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Self destruct - Norwich 3 QPR 0
Self destruct - Norwich 3 QPR 0
Sunday, 27th Apr 2008 15:19

QPR’s unbeaten run came to a crashing halt at Carrow Road on Saturday as Norwich City secured their Championship survival.

Carrow Road is turning into an unhappy hunting ground for QPR. This was our sixth straight defeat on this ground and ninth without a win. It probably represented the best chance of ending that run we’ve had for some time prior to kick off but once Damion Stewart had been sent off five minutes in, a case of mistaken identity if ever I saw one, and Luigi De Canio had made a bizarre double substitution after eight the game was only ever going to go one way.

In the end Norwich declared at three, but QPR weren’t at the races once Stewart had gone off and the defeat could have been much more severe. Norwich were still in with a chance of filling the final relegation spot prior to kick off, this win means we’ll be back on this ground next year trying to get a win at the tenth time of asking. From a personal point of view that’s not a bad thing, Carrow Road is a nice place and the city is a lovely part of the world, but if results on this ground are going to continue in this vein then it’s a trip we could well do without next season and we may live to regret not pushing them closer to the drop when we had the chance.

Before the match Luigi De Canio was robbed of three January transfer window signings through injury. Fitz Hall left the Charlton game early and missed this one with a groin injury, Patrick Agyemang continues to be troubled by his hamstrings and Akos Buzsaky suffered a set back with his ankle complaint in training and didn’t travel. That meant a recall for Mancienne at right back with Connolly and Stewart at centre half and Damien Delaney at left back ahead of Lee Camp in goal. In midfield Ephraim and Ainsworth started on the wings with Mahon and Rowlands in the centre. Up front Balanta partnered Blackstock.

Norwich still needed points to secure safety in the Championship and had Darren Huckerby and Dion Dublin involved for the final time at Carrow Road. Huckerby started wide left while Dublin, who picked up a player of the year award on the pitch before the kick off, had to make do with a place on the bench. Ryan Bertrand was passed fit to start at full back instead of Mo Camara.

The teams emerged onto the pitch with the Norwich fans doing as they were told and holding up little yellow and green cards while a man from Sky Sports sang “on the ball City” over the public address system. For campness it was right up there with Sheffield United’s cringe worthy pre-match routine.

It didn’t seem to do much for the home team either as QPR started the game the stronger. An early foul by Otsemobor on Ephraim gave QPR a free kick in a promising position and from Rowlands’ delivery the ball went behind for a corner. Again Rowlands took responsibility for the set piece, this time putting the ball plum on the head of Damion Stewart who headed wide when he really should have hit the target from eight yards out.

Rangers had another chance to take the lead in the fourth minute when Hogan Ephraim whipped a devilish low cross in from the left and Dexter Blackstock headed for goal only to be denied by a sharp save from Marshall in the Norwich goal. The key moment of the game came directly from the keeper’s clearance.

QPR allowed the ball to bounce and with Ched Evans lurking Lee Camp came tearing out of his area when he had no need to. Damion Stewart stuck an arm in the back of Evans and pushed him into Camp creating a tangle on the edge of the area that saw the ball roll safely away from goal as the loan Man City front man hit the deck. Referee Phil Joslin was quickly on the scene to award a free kick and after a brief exchange of hand actions with the linesman they decided that Stewart was the guilty party and should be sent off. From where I was sitting it looked like Camp was the one who should be sampling the early bath water, and Reece Crowther was stripped and ready for action on the touchline so clearly I wasn’t alone.

This referee, who normally I rate quite highly, failed to communicate with a linesman properly at Wembley the other week as well, awarding a penalty to MK Dons when it should have been a Grimsby free kick for offside. Between them Joslin and hs assistant look to have got this one wrong as well. The linesman on the same side as the QPR fans did little to endear himself to the travelling faithful after this either – missing some really blatant offsides in the first half, seemingly as a result of his inability to keep up with the play.

Norwich failed to score from the resulting free kick when Ched Evans had a shot blocked but did take the lead two minutes later when Huckerby reached to the byline and crossed to the back post for Cureton. The former QPR striker’s pull back was partially cleared by Gavin Mahon but Evans had all the time and space in the world to measure a half volley into the top corner from 12 yards out. A fine finish from a promising young striker who now has ten goals for the season.

A terrible start to the game for QPR then, and it only got worse as Luigi De Canio had a bit of a brain explosion with the subsequent substitutions. Clearly Rehman or Barker needed to come on to replace Stewart in the defence and the obvious choices to be removed were Ephraim and Balanta so it was no real surprise to see young Hogan replaced by Zesh who went into the centre half position. What was mystifying though was the decision to take Ainsworth off and replace him with Mikele Leigertwood. That left QPR in a narrow 4-3-2 formation that lacked any width, any way of getting the ball up to the strikers consistently, any numbers in midfield and any protection for the back four. With Rowlands, Leigertwood and Mahon standing on each other’s toes in the middle of the park and Norwich making the most of the acres of space down the flanks Delaney and Mancienne were grossly overworked.

