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Rangers seal Championship survival
Rangers seal Championship survival
Saturday, 21st Apr 2007 22:01

QPR are safe in the Championship after a fifth win in seven games. Cardiff were the victims this time, beaten by a first half goal from Dexter Blackstock.

Celebrating a great escape from relegation always seems a little hollow to me. "Hooray we've lost 20 matches" or "thank God we're slightly less shit than Leicester City" hardly has the same ring to it as "we're going to Wemberleeeee" or "we are the champions."

I used to watch the pictures of Carlisle United supporters running onto the pitch after the last game every season when they'd managed to scrape together sufficient points to finish second bottom of the football league again and wonder if finishing 91st out of 92 was all those poor bastards aspired to. Of course they've turned it around a bit since actually getting relegated and are now a League One side - that's irrelevant really, just tying up the anecdote.

We probably looked like those mad Carlisle fans yesterday. John Gregory was crying and Marcus Bignot was signing down the microphone, fans were hugging and starting QPR chants at Shepherds Bush tube station. This was no cup semi final win though, this was a scrappy, nerve jangling one nil win over a poor Cardiff City team to secure our Championship status. Time for a post mortem on how we ended up in this mess rather than a drink up you'd think but on the day there was nothing hollow about it.

Allow me to take you back for a moment to a seven day period in September when I decided the game was up and started searching for Yeovil in my Reader's Digest book of the road. "Just past Birmingham" my Dad used to say - liar! A home defeat against Birmingham sealed by a Cameron Jerome goal after Matthew Rose again allowed a ball to bounce on the edge of his own area, again got out muscled and again allowed his man to get a shot away, followed by an embarrassing performance at Colchester and an even worse one at Port Vale in the League Cup.

Look at the team we turned out for those games. Paul Jones, Rose, Stewart, Rehman, Milanese, Oliseh, Ward, Bircham, Cook, Nygaard and Blackstock against Birmingham. Cole, Baidoo and Ray Jones came in for the Colchester game, Bignot, Kanyuka, Bailey and Czerkas for the Vale one. That was a League One side waiting to happen. That's why this is worth celebrating.

John Gregory came in and rebuilt that side mid season. It's unrecognisable now, of that rabble of 18 listed there only Bignot, Blackstock, Cook and Stewart can count themselves as first choice at the club now, and only three others are anywhere around the first team squad at all. He's brought in a new spine of the side - Camp, Cullip and particularly Bolder have been inspired signings.

Not only have we survived but hopes are high for next season and Gregory, who at one stage looked like he might be heading back to the television studio with the job too difficult for him, now has the task of keeping supporters' feet on the ground.

On Saturday Gregory was without two of his best signings Mancienne and Cullip. Stewart and Kanyuka started together at the back with Timoska and Bignot at full back ahead of Camp. That back five had looked unsure of itself in the second half at Sunderland and with Michael Chopra lying in wait in the Cardiff attack there were a few pre-match nerves knocking around in the members bar. In midfield Bolder and Lomas anchored the centre, Rowlands and Cook played on the flanks - a welcome sight to have arguably our two most naturally talented attacking players in the team at the same time for a change. Up front Nygaard partnered Blackstock.

Cardiff went into the game without captain Purse and it showed. Kevin McNaughton battled gamely alongside Roger Johnson but didn't really know how to cope with Nygaard and Blackstock and mix ups and loose balls around the Welsh side's penalty box littered the first half.

For the second time in four games Uriah Rennie failed to show for his scheduled appointment and Mick Thorpe was his replacement as referee.

Cardiff got straight down to work from the kick off and within the opening minute Adam Bolder was penalised for a foul on Chopra after Stewart and Kanyuka had challenged for the same ball. Chopra picked himself up and fired a 25 yard free kick just wide of the post with Camp beaten. The bounce of the ball behind the goal had the small Cardiff following in the School End on their feet celebrating which caused great amusement among the home fans.

