WEST BROMWICH ALBION bounced back to the Premier League at the second attempt, this time as champions, as they saw off a resurgent Rangers outfit 2-0, on the last day of the season at Loftus Road, infront of a season record crowd of 18,309.
Goals courtesy of Do-Heon Kim and a scintillating free-kick from Chris Brunt, was enough to seal the win in W12 against 10-man Rangers with Martin Rowlands given his marching orders just after the half-hour mark after being harshly adjudged to have felled his central midfield counterpart Jonathan Greening.
Nevertheless despite a plucky display led notably by Gareth Ainsworth, the Baggies boing-boing back to the Premier League, as they finish the season at the summit of the Football League.
Rangers made changes from the side that lost against Norwich in the penultimate fixture of the season. With Damion Stewart suspended, Zesh Rehman filled the void at centre back. Jake Cole also returned to the bench following injury to replace young goalkeeper Reece Crowther. Young prodigy Romone Rose also clinched a place on the bench hot off the heels of helping AFC Wimbledon secure promotion.
Albion made a couple of notable changes following clinching promotion at home to Southampton. Chris Brunt was rewarded for his goal on that fateful evening at the Hawthornes with a starting place at the expense of James Morrison. Roman Bednar also secured a starting berth alongside star striker Kevin Phillips, with Ishmael Miller dropping to the bench.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v WEST BROM
A fast paced opening to the game ensued in a partisan atmosphere at Loftus Road, the colourful backdrop of away support, showing their allegiance to Super Kevin Phillips by sporting super-hero themed costumes, were in good voice early on as Loftus Road was a cauldron of atmosphere.
Rangers started brightly and had the first chance in the opening exchanges and Angelo Balanta spurned the R`s best opportunity. The young Colombian sped through from the left hand by-line before snatching at a strike which fairly flew wide of Dean Kiely`s right hand upright. The signs were in evidence for a relishing encounter.
The Baggies offered some response with both Robert Koren and Kevin Phillips trying their luck from distance but shots deflecting off Gavin Mahon and Matthew Connolly respectively scarcely troubled keeper Lee Camp, looking to put a disappointing display against Norwich behind him.
With the West Brom full backs pushing up in support of their attacks gaps were left in behind, and Gareth Ainsworth exploited a gap left by Paul Robinson to give Rangers another chance. After picking the ball up on the right flank, Ainsworth defied his years by leaving makeshift full-back Chris Brunt in his wake, before sending a tantalising cross to unmarked Dexter Blackstock on the far post. With the goal at his mercy Dexter headed towards the near post, only to bring the best out of Dean Kiely saving low and to his right but inches from the line.
It was time for West Brom to step up their game, they did so and were almost rewarded for their exploits. Yet more fantastic movement from Phillips and Bednar was in evidence before Robert Koren dug out an expert cross to Roman Bednar on the left hand side of the area, the striker had his chance palmed over the bar by Lee Camp on his near post.
In an entertaining end to end affair it was the R`s who created the next chance. With Dexter Blackstock being brought down on the left-hand side of the area by Leon Barnett it was Martin Rowlands who stepped forward. Rowlands sent a clever free-kick narrowly wide of Dean Kiely`s right hand post, which evidently had the keeper worried who was at full stretch to reach the effort.
The Baggies began to turn the screw on their opponents and started to create some real chances. Chris Brunt found himself in space to test Lee Camp at his near post from the right hand side, his rasping drive stung the palms of the R`s stopper who thwarted the Baggies once more. Danger-man Zoltan Gera also sent a drive narrowly wide as Albion showed glimpses of the attacking guile that sees them head the table.
The turning point of the game then ensued as in a 50/50 challenge with Baggies skipper Jonathan Greening, Martin Rowlands was accused of being over-zealous in his efforts to reach the ball. With a yellow card in his hand Mr. Taylor consulted his linesman and promptly switched a yellow for a red. A look of bemusement on faces all around the ground dictated that the referee had in fact made an outrageous call in sending off the R`s skipper. Greening received minimal treatment for his woes, as the game continued with Rangers down to ten men.
