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QPR squeeze past Barnsley on day one – full match report
QPR squeeze past Barnsley on day one – full match report
Sunday, 10th Aug 2008 15:53

It certainly wasn’t convincing, but it was a win and three points and that’s all that matters. Fitz Hall scored twice and missed a second half penalty.

New manager, new owners, new player, new big screen, new lick of paint around the place – same old QPR. It was a win, and that’s all we can ask for with the likes of Buzsaky, Vine, Connolly and Rowlands missing from the starting eleven, but the performance was unconvincing and we’ll need to perform a whole lot better than this if we’re to avoid two defeats on the road later this week.

There were certainly things to be positive about – the performances of Gavin Mahon and Emmanuel Ledesma in midfield, looking threatening from set pieces again, some of the football we played out of defence for instance – but there were at least that many negatives as well and I’m not sure we’d have beaten many Championship teams playing like this. In the end we were fortunate it was ‘only’ Barnsley who we always seem to beat at home however we play and even then they ran us very close.

Rarely can a team have been so decimated by injury and suspension for the opening game of a season. New signing Sam Di Carmine, Damion Stewart and Martin Rowlands were all banned, Akos Buzsaky, Rowan Vine and Hogan Ephraim were all ruled out through injury and Matt Connolly was only fit enough for the bench after picking up a knock to his ankle in the Falkirk friendly.

That meant the back four basically picked itself with Peter Ramage making a debut at right back and Damien Delaney on the left. Fitz Hall and Kaspars Gorkss formed a new look centre half partnership in front of Radek Cerny who was preferred to Lee Camp and made a debut in goal. For me that’s a harsh decision against Camp who, Norwich away apart, did nothing to warrant being dropped last season and in fact finished as runner up in the Player of the Year poll. I thought he deserved to start this season between the sticks but obviously I’m wrong.

In midfield there was a debut for Emmanuel Ledesma wide on the right and the third coming of Lee Cook wide left. Incidentally Ledesma’s name surely isn’t pronounced as it sounds? I look forward to clarification on that. Those two played either side of Leigertwood and Mahon in the middle and that’s not normally a partnership that works too well for us. Up front Blackstock and Agyemang were the men trusted with scoring the goals.

Barnsley had big Darren Moore making his first appearance or them at the heart of the defence alongside their player of the season last time out Stephen Foster. Of more concern to QPR though was the presence of Iain Hume who cost them a cool £1m over the summer and had three goals in four games against QPR to his name prior to kick off. Blackburn’s Dutch forward Marco Rigters started on the bench after an eleventh hour loan deal was done to bring him to Oakwell on Friday evening.

Both teams had endured a difficult pre-season with Falkirk, Kilmarnock, Chievo, Rotherham, York, Glossop and Wigan all taking positive results off them during the summer. Early on QPR looked nervous and low on confidence while Barnsley shrugged off their poor recent form to come flying out of the traps and they could easily have been three goals up inside the opening ten minutes.

The first action of real note was a very bad foul by Bobby Hassell on Gavin Mahon in the first minute. Any later in the game and this would surely have drawn a booking from referee Neil Swarbrick who, although very kind to QPR throughout the match in my opinion, did let Barnsley off with one or two naughty challenges in the first half hour.

The first chance of the game fell to Jon Macken who missed an absolute sitter with barely two minutes on the watch. Martin Devaney was afforded too much time and space down the QPR left and after reaching the byline he cut a low pass back into the area behind the defence and first phase of Barnsley attack that had been sucked into the six yard box. That left Macken, arriving on the scene late after being involved in the move earlier, all alone and unmarked 15 yards out from goal with the ball rolling invitingly towards him but he fired a tame, low shot straight at Cerny and QPR had survived.

The R’s immediately went on the offensive themselves after a good throw out by the Czech keeper and a flowing move from back to front ended with Agyemang setting up Leigertwood whose header was saved by Steele. It was only a brief respite thought and two minutes later Barnsley were back on the attack and taking the lead.

The goal when it came was another defensive catastrophe for QPR. Lee Cook gave the ball away on halfway and from that point Barnsley needed just three passes to find Hume with Mahon, Leigertwood, Hall and Gorkss all nowhere to be seen. Moore it was that won the tackle against Cook and with one further pass suddenly Barnsley had three players in on the QPR defence with Howard collecting the ball five yards further up field than Mahon or Leigertwood, both of whom were marking nobody and had allowed the Barnsley man to drift in behind them unchecked. Ramage had done the same with Hume and when Howard laid the ball through to him he made it four goals in five games against the R’s with a crisp finish.

That was no more than Barnsley deserved and summed up all of the problems QPR were having. Hume saw another shot saved by Cerny and Dexter Blackstock headed a Brian Howard corner over his own cross bar as the Reds continued to press. Brian Howard saw a shot from the edge of the box blocked and the home crowd were starting to get restless at this point. QPR hadn’t settled at all – the goal was a terrible one defensively, Devaney was tearing Delaney apart down the wing, Kaspars Gorkss lost every header he contested in the first 20 minutes and all in all we looked lifeless, poor, nervous and low on confidence.

The Loftus Road crowd, myself included, started to bear their teeth at this point with jeers and abuse being aimed at the team and some even chanting the name of Lee Camp as Radek Cerny flapped around under Devaney’s crosses. This is counter productive of course but like I say I joined in with some of it to my discredit – it’s very hard watching Rangers play like that knowing that Barnsley are about as poor a team as we’re going to face at home this season at the best of times but when you’ve got a £600 season ticket in your back pocket that you couldn’t afford in the first place it’s even more difficult to take.

