|Wild Thing I think I love you|
Sunday, 27th Nov 2005 00:29
QPR fought back from two down to win a point at home to Hull City on Saturday.
We're always told by highly paid football pundits that football is a funny old game, normally it's a good line for someone like Le Saux to come out with to avoid slagging off one of his old mates who's just hacked the ball into his own goal from twenty yards out, but rarely has a game embodied the statement so readily as QPR v Hull on Saturday.
Most QPR fans would have turned down a 2-2 draw had it been offered to them before kick off; a run of four straight defeats had dragged Rangers into a mix of the desperate and doomed at the bottom of the table and a home victory over one of our fellow strugglers Hull was essential to stop the rot. By quarter past four those same QPR fans would probably have clasped a point closely to their chests and thanked the lord for small mercies. When Phil Crossley finally brought proceedings to a close at 5pm, Rangers had secured an unlikely draw, but it almost felt like a defeat.
When Gareth Ainsworth's speculative twenty yarder flicked off a Hull defender and into the top corner to draw the sides level it seemed the home side's luck was in and that a winner would surely follow. QPR battered Hull for the final twenty minutes to no avail; they cracked two superb efforts off the posts, saw the Hull keeper sent off and went agonisingly close twice in the final two minutes, but time ran out. Sadly, after such a decent come back, I found my thoughts drifting to another shocking display for the first fifty minutes, rather than the rousing stuff towards the end.
Holloway made three changes to the starting line up after the meek surrender to PNE on Tuesday. Paul Furlong returned from suspension up front with Shabazz Baidoo dropping to the bench - Rangers lost all four games during Furlong's suspension so it was certainly a welcome relief to have last season's top scorer back in the fold. There was an alteration down the left too, Lloyd Dyer moved to left wing in place of Lee Cook who started as a sub, Mauro Milanese finally came back into the side at left back.
Milanese hasn't featured from the start since the home game with Leeds United. Those with even moderately good memories will recall how comfortable QPR were in that game with the Italian on the pitch, and how quickly they fell to pieces when he was forced off injured. There isn't a better defender at the club in my opinion and yet we've had to muddle our way through more than nine weeks of football, only five of which Milanese was injured for, with a left winger at left back.
Despite being ripped apart at Plymouth Dyer was still the starting left back for the Preston game on Tuesday when even some bloke listening to QPR World in the middle of the South Pacific could tell you he should be at left wing or not in the side at all.
At the heart of the defence Georges Santos replaced the suspended Danny Shittu alongside Ian Evatt, Marcus Bignot filled the other full back slot. Holloway persisted with his lightweight central midfield pairing of Langley and Rowlands with Ainsworth wide on the right. Kevin Gallen was Paul Furlong's partner in attack.
Right from the kick off QPR looked to put the last four games right and were very unlucky not to take the lead as early as the third minute. Gareth Ainsworth played a magnificent ball into the back post from the right side and with Cort and Collins in the Hull defence beaten all ends up it was down to keeper Myhill to keep Paul Furlong out, saving the forward's powerful header down low by his right hand post.
But cracks began to appear in QPR's fragile confidence as soon as the seventh minute, Georges Santos slipped over and allowed Billy Paynter a chance to unload a shot on goal from the edge of the area, Simon Royce did well to deny the former Port Vale striker.
Paul Furlong found his way into trouble just fifteen minutes into his comeback match, executing a sickening two footed tackle on Hull full back Damien Delaney as he cleared the ball down the line. Furlong is still remembered in Hull for a similar tackle on Mark Lynch back in August which dislocated the former Sunderland man's knee and Furs certainly didn't endear himself to the visiting fans any more with this latest effort. Perhaps it's the frustration of his goal drought that's doing it but Furs' discipline has been deplorable so far this season and the yellow card handed to him by Crossley was the least he deserved.
On the ball Furlong was playing quite well, leading the line and giving Collins an uncomfortable time. He teed up Langley who skewed wide shortly after his booking and then hit one of his trademark set pieces narrowly over the bar with Myhill stranded. Ainsworth, Gallen and Santos all snatched at chances in a goal mouth scramble following a corner but the main pressure was starting to come down at the Loft End from Paynter.
Preston's Patrick Agyemang enjoyed his night at Loftus Road on Tuesday, playing on the shoulder of the last man and seizing on long balls over the top. Clearly Peter Taylor had spent his Friday night with that match video because on twenty three minutes Hull knocked a long ball in behind Santos and Evatt and Paynter had his chance. The ball seemed close enough for Royce to come and claim comfortably but the keeper inexplicably remained on his goal line allowing Paynter a free strike on goal from a difficult angle. Royce produced a redeeming save and Santos cleared the ball behind.
