The end of the beginning, but hopefully not the beginning of the end – full match report
Sunday, 16th Oct 2011 21:40 by Clive Whittingham
QPR laboured to a 1-1 draw in a home match with Blackburn Rovers on Saturday that represented their last chance to post points before a nightmare run of fixtures begins.
New players, new owners, new league, new season – but every now and again Rangers like to do their bit to remind the regulars that it’s still the same Queens Park Rangers they’ve come to know and love.
Next week it’s Chelsea, a West London derby sure to be played in a white hot atmosphere in front of a live television audience. Whatever the score in that match, and all signs point to it being a comfortable away win, you can be almost certain that Rangers will start the game pumped up and attack it from the off with 110% from every player on the pitch. Had that been the case on Saturday against a poor Blackburn side that’s threat was limited almost exclusively to headers from set pieces then they’d have won. Like so many QPR teams before them, this one too seems to like to adjust its performance level to that of the opposition.
Off the field Neil Warnock did his bit to keep up the average of a PR incident every three weeks by using the post match press conference to lambast a supporter for revealing details of his bizarre team selection on the eve of the game. In an unprecedented, unprofessional and quite probably illegal move the club then posted the e-mail address of the message board poster responsible on the club’s official website - a move almost as amateur as the defending that repeatedly allowed Chris Samba to threaten the QPR goal during the match.
The QPR team that caused all the post match controversy showed two changes from the 6-0 annihilation at Fulham. Jamie Mackie made his first start for ten months since breaking his leg in a challenge with Gael Givet against Blackburn at Ewood Park in the FA Cup – Adel Taarabt was the man to make way for the former Plymouth man following his half time departure from Craven Cottage last time out. The decision to drop the Moroccan after his walk out at Fulham said more about Neil Warnock’s feelings over the incident than any of the many calming words he spoke playing down the incident before this game. Jay Bothroyd, in his worst goal scoring form for six years, was left out in favour of Heidar Helguson who had forced an own-goal equaliser from Richard Dunne in the last home game against Aston Villa.
So Helguson filled the lone striker role with Mackie to his left and Shaun Wright Phillips to his right but further back there was something of a positional reshuffle. Shaun Derry played in his usual deep lying midfield role but he was accompanied more by Joey Barton than Alejandro Faurlin who seemed to be pushing further forward than normal. It was an alteration that didn’t really work for Neil Warnock, all three had poor games by their own standards. At the back the continued absence of Danny Gabbidon gave Fitz Hall a chance to make amends for his Craven Cottage aberration alongside Anton Ferdinand. Armand Traore returned from suspension at left back which meant Luke Young reverted back to the right flank and Paddy Kenny started in goal.
Blackburn came into the game with pressure growing on manager Steve Kean and the numbers stacking up against them. Lying second bottom of the table after their worst start to a season since 1951 and having conceded 17 goals already this campaign they were hunting their first win in London in 13 visits to the capital. Kean, who will again be the subject of supporter protests before next week’s home match with Tottenham, elected to start with veteran target man and frequent QPR transfer target Jason Roberts in attack ahead of Yakubu and David Goodwillie. Ruben Rochina was also a surprise absentee along with David Dunn and Morten Gamst Pederson who were out injured.
Neil Warnock made no secret of his fury with Armand Traore after the full back’s sending off against Aston Villa, and the defence looked a mess in his absence last week. The attacking worth of the Senegal international was laid plain in the fifth minute when he accelerated to the byline and dug out a fantastic cross to the back post where Luke Young seemed destined to steam in and head home only for Heidar Helguson to take it away from him with his own headed attempt that he failed to guide onto the target. Rangers kept the pressure on with a high tempo pressing game that soon won the ball back from Rovers but Alejandro Faurlin’s ambitious 30 yard effort sailed into the sparsely populated upper School End.
Mark Clattenburg has been something of a lucky omen for QPR during his refereeing career, taking charge of two fixtures where the R’s celebrated promotion and a successful play off semi final. The R’s were grateful to the County Durham official for his leniency in the ninth minute on Saturday as Fitz Hall crunched Jason Roberts with a very late tackle but escaped a yellow card even when the advantage broke down thanks to some fine defensive work by Shaun Wright Phillips. Hall was later booked for a similar hack at Martin Olsson. That willingness to track back would become a theme of Wright Phillips’ performance on Saturday, but QPR’s biggest failing on the day was not getting him enough good quality possession in dangerous wide areas where he could run at Blackburn and hurt them. Against Newcastle on his debut Wright Phillips was irresistible and Rangers haven’t used him as effectively as they did that night since which is a real waste of a talent.