Five minutes later it was the QPR fans left to reflect on just how the ball had stayed out of the net after a fantastic chance at the School End went begging. Dexter Blackstock headed a cross from Rowlands down to Lomas who flicked the ball over the advancing goalkeeper Forde and towards the gaping goal. Nygaard seemed certain to force the ball home and make sure but hesitated and allowed Roger Johnson to clear from the line. Johnson required treatment from the physio before the resulting corner could be taken.

QPR certainly didn't play a lot of pretty football, but every Cardiff player was mercilessly closed down and forced into errors when in possession. Bolder and Lomas were key figures in this game plan while Nygaard and Blackstock gave the centre halves all they wanted in a tough physical battle. Consequently the ball rarely made it out of the Cardiff half but Rangers struggled to create clear chances. Blackstock hit a fresh air shot and Bolder hammered over the bar as Rowlands and Cook sent cross after cross into the penalty area. Johnson's miscued back pass needed tipping around the post by Forde as Cardiff continued to wilt in the afternoon sun.

With 20 minutes played QPR should have been presented with the ideal chance to take the lead when Bolder stormed into the penalty area and was hacked down by McPhail. It looked a blatant penalty but Mick Thorpe, no more than five yards from the incident, waved it away and was promptly chased down the pitch by Bolder and Lomas who sought an explanation.

All that was forgotten two minutes later though when Rangers opened the scoring. Lee Cook worked a short corner routine with Rowlands and delivered a perfect cross into the area for Blackstock to head home from eight yards after being left unmarked. Number 14 of the season for Blackstock, and his fifth in six matches at just the right time of the season.

Rangers continued to pressure the man in possession for the rest of the half, but didn't have Cardiff penned in quite as much as they had. Luckily the visitors posed very little threat in attack. Thompson and Chopra were being well marshalled by Stewart and Kanyuka. City forced two set pieces in the final five minutes of the half - the first, a corner from Whittingham, was brilliantly caught under pressure by Camp. The second saw McPhail release Flood behind the defence with a quick free kick but his pull back shot through the six yard box without Thompson getting a touch when it seemed easier to score.

Straight after the break Thompson wasted another half chance in the area while Chopra sent a stinging first time half volley in on goal that Camp did well to claim cleanly as it bounced in front of him. Chopra was a cause of much discussion on the rail replacement coach service home afterwards - he's certainly a striker that plays the percentages; get enough shots on target and one will go in, stand offside all the time and flag will stay down once, dive about and moan all the time and sooner or later you'll get a decision. This snap shot volley when others would have looked for a touch and run summed up why he's got so many goals this season - show him the posts and his eyes light up. You can't leave him alone for a minute and luckily Stewart and Kanyuka, who'd struggled so much with David Connolly the week before, were right on their game this time.

At the other end Rangers' attack posed their opponents different problems. Marc Nygaard was getting the usual rounds of the kitchen from portions of the crowd, who started chanting for Paul Furlong long before his introduction, but I actually thought Nygaard did a good job. He worked his arse into the ground throughout the game, winning most of the flick ons and denying his marker a free header when he couldn't get them. Towards the end of the game he turned into a makeshift centre half with some crucial clearances inside his own box and in my opinion the stick he got yesterday was totally unjustified.

Referee Thorpe also felt the wrath of the home crowd around the hour mark when he failed to produce a red card for Kerrea Gilbert. The on loan Arsenal right back was booked for a tackle on Lee Cook and then within seconds launched into a much worse challenge on Nygaard right by the dug outs. Thorpe chose to keep the cards in his pocket this time but Dave Jones had seen enough and promptly replaced Gilbert with Paul Parry. He went to the left, Joe Ledley went to left back, Chris Gunter came across to the right back slot. Adam Bolder was finally booked for a culmination of numerous offences after 67 minutes of begging for a card.

Gregory introduced Smith for Rowlands who'd put in a massive shift of tireless running and tackling all over the park with little reward but as the half wore on Cardiff enjoyed more and more time in the Rangers red zone. Their best chance came when Ledley's free kick found Nygaard napping at the back post, Johnson chipped the ball past Camp but Stewart swooped in to clear the ball out for a corner as Thompson threatened to tap into the empty net.

