His face adorned the front cover of the “Hoops” match programme. His face will now adorn the back pages of the Sunday papers in this part of West London. Rangers talismanic midfielder, Luke Freeman, all left foot, dancing toes and twists and turns, once again lit up Loftus Road and propelled Rangers to what was, to all intents and purposes, a comfortable victory over Ipswich.
Freeman, plus his midfield compatriots, the outstanding Massimo Luongo and the terrrier that is Josh Scowen, really dominated the middle of the pitch and that was ultimately where the match was won and lost.
After the bustling and combative Jamie Mackie, making his 100th appearance for the Rangers, slid in his side’s first goal following a low cross from Pawel Wszolek just before half time, and Freeman himself somehow twisted out of two tackles to strike a low shot into the bottom corner moments after half time, the match was seemingly done and dusted. Rangers tried their best to score a third but a combination of some decent saves from the Ipswich stopper, Bartosz Bialkowski, plus some profligate finishing from the men in hoops, the score remained at 2-0.
However, to the surprise of everyone, Ipswich suddenly came to life in the last few minutes. Manchester City loanee, Bersant Celina, a late substitute, drifted on from the left and unleashed a rocket high into the opposite corner of the goal from a good 25 yards, giving Alex Smithies absolutely no chance. As the clock ticked down in injury time, and the home supporters began to fear the worst, another Ipswich substitute, Tom Adeyemi, really should have done better when presented with an opportunity from no more than 12 yards, but he lifted his volley high into the now boisterous Ipswich faithful behind the goal, and that was that.
This late flurry should not mask the deficiences in the Ipswich performance and their manager Mick McCarthy will not be pleased with how his team were largely outfought and outbattled by the high pressing and aggressive Rangers’ team. After four consecutive wins to start the season, Ipswich have now lost two on the bounce and their supporters are beginning to see their good start implode. Maybe they were in a slightly false position anyway as their opening victories were secured against arguably lesser teams who were expected to struggle. Furthermore, both new boys, Joe Garner and Martyn Waghorn, were taking most chances that fell their way. However, whilst wins are wins, and in as competitive a league as the Championship, they are all very worthy, some victories are more of a guide to a team’s promotion credentials. On this evidence, Ipswich look no more than a mid table team.
For Rangers, Ian Holloway will be pleased with the way his team are coming together. They have now won all three of their home league matches and if they can make Loftus Road a fortress then it will give them huge confidence. They just need to address their traditionally poor performances on the road. Here they were strong defensively, especially bearing in mind that they were missing Hall, Perch, Lynch and Caulker. The back three, plus the retreating wing backs, were fully committed rarely allowing Ipswich much room or the opportunity to put in dangerous crosses. Skipper Nedum Onuoha, playing his 200th match for the Rangers,can feel rightly pleased with his contribution again.
This was a day of landmark celebrations for Rangers. In addition to the appearance feats achieved by Mackie and Onuoha, this weekend marked 100 years of football at Loftus Road. Perhaps it was written in the stars that they would be victorious. As the Bastille classic “Pompeii” echoed around the stadium before the match, the words “but if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like, nothing changed at all” resonated loudly with the Rangers’ faithful. Loftus Road remains a special place to play and watch football, an old fashioned stadium which has changed little since the late 1970’s, with the supporters almost on top of the pitch, inspiring the home team and suffocating any opposition players weak of heart and mind. A procession of former Rangers’ heroes were introduced to the crowd at half time and it did feel as though nothing had changed at all.
Rangers are trying to return to the ideals and philosophies that made them the club that they once were and they seem to be moving in the right direction. The club was always all about promoting young, hungry, committed and skillful players, rather than some of the excesses of recent times as the battled unsuccessfully with the challenges of the Premier League. If the likes of Freeman, a bargain buy from Bristol City, Luongo from Swindon, Scowen from Barnsley, Washington from Peterborough and the returning Mackie from Notts Forest, allied to a sprinkling of players coming through the youth ranks, can keep performing in the image of their passionate manager, then the owners and supporters will be more than happy. Rangers may yet fire again.