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Aug 20, 2011

QPR rise to challenge

A 4-0 home defeat, an injury after two-and-a-half minutes of the season, a red card for head-butting a Bulgarian in the stomach, a takeover by a yet another Formula One mogul to part-own the club, a virus ravaging the squad and their best top-flight result since Leeds were beaten at Elland Road in September 1995.

Neil Warnock speaks after the game

Events can seem to proceed at a frightening pace in the Premier League as Queens Park Rangers, eight days into their return, are discovering. This is a division where anyone who stands still finds themselves going backwards. That is the permanent fear at Goodison Park as Everton, the credit-crunched anachronism, made their traditional slow start to a season.

In a tale of contrasting clubs, the new broom swept past Everton's ancient regime. The name of Tony Fernandes, the Malaysian businessman, West Ham fan and new QPR owner, was sung from the stands; that of Bill Kenwright, the lifelong Evertonian who is unable to loosen the purse strings, was not. It is a sign of Kenwright's unfortunate impotence that QPR found a suitor five days after their official return to the top-flight; more than half a century into Everton's spell at this level, bids remain unforthcoming.

Neil Warnock argued geography conspires against them. "People want to live in London," the QPR manager - and professional northerner - said. "No disrespect to up here." Goodison Park, the antiquated, atmospheric ground, harks back to an era long before Malaysian multi-millionaires were buying English clubs, a deterrent that can be Everton's strength.

Not on this occasion, however. Fortress Goodison was not so much stormed as quietened. Tommy Smith's winner sealed a triumph of the old era - 10 of Warnock's Championship artisans started - to begin the new.

Fernandes' portfolio of business interests, including Air Asia and the Lotus Formula One team, offer a variety of metaphors. Everton, not for the first time, have stalled when their season should be starting. Rangers, without hitting top gear, are no longer among the backmarkers.

Theirs was a win of age-old virtues: solidity, organisation, teamwork. It was, in short, precisely the sort of match that has Warnock gushing. "I thought the two centre-halves [Danny Gabbidon and Fitz Hall] defended like men," he said. "I love it when they're like that. We've knackered a few coupons."

They did so courtesy of a goal David Moyes deemed "poor defensively". Smith scored it, finishing smartly after Phil Jagielka had lost possession and then Alejandro Faurlin and Akos Buzsaky combined. It was an isolated attempt, however. Everton had already rattled the Rangers woodwork, Leighton Baines' free kick rebounding off the bar. Tim Cahill, who tends to finish better with his head than most can with their feet, spurned what was almost an open goal when directing Jermaine Beckford's cross wide. Cahill tested Paddy Kenny with a shot, too, but QPR survived with some comfort.

"We just lacked ability at the top end of the pitch to make a difference," Moyes admitted. They spent some of that time playing without a specialist striker after Jermaine Beckford's withdrawal and Marouane Fellaini's introduction, a decision that was greeted with boos. The Belgian was benched because, Moyes said, he was not fully fit. Neither was Mikel Arteta, another replacement.

QPR were only troubled really by Ross Barkley, Everton's 17-year-old debutant. Playing out of position on the left, the central midfielder displayed an ability to beat a man and a readiness to shoot. "I thought he was our best player today," Moyes said. "I was disappointed with a lot of them, but not Ross."

Promoting from within is the one benefit of the enforced continuity at Goodison Park. While 19 top-flight clubs signed at least one player this summer, one didn't. That's Everton, constants in a world of change. Players and style of play, occupants of boardroom and dugout: all remain the same. The Premier League takes on a different meaning when the bank owns their debts and profits from any sale of players. "What money, depending on the value, would go to the bank," Moyes accepted.

He hopes to retain footballers; Warnock to acquire them. "We're going to try and sign four or five quality players," he said. Smith's winner could affect the perception of the club. "If we'd lost four or five or six, [prospective signings] might have thought twice," he concluded.

One result, and one week, can make a world of difference. "Last week we never thought we'd never get another point until Christmas," Warnock said. "Now they're talking about Europe."

MAN OF THE MATCH: Shaun Derry - While Warnock praised his central defenders, the old head shielding the defence did so with great determination and astute positioning. Derry made interceptions and blocks aplenty.

EVERTON VERDICT: The lack of creativity is the major concern with Jack Rodwell turning in an uninspired performance on the right flank. A fully-fit Arteta would help, but Moyes' inability to sign means Everton have another season of trying to make do.

QPR VERDICT: Everton's first home defeat since November was made all the more impressive by circumstances. A stomach bug affected Adel Taarabt and Matthew Connolly, who both played, and substitute Jay Bothroyd, while ruling DJ Campbell out altogether. With Kieron Dyer injured and Clint Hill suspended, a squad that had looked threadbare rose to the challenge.

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