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Rangers win at long, long last
Rangers win at long, long last
Monday, 8th Oct 2007 11:43

QPR finally, finally secured their first win of the season by beating Norwich 1-0 at Loftus Road on Monday night.

You know that horrible bit of a dream where it's all going so well but then you realise it's too surreal and in fact you're asleep? Like when you finish opening Kara Tointon's blouse and it turns out she's got three breasts, or you're running through on goal in the FA Cup final and you look down to find the ball is actually a cabbage. It's normally followed by you waking up and having to go to work.

Well I'm sure that moment should have come at some point last night but looking at the papers this morning it seems that really happened. Not only did QPR win at last they did it courtesy of a penalty awarded by Peter Walton whose previous pathological fear of awarding Rangers a spot kick under any circumstances really should have seen him sectioned a long time ago and reared its head again for a time in this match.

More incredible still the game was played out in front of Naomi Campbell and Tamara Beckwith wearing QPR scarves in the directors box. At the end of the game Flavio Briatore, whose promise to always pick F1 races over QPR matches lasted barely a month, was seen gesticulating in the direction of the referee who added on six minutes of stoppage time - he's got the bug. QPR played a bit of football on the floor as well. It was all a little bit hard to believe and as the cameras focussed in on our director's box with a collection of super models and IT girls celebrating a goal from Martin Rowlands I was expecting my horrible alarm clock to bring me back to reality.

It was all rather bizarre, and the celebrations at the end made it look like we'd won a cup of some sort. Ultimately this is only three points and we're still bottom - but we do now have more points on the league table than I do on my driving license which can only be a good thing. It's difficult to know how much of the improvement in our team and the result we owe to the poor quality of the opposition. Norwich are clearly the worst side to visit Loftus Road since we were in the division below and barely threatened Camp all evening. Peter Grant left the club after the match and frankly after watching his team play like that and fail to score for the sixth straight game it was the only decision to take. QPR were comfortable, and could have won by many more.

Norwich are a team I have a lot of time for, it's a place I like to visit and a ground I enjoy watching football in - I hope the pair of us remain in the Championship for next season but on this evidence it's hard to believe we'll both be lucky enough to escape. If there are three worse teams in the Championship than QPR and Norwich then I haven't seen them thus far.

Rangers were dealt a blow before kick off with the news that Dexter Blackstock was missing from the line up and likely to be out for six weeks after a minor knee operation. Ben Sahar replaced him in attack next to Rowan Vine who'd impressed at Colchester on Wednesday. Mick Harford moved Mikele Leigertwood into the midfield after a shaky performance at centre half in the last match. Bolder partnered him in the middle, Ainsworth and Ephraim were the wingers. In defence new boy Martin Cranie started at centre half partnered by the recalled Damion Stewart with Barker and Rowlands at full back. Lee Camp started in goal.

The Norwich players did what footballers always do when their manager is under pressure and they're not really bothered whether he stays or goes - they hid. The Canaries came to W12 with an injury list almost as long as the Uxbridge Road, including former QPR striker Jamie Cureton, and the ones that did make it out onto the pitch played well within themselves. Darren Huckerby and Lee Croft in particular were a shadow of the players that have caused us serious problems in the past and Rangers were on top from first to almost last.

The home side should have been in front inside five minutes. Rowan Vine ran the channels very well and linked nicely with Hogan Ephraim at Colchester and the pair of them picked up where they'd left of. In the first meaningful attack Vine cut in well from the left flank and laid the ball on a plate for Mikele Leigertwood who drilled a low effort fractionally wide from the edge of the box. Marshall was well beaten in the Norwich goal.

Ben Sahar forced a corner with a shot blocked by Dion Dublin and from the set piece Gareth Ainsworth mishit a volley straight at the keeper - he'd go a lot closer with his trademark effort in the second half.

Sahar was involved again on the half hour as the Peter Walton show returned to Loftus Road with a vengeance. The Israeli bore down on goal and hit the deck on the edge of the six yard box with Shackell wrestling the shirt from his back. Walton, with a long and inglorious history of denying QPR penalties for no good reason, didn't even see the appeal worthy of being waved away.

