[Premier League] Queens Park Rangers 0-2 Manchester United
ManUtd: Marouane Fellaini (58), James Wilson (90+4)
After a tight and scrappy first hour, Manchester United turned up the heat and the attacking intent in the second half to secure a 2-0 win over Queens Park Rangers, thanks to substitutes Marouane Fellaini and James Wilson.
On a testing surface against committed opposition, the game had lacked finesse and clinical finishing – on another day Radamel Falcao could have had a hat-trick at least – but, on the back of defeat to Southampton and three league matches without a victory for the Reds, Louis van Gaal will be happy to be back to winning ways.
Robin van Persie’s ankle injury afforded a return to action for Falcao, who scored two in four league games over Christmas but lost his place for the 1-0 defeat to Southampton. A late team-sheet alteration saw Jonny Evans replace Chris Smalling, one of three changes to the side defeated by the Saints, with Marcos Rojo in for Luke Shaw for his first appearance since 8 December.
QPR are languishing in the relegation zone, largely due to 10 defeats in 10 away games, but their form at Loftus Road is impressive: W5, D4 L2. And their high pressing on a bobbly pitch highlighted a fierce intent to cling onto that record.
United took control of possession early on and, after 13 minutes, Falcao could have put the Reds in front when he brought down Juan Mata’s excellent lofted pass and hit his shot goalwards. But it was straight at Rob Green, who also blocked the Colombian’s second attempt from a tight angle.
QPR hounded the Reds on the ball, occasionally forcing stray passes or, as was the case on 20 minutes, Bobby Zamora intercepted play and fed a pass to Charlie Austin, who forced a good save from De Gea. The United keeper again denied Austin on 31 minutes with an even better acrobatic stop, and that was shortly after Wayne Rooney had a penalty appeal turned down when Joey Barton practically rugby tackled him. In many ways, that summed up the first half: frustrating and scrappy – exactly what QPR wanted.
The second half started in a similar vein and QPR probed forward, with Leroy Fer misdirecting a header from a good opening from Barton’s free-kick. At the other end, Falcao went close again when his header from Di Maria’s cross was smartly saved by Green.
That preceded a much-needed change in approach as Louis van Gaal replaced Evans with Wilson and switched to 4-4-2 – which United fans had called for in the first half – with much more attacking intent. It paid off immediately.
On 58 minutes, Di Maria, who had dropped deeper, dummied the ball as Rooney took possession and fed a pass out to Valencia on the right and his astute cut-back was met by half-time substitute Fellaini, who, much like he did at West Brom, rifled his shot into the roof of the net via Green’s hand.
The game could have been put clean out of sight with 14 minutes left on the clock as Wilson raced clear down the right and squared a pass to Falcao, but Steven Caulker got a crucial touch to take it away from the Colombian. The same combination almost delivered again seconds later, when Wilson’s cross just evaded Falcao.
Wilson's rapid pace did lead to a second for the Reds with the game deep in injury time when he had a shot on the break saved before following up to seal a 2-0 victory with his first goal of the season. United's more incisive cutting edge in the second half was the key, as were van Gaal's substitutions, as the Reds notched a first league win in 2015.
QUEENS PARK RANGERS: Green; Isla, Dunne (Caulker 46), Onuoha, Hill; Vargas, Barton, Henry, Fer (Taarabt 70); Austin, Zamora (Kranjcar 80).
Subs not used: McCarthy, Ferdinand, Hoilett, Zarate.
Booked: Barton, Isla, Hill
MANCHESTER UNITED: De Gea; Jones, Evans (Wilson 57), Rojo; Valencia, Carrick, Mata (Fellaini 46), Rooney, Blind; Di Maria (Herrera 90), Falcao.
Subs not used: Valdes, Smalling, McNair, Januzaj.
Booked: Mata, Rojo