YOSSI Benayoun scored and saw red as Queens Park Rangers edged out playoff rivals Wigan Athletic in W12.
The Israeli international tucked home a free-flowing move as the home side dug deep and produced a performance that perhaps lacked distinction but displayed character in spadefuls.
Wigan dominated the ball and got the ball into dangerous areas – Rob Green proved a man inspired to thwart the Latics’ every attacking endeavour.
Benayoun received a second yellow card for a foul on the edge of the area as last season’s gremlins came to the fore – thankfully Jordi Gomez is no Shaun Maloney as a battling QPR side sit nicely in a playoff place.
Harry Redknapp made two changes from the side that defeated Middlesbrough, with Yun Suk Young extremely unfortunate to make way for the returning Richard Dunne, while Bobby Zamora earned a recall at expense of Will Keane.
Rob Green started behind a defence of Aaron Hughes, Dunne, Nedum Onuoha and Clint Hill. Joey Barton and Tom Carroll were the central midfield pairing with Niko Kranjcar, Ravel Morrison and Yossi Benayoun playing in behind lone striker Zamora.
The Latics started with Ali Al-Habsi behind a central defensive trio of Thomas Rogne, Ivan Ramis and Rob Kiernan, with James Perch and Stephen Crainey in their respective wing back berths. Jack Collison, Josh McEachran and James McArthur comprised the midfield trio with James McClean and Nick Powell playing advanced roles.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v WIGAN ATHLETIC
A tense opening to an important fixture as the confident Latics came out firing. They nearly had the advantage on the ten minute mark when Josh McEachran’s inswinging free-kick flew inches wide of Rob Green’s right hand upright.
Despite Wigan having a lot of the early running they struggled to create the clear cut opportunities to truly test a rearranged back-line. Ravel Morrison saw his shot blocked on the counter-attack as the hosts started to work their way into the fixture.
With the game started to ebb and flow it was the hosts that opened the scoring on the counter-attack. Niko Kranjcar and Tom Carroll combined down the left for the latter to square to Clint Hill. His smart back heel found YOSSI BENAYOUN and the Israeli international tucked home with consummate ease.
Wigan continued their with their brand of attacking threat with Green having to thwart James Perch from the edge of the area after useful work in midfield from Jack Collison. Nick Powell then chanced his arm from distance onto to find Green in good form once more.
Rangers at times were their own worst enemy at times with passes going astray and gifting possession back to the visiting side, who were by comparison much more comfortable in retaining the ball and churning out attacking moves.
James McClean seemed intent on wasting the bulk of Wigan’s seemingly never ending attacking spells. Green once again produced a smart save to deny the Irish international when his left-footed shot was ably fielded by the ‘keeper.
Barely minutes later at the wide-man was at it again, evading the offside trap to cut inside from the right and draw the best from Green once more, who thwarted the enterprising midfielder from a tight angle.
Play then switched to the other end as the Rs ended the half strongly. Firstly Ravel Morrison managed to break free from his marker but saw his tame effort well-fielded by Al-Habsi, while Niko Kranjcar could only place an effort straight at the ‘keeper when well placed in the area.
The referee drew an even half to a close with Wigan perhaps having the better of overall play, but Yossi Benayoun’s goal was the difference in a crucial encounter in W12.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-0 WIGAN ATHLETIC
Redknapp made a change at the break, a change that was presumably tactical. Niko Kranjcar was replaced by Gary O’Neil. It did very little to quell the tide of visitor pressure as the Latics looked to get back on level terms immediately.
Rob Green was a man inspired to deny the rampant visitors when he denied James McArthur before thwarting the wasteful McClean as he bore down on goal, blocking the Irish international’s shot, which should in truth have been converted.
Ivan Ramis went one closer with his header from a corner – seeing the ball clip the top of the bar with a looping effort. Play then switched rapidly back to the other end with Zamora inexplicably pulling out of a shot when in on goal, only for Benayoun’s subsequent effort failing to test Al-Havsi.
Hill’s last ditch tackle hauled Rangers out of the mire when more defensive mix-ups allowed McClean direct access into the back-line. The defender put his body on the line to deny the sprightly wide-man as the Rs rearguard lived to fight another day.
Ravel Morrison nearly doubled the lead when a collectors item for the day – a QPR free kick – saw the West Ham loanee fire a rasping, dipping free-kick bounced down off the bar and away to safety.
Yossi Benayoun saw yellow for kicking the ball away in a desperate attempt to maintain the lead, while Redknapp threw on Karl Henry and Yun Suk Young to sure up the rearguard. Ten disaster struck just minutes later.
Benayoun saw Jordi Gomez cut across his path, much like Richard Dunne and Leon Best last week, and in a fixture where the referee spared the yellow, Benayoun was given his marching orders for a second indiscretion of the game – bizarre against the backdrop of Clint Hill conceding four fouls in the same half without warning.
Somewhat poetic justice that Gomez’s free-kick should canon back off the wall. But the danger was not snuffed out yet. Nick Powell’s centre was glanced goal-bound by substitute Nicky Maynard – only for Rob Green to pull off a fine reaction save, a fitting finale to an absorbing encounter.
FULL TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-0 WIGAN ATHLETIC