Cisse stars, but QPR squander advantage – full match report
Thursday, 2nd Feb 2012 18:14 by Clive Whittingham
QPR surrendered a two goal lead to draw 2-2 at Aston Villa on Wednesday night. Djibril Cisse capped an impressive debut with a fine goal.
The Brummie pronunciation of his surname means Aston Villa probably wouldn’t have been an ideal alternative destination for QPR’s new centre forward Djibril Cisse, but the question of just how a newly promoted club have been able to pick the Frenchman up so cheaply and unopposed by the likes of the Villains was one being posed by several in the lengthy queue for the trains after this encounter.
For half an hour Cisse, 41 times a full French international, was head and shoulders above anybody else on the pitch. He continued his fine record of scoring on his debut for every English club he has played for with an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner after 11 minutes and worried a nervous looking Villa defence whenever he had the ball at his feet.
Sadly QPR couldn’t get Fulham striker Bobby Zamora registered in time to play in this game alongside him, and they suffered in the second half when Cisse tired and the ball failed to spend enough time in the Villa half for the visitors to hold onto the two goal lead. Nevertheless it was impossible to shake the feeling that we’ve taken another step up over the past 48 hours. There were times when Cisse brought the ball down and held it up only to find his team mates, who aren’t used to such skill and ability from a QPR forward, looking a little confused 30 yards back down the pitch. They’ll either learn, or drag Cisse down to their level.
In the absence of Zamora Cisse was instead partnered in attack by the forgotten man Rob Hulse who was rewarded for a promising cameo against Chelsea at the weekend with a first Premier League start in five years on a bitterly cold night in the second city. His inclusion became necessary when Heidar Helguson, Jay Bothroyd and DJ Campbell were all ruled out injured and Shaun Derry had to be recalled to the midfield when Akos Buzsaky pulled out as well. He was partnered by Joey Barton and flanked by Jamie Mackie and Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Manager Mark Hughes made changes at the back as well, handing debuts to Nedum Onuoha at centre half alongside Anton Ferdinand and Nigerian international Taye Taiwo at left back with Luke Young right and Paddy Kenny in goal.
Villa, without a win in their previous five home matches, came into this match still stinging from a total collapse in the FA Cup at Arsenal on Sunday. From 2-0 up at half time Alex McLeish’s side conceded three goals in nine second half minutes to crash out of the competition, and left winger Gabby Agbonlahor who’d played a big part in getting them into that early lead was missing here through injury. Big money summer signing Charles N’Zogbia replaced him. Carlos Cuellar continued at centre half in the continued absence of James Collins.
The sides exchanged pleasantries early on with Alan Hutton flashing a ball across the face of the QPR goal and Djibril Cisse hooking over a cross of his own that forced the game’s first corner which Joey Barton wasted by hitting the first man.
QPR have managed just 22 goals in as many league games this season and having tightened the defence up since arriving Mark Hughes has subsequently seen three of his four games in charge finish 1-0 either way. He will no doubt hope that spending the thick end of £9m on strikers on deadline day will help alleviate that problem and all the initial signs are good because after 11 minutes here Djibril Cisse exploded back onto the British scene with a fine opening goal.
A neat, patient passing move through the QPR midfield concluded with Shaun Wright-Phillips lining up a shot on the edge of the area that was inadvertently diverted into the box by Stephen Ireland as he attempted to execute a block. Cisse watched the ball all the way onto his foot and then lashed it powerfully past Shay Given and into the far corner of the net. A superb finish, celebrated with a double summersault, to take Cisse onto four goals in his last six appearances against Villa and open his QPR account with one of his first touches of the ball. He certainly wasn’t carrying himself with the air of a man who’d managed only one goal in 15 league appearances from 48 shots for Lazio this season. A star is born.
To be fair, those statistics don’t include the fact that Lazio used him mainly as a left winger, from where he did set up six goals for team mates in 15 games. He could have added an assist to his early goal had Shaun Wright-Phillips arrived from slightly deeper or Cisse’s cross been two feet lower when he picked him out unmarked at the back post. In the end Wright-Phillips just couldn’t bring the ball out of the sky in time to get a shot away.
So the new look strike force had started well, but the new look defence was looking less assured. A ragged defensive line almost cost the R’s an equaliser right from the kick off with Ciaran Clark and Stephen Ireland able to run in behind, onside, into the penalty area where Clark seized on a chipped pass but dragged a shot horribly wide from the corner of the six yard box when he should have at least hit the target despite attention from Anton Ferdinand. Within a minute Robbie Keane and Darren Bent had combined on the edge of the area to create a chance for the latter to shoot but his low drive was never likely to trouble Paddy Kenny in goal.
