Latics 0 QPR 0

Uwe Rosler
Uwe Rosler

LATICS and QPR huffed and puffed but succeeded only in cancelling each other out in a real war of attrition last night.

Both sides had been forced to settle for the play-offs after being pre-season favourites to win promotion back to the Premier League.

And there was nothing to choose between them heading into Monday’s second leg at Loftus Road.

After a scrappy first half that saw more bookings than shots on goal, the game picked up considerably in the second period.

Rangers had their best chance within seconds of the restart when Armand Traore’s shot on the turn was brilliantly saved by Scott Carson, preferred in goal by Ali Al Habsi.

Back came Latics, but they too were unable to take the chances that came their way.

The best without question fell to Marc-Antoine Fortune, but the striker blazed over the top from bang in front.

He had chance to make amends moments later, but this time saw his shot blocked by a Rangers foot.

Both sides made attacking changes to try to tip the tie in their favour.

But neither were able to break the deadlock setting up a tense second leg in West London on Monday for a place in the most lucrative game in world football at Wembley on May 24.

With the stakes so high, it was no surprise that it was tight from the off.

The game had hardly settled into a rhythm when the first flashpoint arrived, at a Latics corner from the left.

As the ball travelled towards the goalmouth, Rob Kiernan was caught by the elbow of Clint Hill and immediately hit the deck.

Referee Mike Jones missed the incident, and the replays suggested the Rangers was a very lucky boy indeed to escape.

At the other end, Rangers showed themselves for the first time with a nice move that saw Charlie Austin tee-up Gary O’Neil, whose drilled shot was superbly blocked by James McArthur.

But other than that, most other efforts by both sides to play any sort of football was quickly snuffed out by some rather robust defending.

Callum McManaman skinned Richard Dunne down the Latics right before being hauled back for a regulation yellow.

Moments later, an attempted Rangers break was halted not once but twice by illegal challenges, McArthur on Ravel Morrison and then McManaman on O’Neil - both of which were deemed bookable offences by the official.

After three quickfire yellows in a row, Jones seemed to adopt a more relaxed stance, with O’Neil and then Gary Caldwell not carded for offences that seemed as bad as the ones that preceded them.

Finally some football broke out again when Jean Beausejour found space down the left, although Hill was on hand to steer the ball away from the onrushing James Perch.

Then, just before the interval, came the biggest chance of the game, falling to Wigan’s double Player of the Year Jordi Gomez.

Unfortunately for Latics, this time the Spaniard’s aim was off and he blasted the ball straight at Rob Green, who made the easy save.

Credit Rangers, they came out for the second half with a spring in their step and asked some probing questions of the home defence.

A deep cross from Traore required a great punch clear from Carson.

And the Latics goalkeeper produced a fantastic save moments later to turn away a daisy-cutter from the same player.

Fortune won a cheap free-kick off Dunne as Latics tried to regain the initiative, but Shaun Maloney’s set-piece was easily blocked by the wall.

Gomez lobbed the ball back in, but the header from Kiernan was straight at Green.

Kiernan was involved again as the game neared the final quarter, with Latics spurning the best opportunity on the night.

After an almighty scramble in the goalmouth, Kiernan drove the ball across goal into the path of Fortune.

It was a golden opportunity for the former West Brom man, but the connection was poor and the ball flew miles over the top to the relief of Green and his defence.

Fortune had an immediately chance to make amends, but this time his shot from another good cross from Beausejour was well blocked.

Rangers threw on Kevin Doyle for the last 20 minutes, with Martyn Waghorn and Nicky Maynard following suit for Latics.

But chances remained at a premium, and O’Neil’s effort from Morrison’s neat lay-off which just about remained inside the DW Stadium pretty much summed up the night.

Latics: Carson; Boyce, Caldwell, Kiernan; Perch, McArthur, Gomez, Beausejour; McManaman, Maloney, Fortune.

Subs: Al Habsi, Barnett, Espinoza, Collison, McClean, Waghorn (for McManaman, 76), Maynard (for Fortune, 76).

Rangers: Green; Simpson, Onouha, Dunne, Hill; Barton, O’Neil, Morrison, Hoilett, Traore; Austin.

Subs: Murphy, Hughes, Suk-Young (for Hoilett, 88), Henry, Carroll, Krancjar (for Morrison, 78), Doyle (for Traore, 70).

Referee: Mike Jones

Star Man: Rob Kiernan