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Waddock's QPR blunts blades
Waddock's QPR blunts blades
Saturday, 25th Feb 2006 01:04

QPR secured their best win of the season by winning 3-2 at Bramall Lane on Saturday. Paul Furlong got the winner.

When QPR beat Sheffield United at Loftus Road in August supporters were eyeing up a memorable campaign at the top of the Championship table. A draw against Hull that should have been a win, a performance against Ipswich that deserved more than the 2-1 victory it yielded and two magnificent goals to beat Neil Warnock's promotion favourites, the sun was shining, the grass was green, the dream was alive. Sadly it's all been a little bit too much like Dream Team since then.

The team has lurched into and out of form, often within the same match. The management has been under pressure, then been flavour of the month, then offered a new contract and then sacked, sorry put on gardening leave. The board has been full of QPR fans all getting along, then they tried to shoot each other (allegedly - trial starts in May), then half of them got the boot, then everybody else from the website editor up went the same way.

The long suffering supporters have had good reason to be thoroughly ashamed of just about everybody on the payroll at Loftus Road these past 6 months but on Saturday some pride was restored, and how apt for it to come against Sheffield United once more.

There are few results in football as pleasurable as a victory over a team managed by Neil Warnock - the arms behind the head, the mad rants at the referee, the pathetic post match interviews where you're more likely to see him levitate than give any credit to a team that's just outplayed his own - in some ways it's better than the match itself.

Especially when, as on Saturday, it's Warnock that's the architect of his own downfall.

With Evatt's pace and Matthew Rose's footballing ability questionable, the last thing Rangers wanted to see on the United team sheet was the name of Kabba or Webber, or worse still both. Somehow Warnock decided to pick neither. One thing Evatt can do well is deal with a big useless lump like Geoff Horsfield.

Still United held Rangers to 2-2 until twenty five minutes from time when Warnock struck again - introducing David Unsworth and the rest, as they say, is history.

Furlong scored a third, then hit the bar, Youssouf went through on goal and missed, then hit a terrific half volley that was saved. With Unsworth in the United defence there was only ever going to be one winner and although Warnock threw on Webber shortly afterwards the damage had been done with his first change. To cap it all he stuck Neil Shipperley on with ten to play instead of Kabba.

Gary Waddock must be wondering if management is going to be this easy all the time - just stand there and watch your supposedly more experienced opponent self destruct.

Waddock had been forced into a change of his own before kick off. Mauro Milanese was suspended so Matthew Rose made a much dreaded return to left back, a position he was kicked out of after the Leicester debacle and hopefully, once Mauro returns, will never play in again. Evatt and Shittu were the centre backs with Marcus Bignot at right back and Jones in goal. With Ainsworth suspended Richard Langley played wide right, Marc Bircham returned from injury in the centre of midfield next to Steve Lomas and Lee Cook played wide left. Marc Nygaard and Paul Furlong started up front.

The opening stages were very quiet. United have been showing very poor form of late, despite a narrow win in the derby last week, and you could feel the tension around the place as the bumper twenty five thousand crowd sat silently seeming to fear the worst. They weren't disappointed.

With six minutes played Paul Furlong beat Morgan in the air on the halfway line and nodded a Marcus Bignot ball into the path of Marc Nygaard. Blades centre half Collins tried to beat the Dane to the bouncing ball but Nygaard reached it first and headed it into the space behind the United defence before racing onto it himself. Showing a new found turn of speed Nygaard accelerated into the penalty area but seemed to have waited too long to shoot, luckily Chris Morgan had made it back by this time and after he missed the ball and gave his goalkeeper a firm kick in the gut Nygaard was left with the simple task of rolling the ball into the empty net.

If they were nervous before Sheffield United looked positively terrified now. Big strong Geoff Horsfield collapsed theatrically under challenge from Matthew Rose fifteen minutes in which gave the home side a free kick wide on the flank. Full back Armstrong feigned to cross but then tried to whip it into the top corner instead - Paul Jones was alert to the danger and flicked the ball over the bar.

Other than this the R's looked pretty comfortable. Sheff Utd's central midfield of Jagielka and Montgomery was totally overrun by Bircham and Lomas and Shittu was giving Morgan and Collins a lesson in the art of central defensive play - easy to see why Warnock has tried to add Danny and Birch to his vast collection of players so many times.

The turning point of the first half came in the twenty second minute when the home side snatched an equaliser out of the blue. Michael Tonge swung over an inviting cross from the left and Akinbiyi manoeuvred Rose out of the way and planted a magnificent header over Jones and into the bottom corner. Those that think Rose should be given a go at centre half take note.

The goal seemed to lift the weight of the world off the home side's shoulders. United started to play a little bit and get on top of Rangers. They started to get the ball to Paul Ifill more often, easily the most talented midfielder they have, and he was giving Rose a torrid time down the flank. Three times he skinned the full back and surged into the penalty area but a combination of good luck and desperate defence from Shittu prevented the R's falling behind.

