AN EARLY headed goal from Wayne Rooney helped put QPR to the sword on a crisp winter’s afternoon in West London.
Supporters had barely taken their seats as the England international glanced a well-taken header beyond Radek Cerny – setting the tone for a difficult afternoon’s football.
Time and again Cerny was called into action and spectacularly denied the rampant visitors as the hosts appeared somewhat shell-shocked in a testing opening half.
Michael Carrick notched a second from the edge of the area just when Rangers were looking to threaten – while DJ Campbell spurned an opportunity late on to halve the arrears.
Moments of class from the Champions helped break up somewhat of a damp squib given the early strike, but nevertheless Rangers can look to an important midweek test against Sunderland.
A couple of changes for Neil Warnock’s QPR saw Heidar Helguson and Matt Connolly reintroduced at the expense of Tommy Smith and the injured Anton Ferdinand.
Radek Cerny once again started in goal – Paddy Kenny rejoining the set-up on the bench – behind a back four of Luke Young, Danny Gabbidon, Connolly and Armand Traoré.
The midfield quartet comprised of Jamie Mackie, Alejandro Faurlín, Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips with Helguson partnering Jay Bothroyd in attack.
The visitors started with David de Gea behind a back four of Chris Smalling, Jonathan Evans, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra.
Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and Luis Nani populated the United midfield with Danny Welbeck starting alongside Wayne Rooney in attack.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v MANCHESTER UNITED
A crisp winter’s afternoon welcomed the two sides to the field for the first time since 1996, when Eric Cantona’s controversial late strike spared the visitor’s blushes – a goal that still cuts deep to the core despite the amount of time elapsed.
This afternoon’s clash conjured up a tad less in terms of class acts from the champions, but their names in isolation were still modern day household icons – Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand the stand out figures to go into battle at a packed Loftus Road.
Much like they did against Chelsea, Rangers flew out of the traps from the off, being competitive and attempting to put pressure on the visiting side – it was however to their detriment as United struck at the first time of asking.
Wayne Rooney exhumed an effortless class in a neat exchange with Antonio Valencia down the right. The resultant cross from the right saw the aforementioned England forward coast in and glance home unmarked with effortless ease.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-1 MANCHESTER UNITED
Loftus Road attempted to rally their players after what was an early set-back but the disappointment around the ground was palpable – as the old adage of keeping the more elite sides at bay in the early offing was resoundingly shattered.
Far from galvanising the home side, they were rooted as Rooney ran rule over the the Rangers rearguard. The atmosphere was somewhat subdued as his slide rule pass for strike partner Danny Welbeck – Radek Cerny performing heroics to deny the England forward at close quarters.
Rooney’s 12th goal of the Premier League campaign – his third in two games – seemed to ensure a more confident swagger as the forward tormented the QPR midfield with a succession of neat touches in an impressive one touch game.
The only sniff of an opportunity for the hosts fell to Shaun Wright-Phillips who latched onto a Joey Barton pass only to send a shot high, wide and handsome – failing to trouble what is a troubled ‘keeper in Spaniard David de Gea.
A useful period of attacking endeavour saw Heidar Helguson rise highest from a Barton corner to loop a header away to de Gea’s left hand upright and behind for a goal kick – nevertheless the glimmer of opportunity would spring eternal for a shell-shocked home side.
It would be fair to say that the visitors were in control of the encounter, soaking up pressure before playing a customary counter-attacking game – a blue print for success during Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure at Old Trafford.
Rangers meanwhile were having to rediscover a steely edge and combative endeavour as Rooney then felt the full force of a succession of stern challenges. Ferdinand picked up a yellow for his troubles in the subsequent exchange of words with referee Howard Webb.
Jay Bothroyd spurned a useful chance inside the 20-minute mark when some typically useful endeavour from Jamie Mackie freed him from Patrice Evra – his subsequent centre was snatched at by the forward who sent his effort wide of the right hand upright.
United remained in control of the tempo and opportunities as a Luis Nani corner saw Cerny free himself from the grasp of Welbeck only to thrash his punch skyward. Jonny Evans will be wondering how he looped his header over the bar – skimming the upright on its way out.
The Czech ‘keeper more than redeemed himself moments later when Rooney’s expertly weighted through ball found the useful run of Phil Jones. The utility player strode effortlessly beyond the R’s defence only for Cerny to save from point-blank range with his feet.
Rangers were in severe danger of being over-run and when another Nani corner fell to Rooney on the edge of the area, his effort was blocked off the line only for Welbeck to have the goal at his mercy inside the six-yard box.
