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Rowlands seals valuable three points
Rowlands seals valuable three points
Saturday, 23rd Dec 2006 20:42

QPR secured a priceless first win in six games at home to Barnsley on Saturday.

The goal, scored by Martin Rowlands, summed the encounter up perfectly and gave a hefty hint as to why Rangers have been so poor of late - four players involved in the move have endured injury problems and missed games in the past six weeks.

With players coming back from injury and the transfer window almost upon us Rangers must now work on restoring some confidence in themselves. Not so long ago QPR looked set to haul themselves up into play off contention with exciting wins against Palace, Luton and Cardiff but injuries to key players brought the run to an end and consecutive losses destroyed the side's self belief.

On Saturday Rangers were pretty dire again, but with some of their injured players back in the side against an appalling Barnsley team a win was always likely regardless of the performance. Hopefully the players can take heart from the three points and rebuild their spirit and confidence over the next few games.

Manager John Gregory had three key men back in his side after injury lay offs. Damion Stewart returned to the defence sporting a bizarre face mask after his freak training ground accident with Stefan Bailey. Steve Lomas was back in the midfield with Bircham dropped to the bench. Lee Cook mercifully returned to the left wing as the side reverted to its more favoured 4-4-2 formation.

Gareth Ainsworth missed out again but Martin Rowlands started wide right with Smith in the middle alongside Lomas so his absence wasn't felt quite so keenly as it has been in recent weeks. Bignot, Mancienne and Milanese completed the back four with Stewart, Rehman was dropped to the subs bench. Many fans have been crying out for this back four to be used for the past few months so there was an air of nervousness around Loftus Road at kick off - if this defence didn't work we really do have nothing else to offer back there.

In the height of pantomime season how apt that the threat in chief to the new look rear guard came from an old villain of the peace at Loftus Road Leon Knight. He started in attack for Barnsley with the words of his chairman ringing in his ears - 'start scoring or pack your bags.' Caretaker manager Simon Davey returned Anthony Kay and Grant McCann to his line up in place of Kyel Reid and Paul Heckingbottom.

QPR started brightly and forced Colgan into a desperate punch under his own cross bar from the first Lee Cook corner of the game. Cook then almost got on the end of a Jimmy Smith cross from the right but he's not renowned for worrying his full back with too many towering back post headers and Barnsley coped easily.

In the sixth minute a long ball forward from Bignot was won well in the air by Jones, Blackstock collected the loose ball in the penalty area via Smith and showed terrific skill and awareness to tee up Jones but Colgan denied the young contract rebel with a fine save from his volley. Blackstock was hunting for a rebound but with the aid of his defender Colgan was able to gather the ball at the second attempt. Colgan also gathered a mishit Martin Rowlands shot after an 11th minute scramble as Rangers dominated Barnsley in the opening stages.

After starting the game in such impressive form Colgan would no doubt have been devastated with the way QPR broke the deadlock on the counter attack. Down at the Loft end Mauro Milanese was lucky to get away with what looked like a blatant push on Daniel Nardiello in the penalty area and from there Rangers broke away to score.

Lee Cook cut in from the left and fed a great pass to Ray Jones who despite being badly fouled flicked the ball back into midfield, the referee played a good advantage and Rangers worked the ball out to Rowlands who took a touch to steady himself before firing a low shot on goal which Colgan somehow dived over and allowed to squeeze in. This type of width and option to work the ball from left to right with attacking players on both sides is something QPR have been unable to do while Cook, Lomas and Bircham have been out injured.

Rowlands is now top of the goal scoring chart this season with six, level with Dexter Blackstock. He celebrated his goal with a booking for a wild lunge on Howard and as the game wore on he put in a couple more questionable tackles and got involved in some afters on several occasions so he could perhaps count himself lucky to have stayed on. A particularly unsavoury skirmish with Neil Austin before half time was incredibly missed by the officials who surely would have shown Rowlands the way to the showers had they seen it.

