Valiant Rangers Battle For Victory
A SENSATIONAL late show saw Queens Park Rangers come back from a two goal deficit to seal a memorable win against Sheffield Wednesday at Loftus Road.
It didn`t appear to be Rangers day after going two goals down courtesy of a Gavin Mahon putting through his own goal and a Marcus Tudgay penalty giving the Owls a two goal advantage either side of the break.
Rowan Vine was a catalyst for change as he took to the field to tap home the first before Mahon atoned for his earlier error by heading home the second. The real drama was to come as the returning Damion Stewart nodded home Lee Cook`s cross to confirm Rangers dramatic return to form.
In truth Rangers were good value for the points and finally put pay to fledgling chants for Dexter Blackstock - those fans were reduced to silence as the R`s celebrated the life of former skipper Mike Keen in style.
Rangers made wholesale changes from the defeat against Burnley at the weekend with no fewer than five new addition to the line-up. Ainsworth named Damion Stewart in the back four ahead of Damien Delaney with Matthew Connolly reverting to left back.
Gavin Mahon came in to skipper the side ahead of Mikele Leigertwood, while Jordi López replaced Hogan Ephraim. Samuel Di Carmine dropped out the squad with Heidar Helguson taking his starting berth with Lee Cook taking the place of Rowan Vine who dropped to the bench.
Brian Laws made some changes from the energy sapping defeat at home to Derby County. Former Rangers loanee Frankie Simek made way for Tommy Spurr who returned from his one-match ban - while Francis Jeffers was also withdrawn for another former R - Leon Clarke.
The three pronged attack included former Derby and Charlton man Luke Varney - with set-piece specialist Etienne Esajas coming in for Jamaican Jermaine Johnson.
Kick Off: QPR v Sheffield Wednesday
Rangers looked comfortable in the early exchange with Adel Taarabt enjoying the freedom of his role behind the lone forward Heidar Helguson. Some clever interchange of passing and movement displayed vast signs of improvement from a dismal weekend display.
It was the visitors however that carved out the opening opportunity with the lively Esajas creating some space down the left to cross the ball into the heart of the area. The ball evaded everyone except Leon Clarke whose faint touched by palmed behind by Rangers stopper Radek Cerny.
Counter-attacking Wednesday were providing ample threat on the break-away, but rarely showed signs of breaking the deadlock as Rangers held the ball competently throughout the early stages. A chance for Tottenham Hotspur loanee Adel Taarabt displayed the R`s free flowing football with the Moroccan prodding over the bar after an excellent move involving Heidar Helguson.
Luke Varney was handed a yellow card for what was a truly disgraceful dive at the feet of the Rangers defender - moments later fans who called for the booking had to hide their blushes as Adel Taarabt did likewise up the other end to earn himself a caution.
Helguson himself was in prime position to hand the R`s the lead after latching on to an expert pass from Spanish playmaker Jordi López, but the Icelandic forward could only place wide of the left-hand upright.
Rangers were in buoyant attacking mood and the W12 crowd responded in kind to cheer on their side. Adel Taarabt found some space driving forward in his attacking midfield role and it was his scything pass set diminutive winger Wayne Routledge in towards goal.
The former Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa man prodded right footed as fans waited with baited breath - the ball agonisingly bounced off the left hand upright and rolled across the goalmouth to be cleared for a corner.
The showing at Turf Moor was quickly eclipsed as Ainsworth`s men were showing the fight necessary to overcome clever opposition in Sheffield Wednesday, who were cheered on by their travelling army that populated the School End.
Their defence however was in disarray as communication between centre halves Richard Wood and Richard Hinds was negligible - with the Rangers forward able to cut them open at will. Another chance came along in the same region, this time the Spaniard Jordi López with the chance.
The former Real Madrid and Barcelona midfielder latched on to another fine pass from forward Heidar Helguson, but put his effort wide of near post. This prompted frustration from a minority towards the left of the Loftus Road end who called for Dexter Blackstock - a striker who has scored two goals since the turn of the year.
Taarabt added to a long list of missed chances when his snapshot flew wide of the upright to the frustration of the supporters - but the shoots of recovery were certainly there for all to see as Ainsworth`s men were carving out opportunities at will.
