|Familiar cup defeat for QPR|
Saturday, 7th Jan 2006 00:49
QPR bowed out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle on Saturday, losing three nil to Premiership side Blackburn.
The magic of the FA Cup was notable by its absence at Ewood Park as QPR quietly left the FA Cup at the first hurdle for the fifth straight season. There were so many stories just waiting to happen, a match winning performance by the Championship's form goalkeeper Simon Royce, a late winner from seventeen year old Shabazz Baidoo or a match turning equaliser from Gareth Ainsworth against his home town club - the headlines were waiting to be printed.
As it turned out Simon Royce was well beaten by three good goals, Shabazz Baidoo fluffed his best chance and Gareth Ainsworth, rather cruelly, was left on the bench until the second half. By the time he came on and altered the whole pattern of play, hauled Rangers back into the game and threatened his dream goal, Rangers were already two behind.
There's no room for compassion in football of course, but surely to God Ainsworth should have started this match. He's playing well this season, scored in the last game and tops the scoring charts at Rangers. He was desperate to face the club his whole family support for the first time in his long career and we've watched him often enough to know what kind of performance he would have given. Yet Holloway went with Lee Cook and Georges Santos in midfield ahead of him. Cook barely got a kick against the terrific Lucas Neill and Santos struggled badly against Tugay and Savage, as you would expect him to do.
Obviously Georges was there to sure up a midfield that had leaked 4 goals in two games since Bircham limped off against Crewe. But by the time he went off the R's were already two goals down and would it have been any worse had he not been there? Probably not.
Whether it was Ainsworth right and Rowlands left, or Ainsworth right, Cook left and Rowlands holding the centre, Ainsworth should have started this match, and showed why when he came on.
But I'm not a football manager (probably just as well), the man paid to pick the side started Royce in goal behind Bignot, Shittu, Rose and Milanese. The midfield had Santos and Langley at its heart, Rowlands and Cook on the wings. Baidoo and Furlong were the forwards in the renewed absence of Marc Nygaard.
Blackburn fielded a strong side. They left out one of the Premiership players of the season so far Morten Pederson which was a relief but replaced him with debutant Sergio Peter and he turned in a superb performance. Dickov and Bellamy were the forwards, Tugay, Savage and the injury prone David Thompson completed a formidable looking midfield. Apart from the lumbering Dominic Matteo at full back, the home side had frustratingly few weak spots in their side.
Things looked ominous right from the kick off. David Thompson was too much for Milanese wide on the Rangers left and after tricking the Italian twice Thompson was sent crashing to ground right on the edge of the penalty area. From the resulting free kick Sergio Peter could have done better, meeting the cross at the far post but sending the ball wide of the target.
The QPR midfield started the game a frightening pace, with Langley and Santos in particular busting a gut to close everything down and spoil Blackburn's style of play. Eight minutes into the game this tactic almost reaped rewards when Furlong forced an error out of Andy Todd. The Blackburn defender sent a weak header back to Friedel under pressure from Furs who nipped in but shot straight at the keeper with low shot.
Four minutes later and Furlong again robbed Todd of possession, this time he released Baidoo through the middle and after accelerating away from Khizanishvili the youngster hammered a shot towards the top corner from the edge of the area and was unlucky to see Brad Friedel hurl himself across and palm the ball wide.
But the high tempo pressing, hustling and harrying game plan was always going to be tough to maintain with the likes of Doherty, Bircham and Lomas unavailable, and against a side as good as Blackburn have become since Hughes took over. Santos and Langley were blowing hard just a quarter of an hour in and gaps began to appear. Paul Dickov judged a long ball better than Shittu and crept in behind the giant centre half before forcing a great save out of Royce who turned the ball behind.
From the resulting corner Blackburn only committed four men to the penalty area, with another three round and about the edge, but Andy Todd still managed to ghost in at the back post absolutely free as a bird and the task of heading Peter's wonderfully flighted corner (Langley and Cook take note) into the back of the net was so simple it was embarrassing. Todd could barely muster a celebration.
