QUEENS Park Rangers took a giant step towards safety as they cruised to a two-goal victory at home to doomed Plymouth Argyle.
Rangers managed to keep their first clean sheet in 25 games against Paul Mariner’s Pilgrims, who sadly looked a sure-fire bet for the drop after a disappointing showing at Loftus Road.
The R’s had the lead when Tamás Priskin was tugged down in the area and Adel Taarabt showed excellent composure to roll home the spot kick.
Their third home win on the spin was secured when Taarabt’s pin-point free-kick was nodded home by defender Damion Stewart with consummate ease.
Warnock’s men played some slick passing football throughout with playmakers Taarabt and Alejandro Faurlín dazzling the home crowd and giving positive indications for future fixtures.
Conversely Rangers promotion partners slip further into the mire, and there was little from the display this evening to suggest anything other than League One football this season.
Weeks of nervousness and tension has now subsided and while Rangers are not out of the woods yet, they have gone a long way to securing their Championship status for next season.
Neil Warnock named an unchanged side from the outfit that defeated West Bromwich Albion at the weekend, with the notable addition of Lee Cook on the bench.
Carl Ikeme started behind a back four of Matt Connolly, Damion Stewart, Kaspars Gorkss and Matt Hill with skipper Mikele Leigertwood partnering the in form Alejandro Faurlín in the middle.
Adel Taarabt and Hogan Ephraim started wide with Tamás Priskin starting alongside top-scorer Jay Simpson, as Rangers looked to build on another positive display.
Argyle started with David Stockdale behind Richard Eckersley, former R Chris Barker, Kari Árnason and Gary Sawyer, with Damien Johnson and Carl Fletcher the combative midfield duo.
Karl Duguid and Alan Judge started wide with World Cup-bound Rory Fallon partnering Jamie Mackie in attack as Argyle sought a confidence boosting victory.
Connolly – Stewart – Gork?s – Hill
Taarabt – Faurlín – Leigertwood – Ephraim
Priskin – Simpson
Eckersley – Árnason – Barker – Sawyer
Duguid – Johnson – Fletcher – Judge
Fallon – Mackie
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Plymouth Argyle
Rangers and Argyle took to the field on a bitter evening in West London, but the promise of an evening’s entertainment, such as the weekend win over West Bromwich Albion, didn’t take long to give warmth to the Loftus Road crowd.
Indeed Rangers were quick out of the traps once more with Adel Taarabt at the centre of Rangers early craft. The Moroccan’s creative stylings created an opportunity for Tamás Priskin, but the Hungarian’s effort was charged down well by a dogged Argyle defence.
The hosts were certainly the more adventurous of the sides in the early offing, with Plymouth content to sit and attempt to pick Rangers off on the break. Indeed the industrious front-man Alan Judge was proving a useful outlet for the Pilgrims.
Hogan Ephraim was evidently in the mood to impress having retained his place, and his cross flashed across the area narrowly evading both Priskin and Jay Simpson, and it proved to be that the R’s were providing the majority of the early impetus.
While hardly proving the most enterprising of sides Argyle were looking to soak up the home pressure before attempting to pick off the attacks courtesy of combative duo Damien Johnson and Carl Fletcher – before launching counter-attacks of their own.
Indeed their tactics seemed to centre around Judge’s centres to talisman Rory Fallon with Jamie Mackie looking to forage for scraps from any knock-downs. The chances for the Pilgrims were all too fleeting however as Rangers continue to force the issue.
Taarabt was once again at the centre of the Rangers effort, winning a free-kick in the heart of the Plymouth half. His free-kick was nicely flighted, only for an overstretched-Priskin to glance his header wide of the left hand upright.
The Moroccan was at it again moments later, surging forward through the centre of the park before playing a delightful through ball to Jay Simpson. The Arsenal loanee opted to take his shot first time on the slide, but it flew inches wide of the right hand post.
Brief glimpses of the football Jim Magilton brought to W12 was recaptured, when a succession of passes culminated in Faurlín and the impressive Leigertwood laying it off for full-back Matt Connolly – the full back couldn’t convert his second in two games from long-range, but the fans sounded their approval.
Plymouth’s attacks were all too fleeting despite still having a narrow foothold in the fixture. Judge swung in a useful free-kick from the right, and it caused all manner of issues in the Rangers defence. Kari Árnason missed the guilt-edge opportunity to nod over the bar.
Tottenham loanee Taarabt nearly produced an outstanding solo effort moments later, dazzling the crowd and a succession of defenders for what seemed an endless period of time, before the culmination of his breath-taking skill saw him scuff his shot wide.
Once again Loftus Road sounded its approval for an outstanding period of skill from Taarabt, and there was even a hands clapping in the School End as sections of the Argyle support clearly appreciated the talents of a player destined for greater things.
