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Three Moore points sealed by Stefan
Three Moore points sealed by Stefan
Saturday, 13th Aug 2005 18:29

Rangers kept up their terrific start to the new season with a 2-1 victory over Sheffield United at Loftus Road.

Stefan Moore bagged his first goal in blue and white hoops in injury time to seal three points for QPR at Loftus Road this afternoon. After the pulsating and nerve racking action of the Ipswich home game on Tuesday, this was an altogether more tepid affair, but certainly no less of an outstanding result for the Super Hoops.

Sheffield United came to W12 on the back of two wins, and six goals, from their first two matches and were brimming with confidence. Neil Warnock has finally been given significant transfer funds for this campaign and many pundits think they represent excellent value for promotion. With this comes problems though, the Bramall Lane faithful will not be settling for missing the play offs this season, many have eyes on the top two. Voices of discontent were heard around the Lane late last season as Warnock's side slumped to eighth and some feel that this is make or break for their much maligned manager.

On top of this they've just sold their outstanding player, Andy Gray, to Sunderland and replaced him with Neil Shipperley, or possibly Neil Shipperley's fatter, slower, less talented brother. At times it was hard to tell. Cracks in the United's armour appeared for the first time this season in the second half today.

Following the terrific victory over Ipswich, a victory which would have been so much clearer had the officials been on the same planet, Ian Holloway stuck with the same side. Simon Royce was in goal behind Bignot, Shittu, Rose and Santos - playing against one of his many former clubs.

Martin Rowlands continued to deputise for the injured Lee Cook wide left with Aaron Brown again kicking his heals on the sidelines. Gareth Ainsworth, a long time Sheffield United villain after a poor tackle on Dane Whitehouse in deep, dark history started wide right. Tuesday's star man Tommy Doherty joined Bircham in midfield. Gallen and Furlong were the strikers.

Marc Nygaard was absent from the line up, replaced on the bench by the destroyer - Marcus Bean.

Warnock decided against starting his new signing Craig Short for the first time. The veteran centre half carried a suspension over from last season and missed the first two games, but was eligible to make his Blades debut from the bench today. He also left the talented Steve Kabba on the sidelines and, as somebody said in the SARS Bar before the match, the longer he stayed there, the better it would be for Rangers.

The first half failed to inspire a disappointingly low crowd at Loftus Road. Tommy Doherty was denied a penalty by referee Steve Tanner after ten minutes, though in truth few ever thought a spot kick would be awarded.

At the other end a bizarre pass from Marcus Bignot, turning the ball right back into the danger zone under no pressure on the halfway line, allowed Neil Shipperley to set Paul Ifill free down the Sheff Utd right. The covering defenders forced him wide and his low drive was held by Royce.

Around the twenty minute mark the visitors forced consecutive corners, the second from John Harley picked out an unmarked Neil Shipperley but he could only direct his header wide. Shipperley looked grossly out of shape and off the pace from minute one, and even his physical presence was posing few problems to Shittu and Santos at the heart of Rangers' defence.

This chance stirred Rangers from their slumber. Marcus Bignot combined well with Ainsworth who skipped past Harley and delivered a telling cross. Leigh Bromby cleared with Gallen and Furlong lurking but it was on the other wing that Rangers were getting the most joy. Martin Rowlands was having an increasing influence on the game, skipping and diving past the leaden footed Rob Kozlok with increasing frequency.

After half an hour a neat passing interchange saw Gallen feed the wide man but Rowly's low cross flashed across the goal eluding everybody. At the Loft End Shipperley tried to ghost into the area but Shittu was on hand with a thumping challenge to deny him as he pulled the trigger.

Referee Steve Tanner was making few friends in the School End. A number of questionable decisions against Blades gave QPR excellent set piece opportunities throughout the first half, yet at the other end he appeared happy to allow Santos free reign to push, pull and bully Shipperley any way he wanted. To make matters worse he turned down an excellent penalty appeal after thirty five minutes.

Danny Webber, so often the scourge of QPR, danced his way into the penalty area from the left flank, leaving Bignot and Santos for dead on his way to a very decent shooting position. Shittu and Santos converged and Webber appeared to be illegally caught as he tried to let one go. Webber, believing the chance might still be there, stayed on his feet but the ball rolled dead and Tanner showed little interest. Had Webber hit the deck he would more than likely have got his spot kick.

