Rangers extended their lead to 5 points at the top of the Championship as they came from behind to beat Coventry. Goals by Adel Taarabt and new loanee Wayne Routledge saw us win our first game of 2011 to complete a league double over Coventry, a mere 26 days after the away fixture. Routledge was handed his second debut in place of Petter Vaagan Moen while Heidar Helguson returned in place of Rob Hulse from the starting X1 against Burnley. New loanee Ishmael Miller was on the bench. The rest of the side was as you were.
Routledge was straight into action when he received a pass from Taarabt through the middle on five minutes, but as he burst into the box, the Sky Blues keeper, Kieran Westwood, was off his line in a flash to block at his feet. Then on 12 minutes, Routledge beat ex-QPR loanee Martin Cranie and set up Helguson with an inch perfect cross. I know it’s been said many times this season, but Helguson should’ve done better: instead of heading the ball down into the ground only to see the ball bounce over the bar. Ten minutes later, Helguson had a chance to make amends following a hooked cross from Smith out wide left. This time he connected perfectly and as his point blank header headed towards the goal, the ball struck Cranie’s outstretched arm, but for some unknown reason the referee waved play on.
In the 24th minute, following a cross into the box, the ball fell nicely for Derry to hit a 20 yard half-volley. The ball was heading for the keeper’s top left corner, but somehow Westwood managed to tip the ball over the bar with most of the crowd already on their feet in anticipation of Derry’s long awaited first goal. Westwood was playing well as he’d also made a decent save from a 20 yard Taarabt shot. Against the run of play, albeit they had shared the possession up to that point, Coventry took the lead with their first attack on 25 minutes. The ball found its way out left to Gary McSheffrey who only had one thing on his mind. He got to the bye-line and put a low cross into our six yard box. As our defence stood like statues, Coventry’s No.9 tapped into the net from about five yards.
Up to this point, Taarabt was having a quiet game by his standards, but with half an hour gone he showed why he is so highly rated. First he beat his marker in a central position and hit a decent 20 yard shot which only missed the keeper’s right hand post by a couple of inches. Then a minute later, receiving a long ball from Gorkss by the corner flag, he trapped it instantly, showed it to Keogh who dived in, but Adel left him in his wake. He headed for goal and as the keeper narrowed the angle, Adel shot into the side netting. But on 32 minutes, it could’ve been 2-0 as Doyle found Eastwood with a great pass and Eastwood then went past Connolly rather too easily, but luckily for us his left foot shot went wide.
Then on 45 minutes, it was fifth time lucky for our captain and top scorer. Receiving a free kick from Kenny out on the left wing, he trapped the ball instantly and burst between Keogh and Doyle, and looking up and seeing where the keeper was, he proceeded to pick his spot in the top corner with a trademark 18 yard screamer. Unluckily for Coventry, it was our captain’s 13th goal this season. Adel ran to the Paddocks to reveal his vest which said, ‘For Jamie’. Then in added time, we almost went in front when Clint Hill had a 20 yard half volley just clear the bar. We had started well, but had gone slightly flat but for the last 15 minutes, looked very promising. Before that I thought McSheffrey, Doyle and Gunnarsson were seeing too much of the ball for my liking. Half-time: 1-1.
Rangers came out for the second half and started off where they left off first half. On 51 minutes, Helguson was fouled just outside the box towards the Ellerslie Road Stand. As Faurlin and Taarabt stood over the ball, it looked like the only option was to aim for the keeper’s left hand side. As Adel ran over the ball, Faurlin had other ideas and hit a low shot to the keeper’s right hand side. The ball beat the keeper, but hit the inside of the post and ran agonisingly along the line and past the opposite post for a goal kick. Then on 54 minutes, as Westwood intercepted a through ball, Helguson asked him to put the ball out as he appeared to have pulled his thigh. As Westwood obliged, Warnock was forced into bringing on another loanee, Ishmael Miller for his debut. Miller was straight into the thick of things, winning a couple of headers.
Although we had enjoyed most of the possession so far, second half, Coventry were still willing and able. On the hour mark, Paddy Kenny pulled off a triple save to keep the scores level. First he had to go full length to keep out a 25 yard free kick. Then as Jutkiewicz followed up, he saved his close range shot then collected the resulting header with an audible sigh of relief all round. But to be fair, that was an isolated incident as second half, Derry, Faurlin, Smith, Taarabt and Routledge were constantly giving Coventry headaches all over the pitch. Gorkss came close when he met a Taarabt corner at the far post, but his header went across the face of the goal rather than at the goal and the ball was cleared. And with Miller showing some lovely touches and bullying the centre backs, I could only see one winner.
On 69 minutes, Miller turned his marker inside out and hit a left foot shot which had goal written all over it, but once again Westwood finger tipped the ball around the goal frame. Miller was gutted and told Westwood so as they shared some banter awaiting the resulting corner. With 11 minutes remaining, Rangers got the breakthrough their dominance deserved. The best two players on the pitch combined to give us our first win since we played the corresponding fixture at the Ricoh Arena a month ago. Taarabt received the ball out wide in front of the Paddocks and looking up, he spotted Routledge’s run from deep. With the outside of his right boot he curled an exquisite pass into the six yard box. As the keeper narrowed the angle, Routledge trapped the ball with his right foot and buried the ball in the net with his left foot and all in the blink of an eye. It was Taarabt’s 21st assist to add to his 13 goals so far.
We held out for the remaining 10+ minutes and the reaction of the players, manager and crowd told its own story. Come the end of the season we may look back on this result as a very significant one (let’s hope so !)
Team: Kenny 7, Orr 6, Hill 7, Connolly 6, Gorkss 7, Routledge 8, Taarabt 8, Derry 7, Faurlin 7, Smith 7, Helguson 6.
Subs: Miller 7 (for Helguson 54), Hall 6 (for Smith 83), Ephraim (for Routledge 90 – did he touch the ball ?).
MOTM: Routledge. Welcome home Wayne and thank you for entertaining us today.
Referee: M Haywood 6 (the only redeeming thing I can say is that we’ve had a lot worse this season)
Attendance: 13,185 (including 464 Coventry fans – allegedly).
Its so nice to reach the half century and not by saying ‘we’re safe now’. This was a critical game, what with the three teams below us narrowing the gap over the weekend. The 5 point gap has sent out a message to all the following pack stating, ‘We Are QPR and we are STILL top of the league’. Steve Claridge must be gutted.
(The above pics were taken by MartinPercival¬† and used with his permission)