Cisse’s late redemption takes it all down to the wire – report
Tuesday, 8th May 2012 00:01 by Clive Whittingham
Substitute Djibril Cisse struck in the final minute of normal time against Stoke City to give QPR a puncher’s chance of Premiership survival going into the last day of the season this coming weekend.
As their ragged side played out the final acts of a 6-1 defeat at Chelsea last weekend what remained of the away support defiantly chanted: “We’re Queens Park Rangers, we stay to the end.” Just as well really.
With a minute of normal time remaining in Sunday’s home game with Stoke City QPR were effectively a Championship side again. They’d failed to grasp the requirements of playing against Tony Pulis’ unique team and were being left to slog out the final throws of a desperately dull 0-0 draw. Meanwhile some 200 miles up the M1 and M6 Bolton Wanderers were on the cusp of securing a 2-1 home win against a West Brom side with nothing to play for. Had it all remained that way it would have left Rangers requiring snookers – a Bolton defeat and unlikely win of their own at Manchester City next week – to survive. Loftus Road was tense, angry, frustrated, but most of all Loftus Road was quiet. Quiet and resigned.
Certain his team didn’t possess the aerial ability to compete for set pieces in Stoke’s land of the giants Adel Taarabt played what might have been a late chance short from a corner, but his pass to Barton was ambitious and the play quickly fizzled out. Mental torture and agony persisted.
But teams always tend to get a final chance. QPR have rarely been very good with these – see Patrick Agyemang’s attempted chip of a goalkeeper in a one on one situation against Hull City at Loftus Road last season for further details – and are usually prone to panic and rashness in such situations. Away from home QPR haven’t won a game for six months, since that well deserved 3-2 success against Stoke back in October from which they appeared to have learnt nothing, and often look like they can’t wait to give up and get back on the bus to go home. But at Loftus Road they refuse to be beaten, and even when it seems likely they will be they find a way to overcome the adversity.
This latest victory, a fifth straight home win in the Premiership for the first time in the club’s history, was grasped from the fire in the final minute of normal time. This time Taarabt, from the other side of the field, did decide to throw caution to the wind and plant a late corner, won by substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips, into a crowded penalty area. Perhaps a succession of short set pieces had lulled Stoke into a false sense of security because they allowed Anton Ferdinand, one of the few QPR players who could compete with the visiting team in the air, to attack the near post unmarked and flick a header down into the goal mouth.
And there he was: a very large, very tattooed, very composed Frenchman who had escaped detection at the far post despite bolstering his appearance for this crucial game with the addition of bright white Mohican hair cut. Stoke had their minds on the beach while Djibril Cisse had his firmly set on glory. I’d say he couldn’t miss, but then I’ve seen Gary Thompson play. Cisse couldn’t miss. He swept it home from three yards out with Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen powerless to prevent the net bulging.
Cue absolute pandemonium. The shock that we’d actually broken through rendered me dumbstruck and silent, I found myself just standing there drinking it all in as Cisse raced away underneath my feet pursued by his team mates in celebration. In an instant the Ellerslie Road Stand had became a seething mass of humanity with bodies flying left and right. The noise was astonishing. On the gantry John Motson, the country’s most experienced and senior football commentator, couldn’t stand it. Rising to his feet he was unable to do anything other than bellow Cisse’s name into his microphone. When he calmed down he said simply: “Queens Park Rangers have done it.”
And, improbably, West Brom had done it too. With nothing to play for and a manager about to bid his farewells, trailing 2-0 with ten minutes left, they’d fought back to draw at Bolton with a goal deep into stoppage time.
You can’t write this stuff.
For all that, I couldn’t help but feel Mark Hughes picked the wrong team. The goalkeeper Paddy Kenny and back four Nedum Onuoha, Clint Hill, Anton Ferdinand and Taye Taiwo seem, rightly, set in stone at the moment but further forward he picked the wrong horse for the wrong course. Samba Diakite’s continued struggles with illness meant a midfield of Joey Barton, Akos Buzsaky and Shaun Derry. Further forward Cisse actually didn’t start, which I wholeheartedly disagreed with, and Bobby Zamora led the attack alone with support from Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt.
