Marvel Mackie Strikes Again
A FIRST half brace from striker Jamie Mackie was enough as Queens Park Rangers steam-rolled Ipswich Town to stay top of the npower Championship
Rangers opened up a gap on the chasing pack with a comfortable victory at Portman Road, in a sterling team performance from Neil Warnock's men.
Mackie cut a composed figure as he latched onto Heidar Helguson's flick-on to snaffle home the opening goal, rewarding the visitors for their early dominance.
A well-executed counte-attack saw Mackie double Rangers lead as he surged from his own half before burying a stunning solo effort beyond summer signing Martin Fulop.
A brief foray after the break was all Roy Keane's Tractor Boys could muster as Heidar Helguson put the game beyond doubt from the spot.
On an evening that where Rangers expected a stern test of their promotion credentials, they passed with flying colours as they march on at the summit.
Neil Warnock was forced into one change from his trusted recent starting line-up, with debutante Kyle Walker stepping in for injured duo Bradley Orr and Peter Ramage.
Paddy Kenny started behind the aforementioned Walker, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly and Clint Hill with Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry the midfield generals.
Adel Taarabt played in advance of the pairing with Jamie Mackie and Hogan Ephraim featuring in behind lone striker Heidar Helguson.
Ipswich made two changes from their goalless draw at Portsmouth with Mark Kennedy and Andros Townsend in for Tamás Priskin and the injured Darren O'Dea.
Town started with Martin Fulop between the sticks, behind a back four of Jaime Peters, New Zealand international Tommy Smith, Gareth McAuley and former QPR loanee Kennedy
Luke Hyam sat as a screen in midfield with Carlos Edwards, Grant Leadbitter, David Norris and Townsend behind lone striker Jason Scotland.
Peters - Smith - McAuley - Kennedy
Edwards - Leadbitter - Norris - Townsend
Queens Park Rangers
Walker - Connolly - Gorkss - Hill
Faurlín - Derry
Mackie - Taarabt (c) - Ephraim
Kick Off: Ipswich Town v Queens Park Rangers
A torrential downpour shortly prior to kick ensured that the pitch was perfectly slick for this encounter at Portman Road. Two sides, well-placed in the Championship took to the field with a view to extending their fine early season form.
Rangers wasted little time from the off as their creative enterprise nearly yielded a goal in the opening minute. Useful wing-work from Hogan Ephraim saw Heidar Helguson with an opportunity from a tight angle. The Icelandic international engineered an effort which was smothered by 'keeper Martin Fulop.
Ipswich's main outlet appeared to be Jason Scotland in attack. The lone forward cut an ample figure as he vied with the Rangers rearguard for aerial supremacy. Matt Connolly and Kaspars Gorkss were acquitting themselves well however and giving the former Swansea City man little to feed off.
The visitors were looking bright on the counter-attack but ultimately had their best chance to date from a set-piece. Adel Taarabt's corner was met with a firm header from Connolly, but the former Arsenal man could only steer his header over the cross-bar.
Rangers were certainly looking the more positive of the two sides, with Ipswich's 4-1-4-1 formation offering them little in terms of attacking guile with Scotland largely isolated in his lone attacking berth. It was a perplexing move by Keane in a game they would have certainly liked to assert their impetus.
The linesman needed to be replaced moments later after what appeared a muscle pull on the far touch-line. He was replaced by Gary Jerden from nearby Essex as the game suffered a lull in tempo, but it wasn't long before the visitors were back on the attack.
A succession of free-kicks from the educated feet of Adel Taarabt came to relatively little, but when a ball was swung in from the right and Connolly rose to flick-on, an opportunity presented itself to lone forward Helguson.
The striker's left-footed snap-shot was expertly tipped wide by Fulop at his near post. The stopper that spent a spell on loan at Manchester City last season was on form on this occasion to keep a forward line baying for blood at bay.
Taarabt then truly came out of his shell moments later, bursting into life and coming close to earning the game's opener. His surging run from the heart of midfield saw him burst past two defenders before drawing another useful save from Fulop - low to his right.
On the half-hour mark the dominance came to fruition as Rangers took the advantage and once again and while it was their football that had delighted supporters in the early offing, it was a direct style of play that earned the opening goal.
Gorkss' hopeful long-pass saw Helguson display excellent awareness to flick-on to his left and find Jamie Mackie
. The fans' favourite spun two of his markers with excellent persistence before burying a low drive into the bottom left-hand corner.
The away end rose as one to celebrate a goal cunning in its simplicity, earning Rangers a deserved first half advantage and given the pattern of their recent goalscoring record, they could expect a foray of attacks in a bid to strike twice.
GOAL: Ipswich Town 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
The goal seemed to knock the stuffing from the hosts who in their endeavour to drive forward were leaving gaps in behind to exploit. Andros Townsend was looking lively without truly hurting debutante Kyle Walker, who proved exemplary during the first period thus far.
