Late Dons escape not enough to save Warnock – full match report
Sunday, 8th Jan 2012 20:56 by Clive Whittingham
Neil Warnock’s reign as QPR manager came to an end today following a shambolic performance and lucky escape against MK Dons in the FA Cup Third Round on Saturday.
Football. Every day I love you less and less.
In many ways the events of this weekend sum up everything that is wrong with the sport in our country. The last 48 hours have been a soul destroying experience. Sometimes you really do wonder what keeps you going back to this often loathsome sport week after week.
Neil Warnock, a man who brought QPR back to the Premiership for the first time in 15 years within 18 months of arriving at a club apparently heading for League One, lost his job on Sunday after a dire performance against a club stolen from its South London roots as part of an out of town Asda and Ikea development in the middle of nowhere. Concrete, distribution centres, a KFC drive through and Peter Winckleman formed the backdrop for Warnock’s last hurrah as QPR manager. The performance of his team on the field made today’s announcement inevitable, but like a long expected death in the family that knowledge doesn’t make the news any harder to bare when it comes.
This is a sport where players yield all the power. Neil Warnock has made mistakes, but this group of players has shown what it is capable of in games with Wolves, Newcastle, Man City, Stoke, Chelsea and Everton this season. A last minute equaliser from Heidar Helguson, wholly undeserved on the balance of play, spared their blushes here but most didn’t appear that bothered whether they did or didn’t make it through. It’s the players who walked back when dealing with MK Dons’ numerous counter attacks, and remained stationary and disinterested when the team was in possession, that have cost their manager his employment today. That looked like a lost dressing room if ever I saw one, and once that’s the case it’s irrelevant whether the manager has worked wonders before and a sacking is harsh – it’s the only course of action you can take. Football players in 2012. This is the sport we follow and it fucking stinks.
A final team selection from Warnock saw DJ Campbell given a rare start in attack alongside Manchester United loanee Federico Macheda, Warnock’s last signing as QPR manager. In midfield Shaun Derry partnered Ali Faurlin with Jamie Mackie on one side and Tommy Smith on the other. At the back Luke Young and Clint Hill were the full backs, resident bulimic Fitz Hall and Danny Gabbidon the centre halves and Radek Cerny the goalkeeper. Top scorer Heidar Helguson waited on the bench in case of emergencies.
For all that is wrong with MK Dons, it’s impossible not to afford them begrudging respect for the football side of things. A positive and progressive young manager, Karl Robinson, shadowed by the ever likeable and experienced John Gorman have created an inventive side that is competing in a league that is almost always about attrition rather than attraction, brawn rather than brain. They play in a stadium that, while remaining unfinished, has the potential to be one of the finest examples of a new ground in the country – none of the mistakes of the Ricoh Arena, Walkers Stadium, St Mary’s or Keepmoat Stadium have been made here. Two tier stands at a new ground? Wonders never cease. Winckleman was once (quite rightly) laughed out of the Adelaide pub in Shepherds Bush after putting this proposal to QPR fans, but for all his detractors he’s done as he promised inside ten years.
They played QPR at their own game here, and were far better at it than the team two divisions above them. A single lone striker, Jabo Ibehre, backed by a supporting cast of three looked lively throughout. Only the youthful naivety of Daniel Powell, and an obviously incorrect decision not to award them a first half penalty for a handball by Clint Hill, prevented them scoring more than the single goal they did manage. By the time Helguson equalised, from an offside position, this could and should have been 3-0. QPR were abysmal.
How different things might have been had a first minute goal mouth scramble gone another way. Hall nodded the ball down, Macheda had a swing at it, Hall’s second stab was blocked away. Five minutes later Tommy Smith, one of the few QPR players who put in a shift of work on Saturday, crossed for Jamie Mackie to fire over the bar. MK Dons grew into the game thereafter.
The R’s were indebted to Hall who, having been skinned initially by Ibehre, managed to fight back and get a toe to the ball so Cerny could rush from his line to claim at the striker’s feet. A minute later a fantastic move from back to front with Dons lifer Dean Lewington at its heart ended with Ibehre bundling the ball in from close range but the linesman’s flag denied him the opening goal.
