Helguson restores Rangers' control

Queens Park Rangers 2 Crystal Palace 1
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QPR are confident they will not suffer a points deduction after the Football Association's decision to charge them this week with seven offences relating to the signing of Alejandro Faurlin, but the club's management and players know well enough there are no certainties when it comes to the FA's disciplinary processes.

Thus they were delighted to extend their lead at the top of the Championship in a lively London derby, giving them a useful cushion should the FA come over all Draconian. With Swansea unexpectedly losing at Derby, Cardiff playing today and Norwich not in action until Monday, Rangers are 10 points clear. Only a catastrophic failure of nerve, or uncharacteristically severe FA sanction can deny them a place in the Premier League.

Neither prospect worries Neil Warnock. "They are not players who get carried away," he said of the squad, picking out what he calls the "bread-and-butter players", Shaun Derry and Clint Hill. As for the FA, Warnock said he'd "spoken to the legal people and I'm very happy with what I've heard." As for Rangers' fans, they made their feelings clear at kick-off with a chorus of "There's only one Faurlin".

The Argentine played a full part in a Rangers team that was manifestly superior to a Crystal Palace side that 14 months ago were seeking promotion themselves under Warnock, but have since been ravaged by administration. Nevertheless, under Dougie Freedman Palace have found a spine and the result was in doubt until the final minute, even with Palace reduced to 10 men from the 53rd-minute.

That was when Paddy McCarthy, one of five Palace starters who played at the club under Warnock, brought down Adel Taarabt in the box as the Moroccan ran on to Wayne Routledge's pass. Referee Martin Atkinson had little choice but to dismiss the defender. Heidar Helguson converted the spot-kick for his sixth goal in as many matches, having put Rangers' ahead in the 20th-minute.

That goal was cancelled out by James Vaughan five minutes before the break but Palace could not come back again. However, with Scunthorpeand Sheffield United losing they remain four points clear of the drop.

"We've been playing well recently,but it's hard to play 40 minutes with 10 men against a team that are top of the League and can keep the ball very well," Freedman said. "I've no complaints about the penalty but it was the big turning point. It was a very close game and I thought once we'd levelled we could go on in the second half."

With both clubs needing points badly there was plenty of edge amid Rangers' biggest crowd of the season and it threatened to spill over after McCarthy's dismissal. Paddy Kenny's goalmouth was bombarded with plastic bottles. He was not hurt and the trouble settled down quickly.

"Fans get emotional," Freedman said. "I don't condone them throwing bottles of beer on the pitch but it's a passionate game."

Warnock had made two changes from the XI beaten at Millwall in midweek, Fitz Hall replacing the suspended Danny Shittu and Tommy Smith coming in for Akos Buzsaky. That change enabled Taarabt to move into the "hole" and he was soon influential, shooting just wide after eight minutes then delivering a cross that somehow eluded Helguson at the far post.

The Icelandic international was more successful when another Taarabt shot flashed across goal, showing a gambler's instinct as he slid in at the far post to convert. With Rangers dominant and Taarabt peppering Julian Speroni's goal a second seemed inevitable. Then Neil Danns broke upfield, Darren Ambrose played a reverse pass, and Vaughan equalised.

A tight game seemed in prospect but then Taarabt got across McCarthy and though the mood remained tense Rangers' victory was never seriously threatened.