The opening Sky Bet Championship match of the new season at Loftus Road, with another new manager, was eagerly awaited by the home faithful. Another new beginning ? Alas, for them it was not. After a promising first half when QPR took the lead, it ultimately ended in disappointment as the highly visible Sheffield United side, wearing highlighter pen yellow, showed their steel and fought back strongly to claim victory.
Having played two, lost two thus far, United showed greater strength throughout and were a little more resolute and streetwise as they seemed very determined to avoid a third defeat. For Rangers, they were ultimately not creative enough, especially in the second half, and once ‘the blades’ had taken the lead, Rangers really did not look as they were going to come back and equalise, bar a few longer range strikes from Ebere Eze, the new Rangers number 10.
Indeed it was Eze who offered the best attacking threat for Rangers all afternoon by quite some distance, registering six shots, of which five were on target, one of which being a precise first time low right footed finish to give his side the lead after 29 minutes. In between he looked easy on the ball and fully justified being given the famous number 10 shirt, worn by many a Rangers legend over the years.
Alas for Eze, his team mates posed little other attacking threat and, other than occasional promptings from Luke Freeman and young Irishman, Paul Smyth, who was withdrawn at half time, they seemed a little bereft of ideas. Both Idrissa Sylla and his replacement Matt Smith were somewhat adrift up front on their own and were comfortably dealt with by the Sheffield central back three of John Egan, Richard Stearman and Jack O’Connell.
Rangers were relatively quiet in the transfer window and on this evidence they are going to need a little more pace and dynamism up front, for which they hope that the loan market will come to their rescue. Tomor Hemed, Nakhi Wells and Chris Martin, one of new manager Steve McClaren’s old favourites, have all been mentioned in dispatches and some fresh blood in this position cannot come some enough for Rangers.
Elsewhere Rangers played some neat football at times, especially when the scores were equal and more so once they were in front, as Sheffield were forced to attack in greater numbers giving Rangers more opportunity on the break, but once Sheffield had equalised and then subsequently taken the lead, they were dominant.
However, there was an element of controversy about both of United’s goals, the first a neat run into the inside right position by United’s right wing back Kieron Freeman, behind the Rangers defence, created the opportunity and his driven low cross across the face of goal was turned in from a couple of yards by the predatory evergreen Billy Sharpe albeit, quite possibly from an offside position.
United should have made it two very early in the second half when hit man Leon Clarke cleverly cut inside onto his left foot and only a brilliant one handed save by Rangers new number one stopper Matt Ingram prevented a United second. When it did come it was a disputed penalty, United substitute striker David McGoldrick falling to the ground after a mid air challenge with Joel Lynch and Jake Bidwell, whereupon he stepped up and cooly sent Ingram the wrong way.
That was the 65th minute and that effectively was that. Steve McClaren is clearly trying to build a Rangers team to play possession based football, one which builds from the back and with players who are comfortable on the ball. This is all very well in theory and can be good to watch but there can be times when the desire to retain the ball results in moving it around far too often within their own half, making it easy to defend against. Rangers became slow and ponderous and lacked width and as the clock ticked by, United looked increasingly more comfortable. At the final whistle, their large travelling support joyfully celebrated their victory.
For McClaren’s Rangers, more work to be done both on the training ground and in the loan market to seek to improve their fortunes. For United, relief for a welcome win, with a cutting edge up front and some steel behind, in the mould of their famous city.