A WHOLLY surprising candidate in Peter Ramage popped up to save QPR`s blushes in fortuitous style against Blackpool at Loftus Road.
On a day where the Rangers legends come out in their number to celebrate 50 successive years in hoops, and the R`s remembered Sir Bobby Robson, Jim Magilton had the opportunity to take a positive result from his first game in charge.
All did not go according to plan as the R`s spurned a number of early chances before allowing Ben Burgess to slot home with consummate ease and hand the returning Ian Holloway a lead.
Dominant Rangers never threw in the towel and displayed the fighting spirit and attacking guile that the fans have craved for some time. It took an extraordinarily lucky goal to haul the hosts level as Peter Ramage`s cross come shot flew into the top right hand corner.
Despite QPR`s continued dominance Blackpool grafted to a hard-earned point, but nevertheless a point which both sides will go away feeling happy with.
In his first match in charge of the R`s Magilton decided to deploy a solitary striker in Heidar Helguson, freeing Adel Taarabt to roam in behind in a free role. Across the back four there was a debut for Gary Borrowdale with Kaspars Gorkss and Fitz Hall edging out Matthew Connolly and Damion Stewart in the central defensive department.
Peter Ramage occupied the right back berth with Radek Cerny returning between the sticks after a minor bout of swine flu. Gavin Mahon and Martin Rowlands were given the opportunity to rekindle their successful partnership, being flanked by Wayne Routledge and the impressive Angelo Balanta.
There was no place on the bench for Italian Alessandro Pellicori, while Rowan Vine, Patrick Agyemang and Hogan Ephraim were left to sit on the bench along with fans` favourite Akos Buzsaky who returned following a thigh complaint.
The visitors were able to name record signing Charlie Adam in the starting line-up following his capture from Glasgow Rangers, while fellow new additions Ishmael Demontegnac and Neal Eardley were left to warm the bench.
Former Rangers defender Ian Evatt linked up with Rob Edwards at the back, with Stephen Crainey and Alex Baptiste at full back and Paul Rachubka named the stopper. Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Keith Southern, Charlie Adam and David Vaughan made up the midfield with Jason Euell foraging in behind dangerman Ben Burgess.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Blackpool
Queens Park Rangers started in extremely positive fashion, looking to dispel last season`s disappointment in front of goal. Angelo Balanta in particular was looking lively down the left, continuing his good pre-season form and repaying Magilton`s faith in the youngster.
Loftus Road was a caldron of atmosphere in the early stages, a welcome change from the funeral atmosphere throughout the majority of last season. Players and fans bounced off each other making for an exciting early spell of pressure.
Good work from Wayne Routledge down the right found Martin Rowlands in space on the edge of the area, with the returning skipper fizzing a deflected effort inches wide of the left-hand upright. A chance which displayed the R`s early dominance and clearly set out Jim Magilton`s intentions.
The pressure showed no signs of relenting when neat work from Heidar Helguson and Adel Taarabt linked up neatly on the edge of the area. A clever one-two found the Tottenham Hotspur loanee with an inch of space, but the American keeper Rachubka did well to smother the ball away to safety.
The crowd grew louder along with the expectancy level with Fitz Hall providing a couple of breathtaking cross field balls, in his attempt to justify selection over stallwart Damion Stewart. The educated wingwork of Balanta and Routledge was complimenting the skill of Taarabt through the middle.
Balanta`s ball over the top from the left was neatly taken down by Icelandic forward Heidar Helguson in the area, his subsequent effort while powerful, was never in danger of troubling the goalkeeper.
More neat work from Routledge down the right to beat former Leeds United full back Stephen Crainey. He had to fend off some evident shirt tugging with Mr D`Urso playing a useful advantage. The former Aston Villa man threaded a neat pass through to Taarabt whose drilled effort was well saved at point blank range by the impressive Rachubka.
