A MAJESTIC first half display by visitors Queens Park Rangers saw them to a highly awaited away win.
The R`s hadn`t won on the road since beating Norwich City back in September, and indeed that was one of two games they`d won on their travels in 2008.
It was their day today however as an inspired Rangers outfit took Derby to pieces in the first period to steer them towards the win.
The R`s were underway as Wayne Routledge picked up on a loose ball in the area to slam home, and moments later he turned provider as improving combative midfielder Mikele Leigertwood placed home with style.
All this came after a serious injury to Martin Rowlands, as a key creative outlet for Rangers was stretchered off following a challenge with Miles Addison.
Rangers closed out the game in the second period to the delight of a boisterous travelling support, as at last the R`s picked up all three points away from home.
The R`s could boast much talent in width as they travelled to Pride Park, with Lee Cook and Wayne Routledge available to play on the left and right flank respectively. Gavin Mahon sat in the holding role with Mikele Leigertwood and Martin Rowlands foraging forward.
Matthew Connolly came in at right back ahead of Fitz Hall, with Damien Delaney occupying the left back berth – the centre back pairing by now set in stone with Kaspars Gorkss and Damion Stewart building a formidable partnership.
Up front Rangers opted for the solitary striker with Heidar Helguson left to run the front line on his own. The big news was that there was no Liam Miller in the 16, with Sousa instead opting for players such as Alberti and Ephraim.
Derby welcomed back Martin Albrechtsen as the former West Brom full back passed a late fitness test. He was joined by Mo Camara who came in for the suspended Jordan Stewart. A midfield brimming with talent had the creative stylings of Kris Commons and Giles Barnes, marshalled by the sheer endeavour of former Doncaster man Paul Green.
The Rams opted for the strike pairing of Rob Hulse and Luke Varney, in the absence of Nathan Ellington. The hosts were looking to assert the effort and class that they displayed in the League Cup against Manchester United – as Nigel Clough managed the hosts for the first time.
Kick Off: Derby County v Queens Park Rangers
It was the hosts who started on the front foot as Rangers notorious worries were haunting them from the offset. The R`s were struggling to keep hold of the ball in what seemed a negative formation deployed by Rangers boss Paulo Sousa.
Martin Albrechtsen nearly got the Rams going early on as the Danish full back fired a deep cross from the right, with goalscoring hero Kris Commons connecting with his right boot, sending the ball down the throat of Radek Cerny. The home crowd growing excitable early on.
As Rangers were beginning to get into their stride, they were dealt a hammer blow as Martin Rowlands was forced to be carried off. The incident was fairly innocuous as the former Brentford man tussled with giant Miles Addison for the ball – Rowlands hit the turf with great discomfort, slamming his fist into the turf in agony. The sad aspect was the fact that it took Radek Cerny nearly a minute later to dispose of the ball so he could receive treatment, as the official didn`t deem it serious enough to interrupt play.
Rowlands was carried off to applause around the ground, as he grimaced in pain on the stretcher. The positive aspect was there was no blanket and no orange cast, as the midfielder was replaced by Hogan Ephraim.
Man fans thought that this would have prompted a formation chance, however Hogan took up a role at the heart of midfield in a like for like substitution, a bold decision by Paulo Sousa as Rangers started to assert some impetus.
Moments later Radek Cerny was brought into action to save a free kick from Kris Commons. The Czech stopper made the save comfortably in a carbon copy to Dan Fox`s effort for Coventry City a week earlier.
Damien Delaney was looking nervous in his left back role, as Giles Barnes sought to take advantage of some naïve defending. The Irish international who had missed a couple of balls previously, committed himself to a needless tackle, as the highly rated Barnes skipped round him. However the work-rate and effort of the Rangers side was epitomised by Hogan Ephraim who got back and plucked the ball from the Premier League target.
Helguson was receiving some treatment from the Derby rearguard as Andy Todd, son of former Rams legend Colin Todd, steamed into a challenge with the Icelandic international, leaving him floored and adding to Todd`s ever growing reputation a tough footballer.
