Warnock Bags the Baggies!
In a great start to his QPR managerial career, saw Warnock`s Rangers show spirit and heart to beat promotion-favourites, West Brom, 3-1 at Loftus Road this afternoon.
In the opening twenty minutes, Rangers showed that they were not going to be the pushovers everyone had expected as they took a deserved 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Jay Simpson and Matthew Connolly. Simpson`s goal was a typical poacher`s goal as Brom keeper Carson spooned Taarabt`s centre and Simpson was quickest to the ball. Connolly finished off a superb passing move, suggesting that Warnock`s style might not be "hit and hoof" as some fear.
Although West Brom pulled one back before the half had ended, through a Chris Brunt header, Rangers were still good enough to go into the break 2-1 up. And after the break, although Albion tried to get back into the game, it was Rangers who increased their advantage, thanks to a cracking free-kick from the Magical Magyar, Akos Buzsaky.
Neil Warnock made four changes to the team which lost to Middlesbrough last time out. Cook had to sit the game out with an injury and was replaced by Hogan Ephraim. Buzsaky, Ramage and Antonio German found themselves on the bench, being replaced by Adel Taarabt, Matthew Connolly and Tamas Priskin in the staring XI, respectively.
So the defence now had Ikeme in goal, with Connolly as right-back, Hill as left-back and Gorkss and Stewart maintaining their central defensive partnership. In midfield, Taarabt and Ephraim occupied the wide booths with Faurlin and Leigertwood sitting pretty in the middle of the midfield. Up front, Priskin started with Simpson.
Roberto Di Matteo made several changes for West Bromwich Albion. James Morrison played his first game in 11 months (having suffered a very long-term injury). Ex-Rangers` loanees Steven Reid and Ben Watson found themselves playing at Loftus Road once more - Reid as Brom`s right back and Watson in central midfield.
Youssouf Mulumbu and Simon Cox returned to the Baggies` starting XI; but De Matteo rested international players Abdoulaye Meite, Robert Koren and Graham Dorrans, the three finding themselves on the Baggies` bench along with Luke Moore.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v West Bromwich Albion
Rangers definitely started the more lively and Taarabt was quickly into his stride, his dangerous cross forcing Jonas Olsson into an early clearance for Brom.
There were a series of free kicks as the Baggies tried to get to grips with the likes of Simpson, upended early on by Cech, and Leigertwood (similarly unfairly dispossessed by James Morrison). And then, on 10 minutes, Faurlin took a shot at goal which was blocked by Gabriel Tamas for WBA.
Taarabt was back at his best within a couple of minutes, setting up the Rs` opener. His cross from the right flew into the 6-yard area, but Baggies` keeper Scott Carson couldn`t control the cross. Carson fumbled the ball and it fell to Hogan Ephraim who passed to Jay Simpson, who was bearing down on the goal. Simpson made no mistake as he scored from close range, the ball flying into the bottom left-hand corner of the goal.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
West Bromwich tried to respond with Ben Watson putting in a good corner to the near post shortly after our goal, but Alenjandro Faurlin, who didn`t stop running, chasing and harrying all game, cleared the ball
But it was to be Rangers who increased their lead following a lovely, passing move that included Taarabt, Priskin, Faurlin and was finished off expertly by Connolly. The three combined well and Connolly suddenly found himself with the ball, in space down the right, and he just set off with determination and only one intention - to score!
In fact, because the sun was in my eyes, I was wearing sun glasses and didn`t actually see that Connolly had sweetly rolled the ball into the goal under Carson`s body - I actually thought Carson had picked the ball up! It was only when everyone went beserk and the music (Pigbag
) started that I realised he had
scored after all! So I went nuts!!
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 2-0 West Bromwich Albion
But after that, Rangers (in my opinion) went to sleep a bit and started conceding possession, particularly in the midfield, a little too easily. I started to get that "inevitable" feeling again.
First, Watson took another in-swinging corner which Ephraim had to clear. Then, from another Watson corner, Gabriel Tamas had a shot on goal. Brunt put Morrison through on goal and Ikeme had to be quick out of his goal to gather the ball into his safe arms. And Ikeme then pulled off the save of the game after Watson smashed Gorkss` weak clearance towards goal. It looked as if Watson was going to score but Ikeme dived low to his left and turned the ball around the post with his one hand for a Brom corner.
And then, the inevitable did
happen! Jerome Thomas put in a pinpoint cross and Chris Brunt rose above the Rs` defence at the back post to head the ball which looped over Ikeme and into our goal. Time for the nerves to make an unwelcome appearance, I feared!
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 2-1 West Bromwich Albion
Rangers couldn`t respond and it was Albion who looked more likely to score after that, with Tamas going close (his effort thankfully rolling past the Rangers` left-hand post) and Mulumbu`s shot going wide of the right-hand post! Ikeme was also called into action to stop both Thomas` and Morrison`s efforts before the referee, Stuart Attwell, who was certainly having a calmer and more controlled game so far, blew for half time.
Half-Time: Queens Park Rangers 2-1 West Bromwich Albion
I was wondering what effect Warnock`s half-time talk would have on the Rs, as I did think they had lost the advantage somewhat once we had gone 2-0 up, thus allowing the Baggies to full that goal back. But it was West Brom who came out for the second half in what seemed to be a determined mood to find that so-far elusive equaliser. They were pushing forward in numbers as often as possible, putting a Rangers` defence that, to date, was notorious for conceding goals, under pressure.
