Queens Park Rangers recorded the English Premier League’s biggest upset of the season 1–0 over Chelsea on Wednesday as the football festive season drew to a close.
Shaun Wright-Phillips is reported to be unsettled at QPR and only made it onto the pitch because of an injury to Junior Hoilett, but the former Chelsea, Manchester City, and England winger well and truly spoiled the new year celebrations at Stamford Bridge with an unlikely 78th-minute winner for bottom of the table Rangers.
It was the Hoops’ first away win since November 2011 and only second of the season.
Notwithstanding the unexpected three points, Rangers are still propping up the rest of the league, but there is no question that this upset win—the club’s first top flight success at Stamford Bridge since March 1979—will give them tremendous heart for the second half of the campaign.
The loss leaves Chelsea 14 points adrift of leaders Manchester United in fourth place with now only a single game in hand.
Chelsea was still without captain John Terry and, with Anton Ferdinand missing for QPR, the two protagonists in last season’s racism row were both absent. It was to be hoped, therefore, that the acrimony that has plagued recent encounters between the two West London rivals would not be in evidence on this occasion.
First choice goalkeeper Petr Cech picked up a groin strain at Everton on Sunday so Ross Turnbull started only his fifth Barclays Premier League game between the sticks.
Midfielder John Obi Mikel’s knee is still not right, but Ryan Bertrand was passed fit to play at left back and allowed Ashley Cole a rest.
Chelsea boss Rafa Benitez also left Juan Mata and Eden Hazard on the bench in favor of Victor Moses and Marko Marin. It was the Bosnian-born German international’s first Premier League start since his move from Werder Bremen last July.
QPR manager Harry Redknapp still has strikers Andrew Johnson (knee) and Bobby Zamora (hip) sidelined with long-term injuries. On-loan defender Fabio Da Silva from Manchester United was brought in at left back with the hard-tackling Shaun Derry returning to strengthen the midfield.
Injury plagued Canadian Hoilett began a game for the first time under the Redknapp regime.
Dull First Half
Marin was desperate to make an impression in his league debut and he certainly managed that with the match not yet four minutes old. His very late tackle, with studs showing, went way over the ball into the shin of his opponent Stephane M’Bia.
It was a potential leg breaker and he would surely have been shown a straight red card had it not occurred so early in the match. Referee Lee Mason produced only a yellow, and Marin was lucky indeed to remain on the field of play.
That moment of controversy turned out to be just about the only talking point of a decidedly uninspiring first half. Neither goalkeeper had a significant save to make until the 43rd minute when a Frank Lampard shot was deflected and Julio Cesar, who was going the wrong way, made a good save with his legs.
Chelsea woke up somewhat after the break and began to put the visitors under pressure. However, without the creative flair of Mata and Hazard they were finding it hard to open up the stubborn QPR defense; the chances they did manage to create were not converted.
Marin gave way to Hazard on the hour with Mata replacing Moses fifteen minutes later, and they did begin to spark the team into life; but, ironically, it was at the Chelsea end that lightning struck.
On 78 minutes, QPR earned a rare corner. The kick was cleared but only as far as the admirable Adel Taarabt on the edge of the area. The Moroccan squared the ball to Wright-Phillips and the former Blues man had the time to direct a crisp low shot inside the post, giving Turnbull no chance whatsoever.
Benitez brought on Ramires for Lampard, but might have regretted that the England dead ball specialist was not still on the field when a rash challenge from Clint Hill presented Chelsea with a free kick in a glorious central position, a yard outside the box.
David Luiz hammered it straight into the Rangers wall.
The final opportunity for the Blues to salvage something came in the final minute, but Branislav Ivanovic put his header over the top.
This was a magnificent result for Rangers, but they still have a mountain to climb.
Only once has the team bottom of the Premier League table at the end of the year avoided relegation, and that was West Brom in 2004–2005.
But many will remember the similarly remarkable escape act once conjured up by Harry Redknapp for Portsmouth, so there will still be some hope at Loftus Road.
Recent good results had somewhat placated the Chelsea fans outraged by the sacking of club favorite Roberto Di Matteo. But, with this defeat, questions will inevitably be asked about the team selection of Benitez.
Considering this was a game Chelsea had to win in order to stay in touch with the two Manchester clubs, many would suggest that Hazard, and especially Mata, were brought on far too late to work their magic.
It would surely have been more astute to play them from the start, get a couple of goals ahead, and then bring them off for a rest once the points were safe. One remembers that Benitez was frequently criticized at Liverpool for almost pathological squad rotation whereby most players hardly ever played two games in a row.
Prospects for 2013
While always remembering the old adage that titles are won in May, not January, it is hard at this juncture to see the trophy ending up anywhere but in Manchester again.
Rangers’ heroics have served to give United, and even City, more breathing space than they could have hoped for at this stage of the proceedings; particularly considering that Chelsea was setting the pace in the early weeks of the season.
The result also gives encouragement to the chasing pack, with Spurs currently looking the best bet to make third position their own if they can build on their current form.
Arsenal still cannot find any sort of consistency, and Everton may struggle to keep up the pace if injuries and/or suspensions put pressure on the club’s modest squad.
West Brom has been the competition dark horse thus far, but is now showing signs of fading after a run of losses.
Right now, it is hard to not imagine Reading occupying one of the relegation places at the conclusion of the final round of matches. Wigan and QPR are escape specialists, and it seems almost unthinkable that the likes of Aston Villa or even Newcastle, who were so impressive last season, could go down.
There is much for the fans to look forward to over the ensuing five months of English Premier League Football.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 20 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.