How Rangers managed to leave a centre half, one of only four men in the penalty area, and one of Rovers' chief threats in the air to boot all alone in the six yard box just a quarter of an hour into the match defies belief. Of all the way we could have conceded a goal against a Premiership side we chose the one we should have been able to cope with the best - a bloody set piece.
Five minutes after taking the lead Blackburn poured forward into the penalty area again and Matthew Rose was made to look rather stupid by full back Lucas Neill. The former Millwall man turned Rose one way, then dinked the ball back over his head before volleying it into the grateful arms of Simon Royce. Rose didn't even know it had happened!
Sadly it was no surprise when Blackburn doubled their lead after thirty six minutes. A left wing cross from Peter was magnificently volleyed into the bottom corner on the first time half volley by Bellamy who actually had his back to goal when the cross arrived. Bellamy showed genuinely brilliant speed, control and ability to score such a goal - this was the kind of thing I expected to be our undoing, that extra bit of class. Not a goal from damn corner kick!
There was a feeling at half time that Rangers just hadn't quite done themselves justice. They'd started the game well, with good effort being shown all over the pitch and two very presentable chances created and spurned. But then they'd conceded two goals, one of which so sloppy it must have made Ian Holloway's blood boil. For the last twenty minutes of the half Rangers really hadn't been at the races and the midfield, having flown out of the traps and really ruffled a few feathers in the centre of the park, were being sliced through with alarming regularity.
The second half started in much the same vein. Dickov sent Peter steaming away down the left within seconds of the restart and he fired wide when a cross to Bellamy would probably have yielded a third goal. Still an eighteen year old debutant who'd set up both goals in the first half and turned in a superb performance to this point could be forgiven for a rush of blood, couldn't he? Apparently not. Bellamy ripped into him for failing to pass, and continued even once play had restarted. It's such a shame that such talent found its way into the feet of such a person.
The slow start to the half sparked Holloway into action before the hour mark. Santos was removed and replaced by Gareth Ainsworth. Santos had been steady in the centre of midfield, but in truth never got close enough to Savage or Tugay to do his job of closing the home side down and stopping them from playing. He did the best he could, but it wasn't good enough.
Ainsworth immediately got to work, making a monkey out of Matteo on the byline and pulling the ball back across the face of the goal but Friedel claimed comfortably.
Martin Rowlands seemed to benefit from the change as well. He'd rarely been involved when wide on the right but was now relishing the battle with Savage and Tugay in the centre of the park. He had a twenty yard effort blocked by Khizanashvili (can't imagine there's much call for that name on the back of replica shirts in Blackburn, you'd have to re-mortgage the house!) soon after Ainsworth arrived on the field.
On the hour mark a crude foul by Matteo on Baidoo gave Rangers a free kick twenty five yards from goal. Baidoo had been baring down on the penalty area with support to his left from Cook and just two Rovers defenders in front of him. Matteo's cynical hack at the youngster was a blatant yellow card, but Mr Marriner, wary of his lack of Premiership matches so far this season no doubt, patted his mate Dom on the bum and let him off with it. Shittu fired the resulting set piece off target.
Matteo escaped the booking again when he felled Ainsworth on the edge of the box ten minutes later. This time the left of centre kick was hammered goalwards by Furlong and Todd deflected it wide for a corner.
At the silent home end of the ground Rovers had a good chance to sew the game up with a third goal twenty five minutes from time when Tugay played Savage through the Rangers defence but the Welshman took a wild swing at the chance and missed horribly.
Had Rovers bagged a third there it would have been harsh on QPR who had improved immeasurably since the introduction of Ainsworth.
Mauro Milanese picked up the first card of the game a short time later for a foul on Thompson. With Matteo and Peter repeatedly committing fouls that ranged from niggly to dangerous through the second half it was irritating to find a QPR player entering the book first but nothing more than you'd expect of Mr Marriner.
In the seventy first minute Wild Thing came very close to getting his dream goal and halving the deficit, letting rip with a trademark half volley from the corner of the penalty area which Friedel did well to palm away with two hands.
