QUEENS Park Rangers are inching ever closer to the Premier League as they completed a fighting victory against Barnsley this evening.
Guts, heart and determination took the place of the previously applied plaudits of efficacy and skill as Rangers fought their way to what should prove to be a priceless win.
The winning goal seemed an age by the end as Adel Taarabt sauntered into the area with his customary class before drilling home a first minute opener, but Barnsley proved both dogged and relentless.
The Tykes to their credit threw everything at what was a nervy Rangers back-line but led by Shaun Derry, the visitors displayed some steely resolve to see themselves through.
Hearts were in mouths as Jacob Butterfield scuffed an effort back off the upright and Neil Warnock becoming ever increasingly incensed by what were some questionable calls by official Mr Bates.
Nevertheless the mark of champions, displayed throughout the season by the npower Championship leaders, was in evidence once more as the R’s fans exclaimed: ‘We shall not be moved.’
Neil Warnock made four changes after what was a disappointing defeat at Scunthorpe United – Dan Shittu, Fitz Hall, Hogan Ephraim and Rob Hulse dropping out.
Paddy Kenny started behind a back four of Bradley Orr, Matt Connolly, Kaspars Gorkss and Clint Hill – Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry partnered up in the middle of the park.
Wayne Routledge, Adel Taarabt and Tommy Smith were the selected trio behind the lone front-man Rob Hulse. The notable inclusion of the Moroccan was a visible boost for the visiting side.
Barnsley started with Luke Steele behind his back four comprising of Kieran Trippier, Jason Shackell, Paul McShane and ex-QPR man Matt Hill.
The midfield trio was Jacob Mellis, Jacob Butterfield and Nathan Doyle with Andy Gray and Danny Haynes playing off target man Marlon Harewood – a formidable strike force at Championship level.
KICK OFF: Barnsley v Queens Park Rangers
This would prove to be a test of Rangers resolve. The fall-out from the Scunthorpe game ranged from blips to chokes and how they reacted could play a sizeable role in how they plan to play out the Championship run-in.
Standing in their way was Barnsley, a side with a formidable home record – notably against Queens Park Rangers – and an evening kick off against the Tykes in chilly conditions could have proven to be defining moment in the campaign.
Rangers started in a customary fast-paced fashion and as against Scunthorpe created early waves in the opposition back-line. In under a minute the visitors fired themselves in front and it was a familiar face that had his name on the scoresheet.
Alejandro Faurlín and Wayne Routledge combined for the latter to pick out Adel Taarabt on the left-hand side of the area. The Moroccan did the rest, working the space expertly before sending a rasping drive into the bottom right hand corner beyond Luke Steele.
GOAL: Barnsley 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
The perfect start for the visiting side whose visiting 2000 supporters were buoyed by the early goal. Barnsley however were certainly not proving to be the archetypal mid-table side in the run in, as they started to assert some impetus on the encounter.
On the five minute mark Marlon Harewood looked dangerous as his low drive was parried by Paddy Kenny, Andy Gray followed up with a powerful effort on target and Kenny made a smart second save to deny his former Sheffield United colleague.
Defender Jason Shackell was next to try his luck as he glanced a header wide of the right hand upright as the Tykes continued to test the resolve of the visiting side. Danny Haynes meanwhile lashed an effort high, wide and handsome just after the ten minute mark.
The change in the defensive line by Neil Warnock was dramatic and unexpected once more and the backline that effectively started the campaign together, looked a shadow of their former selves in what was appearing an error strewn opening period.
Connolly and Gorkss appeared nervous in both their touch and their composure with the talented Kieran Trippier firing in some teasing crosses from the right full-back position. Harewood and Gray meanwhile were ample targets for the reshaped back-line to contend with.
While the game had entered a brief lull, a snap-shot from Heidar Helguson just outside the area was an opportunity. The Icelandic international created space for himself before guiding an effort wide of the left-hand post.
The game ebbed and flowed and it was the hosts that came back with the next opportunity, attack-minded defender Shackell thundered an effort down the throat of the grateful Kenny, while a speculative Harewood effort was well fielded by the R’s stopper.
A moment of contention ensued after the half hour mark when Taarabt was fouled before taking a swipe at Matt Hill. A melee ensued in which the Moroccan was called aside as his suspect temperament was under the spotlight once more.