Moments later Rangers had the chance to make their breakthrough when a cross from Connolly down the right saw Priskin hauled back in the area when reaching for the ball. Referee Mr Tierney showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
A few players went in search of the ball, but it was Adel Taarabt that put the ball on the spot. With many expecting something extravagant from the midfield man, he nonchalantly rolled the ball into the bottom left hand corner to hand Rangers the advantage.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Plymouth Argyle
While it was Plymouth that appear to be the side more desperate for points it was the R’s that entered full-flow before the break. Faurlín’s free-kick was flicked into the path of Damion Stewart, but the big Jamaican evidently wasn’t expecting the deflection as he nodded over from point-blank range.
Ephraim was continually tormenting Rangers’ summer target Richard Eckersley, who was having a hard time in his right full-back berth. The ex-West Ham wide-man beat his man before sending in a teasing cross and having his effort brushed away for a corner.
Such was Argyle’s luck at times the referee blowed for half time while Árnason lined-up for one of his customary long throws into the box. But it was Rangers that had created the wealth of opportunities in the first period, and Plymouth looking to a big second half to aid their Championship plight.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Plymouth Argyle
An extended half time break saw the sides emerge for the second half, with the hosts evidently the more refreshed of the two sides. Rangers picked up where they left off as Warnock continued to toy with his former club.
Taarabt was up to his old tricks as he drew a free-kick from some unreconstructed Argyle defending. It was he who took the set-piece, delivered deep into the heart of the Argyle area, the visitors defence were pushed dangerously deep into the heart of the area.
Defender Damion Stewart rose highest in the area to plant his header firmly into the net and double the R’s advantage. The bullet-header at point-blank range gave ‘keeper Stockdale little chance as Warnock’s men eyed another important maximum.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 2-0 Plymouth Argyle
Taarabt was looking in imperious form and his venomous left-footed drive dipped ominously towards the left-hand upright, but in the end drifted inches over the bar. The Tottenham Hotspur loanee was proving a formidable force, which makes a mockery of previous decisions to leave him out of the line-up.
Argyle were now beginning to get a better foothold in the game, but many were surprised that Mariner decided to withdraw Fallon and Judge – it certainly sent an interesting signal to supporters, some considering that he’d given up.
On in their stead came live-wire winger Yannick Bolasie, fresh off a loan spell with League Two Barnet, and youth product Joe Mason, who has impressed in recent fixtures with the raw exuberance of his performances.
Bolasie in fairness looked a great deal more effective as Plymouth changed to a 4-3-3 formation with he and Mason supporting the now lone forward Mackie. His pace caused problems to Connolly who in turn conceded a yellow card for bringing down the Frenchman.
In truth despite a consistent spell of pressure, Argyle failed to create any meaningful opportunities, with Carl Ikeme in particular a commanding figure in the R’s goal to claim any errant crosses and give confidence to the defenders around him.
Buoyed by their earlier creative play Rangers nearly grabbed a third, with skipper Leigertwood bursting through the midfield. His effort was misguided by fell rapidly into the path of Simpson whose reaction time wasn’t as swift as required as he side-footed wide from close-range.
It seemed for all their attacking play – one player in particular was being singled out for the groans of the crowd – Tamás Priskin. The forward seemed somewhat lethargic throughout and despite a succession of successful aerial challenges, sections of support were less then pleased with his efforts.
As the substitution boards went up, it wasn’t he but the outstanding Adel Taarabt that was replaced – indeed he was truly the difference maker on the evening as Ákos Buzsáky made his second successive substitute appearance in his stead.
Not long after R’s favourite Lee Cook came on to replace Hogan Ephraim – the winger had put in a dramatically improved display from the weekend but Richard Eckersley’s task was going to be equally as challenging against the self-professed R’s fan.
A third was nearly applied in comical fashion as Simpson chased a hopeful long pass, with a defender and ‘keeper Stockdale running into each other allowing the Arsenal loanee to shoot left-footed towards goal. Unfortunately for him the snatched effort rolled wide of the right hand post.
Soon after Simpson was withdrawn with Rowan Vine taking to the field – with groans of disappointment greeting the fact that Priskin remained on the park. Nevertheless he continued to work into the channels and provide his side with some useful flick-ons and throw ins.
Despite four minutes of added on time, Plymouth rarely looked like threatening the Rangers rearguard – a defence that had only previously kept three clean sheets in the league. It was indeed an excellent day for the defensive unit and Warnock as Rangers marched on away from the danger-zone.
Meanwhile Plymouth’s plight couldn’t be more frank – with a limp, lifeless display yielding little in terms of comfort or promising sides, as Paul Mariner’s team is only heading one way in their present state.
Full Time: Queens Park Rangers 2-0 Plymouth Argyle
Queens Park Rangers
Carl Ikeme, Matt Connolly, Kaspars Gorkss, Damion Stewart, Matt Hill, Adel Taarabt (Ákos Buzsáky 83), Alejandro Damián Faurlín, Mikele Leigertwood, Hogan Ephraim (Lee Cook 78), Jay Simpson (Rowan Vine 85), Tamás Priskin.
David Stockdale, Richard Eckersley, Kari Árnason, Chris Barker, Gary Sawyer, Karl Duguid, Carl Fletcher, Damien Johnson, Alan Judge (Yannick Bolasie 55), Rory Fallon (Joe Mason 55), Jamie Mackie.