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Smith wonder strike not enough
Smith wonder strike not enough
Tuesday, 17th Oct 2006 16:16

John Gregory suffered his first defeat as QPR manager at the hands of his last employers Derby County last night.

I've often said that entering the away end at Luton is like climbing through a portal of some kind and ending up back in the eighties - well spending time at Loftus Road just lately has had the same effect. Not because you have to go through somebody's living room to get in, or sit in a seat built for a field mouse while the locals relieve themselves of bodily fluids through a fence onto your lap as with Kenilworth Road you understand.

No, QPR have been taking their fans back to some of the halcyon days just lately for all the right reasons. A young exciting team, a thrilling 3-3 draw, John Gregory at the heart of it all - it could almost be 1984 again if you close your eyes and wish hard enough.

I had a little walk down to the club to pick up tickets for the nasty side of the eighties experience before the match yesterday - the only thing more depressing than visiting Luton is buying tickets committing you to visit Luton in the future. Walking down South Africa Road at about half past four was a rather tired looking Mum - shopping under one arm, small child in school uniform swinging like a chimp from the other.

"Can we got to the football again tonight Mum, please can we go," said the deluded little scamp.

"Just wait and see what your Dad brings home for you," said the exasperated parent.

Obviously Dad duly turned up with two match tickets because five minutes before kick off the little lad took his seat four rows behind me - all bright eyed and excited wrapped up in a new QPR scarf.

Coming the other way was John Gregory looking slim, healthy and tanned. He spoke to a couple of people outside the merchandise hut, and again at the entrance. Nothing was too much trouble, all done with a big smile on his face. Two wins and a draw from his opening three matches and the feel good factor was back at Loftus Road for the first time in many a long month. When the kids from the White City estate are nagging their parents to take them to QPR v Derby you're certainly doing something right.

All in all everybody was far too happy last night. Many had spent their Sunday lunch time watching Derby meekly surrender to ten man Plymouth and most were hoping for more of the same at Loftus Road.

The atmosphere in the pubs before hand was positive and everybody was laughing and joking up in the seats before the match - even when they heard that Gregory had stuck with the same cataclysmically awful defensive line up that shipped three goals at home to Norwich on Saturday. What did it matter? With Cook and Rowlands on fire down the wings, Bircham running the midfield and new boy Jimmy Smith doing his very best Mark Kennedy loan impression behind an exciting front two of Jones and Blackstock who needs a defence?

Well, we do actually, and quickly too. Rangers managed to hold out for just three minutes before knifing the feel good factor right through the heart. A long ball forward from the back found Howard who powered above Stewart to nod the ball down. Rehman was nowhere to be seen as the second ball dropped loose and with him and the rest of the defence retreating frantically towards their own goal Morten Bisgaard was able to bring the ball down, shift it out of his feet, pick his spot and curl a wonderful shot around Jones and into the bottom corner.

For the third time in three games Rangers were behind with the time still in single figures. This was even harder to take than the Norwich and Southampton set backs because QPR had clearly made a conscious effort to stop it happening again - they'd come out of the blocks well despite Steve Lomas passing the ball twenty yards to an unmarked Derby player after receiving it from the kick off. Martin Rowlands had a free kick blocked away for a corner and from that Stewart caused havoc and Derby had to a neutralise a scramble in their six yard box with a big booming clearance from Johnson.

At Southampton and against Norwich QPR responded well to the early goal against and they did so again last night. Almost immediately Cook made Edworthy look like a complete fool and delivered a terrific cross to the back post. Blackstock arrived unmarked and looked certain to score against one of his former clubs but Derby keeper Lee Grant got across and managed to palm the ball behind with an excellent save. Blackstock couldn't believe he'd missed.

Undeterred Rangers kept the pressure on from the corner. Derby couldn't clear their lines and when the ball dropped on the edge of the area Jimmy Smith brushed aside the challenges to hammer an unstoppable half volley over Grant and into the roof of the net.

Derby seemed disheartened, Rangers were full of themselves. Twice Cook was unlucky not to force Rangers in front. Firstly a neat piece of play on the halfway line between Cook and Bignot had the former tearing away down the line. He delivered a good cross which Michael Johnson did well to head out for a corner with Blackstock and Jones waiting to pounce.

Later Cook collected possession on the half way line and ran past three Derby players before being crudely chopped down by Bolder on the edge of the area. Bolder was booked and bearing in mind he's hacked Marc Bircham down from behind earlier in the half he was perhaps lucky not to be sampling some early bath water.

In between these two incidents Paul Jones produced a quite remarkable save to deny Lupoli. The QPR defence comprehensively fell apart as Derby worked the ball wide to their right and when the cross came over nobody could get close to the Arsenal loan man as he powered in at the back post. Jones flung himself across more in hope than expectation but managed to keep it out somehow and the ball was eventually scrambled over the cross bar. The Loft End gave Jones a standing ovation when the commotion died down - it was reminiscent of that world class save from Royce to deny Akinbiyi against Burnley last Christmas.

