QUEENS Park Rangers started life without Mark Hughes in admirable fashion, getting edged out by Premier League runners up Manchester United.
His successor, Harry Redknapp, was named before the fixture and seemed to influence proceedings as a rejuvenated Rangers frustrated their Champions League counterparts.
In a first half in which United were stifled, they had a spot kick denied when Ashley Young threw himself to the turf – old habits never die hard but Rangers responded with great valour.
Keiron Dyer’s interchange with Adel Taarabt saw the ball squirm into the six-yard box and Jamie Mackie prodded home an unlikely opener to rock a silent home crowd.
United turned the screw and the withdrawal of the impressive Armand Traoré paved the way for the comeback. Old habits never die hard for QPR as their frailties were laid bare.
Johnny Evans and Darren Fletcher nodded home unmarked from respective corners while a neat through ball saw Javier Hernandez slot home neatly for the third.
Pride restored for a display full of heart and encouragement, but nevertheless it must be built upon against Sunderland on Tuesday night as Harry Redknapp takes charge.
Wholesale changes, five in total for caretakers Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki with Stephane M’Bia, Clint Hill, Jamie Mackie, Shaun Derry and Kieron Dyer came in at the expense of Jose Bosingwa, Anton Ferdinand, Samba Diakité, Esteban Granero and Junior Hoilett.
They started with Julio Cesar behind a back four of M’Bia, Hill, Ryan Nelsen and Armand Traoré. The midfield quartet consisted of Dyer, Derry, Alejandro Faurlín and Adel Taarabt with Mackie playing alongside Djibril Cissé.
United started with Anders Lindegaard behind a defence of Rafael da Silva, Johnny Evans, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra. The midfield duo comprised of Paul Scholes and Darren Fletcher while the trio Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney played off Robin van Persie.
KICK OFF: MANCHESTER UNITED v QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The news of Harry Redknapp’s appointment broke hours before kick off and it rather served to galvanise the visiting support. Without question the mood at Loftus Road was flat after the Southampton defeat but the visiting fans treated the occasion as a clean slate.
Quite how much input Harry had in terms of selection and team talk is open to question but the organisation was already looking superior to recent fixture with United cutting frustrated figures in the early offing, despite having vast swathes of possession.
Paul Scholes’ tackling is well-documented and two fouls in the opening two minutes failed to yield a deserved yellow by Mr Probert – one can’t help but feel that Samba Diakité could be afforded similar lenience at times, given the naive nature of both tackles.
Rangers forced a corner in the opening stanza but Adel Taarabt failed to beat the first man in something that would become a persistent problem throughout the day. Indeed Taarabt seemed to be playing his natural game once more, which proved dangerous for the visitors.
Wayne Rooney had clearly earmarked Taarabt as a potential weakness in the armoury and nicked the ball off the over-zealous playmaker to help set up some semblance of attacking threat. Rafael was next to carve out a chance for the hosts.
The Brazilian managed to get in behind Armand Traoré down the right flank before squaring intelligently to Robin van Persie – the Dutchman’s shot was blocked before Scholes placed his shot directly at Julio Cesar, much to the ‘keeper’s relief.
In truth, despite having a lot of the ball, United were creating little of note, being visibly frustrated by the wall of defence ably marshalled by the evergreen duo Clint Hill and Ryan Nelsen – Shaun Derry in the middle was making up for lost time after being sent off wrongfully last year.
United were beginning to turn the screw and Danny Welbeck’s touch fell neatly for Robin van Persie but the potent forward could only thrash into the side netting under pressure. Ashley Young then tried his luck to send the ball beyond the near post – but once again the hosts going closer.
Rangers were looking a tad toothless on the counter attack, but still asked questions of the defence. Ferdinand was caught pondering on a couple of occasions as the tenacious Mackie roved around the forward line like a tireless Jack Russell.
His dispossession of the defender saw him take that second too long getting his effort away with the similarly tireless Rooney getting back to dig his defenders out of a rut. The England forward not relying on others to get the impetus back in United’s play.
Taarabt seemed to have reverted to type, reluctant to pass, running himself into trouble and generally not doing any favours to Harry Redknapp’s pre-conceived ideas of the creative midfield man having previously criticised the Moroccan for his tireless antics.
Rooney was now taking the game by the scruff of the neck – with Cesar having to twice deny the forward. First a powerful drive denied by the feet of the Brazilian, while he performed more heroics to tip a stinging show away from the target.
The home crowd grew restless as QPR kicked into life – Mackie rounded off a useful Cissé cross with a well-guided diving header – unfortunately for Rangers he was in an offside position when nodding delightfully home.