Cook cut in from the left past Bobby Hassell and fired wide soon after the goal and Rowlands fired over from distance but taking the lead seemed to have a negative effect on Rangers and the goal scoring chances were soon replaced by nervy moments at the other end.

Simon Royce twice had to clear with a punch after decent Barnsley deliveries into the box and then a golden chance for the equaliser arrived when Knight burst through the offside trap. Stewart challenged him and forced him wide and then raced back to clear Knight's shot from the goal line and maintain the advantage. Knight's disappointment at not opening his Barnsley account was compounded with a couple of choice chants from the Q and R blocks coming his way as he trotted back to the halfway line.

Michael Mancienne had Royce to thank for preventing an embarrassing own goal when the on loan Chelsea defender deflected Paul Hayes' shot goalwards just after the half hour mark. Shortly after this Brian Howard dislocated his shoulder in a challenge with Jones. The big QPR striker was booked and Howard left the field under a blanket with a nasty looking injury. The lengthy stoppage and forced Barnsley reshuffle disrupted a patchy match still further and it crawled into half time with few further incidents of note.

QPR started the second half reasonably well as they had done the first. Dexter Blackstock did well to get up and meet Milanese's long throw but the flick on eluded Jones and what would have surely been the killer second goal. Again the main feeling around the ground, and apparently the team, was one of nervousness. Despite Steve Lomas' best attempts to drive the team on Barnsley soon climbed back on top in the game and should have equalised in the 53rd minute when Nardiello was presented with a guilt edged chance on the edge of the area by Paul Hayes but he sent his shot straight at Simon Royce.

Barnsley spent the final half hour of the match looking to take advantage of QPR's nerves without ever looking really likely to score. Indeed it was Rangers who created a number of half chances without managing to double their lead.

Blackstock fired wide just past the hour and Jimmy Smith somehow failed to connect with Lee Cook's perfect free kick from wide on the right. Cook looked set to score one himself when he collected a poor clearance and made his way into the penalty area but a crowd of defenders ended his progress before a shot could be dispatched goalwards.

It was one of Cook's quieter games of the season as he returned from injury, but even when he's not playing well his set piece delivery is a key weapon and Rangers looked a much more balanced outfit with Cook as an outlet down the left and Rowlands returning to his favoured role wide on the right. You can't beat a good 4-4-2 formation with everybody in their correct positions in my opinion.

QPR were forced into a change 20 minutes from time when Milanese left the field and was replaced by Rehman. The Italian left back had pulled up with what looked like a muscle strain right in front of me about five minutes before the change so presumably it was an injury induced substitution. I'd hope so because Milanese had played well at left back and Rehman's introduction seemed to set the whole defence on edge again with Bignot having to switch sides.

Rehman's first action in the match resulted in a Bransley free kick after a poor foul on Austin but Nardiello failed to test Royce from distance.

Ten minutes from time Rehman lost out in the air and Stewart was caught trying to nip in front of Nardiello which allowed the former Manchester United man a clear run into the area. Stewart caught him and forced the ball out for a corner.

As highlighted in the Crystal Palace horror show Stewart does like to try and come in front of the striker when a ball is played through. That game at Selhurst should have taught him what a bad idea this can be and although most of the time Stewart has enough pace to make it back and challenge the man again it would make life a lot easier if he'd just stay goal side and do a standard marking job rather than trying to be a hero.

Still a couple of these incidents apart Stewart was outstanding on his return to the defence.

Marc Bircham came on for the ineffective Smith a short time after Rehman had been introduced, and Furlong followed him on shortly afterwards but both subs struggled to have any kind of impact on the game.

I'd hope that Gregory considers starting Bircham and Lomas together against Birmingham on Boxing Day because Smith has become something of a passenger for long periods of recent games. Michael Mancienne started poorly and has blossomed in recent weeks while Smith's early form is now a distant memory - still it's unfair to expect consistency from young players learning their trade.

