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Rangers comeback halted by poor pen decision
Rangers comeback halted by poor pen decision
Saturday, 21st Oct 2006 16:14

QPR performed their time honoured trick of rolling over and giving a caretaker manager the perfect start on Saturday.

John Gregory's admission after the match that Rangers are in a relegation dog fight is a worrying one. It's not something we didn't know already of course, but when you think of scraps to stay in a league you think of teams relying heavily on defence, frustrating sides away from home, scraping points here and there, nicking the odd goal.

QPR are no more capable of that than flying to the moon on the team bus. They have a front four worthy of one of the division's finest sides which will be very useful over what promises to be a long hard winter. The problem is they have a back four worthy of the Unibond League. Despite scoring six goals in the last three games Rangers have taken just one point. Come back Danny Shittu all is forgiven!

The past week has been like paying to watch a Kevin Keegan wet dream.

After Derby's two for one declared victory at Loftus Road on Tuesday almost every website, media outlet and supporter expected new Chelsea loan signing Michael Mancienne to make his debut in the QPR defence, probably at centre half alongside Damion Stewart.

Gregory had other ideas though. He stuck with the same side that had won just one point from the previous two home games with Mancienne starting on the bench once again. His fellow Chelsea loan star Jimmy Smith started in midfield with Bircham. Rowlands and Cook were the wingers supplying Ray Jones and Dexter Blackstock the strikers. Bignot, Lomas, Stewart and Rehman once again formed the division's worst back four with Paul Jones wondering why on earth he was bothering at his age between the sticks behind Zippo's travelling circus.

Sheffield Wednesday lost 4-0 at Colchester on Wednesday night, a result that led to the sacking of popular manager Paul Sturrock. The Wednesday fans could be heard voicing their disgust at the chairman's actions long before the kick off. Dave Allen said on Thursday they were looking for a manager to take them out of this league (the right way) but already Burnley have knocked back his approach for Steve Coterill so presumably he's already playing for second choice - nothing like a bit of forward planning before sacking a manager!

All in all Wednesday looked to be there for the taking and if QPR had got their noses in front I got the impression that the whole set up in the home ranks would have imploded. Three times in the opening ten minutes Rangers went close to getting that crucial breakthrough. Twice Lee Cook crossed for Dexter Blackstock to send efforts on goal with a half volley and then a diving header - both saves were comfortable for Brad Jones in the Wednesday goal and Blackstock should have done better with both chances.

At the third time of asking Cook tired of setting his team mates up and went for goal himself, twisting his full back inside out, cutting into the area and firing a shot towards the top corner which Jones apparently tried to catch, fumbled and just about got it up and over the bar.

Wednesday looked disinterested, keen to make a point to the chairman with a poor performance and defeat, all Rangers had to do was score. Rather than do that, in true QPR style, they decided to hand the home side an opening goal on a plate and change the whole direction of the game.

In the thirteenth minute Jimmy Smith dallied in possession in the centre circle and ultimately passed the ball straight to Deon Burton. The former Rotherham striker accelerated away towards the QPR goal and with the travelling circus short handed he was able to bide his time and play the perfect bass through to Tudgay who easily freed himself of Rehman's attentions and slid the ball past Jones into the bottom corner.

The twenty two thousand home fans celebrated, but seemed a little uneasy with this development and reaffirmed their protests against Allen with a big chorus of 'sack the board' before the celebrations had even died down. I wonder if they keep taking the lead and winning games and the sacking of Sturrock turns out to be a masterstroke just how long these bizarre goal celebrations mixed with protests will last.

Rangers went on the attack again straight from the kick off but Wednesday were confident and determined all of a sudden and although QPR kept the ball in and around the penalty area for a prolonged period of pressure after a quarter of an hour Bougherra, Simek and Hills came up with brave blocks and tackles and ultimately Rowlands hammered an ambitious shot into the sparsely populated away end.

At the other end the collection of Moscow state acrobats was disintegrating at an alarming rate. In the twenty first minute Lomas continued his form of Tuesday night with a beautiful pass to the feet of Wednesday's Chris Brunt, he lofted a cross to the back post and with the clowns scrambling round the area short handed Deon Burton missed a chance to tap into an open goal when he waited too long and Stewart got back with a block.

