Ground: Loftus Road, London
With pre-season preperations now in the past, promotion favourites QPR start their Championship campaign against Sheffield Wednesday who finished last season in good form. Harry Redknapp has kept the nucleus of his squad together and the players at his disposal should see an immediate return to the Premier League. Dave Jones has added pace to his ranks in the form of 2 new permanent signings; Jacques Maghoma and Jeremy Helan - along with the reliable Kamil Zayatte in central defence. A new target man receives his international clearance along with Zayatte hours before the big kick off, Atdhe Nuhiu - the former Rapid Vienna player turning down Premiership clubs to sign and hoping to hit the ground running against a strong QPR side.
The R's hand debuts to Danny Simpson and Karl Henry whilst new £4m signing Charlie Austin starts on the bench, another inclusion in the starting line-up is want-away midfielder Joey 'will never play in the Championship' Barton. There are debuts for Nuhiu and Zayatte for the Owls whilst Maghoma starts on the bench.
|Andrew Johnson for QPR|
The season gets underway at Loftus Road and the first action is a free kick conceded by former England international Bobby Zamora when he illegally challenges Wednesday captain Anthony Gardner. It isn't long before the home side fashion the first chance of the game though and David Hoilett fires a shot wide of the right-hand post on the 5th minute. As the Owls look to feel their way into the game, another late challenge results in a free-kick, this time Zamora fouls Kamil Zayatte. Another former England international tests the Wednesday keeper when Andy Johnson fires a free-kick that Chris Kirkland does well to save. The resulting corner sees Joey Barton cross but the visiting defenders see away any danger. Former Everton striker Johnson does well to find space on the 9th minute and rifles a fierce shot that Kirkland does very well to parry and just a minute later the tall players at the back for Wednesday see away a Alejandro Faurlin corner. From there the game become frantic and end-to-end. First debutant Nuhiu fires a shot inches wide of Rob Green's goal before Hoilett fires wide left at the other end. On the 12th minute Nuhiu, proving a handful, wriggles free and fires wide again - thrilling the away supporters with his willingness to shoot on sight. The next few minutes that follow are interrupted with fouls by both teams, Nuhiu on Armand Traore before Faurlin is penalised for handball and Nedum Onuoha upends Nuhiu. The deadlock is broken on the 18th minute and somewhat surprisingly its the away team that take the lead - Nuhiu drilling a brilliant left-footed drive low into the bottom corner from the edge of the box after beating four QPR players to send the travelling massive into raptures (see the goalhere). Just before the 20th minute Liam Palmer, who has an excellent future ahead at Wednesday, collects the games first yellow card - a foul on Hoilett sees the Scotland U21 player entering the referees book. A couple of fouls quickly follow as the flow of the game threatens to stutter but then on the 28th minute Hoilett is found in space by a glorious pass by Joey Barton but the young Canadian volleys the shot just over the crossbar to keep the Owls in the lead. The visitors almost punish the R's for that miss when Nuhiu misses the target shortly after and then the Owls have keeper Kirkland to thank for keeping their lead. Zamora unleashing a shot from 6 yards that the former England international keeper saves well after 33 minutes. When a quick counter attack by Wednesday ends with an Antonio header wide, the break in play allows the first substitution of the day. A clearly distressed Joe Mattock is replaced by new signing Jacques Maghoma when the fullback is injured on the 36th minute. An unfair challenge by Faurlin on Antonio results in a Wednesday free-kick that is taken by Zayatte but barely a minute later and the home fans have reason to finally find their voice. Having been out sung by their visitors for the majority of the half, Onuoha capitalises on a defensive lapse and gives the home support a reason to cheer. A long ranged Hoilett shot at goal was going harmlessly wide and the defender calmly stuck out his right foot to divert the ball home. With that goal came confidence and only a claim by Kirkland denied Clint Hill from completing the turnaround. Clearly buoyed by their support, QPR applied the pressure and it paid dividends in the 42nd minute. Kirkland did well to save a close-range Barton header at goal only for the ball to divert to Johnson who expertly volleyed home a right-footed shot to give the promotion favourites a less than deserved lead. They would have increased that lead moments later but for Hoilett missing a good opportunity yet again. Following that miss and a Barton foul on David Prutton comes the half-time whistle and the enthused home support see their first 45 minutes in the Championship come to a close with a narrow 2-1 lead.