In the thirtieth minute Seth Johnson let fly with a free kick from twenty five yards after Bircham had been penalised. The ball whipped round the side of the QPR wall and screamed towards the top corner but Jones produced a spectacular one handed save to divert it wide for a corner. This was the first of several occasions where the wall QPR set up, that was being lined up by an outfield player behind the ball rather than the keeper, served as neither use nor ornament for one of Johnson's free kicks.

The warning shots had been fired but the Rangers defence continued to flap around as if they'd never met each other. In the thirty second minute disaster struck. Lupoli was again given the freedom of the penalty area to get an effort in on goal which Jones parried but unsurprisingly it was a Derby player, Howard, who reacted first and fired into the top corner. Howard wheeled away celebrating as the Rangers defence stood looking at each other.

The home crowd fell silent which did afford us the opportunity of a quick insight into the chaos unfolding back there - as yet another ball dropped on the edge of the area Jones could be heard screaming "talk to each other, talk to each other, tell him what you're doing, it's not f***ing hard" at Stewart and Rehman.

Despite the lack of a defence Rangers were playing well going forward and they could have equalised within minutes of going behind for a second time. More good work down the left side, this time from Cook and Ray Jones, resulted in a clever pass from the latter being played in behind Mark Edworthy. Dexter Blackstock smelt a chance and chased the loose ball down, Edworthy tried to shepherd it back to his keeper but failed and suddenly the QPR man was goal side with a second equaliser begging to be scored. Edworthy realised his mistake and in similar fashion to Rehman on Huckerby on Saturday hauled him back. Blackstock collapsed, flicking the ball goalwards at the same time, but Johnson was in the right place at the right time to clear and referee Mick Thorpe saw no reason to award QPR a first penalty of the season.

After the second Derby goal John Gregory spent time rapidly rotating Martin Rowlands' position on the field. After starting wide on the right he spent time in the middle, up front, behind the front two and as a double act with Cook wide left. This gave the team a bit of a one sided look and the only time they actually did have a chance to cut through down the right Lomas under cooked a simple thirty yard pass that, if played properly, would have sent Rowlands through on goal.

The game petered out to half time with no further action but the second period started at a frenetic pace. Two minutes after the break another loose ball on the edge of the area was cleared against Howard by Stewart and the ball flew a foot over the cross bar. Then at the other end Cook's cross to the back post was won in the air by Blackstock who nodded it down into the six yard box but nobody was there to take advantage and Johnson hacked it away.

Rowlands sent a long range effort wide but the hour mark signalled the start of a concerted period of pressure from Derby during which they should have scored at least once. The problems for QPR began when Lupoli was withdrawn for Stead - a substitution that, along with the Derby free kick awarded just prior to it, took more than two minutes out of the game with no action taken from the referee.

Johnson hit the wall when the set piece was eventually taken but they went a lot closer two minutes later. Again the wall was lined up by an outfield player, Rowlands this time, and again it seemed to be covering neither side of Jones' goal. Indeed Bisgaard curled the ball around it with a minimum of fuss and Paul Jones had to produce a terrific one handed save right down in the bottom corner to deny the Dane a second goal.

In the sixty fourth minute Rehman again allowed a long ball to drop on the edge of the penalty area. Steve Howard took hold of possession, turned the former Fulham man with ease and looked certain to make it 3-1 only to be denied by a tremendous one handed save from Jones. Derby kept the pressure on from the resulting corner and Stead surprised everybody with a thunderous twenty yarder which bounced back into play off the foot of the post. Stead collected the ball again and while cursing his luck swung over a lovely cross which Howard beat Stewart to and headed against the cross bar.

Somehow Rangers were still in the game but with Howard crawling all over the Rangers centre backs and nobody knowing what to do with Stead it seemed only a matter of time before County buried them once and for all.

Frustrations grew when Mick Thorpe managed to make the worst decision ever given by a referee in the history of the game, closely followed by the second worse. First a ball from Bircham down the left looking for Cook was cleared by Johnson straight into the face of his team mate Edworthy. The home fans rather unsportingly cheered the visitors' mishap but Edworthy saw the funny side and got straight up. Quite incredibly, despite there being no QPR player within five yards of the incident, and with Edworthy trying to rub some feeling back into the face that had just knocked the ball into the stand, Mr Thorpe gave the throw to Derby.

Lee Cook and Marc Bircham were furious with the official who, clearly revelling in his own incompetence, laughed in their faces. Within thirty seconds Cook had channelled his anger into a tackle which stripped Bisgaard of the ball on the edge of his own area. Thorpe raced across whistle in mouth and with a big extravagant sweep of the arm awarded a free kick. Cook hacked the ball into the Loft in frustration as was booked.

