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Christmas blues for QPR as Sunderland snatch late gift – full match report
Christmas blues for QPR as Sunderland snatch late gift – full match report
Friday, 23rd Dec 2011 20:31 by Clive Whittingham

QPR suffered a heartbreaking late defeat at home to Sunderland at Loftus Road on Wednesday night after initially fighting back from two goals down to level the game.

Ultimately it was a vintage defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory QPR performance.

Initially this was a game between two sides famed for their lack of attacking potency that produced five goals and blossomed into an absolute cliff-hanger as Rangers staged an unlikely comeback from two goals down and looked all set to press home for the win. Not only did they not manage that, but they ultimately contrived to toss away the one point they’d fought so hard to win in the final minute of normal time against a limited Sunderland team with a solitary away win to its name all season. A new found enthusiasm for allowing opponents free headers deep within the penalty area cost Neil Warnock’s men dear again.

The first half of the season is drawing to a close, and QPR’s goal of keeping their head above water until the transfer window reopens has almost been successfully completed. But the mood around Loftus Road, where the R’s have only won once all season, is darkening and the performance level of the team is declining. The valid excuse of a tough run of fixtures cannot apply to a home game with lowly Sunderland, even allowing for the uplifting affect of Martin O’Neill’s recent appointment as their new manager, and the Mackems now join a growing list of beatable opponents that Rangers have taken only a point or less from in W12 this season.

More worryingly, Neil Warnock no longer seems to know his best team or even the system he wants to play them in. It’s hard to blame him for that – Adel Taarabt came on for the second half here and was QPR’s biggest threat, last time he started a game at Spurs he was the worst player on the pitch. Joey Barton’s form is up and down like a bride’s nightie, Jamie Mackie is lively and creative one week and then Championship standard the next, and none of our centre backs seem capable of staying fit and in form for more than two games at a time. When asked before a match no two QPR fans ever come up with the same starting 11 or formation.

On Wednesday Warnock returned to a shape and system that we’d used to little effect in an earlier home game against another basement side Blackburn Rovers. That meant a recall for Shaun Derry at the heart of a three man midfield, between and slightly behind Alejandro Faurlin and Barton. The reasoning was sound, QPR have spent the past few games watching opponents gallivant freely in the space between defence and midfield on the counter attack, but this isn’t GCSE Maths and you don’t get points for showing your workings.

Further forward Heidar Helguson was the lone striker flanked by Shaun Wright-Phillips and Mackie – no place for Jay Bothroyd or DJ Campbell. At the back Danny Gabbidon had recovered sufficiently from the leg wound he picked up in the weekend defeat against Man Utd to partner Matthew Connolly at the heart of the defence. Luke Young and Armand Traore played at full back with Paddy Kenny recalled in goal.

Sunderland arrived with just a single away win to their name and only six goals scored on their travels - the league’s joint worst record. They were denied the services of monster teenage striker Connor Wickham through injury and so turned to the much maligned and poorly behaved Nicklas Bendtner to lead the attack. The Dane was without a goal in six matches prior to this one and came into the game fresh from police questioning over damage caused to parked cars in Newcastle – he left Loftus Road the latest in a long line of opposition players who have found a fixture with QPR an ideal remedy to their personal form issues.

Both sides came into the game with just one win from their last seven fixtures but QPR initially set about the task well. After being turned around at the toss by Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole the R’s attacked the Loft End first and peppered the penalty area early on. Heidar Helguson worried David Vaughan into a nervy pass back to Wes Brown who hacked out of play, then Traore and Wright-Phillips took turns at teasing their respective opponents on opposite flanks before delivering into the area, and Sunderland were forced to deal with the first corner of the game as Rangers camped around their penalty area.

After five minutes Jamie Mackie caught Titus Bramble in typically ponderous mood and crossed deep for Wright-Phillips to win a free kick from Bardsley on the far side – Joey Barton took it and Shaun Derry headed over the bar as the wait for his first ever QPR goal continues.

