QUEENS Park Rangers picked up their first home win since late October with a gritty display against fellow playoff-chasers Bristol City.
It was hardly the masterpiece spectacle that some supporters evidently craved, but it was a testament to the gusto and battling spirit instilled in Rangers by the new management duo.
Rangers took a first half lead somewhat against the run of play when Jay Simpson swept home from close range following a defensive error.
While City were proving tough opponents it was Mikele Leigertwood that doubled the Rangers lead from the edge of the area to give the hosts the half time advantage.
A stunning solo effort from Nicky Maynard – his second in two against Rangers – came in the second period as he volleyed home inside the area to halve the deficit.
Sections of support humiliated themselves and the club when Hart looked to close out the game by bringing on defensive options – booing the new boss and indeed Rangers players.
Despite the gutsy display full of heart and endeavour, notably in the second period, sections saw fit to heckle their side from the field, and understandably few players remained to clap the fans.
Regardless Hart and Harford claimed an important first win as Bristol City are left to contemplate their poor recent form.
Paul Hart made three changes from the line-up that were held at home by Sheffield United last weekend with one crucial switch enforced.
Radek Cerny started behind a changed back four of Peter Ramage, Kaspars Gorkss, Fitz Hall and Tom Williams, with Damion Stewart suspended following his yellow card count.
Alejandro Faurlín, Ben Watson and Mikele Leigertwood played through the middle, with Wayne Routledge and Ákos Buzsáky playing behind lone front-man Jay Simpson.
Adel Taarabt and Patrick Agyemang dropped to the bench with Simpson reverting to a more familiar striking role in a new-look formation.
City by comparison made three changes of their own, with Dean Gerken behind a back four of Bradley Orr, Liam Fontaine, skipper Louis Carey and Jamie McAllister – Lewin Nyatanga dropping out.
In a new look formation City played a three-man midfield with Gavin Williams reinstated alonside Cole Skuse and Paul Hartley, with Danny Haynes hugging the right flank behind Alvaro Saborio and Nicky Maynard.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Bristol City
Rangers new look tactical gambit didn’t appear to be paying dividends early on with the Robins having the majority of possession, and a distinct territorial advantage.
Indeed the frustration was visible around the ground with the hosts’ inability to retain the ball as City didn’t appear to be a side short on confidence despite their similarly poor form.
The problem seemed to emanate from the Rangers defence, which certainly didn’t inspire confidence in the home support – sensing this the Robins relentlessly endeavoured to pump the ball high into the area.
It nearly gave them a deserved lead when a deep cross from the left was only half cleared by the recovering Mikele Leigertwood, it dropped for Gavin Williams who could only blast straight into Radek Cerny’s grateful arms.
It was a big opportunity for Bristol City to display their early dominance, as the Rangers defence looked to be disillusioned and beleaguered at the barrage of visiting attacks.
Passes were going amiss for QPR, who despite some poor choice and execution in their distribution could also point to a great deal of bad luck as every loose ball seemed to run to the feet of a red shirt.
The returning Ákos Buzsáky wasn’t able to display his vast attacking prowess, but was working a great deal harder defensively, neglecting his attacking instinct to help Watson and Leigertwood.
Rangers’ attacking moments were fleeting but there was certainly something to work with as displayed by Tom Williams. The defender linked up nicely with the midfield to send in a teasing cross – it fell inches short of Simpson with Gerken coming from his line to claim well.
These moments were few and far between as the visitors continued their pressure on the home goal. Danny Haynes gave Rangers further warning if they required it, by peeling away from the right and sending a deflected effort narrowly wide.
The former Ipswich Town man was in full-flow as he struck the effort, which narrowly evaded striker Nicky Maynard as well as the left-hand upright. Further woe came from the subsequent corner, swung in expertly by Paul Hartley.
The Scotsman’s corner caused confusion in the R’s defence, with Cerny’s punch insufficient to clear his lines, but the Czech ‘keeper recovered well to beat away a Cole Skuse effort before claiming at the second attempt.
Undeterred Rangers bounced back and looked to give their crowd some Christmas cheer, Buzsáky in particular was unlucky not to hand the hosts the lead when his cross was cruelly deflected goal-bound, only for Bradley Orr to nod away for a corner.
It was from the set-piece that Rangers struck, as Watson’s corner fell to Fitz Hall on the right hand side of the area. The defender who had received criticism for his performance thus far, sent in a cross for Simpson on the far post.
Jay Simpson shrugged off his marker, and after a piece of fortune with a poor touch from Gavin Williams, the Arsenal loanee swept the ball home from close range and into the bottom right hand corner.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Bristol City
The goal came at a crucial time just after the half hour mark and certainly livened up the R’s players and indeed the Loftus Road crowd, who once again laid in slumber throughout the majority of the half.
Tom Williams was keeping Mr Consistent – Gary Borrowdale – out of the line-up and the decision to start him was almost vindicated after another scything cross went fizzing across the target, begging for a finish from one of Rangers attack-minded players.
City’s tactics thus far hadn’t afforded the hosts much space, with a dogged Robins’ line-up making space a minimum for Rangers before attacking with great endeavour and confidence. The elusive goal continued to evade them however as the R’s grew stronger as the half progressed.
Once content to stop Rangers and counter-attack, City now had to force the issue themselves – and from there the hosts had their platform to build with gaps opening up and Wayne Routledge able to run at McAllister.
This space was clearly visible as Rangers added their second, courtesy of a strike of real class and confidence from Mikele Leigertwood.