Now I’m clearly no football manager but surely Ainsworth’s work rate is exactly what you need when down to ten men? And surely going to one up front and keeping your back four and midfield four intact is the way to go? Balanta could easily have gone wide if needs be. If the sending off didn’t kill off QPR’s hopes then the substitutions certainly did.

In truth QPR were a mess for the rest of the game, completely overrun by the home side who could have run up a cricket score if they’d had that bit of extra quality in the final third. After a quarter of an hour Pattison and Mancienne came together on the edge of the box and when the Norwich man emerged from the tackle with the ball at his feet Rangers were struggling – Pattison took the shot on himself but fired wide. Huckerby sent a low drive across the face of goal after good work by Cureton and Evans to set him up and then Evans had a shot of his own that went a foot wide of the post as the R’s defence continued to struggle. Connolly was booked for a lunging tackle on the goal scorer a short time later.

Huckerby turned provider on the half hour when he laid a ball into the path of Bertrand and his shot bounced off the base of the post with Camp beaten. Fotheringham saw a shot blocked by Rehman after being teed up by Evans three minutes before half time.

With two subs already made Luigi De Canio probably had his heart in his mouth when Michael Mancienne required treatment after taking a knock. He was eventually fit enough to continue, a good job really as he was just about the best player QPR had on the day, but the stoppage time created by his injury gave Norwich time to launch a final attack and when Jamie Cureton turned Rehmn on the edge of the area it looked for all the world like he was just going to bend the ball into the top corner in true Cureton style. In the end though the finish didn’t match the build up and he curled a shot into the home end with Evans screaming for a square ball.

The half time whistle went a short time later with everybody in the ground wondering how the score was still only one nil. It could have been three or four times as bad for Rangers who’d not so much pressed the self destruct button as hammered it in and then sat on it to make sure it couldn’t pop back out again.

The second half started in much the same way as the first one had finished. Cureton saw a shot blocked by Rehman, Pattison was denied by Camp and Connolly cleared a shot from Evans off the goal line in a scramble at the end of the first attack of the half. Two minutes later and the killer second goal finally arrived.

When it came it was a really soft goal from a QPR point of view. Kieran Gibbs sent a high floated corner to the back post where Mahon beat Doherty in the air but could only head out as far as Mark Fotheringham on the edge of the area. He scuffed a low shot towards goal that would have posed few problems for Camp but once it took a cruel deflection of Zesh Rehman it was always destined for the back of the net with the keeper committed the other way.

Norwich made their first change of the game on the hour with Matt Pattison, the man they call ‘Party’ presumably struggling after being out the pub for more than an hour, replaced by Luke Chadwick. The former Man Utd man dived straight into the action, engaging in a bizarre duel with Lee Camp who came needlessly far out of his area to deal with a through ball and ended up chasing it around the midfield area before Fotheringham chipped the loose ball towards goal and missing the gaping target by a couple of yards. This was a warning for Rangers and Camp in particular, but one that they didn’t heed.

Dion Dublin made his final appearance at Carrow Road ten minutes from time and he was welcomed by a standing ovation from the home crowd, and a good portion of the away end as well. Much as he’s been a pain in our arse over the years Dublin has always come across as the consummate professional, one of a dying breed of likeable footballers, and he’s a real loss to the game in my opinion. Whether it be at centre half or centre forward he’s never failed to impress me and from a QPR point of view I’ll be pleased not to face him again next season – he’ll be a big loss to Norwich.

Seven minutes from time the rout was complete and yet again it was a long ball down the centre of the park that caused all the problems – clearly the R’s missed the aerial presence of Fitz Hall in the back four. Connolly allowed Evans to run into the space behind the back four unchecked and that meant that yet again Lee Camp was forced to come out of his box. He got to the ball first and cleared into the midfield but instead of retreating he had a rush of blood to the head and chased the ball out fully 50 yards away from his goal. He won a sliding tackle against Luke Chadwick but was then laid out on the deck and with no other QPR player going to the ball, or retreating to the goal line, it was a relatively simple task facing sub Darrel Russell who calmly lofted the ball into the vacant net from 40 yards.

This capped a poor day for Camp, probably his worst performance in a QPR shirt, and it could have been so much worse in the last minute of normal time when Dion Dublin swivelled and hit an improbable shot from 50 yards out that looked for all the world like it had the keeper beaten until he thrust his hands up at the last minute and plucked the lob out from under his cross bar.

Chadwick headed a Cureton cross wide but the final action of the game took place over by the dug outs when a scuffle broke out that resulted in bookings for Evans and Rowlands. Balanta’s turn on the edge of the area and shot high over the bar in stoppage time was all QPR had to show for their efforts – it was their first shot on the goal since the fourth minute.

