QPR 1 Charlton Athletic 0
By Ben Kosky ANYONE who turned up in ignorance of the league table would have been surprised to learn that QPR were the team playing for pride only. Not just because Charlton – whose outside chance of a play-off place was finally extinguished – looked dis
By Ben Kosky
ANYONE who turned up in ignorance of the league table would have been surprised to learn that QPR were the team playing for pride only.
Not just because Charlton - whose outside chance of a play-off place was finally extinguished - looked dishevelled, but because Luigi de Canio's side displayed the kind of drive and determination you might not expect from a team firmly anchored in mid-table.
Martin Rowlands and Gavin Mahon turned in tigerish performances in midfield and up front, the combination of a revitalised Dexter Blackstock and the eager Angelo Balanta kept Charlton's defence under pressure.
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"I'm very happy indeed because it might have looked from the outside as if we didn't have huge motivation and had one eye on next season," acknowledged de Canio.
"But, even with a few absences, we played an excellent game. The players showed great maturity and professionalism."
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Playing in front of their biggest home crowd of the season, Rangers were virtually always in control against a Charlton side lacking much spark, especially after former Hoops star Lee Cook limped off midway through the first half.
By then, the visitors were behind, with Balanta firing an early opportunity wide before Blackstock bagged his fourth goal in the last five games to make it 1-0 in the 14th minute.
The striker chased Damion Stewart's ball down the right flank and pressured Paddy McCarthy into an error, pouncing on the loose ball to slot a left-foot finish past Nicky Weaver.
The afternoon might easily have got worse for McCarthy when he challenged Blackstock again and steered the ball over the head of the helpless Weaver, but fractionally over the bar as well.
At the other end, Charlton rarely posed any kind of threat to Lee Camp and, when Darren Ambrose did create an opening for Leroy Lita just before half-time, the on-loan Reading frontman aimed an air shot at it.
It was all Rangers at the start of the second period, though, with Weaver saving Balanta's glancing header, Blackstock nodding just wide from a corner and Rowlands' free-kick whizzing just over.
Killing games off has proved a frequent problem for the Rs all season, though, and when Hogan Ephraim's incisive run found Blackstock, the striker lost his footing, but still managed to scoop the ball goalwards - only for Weaver to somehow claw it away.
The Addicks keeper was stranded soon afterwards when Mahon headed the ball back for Balanta, but the teenager could only glance the opportunity wide - and the visitors belatedly threatened to snatch a point.
Ambrose's free-kick, straight into Camp's midriff, prompted ironic celebrations from the Charlton fans at the sight of their first shot on target five minutes before the end.
Camp also scrambled away an Ambrose header in added time, but QPR would surely have wrapped up the points by then had substitute Akos Buzsaky opted to shoot instead of making a hash of his attempt to tee up Blackstock.
Unlike at Hull, there was to be no late heartbreak and the result ensured that, whether or not Cook is back at Loftus Road next season, Charlton definitely will be.
QPR: Camp; Connolly, Hall (Mancienne 34), Stewart, Delaney; Ainsworth (Buzsaky 51), ROWLANDS*, Mahon, Ephraim (Leigertwood 79); Blackstock, Balanta. Subs not used: Crowther, Lee.