Playoff-Bound Bluebirds Stage Smash and Grab
CARDIFF City claimed a playoff place this afternoon despite spending the majority of the game under the hosts' pressure.
The Bluebirds' smash and grab was staged when Joe Ledley latched onto a teasing cross from former R's defender Mark Kennedy to snaffle the effort home at point-blank range.
In truth it was the R's that had created the wealth of chances and opportunities but had little to show in terms of end product - such is Neil Warnock's frustration at present.
Adel Taarabt's stock both rose and dipped in equal measure as he displayed his great potential cannoning the ball back off the post before taking an horrendous dive in the second period.
A disappointing malaise descended around Loftus Road as the finely poised fixture was settled and Taarabt's final shot drew a disappointing reception and subsequent reaction from the Moroccan.
The frustrations were clear as the Bluebirds secured their top-six spot, but should they complete their promotion objective they will be staring down the barrel next season without appropriate investment.
Neil Warnock made one change from the side that effectively secured their Championship status down at Palace with Jay Simpson coming in for Damion Stewart.
Therefore Radek Cerny continued behind a back four of Mikele Leigertwood, Peter Ramage, Kaspars Gorkss and home debutante Dusko Tosic.
Alejandro Faurlín and Ákos Buzsáky started in the middle with Tamás Priskin, Adel Taarabt and Hogan Ephraim playing behind lone striker Simpson.
Cardiff started with David Marshall in goal behind the defensive line of Kevin McNaughton, Anthony Gerrard, Darcy Blake and former QPR man Mark Kennedy.
The midfield quartet consisted of Chris Burke, Joe Ledley, Stephen McPhail and Peter Whittingham, with Jay Bothroyd and Ross McCormack pipping Michael Chopra to the forward-line.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Cardiff City
Rangers started brightly as the two sides took to the field in glorious sunshine at Loftus Road. Fans of both sides would be hoping that the sun would shine for them with Cardiff looking to cement a topx-six spot and Rangers a place in the Championship next season.
Both sides were all but there, but an extra boost was required today - it seemed however that the previously relegation-threatened hosts had the bit between their teeth in the early offing. Adel Taarabt in particular was proving influential.
The Moroccan looked imperious with the ball at his feet striding forward to attack a rather unprotected Cardiff rearguard, a couple of early efforts from distance set his and Rangers' intentions to attack from the off.
Some more useful interplay carved out yet more opportunity with Mikele Leigertwood before playing a deflected pass into Jay Simpson. The returning striker took his opportunity early as it rolled wide of the right-hand upright.
Cardiff were looking to threaten in the counter-attack in particular with the talented duo on the flanks Chris Burke and Peter Whittingham - pace and goals in abundance and looking to prove that City aren't just a one-trick pony with reference to Michael Chopra.
Rangers continued to press however and nearly got their just rewards when Simpson and Taarabt combined well down the right. The subsequent cross was inches away from Tamas Priskin and the ball narrowly evaded the flying Hungarian.
A swift counter-attacking move saw Jay Bothroyd get in behind the back four but his cross from the left-hand by-line was snuffed out by an excellent reaction stop from Radek Cerny - the 'keeper making his first start in W12 since the FA Cup defeat against Sheffield United.
The threat from Cardiff was potent enough on the field, but the promise of Kelvin Etuhu and Chopra to come from the bench ensured that this would get progressively difficult for Rangers unless they converted their early opportunities.
Again the hosts threatened with Taarabt coming to the fore once more - after receiving from Faurlín he charged forward before unleashing a low thunderbolt that cannoned back off the right hand upright. The sun continued to shine, but lady luck clearly wasn't a Ranger.
While the chances continued to be spurned for the hosts, Cardiff were seeking to make the most of their limited opportunity. Indeed McCormack sniffed out a chance in behind Ramage only to send a misguided lob wide of Cerny's left-hand post.
Bluebirds winger Chris Burke had QPR fans in cheers with his goal down at Crystal Palace but hearts were in mouths as he sent a powerful effort wide after more good work by Jay Bothroyd down the left-hand side.
There seemed to be clear pattern emerging in play with Rangers carving out the wealth of opportunity and posession only to see City soak up the pressure and look to nick their goal on the counter-attack. There could be no question that this was finely poised.