Rangers were made to pay for their missed chances as the Owls took a lead typically against the run of play from an Etienne Esajas set-piece. After playing the ball short the Dutchman received possession to fire a testing cross to the near post - a lack of communication saw Radek Cerny rooted and in his attempt to take control of the situation Gavin Mahon
headed home off the underside of the bar.
GOAL: QPR 0-1 Sheffield Wednesday
The voices of discontent grew louder as Rangers profligate form in front of goal had appeared to cost them dear against a battling Yorkshire outfit. The visiting supporters were elated with their sides fortunate opener, cheering boss Brian Laws for masterminding the first blow.
Taarabt`s tremendous skill was a definitive plus point in his free role and his well timed pass found Helguson in space behind the centre of defence. He weighed up his options before firing the ball square at the near post - leaving Lee Grant rooted and Rangers goalless.
The industrious duo of James O`Connor and Darren Potter were doing their best to deal with a free-flowing Rangers attack, but they were no match for the strength of Gavin Mahon and the creative flair of López.
It was the Spaniard who carved out the next opportunity after some fine interplay from Routledge, Cook and Taarabt - the playmaker cut inside on his right foot to draw a useful stop from the over-worked Grant, as Rangers fans could not believe that the scoreboard read a disappointing result.
Half Time: QPR 0-1 Sheffield Wednesday
Brian Laws was evidently unhappy with his defenders after the Rangers onslaught in the first period. Young defender Mark Beevers was introduced in favour of experienced campaigner Richard Wood - a bold move from the former Scunthorpe United boss who demanded improvement from his side after the break.
Rangers once again started the half in positive fashion, with Wayne Routledge recapturing some of his old form to sparkle down the right flank. His direct and purposeful running was providing Tommy Spurr with untold misery as he continued to create chances for a wasteful attacking line.
There were no signs of what was to come as Leon Clarke bundled his way into the box and drew a clumsy foul from Kaspars Gorkss - referee Darren Deadman had no hesitation in pointing to the spot in what appeared to be a correct decision.
Darren Potter and Marcus Tudgay
vied for possession of the ball, but it was the latter who took the responsibility and duly planted home his 14th goal of the season - straight down the middle past the despairing dive of Radek Cerny.
GOAL: QPR 0-2 Sheffield Wednesday
A smattering of boos greeted the withdrawal of Adel Taarabt but that paled in comparison to the cheer that Rowan Vine received as he took to the field - Rangers fans delighted to see their number eight back in action on a consistent basis.
His change gave Rangers some much needed clarity and focus as they set about their chance of chasing down their deficit. His excellent movement along the forward line was proving midfielders with an option they hadn`t previously had - with weeks of static movement stifling Rangers attacks.
Wayne Routledge was becoming instrumental down the right and his display of trickery saw him burst clear of two defenders to plant an excellent shot on target with the outside of his right boot. The effort was parried by Grant into the path of Rowan Vine
who didn`t a second invitation to tap home from close range.
GOAL: QPR 1-2 Sheffield Wednesday
Wednesday then laid siege to the Rangers target in a bid to extending their fortunate lead - Esajas again proving his technical ability to produce an excellent stop from Radek Cerny. The R`s were throwing men forward in a bid to get something from the fixture and the Owls were looking to capitalise on space in behind.
Jordi López was withdrawn to a good reception from the home crowd and in his stead came central midfielder Hogan Ephraim - a move to reinstate the trickery that had departed in the form of Adel Taarabt.
Ephraim made an immediate impact when he laid a clearance from a corner back to Lee Cook - the self-professed Rangers fan carved out the second cross to the far post where Gavin Mahon
was lurking to put his head where it hurts and nod home with consummate ease.
GOAL: QPR 2-2 Sheffield Wednesday
Rangers had hauled themselves level in a game they had truly dominated, and Mahon himself had to receive treatment on an injury he sustained in scoring the equaliser. Loftus Road was rocking in a fixture which had nothing but pride on the cards in a mid-table clash in W12.
Mahon was subsequently withdrawn to a rapturous reception from a noisy home crowd - the cheers a world away from the disappointing boos of dejection that met him against Ipswich only a few months ago.
Mark Beevers somehow escaped a sending off when Heidar Helguson was hauled down after attempting to latch on to a through ball - the young defender was indeed the last man but Mr Deadman consulted his official and responded to the crowd`s cheers for Beevers` dismissal by showing them his card of choice - a yellow.
