REFEREE Gavin Ward took centre stage as the ten men of Queens Park Rangers were edged out by Reading despite a dogged battling display.
The young official dished out two quick-fire yellows to visiting defender Damion Stewart to put Rangers on the back foot mid-way through the first half.
Despite their numerical advantage Reading created little in the way of clear cut opportunity with defender Matt Mills so incensed with supporter criticism he saw fit to give them the middle finger.
Eventually however the pressure told and after a wave of consistent pressure the referee crumbled in the face of another audacious penalty appeal – with the R’s conceding a spot kick in the dying stages.
Gylfi Sigurdsson gave cheer to the home support by placing his penalty into the top left-hand corner and condemning Neil Warnock to his first defeat as QPR boss.
It was a no-brainer once more for R’s boss Neil Warnock as he named an unchanged team for the fourth successive game in his tenure.
Carl Ikeme begun behind a back four of Matt Connolly, Damion Stewart, Kaspars Gorkss and Matt Hill, with Mikele Leigertwood and Alejandro Faurlín the preferred central midfield partnership.
Adel Taarabt and Hogan Ephraim played wide with Tamás Priskin and Jay Simpson retaining their respective striker berths – Antonio German a useful option from the bench.
Reading started with Adam Federici in goal behind the returning Andy Griffin, Matt Mills, Ivar Ingimarsson and Ryan Bertrand – Jay Tabb and Brian Howard played through the middle.
Gylfi Sigurdsson played in advance of the pairing with Jimmy Kébé and Jobi McAnuff supporting lone forward Shane Long.
Griffin – Ingimarsson – Mills – Bertrand
Howard – Tabb
McAnuff – Sigurdsson – Kébé
Connolly – Stewart – Gork?s – Hill
Taarabt – Faurlín – Leigertwood – Ephraim
Priskin – Simpson
Kick Off: Reading v Queens Park Rangers
Rangers were supported well by the travelling army from West London, and the usual tireless banter ensued about the wearing of hoops. To cut a long debate short – Reading wore them first, QPR have worn them longer, and onto the game.
The R’s fans that populated the away end were in good voice as the game commenced, urging their side on following a succession of useful displays under new boss Neil Warnock. The side were seeking to repay his faith and remain at least unbeaten under his guidance.
A relatively lacklustre beginning to the game saw the Royals look predominantly through the channels for the pace of Jimmy Kébé and the aerial presence of Shane Long. Despite the Irishman’s interior height he was proving more than a match for Rangers’ central defensive pairing.
Rangers meanwhile were looking once again to the craft and guile of Adel Taarabt, but in the early stages he was being marshalled well by the hard-working ex-Brentford man Jay Tabb. His touch-tight tactics were proving were proving efficient at keeping the Moroccan at bay.
Reading’s key threat seemed to be either on the counter-attack down the flanks or from a set-piece. It was the latter that predominantly threatened the Rangers rearguard with Sigurdsson shooting straight at Ikeme, before Brian Howard bent an effort inches wide of the right-hand upright.
Play quickly switched to the other end and Taarabt wriggled free of his marker to produce some neat interplay with Alejandro Faurlín. The ball eventually fell to Jay Simpson on the by-line, but the Arsenal loanee could only fire across the target with no-one following in on the opportunity.
A ding-dong affair saw Kébé consistently threaten Connolly down the left flank. The lively winger’s pace was an incredible asset but it was plain to see that his lack of end product is something that has blighted his progress as Gorkss took hold at the centre of defence.
His defensive partner Damion Stewart was booked for a high foot on Long – seldom is such an incident worthy of a yellow card, but unfortunately inexperienced official Gavin Ward yielded to the ire of the Madejski Stadium and dished out the card.
Priskin was getting involved in play a great deal more than in Sheffield at the weekend, and his neat lay off set up Taarabt, but the Spurs loanee could only fire straight at Federici, but it was the Hungarian that missed a glorious opening moments later.
An excellent Taarabt corner was met by the head of Gorkss on the far post, the ball was deflected away from the goal-mouth only for Priskin to fire over the bar from close range. The R’s were pressing consistently for the first time in the clash as the hosts grew frustrated.
A side that had won six of their last seven were being penned back and it’s no coincidence that as Taarabt’s influence grew, so did QPR. It was his incredible vision and creativity that nearly unlocked the door for Rangers.
He surged forward from midfield to lay on an incredible through ball for Simpson – the Arsenal loanee could only shoot straight at a prostrate Federici and spurn another gaping opportunity, much in the same way as Ephraim did at the weekend.
Moments later it was despair for Rangers and their supporters as Stewart foolishly left his foot in on Federici as he tried to clear from his hands. While the first was questionable the second booking was more clear cut, and the player trudged off the field to the disappointment of boss Neil Warnock.
It was a bitter blow for QPR who were beginning to assert their authority on the game, but for the Royals it was just the tonic to sput them on for the remainder of the half. It was a case of backs against the wall and a reshuffle saw Connolly move to centre-back and Leigertwood slot into defence.
Taarabt moved inside to partner Faurlín with Simpson dropping back into midfield – Priskin was the lone forward and despite his lacklustre stylings was giving Mills and Ingimarsson food for thought at the back.
