Crafty Cox Spares Baggies' Blushes
A LAST gasp Simon Cox strike denied a valiant Queens Park Rangers side all three points at the Hawthorns this evening.
The hosts finally made their dominance count four minutes into injury time as Cox capitalised onto an effort parried by Radek Cerny, but Rangers can be proud of a gritty, battling display.
They had the lead in the second half when a Ben Watson corner was flicked into his own net by Jonas Olsson before Latvian defender Kaspars Gorkss doubled the R's tally from close range.
After the hour mark former QPR loanee Jerome Thomas halved the deficit to bring the home fans back to their feet, before Cox finally settled matters deep in injury time.
Steve Gallen and Marc Bircham can be proud of their side's hard-working display as Rangers came up inches short of an incredible victory in the midlands.
Gallen and Bircham made four changes from the side that were soundly beaten at Watford last Monday, with Fitz Hall, Alejandro Faurlín, Rowan Vine and Gary Borrowdale dropping out.
Radek Cerny therefore started behind a back four of Peter Ramage, Kaspars Gorkss, Damion Stewart and Tom Williams, with Ben Watson once again partnering Mikele Leigertwood in the middle.
Jay Simpson and Wayne Routledge occupied the flanks with Adel Taarabt playing just behind lone front-man Patrick Agyemang.
Albion themselves started with Dean Kiely between the sticks, with a back four comprising of Gianni Zuiverloon, Jonas Olsson, Abdoulaye Meite and Joe Mattock, Marek Cech dropping to the bench.
Chris Brunt started wide right with Gonzalo Jara moving inside to partner Aston Villa target Graham Dorrans with Jerome Thomas rejoining the line-up on the left-wing.
Roman Bednar dropped to the bench at the expense of the returning Luke Moore, with Simon Cox his preferred partner in the forward line.
Kick Off: West Bromwich Albion v Queens Park Rangers
It was anticipated that the Baggies would burst out from the blocks and they didn't disappoint, with Roberto di Matteo's men looking to close Newcastle United's lead at the top.
The hosts looked very comfortable on the ball as they stroked it about nicely, and any talk of Rangers playing 4-4-2 was quickly quashed as Simpson slotted into his new role on the flank.
Gonzalo Jara was seeing a lot of the early ball with his partner Graham Dorrans creating the majority of Albion's attacking play. Jerome Thomas on the flank was also looking lively in the early exchange peeling away from the wing and running direct at Peter Ramage.
An early sighter for Rangers came as a ball deep from the left by former Leicester City man Joe Mattock found Luke Moore in the heart of the area. He leapt above Tom Williams and flicked on to the onrushing Chris Brunt.
The Northern Irish international sent in a venomous volley that flew inches wide of Radek Cerny's left hand upright. Not the calibre of distinguished finishing one would come to expect from Brunt but nevertheless an early warning sign for Rangers to heed.
By this point Albion had their foot on the gas and were looking likelier to take the advantage - Brunt once again being fed by Simon Cox only to thrash his effort over the bar. By and large however it was shooting from distance as Rangers sought to stifle their opponents.
Undeterred the Baggies tried their luck once more with Cox spurning the key opportunity of the game to date. Mattock was proving effective alongside Thomas on the left, and his early cross caught out the Rangers rearguard.
Cox stole in between his markers for a free header, but inexplicably planted his header straight into the arms of a grateful Cerny - the Czech stopper and the Rangers supporters were relieved by what was a crucial opportunity.
Cerny himself was suffering no ill-effects of an injury sustained earlier in the fixture when he kicked the ground, causing damage to his ankle and evidently hampered his kicking ability. Luckily for him and Rangers he managed to run it off after being strapped up.
The Rangers faithful in the Smethick End were watching the barrage of attacks unfold before their eyes but their side, buoyed by their reprieve, started to assert their own attacking impetus with Adel Taarabt the chief tormentor.
Taarabt had threaded several through balls for Agyemang to little avail, but it soon became apparent he had his eyes set on goal - testing reserve 'keeper Dean Kiely, and how.
The Moroccan international drove forward from midfield, and after creating himself some space he unleashed a right-footed effort which swerved towards the target - Kiely was in fine form to fist the ball away from the target.
