|Miraculous Royce save secures R points|
Saturday, 29th Oct 2005 20:20
Rangers moved up to eighth in the table with a tremendous 2-1 win at Derby.
As the final whistle blew 1300 QPR fans leapt to their feet in celebration, they'd been singing all afternoon and most were hoarse with the effort of it all but the ten heroes down on the pitch deserved a royal send off and the travelling faithful were determined to give them it. As the nine men in red and black trudged slowly towards the away end having expelled every last drop of energy from their bodies there was plenty of fist clenching and celebration. Ian Holloway danced his dance on the touchline and there was talk and dreams of play off football on the walk back to the station.
God it felt like 2004 again!
The atmosphere at Loftus Road since the Sheffield United game has not been a nice one. Poor performances from the team, low crowds grumbling and moaning their way through games, smaller followings away from home, fighting amongst board members, the manager arguing with all and sundry - but Saturday at Pride Park was all about what Ian Holloway's QPR have done best over the past few years. Everybody pulled together from the oldest fan in the away end to miracle man Simon Royce between the sticks to overcome the odds and claim three more points.
Somebody afterwards even ventured to suggest this was the best game since we got promoted and he's not far wrong.
Ian Holloway lost Lee Cook early on Saturday morning to a groin strain, the details of how Lee strained his groin at some point during Friday night you suspect are best left undiscovered. This opened the way for Gareth Ainsworth to return to the side on the right wing with Kevin Gallen moving to Cook's position on the left. Marc Nygaard and Marc Bircham limped out of the first half against Norwich last week and they were replaced by Dean Sturridge and Georges Santos respectively. Paul Furlong partnered Sturridge in attack, Tommy Doherty completed the midfield line.
At the back Ian Evatt returned to his former club alongside Danny Shittu with Marcus Bignot right back and Lloyd Dyer keeping the fit again Milanese out of the side on the left. Simon Royce was the keeper.
Derby included yet more loan signings in their line up. By my calculations they've got seven temporary squad members at Pride Park currently which smacks of a manager under pressure desperately looking for quick fixes. Still the signings made this week weren't bad ones on paper, former Chelsea centre half Emerson Thome arrived from Wigan on Thursday, closely followed by Dexter Blackstock from Southampton. Thome replaced suspended former R Andrew Davies in defence, Blackstock had to be content with a place on the bench behind another ex Loftus Road man Paul Peschisolido and another loaned player Stern John.
Since arriving from Coventry John, a former Forest player, has received some horrendous stick from the Derby fans but he looked the most likely to get them off to a good start. After three minutes disorganisation in the Rangers' defence allowed John all the time he needed to shoot for goal but Royce produced a superb low save to his right to turn the ball behind for a corner. From the set piece Inigo Idiakez whipped a tremendous corner in from the Derby right and with confusion again rife in the Rangers' rear guard Simon Royce ended up punching the ball into his own net.
Fortunately for the visitors referee Kevin Wright had already blown for a foul on the keeper by Peschisolido and the deadlock remained.
Chances were few and far between but Rangers did almost notch the opening goal with twenty minutes played. After three successive corners Derby finally managed to clear their lines, but the ball only went as far as Tommy Doherty. The Rangers' hard man lashed a half volley back towards goal and it was destined for the bottom corner too, until Emerson Thome stuck a leg out and blocked the effort away.
Georges Santos also tried a shot from distance soon afterwards, controlling a bouncing ball on his thigh before sending a dipping thirty yard volley into the Derby fans behind the goal.
Other than that the only real talking points in the opening stages were a series of bizarre decisions from referee Kevin Wright. Emerson Thome was getting away with murder every time the ball went near Furlong including one incident where the big Brazilian crawled over the back of the Rangers' striker, hauled Furs to the ground and was then awarded a free kick himself!
Fortunately, for once, we had two competent linesman and a decision from one of them gave Rangers a sight of goal with half an hour played. Gareth Ainsworth burst down the right side and fed Furlong who was again hacked down. Wright seemed keen enough to play on but a flag from his linesman forced the award of a free kick. From the set piece Lloyd Dyer whipped the ball into the six yard box and Gareth Ainsworth got the final touch in a scramble to get the ball over the line.
It's not going to win Ainsworth any more goal of the season accolades but it had given Rangers the lead and that's all that matters.
