|Queens Park Strangers beaten by Leeds|
Saturday, 4th Feb 2006 00:58
QPR predictably lost 2-0 at Elland Road on Saturday as Leeds continued their push for a Premiership return.
It was left to Leeds United to inflict the inevitable defeat and draw a curtain on what has been a horrible, miserable week in the history of Queens Park Rangers. Fresh from defeat at Luton Rangers turned in their worst performance in five years at home to Leicester on Tuesday, got rid of the last QPR fan still working at Loftus Road on Thursday and took a patched up side north on Saturday where they were fortunate to escape with only a 2-0 defeat.
If the rumours are to be believed this was also the last hurrah for manager Ian Holloway who it now seems will be leaving the club in the next few days.
Presuming Holloway's under fire coaches depart with him that will leave Paladini, Caliendo and long serving secretary Sheila Marson to watch over a beleaguered squad of players probably unsure of just what the hell is going on at our club currently.
Bill Power, Kevin McGrath, Mark Devlin, Dave Morris, Mike Pink, Chris Pennington, Mark Austin, Phil Harris and Billy Rice have all vacated their positions behind the scenes at Loftus Road since Paladini took over and now it seems Ian Holloway, Tim Breaker, Gary Penrice and Tony Roberts are about to trouble the revolving exit door as well.
Is this what Paladini meant when he said he was going to run the club the Italian way?
To a man everybody on the list is a Queens Park Rangers supporter and there was always the feeling that no matter how bad things got on or off the pitch, if there were people like us running the club, it would always be relatively safe. Now, nobody knows what to think.
Holloway has cut an increasingly isolated figure in recent weeks. Slated by the club's life president, and criticised by the club's free lawyer on the message boards, he's turned this way and that, trying to find solutions without success.
After Christmas he filled his team with his players. Out went the likes of Evatt and Milanese in came Santos and Matthew Rose. Sadly for Holloway, the man who built a promotion winning side from a squad of just 4 fit players spending nothing, the players he trusted and relied upon weren't good enough and it came crashing down around him on Tuesday night as the board sat above him in the South Africa Road stand - give a man enough rope…
The Leicester game necessitated changes to the team and they came all over the park at Elland Road. Phil Barnes signed on loan three hours and fifteen minutes before kick off and rushed up from Sheffield United to start in place of the injured Simon Royce.
At right back was Marcin Kus; a Polish defender who nobody seems to know very much about but who was allegedly so impressive in a reserve game against Chelsea that Abramovic now wants to sign him. When the people who run the club believe things like this it makes you wonder how long we are for the footballing world.
At centre half, alongside Holloway's greatest triumph Danny Shittu, was Keith Lowe a deadline day loan from Wolves.
At left back, Andy Taylor. A kid, and nothing more, not even out of the youth setup at Blackburn and with no professional starts to his name. If this is to be Holloway's last game it's rather apt that he still didn't select Milanese, the best left back the club has and one of the best footballers in the squad.
The midfield had a slightly more settled look to it. Ainsworth and Cook started on the wings as usual with Lomas in the centre, but he was partnered by Marcus Bignot - Holloway's first ever signing at Loftus Road, filling a midfield birth for the first time since 2001.
Up front Stefan Moore, a boy Holloway clearly had high hopes for but having been turfed out of the club he loves because his brother is a better footballer than him he's got about as much confidence as a fly in a spider's web. He was joined by Leon Clarke, another loan from Wolves.
While Lowe has at least impressed at this level with Burnley Clarke has yet to really prove anything to anybody and everybody can be forgiven for seeing the words "QPR, Wolves, transfer" and immediately thinking of the words "Eves, Sturridge, bloody agents."
Leeds probably didn't have a clue who half of these people were and it might have confused the preparations of the home side slightly - whether they were as cringe worthy as our own side's pre-match build up to the Blackburn game, infamously and rather strangely shown by the club's own website hammering another nail in the management's coffin in the process, we'll never know.
