPHY – NAISMITH – BRADY
Nostalgia was in the air, not least for the return of Gary Micklewhite and Roger Morgan – but it was the pair in the dugout that have had the tongues wagging in recent days and got the crowd through the door on a bitterly cold Loftus Road afternoon.
Marc Bircham and Ian Holloway had returned to the club and aside from the Twitter bombardment from the club it was good to see what fans would class as true Queens Park Rangers men in charge of the first team.
The pre-match hysteria spilled onto the pitch when Rangers had a penalty and a man advantage inside the opening minute. A long throw from Jack Robinson caused panic in the area and when Martin Olsson handled on the goal-line, referee Scott Duncan had no hesitation in giving a penalty and dishing out the inevitable red card.
Tjaronn Chery dusted himself off before scuffing the penalty wide of the right hand upright. Numerical advantage for Rangers but parity maintained by an uncharacteristically poor set piece from the Dutchman.
Undeterred, Rangers continued to press forward. Norwich by comparison, pushed Robbie Brady to left-back and went to a 4-4-1 formation in a bid to frustrate the hosts. Jacob Murphy slashed over the bar from the edge of the area for a rare Canaries chance.
Holloway responded by pushing Grant Hall into midfield and it started to pay dividends. Robinson worked magic to keep a long pass in play before earning a corner. Chery`s patented deep corner was knocked back by Seb Polter and poacher CONOR WASHINGTON netted his second league goal.
There was a tidal wave of pressure now being thrown at the visitor`s goal. A deep cross from Washington saw strike partner Polter head the ball on target, but the German saw his effort deflected away for a corner – Robinson then curled an effort handsomely wide moments later.
The pressure eventually told when Chery once again was the architect – his slide rule pass was of the highest quality for SEB POLTER, who waited for Ruddy before sliding the ball underneath the Canaries stopper – simplistic but sublime.
Rangers were dominant and flexing their muscle against their visitors – Washington forcing a smart stop from Ruddy. It wasn`t all good news as Robinson lost out on a foot-race with Murphy before pulling up holding his hamstring. It was strapped up to get him to half time, but he was moving gingerly.
Pot shots from Cousins and Hall was all QPR could muster going into the break as City started to lose their cool – Dorrans maybe a little fortunate to only receive a yellow for a strong, late challenge on the impressive Lynch.
Beyond the penalty miss, it was almost the perfect start for Ian Holloway on his return to Loftus Road – a third would more than likely be required to kill things for a home crowd still somewhat nervous despite their delight at a fine opening half.
Jack Robinson did not reappear for the second half, which prompted a slight reshuffle. Sandro came from the bench for his first league performance of the season pushing Hall into centre-half and Lynch across into the vacated left-back berth.
The pressure continued on the visitor`s goal – Lynch firing a rasping drive from distance that was deflected wide before Conor Washington turned the Canaries rearguard inside out before seeing Ruddy ably thwart his right-footed effort.
Chery then thrashed a powerful right-footed effort wide of the near post, as he ventured in from the right flank shortly before the hour mark. Olamide Shodipo then replaced Massimo Luongo to change things once again tactically – the young midfielder operating on both flanks.
Robbie Brady drew ironic cheers from the away end when he rifled a free-kick into the top tier from a very ambitious distance. The travelling fans implored manager Alex Neill to ‘sort it out`.
Rangers went up the other end and nearly netted their third – Chery`s cross from the corner saw Hall rise well and force a smart save from Ruddy once again. Then the pressure started to turn as the visitors worked their way into the game.
Jacob Murphy cut in from the left before curling an effort back off the cross bar – Smithies left rooted much as he was for Jonjo Shelvey`s effort earlier in the campaign. Pressure started to pile on and the hosts were looking vulnerable.
It eventually told when substitute Josh Murphy crossed for STEVEN NAISMITH and his glanced header beat Smithies and set up a nervy finale. The crowd was understandably nervous and while the players were clearly putting in a shift it was doing little to quell the nail-biting.
Thankfully Rangers saw out the result and made it a happy return for Messrs Holloway and Bircham.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS: Smithies; Onuoha, Hall, Caulker, Lynch, Robinson (Sandro 46); Luongo (Shodipo 66), Cousins, Chery; Washington; Polter (Sylla 82).
Subs not used: Ingram, Borysiuk, El-Khayati, Ngbakoto.
NORWICH CITY: Ruddy; Martin, Bennett, Bassong, Olsson; Tettey, Dorrans; Jacob Murphy, Naismith (Josh Murphy 88), Brady; Oliveira (Jerome 75)
Subs not used: McGovern, Whittaker, Hoolahan, Klose, Lafferty.
Referee: Mr S Duncan