|Steady start for new regime|
Saturday, 11th Feb 2006 01:00
Gary Waddock got off to the perfect start as QPR manager, and hammered another nail into Millwall's coffin in the process.
Following much publicised off the pitch activities at the club it was somewhat of a relief to actually get down to some football at last. It was the first test for Gary Waddock and the newly recruited Alan McDonald against London neighbours Millwall. As expected there were changes in the team and Waddock picked a fairly experienced starting eleven.
When Gary Waddock and Alan McDonald entered the field of play they were greeted by a large gathering of photographers to mark their first game in charge. It was also interesting watching the players going through their warm-up. As well as the usual stretching and short running tests the players took part in a small game in the middle of the pitch - something that I don't remember seeing under Holloway and co.
Paul Jones, the most recent arrival at the club, started in goal behind a back four of Bignot, an actual left-back in Milanese actually playing at left back and a central pairing of captain Danny Shittu and the recalled Ian Evatt. That selection on its own spoke volumes about what Waddock thought about our previous left back and partner for Shittu.
There were familiar faces in midfield with Lomas and Bircham in the centre, assisted by Ainsworth and Cook out wide. Marc Nygaard and Paul Furlong were the two men upfront. The bench consisted of plenty of youth with young stopper Sean Thomas, Scott Donnelly, Shabazz Baidoo alongside Langley and Rose. Loanee's Lowe and Clarke missed out as did Georges Santos, Kus and Stefan Moore.
Millwall have had a torrid season so far and it didn't really get any better today. Backed by just over 2000 fans in the School End even they seem to have somewhat given up the fight as apart from an opening bit of noise their following were unusually quiet. The Lions had ex Ranger Lloyd Dyer on the bench and he received a round of applause when he entered the field during the second half.
Unusually we kicked towards the Loft End in the first half and the opening few minutes saw neither side really settle. The crowd in terms of numbers was slightly disappointing with not even 13, 000 turning up for this and it just shows that's its absolutely vital that the club get their ticket prices spot on for next season.
The opening stages of the game were fairly uneventful with neither side really taking control - in fact it took us 20 minutes or so to really find out feet. The players were settling in to the much publicised change of style. There were still similarities though with two battlers in central midfield and two big men leading the strike line. But once the players found their feet, they did on the whole, try to play some football.
Our first chance of the match fell to Lee Cook who dragged his shot wide of the goal after a good run against the full back. Cook looked bright all afternoon and was a marked improvement on recent weeks. He saw plenty of the ball and wasn't afraid to run at defenders. He also wasn't afraid to shoot at goal from distance and with not one of our strikers in double figures yet this campaign we could so with some midfielders finding their scoring boots.
Bignot and Milanese were both making themselves available to Paul Jones from goal kicks, so instead of the usual punt to Ainsworth we now had a few more options of building from the back.
Again the next move came courtesy of Lee Cook, he made headway down the left and after beating his man passed inside to Furs. Unfortunately he dragged it wide of the post. We then had a five or a ten minute spell where we literally bombarded the Millwall backline. Time and after time we won corners but none were as accurate as we would have liked. Millwall managed to get a head or a boot to most of them as both Cook and Bircham tried their luck. There was also a shout for a penalty after Evart's header had been blocked by one of the Millwall defenders in the packed penalty area.
We went in at the break even but we definitely had the majority of the half and there looked to be lots to build on in the second. During the opening stages of the second half Milanese committed a foul to earn himself a place in the referee's book. He had been done for pace and simply dragged down his man. He had to be careful though as on two or three occasions he committed niggling little fouls in the next ten minutes.
During the second we started to put some excellent passes together and overall the team grew in confidence. The breakthrough goal came on 56 minutes, Nygaard found himself in the middle with the ball at his feet. He picked out Furlong on the end of the area who set up Ainsworth perfectly on the right. 'Wild Thing' crossed to the far post and Nygaard was there unmarked. Marshall saved brilliantly from his header but the ball fell to the big Dane who smashed the ball home.
