With 3 minutes left on the clock, Rangers’ Australian international, Massimo Luongo rose highest to head powerfully home a pinpoint Luke Freeman free kick to rescue a point for his team.
This was no less than they deserved for a positive all round display in a match which they largely dominated. The statistics reveal that they had almost 60% of the possession and had 21 attempts compared to Derby’s six. Something had to give and eventually it did, after Rangers livewire youngster, Paul Smyth, had won yet another free kick, as a result of his pace and trickery. Freeman gained yet another assist and Luongo a rare headed goal.
Rangers could have, and arguably should have won all three points in stoppage time. Joel Lynch, normally a centre half, but utilised here as a late second half forward replacement for the tiring Matt Smith, suddenly found himself clean through with only Scott Carson to beat. Loftus Road held its collective breath but fortunately for Derby, their former England stopper stood his ground and Lynch, unused to finding himself in such a rarefied position, panicked and hit his shot straight into Carson’s midriff. That’s why centre halves do not usually make good centre forwards. It was difficult to blame Lynch, unaccustomed as he was to finding himself in such a position, indeed it could be argued that he timed his run perfectly but ultimately lacked the required composure to finish it off and win the game. The Rangers supporters will more likely wonder why it was that Holloway should have brought him on in the first place to fulfill such an attacking role?
Matches between QPR and Derby these days tend to have a certain extra significance following the extraordinary play off final at Wembley back in 2014, which Rangers won in the dying moments with their only shot on target having been reduced to ten men early in the second half. Bobby Zamora, the goalscorer on that epic occasion, still has his name sung loudly by the Rangers faithful when these teams meet, as they do that of Richard Keogh, the Derby centre back, who slipped on the Wembley turf to present Zamora with the goalscoring opportunity. A moment now enshrined in the memory of every Rangers fan.
Keogh was yet again Derby’s captain here and not only was he regularly asked throughout the match by the Rangers supporters for a wave, he was also lauded for being ‘one of their own’. Football gallows humour at its finest.
Derby had indeed taken the lead on 38 minutes, somewhat against the run of play, as Andreas Weimann, often Rangers nemesis, latched onto an inch perfect through ball from the industrious Kasey Palmer and shot low across goal past Alex Smithies. A fine goal but Rangers will have been disappointed to have gone in behind at the break, especially as they had come close on numerous occasions, including a Matt Smith volley which hit the crossbar.
It must be said that it is not unusual for Rangers to find themselves behind and their reaction to such circumstances has varied throughout this unpredictable season. Invariably they tend to react well against the league’s better teams and that was certainly the case here.
Holloway had eschewed his usual three at the back and two wing backs, in favour of a flat back four and it seemed to be largely effective, with the three most advanced attacking players being able to pin back the opposing full backs and, in small Smyth, had arguably the games most influential player. His performance was closely matched, especially in terms of youthful exuberance and skill, by Rangers first substitute, Eberechi Eze. His appearance after 64 minutes in place of the yet again misfiring Conor Washington, was a joy to watch. Composed and effortless on the ball with a twist and turn that he effected on a few occasions that left Derby players grasping helplessly in his wake, was something to behold. All of a sudden Rangers looked a real threat, what with Freeman providing his usual trickery and both Darnell Furlong and, somewhat surprisingly, Pawel Wszolek, when he came on, showing purpose and providing a real attacking threat down the right.
For Derby, their run of matches without a win extends to six. They have a team bursting with experience, quality and know how yet seem to be experiencing one of those spells when confidence is low and they cannot buy a victory. They almost held out here but, to be honest, they were largely second best and did not really deserve to win.This lull in form at this stage of the season is an all to familiar feeling for the long suffering Derby supporters and they wil only hope that their highly respected and astute manager, Gary Rowett, can address this mini slump and that their team can at least make the playoffs.
For Rangers, Ian Holloway will be encouraged by his team’s performance, particularly the success of the four man defence, the ‘never say die’ attitude of his players, the progression and excitement of his youngsters and ultimately that they came away with a draw, which was at least some reward for all their efforts.