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Queens Park Rangers have not had a good start to the year, and matters were made even worse with a 2-1 loss to newly-promoted West Ham United at Loftus Road. With just two points from their first five games, hosting the Hammers should have been their big opportunity to get three points on the board and start hauling their way out of the still-developing relegation battle. Whoops.
If there was any expectation of QPR playing competently, the hosts managed to dispel it more or less immediately with some absolutely awful defending. Ricardo Vaz Te played a simple one-two with Kevin Nolan and skipped past Clint Hill to reach the touchline before cutting it back to his unmarked captain for what should have been an easy shot. It all went a bit wrong, skewing off to the left, but fortunately for the Hammers Matt Jarvis was on hand to nod in from an acute angle, notching his first goal of the season.
There was a reply, but not too much of one. Esteban Granero should have done better when he blazed over from a Shaun Wright-Phillips cross, and a rare attack saw Joey O'Brien foul Wright-Phillips on the edge of the box. That free kick caused chaos in the West Ham box, with Jussi Jaaskelainen flapping at the delivery before elbowing Winston Reid in the side of the head and James Collins nearly turning the ball into his own net. O'Brien managed to clear, but then attention turned to the stricken Reid, who had apparently been knocked cold by his goalkeeper.
Reid ended up down for three groggy minutes before finally sitting up and making his way off the field. It was clear that he couldn't continue, and Sam Allardyce was forced to turn to his bench, replacing the 24-year-old with James Tomkins and his gloriously awful moustache.
The QPR defence remained the more fragile -- Nolan should have earned a second assist when a clever pass from Guy Demel play him in on the left, only for Carlton Cole to fluff his lines and pop a virtually free header straight up into the air. Other than that, Cole was causing some problems, inspiring Ryan Nelson to give him a hefty kick to the ribs when he got the chance. That wasn't nice!
Relying on physical play to contain the buzzing West Ham front line does have its disadvantages, however. The Hammers were getting set pieces, and eventually managed to double their lead when Granero felled Nolan thirty yards out.
The free kick caused a scramble in the box, with Cole nearly turning in from close range, and although QPR managed to clear their lines the ball didn't end up going very far. Tomkins was able to retrieve possession on the edge of the area and did very well to deliver a blind cross to the back post, where Vaz Te was lurking with intent. The Portuguese met the delivery with the outside of his right foot, and the shot deflected of Stephane M'Bia, past Julio Cesar, and in to make it 2-0.
QPR needed something, and Djibril Cisse nearly managed to get the goal back straight away only for Collins to put in a vital block as the striker pulled the trigger from eight yards. Shortly thereafter, Cisse managed to get a shot on target with an inventive half-volley only for Jaaskelainen's fingertips to keep the ball out. Bobby Zamora then got in on the not-scoring party by making a complete hash of a free header from near the penalty spot.
Despite getting the ball in the back of the net in the sixth minute of first half stoppage time (the goal was ruled out for a clear offside), it was clear that Mark Hughes was going to need to make some changes during the break. He didn't, and so the game remained on its course. The hosts had Cesar to thank for keeping the deficit to two after the impressive Mohammed Diame was allowed to waltz into the box and unleash a thunderous angled drive at the goal, but it looked like the third Hammers goal was coming, and soon.
Finally, Hughes acted, hauling off the ineffective Park Ji-Sung and the slightly better but still poor Wright-Phillips for Samba Diakite and Adel Taarabt. The chances had their intended effect -- Rangers were able to push the visitors deep into their own half and actually get some control over the game. And that allowed Taarabt to work his magic.
It really was a stunning goal. The Morrocan went past Demel with a shimmy, then was allowed to run unchallenged to the top of Jaaskelainen's penalty box. Under no pressure, Taarabt unleashed a curling shot on the run that left the goalkeeper frozen and then dropping the top corner to make it 2-1. 'I love Allah', said the celebratory message -- and it wouldn't be a huge stretch to suggest that there was a higher power at work for that goal.
Taarabt had enlivened the game, but he couldn't help out QPR's beleaguered defence. Cole, who'd been threatening throughout, nearly scored with what I can only describe as 'a flying backheeled thing', and then contrive to miss a one-on-one by a full three yards when he mis-kicked the ball. That was the end of his night, with on-loan Liverpool striker Andy Carroll summoned to replace him.
Carlton Cole wasn't the only one departing the field, though. Five minutes after that substitution, Diakite opted to lunge in on Demel. Having already picked up a booking for scything down Vaz Te just after the Taarabt goal, he was asking for trouble with that foul, and Mark Clattenberg duly produced it brandishing a second yellow card and then a red for the hapless midfielder.
Down to ten men, QPR were not in a happy place, and Cesar had to spring to the rescue when an unmarked Vaz Te hit a swerving shot from twenty yards. At full stretch, the former Inter Milan goalkeeper was just about able to tip the strike onto the crossbar.
There were chances at the other end was well, although the best of them was essentially accidental. Collins completely missed an attempted clearance and the cross ended up hitting Zamora in the face. The unfortunate striker was too surprised to react to the lose ball, and Collins was able to recover for the clearance.
Cisse then tried his luck from range, drawing a mistake from Jaaskelainen but not enough of one for Rangers to profit, with his effort virtually replicated by Alejandro Faurlin a few minutes later. Ultimately, however, it wasn't going to be enough.
Andy Carroll had a pair of opportunities to put the match to bed before it was done, but his profligacy didn't end up costing his team -- West Ham saw out six minutes of stoppage time (via some not entirely legal manoeuvres, one of which saw Tomkins booked for the visitors' eighth yellow of the match) without too much in the way of problems, and eventually came away with an important three points.
The Hammers move up to seventh place in the table with the win, while the hosts, who still haven't recorded a single victory this year, remain rooted to the bottom spot. And with performances like their awful first half, said position is well-deserved.