Derry actually hasn’t scored a goal for anybody for five years so perhaps we should consider helping him get up and running by loaning him out to one of the teams we’re about to play. QPR rejoice in helping the Lloyd Doyleys and John Jensens of this world break scoring ducks as well as nursing out of form players back to good health – they kindly offer Nicklas Bendtner the freedom of the School End penalty area after a quarter of an hour but the Dane’s free header from Seb Larsson’s free kick bounced once, hit the inside of the post and rebounded to safety.

Matthew Connolly, so impressive against Manchester United on Sunday, was the culprit on that occasion, slipping as Larsson delivered to allow Bendtner as much time as he liked on the edge of the six yard box. Warning heeded? No. Within two minutes, during which time Wright-Phillips dragged a shot wide, Sunderland took the lead through Bendtner in almost identical circumstances.

Again a set piece from wide, this time a Kieran Richardson corner from the right, started the trouble. Again Connolly was slow off the mark as Bendtner made a standard run into the near post. Again the Dane was able to meet the ball with his head unchallenged. This time though he powered his effort into the roof of the net to register the opening goal of the game.

The atmosphere at QPR game has been dire of late and although the crowd had started very well here I feared a Sunderland goal early on could puncture it. The angst was audible as, straight from the kick off, Richardson was able to travel a huge distance into the QPR half and unload a shot wide of the post. But overall the team can have no complaints with the backing it got on Wednesday – the supporters were excellent for the most part.

They do however seem to be losing patience with Joey Barton. The club captain was poor in this game again after a dreadful performance at the weekend, and on this occasion couldn’t even point to decent delivery from set pieces as a saving grace. Midway through the half Traore was tripped down the left flank by Seb Larsson, who accused the Senegalese full back of diving in the ultimate pot v kettle contest, but despite having two cracks at a delivery from wide Barton could only find the first Sunderland man with both. A better delivery a moment later from the right side after Barton himself had been fouled narrowly evaded Derry and others queuing up for a header in the penalty box. Derry had an earlier volley from the edge of the area that looked like it was really travelling blocked away.

But for the majority of this match there was one clear difference – Sunderland looked like they could score every time they went forward, QPR seemed to require a monumental effort just to craft a half chance. Bendtner and Sessegnon, a mediocre top flight pairing by anybody’s standards, were made to look far better than they actually are by some seriously ropey defending from QPR. Further evidence of this came on the half hour as Bendtner won Westwood’s long clearance in the air under little duress, Sessegnon brought the ball down and moved it back to the Dane and had time to do much more, Bendtner worked it wide to Larsson and he skinned Traore before delivering low into the six yard box where Gabbidon scrambled it away under heavy pressure.

Eight minutes before half time QPR did create a chance when Traore crossed for Mackie and Brown was forced to head the ball behind for a corner. But struggling against counter attacks has become a running theme for Rangers of late and it happened again here as Luke Young misjudged a high clearance from the set piece and Sessegnon streaked away before firing a deflected shot over the bar.

There was another shot over from Bendtner and, in a minute of added time at the end of the half, from Faurlin after Barton had found Wright-Phillips in the area with a clever pass.

Neil Warnock used the halftime break to replace Wright-Phillips with Adel Taarabt and, unlike against United on Sunday, the R’s did manage to at least get a full complement of players onto the pitch for the restart. It didn’t help much, as the now expected slow start to the second period materialised again. Within a minute Sessegnon had advanced to the edge of the area and drilled wide, within 30 seconds of that Kieran Richardson had advanced onto Matthew Connolly’s wayward pass and hit his own shot into the Lower Loft.

But Taarabt seemed keen and committed to the cause and was soon causing Sunderland problems. He started and continued the first threatening move of the half which concluded with Traore sprinting past Larsson and standing up an excellent back post cross which Helguson headed firmly past Westwood only for Titus (never knowingly not horny and not always in the mood to ask permission first) Bramble to dive and head away from underneath the cross bar.

