Queens Park Rangers V Fulham
RANGERS shared the spoils with Fulham following a breathless west London derby at Loftus Road.
A fixture full of passion throughout, the drama started as early as the seventh minute, when Alex Smithies was on hand to deny Chris Martin from the penalty spot.
Incredibly, that was the goalkeeper’s sixth spot-kick save in 10 for QPR.
Rangers then seized the initiative in the 25th minute, with Ryan Manning punishing Kevin McDonald’s misplaced pass to shoot beyond David Button.
But, in truth, defeat probably would have been harsh on Fulham given periods of pressure and, in the 75th minute, they earned a deserved draw.
Martin redeemed himself after his earlier penalty blemish, diverting Tom Cairney’s initial shot past a helpless Smithies at close range to put the visitors on terms.
For the first time this season, the Hoops were able to name an unchanged starting XI for the visit of Fulham, following last week’s 1-0 victory at Reading.
In the same 3-4-3 formation, QPR lined up as: Smithies; Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall, Joel Lynch; Darnell Furlong, Massimo Luongo, Manning, Jake Bidwell; Pawel Wszolek, Idrissa Sylla, Jamie Mackie.
Recent loan capture Kazenga LuaLua was once again among the substitutes, after coming from the bench to make his R's debut at the Madejski Stadium.
On a bitingly-cold but bright west London afternoon, a hard-fought opening stanza certainly made for an entertaining spectacle early on.
Rangers started the game well and, in the fifth minute, Sylla headed over from Bidwell’s left-flank delivery.
However, despite that positive start from QPR, visitors Fulham were awarded a penalty only a minute later.
Sone Aluko went to ground in the box after a coming-together with Bidwell – and referee Keith Stroud subsequently pointed to the spot.
Fortunately, Rangers were able to call on their penalty expert to keep them level.
Martin stepped up to take the kick and, when he shot towards the bottom left-hand corner, Smithies dived low to tip the ball around the post.
Fulham enjoyed much more possession after that.
Rangers’ Sylla spun and shot straight at visiting 'keeper Button in the 13th minute but, only seven minutes later, the Cottagers went extremely close. Cairney’s bullet effort from 20 yards – that looked in all the way – flew just inches wide of the right-hand post.
Despite a period of pressure from the visitors, the R’s continued to hassle and harry and, midway through the first half, the home faithful were able to celebrate the opening goal of the game.
Fulham’s McDonald – under pressure from Luongo – undercooked a back-pass towards his own goalkeeper, freeing Manning in the process.
And the Irishman displayed impressive composure to punish the visitors thereafter, sliding the ball past an advancing Button to hand Rangers the lead.
Lift-off at Loftus Road.
Chances were few and far between after that.
Fulham continued to enjoy time on the ball but, in the same breath, Rangers also continued to work hard when without it, enabling them to hold onto their lead going into half-time.
Into the second half, and the R’s spurned a half-chance seven minutes after the break.
Bidwell’s flighted free-kick from the left found skipper Onuoha, who could only loop a header past the upright.
Six minutes later, Fulham were presented with an opportunity of their own when the ball was worked to Aluko on the edge of the box. His subsequent shot was palmed over by Smithies.
At the other end, in the 62nd minute, good work from the tireless Wszolek eventually saw Luongo take possession in space 20 yards from goal. The Aussie international then directed an effort – with the outside of his right foot – over.
Though shots on target had been sparse, the contest ebbed and flowed throughout and, with just under half an hour remaining, it was finely poised.
Holloway opted for a first QPR change in the 68th minute. Conor Washington was brought on in place of Sylla.
A goal behind, and with time now running out, Fulham began to up the ante.
That pressure eventually told when the visitors levelled matters 15 minutes from time.
Scott Malone’s free-kick from the left was cleared only as far as Cairney on the edge of the area and, when his low shot arrowed towards goal, Martin stuck out a leg to divert the ball beyond Smithies.
Buoyed by their equaliser, Fulham almost added a second in the 78th minute when Aluko curled an effort towards goal from 20 yards. But Smithies was on hand to tip over.
The game was now being played at a frantic pace and, at the other end, Button caught the ball at the second attempt after Washington’s fierce drive in the 80th minute.
In the 83rd minute, meanwhile, Hall then sent an improvised effort past the post when Manning’s corner sparked a scramble in the box.
Moments later, a second QPR change saw LuaLua replace Mackie, before another chance fell Hall’s way in the 85th minute. This time, he headed wide from a corner.
The end was near and there was now plenty of nail-biting all around Loftus Road.
Fulham sub Ryan Sessegnon headed a Fulham corner over in the 87th minute, before another second-half arrival for the visitors, Matt Smith, saw his shot deflected wide three minutes later.
Four minutes of added time were signalled at the end, while tempers flared on a couple of occasions towards the death.
But there were no further goals in this entertaining derby affair in W12.