The final whistle was more of a mercy killing than anything else and most of the QPR players were happy to troop straight off down the tunnel. Martin Rowlands came over to the away end and handed his shirt to a fan while Ainsworth, Connolly and Mahon also came over to show their appreciation but they were in a minority and considering how well the QPR fans had backed their players, and how poorly they’d played, that was disappointing.

The whole game is skewed because one team had to play it with a man less, so it’s hard to draw many conclusions. Having said that it is possible to compete in a game with ten men and QPR never once looked like doing that after the strange double substitution De Canio made. That was a real mistake in my opinion and made a hard task virtually impossible for us.

I was quite impressed with Norwich although it must be said that most of their most impressive players are only there on loan and with the likes of Gibbs and Evans set to return to their parent clubs in the summer, and Huckerby and Dublin on their way as well, Roeder faces a tough summer of rebuilding because without them Norwich are a very ordinary side.

Evans for me was the best player on the pitch by some distance – he scored a terrific goal and was a constant threat to QPR. Up front we need to make, in my opinion, two really big additions to our attack if we’re going to go close next season. Every team in the top six has much better options to choose from in attack than us. I’d like to see us push the boat out on a real quality striker in the Beattie/Earnshaw/Nugent mould and get a promising young Premiership striker like Evans, Fraizer Campbell or Ishmael Miller in on loan as well to go with Agyemang, Blackstock and Balanta. You need four or five really good options for your attack to sustain a challenge in this league and we certainly don’t have that at the moment. If Man City are open to offers it may be worth making a move for Evans himself for next season.

The problem yesterday wasn’t the attack though, the sending off and subsequent double sub robbed Blackstock and Balanta of any kind of service whatsoever. I merely bring it up here because I was impressed with Evans and feel he could be just the kind of signing we need to make this summer.

The problem on the pitch yesterday, apart from the tactics of the manager after the sending off, was the defence. Without Fitz Hall you’d expect problems but the sending off came from a long ball down the field and it was astonishing just how easily we got caught out by that long turf down the field all afternoon. Nobody really covered themselves in glory back there and if our sources are to be believed and deals to bring Peter Ramage to Loftus Road permanently and Martin Cranie on loan for the whole of next season are already done than that will be a welcome boost. Obviously the back four wasn’t helped by Lee Camp having one of those days behind them but in the keeper’s defence Rehman and Connolly was about the 15th different centre half partnership he’s played behind this season and that can’t be easy. Next season I’d hope that a back four can be set down on day one, and play at least 80% of the matches together – that’s how you build an understanding and stop stupid last minute goals and mistakes happening.

This result was especially disappointing because it brought to an end a seven game unbeaten run that I had hoped would keep going through to the start of next season. I think it’s important to avoid another defeat next weekend against the Baggies at Loftus Road otherwise we’ll start the new season with two defeats behind us and while there’s a break and a load of new signings to come in the meantime I don’t that’s conducive to hitting the ground running come August.

Norwich: Marshall 6, Otsemobor 7, Shackell 7, Doherty 7, Bertrand 7, Huckerby 7, Fotheringham 8, Gibbs 8 (Russell 77, 7), Pattison 7 (Chadwick 63, 7), Cureton 7 (Dublin 77, 7), Evans 9
Subs Not Used: Croft, Pearce
Booked: Evans (fighting)
Goals: Evans 7 (assisted Cureton), Fotheringham 56 (unassisted), Russell 83 (unassisted)

QPR: Camp 4, Mancienne 6, Stewart -, Connolly 5, Delaney 5, Ainsworth - (Leigertwood 10, 4), Mahon 5, Rowlands 4, Ephraim - (Rehman 10, 5), Blackstock 5, Balanta 5
Subs Not Used: Crowther, Barker, Lee
Sent Off: Stewart (professional foul)
Booked: Connolly (foul), Rowlands (fighting)

QPR Star Man – Michael Mancienne 6 - Just about the best of a fairly wretched bunch. Did a decent job on Huckerby in a situation made impossible for him by the decision to remove the wide player in front of him – that meant he was often outnumbered and in the end he did well to hold his own, likewise with Delaney on the other side.

Referee: Phil Joslin (Nottinghamshire) 6 - All the post match talk is of course about the sending off. For me he got it wrong, it should have been Camp to go, but it was definitely a sending off either way and to blame the referee for our defeat would be wrong. Other than the embarrassing mistake identity he seemed to get most things right and allowed the game to flow.

Attendance: 25,497 (1500 QPR) -Norwich’s biggest home crowd of the season. QPR were given a scandously low ticket allocation for this one, I do hope we give Norwich exactly the same number when they come to Loftus Road next season, and easily sold their end out. They were in good voice throughout the second half, despite the action on the pitch, giving the De Canio song a good airing and bouncing around comically to Norwich’s bizarre choice of goal celebration music. The Norwich fans were in very good voice as well, particularly those off to the right of the away end. All in all a terrific atmosphere.

 

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