QUEENS Park Rangers made light of League One Walsall on their way to the third round of the Capital One cup.
Mark Hughes named an experienced team for the visit and it duly paid dividends with Shaun Wright-Phillips finally netting his first goal in QPR colours with a smart finish from Bobby Zamora’s though ball.
Zamora himself got in on the act in the second period when a fine slide-rule pass from Keiron Dyer saw the forward clip delightfully beyond the over-worked David Gróf. The scoring was rounded off by debutante Jose Bosingwa, a genuine poacher’s effort after a corner failed to be cleared.
It may not have been the most attractive of fixtures, but the importance of a victory in any fashion cannot be understated after a poor start to the Premier League season. Walsall held their own for vast periods but experience won the day as Rangers progress.
Hughes made five changes from the side that held Norwich City at the weekend with Armand Traoré, Clint Hill, Jamie Mackie, Samba Diakité and Djibril Cissé making way for debutantes Jose Bosingwa and Ryan Nelsen – along with a surprise return for Alejandro Faurlín and Andrew Johnson.
Rangers started with Rob Green behind a back four of Bosingwa, Nelsen, Anton Ferdinand and Fabio da Silva. The midfield comprised of Wright-Phillips, Park Ji Sung, Faurlín and Junior Hoilett, with Bobby Zamora a surprise partner for Johnson in attack.
Walsall started with Dávid Gróf behind a defence of Ben Purkiss, Andy Butler, Dean Holden and Andy Taylor. Ashley Hemmings, Florent Cuvelier, Nicky Featherstone and Adam Chambers started across midfield with Will Grigg partnering Jamie Paterson in attack.
KICK OFF: QPR v WALSALL
It would be fair to say that there was a level of expectancy at Loftus Road as the two sides took to the field on a mild summer’s evening. Talk of Julio Cesar filled the air, which one can assume did little for the confidence of Rob Green – a man under fire considering a shaky start to life in W12.
The anticipation was only heightened following the announcement of the team news – an experienced line-up saw debuts for Jose Bosingwa and Ryan Nelsen, while there was also a first start for Andrew Johnson and a surprise early return from injury for Alejandro Faurlín.
Walsall have had a mixed bag thus far this season, with a win, draw and a defeat in their opening trio, but boss Dean Smith was hoping to emulate Leyton Orient’s achievement at Loftus Road in 2007, where he was part of the back-room set-up as the O’s beat QPR 2-1.
His side seemed well-drilled and fully committed in the early offing and indeed carved out the first chance of the fixture, albeit rather speculative. Jamie Paterson fired in a wild effort with a mere four minutes on the clock, but signalled the Saddlers intention not to merely sit back.
Rangers by comparison were looking a tad more relaxed and confident about proceedings than seen in weeks gone by. Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson rekindled their Fulham partnership in attack and looked on a good wavelength as QPR created their first genuine chance.
The pair combined well on the right hand side of the area before Shaun Wright-Phillips struck low to see his effort deflected behind for a corner. The tricky wide-man was afforded a great deal of space by the Saddlers back-line as Rangers started to open up their League One counterparts.
That wasn’t to be the last heard of Wright-Phillips as he once again tested David Gróf – a cross claimed at the second attempt by Green saw Fabio away down the left – a neat interchange with Junior Hoilett saw Wright-Phillips try his luck, only to be denied by the Hungarian stopper.
Walsall were looking resolute and organised – the very mark of a Football League side visiting a Premier League outfit, something for which QPR fans of only a few years ago can empathise with. Visits to then higher league opposition always represented a no-risk thrill ride and Walsall approach it with that very attitude.
In particular their wide-man Ashley Hemmings was full of the sprightly confident attitude that this calibre of occasion demands, and indeed had the presence and flair to cause problems to a QPR defence lacking in confidence and rather all at sea given some recent below-par displays.
Once again it was a glimpse of that leading line for QPR, forged in Fulham but coming to fruition in W12. Zamora’s neat pass for Johnson set the former Crystal Palace man away, but his effort forced a smart save from Gróf at his near post.
From the resultant corner it was a chance for another debutante, Ryan Nelsen, to try his luck. The New Zealand international captain rose highest in the area to plough a header just over the bar. The defender leapt like a salmon and came up just short in his attempt for a dream start.
Hemmings – released by Wolverhampton Wanderers in the summer – was giving Bosingwa food for thought. His pace and trickery alone were key attributes and one only has to look back at Chelsea’s demise at Loftus Road last season to note that the Portuguese international is not necessarily adept at handling pace.
It was Hemmings once more that played architect for the Saddlers, as a soft foul by Anton Ferdinand saw his delivery miss striker Will Grigg by inches. It was a rare chance for the visitors but nevertheless a warning shot for the Premier League side, not to rest on their laurels.
Rangers were looking useful in spells but the scything pass and the killer instinct was clearly eluding them. Passes started to go awry and matters were proving a tad frustrating for the home supporters – who with all due respect were hoping for a more dominant display in front of goal.
The best chance of the fixture thus far came shortly before the half-hour mark. Some useful interplay down the right saw Bosingwa fire in a first time cross and Johnson opted to glance his header, only to see the ball drift wide of the upright.
It was a genuine opportunity for Johnson and had he not been so cute with his effort, it may well have been the game’s opener. Placement over power however was an option proven to be incorrect on this occasion as the Saddlers lived to fight another day.
