Queens Park Rangers played well enough to win against West Brom, but only managed a draw in a match that left them sharing points with a side they pushed around and should've taken more from. Credit West Bromwich Albion for fighting back and earning a draw - fault QPR for not sealing a victory they had plenty of opportunities to take.
After Heidar Helguson notched his sixth goal to put his side 1-0 up, there were at least three chances to score goals that should have made this a very comfortable fixture. Instead some missed moments left the door open for West Brom to come back in, which they did to draw level and nearly snatch a win if not for two fine injury-time saves from replacement keeper Radek Cerny.
Neil Warnock's wrath wasn't saved for the dressing room as he chastised his players and the referee as they headed in, the passion boiling over after a day that ran with so much promise and ended with such bitter leftovers. It helps to take some perspective - the R's still earned a point - but it was impossible to watch this match and not feel that so much more was deserved.
Following a tame beginning to the match, the R's began to move the ball well, leading to a fine run from Jamie Mackie to threaten West Brom's defenders in the 20th minute on the right flank. His effort was defended but only cleared as far as Barton, who curled a perfect pass over to an unguarded Helguson, who headed it back the other way for a goal to put his side in the lead. The veteran striker continues his run of excellent form; finding ways to be in the right place at the right time. He's not a dazzling dribbler or a speedy danger man - but he's top quality when it comes to reliable, hard working attackers.
Shaun Wright-Philips continued his good form, and delivered an early moment that would come back to haunt the Hoops. After dribbling around a defender and dumping off to Traore, Wright-Philips made a great run, latching on to a through pass from Faurlin, moving around another defender and firing a fantastic strike into the corner that keeper Ben Foster had no chance of stopping. The roar of a two-nil celebration died down as the linesman's flag went up. On the TV replay he looked even with the last man, and the referee relied on his assistant in a call that was dead wrong. Sometimes those are the breaks, and it’s a shame for SWP, who works so hard every game. Nonetheless, this setback shouldn't have been the moment that defined the match, but it's one fans will be coming back to when they look at the even score line Monday morning.
Overall West Brom didn't ask many questions of the QPR defence, and much of the first half dragged on with relatively uninspired football, as the R's held their lead and took their time. Radek Cerny was tested a few times, and despite the lingering nerves of the home fans about his readiness, played well. He denied the best that Thomas and Morrison could throw at him in the first half, and would later make some dynamite saves in stoppage time at the end of the game to keep things even. The Baggie's best chance came off a McAuley header that went wide, but they presented little by way of sustained attacks. Radek won't make any highlight reels this week, but was competent between the sticks and that was enough today.
Joey Barton returned to the team after missing the game at Norwich City, and had one of his best performances for QPR. He fed some great passes, including the set up to Helguson's goal, and worked box-to-box to stop Brom getting up field in concert with the always dependable Ale Faurlin. Barton was also in prime location on two goal attempts but was unable to finish either in the second half. On the first he broke up the center, dropping a pass off to Helguson who one-timed it back to him to put him one on one with the keeper. He took the shot from twenty yards but clipped it wide. A few moments later he was in position again on a quick run when he found himself in possession, but couldn't do anything with it. There were other moments in the match where the satisfaction of a goal just eluded the Hoops; an error by Foster as he tried to beat Traore to a ball, which was centred to Wright-Philips who flubbed the golden opportunity; or a sloppy series of exchanges by the West Brom defenders in their own penalty area that narrowly missed every QPR boot. At times the visitors put on a horrific defending display, the kind of thing you'd show kids so they know what to never do. The only thing wrong with it was the R's failure to punish them for their carelessness, which they would later come to rue.
Despite how well they played, QPR left the door open a crack, and eventually West Brom kicked it in. Peter Odemwingie broke up the left side, crossing a shot that was deflected to a waiting Shane Long who tapped in the easy finish. It was a late goal and a poor one to concede, almost karmic retribution for QPR's missed chances earlier in the match. Incensed by their goal, Albion kept pressing, delivering efforts that Cerny dealt with to keep the R's going. West Brom's shortcomings; not the least of which was a lack of traffic into the box to receive crosses, helped the R's from being overrun at the last. The Londoners made a spirited attempt at the end, but their best chance fell flat. After gaining space in the box, Shaun Wright-Philips cut back to set up a closing Akos Buszaky, who pushed his shot well wide.
The spectre of Adel Taarabt hung over the final match line; he returned to the stadium as a substitute, but went unused after the game was level. It seemed like the perfect script for redemption, after not attending the Norwich game and being called out by Warnock for looking ahead to his next payday this week, here was the moment for our superstar to come on and secure these three points. Instead, he remained on the bench, only a threat to pick up splinters. Jason Puncheon was also left unused - he's barely featured this season despite the hubub around his last minute arrival on transfer day. He deserves to get some appearances soon or he may be heading back to Southampton after an inauspicious spell at Loftus Road.
After the match, there was a mix of disappointment and anger at the result, and you'd have thought QPR lost to hear fans tell it. It certainly was a letdown, considering how well they played and how many chances they had to be free and clear in this one. The point is good - but certainly less than what they had earned. Wright-Philips' goal still looks on-side, and any of the other great moments could have put this one away. The R's need to take advantage of these games, because the likes of Liverpool and Man United won't be so forgiving. The most encouraging thing going into those fixtures is that the team is playing good football at the moment, and sits at eleventh in the Premier League table. But if they want to keep it that way, they'll have to do better than this performance.