|Attack on Royce overshadows victory|
Saturday, 3rd Dec 2005 00:32
QPR got their first win in six matches, triumphing 2-1 at the Britannia Stadium in Stoke.
It's been another tough week for Ian Holloway. It started with Gallen and Santos adding to an injury list now so long the players spent Friday at the bowling alley in an effort to avoid any more knocks. On Friday he was attacked in the national media by the club's life president and has continued to have his position undermined from all angles. Then just when he thought he could settle down with a well earned bottle of red after a first win in six matches he finds himself in the back of the Boothen End net in Stoke, pulling a Stoke supporter off his goalkeeper.
It's often been said that the 2005/06 season at Loftus Road will make a great film one day, some of the scenes at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday wouldn't have looked out of place in Black Hawk Down. Some questionable refereeing decisions and spoiling tactics from QPR riled the fifteen thousand home fans so much the atmosphere became more poisonous than anywhere I've travelled with QPR since the last time we played in Stoke.
Going to a football match should not be an ordeal. By the time I settled down on my train home after the match I felt like I'd been 12 rounds with a heavyweight boxer.
The mindless minority seems to strike harder in these parts than anywhere else.
On the pitch Rangers collected their now customary three points from the home team, although quite how they managed it I don't know. Once Paul Furlong scored with the first attack of the game Stoke were by far the better team and it was no surprise when the impressive Sammy Bangoura headed home a terrific equaliser midway through the half.
Stoke continued to dominate in the second half although Rangers did get themselves in some semblance of order after the break, that was until the home side were reduced to ten men and QPR retook the lead. As at Leicester in September the Hoops seemed clueless against numerically inferior opponents and with Sidibe missing a guilt edged chance for a deserved equaliser late on, they can count themselves fortunate to have held on.
In the end it seemed to only be the fact that we always beat Stoke, no matter how poorly we play, that got us the points. Horses for courses and all that rubbish.
Ian Holloway sprung a surprise in his team selection before the match. Ian Evatt, who is currently leading the way in the November player of the month vote on this website, was dropped to the bench. Mauro Milanese started at centre half after impressing there against Hull, Lloyd Dyer played left back, Marcus Bignot right.
In midfield there was still no place on the left for Lee Cook who took up his place on the sideline wrapped in a ridiculously big coat, jumper, hat and gloves. Martin Rowlands started wide left, former Port Vale man Gareth Ainsworth went to the right with Richard Langley in the centre of midfield alongside Marcus Bean - making his first start since returning from Swansea. Paul Furlong and Stefan Moore were the forwards.
Stoke had the division's player of the month Sammy Bangoura in attack with former Rangers' trialist Mamady Sidibe. Last season Stoke were a solid, unspectacular outfit under Tony Pulis, with goal shy forwards Akinbiyi and Noel Williams the side's main downfall. With Bangoura, a summer signing from Standard Liege, now banging them in left right and centre Stoke are a much more threatening outfit and the signs were not good for Rangers who were without a win in five games going into this one.
Nevertheless the players threw off the shackles of another difficult week at Loftus Road to take the lead inside two minutes. Carl Hoefkens was harshly adjudged to have felled Paul Furlong twenty five yards out from goal by everybody's favourite perma tanned referee Andre (with an acute accent) Marriner.
With the ball slightly right of centre it seemed ideally placed for one of Paul Furlong's trademark left foot master blasters. Richard Langley rolled the ball to Shittu instead and he hit an embarrassing low drive straight at Gareth Ainsworth on the edge of the box. Ainsworth got the ball caught under his feet but still managed to scramble it into the penalty area where Paul Furlong was waiting to pounce and force home the opening goal.
Furs certainly won't be picking up any goal of the season awards for this scrappy effort, but after such a poor run of form in November QPR were grateful for anything that fell their way.
Rangers twice went close to making it two nil in a bright opening. First a through ball from Paul Furlong was just too heavy for Gareth Ainsworth and Stoke keeper Steve Simonsen was able to race out of his area and clear, and then a cynical handball from the stricken Hoefkens prevented Ainsworth running through on goal and although Marriner tried to play the advantage, the chance had gone and the Stoke man was lucky to escape punishment.
