QPR benefit from Ash Tuesday gift

A HOWLER from Portsmouth goalkeeper Jamie Ashdown got Rangers out of jail as they maintained their lead at the top of the Championship.

Neil Warnock’s side were second best until Ashdown spilled a long-range effort from Adel Taarabt to break the deadlock just before the hour-mark on Tuesday.

But the hallmark of a title-winning team is the ability to keep racking up three points without playing well, and when Clint Hill grabbed his first goal for the club 14 minutes later than outcome became a certainty.

Pompey might have taken the lead with just 30 seconds played as Liam Lawrence swept in a free kick, but the unmarked Greg Halford could only head into Paddy Kenny’s hands.

The Rangers trio behind Ishmael Miller continually rotated their positions in an effort to unlock the Portsmouth defence, but they had little success and Taarabt and Hogan Ephraim cut isolated figures.

The better chances fell to the visitors with Dave Kitson stealing the ball from Bradley Orr and lobbing Kenny, but the finish dropped onto the roof of the net.

Kenny’s sliced clearance then gave Lawrence a chance to run at goal and Matthew Connolly pulled him back, but Kenny atoned for his error, leaping to his left to push the resulting free kick from Halford behind.

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Ashdown was finally forced into action a few minutes before half-time, diving to catch Alejandro Faurlin’s effort after Taarabt’s corner was half-cleared.

After the break Jonathan Hogg dragged his finish wide and Lawrence’s drive from distance was comfortably fielded by Kenny, allowing QPR to break immediately.

Taarabt let fly from 25 yards and, although it should have been a routine save for Ashdown, the keeper allowed the ball to squirm through his gloves and into the corner of the net.

Hogg could have levelled but stabbed the chance wide with just Kenny to beat, and Rangers then made the game safe when Hill rose to head home Taarabt’s corner.

There could have been further goals at either end but Kenny ensured another clean sheet for the league leaders, as he kicked substitute Nadir Ciftci’s header around the post late on.