The subsequent free-kick saw Cook slam the ball on target, but it was ably blocked by a resilient wall. There was nothing that the Owls rearguard could do moments later as Rangers capped off a memorable comeback courtesy of some more wonderful play from Lee Cook.
Cook once again had to have a second bite at the cherry following a innefective corner, but the following cross was unstoppable firing it in to the far post, where defender Damion Stewart
was on hand to slam the ball home with two minutes remaining.
GOAL: QPR 3-2 Sheffield Wednesday
A clash of heads between Kaspars Gorkss and Akpo Sodje earlier in the half prompted Mr Deadman to signal a staggering six minutes of added on time - but the Rangers rearguard grew in stature to comfortably cast away wave after wave of Wednesday attack.
Goalscorer Marcus Tudgay had a late chance to snatch an equaliser for the visitors but his misguided header flew over the bar. Rangers continued to defend to a man with a bandaged Gorkss marshalling a stubborn defence to perfection.
Rangers clung on for the win and Gareth Ainsworth threw his hat firmly in the ring for the managerial post after a display of spirit and passion - but more importantly goals. Flavio Briatore and Gianni Paladini were evidently impressed - staying out until the final man left the field to clap the battling Rangers off the park.
How very poignant that Rangers should come back from two goals down to win the game - emulating the class of 1967 ably led by skipper Mike Keen.
Final Whistle: QPR 3-2 Sheffield Wednesday
Radek Cerny, Peter Ramage, Damion Stewart, Kaspars Gorkss, Matthew Connolly, Wayne Routledge, Gavin Mahon (Mikele Leigertwood 76), Jordi López (Hogan Ephraim 68), Lee Cook, Adel Taarabt (Rowan Vine 56), Heidar Helguson.
Lee Grant, Lewis Buxton, Richard Hinds, Richard Wood (Mark Beevers 46), Tommy Spurr, Marcus Tudgay, Darren Potter, James O`Connor (Jermaine Johnson 78), Luke Varney, Leon Clarke (Akpo Sodje 78).
The epitome of Queens Park Rangers on the day, he was mighty unfortunate to score the own goal when attempting to take control of the situation, but atoned for the error to score a fantastic diving header.
He has really bounced back since the booing he received against Ipswich from a minority of morons - as he put in a commanding midfield display and carry the weight of responsibility on his shoulders.
If he is given an extended run in the team under Ainsworth until the end of the season alongside López Rangers will continue to create chances and score goals - it`s no coincidence that these two had an excellent game today and were both good candidates for man of the match.
Didn`t really have a great deal to do other than pick the ball out of the net on two occasions. He perhaps could have communicated better with his defenders as Mahon was forced to attempt to take control of a dismal situation.
He came off his line for crosses but rarely claimed the ball instead opting to punch the ball - sometimes to great effect and other times looking decidedly shaky - it was a lottery for the Czech stopper at times.
Peter once again put in an excellent display at full back, not only in his no-nonsense defending but also with his attacking runs and crossing. Only two misplaced passes from the geordie all game - but unfornately they were both noticed by the moaners and groaners in W12.
A tough full back which has begun to establish himself in the Rangers line-up - infront of Damien Delaney in the pecking order as Ainsworth decided to drop the Irishman today in favour of Damion Stewart.
Gorkss put his body on the line for the cause today and adopted a Terry Butcher style headband to see out the latter stages of the game. He was a colossus up against the powerful forward Leon Clarke winning nearly everything in the air against the former R`s loanee.
He collided with Akpo Sodje, but I`m not quite sure how fair the system can be when Gorkss stands his ground, has an errant challenge take his head off and the assailant allowed straight on the field to face a depleted rearguard.
Came back into the heart of defence alongside Kaspars Gorkss and showed his credentials for regaining a first team place. His introduction saw Damien Delaney leave the back four with Connolly reverting to left back as the big Jamaican regained his central defensive berth.
He and Gorkss dealt with Clarke quite comfortably and will feel aggrieved that they have conceded twice without so much of a whimper. He was dominant in the air and played a few key long passes out towards Cook.
Matt was moved into the left full back position to cover for the dropped Damien Delaney, with Stewart taking his place in the middle. Connolly never once looked out of place however as he slotted into a position he has become accustomed to.