More sloppy passing in their own half by QPR a moment later forced Bignot to cynically hack down Wade Small as he threatened to stroll through another gaping hole that had appeared in the QPR backline. Bignot was booked, and when Smith charged the free kick down by bursting out of the wall too soon he was also carded. Eventually Brunt sent a twenty five yard dead ball effort over the bar.

In a rare QPR attack Ray Jones went close to equalising after thirty minutes. A long ball from the right flank by Rowlands enabled Jones to control and turn into the penalty area past Bougherra. Nobody had managed to get up in support of Jones so he took on a half volley from a tight angle which Brad Jones parried over the bar for a corner which QPR wasted. Jones continues to look like an accomplished Championship striker despite his tender years - Wednesday's Tommy Spurr will certainly be glad to see the back of him after taking a battering on Saturday.

The vast majority of the football, if it could be called that, was taking place at the Kop end of the ground. Time after time Lomas was found lacking at right back, a cross was swung over and Rangers were short handed. Ten minutes before half time the worst of these incidents saw the ball flash all the way across the face of the goal, QPR were outnumbered five to three in their own box, but Wade Small side-footed a simple chance wide.

The only further effort on goal Rangers managed before half time came from a free kick awarded after a theatrical fall from Blackstock on the edge of the area. Cook curled the ball over the wall but it lacked sufficient height or power to trouble Brad Jones who caught the ball with both hands.

Keith Hill added two minutes of time onto the end of the half but Bircham and Deon Burton both received treatment during that time and had to be replaced. That meant that seven minutes ended up being played. Gregory replaced Bircham with Mancienne who donned his red nose and floppy wig in order to fit in with the other jokes in the back four and slotted in at right back. Lomas was mercifully removed from the full back role he seems wholly uncomfortable with, and placed in a more orthodox central midfield position. Wednesday slung former Scunthorpe and Glasgow Rangers striker Steven MacLean into the amiable chaos that Tudgay and Burton had been revelling in.

The confusion and extra, extra time was all too much for Coco, Chuckles and the gang and just before four o'clock Marcus Tudgay added a second goal for the home side. Confusion at the heart of the area between Rehman and Stewart saw the ball bouncing loose in the eighteen yard box for an ungodly amount of time. Despite the lack of interference from any of the Wednesday players, most of whom were standing open mouthed watching Stewart and Rehman contrive to produce a goal to concede under no pressure, the ball wasn't properly cleared and eventually fell to Mancienne. The loaned youngster seemed nervous on his professional debut and came up with a very poor clearance which enabled Brunt to cross back into the disaster zone and Tudgay rose unchallenged at the back post to head home with ease.

This was no more than Tudgay deserved as Wednesday's most dangerous player, and no more than idiots in the QPR defence deserved for their efforts in opening fifty minutes.

The whistle went soon after and the QPR backline trooped off to restock on custard pies. Mancienne remained on the field during half time to undergo a thorough warm up with Joe Dunbar and in fairness he did improve in the second half after a nervy start.

QPR started the second half as they had the first, this time though when two chances fell to Blackstock he took both of them. First a fantastic cross from Cook caused confusion between Bougherra and Brad Jones and Blackstock swept the ball into the bottom corner.

Four minutes later Rangers were level when Blackstock and Cook combined successfully again. Cook swung a left footed ball over, Brad Jones hesitated again and Blackstock dived to head an equaliser into the bottom corner.

The protests came through again from the home fans who also started to dish out some abuse, boos and jeers for their keeper Brad Jones among others.

The game seemed to be there for the taking. Wednesday were initiating a strategic withdrawal and seemed devoid of the pace and confidence they'd shown at the end of the first half. All QPR had to do was keep playing the same way - get the ball to Cook and Rowlands as often as possible and wait for the goals to flow.

For some unknown, infuriating, reason Cook waited fifteen minutes after the second goal to be passed the ball in the Wednesday half again. In that time Martin Rowlands pulled up with an injury and was replaced wide on the right by Nick Ward.

Gregory had clearly told his team to get the ball out to the flanks at half time and after doing that for ten minutes they'd scored two and drawn level. Why did they stop? Why were Cook and Rowlands so starved of possession as soon as Rangers pulled it back to 2-2?

Wednesday for their part abandoned their idea of collapsing altogether and fought back with terrific spirit. The pace and confidence came back for no apparent reason and two minutes after Rowlands left the field they were back in front. Ward gave the ball away three times in quick succession after coming on and on the third occasion Tudgay seized possession and threaded a pass through for MacLean to run clean through on goal.

