QPR kept up the pressure on Plymouth at the top of the Second Division with a win that was even easier than the scoreline suggests. Kevin Gallen and Tony Thorpe were on target in each half with the 18th and 19th goals of an increasingly bountiful partnership, but the inspiration, as Rangers maintained their unbeaten home League record this season, came from Marc Bircham in midfield.
The QPR manager, Ian Holloway, was just as pleased with the clean sheet that meant his team stayed on track for automatic promotion, after conceding five goals and earning only one point in their previous two games. Christmas, belatedly, became a happy one for the west Londoners.
Holloway acknowledged his team did not sparkle but paid tribute to Bircham. "As for Birch, I'm always impressed with him," he said. "He shone, not only with hair, but with the way he cares."
In an occasionally ill-tempered game the tone was set early on between Thorpe and Colchester's former Chelsea full-back, Andy Myers. Thorpe later clashed with Sam Stockley and the visitors' Scott McGleish went off with a cut head. While the referee let those incidents pass unnoticed he could not fail to act in the game's pivotal moment.
When Karl Duguid tackled the prone Bircham with his studs up, the Colchester captain was sent off, 12 minutes before half-time. His manager, Phil Parkinson, said: "It was a rash challenge and it gave us a mountain to climb. That doesn't help when you're coming to Loftus Road."
By then the visitors were behind, although QPR had not previously threatened. Though they had scored three in a draw at Notts County on Boxing Day, Rangers seemed more circumspect at home.
However, when QPR did take aim it almost broke the deadlock. Martin Rowlands, drifting in from his right-hand flank, hit his left-foot shot well after 11 minutes but Brown got down in time. A minute later the home side were ahead. A powerful run by Danny Shittu saw the ball break his way and he pulled it back for Gallen, who tapped home from an angle. It was Gallen's second goal in as many games but it was Shittu's name the crowd were singing. "Who needs Sol Campbell when we've got Shittu," was the refrain, and indeed the Arsenal and England centre-back rarely ventures that far forward.
Neither Gallen nor his strike partner, Thorpe, had many opportunities, so Bircham took responsibility. The midfielder with the multi-coloured mohican tried his luck twice in a matter of minutes. After a neat one-two he fired over from 22 yards, and the Canadian's next effort was just wide from further out.
Colchester had posed little threat before Duguid's sending-off. After the midfielder's red card the Us mounted even less in the way of concerted attacks. After the interval Stockley worked his way into the area and found Kem Izzet, but the brother of Leicester's Turkish international Muzzy fired over.
Three minutes later, Thorpe secured the points for QPR. Parkinson called it "a comical goal" and it was a score that would have disgraced a school under-11 side. Day's long clearance bounced over the Colchester defence for Thorpe to steal in and see out the year on a high note.
Goals: Gallen (12) 1-0; Thorpe (57) 2-0.
QPR: (4-4-2): Day; Padula, Carlisle, Shittu (Palmer, 90), Forbes; McLeod, Bircham (Rose, 88), Bean, Rowlands; Thorpe, Gallen. Substitutes not used: Culkin (gk), Ainsworth, Sabin.
Colchester United: (4-5-1): Brown; Myers, Chilvers, White (Cade, 78), Stockley; Johnson, Duguid, Izzet, Vine, Fagan; McGleish (Andrews, 17). Substitutes not used: McKinney, Fitzgerald, Pinault.
Referee: E Evans (Gtr Manchester).
Sent off: Colchester: Duguid.
Man of the Match: Bircham.
Attendance: 15,720.Reuse content