Clearly rattled by this capitulation in the defence QPR failed to mark anybody from the resulting corner and Leon Cort headed powerfully into the Upper Loft when well placed to do better.
QPR's foray's forward were becoming increasingly rare, Lloyd Dyer dallied over a shot when played in by Gallen allowing Cort to block but the traffic was pretty much flowing one way. The key moment came when Georges Santos had to leave the field to receive treatment.
With Georges stricken behind the goal the team took an age to form any kind of makeshift shape with Milanese frantically trying to cover left back and centre back as Dyer continued to gallivant off down the field. Rangers might have got away with it, if it wasn't for a moment of class from Craig Fagan. The powerful forward picked possession up wide on Hull's left side and swung over a glorious cross with his right foot that dipped perfectly behind Milanese for Ryan France to guide over Royce and into the bottom corner.
Of course QPR will say that the goal would never have happened had Georges been on the pitch, but it would have helped if they'd at least made an effort to slip into a 4-4-1 formation while he was off and there was no doubt that by this stage Hull were the much better side. Loftus Road fell silent.
Five minutes after he first went off injured, Santos was finally replaced by Lee Cook. Milanese came into centre half instead of Georges with Dyer back to left back and Cook to left wing.
The half time break was extended by ten minutes when one of the linesman complained of back cramps. He was replaced by the fourth official but the search for a new man to operate the electric board and control Ian Holloway took slightly longer leaving the disgruntled home crowd to stare the abyss in the face until ten past four.
QPR emerged with a purpose of sorts, Paul Furlong cracked a sweet first time volley straight down Myhill's throat. Last season he probably would have shinned it into the bottom corner but once again the luck ran against Furs.
Rangers weren't experiencing much good fortune at all really, just four minutes of the half had elapsed when Kevin Gallen slumped in a heap on the half way line and was replaced with Stefan Moore.
Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse Hull bagged their second goal of the afternoon. A long, looping cross from the right by Lynch had Evatt and Milanese begging Royce to come out and claim and when he didn't Paynter was on hand to steer the ball past the flat footed keeper and into the net to send the travelling 600 Hull fans into delirium.
Though they'll never admit it, three fans round me got up and left. Loftus Road was about as noisy as your average funeral parlour by now, with all hope seemingly lost.
After watching the R's surrender pathetically to Northampton, Coventry, Palace, Preston and Plymouth already this campaign the faithful twelve thousand at head quarters seemed to be bracing themselves for a real thrashing, from one of the only sides in the division on worse form than us. The team found some spirit from somewhere though.
On fifty-six minutes Richard Langley swung a left wing corner into the six-yard box and the unmarked Gareth Ainsworth headed the ball home with ease.
Many around me couldn't even bring themselves to get up and cheer, choosing to politely applaud the goal instead, but there was a belief among the players now and Hull started to rock. Only brave blocks on the edge of the penalty area from Collins and Cort denied first Furlong and then Moore before Ainsworth struck again.
Just nine minutes after bringing Rangers back into the game Ainsworth let rip with a trademark volley from distance that flicked off a Hull boot and somehow found its way into the top corner of Myhill's net despite apparently being destined for the Upper Loft from the moment it left his boot.
Suddenly the ground was alive, even the sceptics were starting to believe and down on the pitch the team were flying. Hull could only launch long balls downfield and with Milanese and Evatt at their calm and composed best Rangers were able to bring the ball straight back into the danger area. Rowlands and Langley were accepting possession in deep areas and spraying passes to the wide man and into the feet of Furlong and Moore - things were really starting to happen for the boys.
The visitors did manage a quick trip to the other end of the ground where they once again found confusion reigning in the home defence. Ryan France planted a header past Royce which Martin Rowlands did well to clear from the goal line but play soon swung back the other way.
Lee Cook had undergone almost total transformation since the Preston and Plymouth games. Gone was the jaded looking, unbalanced, ineffective wide man of the previous week, in his place was Cook playing as he can, skipping past his man, keeping possession and causing Hull serious problems. Stefan Moore too was a shadow of his former self, linking magnificently with Furlong and exciting the home crowd with pace and control the likes of which he's never even hinted at before.
Twenty minutes from time Cook pinged a low shot inches wide of the post before hitting another from distance that bounced off Myhill's chest and agonisingly out of reach of the onrushing forwards.
