Rangers Restrained By Cagey Canaries
QUEENS Park Rangers were held at home by third-placed Norwich City on an afternoon of little enterprise at Loftus Road.
The Canaries managed to snuff out the Rangers attacking threat while offering a counter-attacking presence in the man-mountain forward Grant Holt.
They also had the best chance of the fixture when a tussle between Clint Hill and the aforementioned Holt earned a rather generous penalty decision, only to be spurned by winger Wes Hoolahan.
The second period saw City return to their shell as the hosts pressed for a winner with Clint Hill clipping a post as well as Heidar Helguson and Jamie Mackie going close.
It proved fruitless however as the hosts - despite their late dominance - as they struggled to garner that spirit that has seen them through in recent times, and failed to create genuine opportunities.
The hosts can take solace in the fact that many of their closest rivals dropped points, but on the day they were held by a dogged Norwich outfit.
Neil Warnock opted once again to remain unchanged for the fifth consecutive clash, as Alejandro Faurlín also managed to secure his place on the bench.
Paddy Kenny started behind a back four of Kyle Walker - recently extending his stay in W12, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly and Clint Hill.
Ákos Buzsáky and Shaun Derry sat deep while Jamie Mackie, Adel Taarabt and Hogan Ephraim played in behind lone forward Heidar Helguson.
Norwich started with John Ruddy behind Russell Martin, Elliott Ward, Leon Barnett and the returning Adam Drury - Andrew Crofts and Korey Smith linked up in the middle of the park.
Simon Lappin and Wes Hoolahan started wide with Simeon Jackson and Grant Holt playing through the middle for the visitors.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Norwich City
The international break always makes the football fan yearn for the bread and butter of league action - particularly the way England are playing at present. This was in evidence as a near sell-out crowd welcomed the two sides to the field in W12.
The Norwich travelling support amounted to just over 3,000 with a particularly interested Stephen Fry taking up his place in the directors box. It was the hosts that would assert the early impetus in the clash however, with the wide-men proving key.
Heidar Helguson glanced wide of the right hand upright after some useful trickery down the left from Hogan Ephraim. The winger dazzled his defender before sending in the far post cross, only for the Icelandic international to see his errant effort fly wide.
City were looking to stifle - as is customary - the creative flair of Adel Taarabt, and Andrew Crofts was the man charged with stopping what was a refreshed attacking outlet. It soon became evident as Crofts was unwilling to give the Moroccan an inch of space.
Credit to Taarabt who retreated to earn himself some breathing space from the former Gillingham man, searching for the slide-rule pass to unlock the Canaries rearguard. His attempt towards the ever-willing Jamie Mackie nearly paid dividends.
The Scottish international surged from wide but was beaten to the ball by a combination of Elliot Ward and John Ruddy, who raced from his line to claim from the fleet-footed forward. The action was yet to relent as Norwich carved out their first chance inside ten minutes.
Matt Connolly was found wanting after a useful touch from Grant Holt as he bore down on goal on the left hand side of the area. The forward struck straight at a resilient Paddy Kenny who beat the ball away at point-blank range.
Despite Rangers proving the more useful of the two sides, City seemed to be able to create the more meaningful chances. Nevertheless, the R's pressed and undeterred Mackie did well to create space in the heart of the area.
The R's top scorer was able to lay the ball to defender Kaspars Gorkss and the centre-half lashed the ball inches wide of the right hand upright. The referee deemed it had taken a deflection and QPR earned a resultant corner.
Rangers were dealt a blow when Ákos Buzsáky was forced to withdraw shortly after 25 minutes and despite Alejandro Faurlín being available for selection, Mikele Leigertwood was the player of choice for Neil Warnock.
Then came the fixture's flash point as a clash in the area prompted Andy Penn to point to the spot for a controversial penalty. Holt and Hill had a fistful of each other as the two were sent sprawling to the surface.
While many of the crowd were relatively unfazed by the coming together, the referee was in no doubt as to the validity of a spot-kick. The bemusement on the face of Hill was evident as he was unaware that the kick had been given until he got to his feet.
A very generous decision by the official as Wes Hoolahan stepped forward to take the set-piece. With the opportunity of being the first league side to notch at Loftus Road the Irishman spurned his chance by skewing wide of the right hand upright.
