HEIDAR Helguson netted a goal either side of half time to dispatch of Crystal Palace and bolster Queens Park Rangers’ promotion charge.
The Icelandic international helped dispel the negative press of the past week by bundling home an opener carved out by the educated feet of Adel Taarabt.
Against the run of play the Eagles levelled as James Vaughan evaded the offside trap to slam the ball beyond an unguarded Paddy Kenny.
For all of their possessional and territorial dominance QPR found the encounter a gruelling battle – Paddy McCarthy handed Rangers a lifeline as he hauled down Taarabt in the area.
A sublime pass from the ex-Palace wide-man Routledge saw the Moroccan get the wrong side of the ponderous McCarthy and Helguson dispatched the spot kick with effortless precision.
Rangers’ passing play was a joy to behold with the extra man at their disposal and the moments of promise for Palace were in isolation as QPR cantered to the victory.
With Swansea City and Nottingham Forest once again slipping up, confidence is beginning to mount at Loftus Road – promotion is now within touching distance.
Neil Warnock made two changes from the side that were defeated by Millwall with Fitz Hall and Tommy Smith recovering from injury to replace Ákos Buzsáky and the suspended Dan Shittu.
Paddy Kenny started behind the back four of Bradley Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Hall and Clint Hill – Shaun Derry partnered the man in the media of late, Alejandro Faurlín in the middle of the park.
Smith joined up with Adel Taarabt and Wayne Routledge behind front-man Heidar Helguson, with Ishmael Miller lining up with Buzsáky on the bench.
Palace had Julian Speroni behind his back-line of Nathaniel Clyne, Paddy McCarthy, Anthony Gardner and Dean Moxey. David Wright and Kagisho Dikgacoi lined up in the centre of midfield.
Skipper Neil Danns lined up in advance of the pairing with Darren Ambrose playing wide right, while Steffen Iversen lined-up alongside Everton loan forward James Vaughan.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Crystal Palace
Alejandro Faurlín was the previous unsung hero of the Queens Park Rangers line-up, indeed he would go about his duties with effortless ease, making the game tick alongside Shaun Derry in the centre of the park.
The Argentinean was thrust into the limelight during the week when stories regarding his transfer surfaced culminated in talk of points deductions and the subsequent derailment of the Rangers promotion charge.
It would be fair to say that the backing was evident for the cultured midfielder prior to the opening whistle, with the home supporters backing their under-fire midfielder. It gave that extra spice for what was sure to be a keenly-contested London derby in front of a packed Loftus Road.
The opening moments of the game saw Rangers settle down in the early offing and play some calm and composed football – this comes in the wake of criticism that the leaders have been too direct at times, not a hint of that in the early stages.
Martin Atkinson put his stamp on the encounter early, rather harshly booking Vaughan for a late challenge on Kaspars Gorkss. In what was possibly the first tackle of the encounter, the Premier League official was quick to the draw on this occasion.
Taarabt was displaying some excellent creativity and nearly carved out a goal when his surging run from midfield saw him strike the ball wide of the right-hand upright. Palace had offered the Moroccan the space, the opportunity for which he rarely declines.
Palace in turn were using the industrious nature of Neil Danns along with the sprightly Vaughan and the aerial prowess of veteran Steffen Iversen. The Norwegian hit-man was winning a lot of the aerial challenges and helping contribute to the Palace counter-attacking charge.
In truth it was QPR and Taarabt in particular that played tormentors and shortly before the 20 minute mark they had just reward for their early dominance. The Moroccan had some nice interchange in the area before his shot cut across the target.
Heidar Helguson ghosted in unmarked to slide the ball home and hand the league leaders a priceless advantage. Once again it was deserved on the balance of play as the galvanised table-topping side had the lead at Loftus Road.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Crystal Palace
The R’s were passing their way through the Palace midfield and certainly the highly billed Darren Ambrose was a shadow of the player that lit up the Championship last season. QPR were passing the ball around nicely with Shaun Derry and Alejandro Faurlín the engine room in the heart of midfield.
Taarabt once again sauntered forward with the ball and caressed another effort inches wide of the right-hand upright. The Moroccan was certainly in the mood and his interchange with Faurlín was proving fruitful once more.
The midfield playmaker then drew a save from Julian Speroni, an effort which was well-held by the Argentinean stopper before Helguson missed two excellent opportunities to double the advantage for the hosts.
He was inches away from a Bradley Orr cross as he stooped to narrowly miss a diving header, before he timed his jumped well at the far post to send a Clint Hill centre inches over the left-hand upright. The chances were coming thick and fast and Palace could consider themselves lucky not to be a man short.
Iversen was called-up for a handball before Vaughan continued to play a good five seconds after the whistle was blown to slam the ball into the back of the net. Arsenal and Robin van Persie will know all to well the fallacy of continuing in this manner, but referee Atkinson gave Vaughan the benefit.
