Plaudits but no points for QPR after brave City effort – full match report
Sunday, 6th Nov 2011 21:48 by Clive Whittingham
The cold hard fact of Saturday night’s match at Loftus Road is that Manchester City beat QPR 3-2. But that barely tells half the story of an extraordinary game.
The talk in the pubs of Shepherds Bush on Saturday was about QPR learning the lessons of recent encounters with Chelsea and Spurs. Rangers had expected heavy defeats in both but won one and more than competed for half of the other – it turns out no game is ever to be given up as a defeat however prestigious the opponent, and QPR are better served going for broke than trying to contain. On the evidence of this memorable Saturday night showdown at Loftus Road, Neil Warnock and his men are bright Premier League students.
Manchester City won, as expected, but were quick to praise their opponents afterwards and recognise their own good fortune. The team that cost a billion pounds to assemble and keep in Louis Vuitton washbags was behind once, dragged level in the second half, and almost flawed by a late header from a 34-year-old Icelandic journeyman who pummelled them all afternoon and was desperately unlucky to finish on the losing side.
City were five points clear at the top of the table as London woke to a misty bonfire night. Journalists from around the world are queuing up to heap superlatives at the feet of Roberto Mancini, his team and particularly the unique talents of Spanish midfielder David Silva. Those same journalists will spend the majority of December and January writing about the pursuit of QPR’s Alejandro Faurlin who was the outstanding midfielder on display here despite an array of the world’s best players in opposition to him. Unless it’s the Argentinean national team calling, all interest should be rebuffed if Rangers have genuine Premiership ambitions. After this game, City themselves may be having a quiet word about his availability themselves.
Faurlin was aided by the presence of Joey Barton in a more central role – the pair had set about Tottenham with real dynamism after being hastily thrown together after a disastrous first half at White Hart Lane last weekend and, as expected, started together for the City visit. Shaun Derry was dropped to the bench while Adel Taarabt, allegedly suffering with a stomach bug, was out of the matchday squad altogether. Jamie Mackie, the polar opposite of Taarabt in almost every measurement, replaced him with Jay Bothroyd restored to the starting line up after his first goal for the club last Sunday alongside Heidar Helguson. Shaun Wright-Phillips lined up against his former club for the first time since his second departure from Eastlands in August while another City old boy Joey Barton captained the side.
In defence Fitz Hall was beginning another of his sabbaticals but Danny Gabbidon was fit enough to start for the first time since September. Anton Ferdinand partnered him with Armand Traore left and Luke Young right. Paddy Kenny was, as ever, the goalkeeper.
Manchester City were hit by the absence of one key man, but heartened by the presence of another who was a pre-match doubt. Vincent Kompany’s red card from long time friend of the site Stuart Attwell last week in City’s home win against Wolves meant he was suspended and replaced at the heart of the visiting defence by Stefan Savic whose league appearances since a summer move from Partizan Belgrade have been limited to substitute appearances only. Further forward though David Silva was available for selection despite withdrawing early from a midweek Champions League success against Villarreal with a back complaint.
Silva offered deep lying support to a strike force of Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero. Frightening.
That awesome City starting 11 meant that despite playing at home QPR were as long as 9/1 to win with some bookmakers. Rather unsportingly the William Hill next to Goldhawk Road tube was promoting a “Manchester City to win 4-0, Sergio Aguero to score first” bet in its window – with a depressingly low return for your £10 stake on offer. Last time referee Martin Atkinson was at Loftus Road Rangers were beaten by that scoreline against a meagre Bolton side currently fighting relegation. All informed opinion pointed towards a repeat under the lights and West London fireworks that littered the night sky. Atkinson was the referee for City’s FA Cup final win in May – they’re first trophy for 35 years, in all likelihood the first of many.
QPR roughed up, outplayed and intimidated big spending Chelsea into defeat on this ground a fortnight ago but no doubt the City players had been made well aware of what to expect in this unique top flight venue and will have been under strict instructions not to make the same mistakes as Andre Villas Boas’ undisciplined side – a more professional approach was on show early as Gareth Barry unloaded a shot over the bar from distance within the first 30 seconds. A long night in store? Not a bit of it, the next 89 minutes whizzed past in a blur of excitement and evenly matched competition.
Picking a chink in the City armour is a fool’s mission for opposition scouts this season – nine wins and a draw from ten Premiership games suggests few weaknesses exist. But the absence of Kompany and Mancini’s faith in Montenegro international Savic provided a white light of hope for Neil Warnock and his coaches. The first indication that Savic was perhaps not up to replacing his predecessor and would struggle against the physical pairing of Bothroyd and Helguson came in the second minute when City failed to adequately clear a Rangers free kick and the former nodded down for the latter to strike an ambitious first time volley wide of the post.
