The Championship returned to Loftus Road after another of those tiresome international breaks. Just when a season is beginning to gather momentum, a blank window in the schedule comes along and lets a good deal of the air out.
The day began with a visit to the Crown & Sceptre where I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time our very own John O’Donohue and his good lady wife. I found John and Ann in good form, and not at all the worse for wear after their early start to fly in from the Republic (much respect to all you who do similar on a regular basis!). Steve Russell put in an appearance whilst also there was IndyR’s contributor Gary De Caires and Twitter regular Ben Farrow. Thai dishes consumed it was onto the game.
Harry Redknapp handed a debut to Spurs loanee Tom Carroll who lined up alongside Joey Barton in midfield. Andy Johnson was ruled out through injury, whilst another loan signing Niko Kranjƒçar was not deemed match fit. Beno√Æt Assou-Ekotto and Matt Phillips were handed positions on the bench.
Whether or not Rangers go on to achieve greatness in the Championship this season, this game won’t be remembered with any great fondness. It was very similar to our other league outings this season, with both teams set up tight and not many chances being created. This was particularly evident in the first half where both Rangers and Birmingham were set up 4-4-2. This was yet another new line up for the Rs and deficiencies quickly became apparent.
Carroll reportedly looked great for the England youngsters in midweek but perhaps understandably looked a little edgy and nervous on his first outing in the hoops. He combined well with Barton and Austin and clearly displayed the deftest of touches. He was also a little lightweight, physically reminiscent of Hogan Ephraim on joining the club several years ago. As a result Birmingham won a lot of all ball in the middle of the park, and the value of the unselected Karl Henry became evident.
Meanwhile the Rangers front men experienced conflicting fortunes. Charlie Austin was busy and his movement was impressive as he sought service, although in the first half this was largely confined to long balls. It wasn’t Bobby Zamora’s day though. On one or two occasions he actually held the ball up and distributed it nicely. Apart from flashes the Rs’ target man was largely anonymous, that or obviously short of the required pace. And again Zamora took the seemingly obligatory catcalls from sections of the home support.
First half goal mouth action for Rangers
The best chances fell to the visitors and Birmingham manager Lee Clark could easily have felt aggrieved at not being two up at half time. On 23 minutes a Jonathan Spector free kick was met with a looping Lee Novak header which sent Rob Green spectacularly diving to his left. Fortunately the ball hit the post. Then on 35 minutes Barton was needlessly dispossessed by Tom Adeyemi who had been seeing a lot of the ball. It was played out to Andrew Shinnie on the Birmingham left who only had Green to beat. It was symptomatic of Birmingham’s need for a little more quality that Shinnie blasted over the bar.
Hoilett once again looked lively on the left of the park, but was once again worryingly substituted on 39 minutes after overstretching, perhaps aggravating the hamstring injury sustained in the Ipswich game. Phillips was ushered into service earlier than expected. Another substitution was made at half-time with Zamora unsurprisingly making way for Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Rangers went 4-5-1 in the second half with Austin the lone striker and looked a more potent attacking side. Wright-Phillips was very capable on the right, although he got clattered on several occasions. His wing counterpart Matt Phillips didn’t look entirely match fit, although it is clear why he has been signed. He’s quite a big lad for a winger, but he’s also pacey and direct with good crossing ability. In the second 45 Gary O’Neil was more influential on the pass. Like Barton, his workrate was impressive. The former West Ham man also has a bit of vision and is always looking to play an intelligent ball.
O’Neil is one of the reasons why Rangers are succeeding right now. He is a talker and an organiser. We are fortunate now to have left last season’s position of having few meaningful leaders on the pitch to having several. Hill, Dunne, Barton, O’Neil – this is proving an excellent nucleus of strong-charactered players who communicate, collaborate and lead by example. I never thought I’d hear myself saying that about Joey Barton…
Birmingham kept fighting and saw a goal chalked off for offside early in the second half. They have a strong spine which bodes well for their season. Swansea City-loanee Karl Bartley had an excellent game whilst Adeyemi was constantly snapping at the heels of our midfield.
Joey Barton contemplates a free kick
Rangers snatched what would be the winning goal just three minutes into the second half and in keeping with the game was suitably scrappy. A Barton free kick was headed down by Dunne. It was scrambled back in by Onuoha and had a simple tap in over the line for Austin.
Bar a late free kick by Barton which hit the post the only other incident of note in the game was the Birmingham penalty appeal. With ten minutes on the clock an advancing Spector went over in the Rs penalty area. At the time of writing video replays of the incident are thin on the ground. BBC Radio London suggested there was contact between Dunne and Spector. In any case the referee saw it different and booked Spector for simulation. This evoked a fractious response from the visiting fans in the upper tier of the School End and a flare was thrown onto the pitch. The game was paused temporarily, whilst the person who retrieved the flare canister was also hit with a coin from the Bluenose fans. The bad feeling spilled out after the game with trouble around the Adelaide and British Queen pubs on the Uxbridge Road.
So another win but not an entertaining performance. It sees Queen’s Park Rangers in the happy position of joint top with Blackpool. Brighton at home awaits midweek.
Team: Green 6, Simpson 6, Dunne 8, Hill 6, Onuoha 7, Carroll 6 (Jenas 6), Barton 6, Hoilett 6 (Phillips 6), O’Neil 7, Austin7, Zamora 5 (Wright-Phillips 7 )
Subs not used: Murphy, Assou-Ekotto, Henry, Faurlin
QPR MOM: Dunne – Imperious at the heart of the back four. What he lacks in pace he makes up for in physicality and reading the game. Becoming clear why he was so highly rated earlier in his career.
Birmingham City MOM: Bartley – Another ‘unit’. Looked like a central defender with a good career in front of him in a game which suited defences.
Attendance: 16,953 (including 1,723 away fans)