Dave Brammer was booked for a crude challenge on Richard Langley with just ten minutes gone as the home side's frustration began to grow.
Johan Boskamp though, like Pulis at Plymouth, had picked out Lloyd Dyer at left back as a weak link in the Rangers' side. As time ticked on pin up boy Luke Chadwick was having an increasing influence on the game, toasting QPR's loaned full back with alarming frequency.
Fourteen minutes into the match a magnificent cross from Chadwick eluded Shittu and Milanese in the penalty area but Royce was on hand to take the ball off the forehead of Sidibe just as the big forward looked set to power home an equaliser.
Within ninety seconds Chadwick was marauding down the left again, this time he found Sidibe in the penalty area but the former Gillingham man's low cross was turned away by Danny Shittu. Within moments Peter Sweeney, making his first start since a summer move from Millwall, volleyed wide when well placed to do better.
Mauro Milanese was then booked for a cynical challenge on Bangoura forty yards from goal and Rangers were looking decidedly edgy by this point.
Stoke were really starting to turn the screw and it was no surprise when they equalised, twenty four minutes after falling behind. Again it was Chadwick doing the damage, his jinking run down the Rangers left was ended when he theatrically flung himself to the floor under minimal contact from Richard Langley. Last season Chadwick won a controversial penalty for West Ham against QPR at Upton Park so the R's had no excuse not to expect similar behaviour this time.
The free kick from the touchline was swung over well by Sweeney and Bangoura was on hand to guide the ball past Royce with a world class header. The Stoke forward did superbly well to not only climb and meet Sweeney's powerful inswinging cross under pressure from Milanese, but also to guide it so perfectly into an unguarded part of the goal.
It was no more than Stoke deserved for fifteen minutes of non stop pressure, and Bangoura's sixth goal in five matches was just reward for his excellent all round play as well. Stoke look to have a real player on their hands there and Johan Boskamp will do well to resist the inevitable interest from so called bigger clubs if he continues to score with such frequency, and play with such tenacity.
While the Stoke players congratulated the goal scorer, John Halls headed straight for the away end to mock the small gathering of QPR fans high in the South Stand. Not sure what the history is between Halls and Rangers but it wasn't the smartest thing to do and would come back to haunt him later in the game.
Stoke were buoyed by their equaliser and sensed a rare home win was on the cards, only bottom club Millwall have a worse record on their own patch. Sweeney fired a low effort on goal that was blocked by Bignot and Bangoura misjudged a header from six yards when his goal would suggest he should have at least hit the target.
Things were a lot quieter down at the Boothen End of the ground. Paul Furlong tamely headed an Ainsworth cross wide but Steve Simonsen was becoming a virtual spectator in the home goal.
Right on half time QPR forced a rare corner, but only succeeded in picking up a booking from the resulting set piece. Gareth Ainsworth tussled with Halls at the back post and seemed to raise an arm to the Stoke man, luckily after consulting his linesman referee Marriner produced only a yellow card for the QPR player.
Half time brought the usual array of bizarre sites you're only ever likely to experience at an English football league ground. A giant, nine foot tall Goose was helped into the side stand where he spent five minutes before heading back to the tunnel - the significance of the goose or what he wanted in the family stand was never made clear. There was also an equally large blue Hippo touring the ground followed by the new Vauxhall Astra. Still I suppose it all made sense to somebody.
Stoke's team hadn't been distracted though, they bounded out of the tunnel fired up for the restart a good two minutes before QPR trudged back out onto the pitch and within a minute Sidibe burst into the penalty area down the right and saw a shot cleared from the goal line by Marcus Bignot.
The turning point in the game came just seven minutes into the second half. Against the run of play Rangers launched a counter attack. Martin Rowlands hit a low shot from the edge of the box that Simonsen parried down into the ground rather than away from his goal. This allowed Paul Furlong to nip in for what would have been a simple tap in, had Halls not wrapped both arms round the striker and dragged him to the ground.
