QUEENS Park Rangers moved into a playoff spot this evening despite being held to a draw by a plucky Crystal Palace side at Loftus Road.
Neil Warnock’s men deployed similar tactics to Leicester City in attempting to stifle the R’s creative threat, and it worked to an extent until Adel Taarabt weaved his magic to earn a penalty.
Ákos Buzsáky dispatched the first half spot kick with aplomb to hand Rangers the advantage in a competitive London derby in W12.
Several chances went amiss for the hosts before Fitz Hall was bamboozled by Freddie Sears and brought him to the ground. In-form Darren Ambrose levelled the scores for the Eagles from the spot after the break.
Despite a glut of chances for both sides, only Palace’s profligacy and an inspired Julian Speroni kept the scores level in an eventful clash at Loftus Road.
Jim Magilton made a couple of changes from the side that were defeated by Leicester City with Ben Watson returning from suspension to replace Peter Ramage, with Fitz Hall coming in for Damion Stewart.
Radek Cerny retained his place in goal with a strong Palace contingent in the back four of Mikele Leigertwood, Kaspars Gorkss, Hall and Gary Borrowdale making up the back-line.
Gavin Mahon failed a late fitness test so Watson partnered Alejandro Faurlín in the heart of midfield with Ákos Buzsáky, Adel Taarabt and former Eagle Wayne Routledge playing in behind Arsenal loanee Jay Simpson.
Palace meanwhile started with Julian Speroni in goal and a back four of Danny Butterfield, Jose Fonte, Claude Davis and Clint Hill coming in for Nathaniel Clyne.
Shaun Derry and Johannes Ertl were the engine room of the Palace midfield with Alassane N’Diaye, Neil Danns and Darren Ambrose behind the experienced forward Stern John.
Leigertwood (c) – Hall – Gork?s – Borrowdale
Watson – Faurlín
Buzsáky – Routledge – Taarabt
Butterfield – Davis – Fonte – Hill
Derry – Ertl
Ambrose – N’Diaye – Danns
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Crystal Palace
Rangers started brightly from the off in an attempt to put their first home defeat against the season behind them at the weekend, and Wayne Routledge certainly had a point to prove to the travelling support.
The majority of former Palace players were heckled as the team were read out, none more so than Routledge who departed Selhurst Park for Tottenham Hotspur a move which some of the supporters still hold exception to.
Evidently Palace had studied the tapes of the weekend game with Shaun Derry looking to halt any R’s attacks with his gritty, battling style at the heart of the Palace midfield. The experienced player was combative to dispossess QPR and his team-mates were quick to follow suit.
As mentioned Routledge was certainly putting himself about in the early exchange looking to stamp his authority on the fixture. A useful touch by the wide-man saw him in a some space on the edge of the area, before his subsequent effort was held by Julian Speroni.
Palace were far from outclassed in the encounter and typified a Neil Warnock side of playing to their strengths and looking dangerous on the counter-attack. Indeed the pace and running of Neil Danns and Alassane N’Diaye was causing problems on the break.
Rangers were struggling to create any meaningful chances against a resilient Palace side, but a rare opening for Mikele Leigertwood nearly saw him open the scoring.
Much in the same fashion to the Barnsley game the full back strode forward on the break, and after being fed from the left was allowed to try his luck from distance. He fairly stroked across the target as the ball rolled tamely wide of the left-hand upright.
Palace were evidently working hard for their boss and keeping their shape well in the face of some talented attacking players. Pressure on QPR defenders made the short game a tad more risky but nevertheless the back four were coping well.
Ertl and Derry were certainly keeping Alejandro Faurlín and Ben Watson quiet with some tough tackling – the forlorn Argentinean misplacing many passes throughout the first half as a result of this pressure.
Faurlín however was starting to grow in confidence and was involved in some skilful build up play that saw Routledge collect from Simpson and play a delightful through ball to Adel Taarabt.
Taarabt picked up the ball on the left-hand side of the area before apparently running down a blind alley, fortunately for him a rather foolish challenge saw Rangers earn themselves a spot-kick. There was little appeal from Palace players and management at the decision by Mr Russell.
Ákos Buzsáky stepped up against Speroni and sent the Argentinean the wrong way, placing the ball into the bottom right hand corner and sending the Loftus Road crowd into raptures. Rangers had the advantage once more, but judging by recent meetings with Palace they would have some defending to do.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Crystal Palace
This was nearly shown on the break and the adage of ‘you’re never more vulnerable than when you’ve just scored’ nearly came back to haunt QPR, as Palace exacted an expert counter-attack.
A sweeping move that epitomises a Neil Warnock side, Palace broke away from a Rangers corner, and subsequently saw the in-form Darren Ambrose surge down the right and feed Stern John in the middle.
The goal seemed a formality as many supporters expected to see the net to bulge, but John can add this to his long list of howling misses from close range as his sliced effort clipped off the cross bar and rolled away.
If that was a warning for Rangers it wasn’t heeded as Palace put on a spell of pressure towards the end of the first half. Somehow they didn’t claim the lead once again as Rangers were frantic at the back.
