Stalemate In W12
QUEENS Park Rangers stumbled to the summit of the SkyBet Championship after a less than inspiring home stalemate with Brighton & Hove Albion.
Chances were at a premium throughout a nervy encounter that saw the Seagulls and Rangers fighting a war of attrition at times in a keenly-contested affair.
A fifth consecutive clean sheet will help gloss over Rangers attacking shortcomings as the organised Albion set about their task in an efficient manner under boss Oscar Garcia.
Two goals conceded all season for the hosts who end an anti-climactic evening at the top of the tree in the second tier, and will look to build on their lead at Yeovil this weekend.
Harry Redknapp made three changes from the side that scraped home against Birmingham City at the weekend. The injured Junior Hoilett and Bobby Zamora were joined Tom Carroll in the exodus, replaced by Shaun Wright-Phillips, Matt Phillips and Karl Henry.
Rob Green started behind a defence of Danny Simpson, Nedum Onuoha, Richard Dunne and Clint Hill. Henry started with Gary O'Neil and Joey Barton in the middle, with Phillips and Wright-Phillips playing off lone forward Charlie Austin.
Brighton started with Tomas Kuszczak behind a defence of Inigo Calderon, Gordon Greer, Matthew Upson and Stephen Ward. The trio in the middle consisted of Jake Forster-Caskey, Andrew Crofts and Keith Andrews, with Craig Conway and David Lopez playing off Ashley Barnes.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
Hot off the heels of Blackpool and Nottingham Forest dropping points, Rangers knew that in avoiding defeat, they would sit atop of the Championship. In Brighton they faced a resurgent side, bouncing back to win and draw in equal measure after losing their opening two.
Rangers had a depleted front-line led by Charlie Austin, a forward short on goals but looking to build on his first against Birmingham City at the weekend. Shaun Wright-Phillips nearly found the former Burnley front-man as the slick surface saw the ball skip away.
Keith Andrews chanced his arm from distance but cleared the bar as Rangers put together a fine flowing move that culminated in a disallowed goal. Phillips was enterprising, his ball to Wright-Phillips was intelligent, the latter squared for Barton who passed home with ease.
Unfortunately for Rangers, Wright-Phillips had strayed offside, but it was a small inkling, a glimmer of light in an otherwise drab opening period. Another useful chance came on the 20 minute mark with Barton again at the heart of the action.
His deep corner found Nedum Onuoha deep at the far post, his knock-back couldn't get a touch from Phillips as Kuszczak gathered at his post. A let off for Brighton who were having to withstand the majority of the pressure in the opening stanza.
Then disaster struck for the hosts. Chasing a hopeful long ball and vying for possession with Ashley Barnes, Onuoha pulled up - incredibly still winning the foot race with the forward before knocking the ball out of play. He held his calf and hamstring and was withdrawn.
It gave rise to a debut for Cameroon full-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The defender on loan from Tottenham Hotspur took up the left-back berth with Clint Hill moving alongside Richard Dunne at the heart of the Rangers rearguard.
A glaring miss followed for Austin moments later, when the aforementioned Assou-Ekotto broke down the left and delivered a first time, low cross into the area. It was dummied by Wright-Phillips into the path of the forward who turned his marker in the six-yard box, but rather snatched at the effort with all the clumsiness of a central defender, thrashing wide from close range.
David Lopez chanced his arm after a corner broke down for a rare Brighton effort. His shot fairly fizzed past the left-hand upright, much to the relief of the home support. By and large the home defence had been solid, but there was the potential there for the visitors.
The referee had started to see his performance fall apart at the seams. Joey Barton saw himself in the book for very little indeed. There had certainly been more worthy yellow cards to date, but even then with very few challenges in the game, it was surprising that the midfielder was so freely booked.
Clint Hill had to drag the midfielder away from the referee as his reaction was seemingly close to him earning a second card and ultimately an early bath.
Austin would have his head in his hands once more when he fluffed his lines from a matter of yards out unchallenged after some neat passing play. The linesman then bizarrely put his flag up after the incident had been long completed, giving possibly one of the most delayed offside decisions in history - had Austin scored, all hell would have broken loose.
He nearly made amends when he latched onto another good Barton set-piece to nod goal-bound. Kuszczak met the effort head on, saving ably with both hands to push the ball away to safety.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-0 BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
Rangers started to turn the screw after the break. Defence now holding firm, the attack started to assert itself on proceedings more. And but for some poor decision making, Rangers could have carved out chances of note.
Phillips was proving a frustration down the left, reminding fans of a frustrating former number 7 now plying his trade in Putney. His runs were powerful, but his end product was negligible, more often than not making the wrong decision or eliciting a weak pass, relinquishing possession.
You had to feel for the two forwards. Austin was getting battered by two experienced defenders in Green and Upson, while Barnes chased around for scraps at the other end but Hill and Dunne were a domineering presence in the back line and proving supremely effective in snuffing out any inkling of a counter-attack.
Barton was looking to go one closer from a set-piece he saw come back off the upright at the weekend. He forced Kuszczak into a fine save high to his left, and he parried away the dead ball and maintained parity between the two sides, Rangers most certainly having the better of the half.
Forster-Caskey chanced his arm from distance but failed to test Green, as the hosts continued to press. Rangers nearly had the ball in the net again when a Barton set-piece found Hill. Somehow it wormed its way past the previously faultless Kuszczak and was hacked away off the line.
Another useful Barton set-piece was deflected wide before carnage ensued. Assou-Ekotto put in a late challenge on Calderon, bizarrely the referee gave nothing. Seconds later a revenge challenge was chucked in on O'Neil, another blatant foul, albeit a retaliation of the original incident.
The fact that the referee was waving play on while two players lie on the turf in undoubted pain rather displayed what a farcical situation he had produced. Calderon got his revenge on a Rangers player moments later and was duly booked, highlighting against the bizarre situation created by an inexperienced official.
Redknapp gambled by throwing on Jermaine Jenas in place of the stable Henry. Phillips was withdrawn with Armand Traoré coming on in a left-wing berth. Bruno Saltor came on for the injured Stephen Ward while giant Rohan Ince replaced Forster-Caskey.
Rangers would have the final say in the encounter when another excellent Barton set-piece found Richard Dunne, who beat Kuszczak to the ball but also cleared the bar by a great distance.
Positive signs for Rangers, certainly in defence, but attacking-wise they were lacking. Nevertheless they end the evening at the top of the pile and will look to build against Yeovil Town this weekend.
FINAL WHISTLE: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-0 BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
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