When United did take the lead it came in controversial circumstances. Armstrong swung a corner right under the crossbar and with Akinbiyi holding Paul Jones shirt with one hand and shoving Bircham in the back with the other the ball rebounded into the net off the Rangers man. QPR players surrounded the referee but he showed no interest in their complaints and United were in front. In fairness Kevin Friend has a pathological fear of giving the away team anything other than meaningless free kicks deep in their own half so he was never going to disallow a goal for the home side. It's called being a coward.

Rangers were suddenly being overrun as confidence flowed through the red and white wizards - their term, not mine. Tonge sent a free kick inswinging to the back post and although Neill Collins failed to get a touch the ball very nearly squeezed in at the back post anyway. Then after another break down the left from Ifill Jagielka sliced a finish wide of the post when well placed to do better.

It could easily have been 3-1, but the R's survived. They've capitulated under pressure so many times away from home this season but that wasn't the case here. Steve Lomas grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and started to dominate the centre of the park again.

Rangers could have equalised twice before half time. Seven minutes before the break Montgomery hacked into the back of Furlong and conceded a free kick twenty five yards from goal, naturally he escaped without a booking. After much deliberation Lee Cook clipped the set piece over the wall and somehow Paddy Kenny managed to fling himself right across goal and claw it out of the top corner. It was a quite remarkable save. Nygaard received a yellow card for asking why Montgomery was being allowed to play by his own rules.

United were indebted to Kenny again in first half stoppage time. Cook collected a pass from Bircham on halfway and galloped off into the United half. With the defence backing off Cook was able to reach the edge of the box and then tee up Furlong who forced another terrific save from Kenny down low to his left. In truth Furlong should have buried it.

So at half time there were mixed emotions in the away end. Rangers were lucky not to be further behind after a terrifying fifteen minute spell from Sheff Utd that brought them two goals and it should have been two more, but then at the end of the half they could count themselves unlucky not to be level. I found myself thinking there was something here for us for the first time on the day.

Things seemed destined to fall apart straight after half time though, with Mr Friend again taking centre stage. First he booked Richard Langley for a foul on Tonge. This was Langley's first offence of any note in the match while Montgomery had been through the back of Furlong once and Lomas twice without punishment, and Tonge himself had committed five fouls in the first half alone.

From the free kick Armstrong swung the ball to the back post, Jones collided with Lomas in trying to catch the cross and the ball fell loose on the edge of the six yard box. Morgan and Evatt tussled for possession and the QPR man got a boot to the ball to clear it but Mr Friend had spotted an infringement and pointed to the spot. At the time I thought it looked a harsh decision, having seen it on the video it's a bloody scandalous one. It's called being a crook.

Danny Shittu was booked for dissent.

For the second consecutive game here QPR had been screwed by an incompetent referee desperate to avoid the wrath of Warnock. Luckily United handed the ball to Paul Ifill and he sent a tame effort too close to Jones who saved, and then caught the chipped rebound from Armstrong. 3-1 would have been game over but suddenly Rangers had hope, and the home fans returned to their favoured pass time of abusing Ifill.

Having attended their hammering by Watford a fortnight previous I'd noticed the Bramall Lane faithful's tendency to spend most of the match slagging Ifill off at great volume, and the negative effect that seemed to have on his performance. He'd been the most dangerous United player in the first half but with the penalty miss and the subsequent vitriol from his own fans that came to an abrupt end in the fiftieth minute and he was a spent force - head down, confidence shattered.

Rangers took over from this moment onwards. Lomas and Bircham started spraying the passes around, Cook and Langley began causing problems on the flanks and Furlong and Nygaard were too much for Morgan and Collins to even get close to.

In the fifty sixth minute Lee Cook worked a terrific short corner routine with Furlong and sent a devilish cross into the near post. Nygaard beat Collins to the ball and flicked it into the six yard box where Chris Morgan hilariously hacked into the roof of his own net under pressure from Shittu. Morgan appealed half heartedly for a foul but Mr Friend strapped on a pair and allowed the goal to stand - god I bet that hurt!

He made up for it soon though, booking Steve Lomas for dissent. Montgomery had just hacked Lomas down for the third time in the game without receiving a card and Lomas lost his rag for a moment so he entered the book.

Twenty five minutes from time David Unsworth came on for Montgomery and the game was up. Unsworth was always a big lad but is now grossly overweight. He was never really very good either, but he's embarrassing now. His first act was to hack the ball into the side stand while trying to play a pass down the line under no pressure - things only got worse for him from then on.