Ambrose’s corner from the left caused all manner of problems in the heart of defence with the ball being hacked from the line and Radek Cerny was flapping at thin air. Fortunately for him he claimed at the second attempt and Rangers counter-attacked.
A slick passing move was taking place while Claude Davis lay holding his head in the Rangers penalty area, the referee turned to look at the player before letting the R’s play on. Eventually he blew his whistle to allow treatment, which the physio was already administering to the defender.
Some excellent passing football moments later created another glorious chance, this time for QPR. Referee Russell played an excellent advantage as Simpson was fouled in the middle of the park as Taarabt played a neat pass through to Wayne Routledge.
The former Palace man broke the offside trap, and was baring down on goal as Speroni came from his line and was caught in no-mans land. Routledge opted for the bottom right hand corner, but saw his effort roll inches past the right hand upright with a major chance spurned just before the break.
Rangers were finishing the half in the ascendancy and looked more likely to take the lead. Indeed Jay Simpson’s effort late in the first half brought a good save from Speroni. Palace were equally as threatening on the counter-attack but Rangers managed to see out the first half in front.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Crystal Palace
Palace responded after the break by bringing on West Ham United loanee Freddie Sears at the expense of N’Diaye, who while proving a handful was never really threatening the Rangers rearguard.
Nevertheless it was Rangers who would assert the attacking impetus on the game with Alejandro Faurlín looking to catch Speroni out at his near post, only for the ball to drift harmlessly over from the set-piece down the right.
Moments later he looked a little more threatening as the Argentine’s left footed effort from outside the area drew a smart stop from his compatriot Speroni after useful work from Routledge and Taarabt.
Rangers had control of the fixture and despite the chances they were creating, there was a nagging doubt that accompanied the lack of goals and the counter-attacking nature of Neil Warnock sides, in particular following the introduction of live-wire Sears.
Adel Taarabt missed a glorious chance to double the advantage when a free-flowing move involving Simpson and Buzsáky saw the Moroccan bear down on goal from the right.
For an inexplicable reason he attempted to chip the ball from close range, and despite the effort drifting wide of the left-hand post, Clint Hill stepped in and used his thigh to divert the ball inches over the bar.
It was a chance that really displayed Rangers early dominance in the second half, and while Taarabt and QPR were busy contemplating their latest missed opportunity, Warnock’s side were down the other end causing mayhem.
A counter-attacking move saw Freddie Sears get in behind Fitz Hall down the right. The West Ham man got the better of Hall who senselessly dragged the striker down in the area and the end result was a formality, a penalty.
Darren Ambrose stepped up right footed to send Radek Cerny the wrong way and score his third goal in three games for the Eagles, as Palace had an equaliser against the run of play in W12.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Crystal Palace
If the defence was nervous before, the cracks were beginning to show as the visitors were brimming with confidence in attack. Sears was providing the key threat in the forward line and was certainly the catalyst for the Palace revival.
Adel Taarabt was proving once again his vast talent but lack of vision, firing over twice in close succession despite several options before him in the heart of the area. In one instance there were five men waiting for the cross when he fired high, wide and handsome.
Every time Palace broke there was an air of nervousness around Loftus Road that had seen their sturdy defence crumble in recent weeks. While Kaspars Gorkss was doing all he could to hold them together there was clearly something amiss in the back four.
Ambrose’s instinctive header was held on his line by a relieved Radek Cerny, with the Czech stopper once more not coming from his line to claim a catch, and the lack of communication was becoming evident in the back four.
From then on it appeared a one man show with Julian Speroni single-handedly keeping Crystal Palace in the game. Patrick Agyemang and Rowan Vine were thrown on at the expense of Taarabt and Simpson and the change certainly had the desired effect.
Both players were full of running and brimming with desire and passion. A pick of the Speroni saves was from a blockbuster effort by Vine. He spun and shot on the volley with a venomous dipping strike and the ‘keeper outstandingly tipped over.
Wave after wave of pressure ensued in the latter stages with the R’s getting in behind the by-line and only bodies being thrown valiantly in front of the ball prevented Rangers from taking the advantage. Ben Watson himself missed a couple of headers narrowly to keep the scores level.
Loftus Road was rocking as they urged their side on to victory, but then moments later you could hear a pin drop as Palace broke in numbers. Rangers inferior numbers at the back saw substitute Lee Hills laid in down the left.
He slipped before the ball could reach him and attempted to recover his composure. It eluded him however as the young full-back fired into the upper School End and Loftus Road breathed a sigh of relief.
With that the official called time on a thoroughly entertaining second period where both sides had to make do with a share of the spoils despite a wealth of chances. Rangers nevertheless moved into the top six, and will no doubt look to keep their place as they travel to Hillsborough this weekend.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Crystal Palace
Queens Park Rangers
Radek Cerny, Mikele Leigertwood, Fitz Hall, Kaspars Gorkss, Gary Borrowdale, Alejandro Damián Faurlín, Ben Watson, Wayne Routledge, Adel Taarabt (Patrick Agyemang 74), Ákos Buzsáky (Hogan Ephraim 78), Jay Simpson (Rowan Vine 84).
