RANGERS were defeated for the third time in four games in a lacklustre display away in Birmingham in front of the Sky cameras.
A defensive lapse in the first period gave Garry O`Connor the opportunity to cross for Kevin Phillips, and the striker slammed the ball home from close range to hand the Blues the points.
Rangers could offer very little in reply, only speculative strikes from distance, and lack of service to danger-man Lee Cook cost the R`s dear.
For once it wasn`t Radek Cerny as the major talking point, but Dowie`s persistence in playing Mikele Leigertwood in the middle of the park when Gavin Mahon was withdrawn despite being one of Rangers most influential talents.
As it stands Rangers drop out of the top half of the table, and a two week break ensues for Iain Dowie to pick his troops back up off the floor.
Iain Dowie has bowed to the critics and shifted to the 4-4-2 formation, the irony being that the R`s would have been better equipped with a slightly more defensive formation.
Patrick Agyemang was given a starting berth alongside Dexter Blackstock, while Daniel Parejo and Emmanuel Ledesma dropped to the bench after a poor performance midweek. Mikele Leigertwood`s introduction saw Martin Rowlands pushed out to the right midfield area.
Sebastian Larsson was recalled to the starting line-up for the Blues after being forced to withdraw against Derby with a slight hamstring strain. James McFadden and Cameron Jerome were rested, giving Kevin Phillips and Garry O`Connor a chance to display their talents, Phillips scoring 5 goals in the last 6 appearances against the R`s.
Kemy Agustien was given the opportunity to continue in his midfield role with the Tunisian Mehdi Nafti dropping to the bench. Blues also included central defender Liam Ridgewell, a Rangers fan in his youth.
Birmingham City v Queens Park Rangers
Rangers started the early stages of the game in sharp fashion, and a full blooded tackle from Gavin Mahon typified the R`s efforts in the early stages. However Mr. D`Urso saw fit to give the give the Blues a free-kick after Mahon had taken the ball.
Rangers fan Liam Ridgewell thought he had put the Blues in front as he clambered above Radek Cerny to place home into the top corner. It was indeed an effort that Diego Maradona would have been proud of as the former Aston Villa man glanced the ball in off his hand – subsequently earning himself a booking.
Quincy was causing Ramage some problems down the right flank, as his trickery found full back David Murphy on the overlap, but his cross was well dealt with by the Rangers defence. The R`s were offering little in respite as Radhi Jaidi was proving a tough opponent to bypass. Jaidi himself was lucky not to be cautioned when he powered into Agyemang in the air, but Mr D`Urso opted to let play continue.
Damien Delaney burst through down the left flank on 20 minutes to clip a delightful cross into the heart of the area. Dexter Blackstock clattered into Ridgewell before Lee Cook put his powerful effort straight into the arms of Northern Ireland international Maik Taylor. Another startling omission from Mr. D`Urso that nearly handed the R`s an opening.
More fanstastic interplay from Rangers created another opportunity as Agyemang knocked the ball down well for the onrushing Damien Delaney, he refused the opportunity to strike, squaring to Martin Rowlands, whose first time effort fizzed over Taylor`s bar, in the first real chance for Rangers. More tentative play ensued as Rowlands couldn`t carve out an opportunity on the edge of the six yard box, holding the ball too long, which eventually went out for a goal kick.
Quincy moved over to the right flank to test Delaney, the R`s forced him inside onto his unfavoured left foot, but he managed to carve out a right footed cross, which swerved diagonally to Kemy Agustien who rose above Peter Ramage to head straight into Cerny`s arms.
Mikele Leigertwood had a good opening for Rangers when Agyemang fed the combative midfielder from Dexter Blackstock`s knockdown. But the former Crystal Palace and Sheffield United man bent the ball woefully wide from the edge of the area.
It was proving to be one of those afternoons for Rangers, who had the ball bouncing about the Blues penalty area, with what represented a rugby ruck taking place as Rangers drived for goal, the ball was half cleared and Gavin Mahon steamed through to send a rasping shot inches wide of the right hand upright – another big chance for Rangers who were struggling to find their killer instinct once more.
Former Arsenal forward Quincy laid in Garry O`Connor with a sublime pass, but Radek Cerny held his position to thwart the Scottish international. It was an excellent stop from Cerny who begins to redeem himself with the support of the travelling fans.
But it was just into added on time in the first half that Birmingham broke the deadlock, suggestions of offside against Garry O`Connor were quashed as he got in behind Fitz Hall, his excellent square ball into the box was perfectly placed for the onrushing Kevin Phillips to finish with ease from close range for his 236th career goal.