We were in total domination now and it was a matter of when our strikers would start converting some of the chances we were creating. Millwall on the other hand were unravelling and generally falling apart. Alan Dunne was deservedly booked after a foul on Lomas and he was sent off on 76 for an elbow, again on the ex West Ham man.
It was totally deserved and it was perfectly clear he had lost the plot. The Millwall fans had pretty much given up hope as well by this time. They had been so incensed at one substitution that they chose to make their feeling known by booing the change and later took their frustrations out on those unlucky enough to be near them in the Paddocks and South Africa Road.
Marcus Bignot of all people came very close to adding a second after a wonderful team move. After a quick one-two Bignot found himself heading towards goal with only Marshall to beat. Unfortunately Marcus must have got a nose bleed and scuffed his shot wide of the goal! A disappointing finish but the move overall was excellent to watch.
Jones was called into action towards the end when a Ben May header was heading goal bound - luckily the experienced stopper was alert enough to save well. He had precious little to do really during the 90 minutes but his experience and calm nature must have been reassuring for the back four.
Nygaard was replaced with 12 minutes left by young Shabazz Baidoo who immediately set about hassling the Millwall defenders. With the game approaching full-time there was one final chance for the crowd to launch into a 'Thank You Ian Holloway' chorus and even Gary Waddock himself joined in with the round of applause.
Furlong could have made it two when he blasted a shot over the bar after good work in the penalty area. He again looked just off the pace today and it will be interesting to see who fills the striking positions for the rest of the season. Baidoo then came close when his shot was blocked by one of the Millwall defenders.
There was yet one more incident before the game finished and it involved Whitbread and our very own Gareth Ainsworth. Whitbread had gone in late on Ainsworth and he then retaliated and raised his fists at the Millwall man and then followed the usual handbags from a group of players. With the linesman nearby I was expecting two reds to be shown but somehow ref Alan Wiley just awarded a yellow to the Rangers man.
This was a marked improvement on previous efforts but today the players had to respond with what's been going on at the club recently. Jones was assured in goal and Shittu was solid in the heart of defence. He was ably assisted by Milanese, Bignot and Evatt. Bircham also had a decent game and his spirit and determination was on show, he worked well with Lomas and that pairing provided the steel we needed in midfield.
This was a vitally important and confidence building win as our next two games are tough against Crystal Palace and Sheffield United. Millwall are one of the poorest teams I've seen this season and they've got big problems so we shouldn't get too carried away by this win. The real test for Waddock and co will be how the team are playing and responding in a month's time for example. It's all very well to impress during the first game but the players have got to keep it going now.
At least Waddock will have some time to work with the players on the training ground over the next few weeks. It is obviously where he enjoys working and it will be interesting to see if we build on the style changes we saw in this encounter. Let's hope so.
QPR: Jones 7, Bignot 7, Shittu 8, Evatt 7, Milanese 8*, Ainsworth 7, Bircham 8 (Langley 88, N/A), Lomas 7, Cook 8, Furlong 7, Nygaard 7 (Baidoo 78, 7).
Subs Not Used: Thomas, Rose, Donnelly.
Booked: Milanese, Ainsworth.
Goal: Nygaard 56
Millwall: Marshall, Paul Robinson, Lawrence, Whitbread, Craig, Dunne, Elliott, Livermore, Cogan (Dyer 81), Powel (May 50), Braniff (Williams 60). Subs Not Used: Doyle, Morris.
Sent Off: Dunne (76).
Booked: Dunne, Elliott, Paul Robinson.
QPR Man of the Match: Mauro Milanese 8 - Not really one outstanding player today but it was just nice to see a proper full back in the left hand side of defence. Mauro played well and apart from a lack of pace is a steady, assured defender. Also well done to Jones, Shittu and Cook who all put in goof performances.
Ref: A Wiley (Staffordshire). 5 - Had no choice with the sending off as it was as clear as daylight. Missed a lot though, plenty of pushing during the course of the game that he didn't see, he was assisted but a couple of lineman who forget their flag on a few occasions as well. Ainsworth can count himself lucky towards the end as it could have quite easily have been red for both players.
Photo: Action Images
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