The QPR defence had looked much more solid than in previous games, admittedly against limited opposition, but shortly after the penalty appeal Otsemobor broke through from right back and found Chris Barker out of position and struggling for pace to get back. Otsemobor could only fire a tame shot at Camp when there were other options available. It typified a dire Norwich performance but did find Barker still looking uncomfortable in the QPR defence - Grant moved Huckerby across to his wing to try and take advantage but he hardly saw the ball.

Hogan Ephraim saw a good low shot beaten out by Marshall and Dublin headed over from a corner at the Loft End but the half ended with two bookings. First Dion Dublin was carded for his involvement in a midfield battle for a loose ball which had challenges flying in from Bolder, Leigertwood, Russell and the veteran defender. There didn't even appear to be a foul to me but Walton quickly arrived on the scene awarding a free kick and booking Dublin who rightly seemed perplexed with the decision. Then Rowan Vine was harshly punished for backing in when it looked like Shackell had climbed over him and Walton booked him for complaining too much. Another vintage performance from the man in the middle.

Norwich's woes worsened at the break when Dublin, their best player in the first half, failing to appear for the second stanza. Ian Murray, himself a pre-match doubt with injury, replaced Dublin but big Dion had been a rare shining light of professionalism in a Norwich team that didn't look to be trying very hard to me and his removal only made them a lot worse.

They should have been behind two minutes into the second half. Martin Rowlands brought a ball down on the halfway line and cut inside from right back to drive at the goal. He let rip with a low shot 25 yards out an beat Marshall all ends up only to see the ball bounce off the base of the post and back into play.

Then re-enter Peter Walton. Five minutes into the second half Vine made his way into the penalty area after beating Murray wide on the right. The Norwich man had chunks of the striker's shirt in both hands as they entered the area and fell to the ground. A blatant, stone wall penalty kick if ever there was one and yet once again, for about the three hundredth time in the last four seasons, Walton stood unmoved. I mean just what is this guy's problem?

Walton did see fit to award us a free kick on the hour when Bolder was fouled by Jarvis. When Marshall fumbled Rowlands' 30 yard strike a goal looked likely but Norwich scrambled the ball away as Stewart threatened to pounce inside the six yard box. This game was as one sided in QPR's favour as the Cardiff and Southampton matches had been the other way at Loftus Road but unlike those teams Rangers were struggling to make their dominance pay with a goal.

In the end though Norwich, and more importantly Walton, cracked. Rowan Vine got goal side of Murray again and crashed to the ground under pressure. This time, finally, mercifully, a penalty was awarded. It was all a bit of a farce really because although I think it was a penalty it wasn't as blatant as the two appeals he'd ignored earlier. Numerous chances had been missed before this and I have to admit I was starting to fear it might be one of those nights. It needed a brave lad to step up and take the crucial spot kick and luckily we had Martin Rowlands in our team. He stepped up and buried the ball in the bottom corner, lashing the ball as hard as he's ever hit a shot before in his life and sending it flying past Marshall before he'd even started his dive.

Harford immediately replaced the quiet Sahar with Moore who went to the left wing. Ephraim pushed into the attack but was given license to roam and he set about ripping Norwich apart as his team mates relaxed around him. Even Moore looked more confident in himself and embarked on a number of productive runs down his flank in the remaining 25 minutes.

That was nothing compared to Ephraim though who followed Vine around like a faithful springer spaniel, linking up and supporting wherever possible. The pair caused Norwich all manner of problems and looked a real potent threat - there are excellent signs of a partnership building there it's just a shame they're both loan players. What a relief it is that Ephraim is staying for at least another month, he's really settling into the groove now.

Immediately after the goal Gareth Ainsworth tried again with a first time twenty yard full volley and this time his shot was flying towards the bottom corner until it flicked off Murray and flew an inch wide of the post. From the corner Damion Stewart powered a header at goal but Marshall saved and then within minutes Vine worked space in the area and forced Marshall into a two handed stop down in his bottom left hand corner.

There was only one team in it but Rangers just couldn't kill the game off. Ephraim cut in from the left flank and combined well with Moore before hammering a low shot at goal from the corner of the six yard box but Marshall was again equal to it.