The half petered out with the referee the distinct talking point for both sides – Reading were aggrieved at a string of decisions going the visitors way and Rangers’ frustrations were evident following the departure of Jamaican international Stewart.
Nevertheless both sides went into the interval level – Rangers fans knew that the second half was going to be a battle, with Reading looking to utilise the extra man to their advantage and exploit the gaps should the visitors over-commit.
Half Time: Reading 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
As expected the Royals came out on the offensive with the visitors having to do most of the defending in the early offing. The hosts piled forward and Kébé went close with an effort to the near post which was fielded on the second occasion by Ikeme.
Long then went close moments later cutting inside from the left before firing a rasping effort inches wide of the right-hand upright. The intention was clear from the hosts with Andy Griffin and Ryan Bertrand pouring forward to support their respective flanks.
Despite their numerical disadvantage Rangers were putting pressure on Reading and Federici was looking nervy between the sticks. His kicking became erratic and his defenders and it provoked a great deal of nerves among the Royals ranks.
Another fine centre from Taarabt was only half-cleared and Hogan Ephraim fired a fizzing drive low towards the target. The Royals custodian could only parry to the onrushing Simpson – but with the angle narrowed the forward could only blast high and wide.
While Rangers were grasping their fleeting opportunities to press Reading, it was indeed the Royals that enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, but making this count was proving problematic as the visitors defended their goal valiantly.
A bizarre altercation then ensued between defender Matt Mills and the Reading crowd. The defender had hit his third cross field ball to no-one in particular and out of play, and the crowd responded defiantly heckling the defender’s decision-making.
He in turn responded by turning around and staring at the discontented voiced hands on hips, before inexplicably sticking one finger up at the crowd, a prolonged gesture that didn’t go unnoticed on the bench – Brian McDermott sprung from the dug-out to alleviate the tension and calm the player.
It seemed that he took heed of the criticism however as he attempted to dribble the ball from the back and was nearly caught out by Faurlín, but the combative Argentinean was eventually blocked out by defensive partner Ingimarsson – nearly a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’ for Royals fans.
Rangers had the impressive Matt Hill to thank for keeping the score-lines level as twice he stunningly cleared from the line, the first with a powerful header when placed well on the line before a more instinctive clearance second time around.
As the fixture progressed it appeared to be Rangers’ day, as they hoped to reap the rewards for a dogged rearguard action – Reading by comparison were pointing to misfortune in front of goal and inspired defensive clearances as their undoing.
The R’s sent on Peter Ramage in place of the impressive Taarabt to sure things up at the back as he slotted into midfield – he would look to nullify the threat of newly-formed partnership Grzegorz Rasiak and Simon Church.
The major talking point then ensued and the moment that ultimately decided the fixture’s destiny, as five minutes from time Sigurdsson tumbled in the area under the challenge of Hill. The referee had absolutely no hesitation in pointing to the spot after what was in truth a soft decision.
Gylfi Sigurdsson dusted himself off and placed the ball on the spot for what would be an important penalty in the course of Reading’s season. He slammed the spot-kick high into the top left hand corner to hand the Royals the advantage.
GOAL: Reading 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
Rangers threw on Antonio German from the bench in a bid to salvage an unlikely share of the spoils with Priskin substituted after another relatively quiet game. It seemed to spark Rangers into life as they searched for their equalising goal.
German looked sprightly up top as he chased down every ball and won several flick-ons in the process, but it seemed sadly that it would be the Royals to get any further goals with McAnuff going close for a what would have been a wonder-goal.
He raced away from inside his own half and fended off the intentions of Faurlín to rampage into the box only to be thwarted by the inspired Carl Ikeme, who snuffed out yet another Royals attack at its most crucial point.
There was still time for Reading to be denied a spot-kick with Rasiak doing his best dying swan routine in the area. The official Mr Ward was alive to his antics and rightfully issued a yellow card for an embarrassing act of simulation.
A spontaneous chant for maligned defender Matt Mills broke out among sections of the home support, but the former Manchester City man this time didn’t respond to the crowd – rather wisely truth be told given his prior reaction.
The final whistle was blown by Mr Ward and Warnock took time out from tearing away his hair-line at the official to send every one of his players over to the vocal travelling support – the majority staying to clap their players from the field after a gruelling battle.
Rangers had come close to what would have been an excellent result given the circumstances, but now Mr Warnock must contemplate his first defeat as QPR boss. The R’s must now respond against Swansea City on Saturday if they are to achieve safety with any degree of comfort.
Full Time: Reading 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
Adam Federici, Andy Griffin, Ivar Ingimarsson, Matt Mills, Ryan Bertrand, Brian Howard (Grzegorz Rasiak 62), Jay Tabb, Jobi McAnuff, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Jimmy Kébé, Shane Long (Simon Church 68)
Queens Park Rangers
Carl Ikeme, Matt Connolly, Damion Stewart (Sent Off), Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Hill, Adel Taarabt (Peter Ramage 81), Alejandro Damián Faurlín, Mikele Leigertwood, Hogan Ephraim, Tamás Priskin (Antonio German 87), Jay Simpson