QUEENS Park Rangers and Crystal Palace shared the spoils on an afternoon of few chances at Loftus Road.
In an afternoon that saw Rowan Vine make his long-awaited return from a broken leg, Paulo Sousa saw red and was sent to the stands for his protestation over a challenge on forward Samuel Di Carmine.
Rangers once again advertised their need for a proven striker as they missed a host of opportunities, with no one willing to gamble on a succession of testing crosses.
The sun shone down on Loftus Road but not in the stands as a minority of fans turned against their team again, booing Samuel Di Carmine off the field and chanting for departed forward Dexter Blackstock.
The reality of the occasion was that Rangers lacked the creativity and goals to take them to victory over a well-drilled Crystal Palace side who got exactly what they came for, a hard-earned point.
Rangers made changes to the side that beat Bristol City last time out before the international break. Wayne Routledge and Liam Miller returned to the starting line-up, with the latter a surprising addition in place of Jordi López.
Radek Cerny sat behind a defensive unit that re-united Matthew Connolly and Kaspars Gorkss, with Damien Delaney and Peter Ramage at full back. The five across the midfield saw Miller and Routledge join Mikele Leigertwood, Adel Taarabt and Hogan Ephraim – with Samuel Di Carmine on his own up front.
Hot off the heels of his goalscoring heroics against Wales, Shefki Kuqi lined up alongside loan forward Anthony Stokes in a powerful attacking line-up for the Eagles. This was supplemented by the young talent of Nathaniel Clyne and Victor Moses who marauded either flank.
Matthew Lawrence retained his central defensive berth alongside the returning Claude Davis, with Neil Danns and veteran skipper Shaun Derry the engine room in midfield. A tough physical side under Neil Warnock, Crystal Palace could make a sizeable dent into Rangers playoff aspirations – however fleeting they had become.
Kick Off: QPR v Crystal Palace
Rangers started brightly with three across the midfield, but what soon became evident is that the visitors would try to stifle the game and play on the break. It nearly paid dividends early on as veteran Shaun Derry fired a dipping volley inches wide of the right hand upright that had Radek Cerny anxiously scrambling towards his corner.
In recent weeks Rangers have had much joy in the wide midfield areas with Adel Taarabt lighting up Loftus Road with a succession of exemplary displays. It seemed today that Palace had done their homework, with the young Moroccan struggling to make in-roads into the Eagles rearguard.
Visiting supporters heckled Wayne Routledge`s every touch owing to his acrimonious departure to Tottenham Hotspur following their relegation from the Premier League. His excellent trickery saw him slip in returning midfielder Liam Miller – however the Irishman right footed drive was poorly placed and allowed Speroni to make a comfortable save at his near post.
Moments later Taarabt started to come into the game a little more after a clever interchange with Hogan Ephraim the Tottenham loanee stabbed an effort goalbound, with found the Argentinean stopper once again in good form – beating the effort away with relative comfort.
The affair was tepid at best and a selection of half chances was all it that was on offer, as some of the players were struggling in the sunny conditions in West London. Needless fouls and a multitude of drinks breaks put pay to the momentum of the fixture and broke the game up needlessly at times.
A player who was visibly struggling was Samuel Di Carmine. The Fiorentina loanee was giving his all in a lone striker`s role but wasn`t able to make the difference where it mattered in the heart of the area.
His purposeful run saw him race clear of Claude Davis down the left, before his centre deflected off a Palace defender and straight to a grateful Julián Speroni. The very fact this is deemed worthy of a mention is the epitome of how lifeless the first half truly was.
Di Carmine was in the thick of it moments later when Claude Davis stuck an ill-advised high foot straight into the young Italian`s face. A situation that was dealt with with unnecessary force by official Mr Mathieson who raced over to the incident and ultimately sparked a melee.
This however cannot defend the actions of an irate Paulo Sousa who flapped like a fish out of water before entering the field and play and remonstrating verbally with the official. The slanging match continued for five minutes before the Portuguese boss was eventually sent to the stands.
That was one of the few talking points in the first period that saw Samuel Di Carmine have to leave the field for the remaining moments owing to his injury and earned Claude Davis a peculiar yellow card for what was after all merely a high foot. It appeared the outcome had prompted the punishment in this instance.
