GOALS from Adel Taarabt and Clint Hill were enough to punish a profligate Portsmouth side that continue to belie the talent in their squad.
The game was suffering from a malaise of mediocrity with the visitors successful in their stifling and closing in on break-away goal.
Step forward Adel Taarabt – the Moroccan playmaker strode forward before shrugging off his marker and firing into the bottom left hand corner with the aid of a weak hand from Jamie Ashdown.
The home defence was far from comfortable and periods of pressure were proving nervy for the league leaders, but when Clint Hill crashed home the second from Taarabt’s corner matters were assured.
Once again not a vintage display from Rangers who were pressed hard by their former Premier League opponents, but once again the hosts display the mark of champions by rising to see off their opposition.
Neil Warnock opted to make one change from the side that drew up at Hull City at the weekend, with Hogan Ephraim coming in for the injured former Portsmouth wide-man Tommy Smith.
Paddy Kenny started behind an unchanged back four of Bradley Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly and Clint Hill, with Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry linking up in midfield.
The trio of Wayne Routledge, Adel Taarabt and Ephraim started behind the lone forward Ishmael Miller, who featured once again in a target-man role.
Portsmouth started with Jamie Ashdown behind his back four of Richie de Laet, Greg Halford, Aaron Mokoena and Herman Hreidarsson.
The midfield quartet consisted of Joel Ward, Hayden Mullins, Jonathan Hogg and Liam Lawrence with Dave Kitson returning to partner Dave Nugent.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Portsmouth
Another crucial fixture came calling at Loftus Road, particularly in light of the weekend’s draw at Hull City. If the encounter needed any more spice, the way the Fratton Park encounter ended would have surely remained with the Portsmouth players after a frankly unbelievable finish.
A bitter chill was in the air in West London as Portsmouth made their first trip to Loftus Road since November 2000. The sides took to the field with Rangers knowing a win was of utmost importance considering the form of those around them.
It would be fair to say that Rangers were on the back foot from the off as a nervous defensive appeared to be wilting under pressure. A free header for defender Greg Halford from a Liam Lawrence set-piece was gratefully taken by ‘keeper Paddy Kenny.
The R’s defence seemed static as the former Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sunderland defender rose highest in the area. It was perhaps the wake-up call that the league leaders needed with the more expressive talents coming to the fore.
After the ten minute mark Rangers started to press and almost had their opening through an unlikely source as Clint Hill latched on to an Ishmael Miller knock-down before lashing a left-footed effort wide of the left-hand upright.
The fixture was not proving to be one for the purist as the play was predominantly direct, unsuccessfully so for Rangers who were seeing Miller dominated in the air by the sizeable duo of Halford and South African international Aaron Mokoena.
That lack of creativity invited a Portsmouth side forward and they nearly caught out the R’s when Dave Kitson latched onto a high through ball, before holding off Matt Connolly with consummate ease and looping an effort over the bar and onto the roof of the net.
Certainly it continued to highlight the fragility of the Rangers defence, but strength in reserve was a positive factor as Dan Shittu and Pascal Chimbonda waited in the wings for their opportunity in the first team.
Then came one of the game’s major talking points on the half hour, with a poor kick from Paddy Kenny falling kindly for Lawrence 40 yards from goal. A poor challenge from Connolly saw him in hot water with the Portsmouth players and certainly there was an air of nervousness creeping into the crowd.
Thankfully a sensible official didn’t deem it a clear goalscoring opportunity and Connolly received a caution. The resultant free-kick however was nearly justice for Pompey as Kenny managed to palm
away a venomous effort from Halford.
The pressure of expectation was weighing heavy on the QPR players and this certainly transmitted to the crowd. The more expressive talents seemed to struggle to find space and this is testament to the stern defensive work of Portsmouth.
Rangers most genuine opportunity of the period came as Alejandro Faurlín made space on the edge of the area before sending a dipping left-footed drive through a crowd of players. Ashdown watched the ball into his arms, making a smart stop from the Argentine.
The two sides went into the break level pegging with mediocrity the only winner in what was proving a dour affair. The second half at least could promise much better should both sides be able to get their more creative talents on the ball.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Portsmouth
Rangers unusually entered the field first for the second period, but they were evidently sent out with a renewed purpose and vigour by boss Neil Warnock. No changes required for either side, with both having a point to prove after a relatively quiet first period.
