QPR’s reluctance to play Rowlands is bizarre

MARTIN Rowlands’ days at QPR are evidently numbered – it seems Neil Warnock will go to any lengths not to play him.

With Alejandro Faurlin laid low by a bug, Rowlands appeared to be his obvious replacement in central midfield at Elland Road, only for the Rangers manager to switch Kyle Walker there instead.

But then, when Warnock dispatched Walker to left-back in the second half, how could it make any sense to move his best defender – Matthew Connolly – into the midfield gap instead of turning to Rowlands?

Warnock continues to insist that his club captain needs match time after recovering from his second cruciate ligament injury in less than two years, yet seems strangely reluctant to give him that opportunity.

The reality was that the Rs were outplayed in the centre of the park, with Leeds captain Jonny Howson leading by shining example, although that was hardly the visitors’ most glaring deficiency.

Up front, they desperately lacked the pace or guile to trouble the Leeds defence and Warnock had nothing up his sleeve once the plan of hitting Rob Hulse and hoping someone could feed off the knockdowns failed to bear fruit.

There were a couple of early instances where it looked as though the plan might work, with Hulse heading on for Tommy Smith to steer a volley over the bar and then reaching Adel Taarabt’s free-kick with a header that was saved low down by Kasper Schmeichel.

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But it was Leeds who went closest to opening the scoring when Paul Connolly’s cross picked out the head of Luciano Becchio and Paddy Kenny flung out an arm to tip the ball over.

And the home side did take the lead in the 25th minute as Robert Snodgrass sent a cross to the far post, Howson’s header fell into no man’s land and Max Gradel steamed in to fire the loose ball past Kenny.

Rangers offered little in response, although Kaspars Gorkss speared the ball just wide following a penalty area scramble, and it was Leeds who always looked more likely to score again.

Snodgrass forced his way through in first-half stoppage time to bring another save from Kenny, who also turned Becchio’s angled effort around the post soon after the restart.

Rangers were stretched on both flanks and they had a fortunate escape when Snodgrass got away from Walker to set up Gradel, but the winger delayed too long and the chance went begging.

However, Gradel made amends with his second goal 20 minutes from time, taking advantage when Bradley Orr was caught out of position to collect George McCartney’s pass, turn Fitz Hall and drive past Kenny at his near post.

In desperation, Warnock made a double change that should have come about 15 minutes earlier and, while memories of the stirring Pride Park fightback may still linger, even the most optimistic QPR fan knew the game was up this time.

It was mainly thanks to Kenny that their side avoided further punishment, with the keeper doing well to pull down Howson’s powerful drive and also turning a daisy-cutter from Snodgrass around the post.

“Top of the league... you’re having a laugh,” came the inevitable mocking chant from the home crowd and, while half of that statement remains accurate, there are worried frowns replacing many of the smiles right now.