Rangers had looked good in spells against the Eagles in the first half, and looked in control for the vast majority. There is however a lingering doubt when playing a Neil Warnock side, while his football isn`t pretty it is effective, and the Palace fans that had paid good money to see their side would be hoping for better in the second half.
Half Time: QPR 0-0 Crystal Palace
Liam Miller was hauled off at half time for what was a virtually anonymous display in the heart of the midfield and was replaced by Lee Cook. This prompted Adel Taarabt to support Di Carmine going forward, sitting just behind the young Italian.
Palace started the brighter in the second period and it was clear that Neil Warnock`s message had clearly been transmitted effectively to the players. Victor Moses was beginning to have more of a say in proceedings and it was his chance that nearly handed the Eagles the lead.
The young Nigerian born forward dipped in and out of the Rangers rearguard before cutting inside and curling a right footed effort goal bound – Radek Cerny pulling off a decent stop to tip the effort over the bar.
Samuel Di Carmine was still plugging away in his solitary role up front and for all the punishment he was treating from the Palace rearguard he nearly exacted revenge in timely fashion. Taarabt`s through ball found the young Italian who in turn beat Claude Davis to put himself in prime position for a shot.
Wayne Routledge was screaming for the ball on the right hand side of the area completely unmarked, but Di Carmine`s one track mind saw him shoot and have his effort well blocked by the recovering Davis.
While that effort had been blocked, the momentum as ever was with the home side, and Damien Delaney nearly picked up where he left off two weeks ago, as he picked out Wayne Routledge on the far post – he in turned eked out a volley which flew inches wide of the right hand upright.
That chance sparked the R`s crowd into song, where by and large they had remained silent previously. Loftus Road was visibly lifted in the sunshine as the game showed all the hallmarks of the triumphant clash against Bristol City a fortnight ago.
All the momentum laid in Rangers possession but once again fans bemoaned the lack of killer instinct in the forward line. Many useful crosses from Cook, Routledge and Ramage were going array due to the lack of endeavour by the R`s front line.
Ephraim was next to test Speroni, albeit fleetingly but the keeper was more than up to the task, and looked to be thwarting Rangers not for the first occasion, as fans who visited Selhurst Park last season will remember a goalkeeping master-class from the Argentinean.
Then came the defining moment of the match and a key chance for Rangers at the feet of Moroccan loanee Adel Taarabt. A succession of flick-ons by Routledge then Di Carmine dent Taarabt on his way, he raced clear of his defender before lifting his shot over the bar from close range.
It was Rangers best chance to date, a chance that would go down to epitomise the clash as a whole – lacking cutting edge and killer instinct.
Crystal Palace asserted some impetus on the clash, mainly on the break as Rangers attacks continually hit the buffers at the crucial moment. Sunderland striker Anthony Stokes conspired to put his effort straight at Cerny, while powerful forward Shefki Kuqi nodded wide from a corner.
The fans cheered for Rowan Vine and within moments they had their wish, reserve goalkeeper Matt Pickens` ill-advised lunge had put the striker out for a year – but now was his time to shine as he replaced Adel Taarabt.
Vine`s cheeky flick on the right hand by-line nearly caught out Speroni by more luck than judgement, as it flew over the Argentinean`s head who did well to recover and catch with ease.
Rangers were plugging away in search of a winner with Routledge finally breaking free from youngster Clyne on a couple of occasions to carve out some teasing crosses – once again however Rangers lacked the killer instinct necessary to break the deadlock.
Palace substitute Paul Ifill nearly handed the visitors a winning goal when he sized up an effort on the edge of the area before drilling inches wide of the left-hand upright. A rare opportunity for the visitors who were wholly unadventurous in familiar Warnock fashion.
From the similar section that booed chants for Lee Camp earlier in the season, came the chants for Dexter Blackstock, something that left a bitter taste in the mouth of Samuel Di Carmine. The Italian had clearly worked his socks off for the cause lacked the instinct but more importantly the support to make a difference.
He was replaced with five minutes remaining to a chorus of boos from a distinct minority over towards the left-hand side of the Loftus Road end, there was also several dotted around the ground who saw fit to heckle the young talent as he left the field of play.
