Rangers went to the New Den this evening looking to extend their unbeaten run and consolidate their 8-point lead at the top of the Championship that they had earned over the weekend with a fine 1-0 victory over Leicester City. This was the first of two London derbies in four days for Rangers, but the result of this first derby did not end up going in our favour.
Despite going into the match on the back of an 11-match unbeaten run (begun after our defeat at Norwich on January 1st), Rangers really did not do enough to warrant even a point, particularly after the break. After a fairly even first half, it was Millwall who came out for the 2nd half looking the keener of the two sides, and that period was enough for them to score the two goals that gave the Lions all 3 points this evening.
On top of that, Danny Shittu received a straight red for a professional foul and Rangers had to play the last 24 minutes with 10-men. It really wasn`t a very good night at the office for QPR this evening!
Neil Warnock was forced into making one change to his team which had beaten Leicester City on Saturday afternoon. Fitz Hall, who had not recovered from the hamstring injury which saw him leave the field of play on 20 minutes on the weekend, sat this game out. He was replaced by Kaspars Gorkss, returning to first team action for the first time since our away draw at Preston.
So the defence now had Kenny in goal, with Hill and Orr in their usual full back position and Gorkss taking up his familiar central defensive role but this time alongside Danny Shittu. The midfield had a familiar look to it, too, with Shaun Derry and Alejandro Faurlin adopting their defensive midfield positions, and Akos Buzsaky, Adel Taarabt and Wayne Routledge occupying the head of the midfield triangle. Up front, Heidar Helguson was our lone striker.
The bench was once more occupied by Radek Cerny, Rob Hulse, Hogan Ephraim, Petter Vaagen Moen and Ishmael Miller; with Pascal Chimbonda back in the squad and the defensive representative.
Millwall boss, Kenny Jackett, brought new loan player Andros Townsend (Tottenham) straight into his starting XI. One player who was definitely not going to play a role for Millwall tonight, however, was QPR`s own Martin Rowlands, who was ineligible to play under the terms of his loan deal.
Kick Off: Millwall v Queens Park Rangers
Rangers made a lively start to proceedings. David Forde was called into early action to make a stunning save tipping Kaspars Gorkss` header wide. Adel Taarabt took the resulting corner and Clint Hill had a good chance from only eight yards out but he headed wide of Forde`s left-hand post. Then Adel Taarabt, in lively mood early on, spotted Forde off his line and cheekily chipped the ball only inches over the crossbar from about 45 yards out! Taarabt was, however, being kicked about by the Millwall players, who had ear-marked our play-maker as the man to stop. Unfortunately, however, we were unable to make anything of the resulting free-kicks at this early stage.
And Millwall weathered our early storm. They started to come back into the match and on 17 minutes, Paul Robinson headed over from all of 8 yards out. Then Steve Morison tried to test Paddy Kenny but only shot straight at him from 25 yards out. Bread and butter for Persil Kenny!
Rangers returned to the attack, with Akos Buzsaky trying his luck with a left-footed half volley from outside the area; but the ball flew past the left-hand post of the Millwall game. This was followed by a miss by Millwall as Neil Harris tried to copy Buzsaky, shooting wide of Kenny`s left-hand post from outside our area.
Tamika Mkandawire also tried his luck with a long range effort – this one flew past our right-hand post! We were restricting Millwall to these long-range shots and, although we had not managed to unlock their defence yet ourselves, at this stage it was QPR who were having the majority of possession.
On the half-hour mark, Adel Taarabt received the ball from a pull-back by Wayne Routledge; but Paul Robinson managed to get a block in and Millwall went on the attack. Neil Harris managed to get inside the penalty area and got his shot off, but it cleared the crossbar. James Henry also had a good opportunity from a free kick, conceded by Danny Shittu on Harris, but it, too, came to nothing – thankfully.
Rangers then turned defence into attack, with Buzsaky finding Routledge. Routledge laid the ball off to Alejandro Faurlin but the midfielder blasted over from the edge of the box. In a seemingly end-to-end match, Millwall now had their own chance and Kenny had to be alert as Steve Morison broke clear down the left flank. Kenny made sure that his goal was not breached, saving to his left to keep the score-line at 0-0 after 40 minutes.
As half-time loomed, Routledge stepped inside his marker but as he shot, Alan Dunne arrived just in time to clear the ball to safety so that, at half-time, there was still nothing between the two sides. With the stats telling me that we had had 64% of possession to Millwall`s 36% by half-time, I was feeling that we definitely needed to be more clinical in front of goal.