Some hope then? Nah. Within a minute Sunderland had doubled their lead after another defensive aberration. Connolly was culpable for the first goal, Danny Gabbidon could expect leniency for a guilty plea over the second. The former West Ham man was the wrong side of Sessegnon and ball watching, a lethal combination, as he was drawn underneath a high ball forward and that allowed the Benin international to run in unchecked from the halfway line and round Kenny before finishing calmly.

It’s said that just before the final crucial load of Indians turned up at Little Bighorn in 1876 General Custer was heard to remark that things could only get better. He was wrong then, and everybody that’s ever uttered that line has been wrong since. Things can always, always, always get worse. While Sunderland cooled their celebrations and returned to their own half it became apparent that referee Andre Marriner, absolutely excellent to this point, was no longer able to continue and would be replaced by the fourth official. The fourth official was Stuart Attwell.

Short of Little Mix announcing they will be recording the official club song for Christmas or Steve Kean being appointed as Neil Warnock’s successor with Paul Hart as his assistant it’s hard to know how much worse things could have got at this point. It never rains and all that. Stuart Attwell. There are no words.

To be honest I could quite happily have returned to the pub at this point and said as much. We might well have gone through with that idea had our beloved regular, The Green Room, not closed at 8pm for good ahead of it being bulldozed for flats. Tescos and blocks of flats, that’s all we’re going to end up with in this country. Tescos, blocks of flats and Stuart fucking Attwell.

Anyway while Tracey was rummaging in her bag for the suicide pills the unthinkable happened – QPR scored. Three fine passes made it and they came after Taarabt had won the first header of his professional career on the halfway line – first Faurlin spread play wide to Traore, then the left back laid an intelligent ball to the corner of the area where Faurlin had sprinted into space to make the return and produce an excellent low cross through the corridor of uncertainty between goalkeeper and defender where Helguson was waiting to bundle the ball into the net from close range. From nothing the game was back on again.

Straight from the kick off Rangers went in hunt of an equaliser. A trademark ball with the outside of the boot from Taarabt drew a deflected header wide of the post from Helguson – Stuart Attwell’s random tombola machine with which he uses to make decisions initially said goal kick but with the QPR players clearly astonished and the Sunderland players laughing he gave it another spin and awarded a corner at the second attempt.

Nothing came of that, but the home team drew level three minutes later. Patient build up around the edge of the area involving Barton, Taarabt, Faurlin, Traore and finally Faurlin again finished with the Argentinean lofting a hopeful looking cross up to the back post from a difficult angle that didn’t seem to be posing too much danger to Sunderland until Helguson won his header and guided the ball perfectly into the path of Mackie who dived full length to head home unmarked from six yards out. Remarkable. QPR never once looked capable of this before they pulled it off. That’s cricket, as Frank Bruno once said.

Suddenly there was only one team that was ever going to win the game. Sunderland had gone, they were just as disorganised and dishevelled as QPR had been ten minutes previously. Sessegnon hacked down Faurlin with a challenge perhaps worthy of a red, certainly with this referee, but the tombola draw said only a yellow. This was followed by a scramble on the edge of the Sunderland area and Taarabt volley that Westwood saved well in the bottom corner. Taarabt then produced a vintage 360 turn on the corner of the penalty area and hammered a shot over the bar, then collected a loose ball on the edge of the area after Derry had almost released Mackie and curled a low shot that Westwood was equal to. Taarabt was revelling in it, his introduction had changed the game, it was the Taarabt of last season.

Martin O’Neill had seen enough. He sent on Jack Colback for the ineffective David Vaughan and Craig Gardner for Seb Larsson and the game evened up once more.