Jamie Mackie’s work rate is always going to win him friends among the QPR support – the question this season has been whether it’s enough to win him a place in a Premiership team given his other shortcomings, especially as he battles back from nine months out with a broken leg. The signs here, against the division’s best team, were good and he used a mixture of skill and exuberance to keep a lost cause in play after a quarter of an hour when City had stopped expecting a throw in. That created space and time for Helguson to pick a shot on goal but his low drive from the edge of the area was claimed easily by England international goalkeeper Joe Hart.
Helguson’s restoration to the QPR side has made them a threat in the air again. Prior to last week’s game at Tottenham they were the only side in the Premiership yet to score a headed goal, and had also failed to register from any of their set pieces in the opening eight games. With Joey Barton succeeding Adel Taarabt on corner and free kick duty and Helguson winning an unfair share of headers at the back post the R’s put both monkeys to bed with a second half effort from Jay Bothroyd at Spurs and almost created a carbon copy of that goal in the twenty third minute of this game. Barton took the corner, Helguson towered at the back post, Anton Ferdinand perhaps could have been braver in his attempts to convert from the exact position Bothroyd scored six days previously.
QPR were playing very well, and Manchester City responded to this around the midway of the half in the same way Chelsea had done – by losing discipline and conceding silly free kicks. The result was the same as it was against our West London neighbours; a 1-0 lead for the home side. Barry went first, needlessly shoving Faurlin to the ground when the Argentinean had been playing with his back to goal with few options for a pass. Barton took that one quickly, threading a ball through to the edge of the area where Helguson also looked like he’d been chopped down right on the whitewash but Atkinson played on as Wright Phillips tried to scramble a chance with the loose ball. City cleared to the right but then found themselves on the end of another refereeing decision as Jay Bothroyd tripped over his own feet and the linesman signalled for a foul. That decisions was clearly wrong, but given that QPR could and probably should have been lining up a free kick on the very cusp of the penalty area City probably thought they’d got away lightly.
Not so. Barton’s delivery from the wide area was an absolute dream come true for QPR’s two centre forwards and Jay Bothroyd needed no second invitation to tower over Savic and plant a firm header into the bottom corner of Hart’s net. Managers litter their post match press conferences with the idea that every set piece is defendable, every goal scored from them is preventable – on this occasion the quality of the cross and the header makes me doubt whether Vincent Kompany or anybody else could actually have done anything about it. Loftus Road was alive with belief once again.
Within five minutes it could easily have been two. Sergio Aguero, oddly out of sorts, felt he was fouled on the edge of the area but having been given the benefit of the doubt for his challenge Anton Ferdinand strode confidently forwards in a manner more befitting of his brother and released Shaun Wright Phillips down the left flank. After finding his path blocked within shooting distance he set up Jamie Mackie who had marauded forwards down the right. The former Plymouth man’s stinging drive brought the best out of Joe Hart who then produced a miraculous double save to deny Heidar Helguson on the rebound – an offside flag against the Icelandic forward took nothing away from an extraordinary piece of goalkeeping.
City seemed stunned, almost Chelsea like. Can it really be possible that the very best players the modern game has to offer can all be intimidated by 15,000 raucous Londoners sitting a bit close to the pitch and shouting at them? Apparently so. A rare overlap down the left flank gave Silva a chance to back heel a Dzeko cross goalwards but Kenny never once looked concerned about it and play was soon flowing back towards the School End.
Six minutes before half time QPR should have been two nil up. Dzeko misread Aleksander Kolarov’s intentions and laid a wild pass into the left back spot he had just vacated which gave Helguson a chance to cross into the area for Bothroyd who steered his header past Hart and agonisingly against the base of the post. He should have scored in truth, but he could hardly have gone closer without doing so.
QPR would have been foolish to believe that Kolarov was any kind of weak link though. The Serbian showed his attacking value twice in quick succession before the break, going close to equalising himself and then playing a part in a slick move that did draw City level. First he fired over the bar after an Aguero free kick awarded for a foul by Young was played into the penalty area. Then he set a move in motion down Young’s flank that saw Milner feed Dzeko and the giant striker cut into the penalty area, tempt Ferdinand into a rash diving tackle, and then drill an unstoppable low shot past Paddy Kenny. The Bosnian has eight goals in seven games for club and country and 15 in 18 matches this season.
That was cruel on QPR who’d been the better team, but the ruthless nature of the Premier League could have been further hammered home when the wonderful David Silva cut a ball into Gareth Barry in the area and although Rangers snuffed that chance out the ball then broke to Aguero to hit a first time shot off the base of the post with Kenny motionless and praying for the best.
