QUEENS Park Rangers have leaped eight points clear at the top of the npower Championship following a last-gasp victory over ambitious Leicester City.
Ishmael Miller lit up a cagey affair as he sprung from the bench to slam beyond Portuguese international Ricardo to send Loftus Road into raptures.
Up until that point the sides had been inseparable with the Sven Goran-Eriksson’s Foxes perhaps shading the closely fought-encounter.
Chances for Andy King, Yuki Abe and talisman Yakubu went awry and the inspired change from Neil Warnock secured the crucial victory for the league leaders.
Swansea City and Nottingham Forest both faltered in surprising fashion against Scunthorpe United and Hull City respectively and the R’s took full advantage in a pulsating finish in W12.
Another game checked off, the gap extended and a first goal for the lively Miller – matters are proving prosperous at Loftus Road and the mark of champions was certainly in evidence today.
Neil Warnock named an unchanged line-up with Ákos Buzsáky lining up for the first time at Loftus Road since the turn of the year – Tommy Smith also lined-up on the bench for Rangers.
Paddy Kenny lined up behind the back four of Bradley Orr, Fitz Hall, Dan Shittu and Clint Hill with Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry once again in the middle of the park.
Buzsáky lined-up alongside Adel Taarabt and Wayne Routledge behind the impressive lone striker Heidar Helguson.
Leicester started with Ricardo in goal behind a back four of Kyle Naughton, Jeffrey Bruma, Sol Bamba and Ben Mee – without injury victim Patrick van Aanholt.
Yuki Abe and Richie Wellens lined up in the centre of the park, with Andy King and Matt Oakley playing wide – while Yakubu partnered Darius Vassell up front.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Leicester City
Neil Warnock was keen to stress the difficulty of this impending encounter and looking at the Leicester team-sheet it was easy to see why the R’s boss made such an assertion. Premier League experience in abundance for the visitors who harbour serious promotion ambitions themselves.
The former England manager brought his newly assembled squad to West London, a side that was hardly recognisable from the dour defensively-minded line-up cobbled together by former QPR manager Paulo Sousa.
From the off all the signs indicated that this would be a competitive encounter on a gloomy day in the capital. Richie Wellens set his intentions early on by keeping tight to Rangers playmaker Adel Taarabt, while Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry battled hard in the middle of the park.
Leicester meanwhile looked to their most effective outlet in Darius Vassell to forge another useful combination with Everton loanee Yakubu. It was the England international forward that would prove the thorn in QPR’s side.
For all of the creative players on the field, it was the defensive players that came to the fore, limiting opportunities and snuffing out attacks in their infancy. Indeed official Roger East seemed to stifle the flow with persistent whistling where unnecessary.
Shortly before the half hour mark Rangers carved out their opening opportunity when Helguson and Buzsáky combined for the Icelandic international to see his snap shot cleared away by the feet of reputable ‘keeper Ricardo.
The ‘keeper that thwarted Sven’s England on two occasions on the international stage was on hand to stop the in-form QPR forward on this occasion. Eventually the hosts managed to build a sustained period of pressure.
A succession of corners by Taarabt was nearly capitalised on by an unlikely source as Hall attempted an audacious bicycle kick that flew over the left-hand upright. Despite a period of positivity, Leicester were always likely to cause a threat and they nearly dealt a decisive blow moments later.
A speculative long ball from Ricardo found Yakubu who fended off Hall before sending a delightful chip goal-bound. The ball seemed destined for the net until Kenny pulled off a spectacular save, plucking the ball at full stretch and tipping the effort over the bar.
The long pass was not the only speculative aspect to Leicester’s game with the Foxes seeming to have a shoot on sight policy. Andy King was proving a tormentor and his rasping drive from 25-yards dipped wide of the left-hand post.
It was a warning sign for the hosts who were proving lacklustre at times and the resurgent visitors were proving more than a match for the division’s front-runners. Indeed had Leicester had this impetus from the start of the season this encounter could have proven even more decisive.
Nevertheless Rangers were happy to take the fixture into the break goalless as the Foxes continued to show signs of threatening shortly before the whistle. It was not vintage by any stretch of the imagination but it promised better for the second period.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers v Leicester City
The second started off in similar fashion to the first and credit must be due to Leicester for the drive and enthusiasm they attempted to inject into the opening minutes. Sol Bamba was in particular a rock at the back and snuffed out the majority of Routledge’s creative intention.
Whenever Rangers have encountered Leicester in recent times, Richie Wellens has been a pivotal figure and both he and Yuki Abe were alternating between pressurising and sitting deep in a bid to snuff out the creative talents that QPR had to offer.
Taarabt received a whack in the mouth and it worked as a good decoy as Buzsáky coasted in behind the fallen Moroccan and thrashed an effort at Ricardo’s near post. The Portuguese stopper beat the ball away from his right hand upright in a useful but all too rare opportunity for the R’s.
Taarabt then swept in a free-kick from the left only for Helguson to glance over the bar. The wave of pressure started to mount and it was clear that the hosts were on the front foot. They would have to err on the side of caution at the back however as they were nearly caught cold.
Wayne Routledge smashed an effort into the side netting after some useful play from Helguson, but substitute Matt Connolly was not able to curb his ball-playing instincts and nearly paid for what can only be described as naivety in the extreme.
Fellow substitute Martyn Waghorn nipped in behind the ponderous defender as bore down on goal, only to see his fearsome left-footed effort sail over the bar. Rangers responded with Taarabt fending off three men only to fire agonisingly across the target, evading the onrushing Helguson.
More useful play from the Foxes saw them press the hosts once more, and Yakubu’s pin-point cross found King and the central midfielder brought another tremendous save from Paddy Kenny. The stopper was once again proving why he is such a valuable asset to the Rangers effort.
Leicester were pressure and it would be fair to say that the R’s defensive unit was showing signs of crumbling. Shittu was dealing comfortably with the aerial battle but evidently his lack of prowess on the ground along with Connolly seemingly shot for confidence made for a tough final ten minutes.
With five minutes to go Warnock withdrew the visibly drained Taarabt and Ishmael Miller came on in his stead. He appeared to have licence to roam behind Helguson and this tactical gambit paid dividends in spade-fulls moments later.
A stunning through ball from Routledge saw the pacey West Bromwich Albion loanee shrugg off the sizeable Bamba and Ishmael Miller was able to lift the ball beyond Ricardo and send the capacity crowd into raptures.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Leicester City
No question where the impetus lie know as the game that was balanced on a knife-edge had now taken a huge sway towards the league leaders. Leicester appeared somewhat deflated but nevertheless didn’t throw in the towel.
A nervy final few minutes saw City press and Rangers have to display the battling credentials for which they have been lauded over the course of the season. Four minutes of added on time made for an exciting finish, as Rangers would have to cling on to their slender advantage.
As it stood Mr East blew his final whistle after five minutes of added on time and a priceless victory was confirmed. The final whistle was greeted as gleefully as results at the City Ground and Glanford Park, as there was now an eight point gap in place.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Leicester City
Queens Park Rangers
Kenny, Orr, Hill, Derry, Hall (Connolly 31), Taarabt (Miller 86), Helguson, Buzsaky (Ephraim 90), Faurlin, Routledge, Shittu.
Ricardo, Oakley, King (Gallagher 79), Bruma, Naughton, Wellens, Abe, Yakubu (Dyer 86), Bamba, Mee, Vassell (Waghorn 65).