Reds Canter As QPR Falter
QUEENS Park Rangers came up short at Anfield with Luis Suarez netting the decisive goal for a below-par Liverpool.
Despite their dominance in spells the Reds were proving architects of their own downfall with their profligacy in front of goal and the sublime performance of Radek Cerny thwarting their every turn.
Suarez, Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez wasted a hatful of chances for the hosts, whose supporters lie in slumber for the majority of the encounter - clearly uninspired by their side's display.
Suarez himself nodded the winner as Rangers were caught out in the opening exchange of the second period - that elusive slice of precision finishing that belied his fellow forward in the opening 45 minutes.
Rangers were looking the better team in the final quarter of the fixture with nerves chattering across Anfield given their record against the promoted clubs thus far - DJ Campbell playing the role of key tormentor in the late exchange.
It was too little too late for the visiting side, who despite their excellent fighting spirit came up short against the top four hopefuls.
Neil Warnock made changes from the side that drew at home to West Bromwich Albion with the blow that Heidar Helguson would miss out tempered by the boost that DJ Campbell would take up a place on the bench.
Radek Cerny started behind a back four of Luke Young, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon and Armand Traoré. The midfield comprised of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joey Barton, Alejandro Faurlín and Tommy Smith.
Jamie Mackie played off Jay Bothroyd in attack with the aforementioned Campbell starting from the bench with Liverpool-born Bradley Orr and Clint Hill.
Liverpool started with Pepe Reina behind his back four of Glen Johnson, Martin Skrtel, Daniel Agger and Jose Enrique. Stewart Downing starting wide right with Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam in the middle and Maxi Rodriguez wide left.
Dirk Kuyt played a role in behind the lively Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez, with the current midfield plight pressing the need for Jonjo Shelvey to be recalled from his loan spell at Blackpool.
KICK OFF: LIVERPOOL v QUEENS PARK RANGERS
One of the fixtures that many QPR supporters would have kept an eye on when the fixtures were released, a chance to once again renew old acquaintances against a side they have yet to play since 1995.
'You'll Never Walk Alone' rang around Anfield prior to kick off and the travelling army from West London contributed to an excellent pre-match atmosphere. Liverpool however came out the traps with the evident desire to break that deadlock early.
The visitors target was being peppered - initially Maxi Rodriguez saw his effort blocked before crumpling to the floor following a challenge by compatriot Alejandro Faurlín. The stoppage in play was the right tonic as the midfielder leapt back to his feet in a rather cynical fashion.
Corner after corner ensued for the hosts whose territorial dominance was evident in the early offing. Charlie Adam's persistent testing crossing was causing the Rangers defence mounting problems, the ball flashing across the target on numerous occasions.
Stewart Downing was proving difficult to manage on the right flank, despite his evident requirement to cut inside in order to create opportunities. An excellent cross gifted a chance for the unmarked Suarez who inexplicably nodded straight at the grateful Radek Cerny.
The chances continued as Suarez flashed an effort across goal, but the cynical nature of the game was being utilised by the likes of Maxi and the aforementioned Suarez was a rather disappointing and unwarranted contribution to a side that was dominated.
With that in mind, one can imagine the glee that greeted a woeful effort by the Uruguayan forward as he snatched at an opportunity in front of the visiting faithful. It was however an indictment of the state of play that all the opportunities had fallen to Liverpool.
Rangers seemed somewhat sluggish and overawed, seeing very little of the ball in the Liverpool half, prompting Warnock to shift Jamie Mackie wide to the right - initially bearing more promising fruits in both halves.
Suarez was once again in the thick of the action as his cross narrowly evaded the onrushing Maxi, before the latter broke free of a marker minutes later to draw a save of genuine class from the over-worked 37-year-old Cerny.
To say that this was one way traffic would be an understatement, Rangers would need to survive and play on the break. Shaun Wright-Phillips was finding the going tough indeed, only breaking free of his counterparts to fire high wide and handsome with a couple of minutes remaining.
Alejandro Faurlín then tried his luck from distance, but the effort drifted away harmlessly to the left - this came before the final chance of the half as Downing drew another in a string of fine saves by the R's Czech stopper.
It was one of the final actions of a first period that firmly belonged to the hosts, but there was an air of nervousness in the air that these missed opportunities could come back to haunt a profligate Liverpool.