Mr Bates handed out a yellow card and the midfield maestro could like to fight another day – fortuitously so in view of the home support. Taarabt was certainly getting some treatment and the desired result was achieved as the playmaker clearly lost his head.
Another moment of contention came before the break as the hosts had a big shout for a spot-kick. Haynes cut inside from the right before his cross was blocked by a grounded Clint Hill. Both referee and linesman had an excellent view but opted instead to give a corner.
It was the final action of a busy first period, as the R’s had taken their first step beyond the defeat at Scunthorpe United – getting into the second half with a lead intact. A testing first half that promised much for another battling half.
HALF TIME: Barnsley 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
As predicted Barnsley came out looking strong in the second half, looking to pick up from their latter dominance in the first half. For all of their possessional and territorial dominance they struggled to carve out chances of note.
Once again however it was the young full-back Trippier that was providing a multitude of crosses down the right flank. The Manchester City loanee was proving impressive throughout and certainly providing food for thought to the QPR back-line.
Haynes displayed the raw pace that has made him an excellent Championship prospect as he worked his way in behind the backline before driving low straight at Kenny. Gray meanwhile failed to convert a Matt Hill cross as he glanced wide once more when well-placed.
It was proving a difficult half for Rangers who had to call upon a siege mentality at times to will them away from goal. The visitors and in particular Taarabt were struggling to get a foot-hold and instead searching for a crucial counter-attacking settler.
The Moroccan himself was being given some tough treatment, notably in front of the dugout and was becoming visibly frustrated at times. Warnock reacted to protect his player by withdrawing him for wide-man Hogan Ephraim.
Butterfield was the next to try his luck from the middle of the park, but his left-footed effort was wayward. Rangers however could not put together that passage of play to alleviate the pressure and stem the tide of the fixture at large.
Helguson was struggling to hold the ball effectively, looking increasingly isolated, while Smith, Routledge and Ephraim were being well marshalled by a no-nonsense back-line. In riposte however that clear cut opportunity still eluded them.
Mark Robins went for more aerial threat as Jay McEvily was introduced at the expense of Matt Hill, while Jordan Clark replaced a relatively anonymous Jacob Mellis. With ten minutes remaining that spark of life fizzed through the Rangers side and they nearly had their desired clincher.
Smith and Routledge connected well down the right and the livewire flanker teased McEvily before floating in a perfectly-timed cross for the onrushing Helguson on the far post. The striker was cramped for space as he planed his header of the foot of the near upright.
It was a warning should Barnsley require it of QPR’s counter-attacking prowess. A little later play switched back to the other end as Butterfield slid in to execute a useful effort that blind-sided Kenny and cannoned back off the right-hand upright.
While the play itself would hardly have been enthralling for the neutral, for the two sides involved it made more compelling viewing. Rangers supporters were biting their nails while the home support were baying for blood.
They weren’t the only ones as a string of baffling decisions by Mr Bates has Neil Warnock incensed on the touch-line and the thousands following the R’s. In such a tight fixture the mere blow of a whistle could have had a distinctive impact on proceedings.
Nerves mounted, pressure mounted, time ticked on as Queens Park Rangers continued to keep Barnsley at bay – it was certainly one way traffic in the latter stages at Oakwell. Four minutes of added on time were signalled and it was one more hurdle for Rangers to jump.
After what seemed an age the official blew the final whistle and the away end were sent into jubilation, knowing that promotion could now be feasibly sewn up in the next couple of weeks. Warnock celebrated jovially but nevertheless reservedly with his fellow players, and Rangers supporters sang in jubilation – ‘We shall not be moved.’
FULL TIME: Barnsley 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
Luke STEELE, Keiren TRIPPIER, Jason SHACKELL, Paul MCSHANE, Matt HILL (Jay MCEVELY 77), Nathan DOYLE, Jacob MELLIS (Jordan CLARK 77), Jacob BUTTERFIELD, Danny HAYNES, Andy GRAY (Reuben NOBLE-LAZARUS 82), Marlon HAREWOOD.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Paddy KENNY, Bradley ORR, Kaspars GORKSS, Matt CONNOLLY, Clint HILL, Alejandro Damián FAURLÍN, Shaun DERRY, Wayne ROUTLEDGE, Adel TAARABT (Hogan EPHRAIM 69), Tommy SMITH, Heidar HELGUSON.