“Walking, look at them,” said the LFW official photographer (not a salaried position) Neil Dejyothin as Lewington crossed the halfway line in that move. He was right, and he continued to be right. Time and time again the Dons broke up a QPR attack and returned with purpose themselves only to find acres of space to move into ahead of the QPR defence while further downfield visiting players came back with all the urgency of hungover park footballers. Ten minutes in and the QPR players looked either tired or not bothered or a lethal mixture of both. There was blood in the air, and the Dons had their noses up.
In the twelfth minute a free kick awarded for a foul by the otherwise impressive Spurs loanee Adam Smith on Jamie Mackie set up an opportunity on the edge of the area that Alejandro Faurlin drilled straight into the wall. Not happy with merely surviving the scare the Dons accelerated forward (cue more walking) and a swift break ended with Bowditch shooting wide.
Apart from the complete lack of back tracking, the other cause for concern was the chronic lack of movement when in possession. Time and time and time again a QPR player in possession on halfway looked up to find literally no movement ahead of them whatsoever. It was difficult to tell at times who was supposed to be marking who as DJ Campbell and others stood quietly next to their designated MK Dons defender. This resulted, more often than not, in a ball being punted aimlessly downfield and onto the head of a Dons player who would then set about building a counter attack with players who actually looked like they wanted to be there. Every single QPR player was guilty of this malaise on Saturday.
Campbell did however break free from his shackles long enough to miss at the back post after Macheda had set him up. The young Italian created QPR’s three best chances in this game and carried almost all of their creative ambition with Smith working hard but producing little and Mackie anonymous and ineffective. But the first touch on the boy is frightening. Watching him toe rudimentary loose balls five and six yards ahead of him probably made the watching Tony Fernandes wonder whether Neil Warnock really did know what he was doing in this crucial January transfer market. Macheda’s touch was barely adequate against MK Dons. Next week, Newcastle.
I’ve considered in recent weeks the idea that whenever QPR are awarded a throw in they should refuse it and allow the opposition to take it – a wit may suggest that at Swansea City Barton and Traore did just that. The reason being QPR are a danger to themselves whenever they have a throw in to take. In attacking positions we labour under the misapprehension that Fitz Hall has a long throw. In fact Hall is to long throws what Harold Shipman was to the medical profession. Everywhere else on the field we give possession away, every single time, without fail, within two touches. It’s criminal. At the midway point of the half we didn’t even manage the two, Shaun Derry immediately conceded the ball to Ibhere who set former Man Utd winger Luke Chadwick away and his low shot went straight to Cerny.
Faurlin also hit a shot straight at David Martin in the Dons goal from a free kick a moment later but the big moment of the half came within seconds at the other end in front of an astonishing QPR following of more than 5,000 fans. Daniel Powell, a product of the Dons’ academy and the one player who seemed overawed by this occasion, took a wild fresh air shot at a presentable chance deep within the QPR area. He recovered his composure enough to try and cut the ball back into the goal mouth from the byline but Clint Hill intervened, sliding in with his hands above his head to palm the ball behind. Referee Michael Oliver looked to his linesman who had a perfect view of the incident but awarded a corner. Hill didn’t even look like he was convincing himself by pointing to his face, this was a nailed on penalty kick.
Had DJ Campbell’s goal stood two minutes later the Dons would have fumed, but thankfully for Karl Robinson’s men the assistant referee at the far end of the ground was more up to speed with the game and had long since flagged the former Blackpool man offside. Adam Smith responded with a marauding run from right back and shot straight at Radek Cerny. The Czech keeper had to be rather more alert five minutes before half time when Smith’s cross looked set to dip under the bar – he intelligently flicked the ball away from the goal and the danger area with his finger tips.
The travelling thousands booed their side from the field at half time, and the mood would only turn uglier in the second half.
There certainly seemed to have been stern words spoken at half time as Rangers emerged with renewed purpose after the break. Macheda was move to a role wide on the left flank as opposed to through the middle and he immediately created two excellent chances with fine crosses to the back post – the first was flicked away from danger by Martin, the second was inexplicably headed wide from a yard out by DJ Campbell. For highlights see the dictionary entry for ‘sitter’.
But the problems in defence and midfield continued and Luke Chadwick was afforded the freedom of the QPR half to run into and drill wide five minutes after the break.