The central midfielder picked up a throw from the right before touching away from his marker and finding acres of space with which to fire a left-footed effort into the bottom left-hand corner. ‘Keeper Gerken stood no chance as it fairly flew into the corner.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 2-0 Bristol City
A goal of real class to transcend the performance on the field, and coming five minutes before was ideal for the hosts who had not performed at all to their high standards in the opening period.
City meanwhile would look at the score-line in disbelief as despite their team’s continued dominance they found themselves on the wrong end of a two goal deficit.
It was certainly a performance of a higher calibre than the bore draw against Reading, but defensive naivety was a sticking point as the two sides went into the break with vastly contrasting emotions.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 2-0 Bristol City
Rangers came out from the break in an understandably more confident mood, as the nerves subsided a tad and they were allowed to play fearless football for the first time in many games. Indeed they nearly picked up a third with a sweeping move.
Excellent wing-work from Wayne Routledge saw Simpson racing clear towards goal. Under pressure from Bradley Orr the striker opted to take the opportunity early, and spurned the effort well wide of the right hand upright.
What a different a goal makes however, and with City seemingly dead and buried – it was Nicky Maynard that performed the Lazarus act with a goal of outstanding individual craft.
The former Crewe trainee took the ball with his back to goal before teeing himself up, being allowed to turn by a disjoined defence, and firing an outstanding volley beyond Cerny. It drew applause from all sections of the ground, but more importantly halved the deficit.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 2-1 Bristol City
If ever a goal could change a game, that was the one as all of a sudden the mood and atmosphere around the ground shifted, and this evidently transmitted to the players on the field with passes again being misplaced and City’s long balls causing all manner of panic.
Shortly after the hour mark Patrick Agyemang took to the field in place of Alejandro Faurlín, a move which prompted Jay Simpson to move wide left and Buzsáky to play in behind the newly introduced forward.
To display how finely poised the game was becoming, a pass intended for Danny Haynes was intercepted to perfection by Simpson. He ran the length of the field to cross for Routledge, whose header was misjudged and failed to test Gerken.
Rangers were clearly working for their manager, but the hosts knew how to get beyond a dogged line-up – bypass them. City’s passing philosophy of recent seasons seemed to have gone astray with long passes for Saborio the order of the day in a desperate attacking frenzy.
Equally as desperate was the last ditch defending of Queens Park Rangers, with Kaspars Gorkss performing endless heroics to keep the scores as they were. The Latvian international was a colossus at the heart of defence as it crumbled before his eyes.
Another fleeting chance for Rangers came on the counter-attack with Routledge creating space down the right before crossing to the near post. Agyemang’s run was well-timed, but his finish lacked conviction as he screwed the opportunity wide to Gerken’s left.
Both sides of Fitz Hall were in evidence at the other end as the visitors pressed for their leveller. An outstanding tackle to deny Maynard was tempered by some inexplicable actions moments later, as the defender made tough work of a clearance.
The ball back to him was intended to be cleared, but the lumbering central defender took too much time on the ball and had his pocket picked by the sprightly Maynard. He squared for substitute David Clarkson, but the Scotsman could only place into the side netting.
What was to follow can only be described as confusion and madness with the crowd reacting angrily to Paul Hart’s attempts to sure up what would have been a hard-fought win. Ákos Buzsáky and Jay Simpson were withdrawn with defenders Matt Connolly and Gary Borrowdale on in their stead.
To great the great surprise of many in the crowd, the vocal minority were discontented at Hart’s will to see the game out and pick up a priceless win. Chants of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing’ started to emanate from sections of the Loftus Road end.
A club that many have labelled a laughing stock managed to sink a notch lower on the scale, as after criticising Magilton for his naivety in attacking regardless of context, Hart was lambasted for his defence-minded tactics.
Still the boos came down from sections of the crowd, with every misplaced pass – even chants of ‘We’re supposed to be at home’ were wheeled out – ironically the loudest chant of the day from a crowd which seemed intent on destroying the team’s morale and confidence.
It must be stressed that these were in a vast minority, but still they were clearly audible to those around the ground. This was epitomised by Mikele Leigertwood’s attempt to take the ball to the corner flag and receiving pockets of abuse, all he could do was shake his head in disbelief and move on – many in the crowd were doing the same.
The final whistle was blown and the cheers of the majority managed to drown out those intent on booing a home victory, a first in six games as Hart’s men showed great character and determination to see the game through against a side that belied their recent form.
Simply stunning scenes at Loftus Road as the final whistle went with many players understandably opting to ignore the crowd that had mistreated them in the final stages. Peter Ramage was keen to acknowledge the supporters however giving a big thumbs up to the Loft – much more than some deserved.
A victory that was ground out in the face of adversity as the R’s go into the clash against Ipswich Town with mixed emotions despite an excellent home victory over Bristol City.
Full Time: Queens Park Rangers 2-0 Bristol City
Queens Park Rangers
Radek Cerny, Peter Ramage, Fitz Hall, Mikele Leigertwood, Wayne Routledge, Ákos Buzsáky (Matt Connolly 83), Kaspars Gorkss, Ben Watson, Alejandro Faurlín (Patrick Agyemang 63), Tom Williams, Jay Simpson (Gary Borrowdale 83).
Dean Gerken, Bradley Orr, Jamie McAllister, Liam Fontaine, Louis Carey, Nicky Maynard, Paul Hartley, Cole Skuse, Gavin Williams (Evander Sno 70), Danny Haynes (Ivan Sproule 83), Alvaro Saborio (David Clarkson 71).