QUEENS Park Rangers have succumbed to a second successive defeat and sit rock-bottom of the Premier League after defeat at home to West Bromwich Albion.
Albion were helped to a double over a hapless QPR when Chris Brunt rifled a powerful drive beyond a poor Robert Green from considerable distance.
Despite some spells of positivity Rangers were left to rue their own errors when the calamitous Green, albeit under pressure failed to field a looping ball in his own six-yard box.
The ‘keeper looked bemused as opposed to angry as his team-mates led the protest, but the QPR stopper should have done far better, palming the ball into his own net.
Rangers did reduce the arrears when Stephane Mbia scythed a stubborn Baggies rearguard open with a slide-rule pass as Djibril Cissé finished with aplomb, chipping over Ben Foster.
Throwing caution to the wind QPR had a cast iron penalty turned down when Mbia’s header was handled quite evidently by substitute Liam Ridgwell.
It was too little too late for QPR who deservedly return to the foot of the table and must now regroup to face Liverpool at the weekend.
Harry Redknapp made two changes from the side defeated up at Newcastle United, with Ryan Nelsen (flu) sidelined while Shaun Wright-Phillips was preferred to the abject Esteban Granero in the important home clash.
Rob Green started behind a back four of Fabio da Silva, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill and Armand Traoré. Stephane Mbia, Alejandro Faurlín and Adel Taarabt played through the middle with Jamie Mackie and Shaun Wright-Phillips playing off Djibril Cissé.
West Bromwich Albion made three changes from the side that were held at home by West Ham United – Boaz Myhill, Shane Long and Peter Odemwingie dropping out with Ben Foster, Marc Antoine-Fortuné and Romelu Lukaku coming in.
Foster started behind a defence of Billy Jones, Jonas Olsson, Gareth McAuley and Goran Popov. Chris Brunt, James Morrison and Youssouf Mulumbu lined up in midfield with Zoltan Gera and Fortune supporting Lukaku.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v WEST BROMWICH ALBION
Rangers had been rocked by the news that Ryan Nelsen would have to sit out with the flu, and while those outside the club may not see the significance of the veteran New Zealander having to sit out – but he has been an integral role in QPR’s defence this campaign.
Albion came to Loftus Road as a side built on the bedrock of efficiency bestowed to current boss Steve Clarke by now England manager Roy Hodgson – his maintenance of Hogdson’s methodical management has seen the Baggies thrive thus far.
Kick off was delayed by 15 minutes due to accidents in the local area combined with the frankly farcical planned roadworks on the A40 and the tube drivers’ strike meant that fans had to vie with Boxing Day shoppers to get to the game on time.
When the fixture kicked off under a deluge of rain, it was the home side that looked to force the issue – Stephane Mbia flashed a right-footed drive beyond the left-hand upright in the opening minute to epitomise the more confident feeling among the players.
Baggies midfielder James Morrison saw an attempt drift narrowly wide a moments later as the two sides traded early blows. The Scotland international scored the first in the reverse fixture earlier this season and went close in the early offing.
Rangers responded inside ten minutes when Adel Taarabt found Fabio da Silva down the right flank, the Brazilian’s centre was deflected behind for a corner when Foster was forced to push the ball behind after it struck Youssouf Mulumbu.
A lull in play was prompted by a conservative Baggies line-up, contented to win and retain the ball without really trying to carve out anything of note. Shaun Wright-Phillips beat turned back the clock to beat his man and deliver a cross of note – Jamie Mackie’s header was wayward as he glanced across the target and wide of the right-hand upright.
West Bromwich Albion did take the lead when CHRIS BRUNT was allowed to wriggle free of Taarabt before being afforded the space to power an effort from distance that skipped beyond a desperate Rob Green and into the corner.
The sheer ferocity of the shot combined with the testing elements was too much for Green to handle as he arguably hit the ground too late to see the ball drift beyond him and into the bottom corner – Julio Cesar watched on from the bench.
Rangers have suffered from a great deal of self-pity and others have thrived on this aspect of QPR’s game – Morrison unleashed a volley looping just over Green’s bar to fire another warning shot towards a now charmed goal-mouth.
Defensive indecision caused Traoré and Clint Hill to bump into each other from a routine long ball for the ball to eventually be fed for Zoltan Gera, with the Hungarian spurning an excellent opportunity to curve wide of of the right hand upright.
With that evident warning shot fired the referee blew the half time whistle. It was certainly not a vintage opening period, with Rangers creating chances but ultimately succumbing to a soft goal from distance, albeit well struck.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-1 WEST BROMWICH ALBION
A disappointing opening to the period saw Lukaku nearly cap off a sharp move for the Baggies, only for the Chelsea loanee to react too slow as a cut-back struck his standing leg and roll straight to the grateful Green.