You're never likely to see a more blatant penalty but Halls complained long and hard about the decision, and had to be dragged away from the referee by Luke Chadwick once the red card had been produced. Halls had to endure a humiliating walk to the tunnel right in front of those QPR fans he had mocked after the equaliser.
After a lengthy delay and a heated argument with Gareth Ainsworth Richard Langley stepped up to take the penalty. His dead straight six step run up was exactly the same one he used the last time he took a penalty for QPR. That was against Luton in an FA Cup replay at Loftus Road and he missed, this time though he calmly waited for Simonsen to guess the wrong way, and then tucked the ball in to the keeper's left.
Despite being down to ten men Boskamp elected to leave Bangoura and Sidibe together in the Stoke attack and Ian Holloway reacted by replacing Dyer with Evatt. Milanese moved to left back and suddenly we weren't having any more trouble with Chadwick. Milanese bumped, buffeted and bullied the Stoke winger out of the match.
Why Holloway elected to start with Dyer against Chadwick, who for all his failings is one of the best wingers in this league, I'll never know. Dyer is a left winger and should be played there or not at all, especially when we have an excellent left back in Milanese ready and raring to go.
The rest of the team started to fall apart though. Against ten men at Leicester Rangers blew a one nil lead and were lucky to win with a late mishit strike from Furlong, here again playing against a side with one man less Rangers looked nervy in defence and toothless in attack. Marcus Bean was booked for a late tackle on Dave Brammer as Holloway's men struggled to get to grips with the new situation.
Around the hour mark Michael Duberry somehow contrived to hit the inside of the post with a close range free header, the linesman had long since flagged the former Chelsea player offside though so it wouldn't have counted - the miss was quite funny all the same.
Stoke were restricting Rangers to sporadic counter attacks, although two of these nearly brought the killer third goal. First Gareth Ainsworth bustled into the penalty area and almost saw his cross deflected past Simonsen by Broomes. Then Richard Langley stole possession from Chadwick and raced into the penalty area. Langley had Furlong up in support if he wanted to square it but a slip by Hoefkins seemed to have opened up the whole goal for a simple tap in. Langley, perhaps caught in two minds, dragged his shot horribly wide of the far post. It was a terrible miss.
At the other end Stoke were throwing everything they had at QPR. Bangoura was seriously unlucky to only find Simon Royce with a clever bicycle effort from fifteen yards out and Sidibe somehow managed to glance a header wide from four yards out with the goal at his mercy.
Other than this Simon Royce was bearing up well, catching every cross, making every save. Royce could be a good outside bet for player of the season at this rate.
Danny Shittu left the field on a stretcher with ten minutes still to play after an awkward fall. Prav initially signalled that the big man had to leave the field and Holloway delayed the planned introduction of Lee Cook - a real inconvenience for Cookie who'd spent most of the second half stripping off the many hundreds of layers of clothing he was muffled up in ready to come on.
However Danny, taking the field as skipper for the first time, bravely laboured back onto the pitch and played the remainder of the game on one leg with his thigh heavily strapped. Cook came on for Ainsworth who looked fit to drop and soon after Shabazz Baidoo brought his unique brand of lung busting effort to the field in place of the more lethargic Stefan Moore.
Four minutes of time was added but this, like most of the closing stages, was spent in the corners as Rangers attempted to run the clock down. Several times Langley or Furlong ran the ball into the dead zone only to be penalised for minor offences by the linesman. Stoke just hoofed the resulting free kicks down the pitch and Rangers were able to bring the ball back to the same corner for the routine to begin again.
It was dreadful to watch but points are precious to Ian Holloway at the moment and his team were trying every trick in the book to make sure he had three of them to show Harold Winton at full time.
The frustration was too much for Brammer who executed crude tackles on Marcus Bignot and then Richard Langley without punishment from Marriner. Brammer had been booked in the first half and, probably fearing for his safety at full time, Andre with an acute accent clearly didn't have the gumption to dismiss a second home player.
