RANGERS kicked off the new Sky Bet Championship campaign, with 1-1 draw against Millwall in the London derby clash at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium.
A fine strike from Jed Wallace gave the visitors an early lead, but a wonderful effort in the 31st minute from last season’s player of the year, Rob Dickie ensured the points were shared in the capital.
Both sides pushed for a winner in the second half, but things remained all square in W12, ensuring both sets of returning fans returned home relatively happy.
Looking ahead to the clash itself, R’s boss Mark Warburton handed a full QPR league debut to new signing Moses Odubajo, whilst Jordy de Wijs, Stefan Johansen, and Charlie Austin lined up as permanent Rangers players for the first time.
Whilst fellow summer arrivals Jordan Archer, Andre Dozzell and Jimmy Dunne began from the bench, with Ilias Chair missing out through illness.
This meant that for our season opener Warburton’s side lined up in 5-2-1-2 formation which saw Seny Dieng in goal, Odubajo and Lee Wallace occupying the wing-back positions, alongside Dickie, de Wijs and Yoann Barbet who lined up in the centre half roles.
Newly appointed captain Johansen and Dom Ball took up the centre midfield positions, behind Chris Willock, whilst Austin and Lyndon Dykes led the line for the R’s.
After a period of remembrance for both sets of supporters who sadly can’t be with us for the return of Sky Bet Championship football, an electric atmosphere not seen in west London for many months was unleashed.
However, it was the visitors who started on the front foot and almost instantly took the lead. Scott Malone’s looping cross beat everyone and to Dieng’s fortune it rattled the upright and the subsequent corner was then hacked away.
Both sets of fans were ready to explode as both look for that early chance and to the R’s fans dismay it was Millwall who were able to carve out those opportunities.
A numerous number of Lions set pieces were swung into the Rangers box, with a stubborn home backline having to stand up and be counted.
However, this early dominance from the visitors eventually paid dividends when in the 11th minute, Jed Wallace repeated his feet from last season, when he produced a fine edge of the box strike, smashing the ball past a helpless Dieng.
After going behind Warburton’s side knew they had to bounce back and as the cries of ‘Come on you R’s’ rang round the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Rangers knew they had start to find their passing game, with Willock and Wallace starting to combine well down the left-hand side.
With the rocky start seemingly behind them, the R’s grew in confidence, with Ball and Johansen starting to dictate the play in the middle of the park.
And as we approached the 31st minute Rangers were level…..
Centre half Dickie dribbled from the inside his own half, before unleashing a wonderful effort into the bottom left-hand corner, sending W12 into a state of frenzy. 1-1!
After drawing level, Rangers had grown and the confidence was starting to flow through Warburton’s side, another speculative effort, this time from Austin was palmed away by Polish stopper Bartosz Bialkowski, before Odubajo fired in an inviting cross for Dykes, but the Scottish international saw his effort blocked and scrambled away.
As the half-time whistle started loom, the R’s were on top, Johansen fired in a wide free kick which after a scramble in the box was somehow cleared away by the visiting defence.
Before, another mazy run from Rangers’ goal scorer Dickie, this time drew a dangerous looking foul, which defensive counterpart Barbet lined up.
The Frenchman’s wicked effort whistled past the post and with that an entertaining first-half of Sky Bet Championship football drew to a close.
Neither side made a change at the break and as referee Oliver Langford started the second half, both sides knew they had a chance to claim a first victory of the campaign.
However, much like the first, it was our visitors who were able to create the first real opportunity. A skilful run from Benik Afobe found Malone at the far post, but some cool defending from Odubajo saw the danger quickly averted.
Rangers quickly grew into it, with Willock beginning to see a lot of the ball and in the 55th minute many inside W12 felt he was about to give the R’s the lead.
A fine piece of tricky and then a curling effort was somehow tipped away by an outstretched Bialkowski, but this only encouraged the home faithful.
With an hour of electric football now on the clock, both sides began to tire for the first time, with the intensity of the game seemingly starting to drop.
This ultimately saw the arrival of Dozzell, who replaced Austin in the 68th minute, as boss Warburton looked to inject some pace and energy into a tiring midfield, with Johansen pushing to a more advanced role.
But the former Norway international was then replaced in 73rd minute as he seemingly suffered from a touch of cramp, with lack of pre-season minutes beginning to show. George Thomas was his replacement as Rangers continued to push forward.
Both sides started to push for surely would be the winner and the arrival of former R’s frontman Matt Smith in the 78th minute signalled Gary Rowett and the visitor’s intentions.
In a half of very limited chances, as the clocked ticked down it was Millwall who looked the most likely to grab the illusive winner, as Smith’s aerial threat gave the R’s backline a different issue to deal with.
Rangers’ frontman Dykes did well to win a corner for the home side in the closing minutes, but it ultimately came to nothing and as the first clash of the 2021/22 campaign started to peter out, a draw seemed to suit both sides.
Five minutes additional time was shown, and this seemingly rejuvenated the west London crowd.
Dykes again initially went close, before Willock whipped in looping ball which found the head of de Wijs, but from only a yard out, the Dutchman couldn’t generate enough power and Bialkwoski was on hand to comfortably collect the ball.
Both sides huffed and puffed, but as the full-time whistle blew neither had done enough to blow the house down and both sides had to settle for a share of the points in the London derby, to kick off the new campaign.