Derby then broke to the School End and fashioned a gift chance for Bolder which he somehow skewed wide from two yards out.

With fifteen minutes remaining Blackstock held the ball up on the edge of the box very well before teeing up Smith who volleyed just over but Derby were running the clock down very effectively and Rangers chance looked to have gone. Jones denied Stead at one end while Bircham's long range effort was palmed away by Grant as the game headed towards full time.

Kevin Gallen came on for Ray Jones and immediately engaged in a pathetic argument with Bircham over who should be wearing the captain's armband. He won a surprisingly large amount of headers, and passed the ball well in his time on the pitch but never looked like scoring and didn't pose the same threat as even a knackered and injured Ray Jones might have done.

In the eightieth minute Rehman fed Lomas the ball in the right back slot and after dithering in possession for a few seconds Lomas beautifully picked out Howard, unmarked and ready to torment Rangers again forty yards from goal. Of course this was Rehman's fault and rather than accept some responsibility Lomas got stuck into him. Gregory immediately replaced Lomas with Scott Donnelly but Scott made little impact and even fell over a ball allowing it to drift out for a throw in injury time just to sum up the evening.

Thorpe added four minutes of stoppage time, three of which were taken up by Leacock suffering a nasty bang to the head, and QPR fashioned one more chance when a low cross from Blackstock found Rowlands three yards from goal but Johnson did enough to force the ball wide and the game was lost.

I was unlucky enough to miss Saturday's thriller but from what I can gather the attack was excellent but the defence was abysmal. It was certainly that way last night.

Steve Howard was the best player on the pitch - neither Rehman or Stewart knew what to do with him and it took 85 minutes before somebody won a header against him. That doesn't necessarily have to be a problem if you set yourself up properly and make sure you deal with the second ball as it bounces down from Howard's flick ons but the Bisgaard goal was a prime example of how we couldn't even do that.

Rehman was all over the place all night, a terrible display and Stewart wasn't much better. Lomas looked every inch the emergency right back he is - he gave the ball away from the kick off and got steadily worse from there.

The only defender to emerge with any credit was Marcus Bignot who, like Lomas, was playing out of position on the left but he put a huge amount of effort into his performance, took some responsibility and added to the side both at the back and going forward. If I was Paul Jones I'd retire - he really doesn't need to be playing behind three idiots like that at his age. Five goals conceded in two home games and the goalkeeper has been man of the match in both - that tells its own story.

In midfield Bircham was consistently good throughout, Smith started very brightly and scored a good goal but faded and only really came back into the match in the final fifteen minutes. Cook had a blinder in the first half but was pretty anonymous in the second apart from one cross which Blackstock nodded down and should have been converted. Rowlands played well but seemed to suffer from constantly changing his position between wide right, central and up front.

Blackstock missed three very good chances on the night but looked lively, Ray Jones continued to improve as a target man with every game.

All in all bitterly disappointing. A one point haul from two home games against middle of the road sides is not clever and Rangers have a lot of pressure on their shoulders ahead of a trip to a truly awful Sheffield Wednesday side on Saturday.

QPR: P Jones 9, Lomas 4 (Donnelly 81), Stewart 4, Rehman 3, Bignot 7, Rowlands 6, Bircham 7, Smith 7, Cook 7, Blackstock 6, R Jones 6 (Gallen 73, 6).
Subs not used: Royce,Ward, Mancienne.
Scorers: Smith 6
Bookings: Cook 57, Rehman 80

Derby County: Grant 8, Edworthy 5, Camara 6, Bolder 6, Leacock 7 (Boertien 90, -), M Johnson 7, Bisgaard 8 (Moore 84, -), Howard 9, Lupoli 8 (Stead 61, 8), S Johnson 8, Oakley 7.
Subs not used: Bywater, Smith.
Scorers: Bisgaard 3, Howard 32
Bookings: Bolder 25, S Johnson 55, Edworthy 65

Attendance: 10, 882

QPR Star Man: Paul Jones 9 - Five outstanding saves kept the score respectable. He must be sick and tired of playing behind Lomas, Rehman and Stewart at the moment. Apart from Bignot the defence is offering him nothing by way protection and they're relying on him to dig them out of a hole time and time again.

Referee: M Thorpe 3 - Awarding Derby a throw in after the ball hit Edworthy in the face was quite honestly the worst decision I've ever seen at a football match. It was so blatantly wrong. Within minutes he'd incorrectly penalised Cook and then booked him - referees are supposed to calm situations and protect the players, he seemed determined to wind them up. Constant use of the whistle, took an absolute age to book anybody, apparently penning a couple of chapters of his latest novel in his note book each time. Failed to clamp down on time wasting, bought every dive Howard and Bircham made all night. All in all absolute crap.

Photo: Action Images



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