QUEENS Park Rangers can close the chapter on a regrettable FA Cup decade with a slender win over League One Milton Keynes Dons.
There can be little question that the hosts made hard work of the encounter with the Dons the more sprightly of the duo, and can perhaps feel aggrieved at being edged out.
QPR looked sluggish at times as the visiting side carved out some excellent opportunities, purporting a slick brand of football that belied their League One status.
Shaun Wright-Phillips’ corner then found Danny Gabbidon to shatter the flow of the encounter and nod the visiting side a goal in front – a lead they would not relinquish.
Not since 2001 have Queens Park Rangers been victorious in the competition, as they look to take the victory alone as a building block for Saturday against Wigan Athletic.
With all the rumours surrounding possible changes, Mark Hughes opted for only one change from the side that were defeated at Newcastle United this weekend – Federico Macheda coming in for the rested Heidar Helguson.
Paddy Kenny started behind a back four of Luke Young, Danny Gabbidon, Anton Ferdinand and Clint Hill. The midfield quartet consisted of Jamie Mackie, Shaun Derry, Akos Buzsaky and Shaun Wright-Phillips with Jay Bothroyd partnering Macheda in attack.
Milton Keynes made two changes from the side that held QPR last time out with Daniel Powell and Gary MacKenzie making way for Charlie MacDonald and Matthias Doumbe – MacDonald has FA Cup history against Rangers, scoring his first senior goal against the R’s for Charlton Athletic in 2000.
David Martin started behind a back four of Adam Smith, Doumbe, Shaun Williams and Dean Lewington. The midfield comprised of Dean Bowditch, Stephen Gleeson, Darren Potter and Luke Chadwick with Jabo Ibhere and MacDonald in attack for the visitors.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v MK DONS
Suffice to say that the appetite for the FA Cup had long since dried up in W12. 11 years without a win and on the cusp of an unwanted record for the amount of games without a victory in the prestigious domestic competition.
The initial tie had seen Milton Keynes in front courtesy of a Dean Bowditch goal only for lady luck to shine on Queens Park Rangers as Heidar Helguson evaded an evident offside flag to round David Martin and net a late leveller.
For many Milton Keynes followers the chance they sensed had passed – but this was certainly not the vibe emanating from the just short of 2000 supporters that came to W12 and built their own atmosphere prior to kick off.
Sit this against the backdrop of a QPR support that were still reeling from a set of poor results and performances that saw them slump into the relegation zone – primarily owing to their one home win this campaign.
Buoyed by their travelling support Milton Keynes adapted to the crisp conditions seamlessly, playing some neat football and searching for the target man Jabo Ibhere who lead the line adequately for the visiting side in the reverse fixture.
It took a while for the first opportunity to be carved out by either side with former Manchester United youth product Luke Chadwick firing straight at Paddy Kenny when well place on the edge of the area.
In riposte, QPR were looking far less confident in possession, with a succession of poor results putting a visible dent in their already fragile confidence – the simplest of passes were going awry and the modest home crowd responded in kind.
Jay Bothroyd has been the subject of criticism from sections of support – albeit somewhat unjustly at times – but he did little to endear him to his doubters by lashing a wild effort high, wide and handsome of the left hand upright.
Rangers were struggling to carve out opportunities and the Dons were looking by far the more comfortable on the ball. As at the stadium:mk the visitors were controlling the possession in good areas of the field.
Adam Smith was looking lively in his full-back berth and a speculative drive went wide of the mark before the half hour mark. A cross from the right from the Tottenham Hotspur loanee also found MacDonald in a great position only for the striker to screw his header wide.
It was a glorious chance for the Dons with Kenny rooted to the spot and the forward skulked back to the centre spot with a rightfully rueful expression. Seconds before the half hour mark Rangers almost belied the flow of the fixture.
Neat interplay from Buzsaky saw Wright-Phillips haring through the middle to latch onto a nice through ball. The winger who has yet to register a goal for Rangers tried to squeeze the ball in the near post – only to be denied by Martin.
From the resultant corner Rangers thought they had taken the lead. A Buzsaky corner was dispatched by Derry only for Mr Dowd to call play back for a foul on Martin – albeit fortunate for the ‘keeper. Just minutes later the Dons should have had the lead.
Shaun Williams – who had ably dealt with the intentions of Bothroyd and Macheda throughout – executed an excellent slide-rule pass for MacDonald. The forward opted to prod with the outside of his right foot as it drifted wide of Kenny’s right hand post.
A let off for Rangers who looked a bag of nerves in a tentative opening half – the more alarming aspect is that with the exception of a couple this was the team that looks set to face Wigan Athletic on Saturday.
