Queens Park Rangers turned in their best performance of the season on Monday night, but were unable to break the deadlock against Newcastle United at Loftus Road.
Spurred by the arrival of five new faces in the starting line-up, the R's produced their most energetic outing so far, raising the tempo of their playing style and giving a glimpse of good things to come for the club. Shaun Wright-Philips' debut was a riot of fast breaks and clever footwork, flashing his blue and white hoops around heavy footed wing backs and troubling the visitors throughout the match.
Despite numerous chances and a near constant onslaught against their opponents, QPR could not break through to score. In the end they left two points on the pitch with some bad luck, but showed a skill level and tenacity that puts them in good stead heading on into the season.
The park was jumping and the spotlight of a primetime game only added to the energy, but the players seemed to feed off it rather than shrink away, and despite the outcome they raised their level of play. New owner Tony Fernandes tweeted before the game: "Unbelievable buzz at QPR. Just watching from the outside. Great feeling nervous as hell. Players look ready." He was right, and the build up inside crescendoed with the return of beloved - and dismissed by prior management - mascot Jude the Cat. Something about the sight of the old furball returning seemed to electrify the crowd and cement the idea that indeed, the good days are back for QPR.
Adel Taarabt brought his skill boots to W12, turning in a classic performance full of his theatrical footwork and using the new talent around him to move the ball and create opportunities. The pairing of him in the centre and SWP up front along with Bothroyd is exciting, bringing speed and dribbling skill.
Leon Best delivered Newcastle's finest opportunity in the first half, driving in on goal and forcing a terrific save from Paddy Kenny, who was mostly a bystander. His attempt was one of the few bright spots in a first half dominated by QPR possession but Kenny did not disappoint, robbing him and continuing his steady performances between the sticks.
Overall the defence played an outstanding game, denying the Magpies opportunities again and again, and limiting them to eight shots, only one of which even found the mark. The revamped back line was once again led by the performance of Danny Gabbidon, who continued his role as a disruptor. Luke Young and Armand Traore both had good debuts, getting involved at both ends of the pitch. Young had a few good runs in the second half to carry attacks in, and showed his experience getting back and breaking up the Newcastle responses as well. The defenders played a strong game and worked in concert with the midfielders to control the ball and press upfield. Rangers had good news post game following Traore's late exit - his limping off the pitch was only the result of cramping and he should be back for the next game.
One of the more interesting features of the game was the formation shift, which saw the midfield moved into a 4-3-3, versus the 4-5-1 and 4-2-3-1 the R's sported the last two games. With the personnel on board, this tactic worked well, freeing the wingers to spring to life and spreading the defensive midfield around. Aided by the lacklustre opponent’s effort, the R's pressed the ball whenever it came to a black shirt, making Newcastle work for every inch of ground. The passing and vision was much improved from the Wigan game, and the overall style of play was more measured, deliberate and professional. They will never be world beaters, but when the R's are on their game they are starting to look as competitive as many of the teams in the league.
Of course, now that he's here, no match report is complete without mention of Joey Barton's performance. Handed the captain's armband before the game, Barton did not disappoint. He did his typical terrier like work, chasing down balls and being the nuisance he's meant to be. Early on he provided a few cracks at goal but as the game went on he focused on denying the enemy any rest or patience in his area. Despite the anticipation that some kind of on-pitch dust-up would occur with him facing off against his old club, no hint of scandal entered the match. After all, it was never his teammates Barton was griping about. He showed class post game, giving a salute to the Newcastle fans who'd travelled down to support the club. His transfer seemed a bittersweet exit for him but I think this put a bit of a wrapping on that affair.
The most surprising performance for QPR tonight was from Ali Faurlin, who stood out amongst what was supposed to be the better talent around him in midfield. He was quite aggressive and successfully so, feeding SWP some great through-passes and playing both sides of the ball fiercely from whistle to whistle. In the same way that the improved club may raise Taarabt's play, it seemed that Faurlin too benefited from the skill around him and worked hard to match quality for quality. This is all for the good and I hope to see him continue to develop in the starting eleven.
Man of the Match for QPR has to be Shaun Wright-Philips. Throughout the night he was a few steps faster than anyone on the pitch and worked relentlessly to bring the fight to the other side. He created chances and kept working, never quite making it happen but with performances like this, the goals will come. Late in the game he had a fantastic run, dribbling between two defenders, attacking two more and driving a hard shot at Krul that curled wide right at the last moment. It looked like a highlight reel strike in the making and showed him as a fearless attacker. While three points would have been better, his performance and that of the team as a whole were uplifting and hopefully spell bright futures for the R's and their supporters.
Follow ESPNsoccernet's Football Correspondents on Twitter