A SPIRITED second half performance wasn`t enough for Queens Park Rangers to take all three points against a Birmingham City side contented with the stalemate.
It was an uphill struggle for the home side, particularly when Lukas Jutkiewicz nodded home after defensive indecision from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink`s side.
Against the run of play, Rangers did level up with Steven Caulker netting for the second time this season with a good low header from a set-piece – cue the tiresome set-piece statistic.
Rangers went on to dominate the second half with loanee Pawel Wszolek particularly impressive down the flank – Seb Polter thrown on to accompany Idrissa Sylla at the death.
It didn`t yield the desired result however as both sides had to settle for a share of the spoils. The home side frustrated; the visitors by comparison very contented.
A predictable eight changes from the team that lost to Sunderland in the EFL Cup – Steven Caulker, Jordan Cousins and Idrissa Sylla the only survivors from the midweek defeat.
Alex Smithies started behind a defence of Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall, Caulker and Jake Bidwell. Massimo Luongo was joined by Ariel Borysiuk in the heart of midfield with Cousins, Tjaronn Chery and Olamide Shodipo starting behind Sylla.
Birmingham City meanwhile started with Adam Legzdins behind a back four of Jonathan Spector, Michael Morrison, Ryan Shotton and Jonathan Grounds. Stephen Gleeson and Maikel Kieftenbeld were the midfield parting with David Davis, Che Adams and Jacques Maghoma playing in behind Lukas Jutkiewicz.
ONUOHA – HALL – CAULKER – BIDWELL
LUONGO – BORYSIUK
COUSINS – CHERY – SHODIPO
SPECTOR – SHOTTON – MORRISON – GROUNDS
GLEESON – KIEFTENBELD
DAVIS – ADAMS – MAGHOMA
Rangers had hit a bad patch in recent times and despite playing the ‘calm down dear` card prior to kick off – Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will have known going into this one that a defeat will have been viewed perhaps more dismally than usual given Rangers` recent record.
It was a nervy but relatively uneventful opening to the game with Jordan Cousins giving the game some life in the opening ten minutes. With supporters settling in for the long slumber, the former Charlton Athletic man clipped wide after an Idrissa Sylla knock-down – could have done better, but a chance nonetheless.
It was his final action of the game as he was forced to withdraw through injury. Hot off his appearance in the EFL Cup, Pawel Wszolek was the man to replace Cousins – perhaps a more orthodox right winger for the home side.
Steven Caulker`s glanced header fell wide before visitors Birmingham started to turn the screw in a half they had begun to take to the home side. First Lukas Jutkiewicz found Alex Smithies in wonderful form, tipping away to his right, before Nedum Onuoha took his time with a clearance – nearly allowing Jacques Maghoma an excuse to nip in.
The pressure did eventually pay off with Maghoma`s deep corner routinely knocked back by Michael Morrison, the unmarked LUKAS JUTKIEWICZ touched the ball over the line with his head to hand the visitors the lead. Dismal set-piece defending from the home side in a very routine goal.
The home support was predictably displeased as the Blues piled on the pressure, albeit with speculative efforts. The strong Jutkiewicz was bullying former Birmingham man Grant Hall with a veteran`s display and got several pot shots away at Smithies` goal – thankfully none troubled the Rangers number one.
The referee had forgotten to bring his spray out onto the pitch but that should have been no excuse for young wide-man Olamide Shodipo. Repeatedly given the opportunity to retreat by the referee, he frankly ignored the official and picked up a contender for world`s most pointless booking.
After all of the above Rangers managed to haul themselves level. A Tjaronn Chery corner from the right found the towering STEVEN CAULKER who nodded ably beyond Legzdins. A fine low header from the QPR central defender to drag the home side to parity.
They were desperately trying to toss away that parity before the break – fortunate then it was defender Michael Morrison left totally unmarked from a Maghoma corner. The defender`s shot was high, wide and handsome from just outside the six-yard box. He made a meal of what in truth was a routine opportunity.
It was a disappointing half from the home side who could only take solace in the fact that they weren`t out of the game. Birmingham would have to now come out a bit more if indeed they wanted the winner.
Rangers came out and started to play in the second half. Pawel Wszolek was making inroads down the right and his pull back to Chery should have been converted, but the Dutchman was not his normal sharp self on this occasion – deflected to safety.
From the resultant corner Caulker rose highest once more but dollied the ball over the bar. It seemed that he was able to fend off his marker with ease, hitting the target however was proving hit and miss for the former Liverpool loanee.
A couple of subs ensued – Greg Stewart replacing Che Adams for Birmingham but the story was nearly Rangers` substitute. It was announced that Massimo Luongo would be replaced, the Loftus Road crowd confused and angry rounded on Hasselbaink. That was at least until he realised that either a mistake had been made or saw the error of his ways.
The panic in Paul Morrissey`s voice as he exclaimed ‘NO NO NO, there`s been a change of plan` was quite symbolic of the chaos that has become Rangers in recent weeks. Seb Polter then replaced the flagging Shodipo – crowd fully accepting and understanding.
There was a reason why it raised the ire of the home crowd – Luongo had been outstanding alongside the highly-combative Borysiuk, who himself was a real throwback with some meaty challenges in the centre of the park.
Idrissa Sylla was starting to get some joy in the air and his hold up play was also an improvement on the first half. He turned and swept a shot straight at Legzdins but it augured well for QPR as an attacking threat in a good second half.
Maikel Kieftenbeld saw yellow for a wild hack while Nedum Onuoha elected to chance his arm from the edge of the area – it was that sort of afternoon, delirium was in the air but the home crowd had responded to the growing confidence of the players with the noise levels rising inside Loftus Road.
The ball kept coming back towards the Loft End and Birmingham`s out balls were being gobbled up by Caulker and Hall as Jutkiewicz started to flag. Sylla set up Luongo for a useful chance but once again Legzdins was fortunate to watch the shot right into his midriff.
It all went to Onuoha`s head once again after more fine work from Sylla. His effort cleared the bar by some distance as he sauntered back to his full-back berth with a smile on his face. Birmingham threw on veteran Paul Robinson and youngster Jack Storer – the latter much to the adulation of the visiting support.
Robinson felt the full force of Borysiuk just moments into his time on the field, a real throwback type of tackle. Full-blooded but fair. The other side of his game wasn’t bad either, a rasping drive from distance save low to his left by stopper Legzdins.
Grant Hall picked up a yellow for going through his man on the touchline as Rangers started to run out of steam as an attacking threat. Refreshing though to have two target men leading the line, presumably due to the fact that Birmingham were unable to offer an attacking threat in the second half, even after the lively Storer`s introduction.
Sylla could have won it at the death when another excellent Wszolek cross went deep and the Guinean stretched before nodding over the cross bar of a grateful Legzdins. A positive second half for Rangers was not enough as not turning up for the first 45 cost them on this occasion.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS: Smithies; Onuoha, Hall, Caulker, Bidwell; Luongo, Borysiuk; Cousins (Wszolek 16), Chery, Shodipo (Polter 65); Sylla.
Subs not used: Ingram, Lynch, Washington, El-Khayati, Henry.
BIRMINGHAM CITY: Legzdins; Spector, Morrison, Shotton, Grounds; Gleeson, Kieftenbeld; Davis (Robinson 82), Adams (Stewart 62), Maghoma, Jutkiewicz (Storer 85).
Subs not used: Cotterill, Wiggins, Brown, Trueman.
Referee: Mr P Tierney