He was replaced by Angelo Balanta with minutes remaining but the young Colombian couldn`t turn his brief time on the field to goals as Rangers conspired to surrender possession and ultimately a playoff place in the latter stages of this lifeless tie.
Just like earlier in the season, Rangers failed to break down an unadventurous Crystal Palace side and were left to contemplate missed chances as both teams canter towards mid-table mediocrity.
Full Time: QPR 0-0 Crystal Palace
Queens Park Rangers: Radek Cerny, Peter Ramage, Matthew Connolly, Kaspars Gorkss, Damien Delaney, Wayne Routledge, Liam Miller (Lee Cook 46), Mikele Leigertwood, Hogan Ephraim, Adel Taarabt (Rowan Vine 73), Samuel Di Carmine (Angelo Balanta 85).
Crystal Palace: Julián Speroni, Nathaniel Clyne, Matt Lawrence, Claude Davis, Clint Hill (Jose Fonte 40), Nick Carle, Neil Danns, Shaun Derry, Victor Moses, Shefki Kuqi (James Scowcroft 83), Anthony Stokes (Paul Ifill 79).
Radek Cerny – 6/10
A few shaky moments but by and large he proved himself able in commanding his area and claiming a couple of good crosses in the game. There was a moment in the first half where Radek flapped and missed a cross, and claimed he was fouled, this was simply not the case in a moment of poor judgement.
He made some good stops which you would expect any reasonable goalkeeper to make, notably the Moses chance at the start of the second half. I would expect that he is one of many to leave in the summer with Rangers probably looking to refresh the goalkeeping department.
Peter Ramage – 7/10
An ever-reliable performer at right full back and Newcastle could well do with the defensive ability of this life-long Geordie as he goes from strength to strength following his return to the side.
While Ramage has been criticised for his lack of distribution or attacking prowess, there has never been a question concerning his ability in defending as he proves a steady head and a keen tackler at the back. Going forward was markedly better today from Peter as he supported Routledge numerous times before swinging in some testing crosses.
Matthew Connolly – 7/10
Left the field injured last time out against Bristol City, but came back in style against Crystal Palace this afternoon as they stopped the Eagles from scoring for the second time this season. He played a key role alongside Kaspars Gorkss against some tricky customers in the Palace attack.
His sensible distribution was a major plus point as the defence as a whole looked to play the ball intelligently. Even Damion Stewart will struggle to get back into the side if this pairing continues to impress.
Kaspars Gorkss – 8/10
An ever reliant rock at the heart of the Rangers rearguard Kaspars put in another defensive master class to stop a potent Palace attack from breaking the deadlock in W12. The Latvian international distributed intelligently all afternoon and stopped many attacks in their infancy.
Some last ditch touches also broke up the Eagles attacks, and stopped some talented forwards from testing the goalkeeper – who in turn had very little to do. This is testament to the abilities of Kaspars and his colleagues at the back.
Damien Delaney – 6/10
By and large a decent display in defence with brief forays forward to support initially Adel Taarabt then Lee Cook. There was an ongoing battle between the Irishman and Victor Moses, a fight that ebbed one way then another.
He was caught out a couple of times in behind by the pacy young forward, but exacted some revenge by skinning the winger down the left and in turn being brought down. A lively battle which saw the defender come out on top.
Wayne Routledge – 7/10
A display that was riddled with inconsistency as while Wayne managed to release a few telling crosses, he struggled to get the better of an inexperienced defender in Clyne. One moment Wayne looked like producing the form that had seen him succeed early in his spell – then he would lose the ball or get tackled.
Moments of excellent creativity in the first half become more noticeable in the second as he began to get the ball down and run at his defenders. He had more joy against Clyne than Hills with the latter bullying the winger off the ball in the first half.
Liam Miller 4/10
Entirely un-noticeable in 45 minutes of football as he planted a poor shot straight at Speroni`s near post. A forgettable display which saw Sousa haul him off at half time – with Cook preferred on the left and Taarabt going through the middle.
The former Manchester United and Celtic man has a contract until the end of the season, and on this evidence Rangers chiefs would be mad to renew it. It seems a player with an excellent record of clubs would be more suited to the April fools rumour that would have taken him to Dundalk in Ireland.