While Hall was still reflecting on his lucky escape from the wrath of the match official, his centre back partner Anton Ferdinand had his heart in his mouth for different reasons in the twelfth minute. A flick by Roberts on the edge of the penalty area gave Swedish international Martin Olsson a chance to attack Traore down the right for the first time and when he delivered a low cross into the area Ferdinand completely misjudged the flight of the ball and sent a horribly sliced clearance onto the top of his own cross bar. Memories of Andy Pearce’s famous own goal for Coventry at that end of the ground back in the early days of the Premier League came flooding back as Ferdinand puffed out his cheeks in relief.
And the luck definitely seemed to be with Rangers as they took the lead in somewhat fortuitous circumstances after a quarter of an hour. Typically hard work by Mackie down the right flank won a corner from Scott Dann and while the award of attacking set pieces has hardly been a cause for optimism around W12 this season, given the abysmal quality of the delivery from QPR, this one from Faurlin was right on the money. Helguson headed the inswinging delivery goalwards from six yards out only to see the ball rebound back into play off Jamie Mackie who was standing in front of the goalkeeper. It didn’t matter because Helguson was then given time and space by the Blackburn defence to regather possession and delicately chip the ball back over Paul Robinson’s head and into the far corner of the net.
Clearly Helguson was attempting a cross to the back post area where Mackie and Ferdinand were loitering, but the decision of Spaniard Michel Salgado to leave his position on the back post meant the ball was able to land in the bottom corner untouched. That was Helguson’s first Premiership goal for three years, the one hundredth of his English league career, and the first scored by a QPR player at Loftus Road since the Icelandic international scored ten seconds into the last game of last season against Leeds, four matches ago.
That combination of Mackie’s industry, Faurlin’s set piece delivery and Helguson’s presense in the area almost doubled the lead four minutes later. Mackie caught Scott Dann lazily trying to shuffle a ball out for a goalkick and won a free kick on the byline from the former Coventry and Birmingham centre back. Faurlin trotted across and delivered another inswinging cross to the back post this time where Samba’s flicked headed clearance sent the ball straight to Barton and his drilled cross shot deflected just out of Helguson’s reach as he slid in four yards from goal. Rangers inches away from a crucial second goal.
The problem was Blackburn looked equally, if not more, dangerous from their set pieces. Every free kick and corner awarded around the QPR penalty area brought Dann and Samba up from the back to form a potent attacking threat with Steven N’Zonzi. The trio didn’t make a secret of their plan – they stood together on the edge of the penalty area at the back post every single time and then split to attack the front, middle and back of the goal mouth respectively. Having done so they won every headed contest that came their way.
QPR’s approach to this (essentially let them get on with it) was mindblowing. The space afforded to those three players, particularly Chris Samba who repeatedly embarrassed Fitz Hall, had to be seen to be believed and even after the giant centre back had powered home a corner from Jason Lowe to equalise Warnock and his team did absolutely nothing to try and counteract the threat. Yes Samba is clearly a big guy and very dominant in the air but block his run, put a couple of men on him, get closer to him, at least make life a bit difficult for him. The QPR attempts to deal with him were abject all afternoon and just o add to the farce of the goal, the replays afterwards showed that Shaun Derry had repeated Salgado’s trick of moving off his post too soon, away from a position where probably could have prevented the goal.
At the midpoint of the first half, in Blackburn’s next attack, Olsson won a soft free kick from Young in the QPR right back area which gave Lowe a chance to find Samba at the back post yet again. Once more he towered above Hall, this time he could only guide his header into the arms of Paddy Kenny though. Not rocket science this.
Strangely Rangers crafted a chance on the half hour at the other end by beating Samba in the air. Helguson was the man who intelligently flicked Paddy Kenny’s kick on into the path of Wright Phillips and the diminutive winger drilled a low shot about a foot wide of the post from range with Paul Robinson well beaten. Within a minute Rangers were going forward again with Luke Young launching a free kick into the penalty area that was knocked down towards Hall and he appeared to take a boot in the face as he attempted to attack the ball. I don’t think this was a penalty and Clattenburg was right to wave it away but it was one of those decisions that probably would have been given as a foul elsewhere on the pitch – Rangers would suffer another of those in the second half.