It seemed inevitable that Norwich would at least make an effort to press us at some point and they slung on Strihavka and Brown in the last half an hour to try and create some form of pattern of play but they remained lifeless. Darel Russell got a sarcastic round of applause from his own fans for a weak late shot at goal but with Jarrett coming off the bench for his home debut and Vine and Leigertwood doing a good job of running three minutes off the clock down in the corner there seemed to be little threat.

Walton was soon back into the spotlight though. Initially he added four minutes which seemed excessive but then he changed it to five and extended that still further to six after a fan in the Paddocks held onto the ball and then threw it away down the field. Twice in that time the ball dropped in the QPR penalty area, on the second occasion Strihavka looked favourite to get to it first and poke home but Camp took it off his toe and Loftus Road let out a collective sigh.

The whistle went seconds later and was met with relieved hugs all round among the players, celebrations on the terraces, and angry remonstrations with he referee from the directors box. Naomi Campbell danced to 'Silver Lining' and everybody looked like we'd won the league, not made up some ground at the bottom of it. Briatore had celebrated the goal, lost his glasses in a moment of excitement, berated the referee and sat in open mouthed terror the rest of the time - he looks like he's been bitten by the QPR bug. There's no hope for him now.

Yes we were improved, yes it feels good to win, but we need to keep our feet firmly on the ground. Norwich are as poor a team as we'll see this season and it's no surprise to see Grant on his way today - he has built a truly awful football team there. We only beat them 1-0 though. It should have been much more, but we were clinging on by the end all the same.

There were lots of things to be happy about in our performance. Vine and Ephraim combined brilliantly all night, Ainsworth ran himself to water and was unlucky not to score, Martin Rowlands had a fantastic second half in an unfamiliar position and Leigertwood ran the midfield - easily his best performance since signing. I was also very impressed with the positioning, anticipation, touch and distribution of Martin Cranie although again I take the quality of opponent into account. I'd fear for that back four against the better teams in this league although Cranie coped pretty well with Ronaldo earlier this season so he may well be ok.

Mick Harford has certainly done himself no harm with this performance and result, although it seems almost certain now that Italian Francesco Guidolin will be coming in as the manager instead of him. He was never likely to get the top job really but he may have done enough to be kept on as a coach - QPR certainly showed a willingness to play good attractive football against Norwich and that's a blessed relief.

We now have a week off before our three game series against our friends from the east finishes with the visit of Ipswich. I went to see the Tractor Boys at Hull recently and while I'd really fancy Vine and Ephraim in this form to go well against their very shaky back four their attack is potent and will need watching a lot closer than Norwich's limp lot did on Monday. They could have been three nil up at Hull before City even started playing and they ended up losing 3-1 so that tells you everything you need to know.

It's likely to be Harford's last match and it's a big one - for now lets just get used to the feeling of winning again.

QPR: Camp 7, Rowlands 8, Stewart 7, Cranie 8, Barker 6, Ainsworth 7 (Jarrett 86, -), Bolder 6, Leigertwood 8, Ephraim 8 (Timoska 90, -), Sahar 6 (Moore 68, 7), Vine 8
Subs Not Used: Cole, Bignot
Booked: Vine (dissent)
Goals: Rowlands 67 pen (assisted Vine)

Norwich: Marshall 8, Otsemobor 6, Shackell 4, Dublin 7 (Murray 46, 4), Drury 4, Croft 4, Russell 4, Jarvis 5, Lappin 3 (Strihavka 63, 3), Martin 4 (Brown 76, 5), Huckerby 4.
Subs Not Used: Gilks, Chadwick
Booked: Dublin (who knows), Croft (foul), Huckerby (foul)

QPR Star Man - Mikele Leigertwood 8 - Wow it feels good to actually have a choice this week. Leigertwood controlled the midfield with good box to box running, strong challenges and a nice use of the ball when in possession, he was also unlucky not to score in the first half. Vine, Ephraim and in the second half Rowlands were all worthy candidates as well, as was Cranie at the back.

Referee - Peter Walton (Northamptonshire) 4 -
Strange bookings for Dublin and Vine, a poor decision not to give Sahar a penalty in the first half and an incompetent, shambolic decision to deny Vine one in the second before awarding the lesser of the three claims. Then went a little bit mad with the stoppage time at the end. He is a very poor official. And he looks like that mouse from Animaniacs.

Attendance: 10,514

Photo: Action Images



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