Terrific Taarbs Inspires QPR
AN ADEL Taarabt inspired Queens Park Rangers secured a point at the Liberty Stadium after a sterling second half display.
Swansea City were typically confident in possession, maintaining their possession of the ball in the safer areas of the pitch before Danny Graham stroke home a well taken opener.
There were some questions raised over a potential handball by the former Watford front-man but naivety in defence rather set the tone for a difficult opening period.
Cast this against the backdrop of a second half, Rangers rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to do battle - Jamie Mackie sliding home past Michel Vorm for the deserved leveller.
Rangers pressed with greater urgency and their combative nature lent itself to a greater period of dominance, with Taarabt the lynch-pin at the heart of the attacking threat.
Nevertheless the spoils were shared in a genuine game of two halves as Neil Warnock must now contemplate pitting his wits against Arsene Wenger's Arsenal.
Neil Warnock made three changes to the side that were defeated against Sunderland despite a useful comeback - Clint Hill and Fitz Hall would be the new central defensive pairing while Adel Taarabt came in for Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Paddy Kenny started behind a back four of Luke Young, Hall, Hill and Armand Traoré with Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry in the middle of the park. Joey Barton, Adel Taarabt and Jamie Mackie started in advance of the pairing with Heidar Helguson the lone forward.
Swansea started with Michel Vorm behind a defence of Angel Rangel, Ashley Williams, Steven Caulker and Ashley Richards. The midfield trio comprised of Leon Britton, Joe Allen and Kemy Agustien, with Scott Sinclair and Wayne Routledge flanking Danny Graham.
KICK OFF: SWANSEA CITY v QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The Liberty Stadium has been a harsh mistress to Queens Park Rangers given their form in South Wales since the stadium's inception. A defeat and two draws with no goals scored for the visiting side who would be hoping for better luck.
In Swansea City they met a side with a formidable home record - only two goals conceded at the Liberty this campaign as a settled back four was looking to build on this fine statistic in this televised clash.
The pre-match build up rather bizarrely flitted from 80s rave to someone's 90s megamix cassette, but should that have any indication on the Swans home form it could be an idea to get '2 Unlimited' blaring out the tannoy in W12.
The two sides took to the field with Rangers coming out of the traps as the side with the bit between their teeth. Evidently the hosts held more of the ball but the fight and intention showed by the visiting side dwarfed that in recent clashes.
Jamie Mackie was quickest onto a Heidar Helguson knock-down early in to draw an excellent point blank range save from the inspired Michel Vorm - the Dutchman has drawn the plaudits in recent games for his fine early season form.
While Swansea continued to purport their brand of passing football - albeit in their own half - they failed to truly hurt a newly-constructed QPR back-line - that was until a helping hand saw them take the advantage at the Liberty Stadium.
Former Rangers wide-man Wayne Routledge was getting scant opportunities out of Traoré and the hard-working Mackie but when his speculative cross was swung in from the right for Danny Graham
to control with his arm.
The referee waved away protests before the striker managed to muscle his way through a ponderous defence before slamming beyond Paddy Kenny and into the bottom left hand corner - a delightful finish that was tinged with an air of controversy.
GOAL: SWANSEA CITY 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Despite their positive early showing Rangers were starting to wilt under some home pressure - roared on by a boisterous home crowd at the Liberty. Under pressure there some fortuitous defending as the visiting side clung on to the slender disadvantage.
In Taarabt however Rangers had a genuine game changer. An element missing from their recent tests, Taarabt tantalised and earned a free-kick before displaying the presence of mind to roll across the target for Barton.
The midfielder stepped ominously towards the ball before unleashing an excellent effort goal-bound. The ball fairly flew towards the target before Vorm stuck out an arm to send the ball behind for a corner - a glimpse of Rangers' attacking capabilities.
While the possession remained with the hosts, both sides continued to trade blows in front of goal. Graham once again managed to muscle through a makeshift central defensive partnership before drawing a save low down to the right by Paddy Kenny.
It was positive stuff from Queens Park Rangers that could only look to a lapse in judgement and concentration for the reason they were not still level in the encounter - the other weakness in their game came to the fore moments later.
Taarabt once again showed irresistible skill down the right before rolling to Luke Young on the by-line. The latter clipped his cross delightfully to the far post only for Clint Hill to nod harmlessly wide for the visiting side.
Agonising for Rangers whose profligacy would take centre stage once more. Barton was getting a better foot-hold of proceedings and his clipped ball from the right found top scorer Helguson - the Icelandic international could only loop over the bar.