The home side recalled David Healy in place of Rob Hulse - oh for such luxuries. On a shocking playing surface in front a sparse crowd Rangers started fairly brightly and twice in the opening ten minutes Leeds keeper Neil Sullivan was forced into nervy clearances. First Paul Butler sent a back pass bobbling off the surface and almost gifted a chance to Leon Clarke and then his centre half partner Sean Gregan did the same thing to Stefan Moore but Sullivan was alert both times.
The first real effort of the game came from United full back Stephen Crainey who blasted well over from distance in the ninth minute.
Kus was the new boy with the most to do in the opening stages. He showed composure on the ball and strength in the air as well as putting in some crunching tackles early on, however he did look slightly off the pace and on three occasions allowed left winger Eddie Lewis to whip in dangerous near post crosses. One was cleared by Lowe, one caught by Barnes and the other flashed right across the face of goal and away to safety.
Nineteen minutes in the action again centred around Kus and Lewis with the Pole easily shrugging the American off as he attempted to reach the byline in the R's penalty area. Lewis theatrically hurled himself to the ground and flung his arms up in the air but you don't get decisions like that, even as the home side at Elland Road. It's debateable whether even Mike Riley would have awarded Rooney that one!
Rangers had to wait until the twenty eighth minute for their first chance of the match but when it came it was a very presentable one. Lee Cook picked the ball up on half way and cut inside on a run that took him to within thirty yards of goal. He passed to Clarke who in turn found Moore and a first time pass from the forward had Cook in on goal but wide of the target and he fired into the home crowd. Still it was one more piece of football than the team had managed on Tuesday night.
All in all the opening half hour was encouraging for the noisy travelling support. Most had probably expected a pasting to rival last year's embarrassment here but the new boys had settled in well. Kus, Lowe, Shittu and Taylor had looked a remarkably well organised unit despite their short time together and there looked to be a growing chance that Rangers could frustrate Leeds out of at least a point.
It was such a shame therefore that the deadlock should be broken from a set piece as the result of an individual error.
Andy Taylor fouled David Healey wide on the Leeds right and Eddie Lewis trotted across to take the free kick. The delivery was devilish and swung right into the back post. Lowe lost Cresswell in the crowd and when Barnes naively came out trying to punch clear the former Preston forward was left with the simple task of flicking the ball into the net off the inside of the post.
It was tough on Lowe after a good start, and on Barnes who was playing through a finger injury for his new club and must have been devastated.
Jonathan Douglas hit a low shot wide and referee Peter Walton decided to hand the first cards of the match to Lomas and Derry after a spat in the centre of the park but the half pretty much petered out after the goal.
The second half started well for the visitors and they should have been level within ten minutes of the restart. Eddie Lewis fouled Stefan Moore and from an identical position to the one that brought Leeds their goal Lee Cook sent a similarly testing cross into the box. Like Leeds in the first half an unmarked Rangers player got to the ball first but Lowe could only head straight at Sullivan from five yards out.
Rangers didn't create another chance as presentable as this for the rest of the match.
Play soon switched to the other end again though and Liam Miller's twenty yard drive was well saved by Barnes in the fifty sixth minute.
Two minutes later another magnificent cross from Lewis, who still looks to be one of the best wingers in the division, picked out Cresswell who somehow contrived to nod wide of the target when left unmarked on the edge of the six yard box. Lewis would have made this miss academic within sixty seconds had Barnes not palmed his long range effort out for a corner.
If this is to be Holloway's last match it's fitting that one of the chief problems his critics have with him came up again twenty five minutes from time - tactical substitutions.
Clearly Olly wanted to throw caution to the wind and introduce the two Danish strikers Nygaard and Youssouf. However rather than remove one striker and a midfielder and change the system he took off both wingers and stuck with 442.
Ainsworth had not enjoyed a particularly fruitful afternoon but Cook had put in an unusually committed display away from home and most of Rangers' best football had gone through him. The changes saw Clarke and Moore, two strikers, move to the wings but with their natural inclination for cutting inside it became a messy, narrow 4-2-4 system and any chance of a goal was lost.
The sensible thing would surely have been to remove one of Cook and Ainsworth plus Moore. Still, Holloway always did come up with some head scratching decisions in these circumstances.