Ainsworth's next action of the game finally, finally brought a yellow card for Matteo. After numerous offences and two crude assaults on QPR players a mistimed sliding tackle on Ainsworth finally had Mr Marriner reaching for a card.
Rangers introduced Donnelly and Moore for Cook and Furlong fifteen minutes from the end and this saw a further step up in performance.
Donnelly actually started to cause Neill some problems, the first time the Australian had been troubled all game, and Scott's delicate through ball in the seventy ninth minute almost had Rangers back in the game. Baidoo seized on the pass and raced in on Friedel's goal but under pressure from Todd he dragged a poor effort wide of the post. No doubt that will keep the youngster awake at night for a while but it was gratifying to see two seventeen year olds in Hoops combining so well after years of nothing coming through the youth system.
Donnelly went close to an assist once again when Tugay fouled Baidoo and he swung over the free kick which Richard Langley headed over the bar from six yards out.
The game came to a close as a contest four minutes before full time when Peter capped a wonderful debut with his third assist of the afternoon, feeding Bellamy who expertly volleyed over Royce and into the side netting. It was another goal of real class from the Welshman, and a hat trick of assists for Peter who looks like he could potentially be a real find for Mark Hughes.
So Rangers comfortably beaten, but it's difficult to fault the effort of the players. Rose looked relatively solid in the defence, more so than Shittu at times so let's hope there were some scouts there to watch Danny! In the midfield Martin Rowlands improved massively when moved to central midfield and while Santos gave his heart and soul to the cause the team looked better with Rowly in that position than Georges.
Gareth Ainsworth changed the whole pattern and flow of the game when he came on, inevitably leading to questions about whether he should have started the game and how much of a difference it would have made. Scott Donnelly too looked impressive coming off the bench in the latter stages. Up front Shabazz Baidoo caused the Rovers defence one or two problems, particularly in the second half with more coming to him through the midfield, and he'll have learnt a lot from the experience.
Paul Furlong huffed and puffed without ever making any real headway.
Ultimately it was just a case of not being quite good enough. For a cup upset you need the favourites to have an off day, which in form Blackburn were always unlikely to do, and you need to play above yourselves which Rangers didn't do for the first hour.
Lots of what ifs but ultimately, another free Saturday in three weeks time.
Blackburn: Friedel 7, Neill 8, Khivanishvili 7, Todd 8, Matteo 6, Thompson 7, Tugay 8, Savage 7 (Pedersen 77, 7), Peter 9, Bellamy 9*, Dickov 7 (Kuqi 77, 6).
Subs not used: Enckelman, Nelson, Emerton.
Scorers: Todd 17, Bellamy 36, Bellamy 86
Bookings: Matteo 70, Neill 87
QPR: Royce 6, Bignot 5, Shittu 6, Rose 7, Milanese 6, Rowlands 7, Langley 6, Santos 5 (Ainsworth 55, 8), Cook 5 (Donnelly 75, 7), Baidoo 6, Furlong 6 (Moore 75).
Subs: Cole, Evatt.
Bookings: Milanese 67
Attendance: 12705 (approx 2800 QPR)
Referee - Andre Marriner - 4 - A referee on the "elite" list with only 1 Premier division match to his name doesn't want any controversy against high profile Premiership personalities like Bellamy and Mark Hughes damaging his future prospects - so most of the 50/50 calls went Rovers way he only booked Matteo when he absolutely had to after numerous fouls. You only have to look at similar performances this weekend from Peter Walton at Fulham and Howard Webb at Burton Albion to realise that more often than not, these weak individuals realise what side their bread is buttered on and let the off dodgy decision slip through when it suits.
Rangers Star Man - Gareth Ainsworth - 8 - It's a bit harsh on the likes of Rowlands, Rose and Baidoo who played the whole game and did very well under the circumstances to give it to somebody who only played half an hour but Gareth made the world of difference when he came on and really changed the pattern of play in Rangers favour. Such a shame he didn't start the match.
Photo: Action Images
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