|SWFC fans at Loftus Road|
HT REVIEW: Not even the most optimistic of Owls fans would expect to be ahead at the break, but for a crazy 3 minutes - they would have been. Some excellent football played by the visitors maybe caught the home fans off-guard as the expected long ball tactic to Nuhiu didn't happen, with the Owls preferring to play neat football. Credit where its due to the R's, they have some very good technical players and much loathed Barton became influential as the half progressed. With strikers such as Zamora and Johnson leading the line, you're never going to be lacking shots at goal. Wednesday had the better of the half only to find themselves down at the break. As I eagerly await the second half, a quick pint of John Smiths and a pork pie keep me busy.
|Joey Barton fouling Jacques Maghoma, no penalty!|
The second half is quickly into the action when a great chance to draw level passes the Owls by, Michail Antonio guilty of side-footing over the bar from Jermaine Johnson's centred pass when it looked easier to score. That followed a J.Johnson shot wide and a superb save by Kirkland to deny Hoilett. A couple of corners in quick succession by Barton soon follow but the defence of the Owls see away the danger relatively easily before one-cap international (England) sees yellow for a foul on Jeremy Helan. Maghoma is quickly into the referees book when he is taken down in the area by Barton which should have seen a penalty and a red for the want-away midfielder, instead the referee wrongly judges it as a dive. A good chance to equalise again passes the Owls by when a Maghoma corner is cleared by Onuoha with Nuhiu lurking. On the hour mark the dominant visitors again come close when Antonio shoots but narrowly misses Green's goal, flying agonisingly wide. A 65th minute Zamora foul on Zayatte is quickly retuned in earnest when Antonio upends the advancing Faurlin. A break in play shortly after sees £4m man Charlie Austin enter the fray - replacing Zamora and shortly after, Giles Coke who put a very workmanlike display in is replaced by Rhys McCabe for Wednesday. Austins first contribution though is to be penalised for a foul on Palmer barely seconds into his debut. The best chance of the half so far falls at the feet of another debutant - Jacques Maghoma, a strike that beats Green but crashes back off the upright as the Owls look to press home the pressure. On the 75th minute Austin does have his chance to shine but finds the impressive Kirkland on-form and saves the forwards headed shot at goal. Just a minute later and the goalscorer for Wednesday makes way - replaced by the noticibly bulkier Gary Madine. Minutes later sees Harry Redknapp make his second change, Barton receiving a standing ovation from the crowd as he is swapped for Shaun Wright-Phillips. The substitution works well as SWP advances on the emergency left-back Helan with relative success. An 80th minute Faurlin corner is seen away by Palmer - deputising well for the injured Lewis Buxton. 4 minutes later and the visitors are again indebted to their keeper as he keeps out a Hoilett effort at goal. When Austin heads harmlessly over on the 87th minute it allows Jermaine Jenas to enter the play, replacing Hoilett. The clock is run down with Hill fouling Antonio before Helan and then Maghoma fouls SWP in the dying minutes.
|A jubilant Andrew Johnson for QPR|
Statistics: (home / away)
Shots: 15 / 9
On target: 10 / 1
Corners: 6 / 1
Fouls: 10 / 11
Possession: 55% / 45%
FT REVIEW: Unexpectedly, Owls fans come away from the opening game feeling as though a point at least was snatched away from them whilst the QPR fans will no doubt be relieved to start their campaign with a win. The undoubted level of performers that the R's have will see them in good stead this season, even if 2 or 3 or those players seek pastures new. Wednesday can be happy with their performance and will come away with the knowledge that not many teams will leave Loftus Road with anything this season. I look forward to seeing more of Nuhiu his season too!