Lucky for him and the Eagles that he did as five minutes before the break he helped level for the visiting side. Darren Ambrose picked up the ball in the middle of the park before laying a through ball in the direction of James Vaughan.
The striker wasted no time in narrowly evading the offside trap before beating Paddy Kenny at his near post in what was the Eagles’ first opportunity of the afternoon. Nevertheless with Rangers’ wasteful in front of goal credit must go to the visiting side for capitalising of QPR’s profligacy.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Crystal Palace
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Rangers who nearly re-took the advantage moments before the break, and a familiar face was on hand to give the league leaders a swift reply to their latest set-back.
Wayne Routledge was receiving the customary reception from the club he left in the top flight, and the lively wide-man managed to escape his marker before a left-footed strike flew over the bar and into a buoyant away end.
The Eagles fans were certainly loud and proud after hauling matters level and over 3,000 supporters populating the School End made for a cauldron of noise in what is an atmospheric ground. It had all the feel of a London derby as the two sides went into the break.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Crystal Palace
The first half only served to whet the appetite of fans and neutrals alike as the two sides played out an entertaining opening period. Taarabt led out the Rangers’ charges in what would need to be a big half from league leaders.
They certainly carved out the majority of early pressure with a succession of corners testing the resolve of the Palace rearguard. Helguson perhaps could have done better when heading at Speroni in the six-yard box, but it promised much for an exciting half of football.
It was proving one way traffic and the possession lied predominantly with the hosts, as they asserted the impetus from the off. Barely ten minutes into the half and a decisive blow was struck following a sublime through ball.
Routledge’s vision created Ishmael Miller’s effort against Leicester, this time it was for Taarabt to latch onto. The Moroccan showed impressive strength to get beyond McCarthy and the defender went to ground with the playmaker through on goal.
The referee had little hesitation in pointing to the spot, rather justifiably as Taarabt’s legs were taken away without a hint of the ball. The subsequent decision was a formality as positioning dictated that McCarthy was sent off.
You may have been forgiven for forgetting there was a penalty kick in the offing, and credit must go to Taarabt for allowing Heidar Helguson to step forward and take the kick. The Icelandic international was composure personified as he caressed the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 2-1 Crystal Palace
Dougie Freedman – a former QPR youth product – reacted fast to the set-back by introducing Claude Davis at the expense of veteran forward Iversen. Faurlín grew in his influence on the encounter, controlling the midfield and utilising the extra man to full effect.
Taarabt tried his luck from distance once more and it was becoming immediately apparent as to why he topped all attempts charts in the npower Championship. Vaughan was replaced by Jermaine Easter after the hour mark as Palace sought for a fresh presence in the forward line.
Despite their numerical advantage the game was looking far from a formality, and as is customary in these scenarios, the visitors began to rally. Ambrose sent a right footed free-kick wide of the right-hand upright, much to the belief of the home support.
In attempting to combat the Palace attacking endeavour Rangers attempted to slow proceedings down to a manageable pace, grinding them down by spreading the ball across right across the line. Palace responded by throwing on exuberant young forward Wilfried Zaha in place of central midfielder Wright.
Midfield duo Derry and Faurlín both tried their luck from distance but were thwarted by Davis and Speroni respectiely. Rangers continued to apply subtly directed pressure on the Palace back-line, focusing their attacking intentions right across the back-line, utilising the extra space afforded to them.
Palace meanwhile were looking to the pace of Zaha in order to get into a flagging back-line, indeed Fitz Hall’s last ditch clearance defined how finely this game was poised and how despite having the numbers, that slender advantage was still in place.
Taarabt was handed a yellow card for a carbon copy of the offence by Vaughan previously in the game, rather making a mockery of the consistency of the Premier League official, a point echoed by Neil Warnock to fourth official Mr Woolmer.
Hogan Ephraim and Ákos Buzsáky entered the fray at the expense of Tommy Smith and skipper Adel Taarabt, the latter receiving a standing ovation from Loftus Road after what was another scintillating display.
Rangers were keeping their play predominantly short in the closing stages – an understandable tactic given their position in the fixture. After four minutes of added on time the final whistle was blown and the R’s had picked up a momentous victory.
The victory leaves QPR ten points clear that summit of the npower Championship and another game ticked off in the race for promotion. The R’s now face Doncaster Rovers in a game that could once again prove decisive in the Premier League push.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 2-1 Crystal Palace
Queens Park Rangers
Paddy Kenny, Bradley Orr, Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Fitz Hall, Adel Taarabt (Ákos Buzsáky 89), Heidar Helguson, Alejandro Faurlín, Kaspars Gorkss, Wayne Routledge, Tommy Smith (Hogan Ephraim 86).
Julian Speroni, Nathaniel Clyne, David Wright (Wilfried Zaha 75), Paddy McCarthy, Darren Ambrose, Neil Danns, Steffen Iversen (Claude Davis 55), James Vaughan (Jermaine Easter 62), Dean Moxey, Anthony Gardner, Kagisho Dikgacoi.