By now Rangers were discovering their attacking threat, with Heidar Helguson at the forefront of a lot of Rangers creative threat. Intelligent balls into the path of the striker, saw him beat the defensive duo of Todd and Nyatanga all ends up. On one occasion his flick on found the emerging Wayne Routledge who could only fire into the side netting – a warning Derby could ill afford to ignore.
The warning was not heeded as an inspired QPR outfit took the lead. Hogan Ephraim`s defence splitting run through the centre of the park, saw him lay in Helguson, whose touch allowed Albrechtsen to poke the ball away. Unfortunately for the former West Bromwich Albion man it fell straight to Wayne Routledge on the edge of the six yard box, and the ex-Tottenham and Aston Villa man did the rest, slamming the ball home from close range across Roy Carroll.
GOAL: Derby County 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
The R`s by now were fully resurgent and up for the fight, even the imposing figure of Miles Addison in the middle was not a match for the midfield trio including the experienced Gavin Mahon who was continuing to pull the strings in the middle of the park.
Paulo Sousa was urging his hoops on from the touchline, with the Rangers crowd which populated the away cajoling their side on to further punishment. To the Rams fans great credit, they continued to support their side, and when you consider the few years that they`ve had it is a great achievement to continue to average around 30,000 a week.
However they were soon silenced as hard working Rangers, knocked the giant-killing Rams down to size. This time it was central midfielder Mikele Leigertwood who was the benefactor of more naïve defending – certainly not befitting of a side who were in the Premier League last season.
Routledge was proving tormentor down the right flank, as he once again beat Mo Camara, not just once but twice. He then intelligently looked up and squared the ball to an unmarked Mikele Leigertwood who did the rest – opening up his body and sliding the ball into the bottom right hand corner. The Rangers fans were sent into raptures as Rangers were now two goals up on their travels.
GOAL: Derby County 0-2 Queens Park Rangers
A succession of corners could yield Rangers a third, as neither Cook nor Routledge could appear to beat their first man. On the occasions they did there was some real last ditch defending from the Rams to deny Kaspars Gorkss and Heidar Helguson.
The Super Hoops were brimming with confidence as good interplay between Ephraim and Cook saw the mercurial winger unleash an excellent drive which former Manchester United stopper held at the second attempt.
Four minutes of added on time at the end of the first period was simply not enough as the R`s looked to close the game out in the opening half. As fussy Mr Kettle blew the half time whistle, the home players were met with a barrage of boos as the Pride Park crowd were clearly disgruntled at the ineptitude of their first half showing.
By contrast the R`s fans rose as one to cheer of the players in gold and black, as Rangers at last looked a half away from a priceless away victory.
Half Time: Derby County 0-2 Queens Park Rangers
Chants of “What would your father say?” from the away following had clearly contributed to the fury of Nigel Clough as his men came out with renewed purpose and vigour.
Indeed the sight of Kris Commons haring towards full back Matthew Connolly from the kick off was an epitome of what to expect in the second period. However the class of Rangers and in particular Connolly was highlighted when the former Arsenal man took a step inside to send Commons out the ground.
The Rams nearly exacted some revenge as Albrechtsen`s ball from deep found youngster Miles Addison, whose diving header brought the best from Radek Cerny, as the Czech stopped got down to his left to tip the ball inches round the post – an agonising sight for the home crowd.
Wayne Routledge was in an attacking mood as Mo Camara`s senseless tug back saw him go into the book. The former Spurs man had been in electric form all day as he knocked the ball a distance ahead of him and set off to retrieve it, former Celtic man Camara wouldn`t let go of his shirt and got his just deserts.
Derby were looking for a goal that would halve the arrears and but for Hogan Ephraim they would have had something to cheer. Rob Hulse`s header was destined for the bottom corner after leaving a forlorn Cerny for dead, but Hogan Ephraim was on hand to save a certain goal, getting back on the line to nod clear.
The hard-working Heidar Helguson was withdrawn halfway through the second period, after some rough treatment, he was replaced by Fiorentina loanee Samuel Di Carmine – the R`s goalscorer midweek in the FA Cup defeat in Burnley.