Richard Langley ran past him for the first time within two minutes of his introduction, he laid the ball inside to Furlong who tried to release Nygaard into the area. Just as the Dane looked set to steam onto the pass and fire an effort in on goal something went in the back of his leg and he soon limped out of the game, replaced by his fellow countryman Sammy Yousouff who'd apparently been impressive for the reserves in the week.

While Nygaard was down Langley decided to make Unsworth look a pillock again and ghosted into the penalty area only to lose his bottle at the crucial moment and waste a great chance for a third with a weak pull back.

It didn't matter though because within ten minutes Rangers were into the lead. Lomas and Bircham, by now so dominant in the centre that Jagielka the Premiership footballer in all but name may as well have packed up and left, combined to release Lee Cook. The little winger carried the ball to the edge of the area and, as he had done in the first half, fed the perfect ball to Furlong. Furs controlled the ball and then widened the angle and fired a low shot into the corner.

It was a tremendous goal, great set up play from Cook and a wonderful finish. You have to ask questions of Morgan though, Furlong was always trying to get the ball onto his left foot and yet when he widened the angle to shoot Morgan looked so shocked that he fell over.

Within thirty seconds of the kick off the Cook and Furlong combination should have finished the game altogether. Again right back Kozluck was nowhere to be seen as left winger Cook stormed down the field in possession, this time he elected to shoot. Cook's low effort bounced up in the goal mouth and hit Kenny in the chest, Furlong got to the rebound first but with Morgan virtually rugby tackling him to the ground he could only fire against the underside of the bar.

Alan McDonald was already halfway down the touchline in celebration before he realised it hadn't gone in. It all seemed a little surreal at this point, Rangers were murdering them, what was going on? The feeling was only enhanced when Michael Tonge received a yellow card for a foul on Bircham - that's right a home player got booked!

Three minutes later and Unsworth conceded possession on the halfway line which enabled Langley to slip the ball through for Sammy Youssouf to run onto. The new boy looked calm and composed as he bore down on goal but ended up in two minds and a weak finish was well saved by Kenny. He launched a better effort on goal with ten minutes left, meeting Lee Cook's superb cross field pass with a firm half volley which was saved by Kenny.

Warnock threw Shipperley on, just for the comedy value I think, but Rangers were comfortable right up until stoppage time. In a desperate attempt to get the home side back into the game Mr Friend penalised Evatt for a foul on Tonge right on the edge of the box. Luckily United turned the responsibility to Unsworth (honestly you couldn't make it up) and he fired into the wall.

Unsworth and Armstrong both spurned good chances in stoppage time but this was the first time United had threatened since the penalty and after such a superb second half Rangers secured a deserved victory when the whistle went shortly afterwards.

There can be no better feeling than the one I had wandering out of the away end and feeling the icy rain on my face, listening to all the miserable United fans moaning. "They were pretty good," said an older guy to his mate as we wandered through the subway, "I can't believe they aren't nearer the top."

Quite.

Teams

Sheff Utd
Kenny 8, Morgan 2, Kozluk 3, Collins 3 , Armstrong 4, Ifill 6,Jagielka 5, Tonge 6, Montgomery 5 (Unsworth 63, 1),Akinbiyi 7 (Shipperley 78, 5), Horsfield 5 (Webber 66, 5).
Subs Not Used: Flitcroft, Kabba.
Booked: Tonge.
Goals: Akinbiyi 21, Bircham 29 og.

QPR Jones 8, Bignot 6, Evatt 6, Shittu 7, Rose 5, Bircham 7, Cook 8,Lomas 9 (Santos 90, -), Langley 7, Furlong 7, Nygaard 8 (Youssouf 72, 7).
Subs Not Used: Bailey, Baidoo, Thomas.
Booked: Nygaard, Langley, Shittu, Lomas.
Goals: Nygaard 6, Morgan 56 og, Furlong 74.

Att: 25,360

Ref: K Friend (Leicestershire) 3 - Ahh Kevin, you certainly are not a friend of mine, or any away team for that matter. I find myself writing exactly the same thing about him as I did after the last time he refereed QPR, at Derby last season. Loves an easy ride, loves a home side. Gave many, many questionable decisions against Rangers, booked four when really only Langley deserved it and even that was his first offence. Allowed Montgomery to hack his way through the Rangers team without booking him, failed to spot Ade Akinbiyi's blatant foul for the Bircham own goal and awarded a terribly, disgustingly harsh penalty against Evatt after half time. Can we please have this guy at Loftus Road one day? I want to be on the other side of his cowardice.

QPR Star Man - Steve Lomas - 9 - If we can keep him fit he's going to be a very good signing. He ran the midfield for all but ten minutes in the first half, and was off the field receiving treatment when Akinbiyi scored. He passes the ball sensibly, rarely giving away possession, makes important tackles and acts as a real leader in the centre of the park - issuing a bollocking when it's needed, putting an arm round someone if their head goes down. He was superb.

Photo: Action Images



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