The best was still to come from the little left winger though, with eighteen minutes to go he collected possession thirty yards from goal left of centre, looked up for options, took another touch, looked for options again and then from nowhere produced a blistering drive towards goal. The population of the Loft held its breath, the Hull fans sunk their heads into their hands, Cook stood transfixed and watched the ball curl and swirl towards the top corner, Myhill could only stand and pray and somehow, for some reason, the bloody thing crashed off the top of the post and bounced back out into play when it looked destined to rip through the roof of the net and send the ground into raptures.
Maybe the message board tacticians were right, being dropped was just the kick up the backside Lee Cook needed. He was still prone to drifting inside and narrowing the midfield though. Prior to Saturday I just thought this was Cook being stupid but it appears, after Dyer did exactly the same thing throughout the first half, that it's a tactic endorsed by Holloway. Either that or they're both thick.
Rangers continued to push for a winner despite the disappointment of Cook's miss. With fourteen minutes still remaining Cook launched another attack down the left and played an early ball across the face of goal towards Paul Furlong, Bo Myhill came rushing out from his goal and claimed the ball right on the edge of the area. As he caught the ball Myhill seemed to lose his footing and fell in an ungainly heap right on the whitewash. He looked from where I was sitting to have done superbly well and held the ball inside the boundaries of the area despite most of his body slipping outside but the home fans bayed for a flag and the linesman underneath the Q block responded.
After a brief discussion between referee and linesman Myhill was dismissed and Hull were down to ten. It looked a very poor decision to me, Myhill seemed to easily keep the ball inside the area and even so it's debatable whether he denied a goal scoring opportunity as we're now being told the rule demands for red cards.
Nevertheless Rangers had their break and as Peter Taylor introduced giant sub keeper Matt Duke in place of Paynter Richard Langley and Lee Cook held court on the very edge of the penalty area. The stage seemed set, the run of defeats was about to be ended, Hull were at sixes and sevens, the wall looked like it had been put together by a half interested con on community service and all Langley or Cook had to do was keep the ball down, and get the damn thing on target. Duke frantically tried to peer through the forest of bodies as the whistle sounded and Loftus Road fell silent in anticipation.
It was Langley, right footed, and it was a screamer, flying round the wall at a ferocious pace, past Duke who made a flailing attempt to reach it and, heartbreakingly, it bounced off the top of the right hand post and out for a throw in on the Ellerslie Road side. If it had happened to anybody else this would have been funny.
Rangers made several attempts to stare bad luck square in the face, without reward. They spent the final ten minutes returning aimless long hoofs from Hull back to the edge of the Loft End penalty area through Langley and Rowlands, desperately searching for that winning goal.
A late goal mouth scramble saw Furlong and Moore go close in the six yard box before Langley controlled a poor clearance from Cort on his knee and guided the ball an inch wide of the post on the half volley. Furlong himself almost won the game as time ticked away when he miraculously managed to hook a low cross over his shoulder with plenty of power, but the ball flew straight at the feet of Duke and Hull survived.
In typical fashion Ian Holloway's team almost chucked the whole thing away to the ten men at the death. More confusion in the defence and more hesitancy from Royce had Fagan bearing down on a long ball eighteen yards out. Royce came right out to the edge of the box and seemed to handle illegally as he guided the ball away from danger. Unlike the Myhill incident, the linesman kept his flag down. Now it was Hull's turn to curse bad luck.
Two nil down to two all normally feels like a victory, but with all the near misses in the closing stages, coupled with Hull's almost total collapse once the first goal had gone in, this one felt like a defeat. It's hard to banish the memory of the first fifty minutes when QPR were frankly embarrassing and only a set piece goal against the run of play from Ainsworth gave us any chance at all. Hull dominated us for long periods before that and that's of huge concern with tricky away games coming up against Stoke and Ipswich.
Still it's best to focus on the positives. Milanese was a breath of fresh air both at full back and then centre half. Clearly the choice for Holloway now is whether to pick Cook or Dyer at left wing, rather than Dyer or Milanese at full back. Cook has now made that decision slightly more difficult than it was after the Preston game with a creditable second half display in which he was unlucky not to score at least once.
Paul Furlong made a difference on his return, though once again his discipline is a cause for concern. His foul on Delaney was malicious and unnecessary, he didn't have even a small chance of winning the ball, and I have no doubt that some of the more card happy referees at our level would have sent him off. Twice now this season Furs has got away with terrible fouls against Hull because we've had lenient referees in charge.