The Smith substitution followed a booking for a very poor tackle from behind on Austin which resulted in a fracas between both sets of players. That's Smith's fifth booking of the season and means a ban for the Norwich game, however as the end of this three month loan spell and the start of his next season long one leaves a three day gap including the Norwich game he's technically suspended for Chelsea v Fulham so it's a bit of a result for us. I did find myself wondering, such was the blatant nature of the foul and the change that followed immediately, whether he'd done it on purpose in a Beckham-like tactical move but then we'll never know that for sure.

Rowlands couldn't steer a volley on target four minutes from time when Kay sent a wild clearance into the air then in stoppage time a ball down to the left corner flag from Cook gave Blackstock the chance to run down the clock. Blackstock had other ideas though and turned inside his full back brilliantly before firing a powerful drive towards goal which Colgan clawed out of the top corner. From the resulting corner Lee Cook attempted to waste time by the flag, was wrestled away and ridiculously penalised.

Referees have obviously been told to penalise players for wasting time in the corners like this but it's now become a ridiculous situation where the team chasing the game can pretty much race over there and do what they like - shirt pulling, scything two footed challenges - it doesn't matter, it's always a free kick to the team chasing the game.

So a valuable three points for QPR as they continue the fight to reach the magic 50 point mark. They've taken ten points from the four teams below them in the league at the halfway stage but must travel to face Southend, Barnsley, Hull and Leeds before the end of the season and those games could have a massive bearing on QPR's fate this season.

Dexter Blackstock worked his socks off up front and really deserves to end his goal drought soon. Steve Lomas was a tower of strength in the midfield, making his early season form in Gary Waddock's team all the more frustrating. Clearly he wasn't going to put himself out for a manager who'd transfer listed him but he's back on form now. He misplaced a few passes but was excellent otherwise. It's hard to believe that the Lomas we saw yesterday was the same man who turned in one of the worst central midfield displays it's ever been my misfortune to see at Preston back in the summer. Damion Stewart was also impressive at the back, a couple of typically eccentric moments apart.

If they can prevent Cook from leaving, keep the likes of Lomas fit and in the side and build on a promising first outing for that back four line up then there's no reason why QPR can't still be in the Championship next season. We must try and avoid a total thrashing by Birmingham on Boxing Day - now players are coming back to fitness confidence is the key and a big defeat at St Andrews will make life difficult ahead of a more winnable trip to Norwich next weekend.

Merry Christmas to all Loft For Words readers.

QPR: Royce 7, Bignot 7, Milanese 6 (Rehman 67, 5), Rowlands 7 Lomas 7, Cook 6 Stewart 7, Jones 7 (Furlong 79, 5), Blackstock 8, Smith 5 (Bircham 70, 5), Mancienne 7.
Subs: Cole, Baidoo.
Scorers: Rowlands 15
Bookings: Rowlands 23, Jones 38, Smith 68

Barnsley: Colgan 7, Hassell 6, Reid 7, Togwell 8, Hayes 6 (Devaney 72, 6), Knight 6 (Richards 72, 6), Howard 6 (Reid 40, 7), Austin 6, Kay 6, Nardiello 6, McCann 6.
Subs: Letheran, Heckingbottom.
Bookings: Togwell 59

QPR Star man - Dexter Blackstock 8 - Somehow failed to score but put in an awesome shift of hard work at both ends of the field and did everything he could for the team. Showed a number of clever touches, great turn of pace and superb awareness throughout. The boy has a great attitude. Steve Lomas almost scooped the award this week for a really hard day's work in midfield but he just gave the ball away too often for me.

Referee: R J Booth 5 - Not bad but not the best. Missed a lot of fouls from both teams, including what looked like a nailed on Barnsley penalty for a push by Milanese, but deserves credit for a good advantage played in the lead up to the goal.

Attendance: 11, 307

Photo: Action Images

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