Julian Speroni, Danny Butterfield, Jose Fonte, Claude Davis, Clint Hill, Johannes Ertl, Shaun Derry, Alassane N’Diaye (Freddie Sears 46), Neil Danns (Lee Hills 84), Darren Ambrose, Stern John (Alan Lee 67).
Radek Cerny – 5/10
Radek didn’t have the most comfortable of evenings and appeared to be suffering a hangover from his error against Leicester City previously.
His communication left a lot to be desired at times with the back four visibly looking for direction at times, and his weakness on crossing and corners was nearly exposed.
Mikele Leigertwood – 7/10
Leigertwood was solid without ever being outstanding, and was certainly an improvement on Ramage previously.
Jim was proven right to play him over the former Newcastle man, as he nullified the threat of pace down that flank, as Danns was forced to swap wings to get some luck.
Kaspars Gorkss – 6/10
Gorkss didn’t have one of his vintage games this evening but nevertheless was on hand more often than not to provide pressure for the Palace front-men.
He dealt well with John, only allowing him one genuine chance, which owed more to Fitz Hall’s concentration, and also dealt well with Alan Lee when he was introduced.
Fitz Hall – 6/10
Hall put in a real Jekyll and Hyde display this evening, and while he proved a formidable opponent in the air, his weaknesses were exposed on the ground.
Freddie Sears made Fitz look very foolish in giving away a cast iron penalty, but nevertheless his distribution was vastly improved, and certainly improved on Stewart’s Friday display.
Gary Borrowdale – 7/10
He seems to improve by the game, but I thought Borrowdale’s defending and composure on the ball was excellent this evening.
He tackled well and also distributed using his head, rather than just thumping it long. His intelligent passing and useful defending showed me what a vast improvement he is on Damien Delaney following some initial scepticism.
Alejandro Damián Faurlín – 6/10
Started off fairly poorly and was another player that had a visible hangover from the Leicester game, but nevertheless he bounced back this evening.
As the game wore on so did Faurlín’s influence and he was unlucky not to give Rangers the advantage on a couple of occasions.
Ben Watson – 7/10
Did a lot of unsung donkey work this evening against his former side and was one of the few to get a good hand from the travelling support.
His passing from midfield was useful and he proved to be a useful deputy for Mahon, who will be challenging for a spot against Sheffield Wednesday this weekend.
Adel Taarabt – 7/10
He showed glimpses of the spark and creativity that has made him a joy to watch in recent weeks and earned the penalty through his sheer effort and endeavour.
He played an excellent through ball to Routledge, as Rangers should have doubled the advantage. In the second half he deployed a shoot on sight policy and was correctly witdrawn by Jim.
Ákos Buzsáky – 7/10
Dispatched the penalty with aplomb and his overall inventiveness and awareness was good on the day by and large.
The major sticking point was his lack of pace on the break, and with Rangers looking to break in numbers his style didn’t quite fit the counter attack. Nevertheless a useful display.
Wayne Routledge – 7/10
Routledge was excellent in patches and was a stand-out player on the evening. His running and pace was tough to handle, and while it didn’t come off at times his drive was appreciated by the supporters.
His work down the by-line in the later stages should have yielded a result and a winning goal but the lack of adventure in the final third meant that the majority of his crossing went unpunnished.
Jay Simpson – 6/10
Simpson didn’t have the best of nights but was still involved in overall play and some of the R’s best opportunites.
His hold up play was good in a couple of instances to help bring others into play. More often than not he was mauled and kicked out the game by a physical defensive unit.
Rowan Vine – 7/10
Replaced Adel Taarabt
Rowan looked excellent coming from the bench and will now be looking to take this form into Saturday. He bounced back to form a good partnership with Agyemang and had an excellent effort denied by Speroni.
He looked to have something about him this evening, rather more confident that we’ve seen him in recent times.
Patrick Agyemang – 6/10
Replaced Jay Simpson
Agyemang was full of running and effort and really caused Palace a few problems at the back late on.
He is a different calibre of player to Simpson and the Eagles were slow to adapt to his style and work ethic as the R’s dominated the late showing.
Replaced Ákos Buzsáky
Hogan came on for his first appearance since returning from an ankle injury and it showed on the night.
He was relatively ineffectual from the bench but I’m sure will have more of a say as he comes back to fitness and the season progresses.
Jim Magilton: 6/10 – Jim bounced back from the weekend defeat and was left happier by this evening’s performance.
His charges worked tirelessly to get a result this evening, and he can look to wasteful finishing and magnificent saves as the reason he didn’t claim all three points this evening.
Neil Warnock: 6/10 – A game plan executed to near perfection. He has evidently studied the weekend’s tapes with great interest.
A typical Warnock display saw his side soak up the QPR pressure and play on the break with great vigour and pace. It nearly snatched all three points at the death!
Mr M Russell – 5/10 – Scarecely have a I seen a weaker official as every throw in was referee and linesman entwined in a gripping stare to come to their conclusion.
Just yards away from the incident and he would look 50/60 yards to his linesman for help on most decisions. The crowd either side won the majority of decisions for their sides.
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