Birmingham City 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
Arguably a deserved goal, but Rangers held their own in a keenly contested first period, plenty of appetite from the Rangers midfield, and notably forward line, as Agyemang was forced to chase balls into the channels, but nevertheless they lacked that cutting edge with which to take the bull by the horns and score a goal.
The sides went into the break with the Blues holding the slender advantage courtesy of Rangers nemesis Kevin Phillips – perhaps a bid should have been launched for his signature in the summer in light of the R`s lack of striking options.
Half Time: Birmingham City 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
Blues were unfortunate not to be two goals to the good early in the second period when full back David Murphy latched onto a sublime Phillips touch down to lash a right footed drive inches over the bar, an early warning for the R`s.
Birmingham forced the R`s back into their own half, as Rangers simply couldn`t get hold of the ball. Possessional play was the order of the day for the Blues as Radhi Jaidi rose majestically above Fitz Hall to force Cerny into an excellent close range save.
Cerny and Hall were at odds to explain an incident where there was a distinct lack of communication, Cerny came to the edge of the area, then was hesitant to take the ball off the R`s number 5, but eventually the matter was resolved.
The Blues were continually dominating possession, as the R`s could muster very little in terms of a counter-attack. Blackstock`s half chance header from the cross of Damien Delaney was comfortably dealt with. Kemy Agustien could consider himself lucky to be on the field when you consider Mr D`Urso`s track record – he flung an errant high boot at Mikele Leigertwood, which left the midfielder with a nasty gash on the shin.
Rangers had a decent spell with the ball at their feet, with Lee Cook, mesmerising Stuart Parnaby down the right flank with some excellent footwork. Rangers` most influential talent, worked his way out of a non-existent gap to square the ball for a cross to which Blackstock rose highest straight into the arms of Taylor – not that it mattered as a foul was awarded.
The game was being played out in the middle of the park, with the Blues content to pass the ball about and probe for an opening, and Rangers chasing the game, seeking any sort of slip-up`s that Birmingham had to offer. A cross from deep on the right was sent into a useful area, but none of Rangers attacking options attacked the ball that drifted wide of the far post.
Akos Buzsaky took to the field in place of Gavin Mahon, a decision which puzzled a few Rangers fans behind the goal, as Mahon was seemingly the only player capable to getting hold of the ball in the middle. While Mikele Leigertwood seemed the obvious choice to leave the field remained in the middle of the park.
The ongoing battle between Leigertwood and Agustien was brought to a head with 20 minutes remaining as Leigertwood was cautioned for using an errant elbow.
Radhi Jaidi was proving a challenge for Fitz Hall, and his delightfully floated header from a set piece had to be tipped over by Cerny. The Tunisian beat Hall all ends up, and but for Radek Cerny, may have sewn the game up as a contest.
A player of Premier League experience, James McFadden took to the field for Blues in place of the diminutive Quincy, whose impact had been minimalised in the second period. Rangers were looking lacklustre as skipper Martin Rowlands was withdrawn with Emmanuel Ledesma taking to the field in his stead.
Rangers were beginning to look bereft of ideas against the side with the best defensive record in the Championship, but urgency was a real issue and Rangers seemingly could not produce the answer, as Blues attempted to keep hold of the ball at every given juncture.
Lacklustre turned to sloppy as Rangers` crosses became wayward and misplaced, with Damien Delaney skying a right-footed effort from Peter Ramage`s cross. An excellent ball in from Ramage but a lack of technical skills proved vital on this occasion.
Ramage`s last action of the match as Dowie gambled tactically with just under 5 minutes remaining. Matthew Connolly replaced the former Newcastle United defender, in a move that shifted Fitz Hall up top alongside Blackstock and Agyemang.
But the move was to no avail as Rangers succumbed to another defeat on the road, and their third defeat in the last four games. More lack of killer instinct from the R`s proved vital as the side looked physically drained and lacking a real leader on the pitch following the withdrawal of Mahon.
Under the watchful eyes of Mr. Briatore the R`s couldn`t add to their solitary win at St. Andrews back in 1984, and after four long minutes of added on time Rangers were condemned to another disappointing defeat.
Birmingham City: Taylor, Murphy, Ridgewell, Larsson, O’Connor, Phillips (Jerome 80), Agustien, Jaidi, Owusu-Abeyie (McFadden 75), Carsley (Nafti 50).
Rangers: Cerny, Delaney, Stewart, Mahon (Buzsaky 68), Hall, Leigertwood, Blackstock, Agyemang, Rowlands (Ledesma 80), Ramage (Connolly 87), Cook.
