Queens Park Rangers secured an impressive 3-1 victory over Ipswich Town at Portman Road today. A disappointing Christmas period had somewhat dented the Rs promotion hopes but second half goals from Niko Kranjcar, Gary O`Neil and Armand Traore secured the three points for Harry Redknapp`s side.
The QPR manager had made a raft of changes from his side`s FA Cup exit last week but an unproductive first-half did little to dispel any fears Rangers` poor form would come to a halt. Ipswich were swift in the counter-attack and only a pressurised clearance from a goalmouth scramble in Robert Green`s area kept the scores level. Charlie Austin came closest for the Rs as he had a close-range header superbly tipped over the bar.
The second-half saw the game spring to life, however, as Niko Kranjcar managed to sidestep three Ipswich defenders before finding the far corner of the net with a low shot from the edge of the area. QPR managed to sustain their early pressure and after Ipswich goalkeeper Dean Gerken had parried Austin`s low shot into the path of Gary O`Neil, Rangers had doubled their lead.
The game was put to bed with fifteen minutes to go as substitute Armand Traore capitalised on a defensive error from Tommy Smith as he slotted home for QPR`s third, the first time they had scored more than twice on their travels this season. An acrobatic goal from Smith secured a late consolation for Ipswich, but Rangers had already guaranteed themselves the three points.
Redknapp will be hoping his side can push on in the New Year and keep up the pressure on automatic promotion rivals Leicester and Burnley. He welcomes Huddersfield Town to Loftus Road next week and will certainly be hoping for a repeat performance from today.
Harry Redknapp made five changes from the team that lost against Everton in the FA Cup as Robert Green was reinstated in goal after Julio Cesar`s surprising call-up between the sticks. Danny Simpson, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Clint Hill retained their places in the QPR defence as Richard Dunne came back in to replace Nedum Onuoha.
Redknapp opted to swap both wingers from last Saturday as Armand Traore and Matt Phillips were ousted by Gary O`Neil and Yossi Benayoun. Tom Carroll and Joey Barton were used at the heart of the QPR midfield while Niko Kranjcar was employed in the ‘number 10` role behind frontman Charlie Austin.
Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy also decided to make a host of changes from his FA Cup tie last week. Goalkeeper Dean Gerken came in to replace Scott Loach while he fielded a defence consisting of Luke Chambers, Aaron Cresswell, Tommy Smith and Christophe Berra. McCarthy opted to select a base of three midfielders – Luke Hyam, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Cole Skuse sat in front of an attacking front three that boasted Paul Anderson, Paul Taylor and top goalscorer David McGoldrick.
KICK OFF: IPSWICH TOWN VS QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Football often throws up these little gems. After weeks of toiling away watching what can only be described as a barrage of unfathomable dross before deciding to spend £32.50 to go and watch an inevitable lifeless 0-0 draw in the heart of Suffolk, QPR then decide to unexpectedly put in a purposeful and galvanising performance, the stewards don`t prevent you from standing up for 90 minutes and Gary O`Neil gets on the scoresheet. I love football again.
It certainly wasn`t all plain sailing for Rangers; the first twenty minutes a microcosm of their season thus far – a much of a muchness with little to cheer about, in cold conditions. Karl Kenry replacing the composed Joey Barton on 40 minutes failed to assuage any persistent doubts over whether the game would erupt into a flurry of goalmouth action.
Two optimistic efforts from Yossi Benayoun and Gary O`Neil created the first openings of this encounter but in truth it was Ipswich who should have taken the lead midway through the first half. Luke Chambers, a constant threat down the right for Ipswich, had burst into the area on the right and saw his deflected shot well saved by Robert Green. A poor Joey Barton clearance gave Chambers another bite at the cherry, but his second effort went sailing into the stand behind the goal.
