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Five straight defeats for R's
Five straight defeats for R's
Saturday, 16th Dec 2006 20:43

QPR slipped to a fifth straight defeat without scoring, or even having a shot in the final half hour of the game, against Wolves on Saturday.

I've held off giving my thoughts on Lee Cook in the match reports this season, particularly in the last few games when his absence and injury has seen the team's goals dry up and Rangers drift down the table.

I've done this because I know my praise of Cook in this column has become such a standing joke that I've started receiving signed pictures of him from well wishers and even a set of his infamous gloves.

Cook has now been out for three matches during which time QPR have failed to score or collect any points. Not only are Rangers not winning or scoring, they're not even going into the opposing half for any great length of time. When he does play, even if he's not setting the goals up himself, the opposition's insistence on double marking him often creates space elsewhere on the pitch for others.

So I'm starting with him for two reasons this week: firstly despite the above, and his match winning performances this season, there are still supporters who insist he's not all that good or important to QPR. Open your eyes. The last three games have been abysmal. Is it really acceptable that between the 65th minute at Crystal Palace and the 20th minute yesterday (almost two and half hours of football) we failed to register a serious shot on target?

Secondly there will no doubt be people at QPR with the pound signs rolling round in their eyes. Bills to pay, gates down - Lee Cook is the easy answer. If that's the case then not only does Chuckles need replacing at the back, but they'd better have a damn good idea of who is going to play left wing because QPR without Cook are by far and away the worst team in this league.

Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm blind to his faults, maybe I'm obsessed with the lad because his football excites me - hey I even saw somebody looking very much like him emerging from the tunnel at Upton Park today at half time in a West Ham hoodie. I've said it before and I'll say it again, by the end of this season I'll be in a secure unit of some kind.

In Cook's continued absence yesterday Gregory stuck with the 3-5-2 formation that he felt had worked well at Stoke contrary to all stats and other reports. Ray Jones was back from suspension but to make life tougher for Gregory, Stewart and Nygaard were both ruled out and Zesh Rehman returned.

Mancienne and Milanese joined Rehman in defence in front of Royce. Martin Rowlands replaced Bailey at right wing back, Marcus Bignot played left - although these two seemed to swap and change as Gregory sought an answer to another tepid display. Gallen, Smith and Bircham started in midfield behind Jones and Dexter Blackstock.

Wolves started young Welsh striker Craig Davies, without a goal in his four months at Wolves on loan from Verona, to try and end their recent scoring issues. However the visitors seemed very, very happy to hold on for a point in the first half - taking their time over goal kicks and set pieces, keeping everybody behind the ball and generally boring the pants off everybody.

QPR were absolute garbage for most of the game and therefore the first half was just about the dullest spectacle you could ever wish to see. Many in the South Africa Road stand were making their excuses 20 minutes before half time and heading for the bars - it really was that bad.

Rangers did create a chance after 20 minutes. Mauro Milanese swung over a great free kick from the right flank, Marc Bircham flicked it on and Jimmy Smith ghosted in behind everybody to head goalwards but Matt Murray produced a superb reflex save.

Moments later Marc Bircham let fly on the half volley from 25 yards out but the ball fizzed wide of the top corner with Murray beaten.

Murray was beaten again ten minutes before half time when he got in a mix up with Breen under a high cross and fumbled the ball to Martin Rowlands who hit an instinctive lobbed effort with the side of his foot over the bar.

In the final five minutes of the half Ray Jones had two good chances to give QPR the lead. First he towered above everybody to meet Jimmy Smith's cross but Murray produced an excellent one handed save. Then right on the whistle he collected the ball and turned Craddock on the edge of the box but fired wide of the post.

Immediately after half time he mishit a volley into the ground but with Blackstock, Little and others close by the shot was awkward for Murray who had to tip it over the bar.

Despite this Wolves looked a different side in the second half. From a team clearly happy to take home a dull nil nil in the first half, somebody pointed out to them just what a poor team QPR are during the half time break and they emerged for the second half with three points on their mind.

Seconds after Jones' effort, Wolves took the lead. Michael McIndoe broke down the left and as he headed for the byline the QPR back three were sucked into the six yard box. McIndoe cut the ball back and it found Michael Kightly via a deflection off Michael Mancienne and the former Grays man made no mistake, steering a cool finish into the corner.