As the final whistle sounded two Stoke fans ran onto the pitch at the Boothen end of the ground. One wrestled Simon Royce into the back of the net and the pair grappled with each other until Luke Chadwick arrived to assist the Rangers keeper. Shabazz Baidoo and Ian Evatt both made it to the scene of the incident before a steward even entered the picture. When a couple of fat sods in yellow coats did arrive it was no surprise to see the Gold Range logo on their backs - as QPR know from personal experience they're a real standard bearer for crass incompetence in the stewarding of football matches.
Meanwhile Marcus Bignot waded in on the second pitch invader as he danced around in the six yard box.
Pretty soon a massive melee of players had formed and it took several minutes for order to be restored. Simon Royce was left with a cut to his forehead.
So all in all pretty much our usual visit to the Britannia Stadium. Some mindless violence and controversy mixed in with terrible football and three points. I don't know what it is about this place but in recent seasons Rangers never seem to play very well here, but always sneak a win.
2-1 definitely flattered Rangers and had Langley scored the third when he should have done it would have been daylight robbery. In Bangoura and Chadwick Stoke had the two best players on the pitch and they were a much more enterprising, entertaining prospect than when we played them last season.
Their lack of home form is mystifying really because they looked pretty handy in all departments, except Michael Duberry who produced a comic lesson in how not to play centre half. There are few things funnier in football than watching Duberry control the ball, look up and think about a pass, touch it again, think some more and then pass it ten yards straight to a stunned opponent. He make's Shittu's distribution look Premiership class!
For Rangers, Simon Royce was a rock on which the defence was built. Milanese was again impressive at left back and centre half while Shittu really seemed to revel in being made captain and led the side well, including some pretty old school defence of his team mates in the scuffle at the end.
Paul Furlong ploughed a lone furrow up front with very little help from Stefan Moore who was back to his old lacklustre self after a terrific cameo against Hull last week. In the midfield Marcus Bean struggled somewhat, but did execute some excellent flying tackles, while Martin Rowlands impressed in numerous positions.
Onwards to Ipswich now, another side struggling for form. The last time Ian Holloway came under the pressure he's had this week the team won seven straight games. The next six see us face Ipswich, Coventry, Brighton, Cardiff, Crewe and Burnley.
You wouldn't have money on it happening again, but it's not impossible!
Stoke: Simonsen 6, Broomes 7, Duberry 5, Hoefkens 6, Halls 5, Sweeney 8(Sigurdsson 76, 7), Brammer 7, Henry 6, Chadwick 8, Bangoura 8, Sidibe 7.
Subs Not Used: de Goey, Kolar, Buxton, Junior.
Sent Off: Halls (51), professional foul.
Booked: Brammer, Sigurdsson.
Goals: Bangoura 26.
QPR: Royce 8, Bignot 7, Shittu 7, Milanese 8, Dyer 5 (Evatt 59, 6), Bean 6, Langley 6, Rowlands 7, Ainsworth 7 (Cook 88, -), Moore 5 (Baidoo 90, -), Furlong 7.
Subs Not Used: Cole, Donnelly.
Booked: Milanese, Ainsworth, Bean, Rowlands.
Goals: Furlong 2, Langley 52 pen.
Ref: A Marriner (W Midlands) - 5 - Had very little choice with the penalty and subsequent sending off but apart from this he made inconsistent decisions and got caught up in the atmosphere a little. Once he'd sent Halls off, correctly, he really turned against Rangers and tried to even things up. The free kick for Rangers first goal was a poor decision, as was the award in favour of Chadwick for the second. Marcus Bean was rightly booked for a late tackle, but Brammer was allowed to get away with two, because he'd already been booked - coward. At the end of the day the guy is a poor referee.
QPR Star Man - Mauro Milanese - 8 - Held the defence together from centre half, and then marked the troublesome Chadwick out of the game when moved to left back. Hopefully Matthew Hislop is picking this guy's brain ready to take over from him when the Italian decides to pack it in.
Photo: Action Images
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