Unfortunately for QPR they lost their influential midfield man Alejandro Faurlín with little under ten minutes remaining of the half, with the Argentinean leaving the field holding his calf. It gave an opportunity to Ákos Buzsáky to stake a place for the team, entering the field with 37 minutes gone.
The aforementioned gaps were now starting to become more apparent and with the Tractor Boys defence left unguarded by the inexperienced Luke Hyam Rangers were able to launch their counter-attack with breath-taking ease.Jamie Mackie
picked up the ball from Taarabt inside his own half before embarking on a mesmirising run towards goal. Walker's useful run to his right attracted the momentary attention of the exposed defenders before Mackie drilled low into the bottom left hand corner.
A truly excellent solo effort from the former Plymouth Argyle man who now firmly sits atop of the QPR scoring charts for the season. An effort that not only displayed his effort and commitment, but also an air of class that has seen him emerge as a firm fans' favourite.
GOAL: Ipswich Town 0-2 Queens Park Rangers
The hosts were shell-shocked by what was an excellent opening from QPR in a first half that had truly belonged to them and striker Mackie. His role coming in from the flank has earned desired rewards already this season as his form continues to shine.
Shortly before the break came a brief flash-point as Scotland threw out an arm in frustration at Connolly, who was guarding the ball well from the forward. Connolly understandably looked to the referee, Mr Stroud opting for a yellow card for the striker.
The half was played out with the R's in the box-seat and Town surely on the end of a Roy Keane tongue-lashing. It was apparent that Neil Warnock was more than happy with his players' as he manfully lead them from the field.
Half Time: Ipswich Town 0-2 Queens Park Rangers
Renewed vigour, optimism and opportunities - Town took to the field in the second half with a couple of changes. The ineffective Hyam and Andros Townsend were replaced by teenage sensation Connor Wickham and ex-QPR forward Tamás Priskin.
The latter was cheered on by some in the stands who could remember clearly his lack of productivity in front of the target and frankly disappointing work-rate while he was in a QPR shirt. Nevertheless Town pressed in the early stages of the second period.
Wickham in particular proved to be a talisman, justifiably proving why there is Premier League interest in the young talent. He beat Clint Hill effortlessly down the right before squaring for Scotland. The forward, who was presented with his first opportunity, fluffed his lines and steered well-wide of the left-hand post.
He did better with his next attempt however drawing a smart save low to his right from relatively unworked 'keeper Paddy Kenny. The summer signing was performing admirably at corners, contending with some giants in the heart of the area.
It was normal service resumed after a period of pressure from the hosts, when Taarabt and Mackie linked up in the heart of the area, only for Fulop to deny Mackie his hatrick, making a smart save low to his left.
Another stunning save from point-blank range denied QPR a third when Connolly's direct pass found Helguson who once again showed expert awareness to nod into the path of Taarabt. The Moroccan found the ball at an awkward hight and stooped to head goal-bound, but Fulop was equal to the effort.
Ákos Buzsáky thought he'd netted his first strike of the campaign when Mackie laid to back to the Hungarian, who lashed home from the edge of the area. However the referee's whistle had already blown for a penalty on the nippy wide-man.
Mackie himself selflessly declined the spot-kick despite much cajoling from his team-mates, and Heidar Helguson
stepped up to sew up the encounter - Fulop picked the right way but the direction and placement of the effort gave him little chance of saving a QPR third.
GOAL: Ipswich Town 0-3 Queens Park Rangers
70 minutes gone at Portman Road and it was effectively game over, and while Taarabt had departed for the relatively unused Mikele Leigertwood, Rangers were still looking a threat in attack but with an added solidity in front of the back four.
Cheered on by just under 1000 supporters from down the A12, Rangers were buoyant and certainly starting to live up to their lofty billing on this evidence, stroking the ball about with effortless ease - maintaining their vice-like grip on the encounter.
Troy Brown added a little more defensively replacing Carlos Edwards, this allowed Jaime Peters the freedom he craved to get forward and attack the R's defenders. A resolute back-line doubled up and dealt with the Canadian's threat effectively however.
Tommy Smith was given some game time with ten minutes remaining, with Mackie applauded from the field with a standing ovation from the away end for another excellent contribution. Smith's first touch was near-perfection but unfortunately he sliced an Ephraim cross wide of the mark.
The game was over as a contest from the third goal, but Rangers were still expressing a confidence that hadn't been seen in a long time, and truly as the fans exclaimed, Rangers are back. While only a handful of games have passed their impressive play and form will continue to earn them plaudits.
Mr Stroud brought down the curtain on an excellent evening's entertainment for QPR supporters, while Ipswich have to contemplate their first defeat of the campaign - a crushing blow to Keane's ambitions, as he looked to use Rangers as a barometer for his own sides expectations.
