QPR Held By Fighting Forest
QUEENS Park Rangers and Nottingham Forest played out an entertaining draw at Loftus Road, that despite the visitors being down to ten men for the majority of the game.
The lead at the top was nevertheless extended to six points as Tommy Smith's stunning first half opener was cancelled out by a fortuitous David McGoldrick deflected effort.
These incidents sandwiched the game's major talking point as Radoslaw Majewski's over-zealous challenge on Adel Taarabt earned him an early bath.
Nevertheless Forest were at their resilient best and proved why they are the Championship's form side and Rangers' most potent threat in the run-in.
Their defending was stout and their attacking outlets were plentiful, commendable considering the numerical disadvantage offered to them by the petulance of Majewski.
Both managers will be contented with the overall result considering the number of permutations on offer in an open encounter, but the game that offered fireworks ended up with a relative whimper.
Neil Warnock made one enforced change from the battling victory over Reading, with the suspended Hogan Ephraim making way for Tommy Smith's return.
Paddy Kenny therefore started behind a back four of Bradley Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly and Clint Hill with Alejandro Faurlín partnering Shaun Derry in the middle.
Wayne Routledge, Adel Taarabt and the aforementioned Smith started behind lone forward Rob Hulse, who kept his place in the side ahead of Ishmael Miller.
Forest started with ex-R's 'keeper Lee Camp in goal behind a back-line of Chris Gunter, Luke Chambers, Wes Morgan and Liverpool loanee Paul Konchesky.
Paul McKenna, Chris Cohen and Lewis McGugan teamed up in the middle with Radoslaw Majewski and David McGoldrick playing off in-form forward Marcus Tudgay.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Nottingham Forest
This was being billed as one of the more important fixtures of the season thus far. While it was no different to any other in terms of reward, the psychological advantage of a victory either way would certainly have an effect on the forthcoming months.
A bumper crowd and a level of excitement had started to reverberate around W12 with two of the division's stronger line-ups going head to head in this eagerly anticipated clash. Bitter conditions greeted the players but the tension was palpable as the atmosphere grew.
Forest came flying out of the blocks and nearly had Rangers on the back foot within 15 seconds. Nice interplay saw Marcus Tudgay roll his marker and strike an effort back off the right hand upright. Fortunately for the hosts he was deemed in an offside position.
More teasing creativity and purposeful play saw the Reds pile on the early pressure and certainly test the Rangers rearguard with a succession of testing crosses. Rangers were struggling to settle and a speculative Adel Taarabt free-kick was all they had to offer in the opening exchange.
After the ten minute mark the hosts started to assert some impetus after a Taarabt cross narrowly evaded Rob Hulse. The ball fell to Alejandro Faurlín and the Argentinean's effort deflected off Wayne Routledge to fly wide of the right hand upright.
A searching Routledge pass narrowly evaded the clever run of Taarabt moments later, but there was a sense that the tide was turning for the hosts who had to withstand a heavy period of early pressure from the visiting side.
A Taarabt free-kick then nearly made its way through everyone as the flighted pass was glanced into the grateful arms of Camp. There was nothing he could do about an eventual Rangers goal which was crafted from pure inspiration.
Excellent work from Hulse with his back to goal found Tommy Smith
. The industrious wide-man cut inside from the right flank before sending a curling left-footed drive beyond the desperate dive of Lee Camp.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Nottingham Forest
It was a goal that truly belied the early exchanges as Smith soared beyond his markers to engineer a goal of genuine class. Forest came straight back and looked to attack the core of the Rangers line-up, a defensive unit that is evidently lacking in confidence.
On occasions the ball seemed to stick to the visitors' feet as they looked to battle through the Rangers' back-line. Both teams sought to punish predominantly on the counter-attack and Rangers nearly doubled their advantage through such a move.
Faurlín was first to capitalise on a broken-down Cohen free-kick, as he received the ball in the middle of the park with acres of space ahead of him. Routledge gave him an option to the left but the Argentine went for goal and saw his effort deflected away by the sizeable Morgan.
Then came the fixture's key talking point. Radoslaw Majewski flew into a challenge with Taarabt with his studs showing. There was little hesitation from select list official Mark Clattenberg in handing the Pole a straight red card.
Just when Rangers appeared to be on the front-foot they were hit with a sucker-punch from a free kick. McGugan's ambitious drive from distance skipped up fortuitously off David McGoldrick
and despite knowing little about it, it wrong-footed Kenny and rolled into the bottom right-hand corner.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Nottingham Forest
Rangers continued to press despite the set-back and Chambers was unlucky not be carded for another unforgiving challenge on Taarabt. Forest nearly edged ahead once more in what was proving a pulsating encounter.
Tudgay and McGoldrick combined well for Paul McKenna to race away down the right. Not a forward player by trade, the former Preston North End man curled an effort wide of the left-hand post. McKenna himself was the man charged with marshalling Taarabt.