What was to ensue rivalled one of the finest saves you’re ever likely to see as Cerny once again thwarted United and Welbeck with a fine reflex stop. A moment of genuine disbelief as the 37-year-old displayed his credentials for keeping the jersey.
Ale Faurlín was then forced to clear off the line from a subsequent corner as Rangers were well and truly feeling the full force of the champions as they sought to reclaim their place at the summit of the Premier League.
Rooney was on the stretch with his next opportunity as the ball dropped to his left foot on the far post, but his clipped effort thankfully drifted harmlessly away to Cerny’s right – it would be fair to say that the hosts were getting a stern grilling.
Then a moment of alleviation – a moment’s respite – a moment to breathe. A sweeping counter-attacking move saw Helguson peel away from his marker to the left of the target and his left-footed strike drew a smart save from de Gea – the less said about Bothroyd’s wild follow-up the better.
His next effort was far more of the ilk one would come to expect from a Premier League forward, waiting for the ball to drop before volleying tantalisingly wide of the right hand post – positive at least that his desire for goals had not been diminished.
Bothroyd then played a fine ball into the heart of the area that flew inches away from the outstretched leg of Helguson – fleeting opportunities for the hosts, who for their late rally could concede they had been steam-rolled in the opening period.
The only saving grace for now was that the visiting side were only a goal to the good despite their numerous opportunities to put the game beyond Rangers. An improvement would be required in the second period.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-1 MANCHESTER UNITED
A rather confusing moment as the second half kicked off, Queens Park Rangers were a man short as Rooney coasted through inside 20 seconds. With the notable absence of Danny Gabbidon saw the England striker coast through but draw another fine save from Cerny.
A speculative drive from Bothroyd was well blocked for the home team – but Manchester United would prove themselves to be fine counter-attacking team, with a goal that would prove to be the clincher in the encounter.
A desperately poor pass – sadly one of many on the afternoon from skipper Joey Barton – found its way to Michael Carrick. The midfielder was allowed to fairly amble through the Rangers midfield, ignoring options left and right before slotting beyond Cerny to his near post.
A thoroughly disappointing goal to concede all round but quite an indictment of the afternoon’s proceedings. A succession of errors littered the play as United could comfortable claim the second and the game at large.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-2 MANCHESTER UNITED
United were rampant and on the warpath for more goals – it looked particularly alarming when Rooney spurned an opportunity for his brace, following up on an effort from the educated feet of Nani down the left flank.
There was no quarter given as Javier Hernandez took to the field at the expense of the lively Welbeck and ‘Chicarito’ wasted little time in getting among the Rangers back four and displaying his brand of effervescent football.
Rangers responded with a double change of their own with Helguson and Wright-Phillips making way for DJ Campbell and Adel Taarabt – some supporters harangued the decision not to withdraw Bothroyd – but will be wise to remember that the importance of having Helguson fit and ready for midweek outweighs the requirements of this encounter.
The fixture was struggling to see a concerted period of pressure from either side, with United content to retain possession and another set of substitutions – Bothroyd replaced by Clint Hill, prompting a formation shift with Traoré pushing on.
Adel Taarabt was proving a menace from the off, conjuring up his customary bag of tricks and livening up an encounter that was proving somewhat of a damp squib as the champions remained in firm control.
A couple of fine sweeping crosses – one with the outside of his right boot – sparked hope that Rangers could at the very least cause a few jitters in a back line that had hardly covered themselves in glory.
The latter of these crosses saw DJ Campbell inexplicably fire well over the left hand upright when perfectly placed at the far post – from here on there was an air of resignation among the capacity crowd at Loftus Road.
Hernandez glanced a powerful header just wide of Cerny’s left hand post before United could call upon Ashley Young from the bench to replace the influential Luis Nani – job done for the Portuguese international on the day.
The lively wide-man sent an effort into the grateful arms of Cerny as the fixture petered out to its conclusion – a more promising performances in spells in the second period, but nevertheless far short of the requirements as United cantered to victory.
FULL TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-2 MANCHESTER UNITED
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Radek Cerny, Danny Gabbidon, Jay Bothroyd, Alejandro Faurlin, Jamie Mackie, Armand Traore, Matt Connolly, Joey Barton, Luke Young, Heidar Helguson (DJ Campbell 66), Shaun Wright-Phillips (Adel Taarabt 66).
David de Gea, Patrice Evra, Phil Jones, Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Wayne Rooney (Ryan Giggs 78), Chris Smalling, Michael Carrick, Luis Nani (Ashley Young 88), Danny Welbeck (Javier Hernandez 63), Antonio Valencia