West London showdown short on quality and grace
QPR 0 Chelsea 0: On a heavy day of snubbed handshakes and bad feeling, QPR's best player is their new goalkeeper while recently signed Victor Moses shines for Chelsea
After the handshakes and headshakes, a football match broke out here yesterday, but like much of the build-up, it was undistinguished stuff.
Queens Park Rangers finished the afternoon the happier, their local pride upheld and a second point of the season achieved, features marked by a standing ovation at the finish. Chelsea were satisfied too, even if Manchester United cut their lead at the top of the table to a single point.
As for the principal performers of the little drama talking place before kick-off, all played rather well on a defender's day, although Anton Ferdinand pulled up near the end with what looked like a hamstring injury, and would have gone off had his team's allocation of substitutes not been used up – two of them in the opening half an hour.
Ferdinand's best moment was in dispossessing Fernando Torres on a Chelsea breakaway in the second half, by which time Rangers were asserting a measure of control. Ashley Cole was, nevertheless, rarely troubled by either Shaun Wright-Phillips or Jamie Mackie, who moved wide late in the game, and John Terry allowed his old Sunday football team-mate Bobby Zamora only one real opportunity, blocking the resulting shot with Petr Cech out of his goal.
Rangers lost the services of Fabio da Silva at the back and Andrew Johnson in attack to injuries suffered before half-time, and for all Mackie's willing running, Johnson's departure depleted them.
They have at least found a goalkeeper in Internazionale's Julio Cesar, whose performance suggested Robert Green will be looking at the League Cup for his appearance money in the immediate future. Another high-profile signing, Esteban Granero from Real Madrid, also impressed and overall Mark Hughes was delighted.
"I thought we were excellent," he said, "and proof that we're going in the right direction. The more we play together, the better we'll become." As for the whole handshake farrago, he repeated his suggestion that the pre-match parade be done away with. "A lot of things have moved on for the better but I'm not sure about this one. I've got the utmost respect for the Respect campaign but this part of it causes more problems than it solves."
Chelsea's Roberto Di Matteo was more sanguine: "We offered and did our part. If other people feel differently it's their problem." He also confirmed that Chelsea were not displeased with their afternoon's work. "The only disappointment was that we didn't score the goals from the chances we created," he said.
Chelsea had rested Juan Mata with the Champions' League game against Juventus in mind and Ryan Bertrand in his position on the left was understandably less creative. More encouraging was the cameo by Victor Moses in the last quarter of an hour. He set up a glorious chance for Eden Hazard, who had been rivalling Julio Cesar, Granero and Ryan Nelsen for the individual honours until he spooned a shot over the bar from seven yards.
The atmosphere, heavy with animosity, did not help the quality of football and after two early opportunities for the Brazilian keeper to demonstrate his capabilities, there were few chances for a long period. Not much more was seen of Torres, the man destined forever to be known as the £50m striker, who before the end had taken a knock and walked straight down to the dressing-room.
Chelsea might twice have had a penalty in the first half, when Terry and Hazard were both sent tumbling in the area, perhaps suffering from the theatricality of their fall. "Stonewall penalty," Di Matteo said of the former incident. Cech meanwhile made only one save, straightforwardly from Zamora. That pattern changed after half-time. Hazard's delicious flick-up the line was a rare moment of class and when Terry unwisely attempted similar deftness on the ball but was forced to pass back to his goalkeeper from beyond the halfway line, the home crowd were stirred to noisier involvement. Mackie responded to them by twisting to shoot at Cech, who was then grateful that Park Ji-Sung's header from a fine cross from Granero went straight at him.
Rangers' big opportunity came in the 75th minute when Mikel misjudged a long ball, allowing Zamora to home in on Cech and go round him, only to find four Chelsea players defending their goal and Terry – who else – knocking the ball away.
With Moses and Daniel Sturridge offering fresh legs and impetus, the visitors looked the more likely to score from then on. Moses, playing wide on the right, forced Julio Cesar into his third good save before setting up Hazard for a rare blot on the Belgian's copybook.
QPR (4-4-2): Julio Cesar; Bosingwa, Ferdinand, Nelsen, Fabio (Onuoha 20); Wright-Phillips (Cisse 69), Granero, Faurlin, Park; Johnson A (Mackie 32), Zamora.
Chelsea (4-2-3-1): Cech; Ivanovic, David Luiz, Terry, Cole; Mikel, Lampard; Ramires, Hazard E, Bertrand (Moses 58); Torres (Sturridge 81).
Referee: A Marriner.
Man of the match: Julio Cesar (QPR)
Match rating: 5/10
Half-time 0-0 Att: 18,271
As Voltaire once said, “Ice cream is exquisite. What a pity it isn’t illegal”
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