QUEENS Park Rangers came up agonisingly short against league leaders Manchester City in a Sunday evening fire-cracker at Loftus Road.
As a bitter chill drifted across West London it was QPR that ignited the spark on an inspiring encounter – Jay Bothroyd’s towering header commenced the scoring with a bang.
Edin Dzeko epitomised the class and expertise of a league leading side when he waltzed inside of the Rangers defence and buried an equaliser beyond Paddy Kenny.
As Rangers searched for an equaliser their discipline buckled somewhat and World Cup winner David Silva netted an expertly taken goal on the counter-attack.
Lesser sides would have been consigned to defeat but Heidar Helguson netted a header after a pin-point Armand Traoré cross, before cracking a header off the bar with the game poised on a knife edge.
Yaya Touré was the man to separate the sides, ghosting past his marked to slam home a sublime headed winner. It was harsh on a home side that grafted from start to finish, but City displayed that ruthless edge that sees them placed at the summit of the Premier League.
Rangers were forced into several changes ahead of this fixture with Shaun Derry (groin), Fitz Hall (hamstring) and Adel Taarabt (illness) forced to drop out of the starting line-up – prompting a formation shift to 4-4-2.
Neil Wanrock started with Paddy Kenny behind a back four of Luke Young, Danny Gabbidon, Anton Ferdinand and Armand Traoré – while Jamie Mackie, Joey Barton, Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Wright-Phillips started in midfield.
Hot off the heels of his goal against Spurs, Jay Bothroyd was named in the starting line-up, partnering the evergreen Heidar Helguson in the attacking line – Jason Puncheon and Tommy Smith lined-up on the bench.
City drew on their glut of talent by selecting Joe Hart behind a back four of Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Stefan Savic and Aleksandar Kolarov – with Vincent Kompany suspended for the visiting side.
Yaya Touré, David Silva and Gareth Barry comprised the midfield three with James Milner and Sergio Aguero playing off Bosnian centre-forward Edin Dzeko. The calibre of player on the bench was enough to make their rivals drool as the league leaders came to town.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v MANCHESTER CITY
The fireworks were not confined to the privacy of Mario Balotelli’s bathroom, as a crisp November evening welcomed visitors Manchester City hot off the heels of their Champions League victory over Villareal.
It had all the makings of a fine encounter with City’s attacking endeavour meeting a supremely confident QPR side who could look to a home victory over City’s title rivals Chelsea as evidence of their capabilities.
While the noise was predominately confined to home areas, the players were nearly given a rude awakening when England international Gareth Barry engineered some space on the edge of the area before firing over the bar.
Step forward Heidar Helguson. The man whose goal separated Rangers and Chelsea nearly provided the perfect opening against City. The ball dropped out of the sky and the Icelandic international struck a volley just wide of the left-hand upright.
It was positive, enterprising football from the home side – who really made their star-studded opposition look ordinary at times. Allowing City to play the ball out from the back before pressurising in midfield and forcing the errors to capitalise on.
On the 15-minute mark Helguson once again caused discomfort in the league leaders’ rearguard when he latched onto a good Joey Barton pass before driving into the area and getting a shot away – testing Joe Hart low down.
The Ice-Man was proving the lynch-pin in the attacking line, linking up midfield and attack to such a crucial degree. He and Barton combined once more from the latter’s corner only for a looping header to drop agonisingly beyond the right hand upright.
One must never discount the City threat – something to which I’m sure their local rivals will testify – and in particular the industrious David Silva was pulling the strings in the middle of the park to great effect.
He could only stand and watch as Queens Park Rangers took a deserved lead courtesy of another well worked set-piece from the feet of former City man Joey Barton. His expert kick dropped into the perfect gap and Jay Bothroyd powered a header beyond Joe Hart.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-0 MANCHESTER CITY
The crowd reaction was impeccable and the goal itself was met with evident delight from chairman Tony Fernandes. An excellent header from Bothroyd who will draw the deserved plaudits for his well-executed goal.
A warning shot was fired across the bows when Edin Dzeko wormed his way into the area only to be denied by Anton Ferdinand from point-blank range, but the buoyant Rangers crowd continued to urge their side forward against the league leaders.
City then had Hart to thank for some heroics between the posts following a glorious Rangers counter-attack. Gabbidon played a stunning through ball for the pace of Shaun Wright-Phillips to see him stride away from his marker.
The fleet-footed wide-man was hailed by the visiting side prior to kick off and his cross was powered towards goal by Jamie Mackie only for Hart to deny the striker from point-blank range. Helguson’s follow-up with a diving header was ruled offside.
City were starting to display their class in the attacking third, with Sergio Aguero asking questions of the Rangers defenders. A narrow escape came as Ferdinand was alert to hack away for a corner when the diminutive forward wriggled through a couple of challenges.
The very same centre forward forced a smart save from Paddy Kenny as the half started to see more of City’s encouraging attacking endeavour that has seen them haul some memorable results this season.
The difference between the two sides could be described by the width of a post in an eventful couple of minutes. The ever-reliant Helguson whipped in a phenomenal cross from the right for the lively Bothroyd.
The forward peeled away from his marker before nodding an effort back across goal. The ball seemed to drift for an eternity as it clipped off the base of the right-hand upright before rolling wide for a goal kick – agonising stuff for the visitors.