Zamora was too isolated, left to field too many long punts down field against a team for whom long punts down the field are like the finest yoghurt and honey. On the rare occasions he did bring the ball down successfully support was too slow to arrive with Jamie Mackie’s Roadrunner style stopped dead in its tracks by the physical stylings of Rainier Wolfcastle look and play-a-like Robert Huth and the other midfielders too deep. The physicality of the game rendered Buzsaky ineffective and although Adel Taarabt tried every single trick he knew to force the issue he carried the threat alone and could therefore be targeted by two men at a time.
Simply put, QPR set up to control the midfield against a team that completely bypasses its midfield at every possible opportunity. Stoke set up with three large forwards – Ricardo Fuller, Cameron Jerome and Peter Crouch who deserved the warm applause from the home fans on his first return to Shepherds Bush in competitive action since his departure a decade ago – and hit balls constantly at them from back to front hunting defensive mistakes and set piece opportunities. Stoke ignore their midfield to such an extent they can afford to pick Rory Delap, a League Two quality footballer, in there simply because he has a long throw, and leave him on for the entire match despite injury reducing him to a walking pace. They can also pick Glenn Whelen. In truth I could probably play midfield for Stoke myself. QPR, and Hughes, had their priorities all wrong.
Stoke should have gone ahead in the third minute. Jamie Mackie had threatened for Rangers with a dangerous low cross into an understaffed penalty box but from that Stoke immediately set out their stall with a long punt into the right channel behind Taye Taiwo who panicked with a poor back header towards Kenny and allowed Cameron Jerome in but his close range volley in a one on one situation was hopeless and flew into the Lower Loft.
Thereafter both teams quickly established where their main threats would be posed in this turgid encounter. Stoke forced two dangerous corners and two long throws in the next ten minutes which QPR were able to scramble away without ever looking comfortable in doing so. When Rangers had the ball they looked for Taarabt and hoped for the best. In the eleventh minute the Moroccan was fouled 30 yards out from goal by Marc Wilson and took the free kick himself, drilling a low shot around the wall and drawing a fine save from returning Stoke goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen. The rebound fell loose in the six yard box but although Joey Barton had shown more anticipation than anybody else on the field he didn’t then have the dexterity to get the ball back into the goal mouth where Bobby Zamora was awaiting a tap in and he found the side netting instead. A shame, Barton deserved a goal for his captain’s knock in this match.
It would be nearly 20 minutes before QPR, through Barton again from long range, would have another shot on the Stoke goal. In the meantime I’d be surprised if the ball was in play for more than 30 seconds.
When things go wrong on an aircraft the pilots will reach under their seats and draw out a very large file of checklists that aim to troubleshoot the problem they’re experiencing. It has seemed in recent weeks that referees do something similar, abandoning the actual rules of the game in favour of a revised list of regulations if, say, Manchester United are playing at home in a must-win game.
On Sunday at Loftus Road our match official Andre Marriner, coming to the end of a fine season personally that culminated in him being awarded the Manchester derby last Monday evening, had leafed through the file for the Stoke City checklist. On there he would have found a number of useful tips, including the idea that if you penalise Robert Huth every time he fouls somebody you’d send him off every week so you just let him get on with it unchecked. Personally I would send Robert Huth off every week but referees seem to give him more leeway to do whatever the hell he likes because otherwise his career stats would be almost as farcical as the numbers Djibril Cisse has posted during his short time with QPR. Huth was excellent, Stoke’s best player for me, but had the referee refereed him as he referees every other player in the league he wouldn’t have been half as effective.
It was a similar tale with Stoke’s notorious throw ins. Ordinarily a team taking up to a minute to take every single throw in they get in the opposition half would be swiftly punished with yellow cards for time wasting, but because Stoke have a long throw, and like to trundle everybody forward for them, they’re allowed to do as they please. Marriner stood non-plussed and unmoved as Stoke set each one up meticulously over ever increasing lengths of time - towelling the ball off despite it being a dry day, organising the penalty area before finally hurling the ball towards it. It’s mind numbing stuff. The Stoke fans call it Pulis-ball and what remains of their away support carries a flag to games saying “we’ll play how we want.”
I’m drawn to a Homer Simpson quote: “I’ve seen plays that were more exciting than this. Honest to God, plays.”
