PAVEL Pogrebnyak placed another nail in the coffin of Queens Park Rangers’ survival bid, as Mark Hughes’ men slip perilously close to the bottom three.
While the game was certainly not vintage Premier League football, Fulham did what can only be described as a professional job against a lacklustre home side.
The warning shot was fired when Andy Johnson struck home while offside – a warning that was not heeded as the giant Russian rounded Paddy Kenny to slot into an empty net.
Samba Diakité saw red in the first half to cut his debut short, the naive Malian went in for a succession of tackles that failed to achieve the desired result – ultimately seeing his afternoon curbed.
An organised Fulham side kept possession despite QPR coming out for a customarily improved second period, but their professionalism won out as the hosts remain on shaky ground.
Mark Hughes made three changes from the side that were defeated at Blackburn Rovers with Fitz Hall, Akos Buzsaky and Shaun Derry dropping out and Clint Hill, Samba Diakité and Jamie Mackie coming in for the hosts.
Paddy Kenny started behind a back four of Nedum Onouha, Hill, Anton Ferdinand and Taye Taiwo. Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joey Barton, Diakité and Adel Taarabt started in midfield with Jamie Mackie starting alongside Bobby Zamora.
Fulham started with Mark Shwarzer behind a defence of former QPR man Stephen Kelly, Brede Hangeland, Aaron Hughes and John Arne Riise. The midfield trio comprised of Bryan Ruiz, Danny Murphy and Moussa Dembélé with Andrew Johnson and Clint Dempsey flanking Pavel Pogrebnyak.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v FULHAM
There could be no mistake that all eyes were on Mark Hughes and Bobby Zamora after their respective departures from Craven Cottage – Hughes’ brief stint has raised the ire of Fulham supporters while Zamora’s deadline day departure down the road was never going to earn him many fans by the river.
The sub-plot was far more poignant, Rangers’ survival hopes would be given a shot in the arm with a win against a team with a dismal away record – eight Premier League wins on their travels in four years underlined the requirement for a positive home performance and result.
Loftus Road was bathed in sunshine as the two locked horns in a feisty early exchange. A couple of daisy cutters from Adel Taarabt and Taye Taiwo displayed a willing intent to test the visiting stopper Shwarzer, but sadly lacked the direction and placement to truly test the experienced Australian.
In riposte Fulham were picking gaps at will and a cross from the left allowed Andrew Johnson to nod home with aplomb off the underside of the cross bar – celebrations were cut short with the linesman’s late offside flag to spare the blushes of a beleaguered Rangers back-line
A trip to Portugal last week was also with a view to ironing out the creases of a rusty rearguard – and stamping out the slow start to fixtures that Rangers have suffered of late. Seven minutes gone and the warning failed to be heeded as the visitors had the advantage.
Some neat passing play involving the lively Moussa Dembélé saw the Belgian nonchalantly play in PAVEL POGREBNYAK – the Russian cut a composed figure in the extreme to round Paddy Kenny and coolly slot into an empty net.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-1 FULHAM
The breathtaking simplicity of the goal was a worrying sign indeed as Fulham fairly played at walking pace before scything open a static Rangers’ defence. More danger was to come moments later as the visiting wave continued to wash over a ponderous unit.
Ruiz was able to take the ball into his stride before laying in Clint Dempsey – the American international was able to strike hard but fortunately wide of the right hand upright – another in a string of opportunities for a rampant visiting side.
Rangers were offering power-puff stuff in response to Fulham’s early strike – Adel Taarabt once again taking the attack by the scruff of the neck to force Shwarzer at least into a sweat but in truth it was catching practice for the experienced ‘keeper.
Samba Diakité was certainly putting himself about and rather justifiably picked up a booking for four rather clumsy tackles – the culmination of these earning the Malian a caution. The corpse finally twitched however as Rangers started creating.
Wright-Phillips bought an inch of space down the right to deliver a powerful drive which was parried by Shwarzer. Zamora and Taarabt both followed up for the hosts with Shwarzer saving and the Moroccan lashing side – an offside flag also cut the move short.