Another ambitious drive, this time from the Moroccan nearly caught Forest off guard. His creativity earned some space through the middle before firing a flicked effort with the outside of his right boot narrowly wide of the left-hand upright.
Rangers were reducing their opponents to pot shots from distance but nevertheless were unable to make the most of their numerical advantage. A disappointing end to the half ensued however with goalscorer Smith forced to hobble off with what seemed a hamstring complaint.
An entertaining first period that promised much for a lively second half. Mr Clattenberg blew the half time whistle as the sides sought to re-group for what would no doubt be an important but testing second period.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Nottingham Forest
Both sides made changes at the break with Ishmael Miller replacing the injured Smith while Forest went a tad more defensive minded with Joel Lynch entering the play in place of in-form striker Marcus Tudgay.
As one would expect, QPR were applying the majority of early pressure - but the pressure placed on them by the Forest defence was proving effective at times. Indeed Taarabt's ill-advised swipe at Morgan earned him a place in the book.
Faurlín's effort from distance flew narrowly wide with the pressure subsiding at the crucial moment for the home side. Miller was looking lively down both flanks but the end product was distinctly lacking owing to the useful defending of the visiting side.
In truth Rangers were doing little with their dominance in possession and Forest introduced the pace of Paul Anderson in place of the hard-working McGugan in a bid to catch Rangers on the break. No question that frustration was mounting for QPR who were struggling to assert their dominance.
Miller broke free of Konchesky and Lynch once more before his cross was manfully tuned behind by Chambers - a stalwart in the Forest back-line. The man handling of Routledge on the edge of the area was unfortunate not to see QPR have a spot-kick, Mr Clattenberg waving away appeals from the hosts.
Routledge was travelling at pace before Gunter halted his run with an ill-advised arm across the fleet-footed wide-man. With no punishment for simulation it begs the question what, if anything, the referee saw of the incident.
Rangers re-shaped the back-four with Pascal Chimbonda coming on for his debut in place of Kaspars Gorkss. Clint Hill moved across with the substitute slotting in at left-back. This came as Forest refreshed their attack with Nathan Tyson replacing the goalscorer McGoldrick.
Food for thought indeed for the QPR back-line with the reinvigorated Tyson looking to play on the shoulder on what has proven to be a labouring defence at times not only in this encounter but going back for several weeks.
Hulse incredibly managed to fluff his lines shortly ten minutes before the end when a cross found his chest perfectly, only for the front-man to miss-control as if to suggest he wasn't expecting the ball to get so far.
A bizarre collision between Faurlín and Routledge spelled the end of the former's afternoon, being replaced by the Norwegian international Petter Vaagan Moen. He stepped up to take a free-kick with his first touch, but the deflected effort went awry.
Forest's battling credentials were truly being tested, but to date they were displaying some resilient, stout defensive work as they evidently grew weary in fitness but growing in spirit. It spilled over at times as Tyson bundled into Kenny to earn himself a deserved yellow card.
The better side of his game was in evidence moments later however as he soared away from his markers down the left before striking into the side netting of the left-hand post. Genuine potential was in the offing for Forest on the break as QPR's attacks continued to break down.
Both sides were growing weary after a gruelling battle at the summit of the Championship, but Rangers had one final chance to display to the masses why they are top. An excellent burst and cross from Routledge was nodded wide by Vaagan Moen - arguably a fantastic opportunity going awry once more.
Forest by now had lost their interest in attacking the R's and there was space for the defenders to play the ball out direct to Hulse - someone they had looked to as the key outlet for the majority of a disappointing second period.
It wasn't to prove fruitful however as Nottingham Forest could take great heart from their hard-fought battling and Rangers were left with a sinking feeling despite what could also prove to be a vital point come the end of the campaign.
An entertaining first half wasn't matched by a second half blighted with missed opportunities and unsurprisingly uninventive play from Forest - but who could blame them in their predicament? Rangers dodged the bullet at Reading but must now lick their wounds and look forward to facing basement side Preston North End next weekend.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Nottingham Forest
Paddy Kenny, Bradley Orr, Kaspars Gorkss (Pascal Chimbonda 74), Matt Connolly, Clint Hill, Alejandro Faurlín (Petter Vaagan Moen 79), Shaun Derry, Wayne Routledge, Adel Taarabt, Tommy Smith (Ishmael Miller 46), Rob Hulse.
Lee Camp, Chris Gunter, Wes Morgan, Luke Chambers, Paul Konchesky, Paul McKenna, Lewis McGugan (Paul Anderson 68), Chris Cohen, Radoslaw Majewski (Sent Off 23), David McGoldrick (Nathan Tyson 74), Marcus Tudgay (Joel Lynch 46).
The Argentinean midfielder did another consistent job in the heart of midfield and his array of passing was once again a distinct positive.
His battling and pressure in midfield helped QPR retain a wealth of possession and he was unfortunate not to end up on the scoresheet on the day.