QUEENS Park Rangers and Fulham had to settle for a share of the spoils on a bitterly cold afternoon at Loftus Road.
It was a genuine clash of styles with Rangers a combative, counter-attacking outfit while visitors Fulham attempted to control proceedings from front to back with the use of a technically gifted side.
The afternoon did not get off to the best start for the home side when Sone Aluko took a private bungee jump at Jake Bidwell’s expense – only for Alex Smithies to deny Fulham from the spot.
Irishman Ryan Manning – fresh from signing a new deal at Loftus Road – then cemented his poster boy status for the Ian Holloway era by capitalising on an error to slot beyond David Button.
Fulham did eventually peg Rangers back and despite it being deserved it was rather in fortuitous circumstances – Chris Martin diverting home Tom Cairney’s effort from range.
Things did get heated with Marc Bircham being sent to the stands for his part in a touchline fracas – but in truth a point was useful for both sides in a full-blooded West London encounter.
Ian Holloway named an unchanged side for the first time this season – that allowed Ryan Manning to continue in midfield and despite some stinging criticism of the front man, Idrissa Sylla continued to partner Jamie Mackie in attack.
Alex Smithies started behind a three man defence of Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall and Joel Lynch – Darnell Furlong and Jake Bidwell lining up in respective wing back berths. Pawel Wszolek, Manning and Massimo Luongo started in midfield with Mackie and Sylla in attack.
Fulham meanwhile started with David Button behind a defence of Ryan Fredricks, Tim Ream, Tomas Kalas and Scott Malone. Stefan Johansen and Kevin McDonald played centrally with Tom Cairney, Lucas Piazon and Sone Aluko playing in behind Chris Martin.
ONUOHA – HALL – LYNCH
FURLONG – WSZOLEK – LUONGO – MANNING – BIDWELL
MACKIE – SYLLA
FREDRICKS – REAM – KALAS – MALONE
JOHANSEN – McDONALD
ALUKO – CAIRNEY – PIAZON
An early start beckoned Queens Park Rangers and Fulham on a bitterly cold West London afternoon. There were most definitely scores to settle for the in-form visiting side, with Queens Park Rangers netting all three points at Craven Cottage in a textbook away performance earlier this season.
As is the case in the Championship, a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then – Rangers dismissing Hasselbaink before sinking like a stone and showing some recent green shoots of recovery. For Fulham it’s been steady progress as they arrived at Loftus Road on the cusp of the playoff places.
The home side started very much on the front-foot – in doing so they appeared to catch their visitors from down the road by surprise. First it was Jamie Mackie getting free on the right hand side of the area, but putting his effort in the stands. Moments later his strike partner Idrissa Sylla looped a header over from a Jake Bidwell cross.
Barely ten minutes into the game however and Fulham were given a golden opportunity to take the lead from the penalty spot. Sone Aluko wriggled free from several powderpuff challenges down the right-flank – the ball was eventually worked into the area where the former Hull City man hit the ground at the sight of Jake Bidwell’s shadow.
There was a sense of disbelief among the home supporters as Mr Stroud pointed to the spot – just as he did in the recent defeat down at Brighton. After his last gasp miss against Rangers earlier this season, Aluko deferred to Chris Martin – who stepped up among a throng of heckles from the home supporters.
Alex Smithies though maintained his reputation as shot-stopper extraordinaire and all-round penalty expert when he got a strong hand behind an effort low to his right to tip the ball around the post. Six saves from ten penalties faced and Fulham’s third penalty spurned against QPR alone this season.
It brought a 17000 strong crowd to life as they tried to get their team on the front-foot in a fixture that was increasingly becoming dominated by the visiting side. Sylla forced a save from Button at his near post before Tom Cairney could and perhaps should have opened the scoring for the visiting side.
The Cottagers were stringing passes and runs together with all the ease of a squad that had appeared to have played together for years. Aluko was the architect by and large, drifting into gaps to receive the ball and passing on to contribute to some dangerous attacks for the Whites.
The aforementioned Cairney picked up the ball on the edge of the area when well-placed on his right foot – but his powerful effort could only trouble Alex Smithies’ side netting in a real let off for the hosts. Gaps were forming and despite putting in a combative display, QPR were visibly struggling to shut down the flowing moves.
Furlong was the first into Mr Stroud’s book when he was rather harshly adjudged to have fouled Martin in a 50/50 aerial challenge. But this aggressive, high-tempo style from the hosts did pay dividends when they forced the visitors into a decisive mistake.
Midfielder Kevin McDonald – under pressure from Luongo – left a back-pass woefully short for ‘keeper Button. Cue man of the moment RYAN MANNING – he latched onto the misplaced pass to slide the ball under Button for his first Queens Park Rangers goal – the Irishman was composure personified.