Now for every QPR attack there was a Sunderland counter almost immediately, and Rangers continued to look susceptible to quick breaks. Luke Young’s cross was just out of Helguson’s reach at the near post and then when Taarabt, who’d started the move with a cute through ball, performed one too many dance steps on the edge of the area the ball was lost and the break was on. Sessegnon accelerated into a three on two situation in the QPR half and fed Gardner in the area who cut inside and looked for all the world like he’d found the far corner until Paddy Kenny finger tipped the ball wide with an outstanding one handed save.

Had Gardner scored O’Neill would have looked like a genius, within minutes he looked like he’d made a big mistake as Sunderland were awarded a free kick right on the very edge of the area for a foul by Luke Young on Bendtner – a challenge he was yellow carded for. The set piece was in ideal Seb Larsson territory but with the Swede already sampling the Loftus Road baths it was left to Gardner to drill a poor shot into the wall.

Neil Warnock was then forced to show his hand. Armand Traore pulled up injured and needed replacing. To attack or sit back? To stay in the current shape or throw caution to the wind? The club’s resident bulimic Fitz Hall stripped off and headed out there in Traore’s stead, the wrong decision in my opinion. Cattermole was soon booked for fouling Taarabt, the seven hundred and seventy sixth foul he’d committed on the evening, but QPR’s momentum had gone and Sunderland were now in the ascendency.

With eight minutes to go Sunderland fired a warning of what was to come with a near miss from a right wing corner. Richardson crossed deep, Bramble headed back across goal and Bendtner headed onto the roof of the net under vital pressure from Hall. QPR’s defending of crosses and set pieces continues to decline – it’s at park standard at the moment.

With a minute left they had to defend another corner from the same side after Kenny had flung himself left to keep out a long range striker from full back Phil Bardsley. This time Richardson went to the near post where Wes Brown flicked a powerful header over Kenny to the back post where Faurlin was stationed but the Argentinean could only head the ball onto the underside of the bar and then into the roof of the net under pressure from Bendtner. Brief hope that it may be disallowed was sparked when the linesman on the Ellerslie Road side of the ground flagged frantically, but he was merely ensuring that Stuart Attwell’s random decision draw awarded the goal rather than a QPR corner or a drop ball on halfway.

Heartbreaking, but QPR’ defending, particularly from set pieces, had been an embarrassment to them all night and Neil Warnock had relinquished the momentum built up in the second half with the Fitz Hall substitution. In short, Rangers only had themselves to blame.

Warnock tried to rectify the situation by sending on jay Bothroyd for a hefty six minutes of injury time but the game had gone by this stage. Faurlin was booked for fouling Cattermole after an evening on the receiving end and Sunderland should have posted a fourth goal but Sessegnon chose to shoot straight at Kenny with better options for a pass on either side.

For the first time this season, this was a home match with no redeeming features. We lost to Man Utd and Man City and praised the quality of the opposition, we drew with West Brom and Newcastle and blamed our missed chances after good performances, we drew with Aston Villa and rightly blamed the referee, we lost to Bolton and correctly pointed to extenuating boardroom circumstances. Here there were no excuses, we simply weren’t good enough to beat an eminently beatable team.

In my humble opinion Warnock got the team selection, shape and substitutions wrong. Even allowing for that we still had enough about us to beat Sunderland as we showed in the second half but you cannot defend like that and win football matches. Salt for your wounds sir? Kaspars Gorkss made the Championship Team of the Week – the decision to sell him remains mysterious to me. I doubt Nicklas Bendtner, so average for so long but made to look so brilliant in this game, would have had quite the freedom he managed to find had Gorkss been rampaging around after him.

Outside the bottom three, or at least well in touch, is not a bad scenario for January after the summer we endured. But things only seem to be heading one way at the moment in many areas. We travel in hope, to Swansea on December 27.

Merry Christmas my R’s.

