HEIDAR Helguson nodded home a stoppage time winner as Queens Park Rangers preserved their six-point lead at the top of the Championship.
In an encounter that was surprisingly open, Rangers grafted to claim all three points despite succumbing to a late Crystal Palace equaliser.
Former Champions League winner Edgar Davids cast a shadow of his former self, dropping a clanger to let in Jamie Mackie, who in turn supplied Adel Taarabt the opener.
It appeared that despite a tough blow for defender Kaspars Gorkss, Rangers were going to cling on but Wilfried Zaha laid on Kieron Cadogan in a bitter blow for the visitors.
The renewed vigour and tenacity displayed by Neil Warnock’s QPR saw them climb from the pit of despair with Helguson leaping highest to nod past the forlorn figure of Julian Speroni.
A result that proved harsh on the relegation-threatened hosts, but once again displaying why Queens Park Rangers are genuine contenders this season.
Neil Warnock opted to name an unchanged side for the fourth game in succession as he prepared to face his former charges.
Paddy Kenny started behind a back four of Kyle Walker, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly and ex-Eagles defender Clint Hill, while another former Palace man Shaun Derry partnered Ákos Buzsáky in the middle.
Adel Taarabt played in advance of the duo with Hogan Ephraim and Jamie Mackie supporting lone striker Heidar Helguson in the customary 4-2-3-1 formation.
Crystal Palace made two enforced changes from the side that held Cardiff City in the Welsh capital, with Neil Danns and Claude Davis being replaced by Julian Bennett and Andy Dorman stepping in.
Julian Speroni started behind a back four of Nathaniel Clyne, Paddy McCarthy, Alex Marrow and Bennett, with Marrow exchanging places with Edgar Davids in midfield.
Davids was partnered by Andy Dorman and Owen Garvan in the middle of the park with Wilfried Zaha and Kieran Djilali playing off ex-Ipswich Town forward Pablo Counago.
Clyne – McCarthy – Marrow – Bennett
Zaha – Dorman – Garvan – Djilali
Walker – Connolly – Gorkss – Hill
Buzsáky – Derry
Mackie – Taarabt (c) – Ephraim
Kick Off: Crystal Palace v Queens Park Rangers
A London derby with a bit of extra added bite, Neil Warnock returned to Selhurst Park looking to secure his second successive win over his former charges. The top performer last season, Ákos Buzsáky started in the heart of midfield as a partisan atmosphere filled the air in South London.
The heavens opened over Selhurst Park making for slick playing conditions, and the hosts seemed to thrive early on with a flurry of attacks. Only the width of a post denied them the opening after the Eagles took the direct route towards goal.
A high-lofted ball into the area was knocked down by full back Julian Bennett, former St Mirren man Andy Dorman was the first to react as he slammed an effort back off the right hand upright. An early warning sign for Rangers who clung on to their impressive clean sheet record.
Rangers are becoming a different kind of animal under Warnock however and undeterred they ploughed forward and but for the impressive reactions of Julian Speroni would have taken the advantage themselves at Selhurst Park.
Useful link up play from Shaun Derry and Hogan Ephraim in the middle of the park saw the latter slide an excellent reverse pass through for Jamie Mackie. The first touch of the R’s top scorer wasn’t ideal and Speroni was able to send out a telling arm to deny Mackie a path to goal.
Despite Rangers attacking endeavour there were times that they were found wanting in defence. Clint Hill was left up the field following a corner and Wilfried Zaha raced away down the right flank. He hared away with breath-taking ease as he set eyes on goal.
His right-footed effort was stopped expertly by Paddy Kenny low to his left, before Zaha’s second attempt was cleared away by the feet of the R’s stopper. Quick reactions from the QPR ‘keeper who is displaying part of the reason he has nine clean sheets to his name.
Rangers continue to plug away and but for some inspirational ‘keeping from Speroni would have been a goal to the good. The Argentinean stopper made amends for parrying Adel Taarabt’s effort by snaffling away from the feet of Mackie for a goal kick.
Barely moments later Rangers were on the attack once more and Ephraim showed Bennett a clean set of heels down the right flank. His resultant cross was clipped away from the onrushing Helguson, who would surely have netted without his intervention.
A real end to end affair in a surprisingly open encounter in South London, the game ebbed and flowed with the Taarabt threat attempting to be nullified by experienced Dutch international Edgar Davids. Occasionally he crept away from his man and evidence of this soon presented itself.
His cross to the far post was cleared as far as Walker, who turned the ball back into the mix. Helguson picked up the ball before his subsequent cross saw Palace nod the ball back off their own upright. Desperately unlucky for Rangers who now had some defending to do.
A corner from the hosts was swung into the heart of the area and Bennett thought his glancing header would nestle in the right hand corner. He didn’t count on Ephraim hacking clear on the far post to preserve the stalemate going into the break.
Opposite ends of the table, yet the game was balanced on a knife edge with attacking endeavour from both sides only being cancelled out by a moment of inspiration at the back. The two sides went into the break with the fixture perfectly poised for an exciting second period.
Half Time: Crystal Palace 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
Crystal Palace opted to make a change at half time at it proved a tad bizarre in truth. The Spaniard Counago, who was working the Rangers defence, was replaced by Kieran Cadogan which pushed Zaha through the middle.