Rangers rarely threatened the Baggies backline, but this was certainly an eye-opener for home supporters that thought this game was a foregone conclusion, given their side's early dominance.
The Baggies quickly put this to the back of their mind and went in search of the opener with Cerny doing well to deny Luke Moore after a Damion Stewart error allowed the former Aston Villa forward space.
Moore bore down on down but was denied by a smart save from Cerny, who smothered the ball at the second attempt. The hosts once again proving the dominant force in this fixture with the R's two banks doing well to nullify the final threat that the hosts possessed.
Brunt found a gap with a scything pass through for marauding full-back Gianni Zuiverloon, only for the defender to fire wide of Cerny's goal as Di Matteo's side could bemoan their lack of goalscoring prowess to match their early opportunities.
Desperation set in for Rangers who were pinned back in their own half, but they remained dogged throughout with Mikele Leigertwood looking to fashion his own headlines with an ambitious effort from distance that flew wide to Kiely's left.
Then came a moment that Rangers may have come to rue as Williams' outstanding through ball found it's way between defender and Agyemang. The striker found his way behind Olsson before cutting back and dragging his effort wide of the near post.
The effort was disappointing considering his options on the edge of the area, but nevertheless it proved that the home defence wasn't impenetrable and gave hope to the visiting support that the deadlock could be broken by the R's.
Rangers clung on to their first half stalemate by the skin of their teeth at times, but nevertheless the home support was growing frustrated as Rangers used the clock to their advantage - more surprising then that the official gave one minute of added time.
The first half whistle was blown as the visitors could thank some stout defending and midfield grit for keeping their clean sheet intact. West Brom meanwhile would have to think about how to get through a stubborn defensive unit.
Half Time: West Bromwich Albion 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
The two teams came out for the second period with the hosts once again looking the force in the fixture. Whatever Di Matteo said to them must have had them raring to go, with an early opportunity from Brunt nearly breaking the deadlock.
Brunt once again showed his impeccable talent from distance as he drove a fierce left-footed drive towards goal only for Cerny to spill the effort and Stewart having to swipe the ball away for a corner.
The home fans began to grow in voice as they sensed their side were in the ascendancy, and the ball remained in the Rangers half for the majority of the early offing in the second half.
When the ball was finally in the Rangers half they managed to engineer themselves a corner - after some smart build up play and naďve defending combining to hand the visitors an opportunity.
Ben Watson's corner was drifted over from the right with Kaspars Gorkss challenging Jonas Olsson
in the heart of the area, and the Baggies defender sent a header looping over his own 'keeeper and into the top corner.
Rangers modest crowd was sent into raptures as the players sheepishly celebrated, knowing that it was the defender who had given them the lead.
GOAL: West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
The R's sensed their opponents unease and went for the throat with a breathtaking display of passing play. Finally Rangers were asserting their attacking credentials, tempered by some stout defensive prowess.
Tottenham loanee Taarabt was in scintillating form following the goal and nearly doubled the Rangers lead only to be thwarted by the inspired Dean Kiely. The 'keeper tipped an excellent drive onto the cross bar and keep the scores as they were.
The home supporters were resounding in their condemnation of their side as passes continued to go astray and the visitors were picking off the opportunities and creating chances, much to the caretaker duo's delight.
Somehow Rangers doubled their advantage when a moment of fortune handed them the golden opportunity to put the seal on a tremendous second half display.
The impressive Watson was proving a real handful in the middle of the park, something to belie his recent performances and form, and his out-swinging free-kick was misjudged in flight by the Baggies back-line.
Kiely was caught out by the effort and could only palm it off the returning full-back Mattock, leaving Kaspars Gorkss
the easiest of opportunities to nod home into an empty net and send the travelling support into delirium.
GOAL: West Bromwich Albion 0-2 Queens Park Rangers
It seemed for all of Albion's attacking talent and breathtaking build-up they were toothless in the final third - where the game truly mattered at this point in the fixture.
Di Matteo responded by withdrawing Luke Moore and bringing on youngster Chris Wood who has been the toast of the Baggies faithful this season with a selection of classy displays for one so young.