Perhaps City had been stung into action and the second half would be the predicted procession after all. Perhaps not. QPR kicked off the second period, quickly strung an eye catching passing move together that involved first Faurlin, then Barton, then Helguson, then Wright Phillips and finally Barton again who launched a long range left footed shot that Hart did well to turn aside.
Although Man City did indeed then take the lead, it all came from a fractured QPR attack. First Micah Richards did little to endear himself to the home crowd with an outrageous dive under no contact whatsoever to try and win a free kick as he worked himself into a no-win position by his own corner flag. Technically that should have been a free kick and a yellow card the other way, but the unwritten rule that players only dive in the penalty area came into play and the game continued. Then Rangers got in down Richards’ side again with Armand Traore in an excellent attacking position. Sadly he played a ball that was well intentioned but played without looking, cutting out every attacker in the penalty area and leaving QPR to face a lightning quick City counter with the majority of the team in no position to do anything about it.
With that in mind had you offered QPR the position they found themselves in ten seconds later with Dzeko on the ball very wide on the left and only Silva and Milner around the edge of the penalty area they’d probably have taken it. The problem is David Silva is so good he can create a goal from nothing. The Spaniard’s touch to take him clear of Gabbidon and finish past Kenny was Dennis Bergkamp-like in its conception and execution. A goal of pure beauty. An absolute sickener.
Fabio Capello was in attendance, checking on Shaun Wright Phillips as well as a clutch of City players, and he too must find a way to stop Silva and Spain – first in a friendly this coming weekend, and then at next summer’s European Championships. Such encounters with the world’s best international team bring about much keyboard clattering and hand wringing from the great and the good of the football world queuing up to lament England’s lack of technical expertise compared to the Hollands and Spains of the world game. Capello could do a lot worse than adopt Neil Warnock’s approach to this game – embrace the English assets of heart and hard work. Nobody is going to pass the ball better than Spain, or possess more ability than David Silva, so don’t try. Strick to what you’re good at and let them worry about dealing with that.
Nevertheless the pattern of this game now seemed set. QPR had tried hard and looked good, but genuine class was about to tell and the visitors were starting to shift up through their many gears. Another counter attack four minutes after the goal ended with Silva teeing up Milner to drill wide and then from the goal kick City swept forward again and Aguero sent a shot over the bar. Within two minutes a long ball down the field had been played classily by Silva into Dzeko who widened the angle and then drew a fine save low to his right from Paddy Kenny who jumped up quickly to prevent a corner. From the throw in Aguero collected, turned, beat Kenny from range, and missed the bottom corner by half an inch. Having created almost nothing in the first 40 minutes of the game City had scored twice and gone close on five other occasions in just over 15 minutes of play. The game only seemed to be going one way.
Richards had received no reward for his flagrant cheating earlier in the half, and Jamie Mackie got nothing from the match officials for his naïve honesty on the hour. Savic stood off and allowed him to turn, and then lunged foolishly in as Mackie entered the penalty area – as you would expect of young Jamie he stayed on his feet when a penalty would surely have been forthcoming had he gone over. Wolves were left to bemoan the same fate against Wigan on Sunday when Steven Hunt rode a tackle from Ali Al-Habsi but received nothing in return. If we’re to stamp diving out in our game then as well as punishing the perpetrators we must reward the honest players with free kicks and penalties when they do ride challenges that are still fouls.
Back came Rangers again, directed around the field by the dynamic central midfield partnership of Barton and Faurlin. The pair worked a patient attack to the left five minutes after the penalty incident and Traore produced a better cross this time that Mackie half volleyed over the bar. Traore was taken off in injury time and replaced by Clint Hill, a change that seemed to bring another exchange of views between Neil Warnock and the Senegalese full back who has endured an uneasy relationship with his new manager since arriving from Arsenal. Warnock can’t have been unhappy with Traore’s performance, it was his best so far for the club and his pinpoint cross in the sixty ninth minute brought Rangers level.
Bothroyd, unmarked, met it with a powerful diving header that was goalbound but flicked off Heidar Helguson and into the roof of the net. City appealed long and hard that Helguson had been in an offside position, the replays confirmed that in fact the hapless Savic had played him on and the officials had called the big decision of the day correctly. While the City players protested, I’ve no doubt Roberto Mancini was quietly adding another sheet of evidence into the Adam Johnson prosecution file – introduced for Sergio Aguero a moment before the goal, his tracking back on Traore left plenty to be desired.
Time was the key factor in the game now. Rangers deserved a point, maybe more, and had they kept Man City scoreless for ten of the remaining 20 minutes they may well have gone on to do that. Ultimately, they lasted barely four.