Some nice interplay and possession football helped to improve their confidence, with less direct football proving useful in breaking down a resolute Portsmouth defence. Taarabt was giving de Laet a hard time down the left and it nearly paid dividends in handing Rangers the lead.
His direct running and skill took him past the Manchester United loanee before squaring for Miller. The West Bromwich Albion striker turned expertly in the area but fired a left-footed effort wide of the left-hand upright.
The signs were certainly positive, more so than the first half, and QPR continued to heap on the pressure as Portsmouth came out of their shell. Pompey pressed and Rangers were able to find space on the break to great effect.
It was an attack such as this that yielded the first goal of the afternoon as Faurlín hit a slide-rule pass to Adel Taarabt. The Moroccan had options but he ostensibly decided to try his luck, and luck had a large role to play in this effort.
He fired a right-footed shot towards goal and it was too hot to handle for Ashdown who could only watch the ball slip through his fingers and into the bottom left-hand corner. Fortune shone on QPR while Portsmouth could be left to rue their levels of concentration.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Portsmouth
If a game ever needed a goal it was this one, and following Taarabt’s 14th goal of the season the game considerably opened up. Portsmouth came from their shell and Rangers looked to exploit the gaps left in behind.
This will to attack fared well for Pompey as well with the visitors nearly restoring parity just a few short minutes later after a clever piece of interplay. Lawrence and Kitson combined to see Hogg running onto the latters’ clever dummy.
His touch was eventually stabbed towards target by the Aston Villa midfielder only for the ball to be tipped wide of the left-hand upright by the excellent Kenny. This came as great relief to QPR players and supporters alike and this was borne out in Rangers galvanised attacking prowess.
With just over 15 minutes on the clock Rangers sealed matters with the simplest of set-pieces from Taarabt once more. Clint Hill broke free from the pack and surged to the far post where he landed his first Rangers goal.
The defender crashed home a powerful header, which once again was too hot to handle for Ashdown. The goal appeared to change the game as Rangers were now playing with a greater confidence and evidently the opposite effect was being portrayed in Pompey’s play.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 2-0 Portsmouth
Once again supporters were seeing the positive side of Taarabt following his weekend debacle up at Hull – creating magic from his educated boots once more. By comparison the likes of Lawrence and Kitson were struggling to have a genuine impact on proceedings.
Substitute Rob Hulse was having a positive effect on the clash in what was a useful cameo from the former Derby County front-man. Portsmouth to their credit continued to show great endeavour going forward to little effect.
Indeed with the influence of Lawrence and Kitson starting to wane it proved to be rather a crucially timed goal from Hill. Fitz Hall was brought on to bolster the rearguard, further keeping the Portsmouth strike force at bay.
His aerial prowess was proving extremely effectively from late set-pieces and long throw ins, indicating what role he still has to play at Rangers under Neil Warnock. The goals had truly galvanised the hosts as they pressed for a third.
Good possession play from the combative duo of Faurlín and Shaun Derry was proving effective in the middle of the park before Ephraim and Taarabt were able to exploit space in behind, before the Moroccan was withdrawn to a standing ovation.
Replaced by Petter Vaagan Moen, the midfielder had truly put this weekend’s antics behind him with an effective display that promises much for the season run-in. Portsmouth by comparison seemed to lack the motivation of their boisterous support.
This is certainly a surprise in light of the quality in their starting eleven, but nevertheless Steve Cotterill evidently has more work to do to motivate his players and with a little more luck this evening there could have been something in this for the forlorn south-coast side.
Rangers however march on at the summit of the Championship, and this result is a marker with the importance not to be underestimated in light of other results in the chasing pack – Rangers now must look to Reading on Friday in another crunch clash.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 2-0 Portsmouth
Queens Park Rangers
Paddy Kenny, Bradley Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly, Clint Hill, Alejandro Damián Faurlín, Shaun Derry, Wayne Routledge (Fitz Hall 85), Adel Taarabt (Petter Vaagan Moen 90), Hogan Ephraim, Ishmael Miller (Rob Hulse 70).
Jamie Ashdown, Richie de Laet, Greg Halford, Aaron Mokoena, Herman Hreidarsson, Joel Ward (Nadir Ciftci 83), Hayden Mullins, Jonathan Hogg, Liam Lawrence, Dave Nugent, Dave Kitson.