There could be little question that the importance of the first goal would prove paramount and the start to the second period was a little less expressive as both sides look to cautiously probe the opposition. Palace didn’t account for a glaring error from their most experienced campaigner however.
Picking up the ball in the middle of the park, Davids cut a tired figure as he nonchalantly stroked back towards Speroni. The pace was distinctly lacking as Mackie stole in with all the reactions of a poaching centre forward.
The striker succeeding in rounding the Argentinean ‘keeper this time out and was presented with an acute angle. He cleverly rolled aside for Adel Taarabt and the Moroccan placed casually into an empty net.
An excellent opening to the second period which saw the league leaders in front. Given the way they had defended previously it would be difficult to see them falling behind to their relegation threatened opposition.
GOAL: Crystal Palace 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
The R’s were a goal to the good and the bouyancy of the travelling support was met by the effort and commitment of the players, such as Taarabt. Previously the Moroccan cut a frustrated figure but was full of vim and vigour, looking sprightly and ready to attack the Palace rearguard.
His corner handed another chance to Rangers as he turned in a near-post centre from the right. It was met with ferocity by the head of Helguson, but the power skewed the accuracy as he turned it around the left-hand upright.
Palace were distinctly lacking a presence in the forward line, something that Counago offered in the first period. Zaha was in truth being marshalled expertly by the likes of Gorkss and Connolly who repelled any direct balls that came their way.
It wasn’t long before the experienced Davids was replaced and despite a good reception from the crowd, the player making his home debut will be aware that his mistake had cost his side the impetus in proceedings.
Anthony Gardner – suffering ostensibly with fitness issues – came on in his stead, pushing Marrow back into his more comfortable position in the centre of midfield. It certainly looked a more comfortable style for Palace who turned the screw on the visitors.
Djilali was proving a menace down the left flank, but was more than matched by Kyle Walker, celebrating his call-up to the England Under-21 squad. Zaha and Cadogan were proving the main threats in truth despite their aerial inefficiencies.
Tommy Smith was given some valuable game time with Taarabt given a breather by boss Neil Warnock and looked to take the game to the hosts from the off. He was matched by the effort and work-rate of Walker on the other flank who darted back and forth between defence and attack.
It was soon apparent that some of the players were flagging from their endeavours as Buzsáky made way for former Eagle Mikele Leigertwood. He wasn’t afforded the same reception as Hill and Derry however, booed onto the pitch.
Palace continued to pile on the pressure with Calvin Andrew proving a useful change for Burley’s men. He was inches away from connecting with an Owen Garvan free-kick, as Kenny got the slightest of touches the force the ball for a corner.
Then came the moment to break Rangers’ spirits – the first goal conceded in six games as Crystal Palace appeared to have claimed what was a deserved point at Selhurst Park. The goal, to the frustration of Warnock was sheer simplicity in its making.
Zaha beat Hill and Ephraim with consummate ease and the enterprising wide-man centred for the substitute Kieran Cadogan. The youngster, brought through by Warnock at Palace, placed home past Kenny from close range to level matters on 89 minutes.
GOAL: Crystal Palace 1-1 Queens Park Rangers
A bitter blow for Rangers who had fought resiliently to hold the resurgent hosts, but in fairness to QPR, far from resting on their laurels, looked to apply the pressure on the elated hosts. They earned a corner effective immediate as the fans responded to their efforts.
93 minutes were on the clock as Tommy Smith tricked his way into a crossing position down the left flank, and his far post cross dipped perfectly to Heidar Helguson. A cross that had previously gone wayward was soon forgotten as the Icelandic international lept highest to glace home an incredible equaliser.
GOAL: Crystal Palace 1-2 Queens Park Rangers
Palace protested furiously for a non-existent foul and credit has to go to Mr Friend for not relenting to some heavy pressure on that count, while scenes of jubilation and elation ensued among the travelling supporters who had once again seen their side take three points from nothing.
There was little time to respond for the Eagles who by now looked bereft of any kind of endeavour following what was a sucker punch from a steely Neil Warnock side, a side that simply do not know when they’re down.
Eight wins in ten for Rangers with only three goals conceded while sitting six points clear at the top of the npower Championship. A last minute goal only served to accentuate the feeling around Loftus Road at present.
At times they rode their luck, but the Dunkirk spirit was in evidence once more as Rangers edge a close encounter in a keenly-fought London derby.
Final Whistle: Crystal Palace 1-2 Queens Park Rangers
Julian Speroni, Nathaniel Clyne, Paddy McCarthy, Alex Marrow, Julian Bennett, Edgar Davids (Anthony Gardner 59), Andy Dorman (Calvin Andrew 79), Owen Garvan, Wilfried Zaha, Kieran Djilali, Pablo Counago (Kieran Cadogan 46)
Queens Park Rangers
Paddy Kenny, Kyle Walker, Matt Connolly, Kaspars Gorkss, Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Ákos Buzsáky (Mikele Leigertwood 83), Jamie Mackie, Adel Taarabt (Tommy Smith 72), Hogan Ephraim, Heidar Helguson.