Rangers inflicted the first away defeat on Cardiff City, who had two players sent off: Purse within the first half hour of the gam, and Comminges late in the second. This was not a vintage display by the Rs – it was more a battling performance with “patience” the key word of the day.
Cardiff, to their credit, never let their one-man disadvantage hamper their efforts, as they retained two up front throughout the game. However, even though the statistics suggest they had slightly more possession, they could not make anything of it, as Rangers` defence one again held firm.
And as Rangers tried patiently to press home their one-man advantage, they finally cracked the Bluebirds` stalwart defence on 80 minutes with a bullet header from substitute Gavin Mahon from an inch-perfect cross from Peter Ramage.
Rangers made several changes to the line-up that started against Ipswich last weekend. Parejo did not feature, whilst Delaney was dropped to the bench. Connolly filled the left-back role vacated by Delaney and Ramage, back into the team after recovering from an injury which had kept him out of the line-up at Ipswich, was at right-back. Ledesma started and Buzsaky dropped to the bench – seemingly a straight switch. Ainsworth opted for a 4-4-2 formation, with Blackstock and Di Carmine partners-in-crime up front.
Dave Jones was forced into several changes. With Bothroyd and McCormack injured, Jones brought in Eddie Johnson and new loan-signing Michael Chopra to start together up front. Miguel Comminges started in defence at the expense of Paul Parry, who was dropped to the bench. Whittingham and Ledley took up the wide midfield positions with the central berths being filled, as usual, by McPhail and Rae. Heaton was in goal behind McNaughton, Purse, Comminges and Roger Johnson.
Kick off: Queens Park Rangers v Cardiff
The match started evenly with the Bluebirds having the opening chance. In the first minute of the game they won a corner which McPhail took but Roger Johnson couldn`t convert his header which sailed over the bar.
The Rs soon had a chance of their own, as Ledesma`s through-ball found Blackstock, but his first touch let him down and the chance was gone. Ledesma himself had a shot which flew wide of Heaton`s right-hand post, before Cardiff tested Radek Cerny in the Rs` goal. McPhail played a one-two with Whittingham and unleashed the return ball forcing Cerny into a good full-length save. Damion Stewart then headed over the Cardiff bar for the Rs.
Then the game changed dramatically! Referee Probert who had, until then, had a relatively quiet game, saw fit to send Bluebird defender Darren Purse off after his challenge on Lee Cook. Everyone around u, in the South Africa Road stand wondered why Probert had brandished the red card – at worst, we all felt the challenge was worthy of a yellow.
As soon as the challenge had come in, Rangers seemed to have a good break on. But when Probert blew-up for the foul, the crowd were incensed as they thought a good opportunity had been spoiled. And that is when Probert drew out the red card. At first, those around me thought he had brandished the red because of the howling of the crowd; but it seems it was for a high tackle.
Not having seen the challenge close up, being in the S.A.R., I can only say that it seemed that, even though Purse won the ball, he came in high on Cook; and so twice in as many matches Loftus Road witnessed a player being sent off for dangerous play.
To his credit, Jones decided to sacrifice midfielder Joe Ledley, rather than a striker, as Ainsworth had done himself ten day`s ago against Birmingham. Defender Gyepes came on in his place and the shape of the team changed to 4-3-2. It was a bold decision, but one that seemed to pay-off as Cardiff continued to take the game to Rangers after a period of re-adjustment.
Meanwhile, Ledesma tried a ferocious half-volley from outside the area, but it was straight at Heaton, who caught and held the ball well. Blackstock then had a chance in front of goal, but a well-timed tackle from Gyepes spoiled the chance.
Cardiff were breaking quickly and effectively. So it was no surprise that, just before the half-time whistle, Whittingham had a shot which flew inches over Cerny`s bar, giving lie to the fact that the Bluebirds were now down to 10 men.
Half time: Queens Park Rangers 0 – 0 Cardiff
The second half started with Cardiff continuing where they had left off in the first half – attacking the Rangers goal. Eddie Johnson tested Cerny before Ramage went down to the Loft End and smashed the outside of Heaton`s post with a mishit cross.