QPR have conceded a number of goals this season as a direct result of communication breakdowns in defence, possibly a product of a constantly changing backline through injury concerns about all four centre halves. I expect this to be the first choice back four now when everybody is fit but it will take time to settle down and work as a unit, time QPR really don’t have with points needed quickly over the next five matches.
LoftforWords is known for its truly dreadful match predictions and the pre-game assertion that this one would be a tight affair with one goal in it, if indeed the teams could be separated at all, began to look more and more ridiculous as the half wore on. Having already scored one and gone close to conceding an equaliser Rangers crafted a decent chance for a second goal on the quarter hour when Wright-Phillips won the ball well ahead of a wild challenge from Alan Hutton and then fed Joey Barton who crossed deep to the far post where Cisse was waiting to execute a volley that bounced straight into the arms of Given. QPR looked dangerous though, really dangerous, and it’s been a long time since I’ve said that about them.
Sadly at the back end new left back Taye Taiwo was looking dangerous as well, to himself and his own team. He’s played little football this year and was thrown in at the deep end somewhat here. Built like a challenger tank he cut an awkward figure at times, nervous in possession and caught out on several occasions in defence. That said he got an assist to his name on debut when he swung over a deep cross at the end of another decent passing move and Stephen Warnock, inexplicably, came in behind Richard Dunne and headed a beautifully placed own goal into the far corner past Shay Given.
Perhaps he expected Dunne to head the ball himself, but even so there can be few excuses for such a woeful execution of whatever in God’s name Warnock was trying to do here. He didn’t have a QPR player within ten yards of him as he stooped to guide the ball beyond his own goalkeeper. Warnock was left out of the side totally under Gerard Houllier last season and recalled this term by Alex McLeish, although he had been dropped for the previous league game at Wolves. This won’t do his cause much good at all.
Villa, through Dunne, scored a last minute own goal to salvage a point for QPR in the earlier meeting at Loftus Road this season and QPR’s lack of potency overall this season is highlighted by the fact that this Warnock goal moves Aston Villa up to joint second in our season’s goal scoring charts with two.
I described Villa as a waste of a potentially good club in the pre-match build up, underachieving through poor management and more stringent financial controls from the boardroom. When the celebrations of the bizarre second goal died down I looked around this famous old ground, at the 10,000 empty seats and the gang of supporters down to our right joining in with the “you are embarrassing” chants from the travelling QPR faithful, and wondered just how it had come to this?
Those supporters weren’t too upset when Martin O’Neill left Villa Park after consecutive sixth placed finishes because he hadn’t shown an ability to be able to take them any further. Now here they are in twelfth while O’Neill’s new Sunderland side roars away into the top eight in the league. There’s a hint of what happened at Charlton when impatient, greedy and short sighted Addicks fans called for Alan Curbishley to leave because, in their eyes, they weren’t pushing on enough in the top flight. They’ve since been punished with two relegations and Villa have appointed first Gerard Houllier and now Alex McLeish since O’Neill walked away just to really hammer home the message about the greenness of grass on the other side of the fence.
The fans, understandably, don’t like McLeish at all but it seems, for whatever reason, that the players do because despite falling two behind here and playing to a cacophony of boos and jeers from the home stands they continued to go about their business and look dangerous when the put moves together on the edge of the area. Robbie Keane was at the heart of everything positive they did in this game and forced a nervy palm away from Kenny with a low cross into the six yard box shortly after falling behind.
Kenny got away with that one rather, but was in better touch on the half hour when Dunne headed a Petrov corner down into a congested six yard box and the Irish keeper was alert and aware enough to make a very decent save to deny him a goal. Four minutes later Keane did finally beat the QPR keeper but his left foot shot from 15 yards after Bent’s nod down deflected off Petrov’s back and bounced back into play after striking the cross bar.
Referee Neil Swarbrick isn’t exactly flavour of the month down at Loftus Road these days. His decision to send off Joey Barton for a meagre clash with Bradley Johnson in a home game with Norwich at the turn of the year when he hadn’t actually seen the incident topped a truly dreadful all round performance from the match officials in that game and, although the red card was ridiculously upheld on appeal, Swarbick has spent the last month in the lower leagues. To appoint him straight back to a QPR game on his return to the top flight seemed like a crass decision to me and he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory in this match.
