New manager, new team, same old QPR. On 2 January Neil Warnock's QPR were leading Norwich City 1-0 and cruising when Joey Barton foolishly pushed his forehead against Bradley Johnson's and was sent off. QPR lost 2-1.
Fast forward a month and Mark Hughes's QPR are leading Wolves 1-0 and cruising when another Johnson, Roger, ploughs into Djibril Cissé. The Frenchman, who has broken both legs in his career, jumps up and grabs Johnson around the neck. Cisséis sent off, QPR lose 2-1.
Plus ça change? Unlike his predecessor, Hughes had no argument with the referee's decision, but Hughes knows his chairman, Tony Fernandes, is supporting him. Nevertheless it is a blow, and not just because the result enabled Wolves to climb out of the relegation zone and draw level with QPR a point outside the bottom three. The next few matches are now more important than ever but Cissé, signed last week for £4.5 million, and a scorer on his midweek debut, will be suspended for the trip to Blackburn and matches at home to Fulham and Everton. By the time he is eligible, on 10 March against Bolton, he will be struggling for match fitness.
"If we had kept 11 on the field I'm very confident we would have gone on to win, we were playing some good stuff," said Hughes. "Djibril held his hands up. He had a lesson today. Given his history [of injury] he reacted but he put his hand in the neck area and we all know you can't do that. The referee had to send him off."
Mick McCarthy, Wolves' manager, said: "One man's mistake has given us the chance to win a game. When I played that wasn't a sending- off, but it's not allowed any more."
While the dismissal changed the game it was a substitution that won it – McCarthy bringing on Kevin Doyle at half-time and switching to 4-2-4. Doyle, who has had a poor season, provided the cross for Matt Jarvis to level a minute after the break, then scored the winner with 19 minutes left. Wolves thereafter retreated and Rangers might have snatched a draw, with Adel Taarabt repeatedly going close to an equaliser, but it was not to be.
It all looked so promising for Rangers after 16 minutes. Hughes had handed a debut to Bobby Zamora, who responded with a well-taken goal. That meant both members of Rangers' new £9m strike partnership were off the mark, raising hope that Fernandes's investment in a pair whose combined age is 61 will be justified. Only three of Rangers' starting XI were in last season's promotion-winning squad, the others cost £18m.
Wolves, who run a tighter ship, merely included loanee Sébastien Bassong, who would have been playing for QPR had Tottenham managed to secure Gary Cahill in August. The Cameroonian looked desperately rusty in the opening minutes but he was not the only Wolves defender being exposed. Nine matches without a win had left its mark in terms of confidence and Zamora, Cissé and Taarabt all had chances in the opening six minutes. The goal was thus no surprise. Tarrabt and Cissé combined to play the ball in to Shaun Wright-Phillips, whose first touch was seized upon by Zamora, who drove a shot through Wayne Hennessey.
Wolves' day got worse before it got better as Emmanuel Frimpong appeared to injure his knee making a late tackle on Joey Barton.
Even after Cissé's dismissal, Wolves did not take advantage until Doyle's arrival. But after Jarvis scored they dominated, Steven Fletcher hitting the bar from Kevin Foley's cross, Anton Ferdinand clearing a Fletcher shot off the line and Paddy Kenny beating away a Doyle drive. Finally, Jamie O'Hara burst past Barton and, while Sylvan Ebanks-Bake struggled to control his pass, Doyle beat Nedum Onouha to the loose ball to score.
Even then Wolves needed a stunning Hennessey save from Taarabt's shot to secure a first away win since the opening day of the season. "Very disappointing," tweeted Fernandes. "We threw it away."
QPR (4-4-2): Kenny; Young (Hall, 65), Onuoha, Ferdinand, Taiwo; Wright-Phillips, Barton, Derry (Traore, 65), Taarabt; Zamora (Hulse, 74), Cissé.
Wolves (4-4-1-1): Hennessey; Stearman (Doyle, 45), Johnson, Bassong, Ward; Foley, Edwards, Frimpong (Ebanks-Blake, 23), Jarvis; O'Hara (Milijas, 87); Fletcher.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the match: Doyle
Match rating: 7/10.
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