Makeshift central midfielder Hogan Ephraim was continuing to torment his opposing players as he weaved inside and out in an attempt to create chances. Where he failed a few moments earlier, being tackled, this time round he drove more direct before picking out a powerful strike that former Manchester United stopper Roy Carroll did well to keep out.
The R`s crowd could sense the win as they grew in voice over the course of the last ten minutes, acting as a 12th man to carry their team over the line. In fairness to the R`s they were hardly tested speculative efforts from Paul Green and Kris Commons were flying woefully wide as Derby had plainly given up the fight. Given Rangers away form one goal may well have had the nails chattering.
Pride Park was virtually empty as Mr Wright drew the game to a close, as the R`s who are perennial bottlers on the road, emerged as a side that proved on this performance that the tag of promotion contenders is more apt that mid table mediocrity.
Final Whistle: Derby County 0-2 Queens Park Rangers
Derby County: Roy Carroll, Paul Green, Kris Commons, Rob Hulse, Luke Varney (Steve Davies 59), Giles Barnes (Nacer Barazite 70), Lewin Nyatanga, Andy Todd, Miles Addison, Martin Albrechtsen, Mo Camara.
Queens Park Rangers: Radek Cerny, Matthew Connolly, Damion Stewart, Kaspars Gorkss, Damien Delaney, Wayne Routledge, Gavin Mahon, Mikele Leigertwood, Martin Rowlands (Hogan Ephraim 11), Lee Cook (Matteo Alberti 90), Heidar Helguson (Samuel Di Carmine 63).
Radek Cerny – 6/10
Didn`t have a great deal to do, but when he was called upon to make a save he certainly did that with aplomb. The save from the diving header of Miles Addison stands out as another class save in Cerny`s repertoire.
However Cerny`s decision making when it came to crossed was called into question once more, as he was left flapping on a couple of occasions. Had Derby wised up to this frailty they may well have had a path back into the fixture.
Matthew Connolly – 9/10
Connolly put in a sensational display at right back – which in my opinion was one of the best by a Rangers player in recent memory. His tackling was spot on as he kept the potential threat of Kris Commons very quiet indeed.
He brought the ball forward with assurance and distributed with an experience that belied his years. If he can maintain this level of performance there is certainly no way back for Peter Ramage. A stunning display, well done Matt!
Damion Stewart – 8/10
The defensive unit as a whole was solid and Damion once again was integral to the cause with a number of key headers and tackles.
The potentially tough duo in Luke Varney and the experienced Rob Hulse were snuffed out by the Jamaican international who celebrated his call up in style. He and Kaspars Gorkss put Derby in their place and ensured a crucial clean sheet.
Kaspars Gorkss – 8/10
Kaspars alongside Damion put in an excellent display which was full of aerial prowess and intelligent distribution. The defence as already stated was strong as a unit – and Kaspars performances alongside Damion were crucial to this.
On a number of occasions Kaspars tussled with Rob Hulse for the ball and was the overwhelming winner. He endeavoured forward for corners and looks inches away from gaining his first Rangers goal.
Damien Delaney – 7/10
Delaney was visibly low on confidence in the first period as Giles Barnes looked like he may well have a field day on the right flank. However Delaney improved once Rangers had scored the goals and looked like the defender of old at times.
The Irish international drove forward in the second half to support Lee Cook and certainly looked more assured on the ball, dummying the Derby forwards not once, but twice – as his confidence appeared to grow before the eyes of the Rangers fans which populated the away end. Keep going Damien!
Wayne Routledge – 9/10
Routledge as mentioned was an emerging star on the right wing, as he proved ample woe to the Derby rearguard. His pacey and purposeful running proved very effective as stand in full back Mo Camara failed to cope with the former Villa man.
His strike was powerful and direct on the edge of the six-yard box, and his assist for Leigertwood displayed a great persistence in the face of strong tackling by Camara. An all round fantastic performance by the new addition.
