TEN-MAN Queens Park Rangers retained top spot in the npower Championship after securing a priceless victory against playoff hopefuls Reading.
The hosts were pure class at times despite their numerical disadvantage and despite an understandable spell of possession, the Royals struggled to carve open a stubborn rearguard.
QPR took the early advantage when the irresistible Adel Taarabt tricked his way into the area before being felled – his resultant spot kick oozed confidence as he chipped down the middle.
An incident packed fixture had its major talking point on the stroke of half time when Bradley Orr put in a stern tackle on Hal Robson-Kanu – referee Steve Tanner sized up his options before issuing a straight red.
Despite Reading having the extra man it didn’t necessarily show as QPR continued to press. They were rewarded when Alejandro Faurlín slammed home from point-blank range.
Nerves were frayed as Shane Long scored the goal of the day from distance, before Tommy Smith rounded off the convincing victory – snaffling home a rebound from close range.
Rangers picked up their first win in five games and remain undefeated at the summit of the Championship – they await the result of the Cardiff clash tomorrow to see if their fortune continues.
Neil Warnock opted to make two changes from the draw at home to Burnley with Bradley Orr and Tommy Smith coming in for Clint Hill and Hogan Ephraim.
Paddy Kenny therefore started behind Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly and Kyle Walker – Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry started in the middle of the park.
Jamie Mackie, Adel Taarabt and Smith started behind Rob Hulse, his second start in a QPR shirt and searching for that elusive first club goal.
Reading started with Adam Federici behind a back four of Andy Griffin, Matt Mills, Zurab Khizanishvili and Ian Harte.
Jobi McAnuff, Jem Karacan, Jay Tabb, Brian Howard and Hal Robson-Kanu made up the midfield while Shane Long started up front for the Royals.
Orr – Connolly – Gorkss – Walker
Faurlín – Derry
Mackie – Taarabt (c) – Smith
Griffin – Khizanishvili – Mills – Harte
McAnuff – Tabb – Howard – Karacan – Robson-Kanu
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Reading
The first game since England turned it’s clocks back in preparation for winter, and there was a bitter chill in the air as Loftus Road welcomed the two sides to the field in West London. A win for QPR would take them top given Cardiff City’s local derby with rivals Swansea on Sunday.
A bright opening for the hosts saw Adel Taarabt lift the malaise on his recent displays with a string of fine touches and useful passing. Behind him Alejandro Faurlín was looking imperious alongside Shaun Derry in protecting the back four.
Indeed it was QPR that created the best opening early on and with a little more composure would have had their lead. The aforementioned Faurlín linked up well with Taarabt before jinking through two challenges and curling a sublime effort that sailed goal-bound.
The Argentinean’s measured strike came back off the underside of the bar before coming out to Rob Hulse on the right hand side of the area. The former Derby County man could only thrash at his effort as Federici palmed away a useful stop.
The hosts were starting to crank up the pressure and despite the fixture turning into a somewhat tempestuous affair, QPR continued to press. A cross from the right flank seemed to hang in the air for an age as Hulse climbed and glanced an effort towards goal.
Federici was in top form to deny the striker, tipping the ball away from the bottom left hand corner. Reading were predominantly looking for the likes of Shane Long and Hal Robson-Kanu in a rather direct style of play.
QPR were a tad less direct than on Saturday and this was in clear evidence as Taarabt won his side a spot-kick shortly before the half hour mark. After coasing past two challenges in the area, Brian Howard hauled down the playmaker and Mr Tanner pointed to the spot.
Adel Taarabt strode forward nonchalantly and this effortlessness was transmitted to his spot-kick as he chipped down the middle and handed the home side the advantage.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Reading
The dominant hosts were seemingly under threat only by the quality that Jobi McAnuff was providing from the flanks. The former Watford and Cardiff wide-man was well marshalled by the Rangers rearguard, but required constant attention.
The evident negative for Reading was the absence of talisman Jimmy Kebe, as despite the endeavour of Robson-Kanu, he is certainly no match for the raw pace and skill of the Mali international. Nevertheless the hosts continued to press their counterparts.
Another chance came and went – notably for Hulse – when Taarabt and Faurlín once again forged a useful partnership for the latter to centre to striker Hulse. The lone front-man had time and space to head the effort but conspired to scoop his chance over the bar.
The running of the game appeared to be with Rangers, but Reading are not a team to be taken lightly given their stunning come-back against Doncaster Rovers. They were given every chance once QPR were reduced to ten men.
Robson-Kanu put in a heavy touch down the left-wing only for Bradley Orr to pile into a challenge, narrowly missing the ball and catching his man on the way through. Mr Tanner hesitated in giving the set-piece before deciding that the tackle merited a red card.