Stewart had to make a timely intervention to prevent Jerome Thomas` early cross from reaching a Baggies` player. And soon after, Brunt found Cox with a cross from the right. Thankfully, although so close on goal, Cox could only shoot right-footed high and wide. 10 minutes had passed in the 2nd half and it felt like hours - we hadn`t even had a shot on goal in those opening 10 minutes!
Shortly after that, Rangers survived a penalty shout from the Baggies. Thankfully, Attwell was playing a very sensible game. Cox went down very easily from a challenge by Gorkss, following a Steven Reid thrown-on. To me, sitting in the South Africa Road stand, it was not a penalty - Cox tripping conveniently over and flopping like a bad haircut! Phew!
And by 58 minutes, we had found our attacking mojo once more and Faurlin was able to take a corner. Although it came to nothing, we were at least back on the front foot! After that, Warnock made his first change, bringing Akos Buzsaky on for Hogan Ephraim who had, in fairness, chased and harried but I felt was a little ineffective. It was the right change and the right time.
Trouble was it was Ben Watson who then had a chance for the Baggies, not a QPR player! He shot from outside the box but missed the right side of the goal. Play then switched back to the Loftus Road end as the Magical Magyar
had an effort that Carson was able to claim far more comfortably than some of his previous efforts ("dodgy keeper" kept springing to mind when ever Carson went for the ball!)
Buzsaky was proving to be a handful, causing problems from his dead-ball. An inswinging Buzsaky corner looked destined for the incoming Damion Stewart`s head, but Carson managed to clear the ball to safety.
And it was from one such dead-ball, a free-kick after Taarabt was unceremoniously upended by Chris Brunt (which earned the player a yellow card from Mr Attwell - who was very careful with his use of the cards on this visit to Loftus Road), that Rangers were able to kill off the game at last.
The Baggies had just made their first substitution, as Ishmael Miller came on for Marek Cech, when Brunt`s foul was to bring joy to the Rs` faithful. Attwell pointed to the spot where Buzsaky should line up the ball on the left of the pitch. He took the kick himself and watched as it curled and looped and flew into the area, before hitting the inside of the right-hand post, trickling along the goal line at a diagonal angle and finally ending up in the goal on the left-hand side!
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 3-1 West Bromwich Albion
Straight after , Di Matteo brought Graham Dorrans on for James Morrison, whilst Warnock sensibly brought Peter Ramage on. Adel Taarabt was unfortunate that it was he who had to make way - but Warnock was right to bring on another defender as West Brom were attacking and attacking, in an effort to claw their way back into the match.
Ikeme was on fine form - for me, probably the best game he has had for us since joining on loan. His command of the area was superb as was his ability to catch and smother the ball when called upon to do so. He could do nothing about a Miller header from inside the 6-yard box, following a left-footed in-swinging Chris Brunt corner, but thankfully Miller`s effort cleared the crossbar on 70 minutes. I felt the jangle of nerves!
On 76 minutes, Rowan Vine was introduced into the mix for Tamas Priskin. Priskin had started brightly but quickly became anonymous - frustrating me at times with his apparent refusal to win the ball. If the ball arrived at his feet, or on his head, he produced the goods - but he just didn`t put in enough effort overall for my liking! I was glad to see Viney!!
But it was Jerome Thomas who had the next chance, to pull a goal back for West Brom on 78 minutes. His right-footed shot from deep inside the penalty area went ride of Ikeme`s right-hand post, to my great relief. Then, on 83 minutes, Vine cut inside Steven Reid but his shot was well saved by Scott Carson, who also saved from Damion Stewart on 85 minutes.
On 89 miutes, my heart was once again in my mouth, as another long throw-on from Steven Reid saw the ball fly into the box. Simon Cox was only 6 yards out but Ikeme was equal to the effort and clasped the ball in his safe arms.
Shortly afterwards, at the start of a period of 4 minutes injury time, Simon Cox went up for a free header. Carl Ikeme was extremely quick to spot the danger and moved like lightning, jumping to snatch the ball out of the ball before Cox could do any damage. Unfortunately, Ikeme flattened Cox who had to be stretchered off to rousing applause from all fans in the stands.
Play had stopped for several minutes as the trainers attended to Cox, so it wasn`t until about 5.00pm that Attwell finally did what all Rangers` fans had been praying for - blew the final whistle! It was over - we had won again - two home wins on the spin and another valuable 3 points towards guaranteeing us Championship football next season. Warnock`s opening game was a huge success - not always pretty - but I cannot fault a single player. There was heart, passion, desire and fight - boy did we fight! I think the players, although elated, came off the pitch exhausted! I was exhausted but elated - I do think we`ll be in the Championship next year - but only if we carry on against Plymouth on Tuesday in the same fashion as we did first against Doncaster and now against West Brom.
Full-time: Queens Park Rangers 3-1 West Bromwich Albion
Carl Ikeme, Damion Stewart, Mikele Leigertwood, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly, Alejandro Faurlín, Matt Hill, Jay Simpson, Hogan Ephraim (Akos Buzsaky 59), Adel Taarabt (Peter Ramage 69) Tamas Priskin (Rowan Vine 77)
Scott Carson, Joan Olsson, Marek Cech (Miller 64), Chris Brunt, Jerome Thomas, Youssouf Mulumbu, Ben Watson, Gabriel Tamas, jamess Morrison (Dorrans 68), Simon Cox (Luke Moore 90+4), Steven Reid