MANCHESTER United extended their gap to eight points at the top of the Barclays Premier League despite some steely resolve by ten-man Queens Park Rangers.
Controversy reigned inside 15 minutes when Ashley Young went down under a challenge from Shaun Derry. The QPR captain was given his marching orders for what was questionable contact with a prostrate Young also markedly offside.
Wayne Rooney netted from the spot for his 22nd of the season but Rangers could feel rightfully aggrieved at the loss of their captain and left to bemoan another moment of questionable officiating all round.
Manchester United were imperious, dictating the flow of the game while holding the lion’s share of possession with Paddy Kenny performing heroics to deny the hosts the chance to extend their advantage.
Eventually the tide told with the evergreen Paul Scholes capping of a fine afternoon in the heart of midfield to roll back the clock and slam home the clincher on 68 minutes. From this there was no return for a visibly exhausted visiting side.
The result itself was not in question, but the manner of defeat will leave a sour taste in the mouth. Referee Lee Mason and his officiating team will be left with egg on their face as the devil reigns on Easter Sunday.
Mark Hughes made changes with one eye on the Swansea City fixture on Wednesday night, with Jay Bothroyd and Ákos Buzsáky coming into the side at the expense of Bobby Zamora and Joey Barton – another interesting selection from the QPR boss.
Paddy Kenny started behind an unchanged defence of Nedum Onouha, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill and Taye Taiwo. Buzsáky, skipper Shaun Derry and Samba Diakité took up residence in the middle with Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt flanking Bothroyd.
Sir Alex Ferguson meanwhile made two changes from the team that defeated a relegation rival in Blackburn Rovers. Javier Hernandez and Phil Jones made way forward duo Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young.
David de Gea started behind a defensive unit of Rafael da Silva, Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans and Patrice Evra. Young, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes and Antonio Valencia made up the midfield quartet with Welbeck partnering Wayne Rooney in attack for the home side.
KICK OFF: MAN UTD v QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The pre-amble to this fixture – the toughest of QPR’s unenviable run in – was positive to say the least. Rangers’ relegation rivals all slipped dramatically on a Saturday of twists and turns that saw today’s visitors in and out of the bottom three on numerous occasions.
A boost therefore that there was no genuine need or emphasis for three points at a ground where very few points indeed are relinquished. Manchester United meanwhile had a chance to pile pressure on their Manchester rivals and take themselves eight points clear at the Premier League summit.
Over 75,000 filed into Old Trafford and it would be fair to say that those travelling from West London more than played their part in the early showing as a whole. United however were looking to replicate their Loftus Road impact by wasting little time in pressing the visiting side.
Many times this season QPR were architects of their own downfall and Clint Hill’s rather over-zealous challenge presented the hosts with a chance inside five minutes. Wayne Rooney’s resultant free-kick deflecting wide much to the relief of stopper Paddy Kenny.
The visiting side were struggling to get a foot-hold on the encounter, surrendering possession and allowing wave after wave of United attack to engulf an already over worked defensive unit – a somewhat softer free-kick gave Rooney another chance to try his luck.
The effort – this time from the other side of the penalty area – saw Kenny save expertly at full stretch tipping away to his right. The hosts seemed to be picking off wayward away clearances at will before constructing a swift attacking move.
Inside 15 minutes the odds on an away win ballooned and the fixture at large was swept away without a trace. Rooney was bright, fleet of foot and a constant source of inventiveness for the hosts and his delightful clipped through ball was met by Ashley Young.
The forward was in an offside position – but with the linesman’s flag staying down and the close attention of Shaun Derry, Young crumpled in a heap in front of the goal. Without question his was the theatrics of a player who has enough talent not to demand this unwanted attribute.
Derry was sent off by referee Lee Mason who cast the polar opposite of his linesman in terms of decisiveness. It mattered little as WAYNE ROONEY stepped forward to power beyond Kenny and further twist the knife in Rangers’ back.
They say your luck doesn’t go for you at the wrong end of the table – QPR at Bolton, Wigan at Chelsea yesterday and now this incident that underlines the plight of top level officiating in this country – Sir Alex will care not as his side broke the all-important deadlock.
GOAL: MAN UTD 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Rangers rarely threatened in terms of attacking endeavour and following this incident they seemed unlikely to do so. Rare glimpses of the enigmatic Adel Taarabt were all too fleeting but he had David de Gea worried for the first time in the game.
The Moroccan drove forward and powered a drive that skipped up wickedly off Michael Carrick and dipped venomously towards the target. de Gea took the safest option to tip the ball over the target and away for a corner.
Rangers were defending manfully as epitomised by Hill’s stern tackle on fellow Liverpudlian Rooney to deny him an effort from close range – often Rooney would try and puncture a hole in the R’s rearguard from his useful position on the edge of the area.
QPR would have to pounce on mistakes – which were few and far between – and they nearly had one when an error by Rafael gifted Taarabt an opportunity. The Moroccan tantalised before seeing an effort blocked away for a corner by Jonny Evans.
As ever, one can not expect to come to Old Trafford and build consistent momentum and chances to attack were all too fleeting for a side not only precariously placed outside the bottom three, but also with an inferior player count on the field.