In general play QPR had good reason to feel aggrieved on several occasions. Djibril Cisse was left bemused on the turf, throwing his arms around in disbelief, after he failed to receive a free kick for what looked like an obvious foul over by the dug outs. And in the second half a wild tackle on Shaun Wright-Phillips that should have been an immediate yellow card at least was actually not even given as a free kick. In 95 minutes of football here QPR actually only received three free kicks, which against a team made up of players like Richard Dunne and Alan Hutton sounds a little suspicious to me.
In the penalty box though it was Villa who had cause to be annoyed with the officials. They appealed loudly for a potential handball against Jamie Mackie ten minutes before half time but Swarbrick showed no interest in awarding a penalty. That was soon forgotten a minute before half time when my pre-match fears about Robbie Keane finding space to hurt QPR between the straight midfield and defensive line came true and the home team halved the deficit at the worst possible time from Mark Hughes’ point of view.
Keane fed the ball wide to Hutton whose low cross was turned into the net expertly by Darren Bent for his one hundredth Premier League goal and fourth in as many games since the controversy about him going shopping rather than watching his team mates play while he was injured. QPR leading 2-0 at half time would have been a very different game, played in a very different atmosphere, to them only leading 2-1. It felt like a massive moment and Rangers simply didn’t do enough to prevent it.
Having failed to make it to half time without conceding the next task was to get through what was sure to be a hairy first ten minutes of the second half without Villa equalising. As expected the home side emerged from the extra wide Villa Park tunnel with renewed purpose at the start of the second period and drew the first yellow card of the game from Neil Swarbrick for a Luke Young foul on Charles N’Zogbia.
Villa were renowned for their set pieces in the Martin O’Neill era but amazingly, with people like Richard Dunne and James Collins knocking around, haven’t scored from a corner in the league yet this season. Petrov’s delivery from the wide free kick that resulted from Young’s challenge tempted Dunne in towards goal but Paddy Kenny produced a fine punch away to prevent him equalising. Rangers failed to clear their lines and although they survived two half hearted handball appeals against first Onuoha and then Barton as they muscled up in the penalty area they were extremely fortunate that Petrov’s deflected long range shot was saved by Kenny with his legs after he’d been wrong footed by a hefty deflection. QPR then countered but as is so often the case Shaun Wright-Phillips’ final ball was found wanting and Cisse, who could have been played through on goal, was left to lament the quality of his new team mate.
That foray downfield was rare respite for Hughes’ men. The manager took off Rob Hulse and replaced him with Tommy Smith early on in the half but although Hulse hadn’t had a particularly brilliant game that only served to remove a physical presence from the QPR attack, place more work and demands on the shoulders of Djibril Cisse who quickly tired, and prevented the ball from sticking in the Villa half to relieve the pressure on the QPR back line. A strange decision from Hughes, surely fitness related, and one that was immediately preceded by another Villa chance when Warnock cut the ball back into the area, Clark shot and Derry appeared to block the goalbound effort away with his forearm. This was the third handball appeal of the game from Villa, and by far the most vociferous, but Swarbrick was again unmoved.
Swarbrick was involved again moments later, waving an advantage through a meagre foul on Robbie Keane on the edge of the box and then bringing the play back for the set piece when Keane subsequently got the ball trapped beneath his feet and took a fresh air shot at it. Kenny saved the resulting free kick and that’s all well and good, as long as the rules are applied equally to both teams. Sadly a short time later Wright-Phillips was clearly chopped down on the halfway line by Ireland, an advantage was played but quickly lost and Swarbrick failed to return to the original free kick in the same we he had done for Keane. Another wave of Villa attack flowed forward while QPR complained and Kenny produced a nervy one handed save from Keane after he’d been allowed to advance into the area. Onuoha was in the right place at the right time to clear the rebound away with Bent lurking.
It seemed the storm had been weathered. An hour gone, Rangers still led, Villa calmed down, it was now a question of time and whether Hughes’ new look team could see the job through. They may have done more than that had Jamie Mackie tapped in Wright-Phillips excellent low cross from five yards out when he should have done, but he failed to make connection with the ball and with that chance went the visitors’ chance of winning the game.
Hughes sent on Hogan Ephraim for Derry, who continues to look out of his depth in the middle of a Premiership midfield in a 4-4-2 formation, and then Federico Macheda for Cisse who’d been asked to do too much in the second half and looked shattered. Villa, hunting goals, sent on their star man from the first meeting between these sides Barry Bannan instead of Ciaran Clark.
