From outside the stadium, nothing much had changed. There was even Stan Bowles, signing autographs, just as he did back in the Seventies. Only now he's 59. Inside, though, things were significantly different. There hadn't been such an aura of anticipation here for many years. Not least in the directors' box, where the prominent occupants included Flavio Briatore, the QPR Holdings Ltd chairman, who can never be accused of quietly merging into the background. The multi-millionaire Renault F1 team principal and the two billionaires, F1 ring-master Bernie Ecclestone and the world's fifth wealthiest man, Lakshmi Mittal, expect much for their investment.
During the early part of the first half here yesterday, Barnsley looked as though they might well repeat similar contempt for this moneybags club as they had last season when those intrepid FA Cup travellers despatched Liverpool at Anfield and Chelsea at Oakwell.
Though their manager, Simon Davey, concluded that his had been the better side, Rangers' superior class just about told against the visitors, who finished with 10 men. "A small step on a long road," reflected Iain Dowie, who, despite this being his first game in charge, has already been beset by rumours of a contretemps between him and Briatore.
Dowie, late of Coventry, is no stranger to such reports; however, he dimissed these as "people making mischief" and declared defiantly, "I'm here now". What he does possess is an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Championship, and that is what Briatore and Co value. Certainly for now.
QPR, who finished 14th last season but only six points above relegated Leicester, have hardly been the League's spendalots in the summer. However, their intriguing loan acquisitions included 19-year-old Daniel Parejo, from Real Madrid, with whom Rangers have established a partnership. He started on the bench but appeared for the final 18 minutes to give home supporters a brief taste of what Real's reserves have to offer.
In that time he received a welcome to English football courtesy of Marciano Van Homoet which brought the Dutch defender a dismissal. The challenge was described as "horrendous" by Dowie. The Parejo deal was brokered by Briatore, who exploited his close relationship with the Real president Ramon Calderon. Dowie said: "In time, they hope he'll be a big player for Real Madrid." Parejo's introduction brought to five the number of Dowie's debutants, including Emmanuel Ledesma, a 20-year-old from Genoa.
Fireworks and shooting flames accompanied the players as they emerged, and it appeared to galvanise them. Mikele Leigertwood's header brought a spectacular save from Luke Steele, before Barnsley, who had begun with new striker Iain Hume and Jon Macken providing real menace, scored after just four minutes. It was Hume, a £1.25m purchase from Leicester, who was set up by captain Brian Howard to score from inside the area. Hume nearly repeated the trick when Bobby Hassell's cross reached him. Then Mounir El Haimour's venomous shot curled wide.
Rangers needed a 29th-minute free-kick just outside the area to equalise. Ledesma, whose close control and impudent crossing look destined for a superior grade of the game, took it and forced a fine save from Luke Steele, Dexter Blackstock rammed the rebound against the bar, but Fitz Hall applied the finish. Two minutes later and Lee Cook's corner gave Hall the opportunity to volley home what transpired to be the winner.
In the second period Rangers tended to rely on breaks. On one such occasion, a powerful run by Blackstock ended with Steele diving at his feet to deny him. Just before the hour, a clumsy challenge by Darren Moore on Blackstock won a spot kick.
"Another decision against us", complained Davey, but a weak spot kick by Hall was saved by Steele. It deprived him of his hat-trick. Fortunately for him, it did not deprive his manager of a desperately needed opening-day victory.Reuse content