Queens Park Rangers V Cardiff City
FIFTY years to the day of QPR’s stunning turnaround at Wembley Stadium to win the 1967 League Cup Final against all the odds, the present day Rangers side came from behind to beat Cardiff City at Loftus Road.
Trailing to Sol Bamba’s header on the stroke of half-time, Ian Holloway’s side produced a spirited second half display to run out narrow 2-1 winners against Neil Warnock’s in-form Bluebirds side.
Substitute Yeni Ngbakoto’s first league goal at Loftus Road sparked the comeback just after the hour mark, before Matt Smith headed home an 83rd minute winner to the delight of a bouncing Loftus Road crowd.
Holloway made five changes for the visit of the Bluebirds to Loftus Road.
Grant Hall, Sean Goss, Massimo Luongo, Jamie Mackie and Conor Washington all came in to the starting XI, with Kazenga LuaLua (ankle), Luke Freeman (suspended), Pawel Wszolek, Darnell Furlong and Ryan Manning making way, the latter three named on the substitutes’ bench.
Alex Smithies started in goal, behind a back-three of Joel Lynch, skipper Nedum Onuoha and Hall.
Jake Bidwell and James Perch occupied the wing-back roles, with Luongo, Goss and Mackie in a midfield three.
In attack, Washington returned from injury to lead the line alongside Smith.
Cardiff boss Warnock, on his return to Loftus Road, named former R’s duo Matt Connolly and Junior Hoilett in his starting XI.
On a blustery afternoon in W12, Rangers started in positive fashion, with Smith nodding Bidwell’s left-sided set-piece wide in the seventh minute.
Cardiff were a threat themselves though, with Kadeem Harris’s cross just evading the advancing Kenneth Zohore, thanks in part to a decisive touch from Onuoha.
As the match continued to ebb and flow, the R’s defence had to be on their toes on the quarter hour mark, when Craig Noone arrived on to a cross 12 yards from goal, only to see his powerful effort brilliantly blocked by a combination of Bidwell and Luongo.
Rangers went close to opening the scoring in the 24th minute, when Washington left Connolly for dead with an outrageous turn, only to see his low 15-yard drive cannon back off the foot of the post.
Chances were few and far between though if truth be told, with a speculative volley from Goss the nearest either side came as the clock ticked towards the 35th minute.
Smithies had to be his agile best on the stroke of half-time, however, tipping Joe Ralls’ deflected effort wide.
Rangers didn’t heed the warning though and they fell behind from the resultant corner.
Bamba, unmarked, rose tallest to power an unstoppable header into the top corner to hand the Bluebirds the half-time advantage.
Buoyed by their goal, Cardiff began the second half on the front foot.
Hoilett could – and probably should – have scored when Zohore found him six-yards out, before the big Cardiff striker then saw his powerful low drive cleared off the line by Lynch.
Holloway made his first change soon after, with Goss – who impressed on his first start since his January arrival from Manchester United – making way at the expense of Ngbakoto.
The R’s went close to an equaliser on the hour, but Washington just failed to connect with Perch’s teasing centre across the face of the six-yard box.
Undeterred, the leveller Rangers were searching for arrived just two minutes later – and it was that man Ngbakoto who got it!
Mackie played provider, playing a clever pass into the path of the Frenchman, who took one touch to set himself before firing into the roof of the net.
Warnock responded to his side’s set-back by making a change of his own soon after, as Anthony Pilkington came on for Noone, who just moments earlier had flashed a free-kick high and wide of the target.
Hoilett, back at Loftus Road for the first time since departing last summer, curled a right-footed effort wide on 75 minutes, before Ravel Morrison entered the fray, with Luongo making way.
The R’s third and final change saw Mackie replaced by Wszolek with nine minutes to play.
A minute later, Ngbakoto forced Allan McGregor into a stunning save from a dipping, swerving free-kick – but there was nothing the Scottish keeper could do to prevent Rangers from going in front from the resultant corner.
Ngbakoto’s near post corner was met by Smith, whose deft glancing header lopped in off the turf to hand the Hoops a late advantage.
Cardiff – as you’d expect from a Neil Warnock team – responded, with Pilkington curling a yard or so over the crossbar.
But it was Rangers’ day – as the class of 2016/17 paid their own tribute to our heroes from 50 years ago.
That one’s for you boys!