Radek Cerny – 6/10
Didn`t have a great deal to do in terms of catching crosses, but performed admirably in what could have been a difficult tie. He got down well to Garry O`Connor at one stage and caught the majority of chances that came his way – A slight improvement from Radek.
Peter Ramage – 6/10
The defender did what he does well – defending. Some of the away end seemed to be expecting him to bomb down the flank and deliver a world class ball, he is a central defender that needs to be cut some slack. He cleared the ball when it was required, and did pick out a couple of telling crosses.
Damien Delaney – 5/10
Damien struggled again today, and hasn`t really had a good game this season. A little more competition in the full back area may have seen Delaney slip out of the side. Famous for his runs into the opposing half, his support for Cook dried up, and he was found wanting in behind in defensive areas.
Damion Stewart – 7/10
Damion did very well dealing with O`Connor and Phillips, in the air he was immense, and passed the ball intelligently. His game has really come on this season, as the errors from last campaign appears to have dried up when playing alongside Fitz Hall.
Fitz Hall – 6/10
Was caught out for the goal as O`Connor was allowed to coast through unmarked as square to goal scorer Phillips. He is building a useful partnership with Damion Stewart as the Blues never truly cut the R`s open – an extended run in the side with Stewart is required if his injury woes can hold up.
Martin Rowlands – 6/10
Rowley was a bit out of sorts on the right flank, and persistently came inside looking for the ball, voiding his responsibility of adding width to the R`s side. He perhaps could have hit the target with a couple of efforts, but couldn`t find his killer instinct in every fashion.
Lee Cook – 8/10
Undoubtedly Rangers most creative outlet, and certainly didn`t deserve to be on the losing side. His confidence continues to grow game upon game and it is reflected in his performance. Rangers didn`t utilise Cookie anywhere near as much as they should have – had they used him more, Rangers may have bagged a goal.
Mikele Leigertwood – 5/10
Barely picked out a Rangers player in the second period and looked bereft of ideas and confidence, quite why he was not withdrawn remains a mystery to some, but not to Mr. Dowie, who withdrew the influential Mahon once again. Not a great display from Leigertwood, who is a real Jekyll and Hyde sort of player.
Gavin Mahon – 7/10
Another influential player for the R`s as he won the ball back in the middle with his strength and played the ball out wide to more creative outlets. His withdrawal was a farce and frankly foolish from Iain Dowie as Rangers then struggled to get any sort of foothold on the game.
Patrick Agyemang – 6/10
Lots of effort from Patrick Agyemang, but a distinct lack of variety in movement cost the R`s dear. His work ethic was undoubted as he was forced to feed on scraps for the majority of the game. He was only considered today because of the formation shift, otherwise Dexter`s lone roaming role would have ensued.
Dexter Blackstock – 6/10
Not really as effective as he might have been up front alongside Agyemang, but at times was forced to feed on scraps from the R`s attacking line. A couple of half chances with header for Dexter in a game where the former Southampton striker became isolated on several occasions.
SUB: Akos Buzsaky
Replaced Gavin Mahon
Didn`t have any influence on the game as a spectacle, as he was thrown on to do so. Buzsaky scarcely got a touch of the ball after his introduction, and will certainly need to have more of an impact on Iain Dowie if he is to start in a fortnight against Nottingham Forest.
SUB: Emmanuel Ledesma
Replaced Martin Rowlands
Rangers looked a little more lively when Ledesma took to the field, but never looked much like threatening much. His trickery worked some gaps down the right that weren`t previously in evidence. May be in line for a start when the Forest game comes around.
Replaced Peter Ramage
Didn`t really get much of an opportunity to display his talent in the final few seconds. His introduction shows he is still above Gorkss in the pecking order due to his versatility.
Iain Dowie: 5/10 – Had Rangers playing some dire stuff today, and the loyal travelling support didn`t get much for their money. Withdrawing Gavin Mahon was not so much negative but foolish, but the introduction of Buzsaky was certainly warranted. Dropping both Ledesma and Parejo perhaps wasn`t the way to go speaking in hindsight.
Alex McLeish: 6/10 – In a spectacle that certainly wasn`t pleasing on the eye, the Scotsman got enough out of his players to produce a win. Will not be happy that several of his stars played under-par at times, but nevertheless his side kept the ball better and deserved the win.
Andy D`Urso: 4/10 – It came to be expected that this referee wouldn`t be up to the job, and a string of poor decisions in the game stifled it as a spectacle, as the pernickety referee set about his task of becoming centre of attention – Not a good display but nevertheless expected.