As if by magic the visitors capitalised just moments later with some excellent attacking, passing play. David Silva once again was the architect when he played a neat interchange with Edin Dzeko.
The Bosnian forward had it all to do and performed his task with breathtaking ease. On the left flank he came inside before faking to shoot, dummying beyond the outstretched leg of Ferdinand and burying beyond the outstretched right arm of Paddy Kenny.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-1 MANCHESTER CITY
Back down to earth with a bump, but nevertheless the voices grew louder in the crowd to urge their side on to half time. City were going for the throat, looking to overturn the scoreline before going into the break.
Their best chance to do this came on the stroke of the break as the lively Aguero bought some space in the area before firing an effort off the base of the left hand upright – a sigh of relief could be breathed however as Martin Atkinson called time on a lively half.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-1 MANCHESTER CITY
Time to take stock of a positive first period for QPR as they could be far more pleased with this showing than last week’s rather meek opening half in the baptism of fire at White Hart Lane.
It was Rangers that once again came flying out of the traps and the influential Barton nearly reasserted the hosts’ advantage when he received the ball from Helguson and fired a stinging drive goal-bound.
Hart was equal to the strike, palming away the drive but Barton was inspired by now. Another drive just a minute later saw the ball fly over the upright but sparked another positive outcry from the home supporters.
Rangers attacking endeavour was their biggest downfall, a sad footnote on an excellent opening to the second period. Armand Traore’s speculative cross found its way to Dzeko on the edge of the area to disastrous effect.
The Bosnian forward fed David Silva who in turn did the rest. He raced away from his marker down the left before burying a low drive beyond Kenny at his near post and sending the visiting support into delirium.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-2 MANCHESTER CITY
City were thriving on their leadership of the encounter and Rangers were left for dead on occasions by some of the quick passing football. Dzeko placed wide when well placed and further underlined the requirement for conitnual work-ethic from the hosts.
Dzeko once again provided Rangers with food for thought, forcing Paddy Kenny into another smart save at point-blank range as Silva’s influence displayed an almost unrelenting grip on the spectacle.
The encounter ebbed and flowed with an intriguing edge as Rangers made calculated efforts to get forward and create opportunities. Jamie Mackie’s famed work-rate showed little sign of relaxing as he gave the City rearguard cause for concern.
A deflected effort from the edge of the area found its way rather fortunately to the hands of Hart before another useful run and cross from Traoré saw the former Plymouth front-man volley over the bar when well-placed.
Make no mistake this encounter was as even as they come and despite City’s evident financial advantage, this was not being borne out on the field of play as the second period wore on.
Then came a moment that Rangers fans craved, a deserved equalising goal – coming from the feet of Traoré – the Senegalese international unfazed by the outcome of his previous effort whipped in a delightful ball from the left.
Bothroyd managed to get a glancing blow on the delivery with Heidar Helguson stealing a march on his marker to plough a header beyond Hart via the aid of an attempted clearance.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 2-2 MANCHESTER CITY
A sweet moment for Helguson and Rangers – the Icelandic international was proving a pivotal influence on this encounter netting his third strike in four games – rejuvenation for the veteran forward.
He who laughs last laughs loudest however, as QPR continued to plough forward in search of a dream winner. Manchester City meanwhile managed to engineer a counter-attack of their own and punish the buoyant hosts to full-effect.
Kolarov showed excellent fitness levels and stamina to burst down the left and his cross was expertly weighted for the onrushing Yaya Touré. The onrushing midfielder rose above Gabbidon to drive a powerful header beyond Kenny.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 2-3 MANCHESTER CITY
Gabbidon, who had performed admirably throughout given his recent return from injury, was beaten to the ball by the powerful midfielder – that extra nought on his weekly pay-cheque paying dividends on this occasion.
Jason Puncheon was thrown on in an attempt to create more width, while Mario Balotelli was also introduced at the expense of Gareth Barry – Adam Johnson had also entered the fray for the visiting side.
Rangers were throwing the kitchen sink at City in an attempt to draw the fixture level once more – from here on it would be all Queens Park Rangers. Barton was once again the architect in chief for the hosts.
Barton’s cross against the team for which he started it all was met by the head of Helguson only to see the ball bounce agonisingly back off the left hand upright and hacked away to safety.
Tommy Smith was thrown on in a bid to make that extra telling difference, an extra pair of legs to get at a tiring City back four and it made for interesting viewing in the final moments.
Nevertheless it was to be City’s day as the Blue Moon continues to rise. Rangers meanwhile could point to great heart and spirit against the league leaders that put five past Spurs and six past Manchester United.
With the two sides now content to go into the international break in their relative positions, it promises much for the return for both line-ups leading up to their forthcoming fixtures.
FINAL WHISTLE: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 2-3 MANCHESTER CITY
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Paddy Kenny, Luke Young, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon, Armand Traoré (Clint Hill 90), Jamie Mackie (Tommy Smith 84), Alejandro Faurlín, Joey Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jay Bothroyd (Jason Puncheon 77), Heidar Helguson.
Joe Hart, Micah Richards, Joleon Lescott, Stefan Savic, Aleksandar Kolarov, Yaya Touré, Gareth Barry (Mario Balotelli 75), David Silva, James Milner, Sergio Aguero (Adam Johnson 67), Edin Dzeko (Kolo Touré 88).