Things turned sour for QPR very quickly though. Paul Furlong, who really is old enough to know better, responded to some more rough house defending from Thome by lashing out at the Derby man as he ran past. Thome naturally hit the deck as if he'd been stabbed with a thousand knives and Mr Wright had little choice but to send Furlong from the field.
So from a position of superiority both on the scoreboard and on the balance of play Rangers' day was suddenly crashing down around their ears. The key to winning away from home is to quieten the home crowd, which Rangers had done, get the first goal, which Rangers had done, and then see through the ten minute period after the goal with no further incident. Furlong's stupidity had robbed the R's of this key factor, livened the home fans up again and given the Rams a route back into the game. He wouldn't be getting paid this week if I were in charge.
Derby, who'd only won two of eight home games prior to this one, suddenly sensed there might be something in this for them after all. Peschisolido headed over when placed to do better and then with half time approaching Royce produced another terrific save to deny John from an acute angle.
The home side did get the ball in the net before half time but a linesman's flag for offside ruined a lovely set piece routine. After a trademark clumsy, needless foul on Bisgaard by Georges Santos Idiakez stepped up to take the free kick from twenty five yards out. The Spaniard had rattled the Rangers' bar twice last season from similar positions so everybody was expecting a shot. Idiakez instead passed the ball right to Thome and his low cross was turned in by John but the flag had long since been raised.
Somehow QPR kept them out until half time.
After the break there was a renewed organisation and commitment about the Hoops. Whatever Holloway said at half time worked a treat and the chaotic, seat of your pants defending seen at the end of the first half was replaced by a solid, committed unit of defence to which Derby had no answers.
Derby could only manage one long range effort from Thome in fifteen minutes of huff and puff before Phil Brown decided to make changes. New boy Dexter Blackstock came on for Stern John and midfielder Paul Thirlwell replaced defender Jeff Kenna in the quest for an equaliser. To tell you the truth this came as a bit of a relief. While it was sad to see a defender as poor as Jeff Kenna leaving the field Stern John had been the only player causing Evatt and Shittu any difficulty so most R's fans were happy to see the big forward trudging off down the tunnel while the lightweight and ineffective Paul Peschisolido remained on the field.
The Canadian reinforced this by miscontrolling the ball when unmarked in the six yard box, spurning a great chance to draw his side level. It wasn't as guilt edge as Blackstock's miss though, somehow the Southampton youngster conspired to head wide when unmarked four yards from goal. Idiakez fired a couple of twenty yard efforts in on goal, one flew just wide, the other was superbly tipped round the post by Royce as frustration grew.
There were boos ringing out from right round the ground and some Derby fans even started chanting the name of former manager George Burley who left in inauspicious circumstances over the summer and is now out of work again after a similar falling out at Hearts.
Meanwhile behind the other goal the travelling Rangers' fans were in awesome voice, certainly the best support the team has had on the road this season. An extra long rendition of Holloway's blue army was good to hear with the team in need of a lift.
Rangers replaced the ineffective Dean Sturridge with Stefan Moore but he saw little of the ball as Derby forced five consecutive corners. The fourth one from Whittingham caused the most problems, under little pressure Simon Royce elected to punch the ball rather than catch it and Danny Shittu had to use all his strength to force the ball safely behind for another set piece.
The pressure was relentless and yet it was QPR who created the best chance of the half. With Kenna gone and Derby searching for a goal they left themselves hopelessly short at the back and when Georges Santos found Kevin Gallen on the counter attack the home side were deep in the brown stuff. Gallen sent Stefan Moore racing in on goal but the young striker never looked confident and after taking two touches into the penalty area he steadied himself and fired the ball straight at Poole. It was a glaring miss and one the highlights Moore's lack of confidence at the moment.
Watching Derby go down the other end and win a penalty can't have done much for the lad either. With nineteen minutes remaining it was again Blackstock causing the problems, turning Dyer in the penalty area and then flicking the ball over the loan full back's head. For reasons known only to himself Dyer thrust out and arm and blocked the ball, a clear penalty. Idiakex placed the ball on the spot and the home fans finally thought their moment had arrived.
Not so. Just before the kick was taken Marcus Bignot rushed out of the pack on the edge of the box and frantically pointed for Royce to go to his right. It was good advice and after Idiakez's jinking, stop start, highly illegal run up Royce palmed a poor penalty kick away with both hands.
