QPR ‘s excellent home form continued with a well-deserved 2-1 victory against Derby County in an entertaining early November encounter at Loftus Road. It keeps Rangers biting at the heels of fellow promotion hunters Burnley and Leicester City as the Championship table begins to take a settled look about it.
Rangers came into the game looking for a win after a haul of 2 points from a possible 9 following three tricky away fixtures during October. Joey Barton returned to the side following his one game ban whilst there was also a start for Matt Phillips, these being the two only changes to the side that had gained a credible draw at Wigan. Charlie Austin was once again the lone striker in Harry Redknapp’s now familiar 4-5-1 formation.
The R’s started very brightly. The opening exchanges were dominated by the home side; both Barton and Faurlin looked to get the ball out wide at every possible opportunity. Barton in particular often moved the ball at a much higher tempo than in the previous games.
Both Hoilett and Phillips troubled the Derby back-line when cutting in from the flanks and the visitors defence looked uneasy dealing with these threats. Derby’s away form has been very good this season so far; they came into the game having already chalked up victories at Brighton, Yeovil, Millwall and Watford.
The early signs though were looking good for the Superhoops and it wasn’t long until the game’s opening goal arrived. A poor goal kick from the Derby keeper Lee Grant out to his left-hand side was cleverly intercepted by Barton whose short header found Phillips. He took a couple of touches before firing in a low cross which was met on the half-volley first time by Charlie Austin. His shot was superbly kept out by Grant, but the ball fell nicely to Jermaine Jenas, who made no mistake in front of goal from all of two yards out.
It was a simple goal, but it was good to see one of our midfielders up in the box to seize upon these kind of chances. Jenas has had an indifferent spell so far at QPR, but he put in a good shift during this game. He made a lot of ground and got forward to support Austin on a number of occasions throughout the game.
The opening goal was no more than QPR deserved. It seemed to lift the players even more as they looked to add another goal quickly. Phillips once again got in another fine cross to Austin, but this time he fired over the bar. It was encouraging to see us attacking a side in this fashion and how often we were getting the ball out wide and on both wings. But, this being QPR, it would never be plain sailing as the referee then began to dominate proceedings with some terrible decisions.
A fairly innocuous challenge by Barton just inside the QPR half was deemed worthy of a free kick, again I think the giving of the free kick was harsh against Barton, yet another referee who seemed to penalise the midfielder’s reputation rather than the tackle. The resulting free kick was taken by Jamie Ward where Jake Buxton appeared to clamber over the Rangers defence. His knockdown fell to Simon Dawkins, who spun sweetly to strike his effort low into the back of the net for an equaliser.
It was a smart finish from the former Spurs player; he was linked with a possible move to QPR back in the summer. The goal came against the run of play and it seemed to knock the momentum from the home side for the following few minutes.
The returning Steve McClaren, who had been watching the game from up in the South Africa Road Stand, came down to the dug-out. He was probably concerned at how his team had been struggling to contain his former side but, having grabbed a life-line in the goal, was keen for them to retain possession and prevent QPR from dominating. They managed to stifle the home side with some meaty challenges, one in particular on Barton may have been a red on another occasion, or if it had been committed by Joey himself.
QPR were a little unfortunate to go into half-time on level terms, it was a good first 45 minutes work from Redknapp’s men. Rangers though continued their good work in what would become an entertaining second-half which both sides were more evenly matched.
Derby started the second-half brightly and Rob Green was forced into making a couple of good saves from both Ward and Craig Bryson. The R’s then restored the lead in the 63rd minute. Phillips was crudely bundled over out on the right-hand side by Derby’s Craig Forsyth.
The resulting free kick was floated beautifully in towards the far post by Ale Faurlin. Clint Hill looked to attack the ball, but it appeared to hit the shoulder of the Rams defender Buxton, and flew past the helpless Grant. It was a tad harsh on Buxton, who I thought had a decent game and kept Charlie Austin quiet for the majority of the game.
QPR had an excellent chance to grab a third goal shortly after. The impressive Phillips cut in from the right at speed, dancing past the Rams defence before unleashing a powerful shot which beat the keeper but came crashing off the bar. It would have been a super goal and no more than Phillips would have deserved in what was, in my opinion, his best game so far since joining from Blackpool.
Unfortunately for QPR, the R’s then lost the impressive Ale Faurlin to what appeared to be quite a serious looking knee injury. He had gone for a fairly routine tackle with Derby’s John Eustace but went down in pain. It didn’t look good; he originally looked to get up, but then fell back down on the floor. The stretcher was called for and the likable Argentinian left the field to a standing ovation. The true outcome of his injury will be known by Monday; I hope for his sake that it’s not another bad injury like the one he had before. Karl Henry came on to replace him.
There was still time for both sides to try and grab another goal. Hoilett played Austin in who tried to beat Grant with a cheeky little chip but maybe he took a touch too many. Meanwhile at the other end, Ward had two free kicks for the visitors. The second of these brought a fine save from Green, who scooped the effort from going into the top corner.
The 5 minutes of added time, mostly due to the stoppage from Faurlin’s injury, past by fairly quickly and the game came to an end. It was a hard fought win, but a well-deserved one for Rangers, another goal would have put the gloss on the performance but it wasn’t to be this time.
The game for me was won in midfield, Joey Barton was the game’s stand-out player. He rarely put a foot wrong all afternoon and was aided admirably by Faurlin. Jermaine Jenas worked hard and ran box to box, his goal albeit a simple tap in, came at a good time for us. Matt Phillips was very good out on the right; at times I think that he did try a little too hard, but he got much better as the game went on and he had an excellent second-half.
Much has been made of us playing five in midfield, but I think it was the difference in gaining three points on this occasion. The much talked about Will Hughes in Derby’s midfield was kept reasonably quiet throughout. I think he will have learnt a thing or two from watching our Joey!
A pleasing win which now keeps us only two points behind table topper’s Burnley. We have another tough trip on paper against the fake hoops of Reading next. A win there could potentially take us back to the summit. It’s imperative that we try and look to get a return of at least 6 points from the next three games. December’s run of fixtures is looking tough. We will need some good form to hit those games running.
Ratings: Green 7, Simpson 6, Hill 7, Dunne 7, Assou-Ekotto 6, Hoilett 6, Faurlin 8, Barton 9, Jenas 7, Phillips 8, Austin 6. Subs: Henry 5, Traore 6.
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Onyewu, Wright-Phillips, Johnson, Chevanton