Fulham enjoyed much of the ball from there on but it appeared to come to very little – only a deflected Piazon effort, comfortably held by Smithies, was all the Whites could muster for all their possession-based dominance. Ryan Fredricks then lost himself and saw himself go into the book after a one man tirade at the assistant referee.
The combative Luongo had a similar fate when his aggressive midfield play was punished by the over-zealous official. It rather spoke for itself that the official was heckled off by both sets of supporters given his own aggressive handling of proceedings in W12.
Nevertheless Rangers had the lead against neighbours Fulham and it augured well for a similar second half performance. With Furlong and Luongo in the book however, they would have to guard against silly offences with an official on the look-out for the most minor of opportunities to become the centre of attention once more.
Fredricks was hauled off by Slavisa Jokanovic with Denis Odoi his replacement but it was the home side again that started the stronger of the teams and looked more likely to double their advantage. Manning felled deep into Fulham territory and Bidwell’s set-piece was disappointingly headed over by Onuoha.
Fulham once again retained the ball well, but unlike a drab Reading side that QPR were able to dispatch, they played with attacking intent – even if at times it was stifled by a resolute Rangers side. Johansen, Cairney, Aluko all looked to play forward where possible to keep the tempo high for Jokanovic’s men.
Aluko was the next man to test Smithies’ resolve – this time an effort from distance saw the QPR stopper tip over to great adulation from the home support. Fulham however were knocking on the door and it looked as if it was going to be backs against the wall for a good proportion of this second half.
Sylla was then booked for punching the ball into the back of the net as he seemed to visibly struggle holding the ball up for Rangers. His inability to make the ball stick or make the necessary runs as an out-ball created wave after wave of pressure to defend.
Good interplay from Mackie, Wszolek and Luongo saw the latter attempt an effort with the outside of his right boot. While the technique was admirable; the shot was wayward as the Australian placed the effort high, wide and not so handsome.
Sensing the need for respite, Holloway threw on Conor Washington for Sylla – there was no repeat of the Reading tantrum as he responded to the supporters’ applause with good grace. Washington and Mackie were both typically brimming with effort and commitment but struggling to get hold of the ball consistently in the attacking third.
Hall was next on the list of attempts as his header was dollied over the bar – once again when well-placed. Rangers were by no means dominant in this fixture but the clear cut opportunities they had spurned could really only come back to haunt them.
So it proved, QPR’s profligacy gave Fulham that extra shot in the arm that their performance needed. Scott Malone’s set-piece fell nicely for Cairney and while the former Blackburn Rovers and Hull City man saw an effort on target it was CHRIS MARTIN that made the final contact to level proceedings up in W12.
Ryan Sessegnon replaced Lucas Piazon for the visitors who were now going for the throat of a flagging home side. Aluko made another enterprising run down the right only for his resultant shot to be once again tipped over by Smithies.
Scott Malone was also in the mood having scored last minute goals for both Millwall and Cardiff City at Loftus Road in years gone by – his speculative drives were blocked away by a manful QPR backline. But it was not all Fulham was Washington stung the palms of Button who had to gather an effort at the second attempt.
It was Mackie for Kazenga LuaLua as Holloway looked to freshen up Rangers’ attacking line – but it was the tireless Manning that nearly drew more deserved plaudits when his centre caused anarchy and the ball perhaps dropped to the wrong player in Hall, who hacked a rushed effort well wide of Button’s left had upright.
Minutes remaining on the clock but there was no respite to the action as first Sessegnon headed over with three minutes remaining. Matt Smith was thrown on in a complete change of tactics for the Whites at the death.
Tempers flared on the touchline with Manning receiving some strong challenges on the touchline. Marc Bircham leapt to the defence of his player, sparking a sizeable melee in front of the dugouts. This then spilled on the pitch minutes later with Cairney going into the book for a push and resultant fracas.
Bircham did end up being sent to the stands while Grant Hall was forced to withdraw from the action with a cut – James Perch coming on to sure things up in the dying moments. As it stood Rangers did see things out in a spirited performance.
Both sides will undoubtedly be happy enough with a point given their respective positions in the game, with a respectable unbeaten record intact for both teams.
Queens Park Rangers: Smithies; Onuoha, Hall (Perch 90+3), Lynch; Furlong, Wszolek, Luongo, Manning, Bidwell, Mackie (LuaLua 83), Sylla (Washington 68)
Subs not used: Ingram, Doughty, Ngbakoto, Shodipo
Fulham: Button, Fredricks (Odoi 46), Kalas, Ream, Malone, McDonald, Johansen, Aluko (Smith 88), Cairney, Piazon (Sessegnon 77), Martin.
Subs not used: Bettinelli, Parker, Madl, Sigurdsson.
Referee: Mr K Stroud