After a brief period of treatment, Greening had picked himself up and looked sprightly in possession bringing a chorus of boo`s for his every touch from the Rangers support, who felt his fleeting injury contributed to the referee`s decision. The red card prompted De Canio to make a tactical shift by withdrawing striker Angelo Balanta and introducing combative midfielder Mikele Leigertwood.
Nevertheless this did not dampen the R`s spirits as they continued to push forward, with Damien Delaney playing the role of marauding full back. The ex-Hull City player cut inside from the left flank before drilling a right-footed effort which was well saved, and more importantly held by Kiely.
The last action of a thoroughly enthralling first half, in which both sides had threatened but didn`t quite have that killer instinct to finish their opponents off. However the two teams moved into the second half, one out of hope and one out of promise.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-0 WEST BROM
Tony Mowbray made a tactical shift at half time withdrawing striker Roman Bednar, for South Korean midfielder Do-Heon Kim, on loan from Seongnam Chunma, in what seemed a strange move from Tony Mowbray deciding to remove a forward when playing against ten men.
Just after the break, however, it was the hosts who created the first chance. Gareth Ainsworth won one of many headers against full back Paul Robinson, the ball then fell to Dexter Blackstock on the edge of the area, his effort was always on the rise and narrowly flew over to the right of Dean Kiely.
A stout Rangers rearguard was finally breached on 63 minutes as substitute Do-Heon Kim gave the Baggies an all-important lead at Loftus Road. A clever ball into the box from Kevin Phillips found Kim, the ball was eked away by Matthew Connolly, before Gera took possession and skipped past Damien Delaney. With Camp committed Gera floated a cross by to Do-Heon Kim who nodded home from close range into an empty net.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-1 WEST BROM
Gareth Ainsworth was causing untold problems to the Baggies backline and when he made a dummy of Neil Clement on the right hand side, the son of the former Rangers defender scythed Ainsworth down after already a yellow card. Mr. Taylor once again got the big decision wrong and refused to book Clement, instead engaging in pleasantries with the Baggies defender. Sensing Clement had more than rode his luck Mowbray withdrew him and introduced Martin Albrechtsen into the fray.
The Baggies were buoyed on by their goal however and poured forward in search of doubling their lead. Chris Brunt rattled the cross bar after cutting in from the right flank, and this was followed up with a stinging drive from the aforementioned Kim, Lee Camp was equal to it, managing to palm away the South-Korean`s effort.
Zoltan Gera was the next to test the R`s stopper from distance, his left footed drive from the edge of the area, went through a crowd of players and rolled narrowly wide of Camp`s left hand upright, tantalisingly close to that illusive second goal.
The referee made another bold decision in giving a free-kick to West Brom on the right hand side of the area as Robert Koren went to ground, and from the subsequent free-kick the Baggies doubled their advantage. Chris Brunt sized up his options alongside Carl Hoefkens to send a pile driver of a left footed effort into the top left hand corner, leaving Camp rooted to his mark. A tremendous finish to cap off a tremendous season.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-2 WEST BROM
De Canio promptly introduced young winger Romone Rose on the left flank at the expense of Hogan Ephraim, and the youngster showed glimpses of his capabilities, mixed in with the characteristics of a youngster slightly overawed by the big occasion.
Dexter Blackstock had the last chance of the game for the R`s, as he muscled his way through the Baggies defence, but his toe-poked right footed drive rolled agonisingly wide of the left hand upright, and as a mark of the officiating, a corner was given.
Luke Moore could have put the icing on the cake for the Baggies, but instead showed the naivety infront of goal that his brother displayed in three fruitless years at Loftus Road, he blazed his effort into the top tier of the School End, which held over 3,000 Baggies fans poised for celebration.
The final whistle came, and scenes of jubilation and celebration from the away end mixed in with hopeful expressions of the home faithful, who indeed hope to be in a similar position to the Baggies come next season.