Just as good as they are at passing the ball aimlessly around the halfway line, QPR are excellent at taking truly woeful corners. Joey Barton, the culprit on the first two occasions, left the honours to Gary O`Neil whose pitiable effort fronted a swift Ipswich counter attack. A goalmouth scramble saw Chambers hook the ball into the QPR area before Barton managed to hack clear from Paul Taylor. QPR have failed to learn their lesson the last few months as again they were caught dallying in possession with the scores still level; the formidable Richard Dunne was luckily on hand to snuff out the danger from striker David McGoldrick after a loose pass from O`Neil.
Despite Ipswich looking relatively dangerous on the attack, QPR had a couple of chances of their own to go into half-time with a lead. Charlie Austin must be banging on Redknapp`s door every Monday morning asking why the tactics board doesn`t have ‘cross the ball for Austin to get his head on` scrawled across it. A lofted O`Neil cross was met by the leaping jump of the Rangers striker, akin to that of his 90th minute winner against Doncaster, and an almost certain goal was clawed away by Ipswich keeper Gerken.
Moments later a hopeful Clint Hill clearance saw two Ipswich defenders stare blankly at each other before letting the ball slip through to an alert Charlie Austin who was only stopped from a certain 12th goal of the season by an impressive last-ditch tackle from Mick McCarthy favourite Christophe Berra.
QPR have been left to rue poor selection issues and missed chances in the first half of games recently and despite a rather more promising and vigilant performance from Redknapp`s side, it was hard to see how anything had changed from their latest outings.
HALF TIME: IPSWICH TOWN 0-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
QPR`s tactical prowess seems to be heavily reliant on individual flashes of class at the moment. Unfortunately these instants in recent times have been about as prominent as Michael Owen`s current popularity, leading to the drab and lucky performances we have come to know and not love from QPR. Fortunately for Rangers the classy Niko Kranjcar stepped up to give QPR the lead with a stylish goal in front of the 1500 travelling faithful seven minutes after the restart.
The Croatian received a throw-in from the equally laidback, but far from poor, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, before ghosting past three Ipswich players and guiding the ball into the far corner of the net. Ipswich rallied with a prominent five minute spell of pressure as the solid Karl Henry and the unimposing Tom Carroll, who must have had on-going thoughts about his maths homework due on Monday, failed to get a grip on the game.
Eventually Rangers began to gain control of the second half, asserting themselves in a fashion deserved of their current league placing. They managed to double their lead in the 66th minute as a hopeful Charlie Austin shot was fortuitously parried into the path of a gambling Gary O`Neil who was on hand to net his first goal for the Rs. It`s this type of hunger and luck that not only win you games, but win you promotion.
Redknapp`s ethos at Tottenham was built under the attitude of attacking at pace. A lot of pace. It seems strange, then, that the 66-year-old seems insistent on persisting with the likes of the indifferent Yossi Benayoun when Armand Traore, admittedly an average Championship winger at best, has consistently provided a danger for the Rs whenever he has been given the freedom to maraud down the QPR left.
It was the Senegalese` pace that gifted QPR their third as another hooked Clint Hill clearance was amusingly sliced by Tommy Smith into the path of the onrushing winger. He guided the ball into the area before slotting home past the Ipswich keeper. He wheeled away rather delighted with himself.
QPR`s success has been built on a foundation of notable clean sheets this season but Ipswich managed to take home a small consolation with arguably goal of the day. Tommy Smith, villain at one end became hero at the other, as he acrobatically volleyed a Stephen Hunt injury time corner past Robert Green. Phil Dowd brought the game to a close with the QPR fans still in disbelieve that they`d scored more than two in a game, let alone away from home, beaten a side that hadn`t lost in ten and were still in touching distance with the media`s current favourite team Leicester City.
Redknapp will be pleased to see the back of a disappointing Christmas period and, transfer window pending, Bobby Zamora and his lugging overweight hip. The Rs fans will be hoping the gaffer, who no doubt will be delighted with a triffic performance, has learnt his lessons; play with speed, purpose and desire and you`re more likely than not going to score more than one goal in a game. Going to QPR games has been incredibly tough on the mind and soul these past few months but today certainly brought back that feel good factor all football fans yearn for.
FINAL WHISTLE: IPSWICH TOWN 1-3 QUEENS PARK RANGERS