Former Blues loanee Ravel Morrison marked his St. Andrew’s return by scoring both goals as pre-season title favourites QPR got their promotion bid back on track.
Morrison showed off the quality that made him a popular player in the second city last season, notching a goal in each half to seal victory. But it was far from a one-horse race as Lee Clark’s side battled hard and created some good openings of their own, Emyr Huws going closest with a first-half free-kick and a low second-half effort.
On-loan Liverpool winger Jordon Ibe was handed his full debut as one of four changes made by Clark, the Blues boss opting for a very attacking 3-4-3 formation. Shane Ferguson was recalled for his first league start since the end of November with Tom Adeyemi and Chris Burke the others to get a berth.
Rangers looked the more threatening early on with Morrison catching the eye with one particularly mazy run. The first chance of the game fell to the former Manchester United man but Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s cut-back went just behind him and he was unable to find the target from 12 yards.
However, the midfielder wasn’t to be denied against his former employers as he put the visitors in front on 14 minutes. Will Packwood misjudged the bounce of the ball to allow Kevin Doyle a run on goal and the Irishman was only halted by a trip from Paul Robinson, the captain earning a yellow card for his troubles. Morrison curled the resultant free-kick over the wall and into the top left corner.
Blues almost restored parity on 18 minutes when Huws swung in a dangerous free-kick from 35 yards out wide on the right. The lively Manchester City loanee floated a cross towards the head of Nikola Zigic and although the Serbian was unable to make contact, the ball bounced through and looked destined for the top corner until the fingertips of Robert Green turned it over.
On 21 minutes Doyle’s cross found an unmarked Armond Traore inside the area but the former Arsenal man sliced his attempted volley well wide of Randolph’s right-hand post. At the opposite end of the pitch, Huws twisted and turned inside the area but when the shooting opportunity appeared to open up he opted to take on another defender and the chance was gone.
Morrison was running the show for Rangers and another dangerous run culminated in a shot that drifted well wide. Only the woodwork prevented Harry Redknapp’s charges from doubling their advantage when Joey Barton free-kick was met by a thumping header from Clint Hill. The Rangers captain was left with his head in his hands as the ball crashed back off the bar.
At the other end Blues were beginning to make more inroads with Chris Burke and Paul Caddis creating numerous crossing opportunities but unfortunately the ball just wouldn’t drop to a penguin-shirted team-mate and the half ended with Rangers holding the narrow advantage.
The hosts made a very positive start to the second-half with Caddis threading a great ball down the line to release Burke. The Scot cut inside and looked all set to produce a trademark curling shot but instead continued his run and the ball eventually carried through to Ibe, who also opted to dribble rather than shoot. Blues maintained the pressure though and a shooting chance eventually fell to Huws but the Welshman’s 20-yard low drive was safely held by Green.
Randolph was called into action to parry away a similar effort from Doyle but Blues were soon back on the front foot with Adeyemi unleashing a shot from 25 yards but the ball was always rising and flew a few yards over the bar.
Blues’ hopes of getting anything from the game were extinguished with 17 minutes left on the clock as Rangers doubled their lead – and it was that man Morrison again. Jermaine Jenas raced down the left and cut the ball back for the England U21 international, who produced a composed side-footed finish from inside the area.
Randolph pulled off a good save to deny Rangers sub Will Keane late on but a third goal would certainly have been unfair on Blues, who must now regroup ready for an equally tough test with Wednesday’s visit of another of the Sky Bet Championship’s pace-setters Burnley.