QPR Leave Blades Baffled
A STUNNING first half display saw Queens Park Rangers canter to victory over a shell-shocked Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.
While all eyes were on Paddy Kenny it was Adel Taarabt and Hogan Ephraim that stole the show in an excellent and efficient display against erstwhile promotion hopefuls United.
The Blades were blunted after Taarabt scythed open a static back-line for Ephraim to roll home, before Hogan turned architect to lay a goal on for Jamie Mackie - his second in two games.
The game was sewn up as a contest when Heidar Helguson was hauled down by Steve Simonsen, the true villain on the two 'keepers as Taarabt netted the third inside 25 minutes.
The home crowd felt victimised when referee Andy Woolmer denied them a succession of appeals, but in truth there was little substance in their ever-fleeting cries.
Kenny left the field pumping his fists in a defiant manner, but his story was but a sub-plot as Rangers completed their second Championship maximum in style and Kevin Blackwell was edged out of Bramall Lane.
Neil Warnock opted to remain unchanged from the side that defeated Barnsley on the opening day, with a plethora of players returning from their international duties.
Paddy Kenny started in goal behind a back four of Bradley Orr, skipper Fitz Hall, Kaspars Gorkss and Clint Hill - with Alejandro Faurlín, Shaun Derry and Adel Taarabt lining up through the middle.
Jamie Mackie and Hogan Ephraim started wide in support of lone striker Heidar Helguson, while the bench included the likes of Matt Connolly, Mikele Leigertwood and the returning Peter Ramage.
Sheffield United lined up with Steve Simonsen sitting behind the back-line of Johannes Ertl, Chris Morgan, Kyle Bartley and former QPR loanee Andy Taylor.
Jamie Ward, Nick Montgomery, Leon Britton and Stephen Quinn lined-up in midfield with Ched Evans and Richard Cresswell the preferred front-line duo.
Ertl - Morgan (c) - Bartley - Taylor
Ward - Montgomery - Britton - Quinn
Evans - Cresswell
Queens Park Rangers
Orr - Hall (c) - Gorkss - Hill
Ephraim - Faurlín - Derry - Taarabt - Mackie
Kick Off: Sheffield United v Queens Park Rangers
The two teams took to the pitch at Bramall Lane and it would be fair to say that the home side had more than the normal motivation to pick up their first win of the campaign, and get off to a winning start in Sheffield.
The extra spice of Neil Warnock, Shaun Derry and Mikele Leigertwood returning to their former club was added to by that of R's stopper Paddy Kenny, a man seen as a traitor by Blades fans following his summer departure to Loftus Road.
The heckles were vocal as the two sides changed ends prior to the start of the fixture and there could be no mistake that he was in for a tough day at the office, set against the back-drop of his shaky start in a QPR shirt.
Rangers started brightly however, much to the frustration of their hosts. The possession was being fought and retained by a dogged midfield duo in Derry and Alejandro Faurlín, while Adel Taarabt was looking promising going forward once more.
It was becoming that apparent that Rangers would get more joy by playing the ball to feet and avoiding the long ball through the middle - the sizeable duo of Chris Morgan and Kyle Bartley imposing figures at the heart of the Blades defence.
Helguson was peeling wide for set-pieces in order to flick-on for the educated feet of Taarabt and Hogan Ephraim, who already were appearing influential in a fast-paced opening at Bramall Lane. The Blades eventually came out of their shell, much to their detriment however as Rangers imposed their game on the counter attack.
The static nature of the Blades rearguard gave a fast-paced Rangers side all they needed as Taarabt showed excellent composure to send a slide-rule pass through for Hogan Ephraim
. The former West Ham man took a useful first touch before baring down on goal.
He seemed to have an age to pick his spot as Simonsen attempted to narrow the angle. The R's wide-man had a quick look in the middle, but with little in they way of support rolled home with nonchalant ease to hand Rangers the lead.
GOAL: Sheffield United 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
The goal displayed the excellent efficiency in Neil Warnock's new-look QPR and before long Adel Taarabt infuriated enough to see Nick Montgomery go straight through the R's play-maker. A poorly timed, petulant tackle as the visiting fans proclaimed: He's just too good for you!
It wasn't just Taarabt that was causing a nuisance, with the defence proving stout opposition and Shaun Derry doing an excellent containing job in the centre of the park. Rangers counter-attacked with breath-taking ease and it wasn't long before a second was forthcoming.
Bradley Orr showed his attacking potential by hitting a pin-point cross-field ball to Ephraim. The tricky wide-man clipped a perfectly weighted cross to the far post where striker Jamie Mackie
was laying in wait.
He stole in front of his marker before nodding home from close range, as Rangers were in dream-land and the Blades were truly shell-shocked in a stunning opening from Warnock's side. It was more shock than expectation in the away end also as the advantage was doubled.
GOAL: Sheffield United 0-2 Queens Park Rangers
The biggest surprise was the space and time afforded to Rangers most devastating attacking talents, including Taarabt, as the Blades were clearly not reacting to their alarming deficit - carving out very little in the way of meaningful play.