Young was heckled at the corner flag and the smile he elicited at the supporters only exacerbated the rage among supporters who felt they had been cheated. His guilt-edge miss moments later proved scant consolation for QPR fans who were urging their side to hang on to the break.
United were somewhat struggling to scythe open a tightly knit QPR back line, and possibly the only remaining highlights of the half were two speculative penalty appeals from the hosts – not even today would these decisions be justifiable as Rangers went into the break the solitary goal down.
HALF TIME: MAN UTD 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Without question Mark Hughes’ team talk would have been based on damage limitation. While Rangers could have displayed some attacking endeavour it could have only fuelled the simmering attacking intent of the home side.
Sir Alex Ferguson meanwhile would have had his say about using the space at their disposal more effectively while having that extra inch of desire displayed by their talisman Rooney – a constant figure of enthusiasm and passion.
His link up play and willingness to come deep help set up the majority of the hosts’ chances, while proving that perfect out-ball for any United player potentially in trouble. He was involved once more as Valencia was perfectly placed down the right hand side.
His cross was swept into the back of the net by Danny Welbeck – thankfully however this assistant referee was alive to the incident in question and rightfully raised his flag for offside – scant consolation but relief nevertheless for the visiting side.
Welbeck was in the thick of the action once more as he latched onto a Young pass to fire high, wide and handsome of the right hand upright. While the England international proved bright, he is perhaps not befitting of his current position in the United set-up.
Over the years Sir Alex has cultivated forwards, easing them into first team action – but there is a great deal of faith placed on young Welbeck’s shoulders who has perhaps not provided the impact of fledgling forwards of yesteryear.
Rangers started to assert some impetus on the encounter despite their numerical disadvantage. A succession of corners proved to be all they could muster in riposte to the hosts’ attacking wave with the second corner culminating in a wayward Scholes shot on the break.
Samba Diakité had been tireless in the middle of the park, effectively performing the task of two men as he displayed great poise and strength throughout. His powerful right-footed effort looked to be troubling de Gea before it deflected wide of the right hand upright.
Scholes however would nearly prove decisive in extending the lead when his sublime through ball found Rafael unmarked in front of goal. Taking time with the goal at his mercy, Kenny pulled off an outrageous save to deny the young Brazilian.
The defender albeit should have given the Halifax-born stopper no option, but Kenny performed heroics to deny both him and a twice taken effort from the aforementioned Welbeck. Potentially crucial moments to ponder for Kenny in a busy afternoon.
Phil Thompson yesterday bizarrely targeted Kenny for criticism on Soccer Saturday, stating that he had cost QPR this campaign – on this evidence alone Kenny was proving his doubters , including the rather bitter Thompson, wrong.
Talk about a moment to break the malaise moments later. Michael Carrick had been shirking shooting all afternoon despite cajoling from a slumbering home crowd. His thunderbolt from the blue cannoned back off the left-hand upright and was hacked away to safety.
It seemed to blow away the cobwebs as United tried their luck once more, this time to great effect. Quite what Taarabt was doing in the build up will raise questions as his rather bizarre scooped touch presented the ball to Rafael.
The defender bowed to the experienced PAUL SCHOLES, rolling the ball across for the veteran midfielder. He rolled back the years to slam home a fearsome effort from the edge of the area – a goal to cap off a fine performance from Fergie’s go-to man.
GOAL: MAN UTD 2-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Mark Hughes threw in the towel with one eye on Wednesday by withdrawing Diakité, Taarabt and Bothroyd – Tommy Smith, Shaun Wright-Phillips and DJ Campbell coming on in their stead – Zamora evidently rested ahead of the Swansea clash.
United evidently had the bit between their teeth, and more enterprising forward play from Rooney was proving the distinct difference between the sides – the effervescent Scholes was also a figure of composure throughout before being replaced by Tom Cleverley in a flurry of substitutes for the hosts.
Welbeck once again had a speculative effort that failed to test the visitors while substitute Cleverley went one step closer with ex-Man City man Onouha deflecting his effort away for a corner.
United were playing at walking pace at times, allowing Rangers possession and the attacking impetus for the first time in the game. Evidently a weary Rangers line-up were contented to keep possession and allow their newly-introduced players more time on the ball.
DJ Campbell was looking positive upon his return by creating some space and engineering a shot wide to de Gea’s right-hand upright. Rusty would be the kindest description for a man returning from injury and in search of goals.
The scoreline remained at two with both teams running down the clock in the final few minutes. Both teams will remain relatively contented given the circumstances of the fixture and must now follow their respective paths to diametrically opposed goals.
The decisions, in particular for the opening goal, will be held under a magnifying glass – as it was against Bolton last month. ‘Unlucky QPR’ will have to dust themselves off for crucial impending clashes against Swansea and West Bromwich Albion.
FULL TIME: MAN UTD 2-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
David de Gea, Rafael da Silva (Phil Jones 74), Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Patrice Evra, Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes (Tom Cleverley 74), Ashley Young (Ryan Giggs 62), Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Paddy Kenny, Nedum Onouha, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill, Taye Taiwo, Shaun Derry (Sent Off 14), Samba Diakité (Shaun Wright-Phillips 71), Ákos Buzsáky, Adel Taarabt (Tommy Smith 71) Jamie Mackie, Jay Bothroyd (DJ Campbell 81).