QPR Held at Burnley
QUEENS Park Rangers were held to a draw by managerless Burnley this afternoon, seeing their lead at the top by the chasing pack.
Despite dominating vast periods of the game, Rangers were unable to create enough clear cut opportunities to drive home their dominance.
Burnley themselves have Eddie Howe waiting in the wings and a change in mentality on the field will be required if the Clarets are to achieve their playoff ambitions.
There was an air of negativity to Burnley's play with a selection of players taking turns to cut danger-man Adel Taarabt down to size - something they achieved to great effect.
That said a pulsating and open affair made for interesting viewing, with both sides having opportunities to win the clash - notably Kaspars Gorkss for the visiting side.
Nevertheless Rangers remain at the summit and can look forward to home comfort next weekend, while their nearest rivals will have their credentials tested on the road.
Queens Park Rangers made three changes from the defeat at Blackburn Rovers with Matt Connolly, Adel Taarabt and Tommy Smith returning at the expense of Leon Clarke, Jamie Mackie and Gary Borrowdale.
Paddy Kenny played behind a back four comprising of Bradley Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Connolly and Clint Hill - with Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry the preferred midfield partnership.
The trio in advance of that pairing consisted of Smith, Taarabt and a first league start for Petter Vaagan Moen, while Rob Hulse once again started alone in attack.
Burnley started with Lee Grant behind a back-four of Tyrone Mears, Clarke Carlisle, Michael Duff and Danny Fox - with a midfield trio of Jack Cork, Wade Elliott and Graham Alexander.
The attackers consisted of Chris Eagles on one flank, Jay Rodriguez on the other, while Chris Iwelumo would be set to pose a number of questions to the Rangers rearguard as he started in attack.
Kick Off: Burnley v Queens Park Rangers
The heavens opened prior to kick off as a deluge of rain poured over Lancashire, meaning those supporters waiting for the gates to open were left open to the elements - this evidently made for a slick playing surface and difficult conditions to adapt to.
The Rangers support was in full voice behind the goal and despite the great amount of travel involved a good number of fans populated the away section. It seemed to spur QPR into a positive opening as they attacked their recently-relegated foes from the off.
Some excellent possession play was making life difficult for the former Premier League side and a neat passing move nearly unlocked the Burnley back-line. Tommy Smith and Shaun Derry linked up well in midfield before the latter let fly from outside the area.
Behind the effort it appeared to be nestling low in the bottom right-hand corner, but a stunning save from Lee Grant denied the midfielder his first QPR goal. It was looking like early dominance from the visiting side with Burnley threatening on the break in the main.
Chris Eagles took 12 minutes to perform his customary scene from Swan Lake, as he took a tumble just outside the area with little in the way of contact. Nevertheless replacement official Mr Jones gave the set-piece in a dangerous position.
Tyrone Mears has hit some useful free-kicks in his time but the latest wasn't too spectacular as his right-footed effort was placed over the bar and Paddy Kenny was comfortable watching the effort fly high of the target.
Moments later a guilt-edge opportunity came and went as Bradley Orr was inexplicably the man on the spot. Alejandro Faurlín played a delightful clipped pass for the defender, but the former Bristol City man could only swipe a tame effort into the grateful hands of Grant.
Rangers' wide-men were looking threatening with a well-rested Smith and Vaagan Moen testing the resolve of their respective full-back. Adel Taarabt was not quite his sparkling best in the first period as Burnley kept a strong leash on the tricky Moroccan.
It was the visitng side that continued to press home their advantage with Chris Eagles and Chris Iwelumo not received their desired service. The QPR defensive unit was certainly looking more sharp and solid than in previous weeks and this was reflected in the lack of possession and opportunities for the hosts.
The aforementioned Taarabt did give a glimpse of his capabilities as he worked space before striking a deflected effort into the arms of Grant. The ex-Sheffield Wednesday man was seeing his defenders worked hard but by comparison was being rarely tested by the R's attacking unit.