Gavin Mahon – 7/10
Was marvellous in the holding role today, and did a lot of unsung work screening the back four from the potential threat that the Rams had to offer. His distribution also proved effective as he laid the ball wide for the R`s most attacking players in Cook and Routledge.
The former Watford and Brentford man was strong both on and off the ball and he and his fellow central midfielders proved to be the engine room that was vital to the success of the R`s on the day.
Mikele Leigertwood – 8/10
Mikele once again, as against Burnley, proved to be very effective from the centre of the park. The formation allowed him to roam forward in support of Heidar Helguson which was one of the major reasons that Rangers succeeded.
Mikele`s goal was well taken as he made himself some space on the edge of the area before being expertly fed by the inspired Routledge. Ledge did the rest by plating the ball home from the edge of the area.
Martin Rowlands – 6/10
Rowlands was looking to get a foothold on the game when he was sidelined by an innocuous injury. He battled with youngster Miles Addison for the ball – who is no small character believe me – and he fell awkwardly after the incident.
The scene that followed made worrying viewing for R`s fans as Rangers physio Paul Hunter was eventually allowed onto the pitch by an oblivious official, and two doctors followed suit. The medical staff carrying the stretcher cantered across the pitch without a worry – carrying some incredibly wide waists!
Eventually Rowlands was led around the pitch in evident discomfort as he now nurses what appears to be a serious knee injury.
Lee Cook – 8/10
Cookie bounced back and regained some much needed confidence in his role on the left wing. The R`s fan roamed inside to provide the attacking line-up some potency. He opened up gaps cutting inside, and his crosses from the left were very useful.
Cook and Routledge are providing that width that Sousa has endeavoured for since his arrival, and keeping them in their wide roles on a consistent basis will be crucial to the R`s success.
Heidar Helguson – 7/10
Got some rough treatment from Todd and Nyatanga early on but bounced back and showed that he had class in abundance. He controlled many errant long passes to turn them into Rangers benefit.
His flick on`s to Routledge proved successful and showed that it wasn`t essential that he had a strike partner. He was supported adequately from midfield and wide areas and used them to his advantage.
SUB: Hogan Ephraim – 8/10
Replaced Martin Rowlands 11
Hogan was majestic throughout his performance after being introduced in the 11th minute. He was brought on to play an unfamiliar role, and proved to excel in the centre of the park.
Hogan`s running and passing proved to be the difference on the day as he his pass helped hand Rangers the lead – and his resilience and tracking back kept Derby`s creative threat at bay.
SUB: Samuel Di Carmine
Replaced Heidar Helguson 63
The goalscorer in midweek looked very lively when he came to the field and showed the calibre of interest and desire one would want from a QPR striker. He took bits and pieces from a shaky Derby defence and certainly made them worry.
He will be doubtless be in the frame for a place in the squad on Tuesday night.
Replaced Lee Cook 90
Matteo didn`t get a touch of the ball.
Paulo Sousa: 7/10 – Tactical wizardry from the Portuguese legend saw Rangers to an excellent victory, to which he dedicated to skipper Martin Rowlands.
He started with a 4-5-1 formation and looked to strangle the midfield, the outlets of Cook and Routledge made the Rangers counter-attack compelling viewing. The R`s attacking and passing threat came as a delight to Sousa, and he will no doubt be looking for more of the same on Tuesday.
Nigel Clough: 5/10 – Young Nigel was powerless to stop defeat as his side look a shadow of the Billy Davies outfit that achieved promotion a couple of years ago. They lacked the attacking clout and the defensive nouse to deal with Rangers attack.
His powerful strikeforce were unable to outmuscle the R`s defensive duo of Stewart and Gorkss as Rangers ensured it was a bad day at the office for Cloughie Jnr.
Mr K Wright: 5/10 – Not a fantastic display of officiating. He never really let the game flow and was insistent on free-kick`s being taken in their correct place and no quick ones, sometimes to the detriment of the advantage of the attacking team.
He is certainly not the worst official we`ve had this season, but it became infuriating at times that he simply wouldn`t let the game flow.