Final Whistle: Ipswich Town 0-3 Queens Park Rangers
Martin Fulop, Jaime Peters, Gareth McAuley, Tommy Smith, Mark Kennedy, Luke Hyam (Tamás Priskin 46), Carlos Edwards (Troy Brown 72), Grant Leadbitter, David Norris, Andros Townsend (Connor Wickham 46), Jason Scotland
Paddy Kenny, Kyle Walker, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly, Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Alejandro Faurlín (Ákos Buzsáky 37), Jamie Mackie (Tommy Smith 80), Adel Taarabt (Mikele Leigertwood 60), Hogan Ephraim, Heidar Helguson.
While there were many key performers on the field this evening, it had to be the two-goal hero Mackie that takes the plaudits once again. The striker justifiably walked out with deserved goals today and looks to be a very shrewd piece of business from Neil Warnock.
A tireless worker, Mackie showed both sides of his game today - working hard to create himself opportunities and having the class and composure to finish off scraps and chances with effortless ease. A truly classy player.
Paddy was comfortable by and large and took the sting out of the majority of Ipswich chances. Anything he did had to deal with in terms of shot-stopping was comfortable for Kenny, from crosses he was by and large competent.
A couple of set-pieces that came his way saw him in a bit of trouble at times with the sizeable line that Ipswich have but on one occasion he was felled and at other times the defenders had the presence of mind to close out the opportunity.
Paddy has certainly made himself the number one with Radek Cerny having to be contented with a place on the bench. Only two goals conceded - coming in the same game - as Paddy looks a comfortable performer between the sticks.
An excellent debut from Walker who looked at home from minute one. His distribution was skilled and thoughtful, never looking to merely hack down the touch-line, more looking inside for a free man to keep the play moving.
His intelligence in positioning was a particular positive as well with former Spurs team-mate Andros Townsend getting no luck against Walker. Getting forward as well he was useful, in particular in drawing defenders for Mackie's second.
Walker came in on an initial one-month loan deal, but on this evidence and if Bradley Orr and the unfortunate Peter Ramage have sustained longer-term injuries, this will be a player Rangers look to return to W12.
Gorkss looked comfortable throughout despite the difficult opposition in Jason Scotland. The Latvian international was excellent in the air and fairly good in his distribution to deny the forward a sniff at goal.
Kaspars had a couple of minor wobbles in terms of positioning, but by and large it would be nit-picking to suggest that he made mistakes of genuine importance. It was a confident display that showed that he had re-captured his previous form.
In Matt Connolly, Kaspars has found a good partner to compliment his play. While he is dominant in the air he can rely on his fellow defender to mop things up where appropriate and the understanding is starting to develop between the duo.
His best performance of the season - plain and simple. I have been a tad critical of Connolly in recent games, stating that while he was a good prospect he was by no means the finished article. Performances like today will certainly dash that view!
His reading of the game was excellent this evening, whenever Gorkss appeared in trouble, Connolly was on hand to sweep up and deny Ipswich. In particular Scotland was growing frustrated and was lucky not to receive more than a yellow for his petulant swipe at the defender.
Connolly has seen his game peak for the season thus far today, maintain that level of consistency and performance and he will have to be a sure-fire starter ahead of skipper Fitz Hall, who in fairness to him has picked the wrong time to be injured.
Solid if unspectacular, Hill appears happy to be the work-horse of the line-up, doing the simple jobs effectively with little effort and fuss. Today he showed again why Rangers have lacked severely in that region in the recent past.
The former Stoke City man was strong in the tackle, in the air and on the ground, while maintaining an air of composure at set-pieces. He wasn't afraid to go to the sanctity of a corner with his no-nonsense approach and it fared well for Rangers tonight.
Hill has added that extra steel to the Rangers line-up that has been lacking and while some have come in to the left-back region, they were scarcely a replacement for the attributes that Hill has to offer the side.
Faurlín appeared to be getting into his stride before a rather innocuous injury curtailed his blossoming game this evening. The Argentinean was distributing very well in the heart of midfield and wasn't afraid to take his lead from Shaun Derry and put his foot in.
Sadly he went down after 37 minutes with what appeared to be a calf problem, with no-one around him and Hogan Ephraim signalled to the bench that his evening was at a premature end. Ákos Buzsáky came on in his stead.
Rangers must now wait on news regarding the talented midfielder but with better strength in depth than previously, it will surely cushion what would be an almighty blow should Faurlín have to miss a prolonged period.
Another excellent Warnock summer signing - one that raised the eyebrows once again but Warnock's faith has been firmly restored by the midfielder's fantastic eye for a tackle and bravery sat in front of the back four.