Holloway was forced to shuffle his pack eight minutes before half time. New cult hero Tommy Doherty flew into a crunching challenge on Nallis, won the ball, but also picked up a knock to his knee. Doherty appeared to be struggling with an injury even before this but a typically robust challenge just tipped him over the edge and after two minutes of aimlessly wondering round clutching his legs, he was replaced by Stefan Moore.

This was certainly a gamble by Holloway. Against one of the division's best sides Rangers had held their own for half an hour with two defensive central midfielders, with this switch Kevin Gallen dropped back to replace Doherty and gave the side an altogether more attacking feel. Holloway could have introduced Brown wide left and moved Rowlands to the centre, but he went with Moore who finally had his chance of a good hour's first team football at Rangers.

Before the break a terrific break from Ainsworth down the right saw his powerful cross just elude Kevin Gallen who would have burst the net had he been a foot taller! Half time brought the usual tirade at a match official from Warnock and McCall, an opera singer and the 1967 league cup winning side onto the sodden turf in the teaming rain, little did supporters know of a Dream Team style story line involving Director Gianni Paladini developing behind the scenes as well - more on that later this week I'm sure.

After the break Ainsworth's cross was headed well over the cross bar by Furlong. In truth, with Kenny masterful under any kind of high cross, and Sheffield United bouncing off Shittu and Santos, the game had 0-0 written all over it at this stage.

Martin Rowlands was still at the forefront of everything good QPR were trying. After fifty minutes he breezed past Kozluk and Jagielka into a shooting position. He elected instead to tee up Gallen who instead of cracking a shot at goal tried to tease a curling cross to the back post where Furlong and Moore lurked but the angle was very tight and the ball curled away for a goal kick. Later Rowlands breezed past Bromby who was carded for a cynical pull of the shirt. Mr tanner developed a taste for the card and soon had one out for Shipperley for persistent offending and Bircham for a bad tackle on Montgomery.

Then, from nothing, Rangers surged into the lead. Stefan Moore showed his pace in breaking away from the Sheffield United defence in the fifty sixth minute. He crossed towards Furlong but with few other options in the penalty area United were able to clear comfortably. Morgan's header dropped straight to Bircham however. Most probably expected Birch to rush a first time effort high into the Loft, but they were to be surprised. Showing new found calmness and composure in front of goal Birch controlled the ball on his thigh and sent a rasping drive past the stranded Kenny and into the bottom corner.

Birch is notorious for scoring one screamer a season, here's hoping this is the first of five or six this campaign!

Sadly, as so often happens in such circumstances at Loftus Road, Rangers took this as the cue to sit deep in their own half and try and soak up the pressure. Webber had a chance to draw the sides level within five minutes but could only connect weekly with Montgomery's cross.

When Rangers did get themselves in good positions, too often the opportunity was wasted. One occasion saw Matthew Rose reach the penalty area in possession, with Furlong and Moore unmarked on the edge of the box. Instead of playing the ball Rose dallied a while allowing United to funnel back and within three passes the ball was back with Royce. I'm all for keeping the ball and killing the game, but three long passes back to the keeper and a punt down field isn't doing that!

Warnock replaced Harley with Gillespie and the lumbering Shipperley with Craig Short as United tried to bombard the R's with crosses and long balls. Shittu and Santos were more than a match though. Holloway introduced Aaron Brown for Ainsworth in an effort to suppress Ifill who was giving Rose the run around and this worked well. The former Millwall man vanished from the game after a lively start.

All the possession was United's, Rangers were so deep they could have been charged for tickets in the lower School End, but in Shittu and Santos they had a towering defensive presence and in Moore and Brown the two outstanding players on the pitch in the second half. The pace of the two of them on the break meant Rangers were still more of a threat than the visitors despite their poor field position. On three occasions Moore ran the Sheff Utd defence ragged on the counter. Once he ended up planting a twenty yard effort into Kenny's arms, once he ended up conceding possession after a breakdown in communication with Furs and the third time, well we're getting to that!

