CLINT Hill and Jermaine Jenas helped QPR back to within two points of the the SkyBet Championship summit after edging out Derby County.
Hot off the heels of an uninspiring point at Wigan Athletic, Rangers recovered in fine fashion putting the Rams and former QPR coach Steve McClaren to the sword.
Rangers had the lead when Jenas rounded off his second start in succession by sweeping home Charlie Austin’s blocked shot.
County levelled when Jake Buxton climbed all over Clint Hill without punishment and Simon Dawkins was on hand to roll beyond Rob Green – a first home goal conceded since the opening day.
Rangers were looking sharp however and kept knocking on the door. Eventually their pressure told when Joey Barton’s free-kick found Hill on the far post – his looping header beat Lee Grant all ends up.
Harry Redknapp made two changes from the side that were held on Wednesday night. Niko Kranjcar and Gary O’Neil dropped out with Matt Phillips and Joey Barton coming into the starting line-up.
Rob Green started behind a back four of Danny Simpson, Richard Dunne, Clint Hill and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Barton and Alejandro Faurlin played through the middle with Jermaine Jenas, Junior Hoilett and Phillips playing in advance of the duo with Charlie Austin leading the line.
Derby started with Lee Grant behind a back line of Andre Wisdom, Richard Keogh, Jake Buxton and Craig Forsyth – the midfield duo comprising of John Eustace and Craig Bryson. Talisman Will Hughes played in advance with Jamie Ward and Simon Dawkins while Chris Martin was the lone striker.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v DERBY COUNTY
After three games without a win, bouncing back was the imperative for the home side, but the test of Derby County became a tougher prospect in the knowledge that Steve McClaren knew not only Rangers’ strong points, but also their weaknesses.
The Derby boss spent several months in Harry Redknapp’s Rangers set up and can take a good portion of credit for their current position. Rangers started the brighter of the two sides and tried to carve an opening.
Junior Hoilett saw his snap shot blocked, while Matt Phillips glanced his free header over the bar from a Joey Barton corner. Rangers were certainly looking the better of the two teams and deservedly had the lead shortly after the ten minute mark.
Phillips marauded down the right before sending a fizzing right-footed cross low into the area. Charlie Austin saw his close range shot parried by Lee Grant, but JERMAINE JENAS was on hand to slot home from close range.
Phillips chanced his arm once more from the edge of the area before Austin slammed an effort over the bar. Rangers were creating good shooting chances but not capitalising and taking that decisive step to the second goal.
That hesitancy led to Derby County’s leveller. Jamie Ward sent a free-kick into the heart of the area and Jake Buxton clambered over a visibly fouled Clint Hill. Evidently some players expected a whistle as SIMON DAWKINS rolled home the leveller.
There was a lull around a packed Loftus Road, the atmosphere was distinctly lacking and none more so that when the visitors levelled. The hosts did come out their shell and test the Rams rearguard once more however.
Chris Martin was booked for what looked like a dive just outside the area, but it may have been for his resultant and presumptuous scooping of the ball with his hand – a common problem in the modern game with players trying to convince and cajole the referee.
Austin headed wide from Faurlin’s cross to rather underline his recent run of indifferent form leading the front-line alone, while the Rams put their body on the line to deny Joey Barton from distance as the ball eventually trickled through to safety.
Hoilett saw his effort rebuffed by a stubborn rearguard before the referee booked two further Derby players in Andre Wisdom and John Eustace when in truth their hadn’t been a tackle in the game – a cynical writer might suggest that having missed a crucial foul for the leveller, the referee may have been attempting to redress the balance.
Nevertheless the two sides went into the break level-pegging, in a open game that had excitement but little quality and incisiveness. The second half would be a real test of character for Rangers after having their wings clipped while dominating.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-1 DERBY COUNTY
If the first half saw QPR start brightly, it was County who had the bit between their teeth in the early stages of the second half. Rangers at times were their own worst enemy and a Danny Simpson was the epitome of this.
Usually a reliable customer, Simpson elected to twist and turn in his own six-yard box only to have his pocket pinched by a baying Derby front-line. The ball eventually fell to Craig Bryson who saw his near post shot saved by Green, who watched his second attempt lashed into the side netting.
Rangers switched play to the other end with Hoilett and Austin failing to trouble Grant and for all of the host’s ball retention, their lack of cutting edge in the final third was starting to cost them dear – Derby took heart and applied pressure on the counter attack.
Jamie Ward saw his shot well saved by Green centrally, before Phillips showed his marker a clean set of heels at the other end. Craig Forsyth was having a torrid time curbing the attacking instinct of rejuvenated winger Phillips.
Phillips beat his man before being hacked down unapologetically – a free kick was given on the edge of the area. Faurlin sent the ball to the far post as CLINT HILL rose highest to loop a header back beyond a forlorn Grant.
Was Hill climbing on his marker? Not a word of it, and some poetic justice for the defender who should have received a free-kick for County’s leveller. If the bookings were like confetti for Derby in the first half, Rangers now bore the brunt of the referee’s confetti parade.
Phillips shattered the monotony by cutting inside from the right before unleashing a left-footed thunderbolt. It cannoned back down off the cross-bar but in truth was nowhere near the line unfortunately for the enterprising wide-man.
Faurlin and Hoilett were cautioned in close succession with Derby going route one by replacing Dawkins with Connon Sammon. Worrying moments later when Faurlin was left in a heap after a strong challenge – he was stretchered off with 15 minutes remaining.
For a player with a history of knee injuries this will come as grim viewing having worked so hard to get back into favour under Harry Redknapp. Karl Henry came on to sure up the midfield in his stead.
Derby enjoyed a good period of possession without ever yielding the desired chances. The referee Mr Moss, looking like he was doing everyone a favour by demeaning himself with Championship football, was dishing out visiting free kicks like confetti.
The latest of which culminated with Jamie Ward – snarling in his celebration of the leveller to the home fans – curled a ball over towards Green’s side of the goal and the ‘keeper ably clawed away to his right.
The nervy five minutes of injury time ebbed away and Rangers left the game with a priceless win that sees them within two points of leaders Burnley.
FINAL WHISTLE: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 2-1 DERBY COUNTY