Brunt cracker earns third away win
A CHRIS Brunt Christmas cracker and a Robert Green gift fired Albion to a second successive win.
The skipper broke the deadlock with his first league strike of the season on 29 – a trademark left-footed 30-yard drive – before Green’s bizarre own goal five minutes after the break put Steve Clarke’s side in control.
Albion had plenty of chances to extend their advantage but failed to take them and Djbrill Cisse’s reply on 68 set up a nervy finale.
However, the Baggies stood firm to record a richly-deserved third away win of the season.
Seventh visited 19th at Loftus Road, with the hosts starting the game five points off safety.
Clarke rang two changes for Albion’s second game in four days as back-from-suspension Youssouf Mulumbu and Marc-Antoine Fortune came in for benched duo Graham Dorrans and Peter Odemwingie.
Harry Redknapp also made two changes, with Armand Traore and Shaun Wright-Phillips replacing Ryan Nelsen and Esteban Granero.
With the roads around the West London ground gridlocked, largely due to a closure on the nearby A40, the Baggies team coach did not arrive until 2pm and the kick-off was therefore delayed by 15 minutes.
It took just 67 seconds for the first shot of the game to arrive, and it wasn’t a bad effort either, with Rangers midfielder Stephane Mbia driving a yard wide of the right-hand post from 20 yards.
The disruption to Albion’s usual pre-match routine caused by their late arrival did not appear to affect them too much during what was a scrappy opening to the game.
Ben Foster was called on to make his first save on 11 when he opted for safety first in turning around his near-post an acrobatic effort from Jamie Mackie, who had connected with Fabio’s centre, which was already going wide.
But the Baggies were certainly not being found wanting in the possession stakes and saw several promising moves repelled by the Rangers rearguard.
They produced their first real shot at goal on 21 but the industrious Mulumbu was well off target from 25 yards.
However, Albion could have been behind on 23. Wright-Phillips jinked past Mulumbu and Billy Jones down the left before picking out Mackie in the box who, slightly off-balance, headed weakly wide of the far post when he should at least have hit the target.
But it was Albion who broke the deadlock – and how!
Brunt, who was playing as a deep-lying midfielder, strode onto Fortune’s lay-off before unleashing a stunning 30-yard drive which nestled in the helpless Green’s bottom left-hand corner.
Albion suddenly had the taste for the spectacular and, just a minute later, James Morrison chipped the ball up with his left foot before volleying goalwards from 25 yards with his right and his effort sailed just a yard over.
However, QPR rallied and went close when Foster pushed away another long-range Mbia drive.
On 35, Goran Popov almost shot his team-mates in the foot when he was caught napping on the ball by Mackie, who cut inside before seeing his dangerous centre headed away by Gareth McAuley. Popov had pulled up in pain as he attempted to track Mackie’s run into the box and he was replaced moments later by Liam Ridgewell.
Rangers won a free-kick in an inviting position on 37 when Brunt appeared to be harshly penalised for a challenge on Cisse. The talismanic Adel Taarabt took aim from 20 yards and curled the set-piece just wide of the left-hand post.
Clint Hill was the next to threaten, heading a yard wide from Taarabt’s perfectly-delivered corner.
However, it was Albion who finished the half on the front foot. In the first minute of stoppage time, Morrison did well to first win the ball and then tee up Zoltan Gera in the QPR ‘D’, who curled a decent opening wide of the right-hand post.
Morrison was at it again three minutes into added time when he bustled his way through and curled a terrific shot just wide from 20 yards.
It took the Baggies just 55 seconds after the restart to threaten the Rangers goal again, when Romelu Lukaku’s forceful run into the box sparked a goalmouth melee, which ended when the on-loan Chelsea man stabbed weakly at Green from ten yards.
But Rangers were fired up after their half-time team talk and Mbia headed an inviting chance wide from Taraabt’s centre on 48.
Back came Albion and the unsuspecting Anton Ferdinand was relieved to see Jones’ low centre crash into his midriff before bouncing just wide of the near-post. It was almost own goal – but a Rangers player DID put through his own net from the resulting corner on 50.
Brunt’s flag-kick was headed high into the air by Traore and Green, under pressure on his goalline from Fortune, who was merely standing his ground, could only scoop the ball into his own net.
Lukaku could, and probably should, have made it 3-0 on 59 when, after a great Baggies break, he collected Morrison’s through-ball and shot straight at the onrushing Green. Moments later, Morrison again turned provider when he teed up Mulumbu in the box, whose cross-cum-shot flashed wide of the far post.
Rangers did not threaten again until the hour-mark, when Fabio shot harmlessly wide from 25 yards.
But it was Green who was called into action again on 65 when he raced to the edge of his area to punch clear Mulumbu’s lofted through-ball, which was being chased down by Lukaku.
Another chance came and went on 67 when Lukaku raced clear down the left onto Morrison’s slide-rule pass and saw his acute drive blocked by Green at his near-post.
But despite all of Albion’s pressure, their lead was halved on 68. Mbia dissected the Baggies’ centre-halves with a sublime through-pass and Cisse lifted the ball over the onrushing Foster to make it 2-1.
The goal transformed the atmosphere inside the compact ground and, moments later, Foster showed a safe pair of hands to hold onto Mackie’s 20-yarder.
Foster was also equal to an effort from similar distance from Taarabt on 71.
But Albion regrouped and Green had to take evasive action to push over Brunt’s 79th-minute corner which was curling inside his far top corner.
Rangers kept plugging away for a leveller and Mbia headed powerfully wide form Taarabt’s corner on 82.
Fortune put the ball in the Rangers net five minutes from time but his effort was rightly ruled out for offside.
However, it took a stunning save from Foster - with a little help from Mulumbu - in the final minute to prevent Hill’s downward header from Taarabt’s corner crossing the line.
Albion also survived a penalty scare in stoppage time when Rangers appealed in vain for handball after Mbia’s header struck Ridgewell’s arm.
QPR (4-4-1-1): Green; Fabio (Hoilett 64), Ferdinand, Hill, Traore; Mackie , Mbia, Faurlin (Diakite 64), Wright-Phillips; Taarabt; Cisse. Subs not used: Cesar (gk), Derry, Granero, Ehmer, Dyer.
ALBION (4-2-3-1): Foster; Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Popov (Ridgewell 35); Mulumbu, Brunt; Fortune, Morrison (Tamas 86), Gera; Lukaku (Long 76). Subs not used: Myhill (gk), Rosenberg, Dorrans, Odemwingie.
GOALS: QPR – Cisse (68). ALBION – Brunt (29), Green (own goal 50).
BOOKINGS: QPR – Mbia (foul 84).
REFEREE: Chris Foy (Merseyside)
ATTENDANCE: 17,782 (1,326 Albion fans).
ALBION STARMAN: Chris Brunt.