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QPR: Kenny 7, Young 6, Gabbidon 4, Connolly 5 (Bothroyd 90, -), Traore 7 (Hall 80, -), Barton 5, Faurlin 6, Derry 6, Wright-Phillips 6 (Taarabt 46, 7), Mackie 6, Helguson 7

Subs Not Used: Cerny, Hill, Campbell, Smith

Booked: Faurlin (foul), Young (foul)

Goals: Helguson 63 (assisted Faurlin), Mackie 67 (assisted Helguson)

Sunderland: Westwood 6, O'Shea 6, Bramble 6, Brown 7, Bardsley 6, Larsson 7 (Gardner 75, 7), Cattermole 6, Vaughan 5 (Colback 71, 6), Richardson 7, Sessegnon 8, Bendtner 8

Subs Not Used: Carson, Kilgallon, Ji, McClean, Elmohamady

Booked: Sessegnon (foul), Cattermole (repetitive fouling)

Goals: Bendtner 19 (assisted Richardson), Sessegnon 53 (unassisted), Brown 89 (assisted Richardson)

QPR Star Man – Adel Taarabt 7 We’re probably going to have to start him again. When he’s like this we’re a far more potent attacking force – we scored two after he came on here and only looked like scoring on Sunday after he’d been introduced. The problem is we could start him at Swansea and he’ll decide to have the hump all day and be a liability to us. Incredibly frustrating.

Referee: Andre Marriner (W Midlands) 8 (Stuart Attwell 53, (Warwick) 3) If ever you needed evidence of just what a truly awful referee Stuart Attwell is, here you have it. For 53 minutes this game was calmly controlled and managed by Andre Marriner who hardly put a foot wrong. Play flowed, the crowd was absorbed totally in the game, I can hardly recall hearing the whistle. Within minutes of coming on Attwell had awarded a blatant corner as a goal kick and then changed his mind when people moaned at him – things got teadily more farcical from there. Suddenly everything was a free kick. Every little bit of contact was a foul. Suddenly decisions were wrong - clearly and repeatedly wrong. Suddenly the crowd was up and on the referee’s back. I joke about his random draw mechanism of making decisions, which you can tell from his positioning and body language are often complete guesses, but to be honest I would actually prefer a random tombola machine on the halfway line with one of the cast of The Only Way is Essex drawing decisions out every 45 seconds to this silly little prick. You couldn’t get any more decisions wrong doing it that way. The difference between a good referee and a bad one laid bare in the same match.

Attendance: 16,167 (1,400 Sunderland approx) Much better atmosphere around the place compared to recent games, but to no avail. A bright start to the game lifted the crowd and strangely there wasn’t the same animosity and moaning when Sunderland went two goals up as there had been when a far superior Man Utd team did at the weekend. The fans did their bit on Wednesday, and received little in return.

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R_in_Sweden added 21:47 - Dec 23
Clive, I was getting a bit worried that you'd jumped onto the tracks at the tube station after this one, as your report took a bit longer than usual to appear (don't take this as a complaint by the way).

We were dire in the first half apart from the opening 10 minutes, couldn't string more than 4 passes together before lofting the ball into the air with all the accuracy of a group of lads on a package holiday playfully punching a beachball in the general direction of some female sunbathers on a beach in order to attract attention to themselves .

It took a two goal deficit and a goal out of the blue to rouse us from our slumber. Yes this was definitely a winnable game but I think there are plenty of sides around us in the table that see games against us as a potential 3 points. Warnock's team selection was a weird one.

We lack confidence and we are not getting the run of the ball in the way that say Norwich have been getting in some of their games. Without sounding like the same old record I'm starting to wonder if we've bought Barton the brand rather than a top class footballer. Happy to see Adel putting out two good performances in a row, still think that he'll come good.

I'll settle for 5th from bottom come May.

Have a great Xmas and keep up the good work!

P.S. Love the comment about loaning out Derry to an opponent to get him up and running on the goal front.