Warnock finally threw on Kabba, a grossly underused talent at this level, but it was all to no avail. Just as the crowd were howling in derision at the five minutes of added time Moore broke away and finished the game.

Collecting the ball on halfway he made the most of a slip by Kozluk and bore down on goal. Closed down by Jagielka he teed up the onrushing Matthew Rose who tried an ambitious first time volley. Predictably he made a total hash of it but did return the ball to Moore who steered it into the bottom corner expertly. Loftus Road erupted.

Sheffield United spent the remaining stoppage time peppering the R's box with long balls. After successfully defending one of these punts, Danny Shittu got a little carried away with himself and rampaged forward, ducking and diving past challenges, running the ball deep into Sheffield United territory. Unfortunately he lost the ball and in the ensuing chaos, with Danny miles from the right position, Kabba managed to bundle the ball in and halve the deficit.

With the School End all but empty it was barely a consolation. Kabba and Royce had the proverbial dust up over retrieving the ball from the net and by the time the whistle finally blew the game had descended into a farce. Morgan and Bircham were fighting in the centre of the park over nothing very much, Shittu was getting involved, Warnock dragged his man kicking and screaming back to his play pen. It was all very unnecessary. There was another slanging match between McCall and the referee and then they were gone. One of the division's better teams, but one of the country's most objectionable managerial staff beaten, and sent back north with nothing.

This was a good solid victory, the kind we surrendered last season. The competition for places has increased sharpness and we now have enough options to cover for the loss of players like Doherty this afternoon. Should we move Gallen back, bring on Brown or shift Rowlands inside? These options just weren't there 12 months ago - and neither were seven league points.

We even had Marcus Bean to bring on for the final 3 minutes, during which time he crunched into one tackle, and ran down a lost cause to the Loft End, buying time, giving his defence a breather, doing his bit for the cause. The spirit, the strength in depth, the atmosphere round Loftus Road, it's all positive. Obviously in a tough league the quality to mount a serious promotion challenge isn't there this season, but on the evidence of the opening week we should make it to 52 point safety mark somewhat less painfully than last term.

With Evatt still to come into a defence already looking the part, and Stefan Moore no doubt getting a big confidence boost with his first goal at the Loft End, the future is surely bright. Lets hope we put on a good show for the Sky cameras next time out at Loftus Road - and stay in the cup past round one!

Rangers: Royce 7, Bignot 6, Shittu 8, Doherty 7 (Moore 39, 8), Rose 5, Bircham 7, Gallen 7, Ainsworth 6 (Brown 69, 8), Rowlands, 8 (Bean 86, 7), Santos 8, Furlong 7.
Subs: Cole, Shimmin
Scorers: Bircham 56, Moore 90
Bookings: Bircham

Sheffield: Kenny 6, Bromby 6, Harley 6 (Gillespie 73 6), Morgan 6, Jagielka 6, Ifill 7, Shipperley 5 (Kabba 77, 7), Webber 7, Nalis 6 (Short 73, 6), Kozluk 4, Montgomery 5
Subs: Quinn, Shaw
Scorers: Kabba
Bookings: Bromby, Shipperley, Morgan

Attendance: 13,497

Referee: S J Tanner - 6 - gave some questionable decisions in favour of QPR in the first half and was obviously told in no uncertain terms by lovely Mr McCall that such behaviour wouldn't be tolerated in the second half. Spent the second half awarding various set pieces to Sheff Utd. Strangely though at no point did he penalise Santos for the blatant shirt pulling on Shipperley. He penalised Georges for just about everything else though! Credit where it's due, Rangers' time wasting antics in the second half were right from the Paul Gerrard master class and deserved the lengthy stoppage time they got. Luckily Moore made the five minutes academic.

Man of the Match - Georges Santos - 8 - Shittu was amazing, Rowlands back to his best, Brown and Moore very impressive but against his former club Georges was outstanding. Strong in the air, confident on the ground, he stood firm and let nobody past all day. The one criticism is he will insist on crashing into people from behind with no hope of getting the ball thereby conceding needless free kicks but today you can't really fault him in a terrific defensive display.

Photo: Action Images

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