Kenny palmed away a cross from N’Zogbia and was then grateful to see Bent’s mishit shot bobble wide of the post after the ball was returned to the area but the equaliser wasn’t much longer in coming. Ireland found Petrov in space down the right channel with ten minutes left to play and his chipped cross was hammered home full on the volley by N’Zogbia arriving late and unmarked at the back post. For all their effort and enterprise in the first half, QPR were now staring down the barrel of an unlikely defeat.
Villa came within a whisker of getting their winner eight minutes from time. N’Zogbia, who hasn’t really settled at Villa since a summer move from Wigan, seemed buoyed by his goal and won a corner with a hopeful shot from a tight angle. He took the set piece himself, finding Darren Bent who lashed the ball goalwards only for Tommy Smith to produce a heroic block on the goal line. The ball stayed loose in the six yard box and Jamie Mackie then atoned for his earlier error by bravely throwing himself at the feet of Robbie Keane as he attempted to turn home the rebound – Villa once again appealed for a handball penalty in vain.
Swarbrick advertised four minutes of added time and played three and a half, enough time for N’Zogbia to lash another shot towards goal and Taiwo this time to stick his head in the way and deny Villa a late winner.
Had you offered me a 2-2 draw at 7pm I’d have gladly stayed in the very warm pub serving the very nice pies in Birmingham City Centre but having led 2-0, against an out of form side, it really feels like two points lost.
Anybody who doubts the signing of Bobby Zamora should be forced to sit and watch a tape of this second half where, once Hulse had left the field, QPR were completely incapable of making the ball stick in the Villa half, just as they had been on Saturday against Chelsea after Helguson had been forced off. That in turn led to Villa boasting 70% of the possession and almost all the shots on goal as QPR sank deeper and became more and more tired. Zamora would have held the ball up relieving the pressure on his defenders, allowing QPR to play higher down the field, and reducing the work load of Cisse who would have stayed fresher for longer as a result.
Rangers, who were really excellent for the first half an hour of this game, must now focus on Saturday when a victory at home to Wolves can put six clear points between them and Mick McCarthy’s men.
Villa: Given 6, Hutton 7, Cuellar 6, Dunne 6, Warnock 5, Clark 6 (Bannan 70, 6), Ireland 6, Petrov 7, N’Zogbia 7, Keane 7, Bent 7
Subs not used: Guzan, Lichaj, Baker, Gardner, Heskey, Weimann
Goals: Bent 44 (assisted Hutton), N’Zogbia 80 (assisted Petrov)
QPR: Kenny 7, Young 6, Onuoha 6, Ferdinand 6, Taiwo 5, Mackie 5, Derry 5 (Ephraim 73, 6), Barton 6, Wright-Phillips 6, Cisse 7 (Macheda 81, -), Hulse 6 (Smith 54, 6)
Subs not used: Cerny, Hill, Hall, Balanta
Goals: Cisse 11 (assisted Wright-Phillips), Warnock og 22 (assisted Taiwo)
Bookings: Young (foul)
QPR Star Man – Djibril Cisse 7 Tired in the second half and given the work load he was asked to get through after Hulse’s departure and a busy last few days off the field that’s perhaps not surprising. But in the first half his performance was genuinely exciting. He looked a threat whenever he had the ball, with excellent technique and great awareness and pace. Villa were scared of him, and his first goal for the club showed exactly why. I can’t wait to see him at Loftus Road on Saturday teaming up with Zamora in attack.
Referee – Neil Swarbrick 4 Whichever way you look at his performance here, it cannot possibly be judged as being any good. If you want to focus on the big decisions, he got them wrong. Shaun Derry definitely blocked Petrov’s second half shot with a hand raised high above his head for an obvious penalty. If you want to talk about even and fair application of the rules then compare the free kick awarded to Robbie Keane after an advantage had initially been played, with the incident where Shaun Wright-Phillips was chopped down but received no free kick as an advantage had been played. QPR received just three free kicks here in 95 minutes of football while Villa were given 12. Very poor again.
Attendance 32,063 (1,500 QPR approx) Ordinarily I’d point to the 10,000 empty seats and the complete lack of atmosphere at this point, but to be honest if I was an Aston Villa fan I’m not sure I’d want to turn up and sing my heart out for a team managed by Alex McLeish either. This is a club with massive potential, drifting aimlessly. QPR seem to be on the up and took a decent number of supporters to this game considering the evening kick off and Arctic conditions. They were in good voice for the majority of the contest.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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