Liam Ridgwell – on for the injured Goran Popov – was forced to clear away a Taarabt set-piece for a corner. The Moroccan – who is not going to the African Cup of Nations – fired in the corner for Mbia to misguide his header right back to the taker.
His second delivery was just as precise with Mbia this time glancing a header inches wide of Foster’s right hand upright. Close but no cigar for the Frenchman, who had chanced his arm a couple of times for the beleaguered hosts.
Albion counter-attacked with great vigour and Jones’ centre was nearly turned into his own net by Anton Ferdinand, who cut a shaky and nervy figure throughout in the absence of the man-mountain that is Ryan Nelsen.
Eventually however, Rangers were to put the ball in their own net with Green the guilty party. Brunt’s centre skipped up in the area and into the six yard box. Gera and Green vied for the ball with the Hungarian backing into and forcing Green over.
The ‘keeper fell backwards and parried the ball over the line with his outstretched palm. While referees give decisions such as these week in, week out, for some reason a decision was not forthcoming and Green’s lack of strength was exploited.
Rangers will feel hard done by given this calibre of decision on different grounds every week, but Green could have dealt with the situation far better in truth, being knocked off balance all too easily and compounding a poor display thus far.
The minutes seemed to drift by with the Baggies retaining the ball and time-wasting in order to eat away at the time clock. In fairness to the visitors, Chris Foy scarcely looked up to warn various players for the quite evident offence.
Another corner from Taarabt failed to meet its mark as Foster claimed ably, much to the frustration of not only the supporters, but also the defenders who made the long trudge back into their half without reward.
Green attempted to atone for his error by making a smart save from Lukaku. Sublime interplay saw Gera feed the sizeable forward who could only pick out Green from close range despite having time at his disposal.
Rangers’ plight was rather epitomised when Fabio struck a wayward effort well wide of the upright from distance – a little more common sense and less naivety in these situations would serve Rangers better.
Redknapp changed things around by going three at the back, Junior Hoilett replaced Fabio while the tiring Faurlín was replaced by Samba Diakité. Changes probably made with a view to sparking some life into the attacking third.
In those attacking areas, Taarabt was being ably marshalled by Mulumbu who in turn was being hailed by the travelling support that populated the upper School End. They nearly sucked the ball into the net when Lukaku broke the offside trap.
The forward strode free before delivering a left-footed shot that was ably fielded by the feet of Green. Not long after the hour mark however, the flow of the encounter changed somewhat when Rangers halved the arrears.
Stephane Mbia marauded into the Baggies’ half like a man possessed, showing a great deal more ambition and passion than those around him. His through ball was sublime, scything a gaping hole in the otherwise stubborn rearguard for DJIBRIL CISSÉ to run onto.
The Frenchman roared in behind to lift with expert composure over the onrushing Foster to halve the deficit and put passion back on the pitch and into the stands – which in fairness had remained alarmingly quiet throughout the fixture.
Rangers were now rampant with moods changing around the ground. Mackie broke into the Baggies half with a wave of supporters roaring behind him. His resultant shot was tame by comparison, ably fielded by Foster.
Still Rangers pressed further, Taarabt’s effort also failing to truly test the former England goalkeeper in a period of one way traffic – the Baggies hanging on and looking to complete the encounter on the break.
Lukaku was withdrawn with an arguably better forward in Shane Long, who seemed to take up a position slightly off the front. Mbia glanced another Taarabt corner wide of the mark as the clock continued to tick on at a rapid pace.
Rangers went one closer moments later when another Taarabt corner found Clint Hill, but an excellent one-handed save thwarted the day’s skipper. In the melee that ensued the ball was hacked away by the Baggies back line.
The hosts continued to press and should have had a penalty when a deep Hoilett cross found Mbia. His header back across the target was met with an arm held aloft by Ridgwell. Quite unbelievably the referee looked at the linesman, delayed a decision then waved it away with all the confidence the situation certainly didn’t merit.
The five minutes given by the official for injury time was rather an insult considering the time wasted alone exceeded this and taking into account the substitutions, it should have been closer to eight minutes from an official that was happy to be carried by the game and refuse to make the important decisions.
The referee called time on the game as QPR will wonder quite how they’ve let points slip on this encounter. Albion lacked ambition, particularly since their goals came to pass, but they will walk away with three points from a well-fought encounter.
Rangers must now contemplate a home encounter with Liverpool and a trip to Chelsea with Redknapp’s task getting no easier as Rangers enter the second phase of the campaign.
FULL TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-2 WEST BROMWICH ALBION