On 55 minutes, Ainsworth brought on Buzsaky for Ledesma and the Rs changed their shape to accommodate the Magical Magyar`s preference for playing in the centre midfield, as they went 4-2-2-2! Buzsaky and Cook were now playing just behind Blackstock and Di Carmine, with Rowlands and Tommasi behind them in front of the defence.
The substitution seemed inspired, as Buzsaky quickly came into his own, threading a ball to Connolly who went on to set up Samuel Di Carmine for a great shot from the right-hand side, which just went over Heaton`s bar.
Problem was Cardiff`s defence were holding firm, frustrating all the Rs` efforts as Rangers continued to try to turn their numerical advantage into a goal.
Sitting near the Director`s Box as I do, I then witnessed an extraordinary turn of events. Flavio Briatore seemed to be yelling at Gianni Paladini to get a message to Ainsworth to make another substitution! This may just be us all “interpreting” events in the way we wanted to, since Mahon was already stripped and ready to come on and Patrick Agyemang was also warming up, soon to be introduced after a few weeks` absence from a pelvic injury. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable to watch!!
So, on 67 minutes, Mahon came on for Tommasi, and this was followed by right-back Ramage having another shot-cum-cross saved by Heaton. And on 71 minutes, Agyemang followed Mahon onto the pitch. At that point, Buzsaky reminded everyone why he is such a dangerous central midfielder, as he made a stunning turn followed by an even more stunning shot just outside the area, which Heaton could only parry. The ball fell to Agyemang who shot wide from close-up – which was lucky seeing as how he was offside when he received the ball!
Cardiff went down the other end and Michael Chopra went down in the box under a challenge from Damion Stewart. Another referee on another day may well have given a penalty for what clearly was not a penalty! Thankfully, Probert didn`t think there was a foul either!!
The home crowd was exhorting the Rs to greater things and it was duly delivered. First Buzsaky passed the ball expertly to Peter Ramage who had made another run down the right flank. Ramage took his time and sent in an inch-perfect cross. Gavin Mahon rose higher from the left-hand side of the box than anyone else in the area and his looping header sailed over everybody, including Heaton, into the far right-hand corner of the goal.
Queens Park Rangers 1 – 0 Cardiff
More pain was then inflicted on Cardiff. Two bookings inside two minutes for Miguel Comminges, the first for an overly hard tackle and the second for dissent, saw the Bluebirds down to 9 men! Although Rangers tried to make the most of Cardiff`s ill fortune, Cardiff themselves tried manfully to carry on attacking. And it nearly paid off.
They one a free-kick near the Rs` penalty area. At that point, Heaton left his goal and joined the Cardiff attack to add numbers as they looked for a last-gasp equaliser. The ball was floated in by Whittingham and Roger Johnson rose to head the ball. It looked like it might be going in, but Cerny somehow turned the ball round the corner of his left-hand post.
And then, to the relief of the Ranger`s fans, Probert blew the final whistle.
Final whistle: Queens Park Rangers 1 – 0 Cardiff
QPR:Radek Cerny, Damien Delaney, Damion Stewart, Fitz Hall, Dexter Blackstock, Peter Ramage, Martin Rowlands, Matthew Connolly, Lee Cook, Damiano Tommasi (Gavin Mahon 67), Emmanuel Ledesma (Akos Buzsaky 55), Samuel Di Carmine (Patrick Agyemang 71).
Cardiff City: Tom Heaton, Kevin McNaughton, Gavin Rae, Darren Purse, Peter Whittingham, Eddie Johnson (Paul Parry 72), Stephen McPhail, Roger Johnson, Miguel Comminges, Joe Ledley (Gabor Gyepes 29), Michael Chopra.
Radek Cerny – 7/10
He had very little to do, although when called upon he did it superbly and with confidence. He caught every ball that came into the box – none of the punching that we were cringing about weeks ago!
Damion Stewart – 7/10
Along with his now-regular partner, Fitz Hall, he dominated the centre of the defence. He was again calm and assured. This partnership is solid and seemingly invincible (at least, that is, when they concentrate!)