On the touchline Warnock cut a frustrated, and at times forlorn figure. A bone graft in his mouth necessitating 20 stitches during the week restricted his usual touchline antics and at times he could be seen sitting alone in the dugout, hands pushed forcibly into his tracksuit pockets, literally rocking backwards and forwards out of sheer frustration. He sent on Helguson for Campbell, who did his case for more starts no good whatsoever in his hour of action, then Bothroyd for Macheda and finally, clearly in a rage after a dreadful pass had led to chants of “Premiership we’re having a laugh” from the QPR fans, Buzsaky for Shaun Derry. All to no effect.
Helguson’s first contribution to the action was a negative one. Three minutes after coming on he brought a deep cross to the back post down on his chest when the time simply wasn’t there for him to do so, Dean Bowditch recognised this and nipped in with an instinctive volley that flashed past Cerny and the face of the goal before nestling snugly in the far bottom corner. Bowditch has hardly been prolific in his career so far, but having once broken a 40 game long run without a goal stretching over two years with a strike at Loftus Road for Ipswich it’s clear he enjoys his games against the not-so-Super Hoops.
And that looked like being that. There was a good half an hour still left to play but a QPR goal looked about as likely as a meteor strike. Bothroyd challenged Martin and headed a Tommy Smith cross onto the roof of the net but Rangers were a poor second best before the goal and MK Dons were thoroughly good value for their lead.
As well as losing in the FA Cup as if it’s part of their religion every January for the past 11 years, QPR have also developed a nasty habit of picking up season ending injuries to key players in these fixtures. Ten minutes from time, under pressure from nobody, Alejandro Faurlin crumpled in the centre circle and was removed in a body bag after several minutes of treatment. All subs made this left QPR without their Player of the Year elect, down to ten men, a goal down and heading out of the cup in miserable circumstances. It never rains but it pours and all that.
Quite how a replay, and subsequent possible fourth round tie with Chelsea, was achieved I have next to no idea. A minute from time another long punt down field was, to his eternal credit, chased down by Heidar Helguson. Looking yards offside the Icelandic target man clashed with goalkeeper David Martin who spilled the ball and appeared to fell Helguson in the penalty area. All eyes switched to referee Michael Oliver, who’d awarded Aston Villa a nonsense spot kick at Loftus Road in the Premiership earlier in the season. All eyes, that is, except Helguson’s – he calmly regained his feet and composure and rolled the ball into the empty net.
Five minutes of stoppage time followed, which I saw none of. Ashamed of the performance, and struggling to recall a less deserved goal ever being scored in a football match I turned my back on the team that had turned its back on its manager and left the stadium. An abject, disgraceful, embarrassment of a performance that almost every player should be completely ashamed of.
And then it was Sunday…
MK Dons: Martin 6, Smith 7, Williams 6, MacKenzie 6 (Doumbe 46, 6), Lewington 8, Chadwick 7, Gleeson 6, Potter 6, Bowditch 7, Ibehre 7, Daniel Powell 5
Subs Not Used: McLoughlin, Flanagan, O'Shea, Lobjoit, Alli, Collins
Goals: Bowditch 65 (unassisted)
QPR: Cerny 6, Young 6, Gabbidon 5, Hall 5, Hill 5, Mackie 4, Derry 4 (Buzsaky 77, 5), Faurlin 5, Smith 6, Macheda 6 (Bothroyd 71, 5), Campbell 4 (Helguson 61, 6)
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Connolly, Andrade, Orr
Goals: Helguson 89 (unassisted)
QPR Star Man – N/A
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland) 7 A perfectly fine refereeing performance throughout with few errors or points of interest. However marks have to be knocked off because, for the second time in as many QPR games, he got a big penalty appeal absolutely wrong. Clint Hill’s handball in the first half was a clear spot kick that, with no assistance from the linesman, he didn’t award. Fine apart from that but referees live and die on their big decisions.
Attendance: 19, 506 (5,000 QPR approx) A truly astonishing following from QPR given the location, form and circumstances. But there was an underlying angst among the travelling thousands, who rarely broke out into any form of song or chant. They united briefly in the second half to lambast their own team with “Premiership, you’re having a laugh” and that really said it all.
Photos – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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