Taarabt showed a positive aspect to his game, cutting in from the left to send a dipping drive into the arms of the underworked Lindegaard. It was not the goal desired to bring down the house in the away end, but promising nevertheless as the half came to a close.
It was a half full of promise. Better organisation, a slight improvement in attack but more importantly a marked improvement in terms of effort, passion and commitment – owing much to the reintroduction of Hill, Derry and Mackie into the spine of their set-up.
HALF TIME: MANCHESTER UNITED 0-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Buoyed taking a clean sheet into the break, QPR were starting to come out of their shell in the early offing, without compromising that steely edge that caused them to be level at half time – van Persie’s jaunt in behind had hearts in mouths, but the Dutchman had strayed offside.
Cissé was looking a little brighter up front when his snap shot was blocked away for a corner, which Dyer went over to take. His neat interchange with Taarabt saw the experienced midfielder coast down the by-line and lay in for JAMIE MACKIE to throw in his body where it hurts and squirm the ball beyond a hesitant Lindegaard.
The visiting supporters were sent into delirium – their side had taken a previously unthought of lead and the words Dennis Bailey were uttered more than a few times in an away end brimming with joy unbridled – stark contrast to a week ago.
Rangers broke away with great confidence and vigour and Cissé fired goal-bound forcing another corner from a surprisingly beleaguered United side. Rooney berated his side and continued to sit himself among the defenders as a last ditch specialist.
The home crowd rather laid dormant throughout, only to voice their displeasure at the manner of their side’s performance. The supporters from W12 were jubilant at their side’s continued refusal to buckle and rather prompted some confidence in the set-up.
Scholes was eventually booked after his fifth foul of the encounter and was replaced immediately by Sir Alex Ferguson. Javier Hernandez came on in his stead while Anderson replaced the ineffective Ashley Young – heckled on his departure by many.
The card given for Scholes was for a foul on the edge of the area – and Taarabt took on set-pieces duties. His intentions despite positive were misguided – looping the ball harmlessly over the left-hand upright in a rather tame effort from a good range.
Armand Traoré was withdrawn, presumably having picked up a knock, and was replaced by Anton Ferdinand – who attempted to slot in at left-back. Almost immediately Manchester United were back on level terms.
Rooney’s corner was helped back into the area by Welbeck for JOHNNY EVANS to nod home with consummate ease. Evidently United now had the bit between their teeth and they pressed ominously towards the visitors’ target.
A sighter from Fletcher from distance drifted narrowly over the bar – but rather was an indicator of things to come as United inevitably turned the game on its head. A deflected effort flew over the bar and handed the hosts a corner.
Another Rooney corner this time found DARREN FLETCHER throwing himself into the six-yard box unmarked, to power a header beyond Cesar and into the corner. It is not difficult to see where the majority of Harry’s work will go into.
The set-piece defending is still disappointing to say the least and Rangers had rather let United off the hook with some poor marking and indecision in the heart of the area – all needing to be addressed before Tuesday.
Taarabt was still looking his sprightly self in a bid to get Rangers level. His direct run on the counter attack was rather the meagre morsel of filling in the United sandwich that was the second half – his curling drive dipped wide of the right-hand upright with Cissé well placed.
United weren’t done in their ruthless second half and could seemingly now score at will – Anderson’s fine slide-rule pass scythed a gaping hole in the Rangers rearguard, only for JAVIER HERNANDEZ to tuck home with sublime composure and finish the game as a contest.
Taarabt was withdrawn with Junior Hoilett coming on in his stead, but it did little to refresh Rangers’ attacking intent. van Persie placed uncharacteristically wide after good interplay with Rooney, while Welbeck saw an effort deflected over the bar.
Hoilett seemed to charge down blind alleyways but Kieron Dyer in reverting to a central midfield role looked exemplary and a breath of fresh air, while the evergreen Derry continued to do battle in the heart of the midfield.
Esteban Granero come on in place of Alejandro Faurlín, and Rangers started to create more chances, promising much for the next fixture up at Sunderland. Mackie was set free down the left and forced a block from point blank range.
Hoilett then also tried his luck to little avail, but nevertheless the signs were looking positive in a late charge. Cissé was out on his feet and struggling to maintain any tempo while Granero’s corner failed to beat the first man in a problem that seems to plague Rangers.
The Spaniard’s next set piece went one better – Hill climbed highest in the area only to see his header cleared off the lined by Rafael. It was a late flurry to encourage QPR fans, who to a man remained to clap their team as Old Trafford emptied.
It was an organised, plucky display by Rangers who nearly got something where completely unexpected. Sadly however it wasn’t enough on the day as set-piece errors and indecision put QPR to the sword.
FULL TIME: MANCHESTER UNITED 3-1 QUEENS PARK RANGERS