Team: Cesar, Onuoha, Nelsen, Hill, Traore, Mbia (Faurlin), Derry, Fabio, Granero (Park), Taarabt, Remy (Zamora)
Subs Not Used: Green, Murphy, Ben Haim, Bothroyd
Ryan Nelsen bowed out of his short but distinguished spell at Queen’s Park Rangers with a fine performance against the English champions.
On another night when Redknapp got his tactics right against a top side, Rangers put in a battling performance to secure a vital point. As expected, the visitors dominated possession and played a classy style of expansive football. David Silva and Carlos Tevez particularly caught the eye.
However the real heroes were the goalkeepers. England’s No. 1 Joe Hart laughed off banter from the R’s fans about his recent shampoo advert with a stunning first-half save from Adel Taarabt. It was one of Rangers’ few attacks.
Julio Cesar was more than equal. He pulled off a number of world-class saves, including an astounding tip past the post from a curling Gareth Barry shot.
The R’s were lucky not to go behind to a free header from Zabaleta in the first-half. But Rangers fully deserved a point with this masterclass of a rearguard action. Taarabt put in a lively but disciplined performance, holding up the ball where needed and helping the defensive effort. And this was a night where their defences reigned, fitting given the final appearance for Ryan Nelsen at QPR.
QPR MOM – Julio Cesar
(Ryan Nelsen exchanges a fond farewell with the Loftus Road faithful)
On the day that Mario Balotelli blew out of English football amid sadness and regrets, Manchester City’s title hopes might just have followed him.
On a gale-whipped night at Loftus Road, the champions were held to a goalless draw that leaves them four points behind Manchester United, a gap that could be seven by the time Southampton have visited Old Trafford tonight.
There will be those that insist Balotelli will not be missed, but on this evidence it is not just the bodyshops, barbers and bespoke onesie tailors of east Manchester who will regret his exit.
Roberto Mancini threw all three of his remaining forwards at Harry Redknapp’s side but Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko could not batter down the defences thrown up by Queen’s Park Rangers. It might not have been Balotelli weather, but City could have done with a dash of his brilliance to break down a deeply committed Rangers side.
While the wind blew, City huffed and puffed, but they could find no way past the outstanding Julio Cesar. The Brazilian was the difference between the sides, making a world-class save at the end of each half and several very good ones in between.
There were other heroic efforts in front of him. Shaun Derry and Ryan Nelsen, playing his last game before heading into management in Toronto, were stalwart in central defence, while the midfield trio of Esteban Granero, Stephane Mbia and Shaun Derry tirelessly harried City’s myriad talents.
Rangers enjoyed a stroke of fortune, surviving a late penalty appeal when Nedum Onuoha collected Scott Sinclair along with a scrap of the ball, but Redknapp will not care. This point lifts his side to within a win of second-from-bottom Reading, who play their game in hand against Chelsea tonight, and he will hope for good news in the closing 48 hours of the transfer window.
Redknapp began the evening with the least subtle of messages to Chairman Tony Fernandes, naming two goalkeepers on the bench. It was a crude plea for reinforcements, but given Roberto Mancini’s selection it may have been prudent.
City may not have had Balotelli, but they fielded Samir Nasri and David Silva as well as Aguero and Tevez. Perhaps Redknapp was worried Cesar would be exhausted before the end, and it looked likely as the Brazilian came under pressure from the start.
Playing with the howling wind at their backs, City took immediate control and almost benefitted from Cesar’s only error. Presented with a wickedly in-swinging Nasri corner, the goalkeeper punched weakly, presenting Joleon Lescott with a clear chance. The centre-half could not get over his volley and the ball sailed harmlessly over.
With 20 minutes gone, Aguero combined with Silva on the City left, the Spaniard evading Onuoha on his way to the bye-line from where he pulled back a perfect cross. Pablo Zabaleta met the ball crisply with his forehead, but saw the ball crash off the bar. Javi Garcia took a more direct approach. Latching onto a clearance, he walloped a half-volley from 40 yards that had Cesar beaten as it whistled wide.
City’s keeper Joe Hart had barely touched the ball until the 40th minute, when he was forced into a superb smothering save to deny Adel Taarabt. Cesar was almost immediately asked to match Hart’s save with a flying stop from Gareth Barry.
QPR were soon against the wall in the second-half as City continued to press, though with less rhythm. Mancini threw on Dzeko in the hope that the Bosnian could offer a focus to the City attack, but he found Clint Hill and Nelsen more than equal to the challenge.
Cesar remained busy, showing the safest of hands when Silva thumped a shot through a thicket of defenders. The goalkeeper clutched the ball to his midriff with City players lurking for any scraps, and did so again when James Milner tested him.
He saved his best for last, denying Silva from eight yards after the Spaniard combined with Dzeko and met his cross with a crisp strike. Somehow Cesar got down to keep the ball out, and the point was safe.
At the final whistle QPR fans praised Cesar in song. Without him they knew they would have been buried.
Paul Kelso – The Telegraph
(The players honour Ryan Nelsen with a guard of honour as he leaves the pitch)
I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t go for it more in the last 15 minutes. Without their spine (Yaya & Kompany) they were there for the taking. I thought Adel through the middle would’ve been a better option as Barry and Milner are even slower than Clint Hill !!!
Yes I know a point against the champions is decent, but we can’t keep playing for a point as the games will run out before we know it. Still unbeaten in four league games in 2013 with three clean sheets is a good sign though. Beat Norwich and we can breathe a little easier.
One of the main topics of conversation before the game was why did we have two keepers on the bench ? Harry Redknapp later explained that it was to help make up the numbers !!!
Cesar was outstanding again, there was the world class save in front of the Loft in the first-half and then another after the break. The visitors hit the crossbar and it soon became evident just how severe the windy conditions were.
Adel the magician brought out a superb body save from Joe Hart and why the hell didn’t Mr Dowd award a free kick very close to the edge of the box in the second-half ?
Ryan Nelsen got a big ovation from the fans which he reciprocated and there was also a guard of honour from the Rangers players as he left the pitch. The team battled all the way and there was great support throughout the match from the Rangers fans. Well done everyone.
(Photos provided by Sandra Sayce and used with permission)