In the meantime though they were struggling to live with Junior Hoilett who was a constant menace in the FA Cup tie in January and grew into this game after a slow start. Shaun Derry, enduring his worst performance of the season in an overcrowded and overcomplicated Rangers midfield set up, conceded possession in his own half which gave Hoilett a chance to run at QPR down the left flank. He skipped past Derry on the retreat and Joey Barton on his way into the area and beat Paddy Kenny with a low shot but was denied a goal by a desperate clearance from a well positioned Anton Ferdinand.
Although QPR did force a corner late in the half after Luke Young’s shot deflected wide it was Blackburn who finished the first period much the stronger. Another Samba header from another corner and a low shot from Petrovic that flashed wide brought the first audible grumbles of discontent at a home game this season from the home stands at Loftus Road but the supporters rightly still applauded the team from the field at half time. It hadn’t been great, but there had been promising signs and an increase in tempo, a rearrangement of the middle of midfield and a focus on getting key players into the game more often in key areas would still have brought us victory at this stage.
Sadly the second half was a total non-event. QPR did nothing to try and press for a winner leaving Paul Robinson a virtual spectator in the Blackburn goal while his team threatened sporadically but mainly seemed happy to settle for their point.
They could have had all three had Paddy Kenny not been alert right at the start of the half when he was required to race out of his area and beat Olsson to an intelligent through ball by a matter of milliseconds and clear away. QPR immediately went on the offensive themselves and should have had a corner when Wright Phillips took Samba to the byline and kicked the ball out off the Blackburn man but the linesman, no more than three yards from the incident, froze and Clatenburg guessed wrongly that it was a goal kick.
After that the match descended into a Championship standard fixture littered with amateur standard football and yellow cards. N’Zonzi got the first for a late hit on Barton that was at least a genuine attempt for the ball. The nice set piece delivery of the first half was a distant memory though as Faurlin played in a nothing cross which drifted harmlessly out for a goal kick without ever threatening to do anything else.
Givet made the most of a foul by Shaun Wright Phillips on the hour but again a yellow card was probably the right decision, and Traore followed his team mate into Clattenburg’s little black book when he miscontrolled the ball, lost possession and then hauled down Hoilett who had run away with the ball. I cannot stand it when Alan Green, in what to me and many others is a dream job of commentating on football for a living, says that the game he is watching is boring but to be fair it’s hard to think of another word to describe this contest at this stage. Were it still taking place now, more than 24 hours later, I doubt there’d have been another goal. It was a day to make the most of the sunshine that bathed the South Africa Road Stand and regret the decision not to bring a good book.
Neil Warnock attempted to liven things up by sending on Adel Taarabt for Jamie Mackie. Presumably Mackie was tired on his first start after ten months out and that’s why he was withdrawn but in my opinion QPR were crying out for a second change with Bothroyd, Puncheon, Buzsaky or Smith coming on for Derry and adding another body to the attack in support of Heidar Helguson. Far too often QPR crossed the halfway line with possession without a single player in or around the penalty box.
Anyway the change almost brought immediate reward when, incredible, Shaun Wright Phillips won a header in the centre of the field and flicked the ball into the path of Adel Taarabt who brilliantly chested it into the space behind the Blackburn defence, taking Salgado totally out of the game in one brilliant move, but then he betrayed a rare lack of confidence with a hurried and scuffed finish that bobbled hopelessly wide. Armand Traore may have done better from an identical position two minutes later as he ran clear on goal but frustratingly referee Mark Clattenburg hauled QPR back to give them a free kick for a bad foul by Lowe on Faurlin for which he was booked. Clattenburg didn’t have a bad game but this, and another incident a moment or so later when Taarabt seemed to be felled on the corner of the six yard box but had his appeals waved away, didn’t do much for the home fans’ mood. Had N’Zonzi found the back of the net on the subsequent counter attack after Taarabt’s appeal rather than the back of the School End things may have turned ugly.
Blackburn made a change of their own, sending on Scottish international David Goodwillie fresh from two international matches and a bout of food poisoning, but I can scarcely remember him touching the ball and to be honest I thought Kean, like Warnock, erred with his changes by not sending on Yakubu to worry Hall and Ferdinand.