QPR were looking a lot better value for a potential point, but could merely point to the simplicities of the game as their main downfall. Lapses in defence combined with an inability to convert chances - despite a positive performance - would have to be addressed at half time.
HALF TIME: SWANSEA CITY 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Half time at The Liberty saw the mood across the stand as fairly much consistent - a better
performance tinged with the simple errors that continue to blight the team - Swansea could now afford to relax and play their natural possession game.
It would be fair to say that while many expected Neil Warnock to motivate his team, not many would have anticipated the immediate response put forward by the visiting side - a genuinely positive start from QPR.
The visitors discovered a passionate, nasty streak and gave Swansea little room in which to play their ball retention game. The 4-4-2 formation was at the heart of this with Barton moving wide and Taarabt sitting in a free role behind Helguson.
Traoré was finding more space down the left against Rangel and his cross narrowly evaded Helguson thanks to a clearance from Williams. Any pressure Swansea exercised was duly broken down with a clearance from Hill setting up another counter-attack.
Taarabt was now enjoying his role behind the front-man and his notable strength and skill was complimented with a wisdom that belied his years and previous reputation - here was a blossoming footballer at the height of motivation.
His speculative drive from distance was reminiscent of his better spell in the Championship last term and a signal that he was out to torment the Swans like he did on Boxing Day last season.
Ale Faurlín had a useful drive drop inches over the bar on the 50-minute mark as Rangers started to dominate a second period that was by now making a mockery of the score-line - in riposte Swansea could only muster a wayward Routledge effort, his final of the game.
He was then withdrawn at the expense of Nathan Dyer, with another tactical shift from Brendan Rodgers seeing Luke Moore partnering Danny Graham up front with Kemy Agustien dropping into right back at the expense of Rangel.
It was the opposite of midas touch as Rangers duly equalised just moments later. A high ball from Kenny was clipped over the top via the aid of a Leon Britton deflection. Jamie Mackie
did the rest.
He surged towards Williams, who was certainly favourite for the ball - the forward leapt like a salmon to chest down and place neatly through the legs of the onrushing Vorm - a just end result for a fine period of pressure.
GOAL: SWANSEA CITY 1-1 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Mackie was a man possessed, his second in two truly marked his full return to first team action as he was now in the mood for more goals. He beat two men in the area before drawing a save from Vorm.
It was by now proving a feisty affair with the home fans vociferous in the backing of their players. Rangers continued nipping in and taking possession when the Swans midfield were given significantly less time to control their passing.
As a consequence Rangers deployed men on the short pass from the goalkeeper and forced the home side to go long - much to their disadvantage as Graham started to get some good tackles from messrs Hall and Hill.
Swansea appealed for a penalty kick with little over 15 minutes remaining - Graham appeared to be brought down by Armand Traoré and with the crowd baying for blood the referee held firm and waved away appeals.
It didn't go down well with the home faithful but one must wonder whether Graham's evident first half handball had a part to play in his decision making in this instance - one would like to hope not.
Whatever the outcome of this decision - Rangers seemed unfazed. Barton went in strong on Richards, who rather disappointingly stayed down following the challenge, despite not suffering any long-term ill-effects just minutes later - certainly a caution however.
The game teetered on the brink, while Rangers dominated you could not discount the possibility of a home goal to once again break the hearts of the Rangers' faithful. One moment nearly separated the two sides just moments later.
Neat interplay from Faurlín and Taarabt saw the latter unleash a curling drive that was expertly tipped away by the over-worked Vorm - a save to truly save the encounter which looked for all the world to only be going one way.
The two sides were evidently struggling to keep up with the breakneck speed of the fixture and the fixture was played out in a passenger-like fashion in stark contrast to the prior 80-odd minutes that went previously.
The two sides looked visibly exhausted as they left the field - no question that the players had given their all, notably QPR given their second half display. Now they look to the Arsenal fixture and a similar brand of football to attempt to overcome.
FINAL WHISTLE: SWANSEA CITY 1-1 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Michel Vorm, Ashley Williams, Steven Caulker, Leon Britton, Danny Graham, Scott Sinclair, Wayne Routledge (Nathan Dyer 57), Angel Rangel (Luke Moore 57) Joe Allen, Kemy Agustien, Ashley Richards.
Paddy Kenny, Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Fitz Hall, Adel Taarabt, Alejandro Faurlin, Jamie Mackie, Armand Traore, Joey Barton, Luke Young, Heidar Helguson.
The Moroccan marvel tantalised with his customary bag of trigs but complimented this with a great work ethic and surprising strength in possession.
A stunning comeback from the midfielder who will now undoubtedly relish a trip to the Emirates Stadium on New Years Eve.