Queens Park Rangers salvaged a late draw at Milton Keynes Dons in the FA Cup Saturday, continuing their ugly history in the competition with a dramatic last minute goal to earn a replay.
Calling this year's Cup "special," manager Neil Warnock vowed to reverse Queens Park Rangers decade-plus futility. His team selection backed up that claim, switching to an attacking deployment with new arrival Federico Macheda and DJ Campbell out front. Despite the absence of first team regulars Paddy Kenny, Adel Taarabt and Shaun Wright-Philips among others, the R's looked poised to break their eleven year drought in the Cup.
Instead, the R's turned in a characteristically stale performance, providing uninspired football and inciting the Dons to give them a run for their money. They did just that and deserved a victory, nearly knocking off a Premier League side that looked outmatched and uninterested. The late equaliser gave the R's another chance to move forward, but they must improve if they hope to do so.
This was a special fixture for striker Jamie Mackie too, who was injured one year ago in QPR's last FA Cup defeat to Blackburn, suffering a leg break that sidelined him for the rest of the season. He didn't wait long to make his return in this fixture, blasting an early effort just over the bar after a good set-up from Tommy Smith. Aside from that moment though he fell into the morass with his team and made few headlines in the match.
Dons striker Luke Chadwick nearly put the home side up a goal early in the first half on a quick counterattack, breaking between Gabbidon and Hall to work a shot right at Radek Cerny. DJ Campbell worked well in the box to score a moment later, only to find the flag raised for offside. The contest was wide open in the early stages, and the spirited League One club were unfazed by the presence of a Premier League squad on their turf. Such is the beauty of the FA Cup, but the Dons gutsy performance was as much a statement about the QPR effort as it was about their heart. As has been the story all season, QPR vacillated between moments of steady build up to looking lost and soft, allowing MK Dons to push around and through them to threaten the goal. They struggled again with consistency, and patches of the first half looked like a training match with lacklustre pace and unimagined forward work.
The tide changed in the opening rounds of the second half as Macheda put some good work in off the left side, firing two strong crosses to set up goals in the box. One missed and the next was met at the back post by DJ Campbell but his header skittered wide, a golden opportunity wasted to take the lead and capitalise on their momentum. Macheda was QPR's best on the day, and should see more opportunities in the coming weeks as they search for someone to add a scoring threat. Unfortunately for Campbell, he saw a few balls come his way but could not convert. He's been fighting to get minutes in the starting line-up and this performance likely won't help earn him more. He came off for Heidar Helguson, who was involved right away in a goal - but for all the wrong reasons. As the Dons took possession in the R's area, Helguson took possession in the six yard box but tried to control instead of simply clearing it. His pocket was picked by Dean Bowditch, who cut the ball across goal to put his team up one nil. It was a poor mistake and a goal conceded, and with it came the whooshing sound of 7,000 sighs from the travelling Hoops fans who paid good money to watch lousy football.
As if the prospect of crashing out of the FA Cup early once again wasn't enough, the R's lost Ale Faurlin to a knee injury late in the match. He was stretchered off and if the injury is as serious as it looked, his absence will be a major blow to QPR's hopes for survival in the Premier League. He's been a rock in the central defence and a key contributor all season. Between Barton's suspension, Derry's struggles to keep up with the competition and the lack of real options on the bench, any extended period without Faurlin will be a difficult one to survive.
Just when all looked black, as QPR fans were tweeting their doom, hissing over team selections and bemoaning the existence of the FA Cup, Heidar Helguson delivered a late hero moment. He took advantage of a Dons mistake in their own end and moved past Martin to score in the 89th minute. The disgust that had seized the supporters a moment before with Faurlin's injury was forgotten as the travelling crew erupted in a cry of Come on U R'sss. The last gasp salvation was a bit of good news on an otherwise dreadful afternoon, but it gives QPR another bite at the apple. They will face MK Dons at Loftus Road with a chance to avoid another ignominious exit, but after the performance by mostly starters at the MK Stadium, that result is very much in doubt.
The fact remains that QPR are not a finished product, and desperately need to bring in more quality. Time is of the essence too, as they face the softest part of their remaining schedule in the next few weeks and are in terrible form. They are headed for a one and done season with the way they've played of late, and if they fail to get some traction in the transfer market, their fate will be sealed before they can do anything about it. Albeit the result, the near-loss today and the downward trend of the past month have put a grim mood over W12. Decisive action is needed and soon, or that old feeling of going down will start rising like bile in the back of everyone's throats.
Still, they lived to fight another day and have a chance to reverse the curse of the FA Cup when they return home to face MK Dons.