Rangers were now intent on peppering the visitors’ target, with Wright-Phillips and Johnson playing the ball nicely to Alejandro Faurlín whose rasping drive was blocked at point blank range. Barely seconds later and Hoilett worked an angle for Park who also had his effort stopped manfully.
It was the epitome of a lower league team defending for their lives and it was proving difficult to break down. The Saddlers played well on the break but defended ultimately as a team, something that stood them in good stead as the half wore on.
It was however a case of whether Rangers could break the deadlock, and finally they answered some critics and so did a pacy wide-man. Zamora did well to hold onto the ball before a slide-rule pass for Shaun Wright-Phillips – and he did the rest, toe poking a ball beyond Gróf for the much-coveted lead.
Rangers nearly doubled their lead from a set-piece as former QPR target Andy Butler brought down Zamora. Wright-Phillips swung the ball in with some venom, only for Ferdinand to nod straight at Gróf and let the Saddlers off the hook.
It was becoming a little bit frustrating for the home crowd as Walsall saw a great deal more of possession and it seemed that complacency had crept into the home side’s game. The visiting side were looking confident and relentless as Rangers seemed to play within themselves.
Zamora seemed to be taking a battering to further underline that point, both Butler and Holden putting in some stern challenges on the England international – the latter going into the book his tackle on the sizeable forward, who in truth had not contributed immensely thus far.
Rangers went into the break with Nelsen off the field for treatment, but with Bosingwa ably slotting into the heart of defence, QPR were looking good value for the lead. While it was not done and dusted, it appeared that another goal would make matters very difficult for Walsall.
HALF TIME: QPR 1-0 WALSALL
QPR emerged from the break a side intent on adding to their scoreline, but that was tempered by the fear that the never-say-die attitude that Walsall seemed to be purporting could indeed get them the goal they desired to prolong the contest.
Johnson and Hoilett looked lively in the early offing and the duo forced a succession of corners that unfortunately amounted to little, but further underlined the intent to get the tie done and dusted and get that confident-boosting win under their belt.
Then came a moment of unimaginable panic for QPR. From relatively little, Hemmings received the ball from deep before Florent Cuvelier struck a hopeful effort that was poorly fumbled wide by Green and prompted an uplift in attitudes among the visiting side.
From the resultant corner Grigg thumped a free-header back off the cross bar and Green was forced to deny Holden in a moment of sheer chaos and panic among the Rangers rearguard. It was certainly something worth noting in a disastrous display of defensive ineptitude.
A speculative free-kick from former QPR loanee Andy Taylor had to be deflected wide after a clever tactic of players bumping into each other and causing confusion among the defence. Opportunities were few and far between, but it would be the hosts that stepped on the gas.
The potential was there for opportunities going forward but passes going astray and positional sense not perhaps being as sharp as hoped proved frustrating for QPR at large. For Walsall only a powderpuff strike from the waning Hemmings proved respite for a side now under pressure.
Hoilett was withdrawn for Keiron Dyer – a player that lasted six minutes into his debut against Bolton Wanderers last season on the opening day. While many will have questioned Mark Hughes’ decision to hand him a new deal, he was certainly out to impress against the Saddlers.
Park meanwhile was playing a useful role after two rather lifeless displays in the Premier League, a neat touch after a Johnson-inspired move saw the South Korean blast over the target – but the signs were promising for the QPR side as confidence grew.
Rangers did eventually double their lead and it was a moment of class that would ultimately separate the sides further. Dyer has been famed for his injury woe, but on the field of play he can indeed prove a useful asset, and this scything through ball further highlighted this reputation.
Bobby Zamora – a relative spectator by and large – was able to latch onto the fine pass and pull off a delightfuly chipped finish, taken with aplomb by the former Fulham man. It was a goal to rather belie the occasion but nevertheless it was a fine goal indeed.
Zamora’s strike partner Johnson was proving a real thorn in the side for the Saddlers and his cross for strike partner and goalscorer Zamora narrowly evaded him as the chances started to come thick and fast for the dominant hosts. Park struck powerfully from distance just wide of the upright as the happy few in Loftus Road heralded a new-found confidence in QPR.
A double change by Rangers saw Armand Traoré and Djibril Cissé replace Wright-Phillips and Zamora – Traoré playing a more advanced role in front of Fabio while the Frenchman partnered the effervescent Johnson in attack.
The two substitutes combined effectively from the off with Cissé turning neatly on the edge of the area to lay off to Traoré – the Senegalese full-back lashed a speculative drive high, wide and handsome of the upright. The signs were proving positive for the hosts with chances now plentiful.
A couple of chances were snuffed out due to offside, and in truth served to highlight the gulf in class at times. Cissé powered a stunning effort home while substitute Bowerman missed a header from close range for the Saddlers – both as mentioned ruled out.
Rangers did have their third of the evening when a corner could only be half cleared by a weary rearguard and Faurlín’s powerful left footed drive could only be parried. Jose Bosingwa was on hand to blast an effort home from close range on the volley – it was now walking pace in comparison to the earlier chaos.
Cissé chanced his arm with a couple of late efforts in a bid to get his name on the scoresheet for the first time this season, but Gróf denied his first effort to keep the Frenchman out of the goals once more, on an otherwise positive evening for Rangers.
FINAL WHISTLE: QPR 3-0 WALSALL
Three-sy Does It For QPR
QUEENS Park Rangers made light of League One Walsall on their way to the third round of the Capital One cup.