FINAL WHISTLE: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-2 WEST BROM
Rangers Team: Camp, Delaney, Mahon, Mancienne, Blackstock, Ainsworth, Rowlands (Sent Off 37) Connolly, Ephraim (Rose 80) Rehman, Balanta (Leigertwood 38).
Subs Not Used: Cole, Barker, Lee.
Lee Camp: 7/10
Made some excellent saves to thwart the Baggies strike-force, on numerous occasions stopped the Baggies infront of goal and really did not deserve to be on the losing side. A solid display that will please him following an indifferent display up at Norwich.
Michael Mancienne: 7/10
Bowed out in a Rangers shirt with a solid display. Dealt with Chris Brunt very well, before getting forward in search of a goal that he evidently desired. Came into the game later on with a succession of surging runs.
Damien Delaney: 7/10
Made some excellent runs forward, and really did look impressive when helping Hogan Ephraim on the left flank. He defended well, the only time Gera got in behind was for the opening goal, one mistake that was punnished.
Zesh Rehman: 6/10
Generally coped OK, with an excellent set of strikers. But the clever running of Albion in particular Kevin Phillips continued to draw Zesh out of position. There were a couple of hairier moments that are commonly associated with the man, but in general coped OK.
Matthew Connolly: 7/10
Some vital interceptions, most importantly in the first half when the Baggies looked to threaten. He blocked off some gaps when the Rangers defence appeared to be creaking, and can come out with his head held high.
Gareth Ainsworth: 9/10
Stood out throughout the 90, and gave Robinson a torrid time in the air and on the floor. Was the R’s best outlet during the game and ran himself into the ground for the cause. What a professional.
Hogan Ephraim: 7/10
Good in the first half, but ineffectual the second. Caused Hoefkens all manner of bother in the first period, coming inside and using Delaney as support, but didn’t get much of a sniff in the second, with the R’s up against it.
Martin Rowlands: 6/10
Didn’t really get his chance to shine against the champions as his day was brought to an end early owing to poor officiating. Did look bright in possession early on, passing well before being given his marching orders.
Gavin Mahon: 7/10
Strong in the tackle and good in the air. His strength on the ball was phenomenal and Watford must be ruing the day they let the man go. His array of passing has proved useful.
Dexter Blackstock: 7/10
The striker had a difficult job on his own once Balanta was withdrawn. But he still caused problems to the Baggies defence, poking wide late on and winning alot of balls in the air before laying off to onrushing midfielders.
Angelo Balanta: 6/10
Didn’t get his chance to shine against West Brom, was withdrawn in the move following the sending off. Looked bright early on with some good running but he snatched at his only chance.
Mikele Leigertwood: 7/10
Replaced Angelo Balanta
When the game was at 0-0 in the second half Ledge was looking quality stealing the ball off opposing midifelder before pouring forward to set up a counter attack, as the game petered out so did his performance.
Romone Rose: 6/10
Replaced Hogan Ephraim
Got ten minutes at the end and once again showed glimpses of his abilities that have already been spoken of. Looked a tad overawed but nevertheless should be a feature next season.
QPR: Luigi De Canio – 7/10 – His hands were tied early on when the R’s had a man sent off, however the Rangers manager looked more than capable of matching Mowbray’s tactical nouse. All credit to Gigi in an entertaining encounter.
West Brom: Tony Mowbray – 7/10 – Got his striker’s moving well and organised his team very well. His tactics were spot on as he looked to win the game, and they duly took advantage of the numerical odds.
Paul Taylor: 4/10 – An erratic, inconsitent performance littered with errors and differences in judgement. Making the bold decision to send Rowlands off was only one of a long line of dubious calls, not sending off either Clement or Robinson.
His assistant running towards the loft was incredibly inept, he didn’t seem to know the offside rule and a decision he never made with respect to an offside was acknowledged by the referee if you can work that out. The referee gave the majority of offsides in that half, in a disappointing display from all officials involved.