YorkRanger added 22:42 - Dec 23
Really good summary Clive. Just about spot on for me. I agree with you that the team selection was wrong and I think Warnock's thinking has got confused as to his most effective starting 11. Certainly Helguson was left isolated and the quality of ball he received (and support) was abysmal - despite this he still scored one and made one and chased lost causes all night - probably mom for me. Anyway onwards and upwards - best wishes to all the LFW crew for XMAS and the New Year

N12Hoop added 23:31 - Dec 23
When I saw the lineup I was astounded. A last we had a fit DJ yet we chose to go for 1 up front. Sunderland are the worst team I've seen this season yet we never even tested their keeper in the first half and the only player we have who seems capable of sticking a decent cross in is Traore. On top of this, the biggest difference I've noticed between the Championship and PL is the quality of movement, even in poor teams like Blackburn. We have none: when a player gets the ball in a decent attacking position he has no options and what looks like a promising move ends up with the ball given away or back in our half. NW got his formation wrong. Supposed PL players like Barton and SWP are not performing as such and we just seem to be deteriorating week on week. Seems to me that something isn't quite right behind the scenes. I'll never boo my team and I'm grateful to be in the PL, but for the first time this season we really looked like a relegation candidate to me.

karlski added 01:12 - Dec 24
The problem for me is movement. If you play 4-5-1, you have to have someone like Taarabt in the team as his movement pulls opposition players out of position and creates space for others. If you play 4-4-2, where it's less clear how Taarabt would fit in (although on current form I'd have him in ahead of SWP), then having two strikes solves the problem of movement up front because there are two players. 4-5-1 without Taarabt is static, predictable and about as threatening as a seal pup. Worst of all, we already knew this from the Blackburn game!! How negative can you be?! I felt a bit sorry for Barton and Faurlin - what do they do with the ball in a 4-5-1? Helguson, for all his positive traits, is clearly not going to be making darting runs anywhere, and neither Barton or Faurlin have the physical requirements to be a box to box midfielder and make lung bursting Phil Jones style runs to create space or unsettle defences. It was very telling that goal 1 came from the first time a midfielder burst into space in the final third (Faurlin), space which was created because of the movement and threat of Taarabt.
Certainly I think Neil got this one wrong to start with, and then the Fitz Hall substitution. Although personally I think right after the second goal he should have changed it to more attacking, bringing on DJ or Bothroyd, Sunderland were clearly on the ropes and we were playing with confidence - at that stage in the game it's more about attitude and psychology than shape. Make that attacking change, keep the pressure on...anyway that's just my opinion.
Barton so disappointing for me, and not just today but over a long time, and I was one of this keenly excited by his signing. Not the player I'd expected.
For all of that...it's schoolboy defending that's cost us. Shocking.
Great report as ever Clive.

AshteadR added 12:02 - Dec 24
Thanks for the report Clive and merry Xmas to you too.

One of my friends is a Reading supporter and he's been raving about Gorkks. He's definitely better than Connolly, Hall, Perone and Shittu; and he was bloody good in the air - which Connolly has never been. Connolly played very well against Man U largely due to them playing the ball to feet. Hall ended up marking Bendtner when he came on, which was a slight improvement, but why were Young and Derry marking Brown for their goal - surely this should be a job for a centre back or centre forward?

We look chronically slow in midfield, particularly when the opposition break and for me, that means we can't play Barton and Faurlin in the middle together. Even with the extra cover (Derry) we still conceded 3 goals at home and it could easily have been more. Barton looked better out wide after half time and this is were he seemed to have more success earlier in the season. I love Mackie's effort but I don't think he's good enough (at the moment) to be a regular selection in the starting eleven - not enough end product.

I think you hit the nail on the head, about Warnock not knowing his best side or even his best formation. I think he realises that there are lots of gaps to cover though and papering over the cracks is not even a short term solution given our run of results.

Anyway, on to Swansea and then into the transfer window........


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