The jubilation around Loftus Road was evident as Paddy Kenny kept his clean sheet record intact. It was a life-line for QPR who, with the crowd on their side, started to foray towards the Canaries' target and look to create opportunities.
They were getting little in the way of help from the officiating team who were perplexing in some of their decision-making, and entirely frustrating. Nevertheless they were fortuitous as the surprising penalty decision didn't yield the visiting team a goal.
The two sides left the field at half time and still the more experience Rangers players were speaking with the officials regarding the controversial first half incident. The R's however had got out of jail as they headed into the break.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Norwich City
Loftus Road was sun-drenched as the players took to the field for an important second period. The two sides vied for early supremacy in a cagey early opening but the clash soon opened up and the hosts started asserting some dominance.
The R's were using excellent width and in particular the attacking endeavour of Kyle Walker in a bid to unlock what was proving a stubborn Canaries defence. Walker's running was allowing Mackie to drift inside and look for goals.
Norwich weren't able to offer much in riposte as what was traditionally a footballing club now seems to have voided their principles and use the sizeable Holt as their principle outlet. Jackson was feeding on scraps in behind but the direct route was the solitary offering from the visiting side.
As such it played into the hands of QPR who seemed happy to snuff out Holt wherever possible and using the space created in the middle of the park to bring in their more creative talents. Taarabt peeling wide in order to bring others into play.
To their credit the Canaries were defending resiliently and only Clint Hill crashing a header back off the upright was the closest the hosts came. Unfortunately for Hill the opportunity was chalked off for another invisible foul.
One thing to note was the holding at corners as Hill was wrestled to his knees by Holt, drawing the attention of the official both prior, during and after the incident, but Mr Penn did little to react to what by the letter of the law is a penalty kick.
Another even more feverish appeal came moments later as a two-handed shove in the back of Helguson went unnoticed, sparking great anger from the fans, players and management of Rangers. The appeals may have been coming thick and fast but it reflected the hosts' dominance in that period.
Helguson was in the thick of the action once more as his knock-down to Taarabt saw the Moroccan slice an effort wide of the left-hand post. Once again a rather baffling decision saw the referee spot a deflection and a corner was granted for the hosts.
Walker was still proving the thorn in the side as he ploughed forward from full-back, and after he unleashed an effort at goal, Mackie cunningly - unwittingly or otherwise - directed an effort that dipped inches over the bar.
Still Rangers relentlessly poured forward and Connolly's long cross field ball saw Helguson generate great power in a subsequent header, once again however it flew inches over the bar in Rangers' best chance to date.
Norwich continued to search out Holt on the break, and with the addition of Chris Martin in the forward line they looked to post a more serious threat and ease the pressure on an over-worked set of defenders.
Despite brief glimpses of pressure, Rangers continued to heap on their own brand of dominance, Helguson using his head once more as a battering ram and being denied once more by the under-worked Ruddy.
It certainly highlighted the fact that for all of QPR's attacking pressure and territorial dominance they hadn't truly tested Ruddy between the sticks. It was a testament to Norwich's defensive ability that their keeper hardly had a shot to save, along with the errant shooting of the hosts.
Andrew Crofts was able to preserve the clean sheet late on when a looping header from Gorkss appeared to be nestling in the left hand corner. Crofts had different ideas as he acrobatically cleared from the line.
City finished the stronger of the two sides as they threatened to snatch three points from the jaws of defeat, nevertheless the defence held firm as the two sides had to settle for a share of the spoils in spite of Cardiff City's win earlier in the day.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Norwich City
Paddy Kenny, Kyle Walker, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly, Clint Hill, Ákos Buzsáky (Mikele Leigertwood 26), Shaun Derry, Jamie Mackie, Adel Taarabt (Tommy Smith 77), Hogan Ephraim (Patrick Agyemang 69), Heidar Helguson.
John Ruddy, Russell Martin, Elliot Ward, Leon Barnett, Adam Drury (Steve Smith 58), Simon Lappin, Andrew Crofts, Korey Smith, Wes Hoolahan (Chris Martin 69), Simeon Jackson, Grant Holt.
In what was a team effort today, Walker was one of the few players to stand out and really give his all in both areas of the pitch. He defended resiliently throughout with only a couple of minor issues that failed to mar a positive display.
His work going forward would be where I would highlight Walker's best aspect, he ploughed forward from first minute to last searching for an opening, and with a little more luck would have had an assist today.