He brought the ball forward with ease and distributed very well, he also kept pace with opposing wingers to snuff out attacks in their infancy. He linked well with Cook and helped the R`s on their way in the attacking half.
Routledge was back to his mercurial best down the right flank giving once R`s target Tommy Spurr a torrid time. His direct running and trickery was a joy to behold at times as he cut the Wednesday defence to ribbons - something which incurred the wrath of Brian Laws.
Let`s hope that Wayne can maintain this level of performance until the end of the season and help the R`s finish the campaign with a bang.
Gavin started off the game playing the ball around through the midfield supplying wide areas with a chance to have a go at the full backs. His own goal was an unfortunate situation arising with a lack of communication between he and Radek Cerny.
He bounced back in the best possible fashion by continuing his excellent passing form before stooping to head home Rangers equaliser. He put his head in where it hurts and reaped the rewards. Well done Gavin.
The Spaniard had a chance to score today and spurned it but that shouldn`t detract from what was an excellent creative display at the heart of midfield. Both he and Gavin Mahon were useful creative outlets to tear open the Owls rearguard.
Jordi returned to the line-up following his recent absence and he will surely be in prime place for a new contract come the end of the current campaign.
Cookie put in a much-improved display on the left flank to help QPR to the memorable comeback - two assist for the Rangers fan saw the R`s turn their fortunes around on the day.
He looked at his best when he was down the left flank getting crosses into the box and he exposed the gaps in the Wednesday defence. In the end his deliveries were the difference as he handed goals to Mahon and Stewart.
He was thoroughly creative and industrious in the opening exchange helping to carve open the defence and supply chances for Helguson and Routledge - the latter unfortunate not to open the scoring.
The Tottenham loanee was withdrawn for the second home game in succession as two games in three days took their toll on the young Moroccan. Tottenham fans have an exciting prospect on their hands, but can he harness this potential into becoming a team player?
Helguson worked his socks off upfront but unfortunately couldn`t buy a goal once again - he is getting into the key areas however, which is certainly a positive from his perspective.
He fluffed a chance in the first half which saw him drive a left footed effort well wide, while he also hit the post in the opening period. Heidar still looking for his first goal since his excellent brace at Blackpool.
Replaced Adel Taarabt (56)
It could be said that Rowan was a catalyst for positive change as his introduction and goal spurred the R`s on to the incredible comeback and victory.
His goal was effectively a tap-in but do not underestimate the importance of being in the right place at the right time - others have not been as clever to do so this season. His movement was a massive positive and something that the forward line hasn`t seen this season.
Replaced Jordi López (68)
Hogan replaced López and continued the relentless Rangers pressure from the centre of midfield. He was creative and lively, linking up well with fellow sub vine and Lee Cook down the left.
The former West Ham United man has established himself as a central midfielder as opposed to a winger in recent weeks - as former boss Paulo Sousa believed he could play for England in that role.
Replaced Gavin Mahon (76)
Leigertwood came on for Gavin Mahon and the fresh face was enough to see Rangers through to the victory - the final goal coming while Leigertwood was on the field. He reverted to the centre of defence for a brief period while Kaspars Gorkss received treatment.
He played an excellent pass out to Lee Cook on the left to start up another Rangers attack and will look to break back into the first team for the trip to Wolves.
8/10 - Ainsworth had it spot on with his team selection, despite raising a few eyebrows in the build up to kick off. The football and attacking play his side produced reaped the deserved rewards on the day as they performed and outstanding comeback.
The decision to bring Rowan Vine on was a masterstroke and it proved to be the turning point in the fixture. Flavio may well have a difficult decision when selecting a new manager - here`s to hoping this result helps Ainsworth`s cause.
5/10 - Has every reason to be devastated with his side`s display today with his central defenders clearly not at the races and far post marking virtually non-existent as Rangers were able to score at will near the end of the fixture.
His decision to re-introduce Tommy Spurr in place of Frank Simek may well come under the spotlight as Routledge had a field day against the young defender.
Mr D Deadman:
6/10 - He has taken us three times this season and this was probably the better of the three - he dished out two yellow cards for diving and rightfully so but perhaps missed out on other offences that warranted bookings.
Overall not a terrible display - we`ve seen better this season, but we`ve also seen far worse!
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Gareth AinsworthBrian Laws