HALF TIME: LIVERPOOL v QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Rangers left their counterparts waiting on the field, knowing that even the slightest psychological edge could prove crucial as the wasteful hosts attacked their favoured Kop End in the second period.
If it had the desire of catching the hosts cold it was wholly counter-productive as it was QPR that were guilty of a sloppy defensive error that created the opening goal of the game. Rangers twice failed to clear their lines effectively leading to the inevitable home corner.
Another Charlie Adam cross was half cleared only for the same Scottish midfielder to fire the ball back into the box and the unmarked LUIS SUAREZ
ghosted between Traoré and Young to nod past a rooted Cerny.
GOAL: LIVERPOOL 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
It was the goal that would temper the Liverpool attacking intent, would enable them to relax in possession a great deal more and dictate the tempo of the encounter at large. Not something enjoyed by the home supporters that only raised their voice to the ball retention tactics.
In essence it was a clever ploy by manager Kenny Dalglish to invite the visitors onto them before looking to finish the game on the break, but this is a calibre of tactical selection that has seen them fall foul of the division's strugglers previously.
Anton Ferdinand was hacked to the ground as Rangers attempted to break away, and was forced to withdraw with injury - the lack of punishment was the more surprising aspect of the incident as Liverpool-born Bradley Orr took up residence at right-back - Young pushing inside.
Despite the evident lull in tempo, Liverpool were proving far more likely to unlock the Rangers defence and double their lead, Kuyt surged inside from the left before unleashing an effort that faded away wide to the left.
Far from the expected talents of Wright-Phillips and Barton causing a nuisance it was the veteran Cerny that proved to be the thorn in the side of the Reds - snuffing out a one-on-one with Maxi around the hour mark before tipping an effort around the target to preserve the solitary goal advantage.
Then came a turning point, an inevitable and pivotal change in the flow of the encounter, something primarily due to the host's wastefulness and the growing confidence of the newly-promoted side.
DJ Campbell replaced the quiet Tommy Smith and prompted a shift to a two-pronged attack. Effective immediate Jamie Mackie created some space on the counter-attack before a shot forced Skrtel into a hurried sliced clearance.
Joey Barton sent in a free kick that Danny Gabbidon flicked just over the bar from outside the six yard box - another in a string of opportunities for the visitors. A fixture that saw them fleetingly contribute was by now becoming a two-horsed race once more.
Rangers were now getting into the right areas and producing set-piece creativity. Balls were moving wide and quicker to the likes of Mackie and Traoré, but Wright-Phillips was struggling to stamp his mark on the clash.
Mackie was replaced by another Liverpudlian in Clint Hill, with Wright-Phillips switching flanks and Traoré stepping forward. In riposte Liverpool threw on Craig Bellamy - a QPR transfer target in the summer - replacing the lively Maxi.
Within minutes Bellamy could have been off - a foul on Traoré was potentially worth a yellow before receiving his caution moments later for dissent at official Mr Mason, the culmination of a spell of chipping away at the referee.
It was the alamo in the final stages as QPR poured forward in search of a previously unforeseeable point. Crosses from Barton and Traoré narrowly evaded their desired targets with games of pinball causing heart attacks among the Liverpool rearguard.
Nevertheless the sides were separated by the odd goal - a fair result in the grand scheme of things as Liverpool dominated proportions of the fixture. Nevertheless the late rally will point to what could have been if Rangers have had a fully fit set-up.
FULL TIME: LIVERPOOL 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Pepe Reina, Glen Johnson, Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel, Jose Enrique, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Jordan Henderson, Maxi Rodriguez (Craig Bellamy 78), Dirk Kuyt, Luis Suarez
Radek Cerny, Danny Gabbidon, Jay Bothroyd, Alejandro Faurlin, Jamie Mackie (Clint Hill 78), Armand Traore, Joey Barton, Luke Young, Tommy Smith (DJ Campbell 66), Shaun Wright-Phillips, Anton Ferdinand (Bradley Orr 50).
The Czech keeper rolled back the years to thwart Liverpool in a succession of fine stops throughout the encounter.
He punched when required, coming from his line to clear many crosses but primarily he produced top saves when called upon.