Diakité was sailing a little to close to the wind when he brought down Johnson and that naivety saw him fly into a tackle with Bryan Ruiz on 33 minutes and he can have little argument in seeing red – Phil Dowd using all his licence but you cannot excuse the naivety of a young debutante.
A mountain to climb with ten men, against a professional set-up in Fulham – things were looking bleak for QPR and Mark Hughes as once again their temperament cost them dear. Joey Barton, Djibril Cissé and now Samba Diakité all seeing red at Loftus Road.
Barton himself shanked an effort over the bar before the most speculative of drives from Nigerian Taiwo cleared the goalmouth and drifted out over the far side for a throw in. The only saving grace from a home perspective was the scoreline – but nevertheless Rangers had let ill-discipline and Premier League naivety reign supreme.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-1 FULHAM
Once again the corpse twitched as QPR came out the blocks with a little more ambition and collective endeavour. Taarabt displayed magnificent skill to run direct and the visiting defence before clipping the ball too close to Shwarzer.
Moments later he was at it again – receiving the ball on the left the Moroccan was afforded space and let fly with a curling right-footed effort. Sadly for him and QPR it flew away to the right hand upright. This time in the reverse fixture he was catching a bus, this time out he was looking far more sprightly.
Fulham were keeping the ball and attempting to take the sting out of the fixture – only a speculative drive from Pogrebnyak around the 50-minute mark showed any sign of attacking endeavour from the comfortable visitors.
Again the professionalism of Fulham was proving too difficult for ten men, and ultimately making the fixture die a death in terms of entertainment. Rangers were the more creative of the pairing but unable to break through a stubborn defence.
This had much to do with the dominant Brede Hangeland, who marshalled Zamora astutely throughout. Former colleagues, it was the defender that had by far the better of this particular joust and seems destined for bigger things.
Barton’s deep corner was too much for Clint Hill who nodded into the stand, always stretching away from the long delivery. Dembélé and Riise received bookings with Ruiz perhaps lucky not to go into Phil Dowd’s book himself for a deliberate handball.
It was walking pace for the visiting side who in fact were frustrating elements of their visiting support with their lack of ambition – frustration was certainly the order of the day as Barton received a volley of abuse from sections of the home crowd. Whether it was justifiable is open to debate, but when you put yourself out there, you’re there to be shot at.
Neat play from QPR nearly punished the lacklustre and comfortable visitors with Mackie linking up nicely with Onouha before carving out a shot inches wife of Shwarzer’s right hand post – inches away from drawing level in a game where Fulham should have been out of sight.
A worrying development ensued at Taiwo was forced to limp from the field with an injury, being replaced by Armand Traoré – this time in his more customary position of full-back instead of central midfield.
Dembélé hauled down Barton with the midfielder ghosting away from the Belgian. The consistency of Mr Dowd was called into question for the first time in the fixture – never one to shirk a big decision, Dowd dispelled his previously punishment regime to wave away Dembélé and the appealing Mark Hughes.
Then however came the highlight of the second period as the playmaker Taarabt played a sublime through ball for Wright-Phillips. The winger opted to shoot when Mackie was unmarked in the middle and the glorious opportunity once again went awry – blocked away by Shwarzer – an excellent stop lost on both officials as a goal kick was given.
The home side kept attempting to come forward but it proved fruitless as Fulham should have doubled their lead. Substitute Dickson Etuhu profited as Pogrebnyak bundled Ferdinand out of his path, but rolled stunningly wide of the left hand upright.
It mattered little as once again Rangers’ displaying some element of fight and creativity for part of a fixture was laid bare. For the third fixture in succession they gave themselves a mountain to climb and were found wanting where it mattered most.
Fulham were dull as dishwater, but were extremely professional in their task. Once the goal was scored Jol shrugged off any manner of creativity – had Shaun Wright-Phillips afforded an opportunity the composure the build-up deserved, the Dutchman could have been left with egg on his face.
As it stood, Rangers were left a goal down and a man down – and despite performing in fits and starts it is clear to see to even the most ardent optimist – QPR are now facing the stark possibility of relegation.
FULL TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-1 FULHAM