After a quarter of an hour one of these long throws was flicked on at the near post by Ryan Shawcross who then found the ball bouncing back towards him invitingly but he whipped his volley over the bar. Ten minutes later Sorensen had a nervous flap at a Taarabt free kick from a wide area after the Moroccan had teased another foul from Wilson. That, and an ongoing argument between the team’s two wind up merchants, Joey Barton and Ricardo Fuller, was literally all that occurred for 20 minutes of a match in the Barclays Premier League. Honest to God, plays.
Ten minutes before half time, mercifully, something happened. Marriner rightly played the game on through dives first by Taarabt and then Jerome and amidst the ensuing chaos, arguments and appeals Barton curled a shot over the bar. Jerome is built like an Ox but has the strength of Aldi own brand washing up liquid and he was laid on the floor again moments later in the penalty area complaining of nothing very much, foolishly interrupting a promising Stoke attack. When Kenny then returned the ball the length of the field to Sorensen it seemed the away team had fallen asleep as Zamora robbed Upson of possession and crossed for Barton whose powerful close range header would have been the opening goal had it been a yard left or right of the keeper. To be fair he’d done well to reach the penalty area and the cross given the circumstances. This was one of Barton’s best games for QPR in my opinion.
Five minutes before half time Stoke’s attempts to strangle every last breath out of the contest reached bizarre new heights when they decided to replace long throw merchant Rory Delap because of injury. The game stopped, the board went up, the Stoke fans clapped, Delap trotted at snail’s pace across to the touchline, and then after all that Pulis suddenly decided he wasn’t going to make the change after all. The fourth official Neil Swarbrick looked confused (his natural state it should be said), Mark Hughes looked exasperated, and Delap didn’t return to his position with any greater speed or urgency than he’d left it.
My balls were literally aching at this point. Short of forcing us to play with a punctured football I’m not sure what else the visitors could have done to make this game any worse.
At half time Stoke did follow through with a substitution, introducing another long throw expert Ryan Shotton instead of Marc Wilson who’d struggled to keep hold of Adel Taarabt during the first half. They started the second period brightly too – Jerome was just out of reach of Crouch’s header back across the goal from Fuller’s cross in the opening minute, then the Jamaican striker launched a crisp, curling shot of his own from the edge of the area that flew less than an inch wide of the post with Kenny beaten.
Stoke’s best period of play in the game sparked Mark Hughes into life and he summoned Djibril Cisse to play alongside Bobby Zamora in place of Akos Buzsaky who’d struggled to affect the game.
On the hour Fuller was perhaps lucky to escape a yellow card from Marriner when he appeared to elbow Nedum Onuoha in an aerial challenge, and Bobby Zamora was also fortunate to get away with a loose touch on the edge of the penalty area that teed up Glenn Whelen for a high shot into the sparsely populated away end. Three minutes later Joey Barton earned his keep for the week with a fine, brave, last ditch block on the edge of the penalty area but it was clear that QPR were struggling and at this point the game looked nailed on for a 0-0 draw or Stoke victory.
Small shoots of hope poked through three minutes later when Zamora drew a foul from Upson on the edge of the Stoke area which gave Taye Taiwo a chance to try his luck from trademark rage. The Nigerian left back found the wall with his first shot, the wall with his second shot, and Adel Taarabt with a third attempt but the Moroccan then selfishly shot over the bar with a queue of team mates awaiting a cross. It was hard to begrudge him his attempt, as he’d carried the team’s sole attacking hope to this point, but his decision making left plenty to be desired on that occasion.
Time was becoming a cruel mistress for the increasingly forlorn looking home team. News seeped through from the Reebok Stadium of a second Bolton goal to ratchet up the anxiety still further. A needlessly flamboyant camera save from Sorensen as Cisse attempted to angle a header into the far corner did little to improve the mood and a spate of substitutions – Stoke sent on Kenwyne Jones and Dean Whitehead for Jerome and Fuller, QPR introduced Jay Bothroyd and Shaun Wright-Phillips for Derry and Zamora – slowed the game to a walking pace once more
The LoftforWords’ match notes, lovingly scribbled on the back of a racing form with a bookies pen each week, read simply FFS at this point. For fuck’s sake.
