QUEENS Park Rangers relinquished top spot once again, even after a spirited display against pre-season promotion hopefuls Nottingham Forest.
On an afternoon where two key records were on the line, both Forest and Rangers seemed tentative in their attacking efforts, an attitude that bred nervousness most evident in the latter stages.
Forest have never been beaten by Queens Park Rangers at the City Ground and also preserved a formidable home record, while the visitors are the only unbeaten side in the Football League.
There were glimpses of flair and creativity from the likes of Adel Taarabt and Lewis McGugan, but by and large QPR were wasteful and Forest struggled to carve out the chances their patience deserved.
Rangers probably edged the opportunities with the aforementioned Taarabt forcing several outstanding saves from Lee Camp while Forest could have netted a scrappy effort in an anti-climatic finale.
While an unbeaten record, and a best ever season start is a distinct positive, there is a case to be stated that this has stifled their play somewhat, more interested in avoiding defeat than looking for the winner.
Cardiff meanwhile have taken their chance to reclaim top spot, while the R’s can look to the Preston North End game next weekend as their must-win encounter in a bid to hit their straps once more.
Neil Warnock made once enforced change from the draw with Portsmouth with the suspended Matt Connolly making way for the attacking option of Hogan Ephraim.
Paddy Kenny therefore started behind Jamie Mackie, Kaspars Gorkss, Clint Hill and Kyle Walker – Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry started in the middle of the park.
Ephraim, Adel Taarabt and Tommy Smith started behind Rob Hulse in what would be a tough afternoon for the visiting side.
Forest started with ex-R Lee Camp in goal behind a back four of Chris Gunter, Wes Morgan, Luke Chambers and Ryan Bertrand – Lewis McGugan and Paul McKenna in the middle of the park.
The attacking line-up saw Radoslaw Majewski, Paul Anderson and Chris Cohen playing behind lone striker Dexter Blackstock – another former Queens Park Rangers player.
Gunter – Morgan – Chambers – Bertrand
McKenna – McGugan
Anderson – Majewski – Cohen
Mackie – Connolly – Gorkss – Walker
Faurlín – Derry
Ephraim – Taarabt (c) – Smith
Kick Off: Nottingham Forest v Queens Park Rangers
The afternoon was bitter and chilly with the sun emerging through the clouds as the two sides took to the field in Nottingham. Rangers had to reshuffle with Jamie Mackie slotting in at right back, such is the threadbare nature of the QPR defensive line-up.
A combative opening saw Nottingham Forest take the initiative and certainly appear the more creative side in the opening few minutes. Central to their efforts were the key players of last campaign, Radoslaw Majewski and Lewis McGugan.
The pairing used their excellent movement to the hosts’ advantage as they appear to have a great understanding. Rangers meanwhile were attempting to stifle this threat with Shaun Derry and the more creative Alejandro Faurlín seeking out playmaker Adel Taarabt.
Billy Davies’ side pressed early on and the aforementioned McGugan carved out an opportunity for Dexter Blackstock, but the forward could merely loop his header over the target when well-placed. An early warning sign for Rangers, but they wouldn’t be on the back foot for long.
Mackie was looking comfortable in the unfamiliar territory of right back, as both he and Tommy Smith linked up effectively. Mackie’s throw from the right worked it’s way for Kyle Walker racing towards the area – his powerful header was tipped away by the finger-tips of Lee Camp.
The former Queens Park Rangers stopper reacted sharply to the well-guided header as Rangers had carved out the best opportunity to date. It certainly spurred the R’s on with the lively Taarabt starting to find his creative feet.
The Moroccan dashed away from his marker in the centre of the park before curling powerfully towards the target. The effort was saved and held by Camp after skipping up from the turf, and QPR sensed they may have worked their opening into the encounter.
Forest were offering little in riposte, with a lack of substance blighting their attacking play. Majewski’s influence seemed to be waning as only McGugan’s deflected free-kick could offer them respite from QPR’s attacking endeavour.
However the Forest youngster did give Paddy Kenny a sighter in the second period, driving forward on the counter-attack before firing a fearsome drive inches over the bar. It was more of a warning sign than a genuine opportunity but a warning nevertheless.