After a pretty drab twenty minutes, in which the hosts rubbed salt into the wounds by introducing Rob Hulse from the bench - a striker Rangers could only dream of affording only gets twenty minutes in these parts - Leeds sealed victory with a second goal. Again it was Lewis sending over the teasing cross and for some reason centre half and skipper Paul Butler was loitering eight yards out to over power young Taylor and head past Barnes.
The visitors could have pulled a goal back immediately when the lively Youssouf broke free in the penalty area but his half volley from wide of the goal was saved by Sullivan with his shins.
Miller went close to making it 3-0 a minute from time and Lowe spurned another half chance for Rangers but all there was left to do for the forlorn supporters who actually bothered to go to Leeds and support the team was to troop back to the station empty handed.
If this is to be Holloway's last game, and I must confess I really hope it isn't, then it's rather fitting that so many characteristics of his five year reign were encapsulated in one afternoon. Facing a team lavishly financed and backed by a larger fan base in a bigger ground Holloway slung together a collection of loans, free transfers and cast offs and got them to work their socks off for him.
Lomas and Bignot were tireless in the centre of the park, the former also found time to constantly talk, encourage, cajole and help all the inexperienced players around him. Taylor looked steady at left back ad Kus did remarkably well against the superb Eddie Lewis. Lowe looks a good prospect and the new striker Youssouf also showed promise as a second half sub.
The team tried hard, played some decent football, but ultimately weren't quite good enough to match Leeds. Still there were plenty of positives and Holloway, should he choose to, can leave this week with his head held high and plenty of extenuating circumstances left behind.
Let's be honest, if you were him and you had a choice, would you stay at a club now almost entirely run by two men who've already tried to replace you once, at a club shorn of its soul, its staff and half of its support in nine months?
For all his failings, and being a human he had plenty, Holloway has achieved more at this club than anybody in more than a decade. He brought players to the club that the fans have grown to love - Shittu, Bignot, Rowlands, Royce - and he did it on a shoe string budget. He got us promoted, he kept us up, he gave us pride and it would appear he has been left hung out to dry between September and yesterday afternoon.
He has faced criticism head on, often literally, climbing into the Loft to speak with a disgruntled fan and spending two hours talking with an infuriated cab driver after a bad defeat. He has put a smile on everybody's face and, up until about six weeks ago, always had one on his.
Those sad souls that fill message boards with calls for his head, often just minutes after a match they didn't attend or in some cases even bother to listen to on the radio, could be about to get all their wishes granted. I hope for their sakes we don't end up as the failed experiment of an eccentric Italian with somebody like the greasy, sly and regularly linked John Gregory leading a team that hates him.
If you are going Ian, good luck, I'll miss you.
Leeds Sullivan 7, Kelly 6, Crainey 6, Butler 7, Gregan 6, Miller 8,Douglas 8, Derry 6, Healy 6 (Blake 71, 7), Lewis 9*, Cresswell 7 (Hulse 78, 6).
Subs Not Used: Bennett, Pugh, Walton.
Booked: Derry, Kelly.
Goals: Cresswell 39, Butler 84.
QPR Barnes 6, Kus 6 (Langley 87 - ), Shittu 7, Lowe 7, Taylor 7, Ainsworth 5 (Youssouf 66, 7),Cook 7 (Nygaard 66, 6), Bignot 6, Lomas 7, Moore 5, Clarke 5.
Subs Not Used: Milanese, Donnelly.
Ref: P Walton (Northamptonshire) 9 - Certainly not one of my favourite referees, in fact it would be fair to say I hate the guy, but he did an excellent job of refereeing this one. Got the penalty call in the first half right and to my mind made only one error - booking Lomas after it was he that had been crudely hacked down by the ever thuggish Shaun Derry.
QPR Star Man - Andy Taylor - 7 - Shittu played very well, recovering from his shocker on Tuesday, but he gets star man from me a lot so I thought I'd give it to young Andy who looked confident and assured at left back. Never gave the ball away, never shirked a tackle, never let Healey or anybody else get the better of him and showed a great deal of promise for the future. Shame his future doesn't lie with us!
Photo: Action Images
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