It felt like an individual mistake held the key to breaking the deadlock. Anton Ferdinand had time and space to direct a deep Taarabt corner on target but duffed a header into the Lower Loft instead. Moment later Jon Walters attacked a cross at the near post down at the School End but the ball deflected high and over the bar. From the resulting corner Peter Crouch planted a free header wide of the post. Fans who used to cheer him gave each other a knowing nod and wink in the Crown and Sceptre later, wondering whether he’d really been as keen as he usually is to bag a late winner and condemn the club he supports to relegation.
Crouch would also hook a last gasp chance wide of the far post with the final kick of the game deep into stoppage time after Kenny had nervously flapped at a deep cross but by that stage Stoke were chasing an equaliser rather than a winner after Cisse’s intervention.
The Frenchman is a pure QPR player: prone to moments of outstanding quality but reduced to playing his football in this grubby corner of West London by personality flaws. In seven appearances for Rangers he’s scored five goals and picked up two red cards, missing a further seven matches through suspension as a result.
But on Sunday the glory was all his. All his previous misdemeanours were forgotten and a truly dreadful, lamentable 89 minutes of football buried by a wonderful 60 seconds that breathed new hope into a previously lifeless QPR carcass.
Rangers have, in all likelihood, declared on 37 points for the season now. A total few thought we’d reach three month ago and almost everybody believed would be more than enough. Next week they take their away record of ten defeats and two draws from the last 12 outings to Manchester City where the hosts boast a home slate of 17 wins and one draw. City will win the title with a victory.
By some strange quirk of fate Rangers are now heavily reliant on Stoke, who play Bolton at home on the final day and must prevent them winning to save us. One can only hope they’re as obstinate and unpleasant in that match as they were here.
And so began the longest week.
QPR: Kenny 6, Onuoha 6, Ferdinand 7, Hill 7, Taiwo 6, Barton 7, Derry 6 (Wright-Phillips 81, -), Buzsaky 5 (Cisse 50, 7), Mackie 5, Taarabt 7, Zamora 5 (Bothroyd 81, -)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Hall, Gabbidon, Traore
Goals: Cisse 89 (assisted Taarabt/Ferdinand)
Stoke: Sorensen 7, Huth 7, Shawcross 7, Upson 6, Wilson 5 (Shotton 46, 6), Walters 6, Whelan 5, Delap 5, Jerome 6 (Jones 78, 6), Crouch 6, Fuller 6 (Whitehead 78, 6)
Subs Not Used: Begovic, Etherington, Woodgate, Palacios
QPR Star Man – Adel Taarabt 7 Got plenty wrong, in fact a fair chunk of the things he tried failed to come off, but for me for the majority of the game was the only QPR player who looked likely. Our players love to use the club’s official media channels to tell us over and over again that they understand what’s at stake, understand how important everything is, understand this and understand that. For the first hour at least on Sunday I thought Taarabt was the only player we had in an attacking area who not only looked like he understood what was at stake but was relaxed and composed enough to actually do something to effect it. Zamora looked half fit and half interested, Mackie was nullified by Huth and the midfield was far too deep and having to be carried by the other main candidate for star man Joey Barton. It was only when Cisse came on that we had a player as good as Taarabt who didn’t seem to be effected by the occasion.
Referee: Andre Marriner (W Midlands) 6 A harsh, low mark for a referee who actually got nothing wrong on the day decision wise and kept his cards in his pocket. Marks deducted though for just plodding around happily in the middle of the field allowing Stoke to play to their own rule book. Fuller fouled multiple times without being booked, Huth likewise, and the flagrant time wasting over every throw in and goal kick that started in the first minute and continued right the way through until the QPR goal should have been clamped down on after a quarter of an hour at the latest.
Attendance: 17, 319 (1,200 Stoke approx) I remember not so very long ago when Stoke City fans were crawling all over Loftus Road, trying to get tickets in the home end for an end of season game that may, with a convoluted set of results never likely to come off, have got them into the play offs. The question on most QPR fans’ lips, given their poor away followings at Loftus Road previously, was where were you all before? They were met with excuses about midweek kick offs and a membership card scheme. Excuses for a half full away that was only heard from once – cheering the news that Bolton were winning at half time – gratefully received. Mind you, to be fair, would you want to watch this team regularly? The home crowd was tense throughout, and then lifted the roof of the place with a minute to go.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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