The two sides traded late speculative blows with Buzsaky sending a stinging driving fizzing just over the left hand upright while former Ipswich man Bowditch fired well over from outside the area.
The referee brought down the curtain on a first half that lacked goal-mouth opportunity but more importantly highlighted the requirement for more quality among the QPR set-up with several evidently struggling for confidence.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-0 MK DONS
The two sides emerged from the break in a bid to dispel the lack of genuine opportunity in an opening half bereft of genuine quality and inspiration. Rangers struck first after some useful work in the early offing.
Hill worked some space down the left to great effect before his pin point delivery saw Bothroyd glance tamely into the grateful arms of Martin – a let off for the Dons who had been caught cold from the break.
Midfield playmaker Stephen Gleeson was next to try his luck, being teed up nicely on the edge of the area before firing a right footed effort into the army of Kenny – a warning sign for the lacklustre hosts.
Milton Keynes were starting to play some useful football, primarily marshalled by some excellent work down the flanks. Both Lewington and Smith were imperious in their respective berths, delivering useful crosses to feed on.
Ibhere was giving some considerable food for thought to Ferdinand and Gabbidon, who were struggling to cope with the strength of the former Leyton Orient man. All Rangers offered in riposte was another Bothroyd glanced effort straight into the arms of Martin.
Then came the visitors onslaught – firstly another Smith pin-point cross saw Ibhere fail to make contact from close range with the goal at his mercy – but closer still was to come for the League One side.
Gleeson again was gifted the freedom of Loftus Road to fire a low right-footed effort inches wide of the left-hand upright – it was every bit as close as it felt as Hughes decided to act quickly to change the tide.
As on Saturday it was striker for midfielder with Tommy Smith coming on for the ineffectual Macheda – Wright-Phillips playing more advanced behind Bothroyd. It was the Dons once again that continued to display their energy and will to snatch the tie however.
Spurs loanee Smith continued to light up a drab affair by cutting in from the right and firing left footed past Kenny’s left hand post. In truth the stopper had it well-covered but the space afforded to Smith saw him pose rightful questions of his defenders.
One moment then sparked Loftus Road into life – an audacious effort from Buzsaky from fully 35 yards out saw Martin at full stretch to deny a surprise strike. A long time coming that Rangers had threatened directly from a set-piece.
He was withdrawn with Helguson coming on in his stead with sections voicing their disapproval at his withdrawal. Whether it was tactical genius, luck or a mixture of the both – Rangers had the lead from the resultant set-piece.
Wright-Phillips now stepped over the effort and curled right footed into the area with Danny Gabbidon rising highest to nod beyond Martin despite the best intentions on the goal-line. A sigh of relief rather than celebration but Rangers were in front.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-0 MK DONS
Daniel Powell was thrown on for the visitors in place of Dean Bowditch in order to freshen up the attacking outlets and the forward looked intent on getting stuck into the back four effective immediate.
Only a last ditch tackle from the rejuvenated Ferdinand denied the forward a dash on goal, while Ibhere saw his name go into the book for a wild challenge on Derry – something the ar’s midfielder is familiar with given his stern treatment of Yohan Cabaye at the weekend.
Luke Young was nearly on the scoresheet after some neat exchanges of passing play down the right, drilling right at Martin when well placed on the edge of the area. Still Milton Keynes pressed for that elusive equaliser.
The pressure was palpable but to QPR’s credit they refused to buckle and manfully defended their target. A clear disappointment was seen in a struggle to retain the ball in key areas to preserve the advantage but nevertheless it was enough on the day.
11 years, 12 managers, 16 fixtures and at last a victory to their name – Queens Park Rangers are in the hat for the fourth round since 2001 – and their reward is the old enemy rolling down the road from SW6.
Immense credit must go to Karl Robinson’s men who made QPR look fools for good proportions of the two games, but nevertheless Rangers found that ever-elusive incisive edge to put a wedge between the two clubs.
FINAL WHISTLE: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-0 MK DONS
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Paddy Kenny, Luke Young, Danny Gabbidon, Anton Ferdinand (c), Clint Hill, Jamie Mackie, Shaun Derry, Akos Buzsaky (Heidar Helguson 72), Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jay Bothroyd (Bradley Orr 86), Federico Macheda (Tommy Smith 62).
MILTON KEYNES DONS
David Martin, Adam Smith, Dean Lewington, Matthias Kouo-Doumbe, Stephen Gleeson, Darren Potter, Dean Bowditch (Jay O’Shea 83), Charlie MacDonald, Shaun Williams, Jabo Ibehre, Luke Chadwick (Daniel Powell 74).