MacLean never looked confident and hesitated in front of Paul Jones which enabled the Rangers keeper to get a boot to the ball and divert it away. MacLean hit the deck and referee Keith Hill awarded a penalty. I've seen the incident since on television and it looks like a penalty, so presumably the referee had a similar view, but I can assure you that Jones got a good foot to the ball, made minimal contact with MacLean and was unlucky. Strangely the referee only booked Jones when the rules surely dictated that a red card should have been shown although it was sad to see two Wednesday players running fifty yards to beg the referee to send the keeper off.

MacLean dusted himself down and sent Jones the wrong way from the spot.

Wednesday spent the final twenty five minutes waltzing through the QPR defence at will and running the clock down. Bougherra had a header from a corner cleared off the line by Cook and after more atrocious defending MacLean was presented with a good chance which he hammered over the bar.

Rangers only started getting Cook involved in the game in the final five minutes after Bignot had been replaced by Gallen. In four minutes of added on time Cook sent a cross shot flashing across the face of goal with Blackstock agonisingly out of reach as he tried to turn it into the net. In the final action of the match Cook carried the ball from the halfway line and sent a low shot in which bounced awkwardly but was safely saved by Jones nonetheless. Had it gone in it would have been hard for Wednesday to take - they were by far the better of the two sides and deserved their three points.

Gregory has five days now to work with the back four ahead of a colossal match with Leicester City next week. We absolutely must take three points from the Foxes ahead of tough games with WBA and Palace. At the moment, with those buffoons at the back, we need three goals just to guarantee a point which is a real shame because we actually have a superb front four for the first time in a long while.

We've solved the goal scoring problems of last season by purchasing Blackstock, but the money we've spent on the backline looks to be wasted at the moment. I still believe Stewart and Rehman can feature in a decent QPR defence, but they desperately need Pat Kanyuka, Michael Mancienne or somebody else (not Rose) between them because they don't trust each other and as a partnership they are frightening.

What isn't helping is the lack of protection from the midfield. All three goals came from possession conceded in the QPR half with Smith and Ward culpable for two of them. Smith may have scored two fantastic goals since arriving from Chelsea and impressed going forward but he offers little protection for the men behind him and Wednesday were able to walk through the middle of the QPR team time and time again. Once Bircham went off with Lomas moving in alongside Smith it was open house around the edge of the QPR penalty area.

Another concern will be the injuries to Bircham and Rowlands, both massive players for us at the moment. Currently the only thing we have going for us is the front four, if a key man is removed from that we really could be in trouble.

Plenty of work to do ahead of the Leicester game then, It promises to be a long winter in W12 if the defence continue to bear gifts in this fashion.

Sheff Wed: Jones 5, Simek 7, Hills 8, Bougherra 7, Spurr 6, Lunt 6, Folly 7, Small 7, Brunt 7, Tudgay 8 (Talbot 90 -), Burton 6 (MacLean 40, 7).
Subs Not Used: Adamson, Bullen, Whelan.
Booked: Simek.
Scorers: Tudgay 13, 45, MacLean 70 pen.

QPR: Paul Jones 5, Bignot 6 (Gallen 85, -), Rehman 3, Stewart 3, Bircham 5 (Mancienne 45, 5), Rowlands 6 (Ward 67, 3), Lomas 4, Cook 7, Smith 5, Ray Jones 6, Blackstock 7.
Subs Not Used: Royce, Rose.
Booked: Bignot, Smith, Ray Jones, Paul Jones.
Goals: Blackstock 50, 54.

Attendance: 23,813

QPR Star Man - Dexter Blackstock 7 - Two more goals, that's five for Rangers now, every one of them set up by Cook who moves to his usual position on top of the Championship's assists table. The pair of them are a fantastic combination - such a shame that they're being constantly let down by the idiots behind them.

Referee: K Hill (Hertfordshire) 4 - Blew his whistle constantly. Pulled people up for the most minimal of fouls, insisted that every free kick was taken from the exact spot of the foul, even if that meant making a player retake a kick by his own corner flag twice. Got the penalty decision wrong and then, having given it, failed to send off Paul Jones when he should have done. Did nothing about the time wasting at the end of the second half. Basically he was very, very picky which is quite unlike him.

Photo: Action Images

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