Helguson had been singled out for criticism by a section of Rangers supporters last season, but did his case no good with what was a disappointing miss from a good position.
More good work by Routledge down the right constructed the opportunity as his powerful cross was met with an instinctive strike by Helguson in front of goal. Unfortunately for him and QPR the ball cannoned back off the cross bar to add another clear-cut chance to an ever-growing tally.
QPR fans know only too well that you write off an Ian Holloway side at your peril, with Blackpool beginning to look a little more lively coming forward on the counter-attack. Ben Burgess was allowed to uncharacteristically shimmy around the box before firing an instinctive drive inches wide of Cerny`s left hand upright.
It was a warning that Rangers failed to heed as the Tangerines took a lead in similar fashion. Fitz Hall`s ridiculously committed challenge took him out of the backline and Charlie Adam was able to stride down the left flank and pick out Gary Taylor-Fletcher in the middle.
The former Huddersfield man got the better of Gary Borrowdale before rolling the ball back for the unmarked Ben Burgess – in turn he rolled the ball home with impeccable ease to hand the Tangerines an arguably unjust advantage.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 0-1 Blackpool
To their credit Rangers kept their heads up with the majority of support staying with the dominant side. The creativity wasn`t stifled despite the fact that Holloway deployed a more defensive style – with less forays in the Rangers half.
Angelo Balanta came inches from hauling Rangers level late on in the first period after an impressive early showing from the young Colombian. After another errant corner failed to beat the first man, Balanta was hovering on the edge of the area and drilled a right footed effort into the side netting of the near post.
A section of supporters took exception to a decent attacking display and rather perplexingly booed the side off at half time. The major change from last season was the feeling that more opportunities were being created and Rangers pre-season form dictated that Rangers were capable of bagging two goals in the fixture.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 0-1 Blackpool
Renewed vigour and enthusiasm from both support and players saw QPR come out with similar endeavour and drive to bag that equalising goal.
The Rangers rearguard looked solid and reliable with Peter Ramage and Gary Borrowdale proving resolute in their full back berths. Borrowdale in particular impressed on his home debut, seven months after he joined the Hoops from Coventry City.
A free kick was taken by the skipper Martin Rowlands and another integral cog in the Rangers rearguard, Fitz Hall nearly atoned for his earlier error by sending a looping header over the head of Rachubka, who could only scramble it away into the path of Angelo Balanta.
The impressive winger weighed up his options before drilling a powerful effort back off the left hand upright. The ball fairly cannoned out of play with lady luck not shining as powerful as the sun at Loftus Road.
In quite unfamiliar fashion Peter Ramage was endeavouring into attacking areas to help Wayne Routledge. The two combined helped pick out a cross for Gavin Mahon, but his header agonisingly came back off the head of Baptiste and gratefully into the arms of Rachubka.
The Tangerines goal was living a charmed life with Rangers looking a different side from last season, creating chances at will. Soon after Magilton sent on two big players which he hoped could change the fortune in front of goal.
Heidar Helguson and Angelo Balanta made way, with the Icelandic international disappointing once again in front of goal and hopeful that his replacement Rowan Vine could spare his blushes. Hungarian international Akos Buzsaky took to the field to a great ovation from the home faithful.
The sprightly Vine was immediately involved as he charged across the front-line in search of the ball. His fellow substitute Akos Buzsaky also got immediately stuck into the action, receiving a booking for a cynical challenge which cut short a Blackpool break-away.
Disaster struck moments later however with Magilton forced into a change and it was the returning skipper Martin Rowlands who worryingly hobbled off. The midfielder came off worse in a 50/50 challenge and was visibly in pain on the heart of the QPR area – banging the floor in frustration before being helped off by Paul Hunter.
His replacement was Patrick Agyemang with the R`s shifting to a 4-3-3 formation, initially to cover the injury to Rowlands, but more out of necessity with time ebbing away and Rangers still a goal behind.
