Diakite dismissal gives Fulham easy ride in west London derby
Queens Park Rangers 0 Fulham 1
QPR's owner, Tony Fernandes, was left with much to ponder after flying in from Malaysia in search of evidence that his £12m January investment would secure the club's Premier League status. Even before Samba Diakite became the fifth Rangers player this season to be dismissed on home turf, positive indicators were few. QPR were trailing to Pavel Pogrebnyak's early strike when the Malian's debut was cut short 33 minutes in.
Surprisingly, given Fulham's early dominance of the west London derby, and Diakite's departure, the Russian's second goal in two matches since arriving in the closing minutes of the transfer window was not added to, but the result was rarely in doubt. Rangers have now taken four points from six matches since Hughes was installed and the Welshman's mood was reflected in a frosty exchange with the Fulham manager, Martin Jol, at the final whistle as the pair shook hands.
"I offered him my hand, shook his, and congratulated him on the win," said Hughes. "Then I took exception as I thought he was going to pat me on the head which I thought was slightly patronising, so I brushed his hand away."
"Maybe I made it a bit too personal," said Jol. "I tried to grab his shoulder and he didn't like that because he is a tough guy, he is a winner, he wants to win."
He needs to win. This was the fifth of a run of seven games QPR's board had identified as "winnable" when deciding to replace Neil Warnock, who led QPR out of the Championship last season, with Hughes. The previous four, against Wigan, Aston Villa, Wolves and Blackburn had brought four points, there are only Everton and Bolton to come before a daunting run-in.
In the circumstances Hughes could do with his new recruits lasting 90 minutes but, like Djibril Cissé in his home debut a fortnight ago, Diakite did not. Signed on loan from Nancy with a £3.6m transfer to follow should QPR stay up, he appeared a powerful holding midfielder. But if he is to prosper he will have to temper his tackling. The first booking came after a triangle of challenges which left three Fulham players writhing. Thirteen minutes later, as Fulham broke, he lunged late at Bryan Ruiz. He followed team-mates Clint Hill, Armand Traoré, Joey Barton and Cissé in having seen red at Loftus Road this season. "I thought he was our best player at that point," said Hughes ruefully, adding: "I take responsibility. He's new to the League. Ideally we'd introduce him more slowly but we need to put our good players on the pitch."
Being reduced to 10 was the last thing QPR needed against a team which put six past them at Craven Cottage in October. Hughes fielded five survivors from that debacle; seven Fulham players figured, plus Bobby Zamora who had scored one of Fulham's sextet, but had since switched clubs. Zamora received plenty of abuse from the away support, but no more than Hughes, who was serenaded with pointed, unprintable references to "ambition" after walking out of Fulham at the end of last season and declaring that the club's did not match his.
Hughes's old team look far superior to his current one. Fulham took control and scored, Moussa Dembélé's flick releasing Pogrebnyak behind Anton Ferdinand and the Russian loanee scored with a composure that belied a record of one goal in 14 Bundesliga games for parent club Stuttgart this season.
Rangers' back four were playing together for the first time and it showed. Fulham were all fluidity and movement as Rangers struggled to track their forward players' angled runs. Clint Dempsey and Pogrebnyak should have added to the lead as Danny Murphy and Dembélé pulled strings from midfield. "We want seven" chorused the Fulham faithful, but getting two was proving a problem with Kenny denying Murphy and Dempsey wasting another chance. Rangers tightened and Fulham were happy to sit on their lead and should have paid for their lack of ambition when Shaun Wright-Phillips went clear eight minutes from time but Mark Schwarzer denied him with a save so deft a goal-kick was given.
QPR (4-1-4-1): Kenny; Onuoha, Ferdinand, Hill, Taiwo (Traoré, 72); Diakite; Mackie, Wright-Phillips (Buzacky, 83), Barton, Taarabt; Zamora.
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Schwarzer; Kelly, Hughes, Hangeland, Riise; Dembélé, Murphy (Baird, 75); Ruiz (Duff, 78), Johnson (Etuhu, 82), Dempsey; Pogrebnyak.
Referee Phil Dowd.
Man of the match Dembélé (Fulham).
Match rating 6/10.
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