QUEENS Park Rangers registered their first Premier League win of the campaign, as Tommy Smith notched a well-earned first half winner.
Rangers were excellent value for three points, combative throughout and capitalising on the hosts’ perceived lack of strength in depth that has caused a recent malaise to sweep across Goodison Park.
This came despite a virus sweeping through the Rangers squad, enforcing several changes including the notable omission of striker DJ Campbell. It didn’t matter a jot in terms of team spirit as the side fielded proved more than competent.
Tantalising football from the visitors helped separate the sides as a defensive lapse saw Smith find space in the area and caress beyond an unguarded Tim Howard for the only goal of the game.
Everton’s chances were few and far between, headers from Tim Cahill and Marouane Fellaini were accompanied by Leighton Baines hitting the bar and a couple of speculative appeals for a penalty.
Nevertheless it highlighted the weaknesses in an Everton camp seemingly bereft of confidence, and they will know all too well that bogey club Queens Park Rangers provided them with more than a test of nerves today.
The Rangers line-up raised more than a few eyebrows, with news emerging of a virus sweeping through the camp. DJ Campbell, Jay Bothroyd and Clint Hill (suspended) were omitted from the starting eleven.
Paddy Kenny therefore started behind a back four of Liverpool supporter Bradley Orr, Fitz Hall, Danny Gabbidon and Matt Connolly. Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry renewed their customary partnership in the heart of midfield.
Tommy Smith, Akos Buzsaky and Adel Taarabt were the trio behind lone front-man and surprise inclusion Patrick Agyemang. Bothroyd was able to take a place on the bench along with youngster Bruno Andrade.
Everton started with Tim Howard behind his back four of Phil Neville, Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines. Jack Rodwell, Leon Osman, John Heitinga and youngster Ross Barkley made up the midfield quartet.
Tim Cahill played just off lone forward Jermaine Beckford, with the lack of visible striking prowess the more evident vacuum among what is an able Everton squad. The Toffees would have been buoyed however by the return to the bench of Mikel Arteta.
KICK OFF: EVERTON v QPR
Everton were setting out in their opening test of the campaign, due to their fixture with Tottenham Hotspur being postponed last week. Rangers meanwhile were looking for retribution and a reaction following a thumping home defeat by Bolton Wanderers.
Set against the back drop of the two club’s relevant ownership status’ it was QPR that came out with the bit between their teeth, made more evident by the drive and enthusiasm from the engine room led by Shaun Derry.
Connolly, who had come in for the suspended Hill, combined excellently with Adel Taarabt down the left before a cross was delivered for the lurking Tommy Smith. The former Portsmouth man hit a snap-shot left-footed beyond Howard’s right hand upright.
One thing that appeared evident was the lack of pressure on the players, almost a renewed exuberance as Taarabt cheekily tricked his way beyond a couple of players. With trickery came naivety as some passages of play were blighted with loss of possession.
While play was often stifled, primarily due to the testing conditions and driving rain, there were glimpses of the hosts’ capabilities. Defending stoutly, Rangers were a tad over-zealous in bringing down the tricky youngster Ross Barkley.
Set-piece specialist Leighton Baines stepped up and curled a magnificent effort back off the bar, before an alert defence hacked away to safety. A reprieve for Rangers who need fell foul of another Premier League adage – no needless free-kicks.
Barkley was proving the thorn in the side of the visitors despite his inexperience. His name was cheered in the team-sheet prior to the match and it was immediately evident why this was the case.
Starting on the left, the midfield came inside and tried his luck from distance on a number of occasions, direct running, quick feet and a lively ability to create a spark in a side that lacked that cutting edge in the final third.
Rangers were looking predominately long throughout the half with Patrick Agyemang providing the nuisance factor and a willing work ethic in the front-line. Just for a moment QPR held the ball on the floor and began to frustrate the hosts.
Faurlín brought the ball forward after a concerted period of possession and linked up well with Buzsaky. The ball eventually found it’s way, with the aid of a scything Buzsaky pass, to Tommy Smith who took the ball in his stride.
The attack-minded player turned unmarked and rolled beyond Howard with consummate ease. Cue delirium among the travelling supporters, who heralded their side’s unlikely opening goal.