In fairness to the official the challenge was strong and missing the ball added that little extra sense of ferocity to proceedings. Certainly the calibre of challenge that has earned a red card in the past, but on the merit of the incident it was a little harsh on the returning full-back.
The reshuffle prompted Jamie Mackie to slot into right back with a flat midfield four behind Hulse. It didn’t stifle QPR in fairness to them as they continued to put forward their brand of counter-attacking style. Nevertheless the referee received a tongue-lashing from Keith Curle and the supporters.
The two sides went into the break, much like last year, with QPR in the lead and down to ten men, quite how Matt Mills escaped the wrath of the official will remain in question, but the hosts took the slender advantage into the break.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Reading
It would be backs to the wall football from the off in the second period and the fans sensed the siege mentality. The players – in particular Mackie – seemed to thrive on the ‘underdog’ tag afforded to them, as they not only defended stoutly but looked to bolster their advantage.
A sublime passage of play saw Jamie Mackie and Tommy Smith link up delightfully down the right, as Mackie chased down the loose ball and squared for Hulse. Despite the ball being behind the sizeable striker he engineered an excellent header which was caught by Federici.
Despite their numerical advantage Reading weren’t able to get at the Rangers defence and this was testament to the hard work of players such as Shaun Derry and Mackie at right back, who didn’t give their respective attackers an inch.
That work ethic was soon rewarded as they clinched a second goal – it owed much to a stunning through ball from the lively Taarabt as Mackie pounced onto the pass. Unselfishly he attempted to square to Hulse with the ball rolling in behind the forward.
The ball deflected into the path of Alejandro Faurlín who composed himself before slamming the ball home despite a valiant effort to keep the ball out on the line. Faurlín celebrated his first of the season and also his return to the line-up in recent weeks.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 2-0 Reading
Reading were gathering a wealth of possession but their inability to convert this to chances was costing them dear – and the lines of advantages in terms of personnel were being blurred by the minute as Rangers played some sublime football.
Only a last ditch tackle from Andy Griffin denied the blood-thirsty Mackie as he capitalised on a defensive error. He soared towards the target, showing little signs of fatigue or flagging, but the former Stoke man was able to nip in and win a goal kick.
Reading were shocked into life and the normally unflustered Brian McDermott was evidently hot under the collar as he side started to flag. He had the unenviable task of firstly cooling the hot-headed Matt Mills before he was given his marching orders, while also trying to haul his side back in the game.
Taarabt meanwhile was displayed some very silky skills including a sublime flick that raised the ire of Karacan. The youth product let his composure slide as he hacked down Taarabt from behind. Tanner this time reaching for a yellow card.
The like a bolt out of the blue, Reading had a route back into the game and it was a marvellous effort from Shane Long that gave the Royals their foot-hold. He held off two defenders before smashing home from distance.
A strike that was similar to that of Taarabt’s against Burnley – Long celebrated in front of just over 2,000 supporters that populated the School End. QPR now knew that their side would have to dig deep to stop the Reading pressure from mounting.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 2-1 Reading
The game was now hitting a good momentum with both sides looking to play on the break – credit to Neil Warnock for not wanting to sit back and merely defend a slender lead. Reading were pressing but with little in the way of cutting edge, they struggled to really open up the defence.
Indeed it was Rangers that struck next and after Khizanishvili felled Faurlin, Taarabt was licking his lips at the prospect of the free-kick. His guided effort was tipped away by Federici only as far as Tommy Smith.
The Portsmouth loanee slammed home from point-blank range to send Loftus Road into raptures. They side were now in front, looking commanding and surely had now killed off the Reading presence in attack.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 3-1 Reading
Reading were still looking lively as Simon Church was thrown on in search of what would have been another stunning comeback. Indeed he was gifted a chance when the R’s defence parted like the red sea, but only conspired to fire high and wide over the bar.
The game rather ambled to its conclusion as a trio of substitutes entered the fray, Leon Clarke, Patrick Agyemang and Hogan Ephraim – Adel Taarabt was given an understandable standing ovation for his part in proceedings.
The game was seen out by Warnock’s men, to the delight of the boss himself – as Rangers regain top spot for the time being and pile the pressure on Cardiff City as they face rivals Swansea tomorrow.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 3-1 Reading
Queens Park Rangers
Paddy Kenny, Bradley Orr, Shaun Derry, Adel Taarabt (Leon Clarke 81), Alejandro Faurlin, Jamie Mackie, Kaspars Gorkss, Kyle Walker, Matt Connolly, Rob Hulse (Patrick Agyemang 81), Tommy Smith (Hogan Ephraim 90).
Adam Federici, Andy Griffin, Jem Karacan (Simon Church 62), Matthew Mills, Jay Tabb (Michail Antonio 81), Shane Long, Jobi McAnuff, Zurab Khizanishvili, Hal Robson-Kanu (Noel Hunt 72), Brian Howard, Ian Harte.