Perhaps tired legs were a factor in the time and space Kolarov had on the left flank – Luke Young was four yards away from the Serbian when he drew back his left boot to deliver a genuinely world class ball into the penalty area, which is about three and a half yards further away than he really should have been. Yaya Toure’s prodigious leap and thumping header was a goal worthy of winning any game. This ding dong encounter had donged again, and that one proved to be the killer goal.
Mancini slung on Mario Balotelli for Gareth Barry but the controversial Italian succeeded only in collecting a yellow card for diving in the penalty box – the correct decision, but less of a dive than Richards’ embarrassing effort earlier. Neil Warnock responded by sending on Jason Puncehon for Jay Bothroyd – an odd change that brought no positive affect at all. Joey Barton was perhaps fortunate to only see yellow for a crude lunge on Silva – a further sign that perhaps the QPR lungs had gone.
And yet. And yet they almost pulled it back and scored again. Their persistence and performance in the face of such talent defied the laws of football and biology and the free kick that almost brought a point salvaging third goal eight minutes from time broke every rule in the set piece handbook. Everybody knows that a long straight free kick from the centre of the field to the middle of the goalmouth is about as useful as a chocolate fireguard, spawning a million goal kicks and easy catches for goalkeepers for every goal it produces. Barton tried it anyway after a foul on Wright Phillips eight minutes from time. The ball drifted purposefully towards the danger zone where Helguson rose and hung like a professional basketball player and planted an improbable header smack against the cross bar with Hart beaten.
A brace of goals would have been just rewards for Helguson’s terrific all round performance but, by inches, it wasn’t to be. The partnership between the veteran Icelander and Jay Bothroyd looks a hugely promising one though and, along with the new look central midfield pairing of Barton and Faurlin, helped QPR to boss the first half and big chunks of the second against a superb City side. QPR had more possession, more shots off target, and more shots on target across the 93 minutes. The home side was beautifully balanced and threatened from all areas of the field. The trick will be reproducing this form in forthcoming games with Stoke, West Brom and Norwich – two wins would be the bare minimum reward from three identical performances. Consistency, as always, is the key.
Mancini knew he’d been lucky, and quickly sent on Kolo Toure instead of Dzeko to prevent any further scares. Three minutes of added time duly passed by, Jamie Mackie’s late replacement Tommy Smith won a corner that Paddy Kenny advanced for but Helguson headed wide. The points were City’s the plaudits were most definitely QPR’s.
QPR: Kenny 7, Young 6, Gabbidon 6, Ferdinand 7, Traore 7 (Hill 90, -), Mackie 7 (Smith 84, -), Barton 7, Faurlin 9, Wright-Phillips 7, Bothroyd 8 (Puncheon 76, 5), Helguson 9
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Orr, Derry, Andrade
Booked: Barton (foul)
Goals: Bothroyd 28 (assisted Barton), Helguson 69 (assisted Traore/Bothroyd)
Man City: Hart 8, Richards 7, Savic 5, Lescott 6, Kolarov 8, Barry 6 (Balotelli 75, 6), Y Toure 8, Milner 7, Silva 8, Aguero 6 (Johnson 68, 6), Dzeko 8 (Toure 88, -)
Subs Not Used: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Nasri, Clichy
Booked: Balotelli (diving)
Goals: Dzeko 43 (unassisted), Silva 52 (assisted Dzeko), Y Toure 74 (assisted Kolarov)
QPR Star Men – Heidar Helguson/Alejandro Faurlin 9 A straight choice between two outstanding individual performances and while you can accuse me of fence sitting, I cannot separate the pair. Helguson was a budget signing from Bolton Wanderers’ reserves three years ago and has spent time out on loan at Watford since then. Here he looked every bit as good as £27m Edin Dzeko at the other end – Richards, Savic and Lescott all tried and failed. Faurlin’s performance was very different of course, all guile and vision rather than brute strength and aerial presense. Not only did he not look out of place against the likes of Milner, Barry and Toure he actually looked better for most of the game. They were both almost completely flawless.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire) 8 Refereeing that contributed to the ebb and flow of a tremendous game. Both cards were justified and although City can say the free kick for Bothroyd’s goal should never have been given, and QPR can point to the Jamie Mackie penalty incident, at normal speed at the time neither decision looked wrong. Probably the best refereeing display we’ve seen this season.
Attendance: 18,076 (3,000 Man City approx) The kick off time, opposition, weather fireworks and floodlights were always going to make this an atmospheric encounter. It didn’t disappoint. Both sets of supporters were an absolute credit to their clubs and created a setting for this match all too rare in top flight football these days. No hint of animosity, just two raucous, loud sets of fans backing their teams. After the match South Africa Road was littered with strangers from both sides discussing the game as they headed home. A fine advert for British football on and off the field.
Pictures copyright Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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