Blackstock headed straight at Murray ten minutes later but that, as far as QPR were concerned, was that. No further efforts on goal were registered, despite Rangers apparently chasing the game.

No creation came from the midfield going forward and going backwards Wolves walked through them. Smith spent his day theatrically falling to the ground, Gallen did very little and Bircham was clearly lacking in fitness before being replaced in the second half.

When Bircham did go off it was Furlong who replaced him so the midfield went from uncreative and offering little protection, to totally non-existent.

In the 60th minute the otherwise excellent Mancienne was caught in possession by Kightly who raced through on goal. Despite his goal and an excellent all round display Kightly didn't have the confidence to take on the shot himself and tried a weak square ball to the supporting runners and the chance was gone.

The only time Rangers got a sniff of anything after this was when Ray Jones brilliantly turned past Gary Breen on halfway and set off for goal in a three on two situation. Typically Breen hauled Jones back, conceded a free kick, received a yellow card and then joined the other ten Wolves players back behind the ball.

Five minutes later Wolves waltzed through the QPR midfield again and Darren Potter, on loan from Liverpool, let rip from 25 yards. Only a world class save from Simon Royce denied him. Royce made another save at full stretch from Kightly ten minutes later.

Wolves coasted through the second half, they could have had a man sent off and it would have made no difference. Only McCarthy's ridiculous touchline antics when QPR refused to kick the ball out of play created a confrontation of any sorts - there was certainly no fight and desire on the pitch. For the record Mick, if your team have the ball and a man down and try to score but fail, don't expect QPR to then knock the ball out for you.

Bothroyd and Kightly both went close in the final ten minutes as Rangers surrendered quietly. For a club with thirteen midfielders on its books the lack of anything defensive or creative from anybody in the midfield over the past two and a half games is simply not good enough.

Not one player did the usual round of applause for the supporters at the final whistle.

Wolves fully deserved their win. They looked a steady side and with a couple of additions in January could start to move up towards the business end of the table. If they'd actually come with some ambition from the start yesterday they could well have been home and hosed by half time - as it was they only started to attack Rangers after the break but once they did there was only ever one side in it. Effectively they only played for 45 minutes yesterday and still won. They were far better than QPR.

A month ago Rangers were scoring goals for fun but also conceding them so three goal hauls against Norwich and West Brom that should have meant three points only resulted in draws. Now the defence seems to have sorted itself out to a large extent. Michael Mancienne was a clear man of the match yesterday for the third straight game - a better centre half you're unlikely to find at this level, which of course begs the question why he spent two months at right back.

Mauro Milanese alongside him was also excellent - questions about his continued absence from the team while Rehman and Stewart played like a couple of blind men should be raised also. QPR have conceded one controversial penalty and a break away goal in the two games that these two have played together - even Rehman looks comfortable with them.

However with Cook injured and the midfield forming a unit fit for League One if that, the previously impressive strike force of Jones and Blackstock have been left with scraps to feed on.

Rangers must hope Cook is fit next week, or work on a better plan b than a 3-5-2 formation if he's not, for the crucial six pointer against Barnsley.

Rangers have an excellent record against the men from Yorkshire and will be favourites to win the game at home - but a performance as poor as they've turned in over the past three games will yield only one result.

Expect a tiny crowd for it as well - I wouldn't be bothering myself if I was mentally sound.

QPR: Royce 8, Bignot 5, Rehman 6, Mancienne 8, Milanese 8, Rowlands 5, Smith 4, Bircham 6 (Furlong 66, 4), Gallen 4, Ray Jones 5, Blackstock 4.
Subs Not Used: Cole, Ward, Baidoo, Bailey.

Wolverhampton: Murray 8, Little 7, Breen 7, Craddock 7, McNamara 7,Kightly 8, Olofinjana 7, Potter 8, McIndoe 8, Bothroyd 7,Craig Davies 7 (Clarke 76, 6).
Subs Not Used: Oakes, Edwards, Johnson, Ricketts.
Booked: Breen, Bothroyd.
Goals: Kightly 49.

Attendance: 12,323

QPR Star Man - Michael Mancienne 8 - Clearly a class apart from anything else at this level when started at centre half. Why on earth was he stuck at right back for so long. Milanese and Royce were also both excellent - the rest were awful.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside) 5 - Overly fussy over the placing of free kicks and throw ins, never played the advantage rule, failed to clamp down on time wasting. All in all and irritating official.

Photo: Action Images



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