Fitz Hall headed a Joey Barton free kick over the bar and Olsson scuffed a close range effort straight to Paddy Kenny after a rare poor piece of play from Luke Young conceded possession to Hoilett who skinned him and delivered a low cross. Neil Warnock removed Shaun Wright Phillips in favour of Tommy Smith, another odd decision for my money, but it did little to distract attention from, or alter, the chronic lack of quality in the game.
Three minutes from time Hall’s nightmare day in the air was compounded when he found himself completely unmarked eight yards out with Joey Barton’s corner landing plum on his head but he could only guide a weak effort over the crossbar. That was just about that apart from an almighty scare in three minutes of added time at the end of the game where Hoilett launched a dangerous counter attack and fed Olsson in the penalty area but Paddy Kenny made a fine save to deny the Swede a last gasp winner.
That would have been harsh on QPR, but they cannot for one moment claim they deserved to win the game. Apart from the goal did Paul Robinson have a save to make? I cannot recall one. This was billed as a final chance to post points before the fixture list turns against QPR, but after early promise the approach to the match from the home team was almost pre-season friendly-like in its execution.
I’ll discuss the fallout from this game, and the post match press conference, in more detail on LoftforWords tomorrow but for me the outing of a QPR fan as some sort of traitor to the cause for revealing the team smacked rather of Warnock trying to deflect attention away from the failings he and his team had shown on the day. This was an important match, and an easily winnable one given that it was largely played out at a Championship pace and quality.
I found the team selection odd, with Barton, Faurlin and Derry all positioned deep in the midfield and doing the same defensive job against a team with limited attacking ambition. This set up shouldn’t have been put in place to start with, and should have been changed several times during the second half. Heidar Helguson led the line well but was permanently isolated and the lack of men QPR put in the penalty box during attacks was criminal. We’re not playing to Shaun Wright Phillips’ strengths at all and while it was great to see Jamie Mackie and his industrious work rate return to the side did he pose the same threat as Taarabt? Or Tommy Smith? We looked like we were set up for a tough away game, not a winnable home match.
It was all very typical QPR, and a vastly improved performance and surprise positive result next week against Chelsea would be a continuation of that. Fingers crossed.
QPR: Kenny 7, Young 7, Ferdinand 6, Hall 5, Traore 6, Derry 5, Faurlin 6, Wright-Phillips 6 (Smith 83, -), Barton 6, Mackie 6 (Taarabt 64, 5), Helguson 7
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Orr, Bothroyd, Buzsaky, Puncheon
Booked: Hall (foul), Wright-Phillips (foul), Traore (foul)
Goals: Helguson 16 (unassisted)
Blackburn: Robinson 6, Salgado 6, Samba 8, Dann 6, Givet 6, Lowe 7, Petrovic 6, Nzonzi 7, Olsson 7, Hoilett 7, Roberts 5 (Goodwillie 67, 4)
Subs Not Used: Bunn, Formica, Rochina, Yakubu, Vukcevic, Hanley
Booked: Nzonzi (foul), Lowe (foul)
Goals: Samba 24 (assisted Lowe)
QPR Star Man – Luke Young 7 While QPR’s other new signings are proving to be wildly inconsistent Luke Young is turning in one steady and impressive display after another. Just as good going forward as he is in defence and probably the first name on the team sheet at the moment. Unlucky not to score here and got away with his one real mistake when he allowed Hoilett to dispossess him and then deliver a cross in the second half. Stories of him having to respond to abuse from a QPR fan in the Ellerslie Road stand defy belief – what more do people want?
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear) 7 A trio of controversial moments from a QPR point of view, two I thought he got right and one he clearly didn’t. The penalty appeal for a high boot on Fitz Hall in the first half would have been a harsh award, the one in the second half on Adel Taarabt was a bigger appeal but didn’t look a penalty to me at first sight. His big error on the day was hauling the play back for a QPR free kick when Traore had already been played through on goal.
Attendance: 16, 487 (600 Blackburn approx) A more subdued atmosphere than there has been at previous home games, probably because of the poor quality of fair on offer, but it was a relief to hear that the patience seemed to be holding among the faithful despite a lacklustre showing. The team will need patience in bucket loads over the forthcoming run of fixtures.
Photo: Action Images
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