Macca remembers taking the Bridge in triumph

By Ben Kosky MENTION Chelsea and 1986 in the same breath to a QPR fan and his mind will instantly be flooded with warm Easter Monday memories. No Rangers supporter who attended Loftus Road on March 31 of that year – this writer included – can ever for

By Ben Kosky

MENTION 'Chelsea' and '1986' in the same breath to a QPR fan and his mind will instantly be flooded with warm Easter Monday memories.

No Rangers supporter who attended Loftus Road on March 31 of that year - this writer included - can ever forget the sheer elation of seeing his side outclass Chelsea, the bitter enemy, by six clear goals.

But, only two months earlier, the Bush faithful had witnessed another clash against their local rivals that has since become a historical landmark - the last time a QPR side triumphed at Stamford Bridge.

Alan McDonald and Michael Robinson scored the extra-time goals that took Rangers through in their Milk Cup quarter-final replay - but how times have changed since then.

Chelsea, now one of the leading names in European football, have hinted they may send out a youthful side for Wednesday's rematch in the third round of the same competition.

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But McDonald, a Loftus Road legend during 14 years there at centre-half and more recently assistant manager to Gary Waddock, has no doubt the tie will mean just as much to QPR fans as it did in 1986.

"There was no chance of anyone putting out what might be classed as a second or third string side in a cup tie back then," McDonald told the Times.

"I can understand Chelsea's predicament because the Champions League and the Premier League are probably their priorities.

"But whatever team Chelsea put out, the Rangers fans will be shouting and doing everything possible to help their side win the game, without a doubt - and I'd love to see them do it.

"I was fortunate enough to have a fantastic relationship with the fans at QPR, I'm very thankful for that and those feelings run deep. Anyone with a drop of QPR blood in their system will be desperate to win the game."

Even if they field a weakened team, Chelsea will start as favourites, just as they did nearly 24 years ago after holding their neighbours to a 1-1 draw in the original tie at Loftus Road.

But, after a scoreless 90 minutes, it was McDonald who headed home a Robbie James corner to break the deadlock and, with Chelsea chasing an equaliser, Robinson robbed goalkeeper Eddie Niedzwiecki to fire into an unguarded net from 50 yards out.

"There had been a big hullabaloo because [Chelsea chairman] Ken Bates had made a lot of comments about our plastic pitch after the first game at Loftus Road," McDonald recalled.

"The gist of it was 'now we've got them on real grass, we'll give them a hiding' and, on top of it being a local derby, that made it even more spicy. So it was nice to ram Mr Bates' comments back down his throat.

"Everyone remembers Michael Robinson scoring from the halfway line, but they seem to have forgotten my header! It was a fabulous night and it was pretty special for me, apart from scoring the goal.

"It was the first season I'd been a regular in the side, playing week in week out and that summer I went to the World Cup finals with Northern Ireland, so it was a special season for me on two fronts.

"Beating Chelsea was one of the highlights of that cup run, but I'd say to go up to Anfield in the semi-final and go through against Liverpool was probably our biggest achievement - in those days Liverpool were virtually untouchable at home."

The final, against Oxford United, proved to be a painful experience for Rangers, but their rivalry with Chelsea continued virtually right through the following decade.

Relegation from the Premier League in 1996 ended that, and it was only a couple of years ago that the FA Cup draw finally brought the two sides together again, with Luigi de Canio's side going down by a single goal at Stamford Bridge.

"It was almost a guaranteed fixture that we'd play them at Christmas or Easter and the rivalry was second to none," said McDonald. "Fulham and Brentford were a couple of divisions below us in those days.

"Chelsea was the one that mattered most and the grounds were always packed out. Of course I remember the 6-0, when Gary Bannister scored a hat-trick and he and John Byrne destroyed the Chelsea defence.

"Any QPR fan of a certain age will remember that day and another one that stands out for me was the year before, when I scored another header, and we drew 2-2 at Loftus Road."

McDonald is now based back in his native Belfast, where he coaches the current national champions Glentoran, but still keeps one eye on events at Loftus Road.

And he feels former Northern Ireland colleague Jim Magilton is destined to be a success with Rangers - whether or not he emulates Jim Smith by leading QPR to victory at the Bridge next week.

"I was in the Northern Ireland squad when Jim came in as a young player - he's a good lad and I've got a lot of time for him. And that's what they need to give him at QPR - time to do the job," McDonald added.

"People have been hired and fired there too quickly and that leads to instability. Look at clubs who were in the Premier League recently, like Southampton and Norwich, and look at where they are now.

"You have to trust the people who have been appointed and I'm sure that, given time and money, Jim can get QPR where they want to be.