QUEENS Park Rangers and Cardiff City served up an end of season dead rubber in a stalemate in South Wales.
Going into the fixture the Bluebirds were chasing an outside opportunity of the playoffs – but given the way the fixture was played out, those ambitions are lofty indeed.
Rangers were – as advertised – experimental. A number of players playing in interesting positions and despite some neat build up play at times never really provided any cutting edge in the final third.
The hosts themselves were relatively anonymous themselves – a head of steam built up towards the end of the fixture failed to mask the lack of quality on display as Russell Slade`s men saw the playoffs now slip away from their tenuous grasp.
Rangers and Hasselbaink will continue their end of season experiment at promotion-chasing Brighton with today`s two sides now destined to face each other once again next season.
Cardiff City started in a 4-4-2 formation with David Marshall behind a back four Lee Peltier, Sean Morrison, Matt Connolly and Scott Malone. The midfield quartet featured Craig Noone, Stuart O`Keefe, Joe Ralls and Peter Whittingham, with Anthony Pilkington partnering Lex Immers in attack.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink made four changes from the side that grabbed a late winner against Charlton Athletic. Alex Smithies, James Perch, Jack Robinson and Junior Hoilett dropped out with Matt Ingram, Clint Hill, Paul Konchesky and Ale Faurlin coming in.
Ingram started behind a defence of Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall, Hill and Konchesky. Massimo Luongo and Faurlin started through the middle with Henry and Matt Phillips wide – Tjaronn Chery once again in behind Seb Polter.
PELTIER – MORRISON – CONNOLLY – MALONE
NOONE – O`KEEFE – RALLS – WHITTINGHAM
PILKINGTON – IMMERS
ONUOHA – HALL – HILL – KONCHESKY
HENRY – LUONGO – FAURLIN – PHILLIPS
A fourth game in succession that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink would take charge against a former club – albeit his time in the Welsh capital was firmly at the back of his career. The now QPR boss promised to experiment – albeit sensibly – with his side in the coming weeks.
Still with aspirations of a playoff place, Cardiff City knew that only a win would do against a a QPR side as entrenched as it gets in mid-table of the Championship.
Rangers started strongly on a sunbathed but chilly South Wales afternoon, with some neat and patient play helping to set up a succession of set-pieces. Seb Polter was in among proceedings from the off, vying with former QPR man Matt Connolly.
For all the patient play opportunities were limited to say the least. Anthony Pilkington had a bungee jump in the area at Grant Hall`s expense only to be rightfully booked by referee Steve Martin.
Rangers had set themselves up primarily to deal with Peter Whittingham it appeared – Henry and Onuoha doubling up on the right flank ensured the wide-man had little to work with but the flip-side of the coin had the visitors struggling going forward.
Countless times the ball was ushered to the right hand side only for Henry and Onuoha to try and decide between them how to go forward – by which time the moment had passed and either were easily dispossessed.
The other flank wasn’t much better – Konchesky pushed on with Phillips disappearing into a crowd and remaining firmly anonymous. The set-up could rightfully be called experimental, and the experiment was very much a work in progress.
Both teams seemingly allowed their opposition to keep the ball in less dangerous areas and apply pressure when the ball entered their half. It resulted in a relatively end to end spectacle but without the spark of creativity – the game devoid of life and clear cut chances.
Pilkington and Immers did not trouble debutante Ingram as this end of season dead rubber ticked along with all the excitement of paint drying. The stopper had nothing to do as referee Martin called time on one of the most enthusiasm-sapping first periods this season.
Both sides failed to register a shot on target, and moments in the opposition half were even few and far between. It hardly augured well for a trailblazing second half, but surely chances of note would materialise.
The sides took to the field in the second half with supporters looking for more in the way of noteworthy openings and chances. There were signs of encouragement particularly for the visiting supporters when Phillips took on Peltier before being hauled to the ground – a yellow issued for the former Liverpool man.
Seb Polter was the surprise creator of his own opportunity ten minutes into the half when he received the ball midway through the hosts` half and ran directly at Morrison. He drove wide of Connolly before skewing a daisy-cutter wide of the left-hand upright. Not out of the Roy Wegerle mould but in the context of the game it was a much-needed lift.
Cardiff created their first chance of the game in truth, Pilkington glancing what would have been a fortuitous header from a Malone cross – but the side of the post came to Ingram`s aid. Half the ground, many given free tickets, thought the deadlock had been broken.
Chery had a go from the edge of the area but once again did not trouble Marshall while Phillips came to life for a brief moment when his shot from distance was straight down the throat of the grateful Cardiff stopper.
Polter was rather surprisingly taken off with Ben Gladwin coming from the bench – Phillips moving into the centre forward role. Cardiff responded by sending off Sammy Ameobi into a left-wing berth, pushing Whittingham across.
Cardiff engineered a clear-cut chance with 20 minutes remaining – Whittingham`s cross glanced on target by Morrison only for Ingram to be forced into his first save of the game. With the playoff chasers only able to force Ingram into a save 70 minutes into the fixture speaks worlds for the lack of quality on display.
Last week`s match-winner Nasser El-Khayati was thrown on at the expense of Tjaronn Chery but appeared to immediately struggle with the physicality of the game. Gladwin cut in for the left to great effect on numerous occasions but failed to get a shot away, getting blocked out by a resolute Bluebirds defence.
His square ball for Luongo nearly handed Rangers the advantage only for Marshall to block a tame effort at point-blank range. Gladwin did eventually get a shot away but once again the Cardiff ‘keeper was more than equal to a weak effort.
The ineffective Lex Immers was withdrawn with Kenneth Zohore with Aron Gunnarsson also coming on to replace Whittingham. Rangers had dealt with the former Aston Villa man with ease throughout. Conor Washington was also given seven minutes to try and impress, replacing the relatively anonymous Phillips.
Zohore was proving a difficult man to deal with in the closing stages – first dragging a shot wide of the left-hand upright – Pilkington bundling himself over once more in the aftermath, while he should have claimed all three points when put through, only for Ingram to get a strong hand on the ball and see it hacked away.
Morrison probably should have won it at the death but his header drifted harmlessly wide of the left-hand post. An even game that saw a late flurry from the hosts but both teams will be playing Championship football next season.
CARDIFF CITY: Marshall, Peltier, Morrison, Whittingham (Gunnarsson 81), Ralls, Noone, Pilkington, Connolly, O’Keefe (Ameobi 66), Immers (Zohore 80), Malone.
Subs not used: Moore, Turner, Dikgacoi, Lawrence.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS: Ingram, Onuoha, Hall, Hill, Konchesky, Henry, Luongo, Faurlin, Phillips (Washington 84), Chery (El-Khayati 72), Polter (Gladwin 66)
Subs not used: Lumley, Hoilett, Petrasso, Kpekawa.
Referee: Mr S Martin