Marcus Bignot really put his body on the line in the final ten minutes, coming up with two or three brave blocks in and around the penalty area. The best of which came when Parry burst into the area, played a one two with Thompson and set the ball back for Chopra who would have scored but for Bignot hurling himself at the former Newcastle man's feet. Bignot has just gone from strength to strength this season under John Gregory and is one of the few out of contract players that we should definitely be looking to get signed up for next season.

When Chopra did eventually get a clean strike away the ball flew straight at Camp who caught easily - his only save of the afternoon. Camp did impress with an excellent command of the penalty area and safe pair of hands under the crosses Cardiff pumped into the penalty area. Dave Jones sent on Warren Feeney for the lumbering Thompson and also introduced youth team graduate Blake to little effect.

As time wore on the back four just kept getting stronger and more confident. Despite a lengthy period of stoppage time it was clear Cardiff weren't going to breach the back line. Gregory sent Furlong on for Blackstock and, unlike at Sunderland last week, he did exactly what we needed him to do. Holding the ball up, bringing the midfield into play, giving the defence a break and winning free kicks in the Cardiff half. Furlong and Nygaard played a key role in the closing stages, frustrating Cardiff.

The City frustration started to boil over as the Rangers fans began celebrating the victory. Ledley's crude lunge on Nygaard earned him a booking. Marcus Bignot and Lee Cook also got late yellows for fouls.

At the final whistle Chopra's petty reaction to Lee Camp's offer of a handshake sparked a melee during which the striker picked up his second yellow and a red. Camp foolishly went back for another word and was booked himself before being led away by Marcus Bignot to celebrate with his team mates.

If you're still not keen on this celebrating 18th place in the league malarkey then maybe you can raise a glass to this. Wins for QPR, Barnsley and Leicester yesterday means it's effectively between Hull City and Leeds United for that final relegation spot. That's akin to a fight to death between Jade Goody and Alastair Campbell - whoever leaves the ring in the rubber bag is irrelevant, society will be better off regardless of what happens.

If Southend can pull off a miracle escape and relegate both of them I'm not sure sperm banks up and down the country will be able to cope under the flood of product forthcoming from 98% of British football fans. The best bit is we can watch it unfold from a safe distance after a superb run of form as the season has climaxed.

If you still can't crack a smile then how about this; we do not have to go to Kenilworth Road next season. You Championship R's.

QPR: Camp 7, Bignot 7, Kanyuka 8, Stewart 8, Timoska 7, Rowlands 7 (Smith 70, 7), Bolder 8, Lomas 7, Cook 7, Nygaard 7, Blackstock 7 (Furlong 83, -)
Subs not used: Cole, Milanese, Bailey
Scorer: Blackstock 22
Bookings: Bolder 67 (repetitive fouling), Bignot 87 (foul), Cook 90 (foul), Camp 90 (unsporting conduct)

Cardiff City: Forde 7, Gilbert 7 (Parry 56, 6), McNaughton 4, Johnson 6, Gunter 6, Whittingham 6, McPhail 6, Flood 6 (Blake 74, 6), Ledley 6, , Chopra 6, Thompson 5 (Feeney 71, 5)
Subs: Alexander, Green
Bookings: Chopra 19 (foul), Gilbert 53 (foul), Ledley 90 (foul)
Red Card: Chopra 90 (second booking, fighting)

QPR Star Man - Adam Bolder 8 - Both centre halves impressed but Bolder takes it for me. The game plan was clearly to hassle Cardiff into mistakes whenever they had the ball and Bolder led from the front in this. A complete pain in the Cardiff arse all day. Great signing.

Referee: Mr M Thorpe 6 - Missed what looked like a blatant penalty in the first half and although he deserves credit for allowing the game to flow in the second half, at times he needed to blow for a few more things just to keep tempers in check. Ultimately he got a fight on his hands at the final whistle. Very kind to leave Gilbert on. Not the worst performance I've seen from him by any means, but he's not a great referee.

Attendance: 12, 710

Photo: Action Images

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