Matt'll Do Nicely......
The R's looked to bounce back following three difficult away trips and two long northern trips in four days with only two points to show for their efforts.
The game saw Steve McClaren return to Loftus Road for the first time since his departure to his new employers Derby County.
Traffic issues on the motorway saw most of the gang arrive later than usual and it wasn't until we arrived inside the ground at the Blue and White bar that we all managed to assemble as Lofty, PK, Jenson and myself were joined by Michael, Tony and Alan as we all caught up and discussed the previous performances. We all could not understand the negativity surrounding the point earned at Wigan as the JJB is a tough place to go to and a draw was a result I would've happily taken before the game started and I still feel that it will be a valuable point come the end of the season.
There were two changes to the team that started at Wigan.
Gary O'Neil and Niko Krancjar both missed out through injury and they were replaced by Matt Phillips and the returning Joey Barton.
This saw the R's play with two natural wingers with Jermaine Jenas supporting lone striker Charlie Austin.
The first half started with both sides looking to break quickly in behind each others defence but it was the R's who were showing better ball retention and used their passing game to create space inbetween the Derby defenders and use Phillips and Hoilett's pace to expose the County full backs.
It was the hard work of Phillips down the right hand side before drilling his cross in the path of Charlie Austin who turned the ball goal wards only to see Lee Grant produce a close range save, however he was not able to hold onto the ball and Jermaine Jenas was on hand to tap the ball into the empty net from four yards out, 1-0 Rangers!
Phillips was really looking in the mood today and was giving Forsyth a torrid time down the R's right and when Phillips found Austin mid way through the first half it looked like Austin had a great opportunity to double the lead but the R's top scorer failed to hit the target.
A few minutes later Derby grabbed a controversial equaliser.
First of all the R's were penalised as Faurlin fairly won the ball only to see the ginger ref somehow award Derby a free kick in a very dangerous position.
The resulting free kick saw Ward cross towards the far post to find a fellow Derby player climb all over Charlie Austin's back, without getting penalised, and his header found Simon Dawkins who superbly volleyed past Rob Green and level the game up. Firstly it was never a free kick, secondly it was a foul on Austin but you cannot take anything away from the finish! You have to play to the whistle and Dawkins done just that.
We went into the interval happy with the performance and felt like we should have been making more of the chances that the R's were creating. Phillips and Hoilett enjoying plenty of possession in the wide areas whilst Ali Faurlin was controlling the R's midfield and really showing that he is a huge asset to Rangers' on the pitch.
At the start of the second half Danny Simpson's mistake presented Derby with a golden opportunity to take the lead but Bryson's initial shot was well saved by Green and Martin's follow up only found the side netting.
Derby were really getting in the R's faces during the second half and looked to make the game physical whilst also trying to break on the counter attack and expose the lack of pace in the centre of the R's defence.
Rangers' battled away and on the hour began to turn the screw and were rewarded for their efforts on 64 minutes.
Matt Phillips accelerated past Forsyth and the Derby defender seemingly wanting to rip Phillips' shirt off his back before the winger hit the deck on the edge of the penalty area.
Faurlin swung his free kick to the far post where Hill jumped with Buxton and the ball bundled itself over the line to give the R's the lead for the second time in the game and lifted the home crowd. For me judging by the players celebrations it was a Buxton own goal as no-one run away claiming the goal, very unfortunate for the Derby defender.
Soon after it was so nearly 3-1.
The impressive Phillips made his way down the right before cutting in and creating space for himself to crack a sweetly struck left foot effort only to see it somehow crash off the underside of the bar and bounce away to safety. It's the least that Phillips deserved for his hard work this afternoon!
We left Loftus Road the evening hoping the best for Ali Faurlin after he was stretchered off with what looks like a serious knee injury. Faurlin was given a standing ovation as he left the field by the R's faithful for what was a superb display from the fans favourite. I have to say that I'm hugely disappointed that none of the Derby fans clapped Faurlin off as he left on the stretcher, very unsporting!
The win today was extremely hard fought but deserved in my eyes.
Derby were very physical but also counter attacked very well and you can see why they are in the top half of the table and pushing for a play off spot, which I would expect to see them challenging for at the end of the season. Will Hughes looked superb for Derby and you can see why so many of the top clubs are looking to capture the youngsters signature, keeping him is key to Derby's success.
There were times today that we looked extremely good and Jenas enjoyed by far his best game for us as he played the attacking midfield role superbly and could've easily got himself on the scoresheet more than once. Jenas combined well with Barton and Faurlin as a midfield three and could quite possibly be our best trio in the centre of midfield, with the exception of Tom Carroll.
Charlie Austin also put in a massive shift today and was very unlucky not to score with the three excellent opportunities that were presented to him. Austin always gives 100% and is well worthy of his place in the starting line up, when he gets the right service like what he got from Phillips today, he will be the top scorer in this division come the end of the season.
Onto our Man of the Match.
The gang were split on the votes today as Lofty, Trevor, Sam and Luke all voted for Joey Barton's stylish performance in the centre of the R's midfield whilst Jess, PK, Jenson and myself all voted for Matt Phillips impressive performance that saw him create the opening for both of the R's goals today. With the votes being split for the second weekend running we again go to the editors choice and I maintain my Matt Phillips vote and award him as today's Man of the Match.
Lofty will return next week with another one of his always entertaining away day reports as we make the short trip down the road to the fake hoops of Reading.