The crowd started to turn on their players, and the more Rangers attacked the more the thread-bare patience for Kevin Blackwell continued to wear. QPR were starting to really express themselves and the third was not long coming.
Ephraim's cross was poorly fielded by Simonsen and despite a poor touch from Heidar Helguson he managed to retrieve the situation. The 'keeper's second error in a matter of second was to throw an ill-advised arm at the ball, and despite his protest, certainly clipped the heels of the Icelandic international.
Both he and Adel Taarabt
vied for the spot-kick, but the latter won the duel. He rolled home into the bottom-left hand corner and wheeled away in glee towards the jubilant QPR supporters - Rangers well and truly on top.
GOAL: Sheffield United 0-3 Queens Park Rangers
The Blades were riled, but still fighting for their boss despite losing their shape. The likes of Montgomery were certainly unrelenting in their style, while Jamie Ward was still foraging away for hints of joy down the flank.
The Blades nearly had a route back into the game when Richard Cresswell rose highest in the area after a tantalising cross. Man of the hour Paddy Kenny was on hand to show Blades fans what they're missing with a truly stunning save at point blank range.
United were starting to apply some pressure for the first time in the clash, with Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry alleged to have committed fouls in key areas of the pitch. Still they continued to appeal as penalty shouts came and went.
The booing of the officials as they left the field at half time only served to mask a poor first half display from the hosts who were torn to sunder by the attacking guile of Taarabt and Ephraim. Nevertheless Mr Woolmer and his assistants were subject to boos as the players left the field.
Half Time: Sheffield United 0-3 Queens Park Rangers
It seemed that Rangers would attempt to contain proceedings as the second half kicked off at Bramall Lane, with the ball being stroked about nicely despite a new-found desire to attack by Kevin Blackwell's hosts.
Sheffield United's main threats appear to be with the long-ball over the top as Cresswell and Evans attempted to link up. The latter however was proving ineffective as the hefty price-tag of last summer continues to weigh heavy on the shoulders of the former Manchester City man.
Fitz Hall pulled up with a hamstring complaint, and it appears that all the hard work in getting back into the team and earning the arm-band has been thwarted by the defender's inability to complete football matches without getting injured.
The positive however was Peter Ramage entering the fray for the first time this season - the former Newcastle United man who has been converted to a central defender - was in blistering form towards the end of last season and now had his chance to prove his worth.
Rangers were denied only by a deflection moments later as the terrible twosome Taarabt and Ephraim laid the ball back to Faurlín. The Argentinean hit a curling effort that was destined for the corner only thwarted by an excellent last ditch block.
The game had soon petered out with Rangers now coasting and the game edging away from United as the clock ticked onwards. They were gifted a golden opportunity moments afterwards but Ward snatched at his chance and placed wide from close-range.
Leon Clarke came on for his league debut at the expense of a disappointed-looking Taarabt, but a rapturous reception from the away fans would have comforted the Moroccan international who evidently is desperate to put in as many minutes as he can.
Hogan Ephraim - who had picked up a sizeable knock on the head in the first half - picked up a yellow card after clipping the heels of Cresswell. The resultant free-kick was lashed straight into the QPR wall however as they continued to hold firm.
Stephen Quinn was withdrawn and ironic cheers greeted his departure from the field, Andy Taylor also departed with once reported QPR target Rob Kozluk and Mark Yeates entering the fray in an encounter that was stagnating.
Despite allowing the Blades more of the ball, there was never really much of a threat forthcoming with the uncompromising Ramage once again starring at the heart of the Rangers defence. Former Blade Leigertwood replaced Ephraim with just short of ten minutes remaining to sure matters up.
It came as little surprise to hear booing at the final whistle and the subsequent departure of Kevin Blackwell, with the boss clearly uninspiring his troops in a second period that lacked the renewed vigour that the supporters would have expected.
Rangers meanwhile march on with two wins from two and supporters once again dreaming of a positive season in the Championship. This latest win was a statement of intention from Neil Warnock and his men as they look forward to Scunthorpe a week today.
Full Time: Sheffield United 0-3 Queens Park Rangers
Simonsen, Ertl, Morgan (c), Bartley, Taylor (Kozluk 76), Ward, Britton, Montgomery, Quinn (Yeates 76), Evans (Bogdanovic 68), Cresswell
Kenny, Orr, Gorkss, Hall (c) (Ramage 50), Hill, Derry, Faurlín, Taarabt (Clarke 69), Ephraim (Leigertwood 82), Mackie, Helguson.
It's going to be very tough to pick a week when this lad isn't the pick of the QPR players as Taarabt seems to be getting everything right under Warnock - as well as the coveted attribute of distribution.
His pass for the first goal was simply sublime, superbly weighted and gave Ephraim an age to play with in order to hand Rangers the lead. The Moroccan deserved to have his goal from the spot after what was a truly impressive opening period.
Unfortunately, such is the way in English football, some players took exception to his skill and cynically attempted to put him out of the game. Warnock withdrew the talent in order to keep him fresh for Scunthorpe next Saturday - Another stunning display from Adel.