Stefan Moore looked a whole new player when he came on. His passing and control were excellent, he even had the confidence to trick his way past Collins a couple of times and I only hope this performance gives him that self belief loan spells with Millwall and Leicester knocked out of him last season.
Martin Rowlands and Richard Langley again looked to be overpowered for the first fifty minutes, this by a Hull midfield which even Peter Taylor admits isn't good enough for the Championship and needs to be added to. Too many tackles missed, too many balls hooked over the shoulder to nobody. It's no surprise that Marcus Bean was prepared to come on just as Ainsworth pulled the first goal back. After that though it was a different story, they took hold of possession with confidence and passed the ball really well for the final third of the match. Admittedly Hull were melting away in front of them but it was still good to see them playing to their strengths at last.
Gareth Ainsworth was fairly poor up until his goal and then played like a man possessed and Ian Evatt looked pretty solid at the back.
Sadly Simon Royce looked distinctly out of touch. He made some great saves but his decision making was uncharacteristically frightening. He was lucky to get away with not claiming a through ball in the first half and he was Culkin-like in his refusal to come for the cross that lead to the second goal. Still after his heroics in recent weeks we can forgive him this I'm sure.
Hull look like they're still to fully settle down to their new level, which is fair enough after two straight promotions. They completely collapsed after the first QPR goal, even before Myhill was wrongly sent off. Looking at Hull's squad they clearly have one of the better sides in the league ready to be fielded, if only injuries would allow them. McPhee and Paynter formed a good partnership at Port Vale and Fagan looks a real handful. Myhill is one of the best keepers in the league and Cort continues to impress me. The midfield is a little weak and Elliott looks like he found his level last season but with a couple of additions they will climb the table and could surprise a few next season.
Ultimately all you can say about this is we stopped the rot. A fifth straight defeat, at home to a side down the bottom end of the league could have destroyed us well and truly, and may have been curtains for Ian Holloway. There are still many negatives to take from this match though, Hull's away record is not good, and they are crippled by injuries, yet we're thankful for a draw against them at Loftus Road. The defending and all round pattern of play for an hour was of a park football standard.
We now face two away games, one at Stoke where we always get a lovely welcome, and one at Ipswich. Failure to win either of these and that will be seven games since a maximum point haul and the next home game against Coventry becomes a relegation battle.
Here's hoping the comeback against Hull will give the team some sort of inspiration and we avoid a thoroughly miserable Christmas and New Year spent keeping an eye on other results.
QPR: (first half ratings) Royce 5, Bignot 5, Evatt 6, Santos 5 (Cook 45, -), Milanese 6, Ainsworth 4, Rowlands 4, Langley 4, Dyer 4, Gallen 5 (Moore 48,-), Furlong 6.
QPR:(second half ratings) Royce 4, Bignot 7, Evatt 7, Santos - (Cook 45, 8), Milanese 8, Ainsworth 8, Rowlands 8, Langley 7, Dyer 7, Gallen - (Moore 48,8), Furlong 7. Subs Not Used: Cole, Bean, Baidoo.
Booked: Furlong, Dyer.
Goals: Ainsworth 56, 66.
Hull: Myhill 7, Lynch 8, Cort 8, Collins 6, Delaney 6, France 7, Welsh 6, Woodhouse 6, Paynter 8 (Duke 77, 7), Fagan 8, Barmby 6 (Elliott 62, 6).
Subs Not Used: Green, Stockdale, Fry.
Sent Off: Myhill (76).
Goals: France 40, Paynter 50.
Referee: P Crossley (Kent) - 6 - To be honest I thought he was great, but I know if I'd been a Hull fan I'd have screamed the place down about him. Positives - kept the cards in his pocket, allowed the game to flow. Negatives - got two massive decisions wrong. Myhill kept the ball in the area as far as I'm concerned and even if he didn't his accidental slip, and the lack of an R closing in hardly make it deliberately denying a goal scoring chance, should have been a yellow card at worst. Royce on the other hand looked very fortunate to get away with a similar offence at the other end. In fairness to Crossley both decisions came down to the linesmen.
QPR Star Man - Mauro Milanese - 8 - To be honest I've had a really hard time picking this because the first and second half performances were so different. Gareth Ainsworth was magnificent after scoring the first goal and ultimately won us a point, but was terrible before this and would probably have been taken off if he hadn't scored when he did. Martin Rowlands ran the show for the final half an hour and showed terrific composure and passing ability, but again was very poor in the first half. So I've gone for Milanese, consistently solid at both full back and centre half, never gave the ball away, and didn't constantly hoof it down field even when the going was tough. Good to have him back.
Photo: Action Images
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