Mikele Leigertwood – 6/10
Today we saw the bad side of another Jekyll and Hyde player in the Rangers line-up as nothing appeared to come off for the hard working central midfielder. He fought hard but for all his efforts he couldn`t pick a telling pass.
The former Crystal Palace man was strong in the tackle and on the ball, but despite the effort which was clearly visible he didn`t threaten the Eagles defence and struggled against the opposition on the counter-attack.
Hogan Ephraim – 6/10
Another player who displayed a lot of effort but didn`t have the class to accompany, as the game was strangled by a hard-working Palace midfield. Hogan struggled to find space to make an impact, but he grew in stature later on in the fixture.
He and Cook linked up nicely at times to provide service for Mr Nobody it seems, but nevertheless the crosses were coming in thick and fast to no avail. He will hope to take the latter part of his performance into the game up at Burnley next weekend.
Adel Taarabt – 6/10
A fair unconvincing display from the Tottenham loanee – his worst since joining the club in March. That is not as much of a slight as you`d think because he has set himself some high standards in recent games – this did not meet those lofty performances.
His trickery didn`t come off today as he was closely marked and watched by the Palace rearguard, and even out-tricked by an audacious flick by Victor Moses late in the second half. His rating was taken down by what proved to be a decisive miss when one on one with Speroni.
Samuel Di Carmine – 6/10
You have to feel for the young Italian who was out-fought and bullied off the ball by Claude Davis and his defensive colleagues. Davis dished out some rough treatment on the loanee who fought hard in resistance to try and run the front line on his own.
Unfortunately his efforts weren`t appreciated by a section of spoilt morons who booed him off the field and may have knocked the fragile confidence of a young player. While he isn`t a Rangers player it seems hard to condone that kind of treatment to anyone that pulls on a Rangers shirt.
SUB: Lee Cook – 6/10
Replaced Liam Miller (46)
Cook came on at half time in place of Liam Miller. It could be deemed that this is the way the R`s should have started the game, rather than giving Miller another chance to prove hit ailing fitness levels.
His creativity on the left gave Rangers another attacking option as things improved after the break. His crossing was effective when called upon but they were few and far between.
SUB: Rowan Vine – 6/10
Replaced Adel Taarabt 73
While his substitution gave a visible lift to the crowd, in reality he didn`t get into full flow today after being brought on with 15 minutes remaining.
He put in a good cross and flicked back off the by-line with the latter effort nearly catching out Speroni. As it was he put in a lot of effort but his return was ultimately fruitless.
Replaced Samuel Di Carmine (85)
Balanta barely got a touch of the ball after taking to the field with five minutes remaining.
Paulo Sousa: 5/10 – Sousa`s tactics were on the negative side today as he clearly set his intentions not to go for that playoff place. He set out his side with Liam Miller in the middle of the park, a mistake he rectified at half-time.
Playing only one up front I felt was a mistake, even with a limited strike force. The likes of Balanta and Vine are strikers that could have partnered Di Carmine – and even Ephraim and Taarabt are adept in that role. It was certainly clear that for all the creativity there was never anyone near the finishing touch.
His sending off was fairly clear cut from my view – people would be shouting from the rooftops if Warnock had done something similar, and for a man of his class to get so rattled as to verbally abuse the referee, he should be thoroughly disappointed.
Neil Warnock: 7/10 – It wasn`t pretty but once again it was effective and he got what he came for, a hard-fought point. He could have lost his rag on several occasions but he kept his composure and let his team do the talking.
While his side hasn`t performed as well as last season, Warnock seems to be managing a club void on ambition with an impending sale putting pay to playoff aspirations – for that alone the former Sheffield United boss seems to be doing a great job.
Mr S Mathieson: 7/10 – By and large Mr Mathieson put in a sensible shift as expected, but his rating was lowered by the way he dealt with the Davis/Di Carmine situation. He sprinted over to what was a total non-incident, sparking a melee and causing Sousa to lose his rag.
Other than that he dished out the cards only when it was absolutely necessary and tried to let the game flow whenever possible. Certainly seen worse this season – and it`s a shame that he has never has a shot at the highest level.
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