Ephraim cut inside from the right before sending a tame effort straight at Marshall, but the guilt-edge miss was to follow. It would be fair to say that there are a few that aren't convinced as to how efective Tamás Priskin can be and their gripes were open and cutting following a missed chance.
Taarabt skipped past Kennedy down the right before Priskin through out a foot at the chance only to completely fluff his lines and swipe the ball wide of the mark. It was yet another missed opportunity and yet more cannon-fodder for those that dislike the Hungarian.
The half came to a conclusion after a minute's injury time with both sides the potential to contribute more and goals were certainly in the offing. The crucial conversion rate would prove to be the deciding factor as the sides went in goal-less.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Cardiff City
In true Warnock fashion Rangers came racing out the blocks and sought to create more opportunities and the unlikely source of Dusko Tosic popped up down the left and his right-footed cross saw Priskin's right-footed effort snuffed out by a point blank challenge.
It was clear that the R's meant business as the sides jockeyed for the ball. Taarabt in particular was continuing to dazzle in his free-role as his chipped cross gave Ephraim the opportunity to nod goalwards, but his effort was rather dollied into the hands of Marshall.
Peter Ramage was then penalised for bringing down Bothroyd on the break, after a tangle of legs saw the former Arsenal youngster hit the deck. Cardiff fans expectant as Whittingham and McPhail stood over the effort.
It was Whittingham that fired his teasing effort goal-bound, and it was too hot to handle for Cerny who spilled the effort at the feet of Anthony Gerrard. In stunning fashion however Peter Ramage got across to deny the former Walsall defender and save a certain goal.
A snap-shot from Bothroyd nearly paid dividends after useful play from strike partner McCormack but it crashed over the bar as the Bluebirds sought that strike that would all-but secure their status in the playoff places.
The game was open and the lines were fine as both sides knew that one goal would possibly secure that crucial victory to fulfil their pre-match expectations. Rangers could and should have claimed that goal as another guilt-edge chance presented itself.
A classy over the top through ball found Jay Simpson racing through, a disappointing first touch saw him with his back to goal, but an excellent lay off found Ephraim. With the goal at his mercy the winger leaned back and thumped the ball into the stand.
The missed opportunity was highly frustrating given the importance of the goal and the nature of the chance, and frustrations came to the fore moments later when Taarabt took what was deemed by a few as one shot too many.
He had options wide and thumped an effort into the stands from a fair distance. Criticism came from the stands - albeit not as overtly as preivously heard - and Taarabt gestured to the crowd his displeasure and dissatisfaction at the reaction.
After what was a truly ridiculous dive moments earlier for which he was rightfully booked, the midfielder was called over by boss Neil Warnock for a brief consultation and thus the situation was quelled.
Chopra and Etuhu were causing the R's issues from the bench as they played a more influential role for the bolstered Bluebirds despite the hosts going close with a Gorkss header from a corner. The Latvian couldn't repeat his Selhurst heroics looping his header over the bar.
It was the Bluebirds that grabbed the goal from nothing moments later and all-but killed the game with Mark Kennedy the architect. His teasing far post cross found Joe Ledley
who had the easiest of tasks to place home from close range.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 0-1 Cardiff City
That all-but killed the affair and Warnock's changes to introduce Lee Cook, Josh Parker and Antonio German for some was a case of too little too late as the Bluebirds continued to cruise in the latter stages with little in the way of substance from the R's attack.
Taarabt was clearly now in a foul mood and when he created a great chance for Lee Cook, and the winger saw his effort excellently saved at point-blank range by David Marhsall. Taarabt walked up to take the subsequent corner cupping his ear, indicating that he had not forgotten the boo boys.
As it stood it counted for nothing as the away end erupted with the final whistle, the Bluebirds secured their place in the Championship playoffs without truly setting the world alight - sadly that epitomises the Championship's plight this season.
Full Time: Queens Park Rangers 0-1 Cardiff City
Cerny, Ramage, Leigertwood, Buzsaky, Gorkss, Faurlin, Simpson (Cook 83), Ephraim (Parker 85), Tosic, Priskin (German 90), Taarabt.
Marshall, McNaughton, Kennedy, Whittingham, Bothroyd, McPhail, Burke (Etuhu 67), Gerrard, Ledley, Blake, McCormack (Chopra 63).
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