Reading V Queens Park Rangers
QPR registered a third Sky Bet Championship victory on the bounce thanks to Jamie Mackie’s 27th minute goal against high-flying Reading.
Mackie slammed home Ryan Manning’s sublime pass, as Ian Holloway’s men ran out worthy winners at the Madejski Stadium.
The victory, which owed much to a first class away performance from the R’s in which Pawel Wszolek shone throughout, lifted Rangers up three places to 15th place in the second tier, on a night when 963 travelling Hoops’ fans backed their team superbly from the first minute to the last.
R’s boss Ian Holloway made four changes to the QPR side that bowed out of the FA Cup at home to Blackburn Rovers on Saturday afternoon, lining up in a 3-5-2 formation.
Alex Smithies returned in goal, behind a back three of Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall and Joel Lynch.
Darnell Furlong – back following his loan stint at Swindon Town – started at right wing-back in place James Perch who missed out owing to illness, with Jake Bidwell occupying the left-sided role.
Massimo Luongo, Manning and Wszolek started in midfield, behind a front-two of Mackie and Idrissa Sylla.
Reading, in the absence of Paul McShane owing to a hand injury, were led by stand-in skipper Chris Gunter on the occasion of his 400th senior appearance in club football.
There were two changes to the Royals’ starting XI after last weekend’s FA Cup defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford; Jordan Obita came in at left-back to replace the injured Tyler Blackett, and John Swift returned to the starting line-up with George Evans on the bench.
On a freezing night in Berkshire, it was the visitors who fashioned the first opportunity of note in the fourth minute, with Garath McCleary firing over from Yann Kermorgant’s knock-down.
Rangers’ first foray forward involved Furlong, whose overlapping run was seen by Wszolek, but the returning wing-back saw his low cross cleared from danger.
The R’s were enjoying some early joy through Wszolek, and when he played in Mackie on nine minutes, the former Reading loanee fired high and wide from an acute angle.
Mackie played provider 11 minutes later, sending a driven cross across the face of the six-yard box that Sylla, from a narrow angle, could only prod wide.
Rangers continue to pose the greater attacking threat as the first period evolved and the lead the R’s impressive performance deserved arrived on 27 minutes – and it was that man Mackie who opened the scoring.
Wszolek was inevitably involved, pulling the ball back to Manning, who nonchalantly diverted the ball towards the back post, where Mackie swept home unmarked with a classy finish.
Mackie’s celebration in front of the supporters who used to chant his name perhaps didn’t go down too well with the locals, but the R’s fans were ecstatic, with the ‘Walking in a Mackie wonderland’ song bellowing out from the away end.
Reading, who appeared to be struggling to get to grips with the R’s formation, had a half-chance through John Swift which finished well wide a few minutes, but it was the R’s who continued to pose questions, with Mackie almost making it two on the half hour mark, only to see his low drive deflected inches wide of Ali Al Habsi’s right hand post.
Wszolek was a constant thorn in the Reading side, capitalising on to Luongo’s precise through ball on 38 minutes and rounding the advancing Al Habsi, only to be thwarted by the covering Joey Van Den Barg.
The visitors’ half-time lead was well deserved, with the combination of Mackie and Wszolek in particular worthy of praise for their first half showing.
Holloway’s men continued where they left off at the start of the second half.
Sylla was inches away from meeting Wszolek’s cross inside the opening 60 seconds of the half, before Bidwell’s 20-yard shot was deflected over for a corner moments later.
As Reading briefly rallied, the counter-attacking threat from the visitors took on even greater significance and when Wszolek’s mazy 60-yard run ended with him pulling the back ball for Sylla, the Guinean front-man was denied by a combination of Al Habsi and Liam Moore.
It was an end-to-end contest by now and Bidwell was in the right place at the right time on the hour mark, denying Roy Beerens with a well-timed block.
Rangers were looking a threat every time they went forward though, with Wszolek finding Mackie inside the box, but Al Habsi saved low to his left.
It was wave after wave of attacks from the Hoops as the half approached its midway stage – this time Bidwell pulling the ball back for Sylla, whose blockbuster effort was diverted wide.
From the resultant corner, Lynch fired a shot on target, but this time Obita was in the perfect positon on the line to hack the ball away.
At the other end, the woodwork came to Rangers’ rescue on 70 minutes, with Yann Kermorgant gifted the freedom of the six-yard box, only to head against the crossbar.
Holloway made his first change on 73 minutes, introducing Brighton & Hove Albion loanee Kazenga LuaLua at the expense of Sylla.
Royals boss Jaap Stam responded with a substitute of his own – Yakou Meite replacing John Swift.
LuaLua didn’t take long to get involved in the action, firing a low drive on target that Al Habsi held onto with ease.
There was a heart-in-mouth moment seven minutes from time when Kermorgant met Beerens’ pinpoint cross, but his header – which seemed to hang in the air for an eternity – fell narrowly wide of Smithies’ right hand post, with the keeper seemingly beaten.
Two minutes later, Holloway made his second change, with Michael Doughty replacing Manning, whose performance again belied his lack of First Team experience, displaying an air of authority in the middle of the park.
His display – and that of his team-mates – ensured a job well done for Holloway’s men, as the Hoops headed back down the M4 with three much-needed and deserved points.