Burnley started to flourish as the half wore on with key attacking talents becoming more prevalent. Indeed the industrious Jack Cork in the middle of the park was doing a useful job of stifling Rangers and creating opportunities on the break.
Jay Rodriguez is a name known to QPR supporters for his last gasp FA Cup winner two years ago and he nearly proved the difference between the two sides prior to the break. His drilled right-footed effort was flying low towards the bottom left-hand corner, but Kenny pulled off a smart save to deny the young forward.
Rangers nearly had the last laugh in the half as a deep corner from Vaagan Moen found the head of Clint Hill. Only a smart punch from Grant could deny Hill's diverted header and thanks to the Clarets stopper the two sides went in level at the break.
Half Time: Burnley 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
Warnock's men emerged from the tunnel for the second period as the Rangers support continued to urge their side on into an important second period. They picked up where they left off before the break as Taarabt started to display his vast potential.
Rob Hulse's presence was not proving as fruitful as it could have done, but he earned a free kick moments into the second period. Taarabt sent in a deep cross that missed everyone and was inches wide of nestling into the bottom right-hand corner.
Taarabt was proving more dangerous in the second period and when he was tripped in the area, and the whistle was blown, many thought an inevitable penalty would be given. Rather bizarrely the referee and his assistant somehow conspired to give a free-kick without consultation.
The resultant free-kick saw the tricky Moroccan once again fire an effort just over the left hand upright. An intriguing encounter that continued to offer opportunities and excitement, but nevertheless the clear-cut opportunities were at a minimum.
Rangers continued to hold the vast majority of the ball, but it became quickly apparent that the Clarets had zeroed in their focus on Taarabt. The playmaker took some frightful treatment at times with Graham Alexander and Tyrone Mears the main culprits.
The Clarets by comparison were starting to come out of their shell, but primarily on the counter-attack as Steven Thompson had come on to replace the disappointing Iwelumo - this was testament to the hard work of the Rangers defence throughout.
Such a counter-attacking move saw Rodriguez tear away down the right flank before reaching the by-line. His centre was diverted away by the legs of Kenny and eventually cleared away to reasonable safety.
Somehow Rangers then conspired to miss their biggest opportunity of the game thus far as Taarabt's far post centre was superbly rescued by Clint Hill and unfortunately for his defensive partner, Kaspars Gorkss unfortunately clipped his effort over the bar from point-blank range.
With ten minutes remaining Rangers lost the influential Alejandro Faurlín with what is seemingly a bad thigh injury. Time will tell on how long he will be sidelined but he did manage to hobble from the field - being replaced by Leon Clarke, Rob Hulse was also replaced by Heidar Helguson.
Rangers continued to fare well as the game progressed to a conclusion but they lacked that final punch or killer instinct as Taarabt was withdrawn with moments remaining. Fitz Hall entering the play signalled Rangers' late intentions as they earned a useful point at Turf Moor.
Full Time: Burnley 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
Lee Grant, Graham Alexander (David Edgar 86), Daniel Fox, Michael Duff, Clarke Carlisle, Jack Cork, Chris Iwelumo (Steven Thompson 68), Wade Elliott, Tyrone Mears, Jay Rodriguez, Chris Eagles.
Paddy Kenny, Bradley Orr, Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Adel Taarabt (Fitz Hall 90), Alejandro Faurlín (Leon Clarke 81), Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly, Rob Hulse (Heidar Helguson 81), Tommy Smith, Petter Vaagan Moen.
Petter Vaagan Moen:
I think that Petter, as expected by Neil Warnock, has taken to English football like a duck to water, and no real time to bed in is honestly required.
His set pieces are a useful part of Rangers' play, but it proved a tad frustrating as Adel Taarabt frittered a lot of set-pieces away.
There was a great deal of hard work and application to help Clint Hill and this could prove to be a very shrewd signing come the final reckoning.