Rangers initially started the second half as they did the first – taking the game to Millwall with the lively Wayne Routledge carving an opening for oncoming defender Bradley Orr at the back post. Unfortunately, however, Orr`s header was well-saved by Millwall keeper, David Forde. What I didn`t realise, however, was that that was really it from our team for the next 45 minutes or so!
Andros Townsend tried his luck from outside the box shortly after Orr`s attempt, but his shot went wide of the goal. But Millwall almost immediately came close to breaking the deadlock with about 5 minutes of the second-half gone. Andros Townsend took a corner from the right and his ball found Paul Robinson at the near post. With the Rangers defence inexplicably standing motionless, Robinson headed over the bar from a mere 3 yards out
Millwall must have felt more in control now, because Townsend tried his luck himself. Thankfully for Rangers, however, his shot from distance was well-saved by Paddy Kenny at the second attempt.
A few minutes later, Liam Trotter unfairly upended Alejandro Faurlin. The resulting free-kick was delivered by Adel Taarabt from the left wing but Darren Ward was on hand for Millwall to make a timely clearance. In fact, the game now seemed to have descended into a series of free-kicks for both sides as the referee appeared to have become the central figure of the match!
But then something unwanted happened – there was a goal but it didn`t go to Rangers. On 62 minutes, Steve Morison ran clear of Danny Shittu and unleashed an unstoppable strike. The ball flew past Paddy Kenny and into the back of the net.
GOAL: Millwally 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
Game on, now Rangers! Were we looking at our 4th defeat of the season, or were we going to be able to get ourselves back on level terms with only about 25 minutes left? It didn`t seem so as Millwall, buoyed by their goal, went looking for a 2nd and Faurlin had to take up defensive duties, heading the ball out for a corner to Millwall. Wave after wave of Millwall attacks was putting the Rs` back four under enormous pressure.
Jackett made the first substitution of the evening, taking Neil Harris off and bringing Kevin Lisbie on, after 65 minutes. Lisbie`s first action saw him try a shot from deep inside the area but he missed! And then Warnock made two quick substitutions, taking Taarabt off and bringing Tommy Smith on (newly back from his hamstring injury) and Buzsaky was replaced by Ishmael Miller.
But our luck had now deserted us completely as Danny Shittu brought Steve Morison down inside the penalty area and saw red for a professional foul. Trotter took the resulting penalty and successfully converted to double the hosts` lead.
GOAL: Millwall 2-0 Queens Park Rangers
Rangers had been undone by two long balls over the top – very unlike the Rs of 2010/2011. And after the penalty and sending off, we were finding it very hard to keep hold of the ball so, having seen Andros Townsend have an effort on goal from close range which went wide right of Kenny`s post; on 80 minutes Warnock sacrificed Helguson for Chimbonda to help shore up the wobbling defence.
In fact, it suddenly occurred to me that we hadn`t had a shot at all in the 2nd half, after that initial opening salvo from Orr. And I was right! For it was only on 84 minutes that we had another chance: Tommy Smith had a shot which was held at the 2nd attempt by Forde.
The referee indicated 4 minutes of extra time, during which time Millwall almost snatched a 3rd goal. Paddy Kenny saved well with his feet from a shot by Steve Morison. And we did try to snatch a goal back ourselves with efforts from Ishmael Miller followed by an in-swinging corner from Wayne Routledge, both of which Forde easily picked up.
And so, the referee blew for full time almost exactly on 94 minutes and Rangers were left facing only their 4th defeat of the season. With results elsewhere going in Rangers` favour, we still ended the night 7 points clear at the top of the tree, with the ball still firmly in our court. I felt jaded, a little deflated and sad we hadn`t managed to extend our unbeaten run; but I am also confident that this is just a minor blip on a very rosy horizon. Normal service to be resumed on Saturday? I sincerely hope so!
Full-time: Millwall 2-0 Queens Park Rangers
David Forde, Alan Dunne, Paul Robinson, Liam Trotter, Neil Harris (Kevin Lisbie 66), James Henry, Tony Craig, Tamika Mkandawire, Darren Ward, Steve Morison, Andros Townsend
Queens Park Rangers
Paddy Kenny, Bradley Orr, Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Adel Taarabt (Smith 70), Heidar Helguson (Chimbonda 79), Akos Buzsaky (Miller 71), Alejandro Faurlín, Kaspars Gorkss, Wayne Routledge, Danny Shittu