An icy blast of winter made an unexpected August return to W12 as the ‘Tractor Boys’ came to town. Well, not really ‘icy’, but you would be forgiven for thinking so by the appearance of blankets amongst the ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ of the C Club.
It wasn’t the most pleasant of summer afternoons as a slightly makeshift Rangers XI underlined the lack of depth in Harry Redknapp’s squad. Armand Traore, Alejandro Faurlin and Andy Johnson had all been ruled out due to injury. Clint Hill, making his 100th appearance for Queen’s Park Rangers, moved across to the left back position allowing Richard Dunne to make his first full appearance. Shaun Wright-Phillips was drafted back into the starting lineup enabling Joey Barton to partner Karl Henry in the centre of the park. The so-far highly impressive Junior Hoilett was asked to patrol the left flank whilst Bobby Zamora was brought in alongside Charlie Austin in Johnson’s absence.
(Clint Hill’s milestone was marked by a banner in Ellerslie Road)
A highly competitive first half saw chances for both teams as Rangers came up against a Mick McCarthy side which was well-drilled. But Rangers started brightly with Austin firing into the side netting on 7 minutes. Yet again Hoilett and Barton carried on where they had left off in previous games. Hoilett’s pace and attack proved very difficult for the Ipswich defence to deal with. Barton similarly was energetic and showed he wanted to take the midfield by the scruff of the neck. Some fans were quickly left to ponder how different a team we might look if those two were to leave before the end of the August transfer window.
Zamora, the current target of the wrath of the W12 boo-boys, also wasn’t having a bad start, at least on the floor. Whilst he was finding himself controlled by the Ipswich defenders Luke Chambers and Tommy Smith, Zamora was at least involved in some good link play with Austin, Barton and Wright-Phillips.
Ipswich clearly wanted to make a game of it and started to impose themselves. On 15 minutes a defensive error by Clint Hill led to a blasted shot by Darryl Murphy, a player Rangers was once strongly linked with, which went sailing over the bar.
It was turning into an interesting contest. One thing which set Rangers apart was the quality of delivery into the box. As Rangers applied pressure, Barton delivered a number of quality crosses and quality corners. The midlfielder was finding a sort of consistency sadly never approached by neither Adel Taarabt nor Esteban Granero last season. Nedum Onuoha went dangerously close with an aimed header on 24 minutes from one of these free kicks.
Ipswich’s best chance came on 36 minutes. Full back Aaron Cresswell came marauding down the Ipswich left and crossed in for McGoldrick under challenge from Dunne. The ball came to fellow striker Murphy. The Irishman tried to place it to the left of Robert Green, but the former Norwich keeper made an incredible fingertip save to push it wide. Moments later at the other end Zamora fired over the bar from a Hoilett flick-on.
An entertaining half ended with both sides feeling they could have got something from it. On possession the period belonged to Rangers – on quality of chances certainly the visitors. As the second 45 commenced it became clear that Green was going to get dog’s abuse from large numbers of the vocal travelling support in the School End. Ironically he didn’t have that much to deal with in the half.
Rangers were the better side forcing the visitors to dig in and increasingly deploy delaying tactics in order to secure the point. The home side was dealt a blow ten minutes in though when Hoilett pulled up after scampering down the left wing for the umpteenth time. It looked like a hamstring injury, although happily the Canadian was able to get up and make his own way back to the dugout. It remained to be seen what impact this would have on any potential transfer activity.
Meanwhile Gary O’Neil came on in midfield and Wright-Phillips moved over to the left. O’Neil went on to impress on his debut with excellent passing as well as superb positioning and passing. Rarely has a substitute wearing the hoops for the first time looked so comfortable and accomplished.
(O’Neil in action with Ipswich’s Tommy Smith)
Rangers went on to have two superb chances but without any joy. Both were against the crossbar. Firstly a Hill header from a Barton free kick slammed into the woodwork. With a quarter of the game remaining Austin’s volley met the same fate from a beautiful cross in from Wright-Phillips. The former Chelsea and Manchester City winger was having a solid game. Not outstanding by any means, but restated his value in that position with good work both defensive and going forward.
(Barton feels the full weight of Manchester United loanee Ryan Tunnicliffe)
In the space of six minutes, Henry was replaced by Jermaine Jenas and the youngster Tom Hitchcock came on for Zamora, who was jeered a little unfairly by the Loftus Road faithful.
Rangers fans were beginning to think that a breakthrough was not coming. In fact Ipswich had late chances to nick it. With seven minutes on the clock McGoldrick latched onto a weak Dunne header aimed at Green. The Rs keeper made an important double save to keep the game at parity.
Then in the 90th minute Barton played a long diagonal ball into the path of Wright-Phillips, who leapt on the opportunity to beat his man and deliver a low ball into the box. A slight ricochet off an Ipswich defender sent the ball perfectly to Hitchcock who made no mistake in front of keeper Scott Loach. Cue wild celebrations in W12 as the home support enjoyed a debut goal from the substitute. On the final whistle there were joyful scenes as Hitchcock was emotionally greeted on the pitch by father Kevin.
(Matchwinner Tom Hitchcock on way to embrace his dad Kevin, QPR goalkeeping coach)
Overall it was a fair and satisfying result. Ipswich look like they could do well this season with a little more firepower up front. Murphy doesn’t seem the perfect foil for the lively McGoldrick. Meanwhile as Rangers look towards two long (and early) league trips up north on successive weekends, there are many positives to reflect on. Clearly the uncertainty of the transfer window provides yet more questions, plus the squad still looks a little thin, especially up front. But winning breeds confidence, something in very short supply last season. We have a fantastic base to build upon but it will still be a long, long season.
Team: Green 7, Simpson 6, Onuoha 7, Dunne 6, Hill 6; Wright-Phillips 7, Barton 8, Henry 6 (Jenas 6), Hoilett 8 (O’Neil 8); Austin 7, Zamora 6 (Hitchcock 7)
Subs not used: Murphy, Suk-Young, Ehmer, Shariff
QPR MOM: Barton – Playing for a move? Maybe so, but Joey has a lot of ground to make up with QPR fans if he is to leave with goodwill. However you feel about this wayward miscreant, no-one can knock the fact he has been a key factor in Rangers’ good start to this term.
Ipswich Town MOM: McGoldrick – A real handful for Dunne and later Onuoha. Looks like a very good acquisition for the Suffolk outfit.
Attendance: 17,075 (1,789 Ipswich)
Photos provided by Sandra Sayce and are used with permission