GOAL: EVERTON 0-1 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The goal on the half hour mark was the least that the R’s had deserved for their opening endeavour. In truth it was this aspect that was lacking from their defeat against Bolton last week, before the inevitable further problems set in.
Concentration would be the key if Rangers were to retain their lead going into the break. Everton understandably threw caution to the wind and tested the resolve of the Rangers back-line.
Tim Cahill went close when his header from point-blank range, looping the ball over the bar from guilt-edge distance. Beckford stung the palms of Paddy Kenny moments later in a period of pressure from the hosts.
Dutch international Heitinga nodded a ball back across the target only for Beckford to draw a save from the reliable Kenny. Another errant effort from Beckford brought the half to a close as Rangers fans applauded off their charges.
HALF TIME: EVERTON 0-1 QPR
There was a wonderful buzz in the air at half time, a sense that QPR weren’t necessarily punching above their weight, but competing effectively against what is the most established top flight side out there in Everton.
As the players took to the field for the second half it was noticeable which of the two sides were the more buoyant. A slender advantage, but nevertheless a telling advantage as the R’s had the advantage.
Everton showed that they could test the muster of Kenny with Jack Rodwell, ably backed up by the experienced Phil Neville, created some space and curled an effort straight into the grateful arms of the awaiting Kenny.
Rangers were keeping the ball effectively and even a speculative drive from Akos Buzsaky looked like it could have threatened before being blocked at point blank range. David Moyes, sensing the tempo had lulled, threw in fans favourite Mikel Arteta.
Rangers responded with Jay Bothroyd replacing the injured Patrick Agyemang. The Ghanaian international left the field on a stretcher but was given a standing ovation by the Rangers fans who had noted his contribution.
Moyes’ gambit was producing a little more in terms of creative play, but the chances were still not forthcoming. This was highlighted by Heitinga’s wild effort that flew high, wide and handsome beyond the target.
The Everton support was growing in frustration and every errant pass, notably from Beckford, was greeted with groans and jeers from the home fans. The tempo changed as Marouane Fellaini entered into the fray just after the hour mark.
Everton started to up the tempo with more direct passes targeted at the sizeable Belgian. That said there was no recognised striker on the field for the Toffees further highlighting their perceived plight for further additions.
Cahill forced Kenny into a smart save low down, with the ‘keeper holding on to the stinging strike, while Barkley appeared the most potent outlet for the trailing hosts despite all-too fleeting contributions.
Moyes final gamble, and some might say his biggest mistake initially, was introducing Louis Saha into the front-line. Many Evertonians believe that the Frenchman should have started over the ineffectual Beckford.
The all out aerial game was pushed into over-drive as the likes of Baines and Neville were searching direct into the area for the aerial prowess of the Everton attacking force. By that same token QPR were defending manfully in light of their height inferiority.
Supporters were seeing both sides of QPR’s naivety with silly fouls being given away in key areas, but the tactical understanding and knowledge to retain the ball at key times when in possession.
While Arteta couldn’t capitalise from a well-placed set-piece, Taarabt was exemplary in calming matters down and retaining the ball with his usual manner of grace and effortless skill.
Five minutes of injury time ensued, owing much to the Agyemang injury, but all a toothless Everton could throw at QPR was a Fellaini header that saw the Belgian international placed in an offside position.
Mr Friend blew the full time whistle and the R’s, resplendent in Tangerine, showed the joy and release of emotion of the last few months to celebrate with their elated supporters. Joy unbridled in one end as Everton booed their side from the field.
A first away win in the Premier League since Gregory Goodridge scored from a corner against Sheffield Wednesday in February 1996, how far QPR have come to rise to today’s occasion.
FULL TIME: EVERTON 0-1 QPR
Tim Howard, Leighton Baines, John Heitinga (Louis Saha 74), Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin, Jermaine Beckford (Marouane Fellaini 64), Tim Cahill, Phil Neville, Ross Barkley, Leon Osman, Jack Rodwell (Mikel Arteta 55).
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Paddy Kenny, Bradley Orr, Shaun Derry, Fitz Hall, Danny Gabbidon, Adel Taarabt, Alejandro Faurlin, Akos Buzsaky, Matt Connolly, Patrick Agyemang (Jay Bothroyd 57), Tommy Smith (Hogan Ephraim 66).