Akos Buzsaky was inches away from the target with a well-taken free-kick from fully 30-yards, but in truth Rachubka didn`t seem too troubled by the effort. The time-wasting antics of the former Manchester United man came to the forefront, as Blackpool looked visibly keen to hang on to their one-goal lead by stifling Rangers creative flow.
Indeed they could not be blamed for taking this action, but Mr D`Urso was extremely lenient in his action towards the keeper. Giving Rachubka one warning before instead deciding to add on the time at the end. The question of time was not the issue for Rangers as their creative flow was being chipped away by the stop/start nature of the encounter.
Rangers continued to press their opponents, who were content to sit in their half and play counter-attacking football. Gavin Mahon glanced narrowly wide amid heavy marking in the box, with R`s fans left wondering whether this was going to be their day.
More chances came and went for Rowan Vine, who first blasted a Routledge cross high and wide before spurning a glorious opportunity one on one with the goalkeeper. Good work from Agyemang down the left found his strike partner Vine, who conspired to roll the ball wide of Rachubka`s right hand upright.
Finally it came, through an unlikely source, in an unlikely fashion – defender Peter Ramage. The former Newcastle United man cast a teary image at the start of the game after commemorating the life of former boss Sir Bobby Robson, but here he celebrated the man in style.
Ramage never hid from possession in attacking areas despite being less gifted than others in that department. After an excellent cross a moment earlier, he looked up for Rowan Vine before firing a wayward cross straight over the head of the forlorn Rachubka and into the back of the net.
Loftus Road erupted into a deafening noise with Peter Ramage the unlikely hero to draw Rangers level, but unfortunately for Holloway, with only a handful of minutes remaining the R`s were not finished yet.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Blackpool
Persistent pressure and possession kicking towards the Loftus Road end made for tense moments in the heart of the Blackpool rearguard who had been overworked for the majority of the game, and in all credit to them did an excellent job in holding Rangers to the solitary goal.
Agyemang and Buzsaky in particular were in fine form to link up and set-up late pressure. Buzsaky looked commanding at the heart of the midfield trio with Agyemang playing on the left of the front three. The two combined provided the impetus for Rangers but ultimately it wouldn`t be enough.
Rangers were held at home by a dogged Blackpool side, who come out of the game with much credit to keep a dominant QPR side to the odd goal and earn plaudits of their own.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Blackpool
Rest assured QPR fans this was a good display to put much of last season into perspective. An assured dominant display that created a multitude of chances, combined with some excellent football and confident defending.
Some may say, ‘same old Rangers` unable to score goals, but one thing that lacked last season were the clear cut opportunities, and the statistics tell you that this time around the chances were there and Helguson and Vine in particular were wasteful when it mattered most.
There are many positives that the R`s can take into the next test against Plymouth Argyle next week, with Magilton`s side looking a good bet to perform better on the road this time out.
Queens Park Rangers
Radek Cerny, Peter Ramage, Gavin Mahon, Fitz Hall, Wayne Routledge, Heidar Helguson (Rowan Vine 56), Kaspars Gorkss, Martin Rowlands (Patrick Agyemang 60), Angelo Balanta (Akos Buzsaky 56), Gary Borrowdale, Adel Taarabt.
Paul Rachubka, Stephen Crainey, Keith Southern, Ian Evatt, Ben Burgess, David Vaughan (Billy Clarke 74), Gary Taylor-Fletcher (Brett Ormerod 68), Alex John-Baptiste, Jason Euell, Rob Edwards, Charlie Adam.
Radek Cerny – 6/10
Reasonably assured in all he did today, coming to collect crosses and generally communicating well with his defence. But in truth there wasn`t a great deal for him to deal with because of the useful performance of the backline.
He had absolutely no chance for the goal as Burgess rolled into the corner with the composure that R`s fans craved for their own forwards. Overall he will be happy with his display and rightfully so.