Fitz Hall – 7/10
My comments for Stewart are the same for Hall! Clearly the two players are very comfortable working with each other and, so long as they concentrate, they are formidable.
Dexter Blackstock – 5/10
Another disappointing game in front of goal. He doesn’t seem to keep up with play, too often finding himself second to the ball. He had one glorious opportunity which he seemed to bottle. Has his confidence gone already?
Martin Rowlands – 6/10
Although he did not stop running, probably covering every blade of grass on the pitch, there was no real end result for all his effort. I almost feel he is trying to take on too much – that he is too eager to do everything instead of concentrating on what he does best.
Peter Ramage – 6/10
Although he had more mishits than hits when in attack, and even though he did get caught out a few times in defence, he worked hard and his cross for Mahon’s goal cannot be faulted at all. I hope this gives him confidence as I believe he is a more than capable defender!
Matthew Connolly – 8/10
He was great in defence – calm and assured – following the ball and watching the play well. His attacking play was also excellent and he linked very well with Lee Cook. Connolly looked as if he had played at left-back all his career!
Lee Cook – 8/10
His first half seemed better overall than his second, although in the second half he tried to run at the Cardiff City defence more, and particularly their right-back. He never gave up and linked very well with Matthew Connolly down the left wing.
Damiano Tommasi – 6/10
Not his best performance for us. He kept on running and was great at picking up the loose balls in the first half. But he didn’t seem to keep possession very well. Was rightly substituted by Gavin Mahon.
Emmanuel Ledesma – 7/10
Did well down the right before coming off for Akos Buzsaky. He was enthusiastic and tried very hard, making chances for the strikers, as well being unafraid to have a go himself. He was particularly unlucky with a superb half-volley in the first half.
Samuel Di Carmine – 6/10
He holds the ball up well and was prepared to chase everything. He had a few good touches but he was ineffective in front of goal. I thought he was better, though, than Dexter Blackstock – even though it was Di Carmine who came off in the second half.
SUB: Akos Buzsaky – 8/10
Replaced Emmanuel Ledesma Was outstanding in centre midfield as the shape of the team was changed to accommodate his preferred position. He was very exciting going forward, creating chances and making one outstanding chance of note for himself, seemingly out of nothing.
SUB: Gavin Mahon – 7/10
Replaced Daniano Tommasi Was more masterful as our defensive midfielder than Tommasi – but outstanding as our goal scorer! He read the ball well, was assured and made some very good passes from out of defence.
Replaced Samuel Di Carmine He did so much in the 20 minutes, or so, that he had on the pitch – but it was not enough time, in my view, to earn him an 8! He is strong and fast, showing a good turn of pace on numerous occasions. He holds the ball well and is great at holding off his marker.
Gareth Ainsworth: 8/10 – I think he got his original team selection correct. 4-4-2 was the correct formation to adopt and, as Agyemang had only played one 90-minute game in the week since recovering from injury, Ainsworth had to keep the Blackstock/Di Carmine partnership up front, which he had used against Birmingham. The timing of his substitutions was perfect – giving Buzsaky and Mahon plenty of time to make an impact on the team. And Ainsworth admitted as much to BBC London radio after the game. He also wasn’t afraid to bring Buzsaky on as a central midfielder, changing the shape of the team to accommodate this. Although this was not the Rs best performance, it was not from lack of effort on the caretaker-manager’s part.
Dave Jones: 7/10 – He bravely kept two up front after Purse was sent off. He made sure his team kept attacking QPR throughout and it nearly paid off at the end, when the Bluebirds could have had a last-gasp equaliser.
Mr L Probert: 6/10 – Cardiff fans will feel hard done by when he sent Purse off for dangerous play on Lee Cook before the half-hour. Probert had started off quite leniently, letting the game flow; and even after the sending-off he tried to let the game flow. But he started blowing for the smallest incidents. And, finally, started issuing yellow cards, two to the same player. To his credit, he did not get fooled into awarding a penalty against Stewart, in the second half, when Chopra clearly dived inside the box.
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