Chelsea Limp Through
Saturday 5 January
QPR come away empty-handed from Stamford Bridge courtesy of a freak goal by Claudio Pizarro. Rangers travelled to their local rivals without being given a hope, but can hold their heads up high after a gritty, workman-like display, which kept the Blues to one goal.
Pizarro struck in the 29th minute when his speculative strike rebounded off the post and off the back of the despairing Lee Camp. A mediocre goal to grace a below par performance from the defending cup winners.
Rangers travelled to Loftus Road with several new faces at their disposal, Matthew Connolly, Fitz Hall, Gavin Mahon, Akos Buzsaky and Hogan Ephraim were all given full debuts in the West London derby. Making way were Bob Malcolm and Rowan Vine after their loans expired, Zesh Rehman and Marc Nygaard were out of the 16, whilst Adam Bolder had to make do with a place on the bench.
The Blues named a strong line-up including England duo Ashley Cole and Shaun Wright-Phillips, also starting was danger man Salomon Kalou. Scott Sinclair was also a starter as he looked to take on an unfamiliar defence for whom he was playing only a month or so ago. The bench was one to strike fear into Rangers hears, including Joe Cole, the returning Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack.
The game was a scrappy affair early on as the two sides battled for territorial advantage; it was Rangers who were edging it with some firm tackling and strength on the ball. With just over 10 minutes gone Rangers had a half chance when Ainsworth lined up to shoot from a good angle only to be denied by Steven Sidwell, Buzsaky`s wonderful dummy created the chance.
Rangers continued to press and as Gareth Ainsworth continued to get the better of Ashley Cole in the air, he created a chance when a scything ball into the box narrowly evaded the onrushing Dexter Blackstock, no more than a half chance for the striker, but nevertheless Rangers were impressing.
Chelsea then started to exert some pressure when a creative cross from England winger Shaun Wright-Phillips was narrowly missed by Kalou, and rolled past Lee Camp's right upright.
The mini spell of pressure from Chelsea yielded a goal that perhaps didn't fully tell the state of play at that moment in time. On the 29th minute a good run from lone striker Salomon Kalou, laid on a ball from Claudio Pizarro, who skipped past the challenge of the impressive Mahon, to fire a shot into Camp's right upright, the ball unluckily skipped up to hit the keeper in the back, and trickle over the line for the opener.
With a goal to satisfy the home fans, it was still the Rangers fans that continued to encourage and cajole their team loudest as Chelsea continued to press. A further chance came when Wright-Phillips again found space to hit a swerving shot inches wide of the left post, with far more space to aim into across the keeper.
Rangers crafted a chance of their own when Blackstock provided a lay-off for Akos Buzsaky who shot drifted over the bar, it was a chance that deserved a better finish, with Rangers fans left wondering how many more they would get.
The last chance of the half fell to Chelsea, and Steven Sidwell. The midfielder who hardly endeared himself to the Rangers faithful after getting Jamie Cureton sent off a few years ago whilst playing for Reading; hit a rasping low drive, which cannoned off the right post and away from onrushing attackers. An end to a low-key 45 minutes in which the cup defenders rarely got out of first gear and Rangers left ruing half chances.
Rangers made a change at half time, a tactical substitution taking off midfielder Gareth Ainsworth, and replacing him with debutante Patrick Agyemang.
Camp had to be alert from the off as Alex hit thundering 35 yard free kick straight at the R's stopper. He nudged it away from goal past the onrushing Scott Sinclair. Kalou also had a chance blocked as Chelsea began to force the issue.
Rangers were forced into a change five minutes after the restart as 'The Magical Magyar', Buzsaky had to leave the field with an ankle injury, he tried to run it off but to no avail and he was replaced by Manchester United Loanee Kieran Lee, who slotted into right midfield.
This substitution was followed by a good spell of Rangers pressure when an excellent strike by Martin Rowlands went inches over the bar. The sweetly hit effort left goalkeeper Hillario standing as Rangers fans were out of their seats in excitement. Rowlands followed this up with another excellent drive, unfortunately for the visitors it was directly at keeper Hillario, who saved with some comfort.
Claudio Pizarro then had a chance on the break, he had the ball on the right hand by-line, and selfishly decided to cut in and shoot well over when there were other options available to the Peruvian.
Rangers created yet another chance, when a routine ball over the top sent Patrick Agyemang free, he shrugged off his marker, but appeared to go too wide as his scuffed effort was well saved and held by third choice keeper Hillario.
Avram Grant made a change when he withdrew Scott Sinclair in favour of Didier Drogba, the Ivorians first action since December. Sinclair was ineffectual for large parts of the game, choosing to keep the ball a lot of the time with other options open to him, a familiar tale carried forward from his loan period with the R's.
John Mikel Obi went close from 30 yards when his excellent drive narrowly evaded Camp's left post. A good effort from the Nigerian who will add to Chelsea's squad woes as he leaves for the African Cup of Nations along with the aforementioned Drogba.
Chelsea made two further substitutions replacing Pizarro and Wright-Phillips with Ballack and Joe Cole, to change their formation to 4-3-3. Rangers in turn went more attacking bringing on Angelo Balanta for the tired Hogan Ephraim.
The game then petered out into a game of attack and counter attack. Rangers were pumping long balls to the head of Agyemang and Blackstock and throwing caution to the wind in the latter stages, but unfortunately, it wasn't enough. The impressive Mike Dean ended proceedings, and the West London derby had been settled by the odd goal.
Chelsea continue on the path to be the fifth team to defend the FA cup and Rangers bow out and remain win-less in the cup since 2001. A display, which holds promising signs for the future, and sent the Rangers 6,000 strong army home dreaming of coming back in the not too distant future.
Queens Park Rangers:
Camp, Connolly, Stewart, Hall, Barker, Ainsworth (Agyemang 45) Rowlands (c), Mahon, Ephraim (Balanta 85) Buzsaky (Lee 50) Blackstock.
To view the match stats, click here.
The creative midfielder is enjoying some sensational form of late. He crafted the best of Rangers' chances on the day, and tested keeper Hillario and a Premier League defence with numerous runs and shots. A solid display.