The natives were now more restless than ever and Rangers' produced a real ground emptier with eleven minutes to go. Georges Santos broke out of his own half with the ball at his feet and options both sides. Santos chose correctly, going left to Kevin Gallen, and played the pass superbly, Kevin strode onto the ball and majestically glided it past Poole and in off the base of the post. A better finish you're never likely to see.
The Rangers fans went mental, the majority of the Derby fans headed for the exits and the players crowded round their captain to congratulate him.
The goal and penalty miss should have killed the home side off but to their credit they flew back at Rangers more determined than ever and should have snatched a point. With six minutes to go Peschisolido finally freed himself from the clutches of Evatt and got a toe to a loose ball on the penalty spot, Dexter Blackstock followed it up and poked the ball past Royce and into the corner of the net for 2-1.
Within seconds Derby were plundering the Rangers' penalty area again and when the ball fell to Idiakez seven yards from goal the game looked to be up. Royce though had other ideas, appearing from nowhere to miraculously claw the ball back from the goal line and into his grasp. The points were certainly Rangers' now.
Tommy Doherty and Gareth Ainsworth were both replaced late on, heading for the smoking corner and an oxygen chamber respectively by the looks of things, with Richard Langley and Milanese coming on to replace them. Langley saw to it that QPR didn't concede needless possession in the closing stages, and Milanese slammed the door firmly shut down the Derby right for stoppage time.
A massive cheer went up from the away end at the final whistle and Rangers travelled back to London with a very handy, hard earned three points.
Everybody except Furlong played a part today. His side were under no pressure after half an hour, leading the game and rarely being threatened. His sending off changed all that and ultimately Rangers had Royce to thank for the points. It needn't have been like this and despite the provocation Furlong should know better.
Shittu and Evatt continued their impressive partneship with a tremendous show of defensive strength, Kevin Gallen was superb and Lloyd Dyer continues to impress. Sturridge and Moore were both fairly anonymous but as a loan striker in a rear guard action you can't expect them to see too much action.
All in all a highly satisfactory day out and very valuable three points which move us up to eighth. The only worry is just how much did this game take out of the players with a tough game at Watford on Tuesday?
Derby: Poole 6, Kenna 4 (Thirlwell 58, 5), Michael Johnson 5, Thome 7, Johnnie Jackson 6, Bisgaard 4, Idiakez 5, Seth Johnson 7, Whittingham 5, John 7 (Blackstock 59, 7), Peschisolido 5 (Tudgay 81, 6)
Subs Not Used: Camp, Doyle.
Goal: Blackstock 84.
QPR: Royce 9, Bignot 8, Shittu 8, Evatt 8, Dyer 8, Ainsworth 8 (Milanese 90, -), Doherty 8 (Langley 81, 7), Santos 7, Gallen 9, Furlong 4, Sturridge 5 (Moore 62, 5).
Subs Not Used: Shimmin, Donnelly.
Sent Off: Furlong (34).
Goals: Ainsworth 30, Gallen 80.
Ref: K Wright (Cambridgeshire) 4 - No arguments about the penalty decision, or the sending off, but a series of perplexing decisions riled both players and fans on the QPR side. Countless times he waved fouls on Gallen, Sturridge and Moore away claiming they'd dived but at the other end he couldn't the whistle in his mouth quick enough when Peschisolido, Idiakez or Bisgaard crashed to earth - which they did regularly. When a team goes down to ten men defending a lead you'd expect them to concede more free kicks but a final total of 23 free kicks to 8 in Derby's favour is taking things a little bit far, especially with the amount of Rangers free kicks he ignored. Also allowed Emerson Thome to batter Furlong for half an hour with both boots and elbows before the Rangers man foolishly took the bait.
Man of the Match - Simon Royce - 9 - Some of his handling today was a little suspect, he was lucky the whistle had already gone when he punched the ball through his own net in the first half and in the second period numerous chances to catch the ball and calm the situation down were spurned in favour of a nervy punch. Having said that two tremendous saves in the first half, three in the second plus a penalty save, plus the death defying miracle save from Idiakez in the dying moments means there can only be one winner. Honourable mention to Kevin Gallen who was also magnificent.
Photo: Action Images
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