Queens Park Rangers 1 Birmingham City 0
Dismal Birmingham City were knocked off the top of the Championship after losing to a Queens Park Rangers side dogged by problems on and off the pitch.
Blues left west London with nothing after troubled Rangers managed to beat them despite behind-the-scenes chaos and being reduced to 10 men just before half-time.
And Wolves’ victory over Swansea meant they leapfrogged their local rivals, who have no-one but themselves to blame after failing to capitalise on QPR’s woes.
The Blues suffered setbacks of their own, losing Garry O’Connor just before kick-off and then full-back Stuart Parnaby after only nine minutes.
Boss Alex McLeish had to change his line-up at the last minute after O’Connor suffered an injury in the pre-match warm-up – a major disappointment for the in-form striker following his brace against Sheffield Wednesday.
And Birmingham were dealt another blow when Parnaby was carried off on a stretcher after seemingly suffering an off-the-ball injury.
But even with the loss of two players, Birmingham’s troubles should have paled into insignificance compared to their opponents’.
Rangers are swimming in money following last year’s takeover by Formula One magnates Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore.
Yet the club has been in a mess, with veteran winger Gareth Ainsworth in caretaker charge after manager Iain Dowie was sacked after a training session on Friday for refusing to select a team suggested by Briatore.
Briatore’s influence on team selection was evident again at Loftus Road, where former Italy midfielder Damiano Tommasi – a 34-year-old who had not played in a competitive match since last season – was handed a debut.
That seemed like a gift for Birmingham’s strong midfield and the early signs were good as Lee Carsley and Medhi Nafti ran rings around the aging Tommasi.
Blues should have taken an early lead when Cameron Jerome beat the offside trap to latch on to Nafti’s pass only to see his shot tipped away by QPR keeper Radek Cerny, who produced another good stop to keep out Kevin Phillips’ drive.
The loss of Parnaby, who was replaced by youngster Jared Wilson, halted City’s momentum and they then had to withstand a spell of Rangers pressure.
Winger Lee Cook sent a shot wide before Birminghamkeeper Maik Taylor denied QPR skipper Martin Rowlands.
The home team had strong appeals for a penalty waved away by referee Stuart Attwelll when Cook’s cross was headed back into the danger area by Emmanuel Ledesma and seemed to strike Blues defender Franck Queudrue on the arm.
Attwell, in charge of his first Championship game since infamously awarded Readinga ‘phantom goal’ at Watford, then angered QPR’s fans by showing Mikele Leigertwood the red card for a crunching challenge on Carsley.
But that only served to galvanise Rangers, who went ahead nine minutes into the second half with a blistering 25-yard drive from Samuel Di Carmine.
James McFadden, who had been drafted in to replace O’Connor, was at fault. He was caught in possession by Tommasi and when the ball fell to Di Carmine, the R’s forward unleashed a fine shot that flew past Taylorin the Blues goal.
Birminghamalmost levelled straightaway, when Rangers failed to clear McFadden’s corner and Phillips’ close-range effort was cleared off the line by Gavin Mahon.
With heavy sleet making conditions increasingly difficult, QPR continued to make life tough for Birmingham and Ledesma’s well-struck free-kick brought a save from Taylor.
McLeish made a double substitution in an attempt to breath life into his flagging team, sending on Marcus Bent and Quincy Owusu-Abeyie.
But despite piling forward, they never looked like creating an equaliser and failed to register a meaningful effort on target until Phillips had a goal disallowed in injury time.
Phillips slid in to poke Owusu-Abeye’s low cross into the net but was denied a dramatic equaliser by an offside flag.
Scorer: Di Carmine 54.
QPR: Cerny, Leigertwood, Stewart, Hall, Connolly, Ledesma, Rowlands, Tommasi, Cook (Mahon 46), Blackstock (Buzsaky 68), Di Carmine (Ephraim 74). Subs Not Used: Cole, Parejo.
Sent Off: Leigertwood (45).
Booked: Cerny, Ledesma.
Birmingham: Maik Taylor, Parnaby (Wilson 12), Martin Taylor, Ridgewell, Queudrue, McFadden, Carsley,
Nafti (Owusu-Abeyie 64), Agustien, Phillips, Jerome (Bent 64). Subs Not Used: Doyle, Quashie.
Booked: Wilson, Queudrue.
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire).