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Howard seals Hatters victory
Howard seals Hatters victory
Saturday, 21st Jan 2006 00:53

QPR lost to Luton Town for the first time in 18 years, going down 2-0 at Kenilworth Road.

Ian Evatt must wonder what he's done wrong. The poor sod must have run over a black cat, or offended some passing witch over the summer because his big move to the Championship has turned into a nightmare.

Injured in pre-season he missed the first four league games, and then fell victim to a scandalous piece of Andy Hall officiating on his debut at Northampton where he was sent off.

When he eventually got into the team he spoke of settling down, enjoying his football, and improving his form. Sadly he was made a scapegoat after two 1-0 defeats over Christmas and on Saturday he watched on as for third consecutive away game since his omission Rangers defended with embarrassing naivety.

The back four of Bignot, Shittu, Santos and Rose managed to keep Luton to two, rather than the three Blackburn (understandably) and Crewe (unforgivably) bagged against them. However the Hatters' hit the post, had a Steve Howard goal incorrectly ruled out for a foul and another disallowed for offside, forced numerous saves from Royce and missed countless guilt edge chances in the second period.

Rangers were lucky not to lose by a greater margin. As Bignot was outmuscled time and again, Shittu battered away to no avail, Georges misjudged everything that went within twenty yards of him and Rose tip toed around wondering where his next injury is coming from, Evatt watched on from the stands, not even named on the bench.

Further down the field things looked brighter. Holloway named the same side as last week which meant a midfield of Ainsworth, Lomas, Langley and Cook and all four can take something from their performances. Up front Furong and Baidoo started together but made little impact, Marc Nygaard emerged off the bench for the second half to great effect.

Luton's big physical side included the giant Showumni in midfield, Howard and Vine up front and the classy Marcus Heikkinen in defence. With some quality footballers like Edwards and Brkovic around the big boys Luton looked a formidable side on paper and so it proved on the day.

The home side raced out of the blocks and were unlucky not to take the lead inside four minutes. Rangers' defence fell apart down the left with Cook and Langley doing a poor job of marking up from a short free kick on the touchline and this allowed defender Kevin Foley to ghost into the penalty area and hit a shot off the top of Simon Royce's post with the help of a deflection from Matthew Rose.

Rangers were grateful for this slice of good fortune and immediately set about working their way into the match. Gareth Ainsworth unloaded a terrific shot on goal which flashed wide of the post and then almost immediately a tremendous run by Lee Cook down the left, followed by the trademark theatrical tumble, presented Richard Langley with the chance to bang a free kick in on Luton keeper Marlon Beresford. Langers could only find the fans behind the goal with his twenty five yard effort though.

The best chance in a good spell of pressure for Rangers fell to Ainsworth ten minutes into the match. Marcus Bignot galloped down the right flank and jinked his way between two would be tacklers before pulling the ball back into the danger area from the byline. The chance looked un-missable for Ainsworth but somehow the former Wimbledon man sent the ball high and wide into the stand.

Rangers should have been in front, and they were immediately punished for their profligacy. Ironically it was Ainsworth, the man who'd missed the chance to take the lead a moment before, who cost Rangers the opening goal at the other end.

Kevin Nicholls swung a corner over to the back post where Santos seemed to win the header but he could only guide the ball back into the danger area and when Underwood planted the ball back into the goal mouth Heikkinen was on hand to divert it into the roof of the net with his head. Rangers appealed for offside but Ainsworth had fallen asleep on the post from the corner and was still there, playing everybody onside. It was a terrible lapse of concentration from Ainsworth and Rangers were behind as a result.

Rangers looked a little shell shocked but did create the next chance of the game when Cook jinked his way past Showumni and Edwards before sending a shot a yard wide of the post from the edge of the penalty area.

Marcus Bignot forced a smart save from Beresford as well but Rangers looked terribly vulnerable from set pieces. Showumni headed another Nicholls corner wide at the near post when he should have done better and another corner, this time from the other side by Underwood, was allowed to flash all the way across the face of Royce's goal without a touch.

As the half wore on Rangers started to have less and less influence on the game. Every time the ball went within ten yards of Baidoo the linesman flagged against him for pulling Heikkinen. This was frustrating for the youngster as the big Finnish defender was doing just as much to him and yet he kept being awarded the free kicks. I'm not sure why the linesman took it upon himself to flag every single time throughout the first half - I know in front of the main stand at Kenilworth Road can be an intimidating place but for an official but for goodness sake strap on a pair!

QPR did get the rub of the green from the referee right on half time though. A cross from Edwards looped up into the QPR penalty area. Royce came to catch but never looked comfortable under it and Steve Howard steamed into the danger zone, beat the keeper to the ball and headed powerfully into the net. It was a perfectly good goal and yet referee Phil Crossley, deputising for Richard Beeby, decided that Royce had been fouled and while Howard ran sixty yards milking the applause from the main stand Rangers took their free kick and got on with the game.

This decision was a real treat for QPR. They say goalkeepers are protected too much and that was certainly the case here. Howard didn't lift his arms and seemed to make minimal contact with the keeper. The last time I checked this was a contact sport and Howard could hardly be expected to just stand there and let Royce catch the ball can he?

At half time Ian Holloway replaced the ineffective Baidoo with Marc Nygaard. A combination of harsh officiating and powerful defending from Heikkinen had rendered Baidoo virtually useless in the first half. He rarely won the ball ahead of his marker and when he did the whistle was blown. A tough lesson for young Shabazz but one that will improve his game if he takes things from it.

Nygaard was certainly more effective right from the restart. His height and gangly awkwardness won Rangers three corners right at the start of the half. Nygaard headed the first one wide after meeting Cook's delivery at the near post and within two minutes Furlong had done exactly the same thing.

Luton were really rocked back on their heals by Rangers' start to the second half and the Hoops should have been level in the fifty fourth minute. Terrific work by Nygaard had Ainsworth racing in behind his marker to the byline. The ball was pulled back to the edge of the six yard box at the near post and it looked plum for Furlong who could only head over the bar under pressure from Coyne. This was a guilt edge chance for the equaliser.

It proved to be something of a turning point. Within a minute Steve Howard had plundered his way to the edge of the penalty area and flung himself to the floor winning a free kick and a booking for Shittu in the process. Howard, for such a big powerful lad, certainly knows his way to the floor when put under any pressure. It's frustrating, but God I wish he played for us. He's a really good player at this level.

The free kick came to nothing but on the hour mark Howard set up Vine for what looked to be a certain second only for Vine to fire off target. At the other end Ainsworth's swashbuckling run ended with a good ball inside to Furlong who turned his man on the edge of the six yard box and looked all set to equalise only for Beresford to produce an outstanding one handed save.

Richard Langley had endured a poor first half but tackled much harder and put in more effort in the second period. This riled his opponent Nicholls who lost his temper with Langley after a tackle on the halfway line. The incident earned Langers a harsh booking and Nicholls got away with his petulance.

QPR attacks were becoming fewer and further between and in ten minutes just after the hour Royce had to deny Edwards, Howard and substitute Feeney.

The introduction of Feeney had revitalised Luton after a nervous start to the second half, but the Northern Ireland international really should have bagged himself a couple of goals. One horrendous miss saw him head a Howard cross off target when left unmarked two yards from goal.

Twenty minutes from time Feeney did have the ball in the net but once again Luton saw a goal chalked off, this time for offside. Edwards made an idiot out of Rose down the right and hit a low shot which Royce parried to Howard, the flag seemed to go up against him but Feeney thought he'd scored when he bundled the ball into the net after Howard took a shot. Feeney was booked for his protests.

The final chance of the game for QPR saw Cook's superb back heel send Rose racing down the left and in uncharacteristic fashion the left back skinned his marker for pace and swung a low cross into the near post. The ball was met by Nygaard but his header lost all its pace with one bounce off the turf and Beresford was able to save comfortably.

From then on there was only one team in the game and neither the introduction of Moore for Ainsworth or Taylor for Rose could stem the tide and it was no surprise when Howard made it two nil.

Terrific work by Edwards was too much for loaned full back Taylor and the former Wrexham man found Howard whose untidy finish found its way into the back of the net after bouncing over Royce and deflecting off Shittu.

So a 2-0 defeat, and a question of what might have been. Had Ainsworth scored first when he really should have done, or Furlong equalised when Rangers flew at Luton straight after half time, then perhaps it could have been different. However Luton had enough chances to win two or three football matches and deserved their first victory in four matches.

Mike Newell's side are a massive, physical outfit, but they play decent football and could yet push for the play offs. In Edwards and Howard they had the two outstanding players on the day and Coyne and Heikkinen at the back are everything Rangers' defenders are not - strong, composed, non nonsense individuals who clear it when it needs to be cleared and don't arse around in dangerous areas.

Rangers must be concerned with their defensive frailty away from home. Since the 1-0 defeat at Brighton Rangers have conceded eight goals in three road games and rarely look comfortable under any kind of set piece. Hopefully new Polish signing Martin Kus will be in the side soon and make a difference and it would be nice to see Mauro Milanese involved more than he is currently, that's without getting back into the Ian Evatt debate.

QPR have been defending well at home of late, with two consecutive 1-0 wins, and they'll be hoping Craig Levein is still in charge at Leicester by the time the sides meet a week on Tuesday. New manager syndrome is surely the only thing that will deny Rangers a result against a terrible Leicester team at Loftus Road next week. But after that it's a trip to Leeds where a back four of Bignot, Shittu, Santos and Rose (and then Padula) shipped six goals last season. On Saturday's evidence it could be another Elland Road massacre if changes aren't made.

Luton: Beresford 6, Underwood 8, Coyne 8, Heikkinen 9*, Foley 7, Brkovic 8 (Morgan 75, 7), Showunmi 6 (Barnett 64, 7), Nicholls 7, Edwards 8, Vine 7 (Feeney 65, 6), Howard 8
Subs Not Used: Bell, Brill.
Booked: Feeney.
Goals: Heikkinen 13, Howard 85.

QPR: Royce 7, Rose 5, Shittu 6, Santos 4, Bignot 5 (Taylor 83, 4), Cook 6, Lomas 5, Langley 6, Ainsworth 6 (Moore 79, 5), Baidoo 5 (Nygaard 45, 7), Furlong 5.
Subs Not Used: Milanese, Donnelly.
Booked: Shittu, Langley.

Att: 9,797.

Ref: Phil Crossley (Kent) - 5 - Made a terrible error in disallowing the Howard goal and wasted a good ten minutes of the second half by talking to everybody that committed even a minor offence for what seemed like an eternity. Probably likes the sound of his own voice. All three bookings looked harsh and the one player who should have been carded, Nicholls, went unpunished!

QPR Star Man - Marc Nygaard - 7 - Not for the first time this season Nygaard was the standout player after coming on as a substitute. I thought Lee Cook was the best of the starting eleven but I fear the wrath of the message board!

Photo: Action Images

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