Derry has proven that he can be a very useful asset to QPR, winning the battle against Grant Leadbitter this evening and showing supporters that he still has it all to offer in a potential promotion race for the West Londoners.
Just like Clint Hill, his contribution only becomes apparent on reflection - only two goals conceded, relatively few attacks coming through the centre of the park and overall a sense of solidity installed in a previously fragile side.
What is left to say that hasn't already been said about Jamie, he has been the most inspiring piece of summer business I have seen for a long while. His effort and commitment knows no bounds, but that certainly is not the limitation of his game.
This evening showed that attribute in abundance, but also his class and composure in front of goal to put Town to the sword. Keep this up and his stock will continue to improve and he will hopefully be wearing Premier League colours with QPR next season.
Have Rangers fans found their new Gareth Ainsworth? On this evidence, yes and then some! While Gareth's steely eye for a tackle won him admirers Mackie offers a finish on the end of his tireless contribution which many can be thankful for.
Taarabt was once again creative and speculative as one would come to expect from the ambitious Moroccan. His running was direct and purposeful, his distribution precise and his shooting by and large on target.
He set up Mackie's second and was always sniffing in and around the penalty area for any scraps that would come his way. It was clear to see that Taarabt's enthusiasm for the club certainly hasn't waned as he looks to fire Rangers to promotion.
Such was his enthusiasm, he seemed rather frustrated at the decision to take withdraw him from the side. With one eye on Saturday against Leicester City, Neil Warnock probably made the right decision on hindsight.
One that continues to prove his doubters wrong - Neil Warnock wasn't 100% sure as to Ephraim's future when he first took the helm at Rangers, but in Hogan he has found a regular starter who offers the side good width and an eye for goal.
A couple of times tonight he was found wanting for strength, but his persistence was very good as he would seek to retrieve the ball and launch counter-attacks. Particularly impressive at times and that consistency will be key to him retaining his place.
There are certainly competition for places on the flanks with the recent introduction of Tommy Smith, but on this evidence Smith will have to wait for his opportunities as Ephraim continues to play well on the wing.
Helguson is a man rejuvenated, it is excellent to see that Warnock's faith in the forward is being re-paid as he continues to act the target-man and bring others into play. His awareness was excellent this evening as he brought others into play.
He helped lay on the first goal for Mackie, who links up well with Heidar and plays off the flick-ons - while countless other times he used his skills aerially to engineer opportunities for others. There were even a couple of neat touches with his feet - no really!
After being out in the cold and a mainstay at Watford, Heidar appeared to be on his way. Lucky then that a lack of centre forwards have brought the striker back to the fold and the faith as mentioned has been re-paid.
Replaced Alejandro Faurlín - 37 mins
The Hungarian came from the bench early in the encounters and looked sprightly despite coming on cold. With a bit more luck he might have had his first of the season, if only the official had waited a second or two.
He has proven somewhat of a bit-part player this season so far, but will certainly have a role to play in the coming weeks. In particular if Faurlín has sustained a lengthy injury then Buzsáky could be a starter at the Walkers Stadium on Saturday.
Replaced Adel Taarabt - 60 mins
Leigertwood has taken a leaf our of Derry's book I feel, solid if unspectacular this evening, he did the simple things correctly and was consistent for the final 30 minutes. Winning the ball and distributing well.
Mikele would also be looking to capitalise on a possible vacancy in the centre of the park should Faurlín not be available for Leicester, and on this evidence he appears to have simplified his game to his benefit.
Replaced Jamie Mackie - 80 mins
What a tough act to follow it has to be said. Smith looked lively when he came from the bench however and showed supporters glimpses of what he can be capable of doing. In the same style of Lee Cook, he twists and turns looking for an opening.
There will be time for Smith to make his impact in the coming weeks, because as Warnock has already stated, this is a squad game. Smith I'm sure will be ready and waiting to take his opportunity when it arises.
8/10 - Dead on with fairly much everything this evening apart from his hairstyle, not much he can do about that though! Fantastic subsitutions and good timing for the latter two.
Tactically spot on once again, Helguson was aerially dominant over Peters at full-back while Mackie fed off the big front-man as predicted. Maintaining the personnel in selection has done wonders for the elusive stability as Rangers continue to march on.
5/10 - If this was a barometer for his team then unfortunately they came up short. Admittedly he had one hand tied behind his back with the injured Wickham unable to play the whole game, but his lack of enterprise will surely come under the spotlight.
The Ipswich boss opted for just the solitary striker in a game where the potential of cutting the gap at the top presented itself. Disappointment then for both the Irishman and Town as Rangers dominated vast proportions of the game.
Mr Keith Stroud:
7/10 - Not bad at all by his standards. We would expect more of a card-waving official but Mr Stroud appears to have mellowed. He did officiate the entire clash contrary to reports elsewhere, and did so with little fuss.