Albion were still looking every bit the promotion candidates as they continued to surge forward in the face of a stunning deficit. Rangers had truly staged a smash and grab on the basis of the game at large, even if their second half display was a joy to behold.
Cox's effort drilled wide of Cerny's upright seemed all they could muster as their profligate front-line was made to pay by some deadly finishing from the visitors.
Alejandro Faurlín was preparing to enter the field in what would prove to be a tactical shift by Gallen and Bircham - unfortunately for them he didn't enter the field of play as Albion halved the deficit with a moment of class in the final third.
A long cross was Rangers' undoing once more as the ball fell kindly in the area for Jerome Thomas
and the former QPR loanee didn't disappoint from close range, stabbing the ball under Cerny from close range.
It was a little harsh on Rangers' defenders who had proven to be capable throughout the game, but nevertheless the hosts had a foot-hold on the fixture and supporters sensed the tide could be turning back to the Baggies.
GOAL: West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Queens Park Rangers
If Baggies fans were finally heralding their elusive goal in the fixture they had to pick themselves up fast as Wayne Routledge made his first genuine impact on proceedings moments later.
The live-wire winger had been a little quiet in the clash but suddenly burst into life, cutting in from the right before fending off two men and firing a left-footed effort goal-bound. Unfortunately for him Kiely thwarted him with a save of genuine class.
Rangers were then nearly left to rue some outstanding saves from Kiely as Graham Dorrans' deep centre saw Zuiverloon rise above Williams in the area and send a looping header towards the far post.
The delight of Rangers' and their supporters then ensued as the ball somehow clipped the far post with Radek Cerny well beaten and rooted to his line. Another in a string of outstanding opportunities in an eventful second half.
Cerny made amends for his statuesque 'keeping when he was inspired to tip a Cox effort over the bar with minutes remaining. It truly was becoming a tale of two 'keepers with saves galore thwarting buoyant attacks.
Rangers had thrown on Fitz Hall in a bid to preserve their advantage in the dying stages with Albion proving a more formidable opponent in the aerial battle thanks to the introduction of Roman Bednar.
A turning point then ensued when Alejandro Faurlín burst down the left flank, only to gift the ball to the Baggies defence instead of holding on to the ball. All of this four minutes in to three minutes added on time.
A long ball was punted forward deep into the R's area with Bednar vying for the ball, it fell to Brunt whose thunderous effort was only parried by Cerny into the path of Simon Cox
. The summer signing pounced upon the effort to hand the Baggies a point.
GOAL: West Bromwich Albion 2-2 Queens Park Rangers
A sickener for Rangers who had battled valiantly throughout the 90 minutes and lost their concentration at the crucial moment, as Cox continued his fine form in front of the target.
There was little sign of a recovery from Rangers who appeared out on their feet and visibly shot for confidence at the last gasp equaliser.
Referee Anthony Taylor, who had taken a lot of flack from the home fans for some questionable decisions either way, gave the home fans cheer with an extra minute of time than the three allocated.
The Baggies grabbed what was more than a deserved point on the balance of play, but nevertheless Rangers can be disappointed that they didn't pick up all three points on a stunning evening at the Hawthorns.
Final Whistle: West Bromwich Albion 2-2 Queens Park Rangers
Radek Cerny, Peter Ramage, Damion Stewart, Mikele Leigertwood, Wayne Routledge, Patrick Agyemang (Alessandro Pellicori 84), Kaspars Gorkss, Ben Watson, Tom Williams, Jay Simpson (Fitz Hall 90), Adel Taarabt (Alejandro Faurlín 81).
Dean Kiely, Joe Mattock, Jonas Olsson, Chris Brunt, Jerome Thomas, Luke Moore (Richard Wood 65), Graham Dorrans, Gianni Zuiverloon (Roman Bednar 85), Abdoulaye Meite, Simon Cox, Gonzalo Jara.
Made Rangers tick through good times and bad and gave the Baggies defence some real worries at times in both periods.
Was extremely unlucky not to hand Rangers a 2-0 lead before Gorkss' header - who himself was a genuine contender for the gong this week.
Sadly for him and QPR they couldn't hold out and his influence was sorely missed as the was withdrawn deep into the second period.