Still the visitors poured forward and after Alejandro Faurlín was felled it was Taarabt and he standing over the resultant set-piece. There was only ever going to be one taker of this kick as the Moroccan looped his effort narrowly wide of the left hand upright.
Rangers even had a good shout for a penalty as Tommy Smith dropped into space behind the back four, McGugan’s tackle from behind was deemed fair to Smith’s disbelief as the hosts sought their counter-attacking options.
The lively playmaker Taarabt appeared to be gifted acres of space at times and nearly punished some liberal marking on the stroke of half time. He strode forward from midfield beyond McKenna and McGugan before unleashing a dipping drive that Camp expertly tipped away to his left.
The effort was carved out to perfection and but for the ex-QPR ‘keeper, Rangers would surely have been a goal to the good on the afternoon. As it was the two sides played out the half in somewhat tepid fashion in the hope for a more positive second period.
Half Time: Nottingham Forest 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
Early in the second period it was QPR that had the upper hand and were a whisker away from netting the opener after more positive work from Smith. The former Derby wide-man crossed for the anonymous Hulse and a coming together between both he and Camp saw the ball roll free.
Smith was in on the action once more moments later, when his slide-rule pass for the persistent Mackie saw the makeshift right-back get in behind. Good defensive work from McGugan saw Mackie under pressure and as a result he lashed an effort into the side netting.
QPR were applying the majority of pressure but Forest were making their presence known on the counter-attack. Indeed Blackstock was in impeccable form to beat two men before forcing Kenny into what was his first genuine save of the encounter.
The eventful nature of the half continued as Rangers provided the majority of the impetus. Hulse created his first meaningful contribution as he laid the ball on for Taarabt, and the playmaker slammed wide of the left-hand upright.
Just after the hour mark Forest made a set of attacking changes with Rob Earnshaw and Dele Adebola replacing Dexter Blackstock and Radoslaw Majewski. It nearly paid dividends as the latter played his role in the build up to a useful chance.
Anderson found McGugan who unleashed a fearsome effort through a crowd of players, only for Kenny to beat the ball away at point-blank range. It was a let off for Rangers who were now withstanding a good spell of Forest pressure.
Rob Earnshaw’s traditional ballerina act – noticeable from his previous appearances with other clubs against Rangers – was treated with the contempt it deserved by referee Andy D’Urso, after the Welshman hit the floor under a challenge from Faurlín.
Hulse’s afternoon was over as Patrick Agyemang replaced his with little over 20 minutes remaining in a bid to freshen up attacking options. It very nearly paid dividends as the forward was in the thick of the action from the moment he took to the pitch.
His excellent run and pass found Taarabt poised to shoot on the edge of the area. His sublime chip saw Camp off his line – but the stopper recovered outstandingly to tip the audacious effort over the bar. Rangers were still the side with the majority of attacking endeavour.
Nervousness then set in to both sides, both evidently with one eye on their respective records. Ryan Bertrand in particular looked to buy as many seconds as possible, which in fairness was in stark contrast to his side.
Both sides were playing like the away team, tentative at the back and looking to counter-attack, and Forest were certainly thriving under these tactics with Earnshaw in particular the liveliest of the hosts’ attacking threat.
Nevertheless the hosts’ inability to create chances and opportunities of note, combined with a lack of posession ensured that they would leave the fixture with only a share of the spoils. Rangers pressed late on with Agyemang the key tormentor, but it mattered little for the visitors.
QPR slipped off top spot with Cardiff City taking full advantage of what was always going to be a tough ask. They must now look to take all three points against Preston as a necessity should they value getting back to the summit of the Championship.
Full Time: Nottingham Forest 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
Lee Camp, Chris Gunter, Wes Morgan, Luke Chambers, Ryan Bertrand, Lewis McGugan (Nathan Tyson 79), Paul McKenna, Paul Anderson, Radoslaw Majewski (Robert Earnshaw 61), Chris Cohen, Dexter Blackstock (Dele Adebola 61)
Queens Park Rangers
Paddy Kenny, Jamie Mackie, Kaspars Gorkss, Clint Hill, Kyle Walker, Alejandro Faurlín, Shaun Derry, Hogan Ephraim (Leon Clarke 79), Adel Taarabt (Martin Rowlands 89), Tommy Smith, Rob Hulse (Patrick Agyemang 68)