Rangers slumped to their second defeat on the spin losing 1-2 to a visiting West Bromwich side delayed by the closure of the A40 Greenford flyover. The game was delayed by 15 minutes and took place through festive driving rain and howling wind.
Harry Redknapp ordered two changes from the team which meekly surrendered at St. James Park on Saturday. Armand Traore came in for Ryan Nelsen (out with flu) and Shaun Wright-Phillips was given the nod over Esteban Granero.
(The players line up)
The first-half started brightly for the R’s, with Taarabt looking hungry and eager, ably supported by Ale Faurlin and Stephane Mbia in midfield. Mbia nearly got QPR off to a roaring start with a venomous shot from outside the box which went wide on the one minute mark.
And Rangers got the better of the opening exchanges, with shots from Taarabt and Jamie Mackie both going wide. Wright-Phillips was beginning to make an impact on the half as well with a number of skilful well-timed challenges. It was a scampering run from Wright-Phillips which gave the R’s perhaps their best chance of the half on 22 minutes. Seemingly beating two West Brom defenders with ease, the wide man put in a glorious low cross which Mackie could only glancingly head to the right of Ben Foster’s goal under pressure from Jonas Olsson.
As so often this season, Rangers conceded after periods of play when they looked the better side. West Brom captain Chris Brunt popped up totally free in midfield on 28 minutes following a simple pass from Marc-Antoine Fortune. Brunt hit the ball first-time with his left foot which beat Rob Green to his left. To be fair it was a great strike which would have beaten many keepers, although some felt that Green could have got closer to a strike from 25 yards out. The killer factor in the goal was the sheer amount of space Brunt was afforded, and maybe Anton Ferdinand could have done more to shut down his options.
(Adel prepares for a free kick on goal)
Three minutes later, Mbia went close to levelling with a lashed 30-yarder which Foster did well to put out for a corner. There followed a fairly evenly-matched period of play where both sides applied pressure with corners. Unfortunately it wasn’t the day for set pieces for Taarabt, whose corners often frustratingly failed to find a target in blue and white hoops.
Four minutes into the second period saw a twist of fate which typifies QPR’s luck this season. Brunt took a free kick which Traore appeared to lackadaisically skew backwards into the air above his head. As the ball looped dangerously goalward, Fortune appeared to back into Green, making the R’s keeper palm it somewhat pathetically into his own net. Cue howls of protest from Green, his team mates and the R’s fans who were positioned well enough to see it. Referee Chris Foy allowed the goal to stand. It wasn’t a heavy contact by Fortune on Green, and although 99 times out of 100 those are given as free kicks, in truth Green should have stood firmer.
Green went some way to redeem this blunder with a couple of fine saves, most notably on 57 minutes making a fine block when one-on-one with Chelsea loanee Romelu Lukaku.
Just after the hour mark, Redknapp opted for a double substitution. Samba Diakite came on for the strangely subdued Faurlin, who severely drifted out of the game after an encouraging opening ten minutes. Junior Hoilett came on for the average Fabio da Silva. QPR went three at the back with Wright-Phillips filling in at right-back as required, and Hoilett as a left-sided attacker.
This fresh impetus paid almost immediate dividends when on 68 minutes Mbia played a perfectly weighted ball through the middle to the otherwise quiet Djibril Cisse. Cisse timed his chip over Foster perfectly and Rangers halved the deficit.
As the home team surged forward seeking an equaliser, West Brom’s delaying tactics became ever more frustrating, with the referee refusing to take any substantive action. To be fair, West Brom defended resolutely as the R’s looked likely to score.
In the seconds before the full ninety was up, Clint Hill met with a Taarabt corner which Mulumbu impressively cleared off the line. Moments later Rangers were denied a certain penalty when Mbia struck substitute Liam Ridgewell’s outstretched arm in the box.
An equaliser was not to be. Whilst Rangers on balance deserved a point, they gifted a two-goal lead to West Brom just as they did in the opposing fixture at the Hawthorns in October. While after the game Twitter and the message boards raged with anger and frustration in search of a scapegoat for this defeat, in truth there were no villains in hoops. Clearly the poor form of Faurlin is a worry, and there have to be questions about the confidence of the keeper currently holding down the starting berth.
Harry has made some strides forward tightening up this team and encouraging it to attack more confidently, but the issue still remains that the totally of the QPR personnel is so often much less than the sum of its individual parts.
Whilst the mountain of survival looks ever steeper to climb, the transfer window cannot open quickly enough. The trouble is although QPR dodged the “bottom at Christmas” millstone, who can Harry recruit to fight it out in the ‘mother of all relegation battles’ ?
Team: Green 6, Traore 6, Ferdinand 6, Hill 7, Fabio 6 (Hoilett 6), Taarabt 6, Wright-Phillips 6, Faurlin 5 (Diakite 6), Mbia 7, Cisse 6, Mackie 6
Subs Not Used: Cesar, Derry, Granero, Dyer, Ehmer
QPR MOM – Mbia. A rambunctious display from the Cameroon midfielder, with urgency and skill aplenty. A wonderful pass for Cisse’s goal and his overall performance was let down by a couple of outrageous dives in the second-half.
WBA MOM – Mulumbu. Hugely energetic performance from the Congolese man. He was everywhere on the pitch and a real driving force in the heart of the West Brom attack.
(The above pics were taken by Sandra Sayce and used with permission)