Peter Ramage 8/10
The full back played with great passion and enthusiasm as he defended with aplomb and realising that attacks were not forthcoming, got forward and supported Routledge on the flank. Ultimately to great success.
His crossing has improved on today`s display and I`m sure many fans will forgive him for the one mistimed cross he put in today.
Kaspars Gorkss 7/10
Gorkss was absolutely colossal in the air today against his former club, with tough characters in Burgess and Taylor-Fletcher always likely to use their aerial prowess in the area.
The Latvian international won the majority of balls whether in the air or on the ground and looked to pass the ball out of defence – a far cry from song of the long ball football of last season. He is destined to play a big role in the campaign.
Fitz Hall – 7/10
The former Wigan defender was a rock at the back alongside Gorkss and an isolated error can be the only blemish to point to in an otherwise solid display.
He formed a good partnership with Gorkss and fended off Damion Stewart and Matthew Connolly for the coveted starting spot alongside the Latvian who will also be hard-pressed to be replaced. His aerial ability was excellent combined with some marauding runs forward.
Gary Borrowdale – 8/10
Solid in the backline and has put himself forward as a genuine alternative to the departing Damien Delaney. He looked more defensively assured than Delaney and found the right men with his passing to set up attacks.
Wasn`t tested with the genuine pace of Demontegnac which made for an easier game for him, and kept reigns on Taylor-Fletcher who couldn`t inflict the same damage as he did last season.
Wayne Routledge – 7/10
Routledge was never truly consistent in his performance, but his performance in isolated patches was extremely effective. He tore the defence to sunder in spells with pacy and purposeful running direct at the troubled Crainey.
A couple of crosses created excellent chances and his deft pass through to Taarabt in the first half deserved a better finish. The signs from Wayne are promising as he looks to recapture his early form.
Martin Rowlands – 7/10
Picked up what looks like a nasty injury, but we shouldn`t let that detract from what was a busy display from the R`s skipper.
He and Mahon worked well together to break up the Blackpool counter-attacks and carve out opportunity for the R`s. Rowley`s good effort in the first half was a sign of the barrage to come from Rangers as it narrowly deflected wide.
Gavin Mahon – 8/10
Played an unsung role in the R`s engine room today and will have undoubtedly have been pleased with his role in the draw today. He got forward and had a couple of good chances from set pieces which indicates that he has ambitions of building on his two goals in pre-season.
He broke up many attacks from Blackpool today, and didn`t put in a single misplaced pass in an accomplished display. He could be key to Rangers fortunes this season if he continues to perform in this positive fashion.
Angelo Balanta – 7/10
Angelo looked lively on the left and often outshone his senior in Wayne Routledge on the other flank. He was consistent in his exciting running and skill but couldn`t provide that cutting edge that was evident on the other wing.
He had two key chances to bag himself a goal, which he failed to take, but nevertheless it was refreshing to see men getting in a goalscoring position and providing chances to take. He will be a very useful squad player if he remains consistent.
Adel Taarabt – 6/10
Talent – undoubted. Adel Taarabt is probably the most talented player in a QPR shirt, but the parts of his game that are yet to be polished are his passing, awareness and vision. Several times his trickery saw him into good positions but he tried the speculative drive rather than laying in his team-mates.
The Tottenham playmaker will find himself on the sidelines, despite his immense talent, if he continues to ignore teammates in better positions, in favour of shots from distance that were never likely to provide a test for a solid goalkeeper.
Heidar Helguson – 5/10
Heidar Helguson is having a torrid time in front of goal in the Championship, plain and simple. You have to look to his brace at Bloomfield Road for his last competitive goal in a Rangers shirt, as everything he touches infront of goal turns to dust.
It remains to be seen whether a bad patch has become a trend, as he searches to re-discover the form that brought him to the Premier League with Watford. He missed a guilt-edge chance, but credit to him for not giving up and I`m sure we`ll see him score again however unlikely it may seem!