This stick from their own fans could have tipped Rangers over the edge with confidence looking fragile but thankfully the R’s started to play their way back into the game as the half wore on. Ledesma and Cook started to see more of the ball and Gavin Mahon took hold of the midfield. Ledesma and Leigertwood both tried their luck from distance but couldn’t beat Barsnley’s FA Cup hero from last season Luke Steele.

The first QPR goal of the new campaign came in the 28th minute. A low ball across the face of the penalty area from the right was heading towards Cook until he was crudely upended by Howard on the edge of the box. Barnsley protested but it looked an obvious foul to me and Emmanuel Ledesma immediately took control of the set piece situation. After Leigertwood ran over the ball Ledesma beat the wall with a low drive that Steele parried back into the danger zone to Fitz Hall who hit the underside of the bar with an instinctive close range effort and when the ball bounced back into play it hit Steele who was laid out in the six yard box and bobbled into the net off Hall. It certainly won’t win any goal of the season awards but it was just what QPR needed.

The goal stunned Barnsley after their terrific start and within two minutes QPR had gone in front. An outswinging corner from Lee Cook looked for Delaney rushing in at the near post but when Barnsley managed to repel that threat and hack the ball out of the six yard box Hall was on hand with a magnificent hooked volley that flew over Steele and into the bottom corner. Barnsley had adopted the Chievo Verona tactic of leaving three attackers on the halfway line for QPR corners which meant Gorkss couldn’t go forward but it also left space for Hall to finish and with Ramage and Delaney also in the area hunting chances Rangers look like they could be a big threat from set pieces this season.

Patrick Agyemang fired an effort on target five minutes before the break, a rare involvement from him on the day, and Darren Moore cleared a dangerous Ledesma cross out of the six yard box as QPR finished the half on the front foot. Frustratingly though the start of the second period mirrored the first with Barnsley enjoying all the possession and chances and QPR looking off the pace and nervous.

The first chance of the half came with a free kick in a similar position to the one QPR scored from in the first half. Lee Cook fouled Howard and picked up the first yellow card of the match, fair enough but Barnsley players had been let away with far worse in the first half, and that gave Iain Hume a chance to strike a free kick from the same position he scored from for Leicester with another set piece last season. Hume’s strike was low and powerful but there was no excuse for the way the wall just melted away in front of it and Cerny had to make a smart save down in the bottom corner.

Cerny was everything we’d been told to expect – his shot stopping was fine and his distribution out of his hands was excellent and enabled us to get the ball to Cook and Ledesma early on several occasions. However his kicking was erratic, particularly out of his hands, and his command of the area and decision making under high balls left a lot to be desired culminating in a terrible flap under no pressure at all midway through the second half when he really should have been able to catch it with his eyes closed.

QPR’s first attack of the half came ten minutes after the oranges and again had Ledesma at the heart of it. He raced into the Barnsley half with the ball in a three on three situation and laid a ball through to Patrick Agyemang in the area but Steele was out quickly and made himself big before blocking the shot away.

Just before the hour mark the game should have been put to bed. More terrific work from Ledesma down the right ended with a beautiful lobbed pass into the area behind the Barnsley defence. Dexter Blackstock brought the ball down well and raced in behind his man only for Darren Moore to come across with a covering tackle that cleaned the QPR man out right in front of the Loft End. It looked like a bit of a swan dive from Blackstock to me at the time but the replays show the referee to be right, Moore was wild, late and reckless and got nowhere near the ball – a stone wall penalty. Surprisingly it was Fitz Hall that stepped up to take the kick – Iain Dowie has since insisted he wasn’t hat trick hunting, he was the designated penalty taker. Even if that was the case, and I’m not sure it was, a tame penalty easily saved by Steele down to his right should surely mean Emmanuel Ledesma will be taking the next one.

Steele denied the R’s a third goal again moments later when Ledesma tried to catch him out with a low shot from a free kick that seemed to be better positioned for a cross. Steele scampered across his goal and produced a sharp save down in the bottom corner. Ledesma’s corners and shots were of a high quality but on three different occasions he sent a crossed free kick to high and close to the goalkeeper posing little threat to the visitors.

As the half wore on QPR started to return to some bad old habits – dropping deeper and deeper into their own half, bringing every man back to defend set pieces and giving the ball away with criminal regularity. On two occasions in a 60 second period the ball found its way to Delaney and he just thumped it away down the pitch straight back to Barnsley instead of remaining composed and keeping possession. Hall cleared Moore’s knockdown out from the goal mouth with Souza waiting to pounce, Cerny saved well from Howard and the visitors had half hearted appeals for a penalty turned away after the ball hit Fitz Hall on the arm in the penalty area.

Last season these were the first signs that a late goal against was coming and it was really disappointing to see us doing the same old things again. Why on earth QPR players seem to believe that lining up on the edge of your own penalty area and giving the ball away for 20 minutes is an effective way of defending a lead is beyond my comprehension I’m afraid. Ledesma came over to the left flank at one stage looking for possession but succeeding only in getting in the way – Blackstock had a got at him and ordered him back to the right hand side but in fairness if Blackstock and Agyemang had shown the work rate of Ledesma they would have perhaps had more joy in attack than they did on the day.

Luckily this season we have a little bit of extra quality. Dowie sensibly saw the increased Barnsley pressure as a cue to introduce Daniel Parejo – signed on loan from Real Madrid last week but only registered to play late on Friday. He came on for the ineffective Patrick Agyemang and the difference in the side with him on the pitch was immediately apparent. The formation changed to more of a 4-5-1 with Mahon and Leigertwood anchoring the middle of midfield and Parejo pushing on to support Blackstock.

Suddenly the R’s started to pass the ball and keep possession, this enabled the defence to push out higher down the field and the team had a much more settled and composed look about it. Parejo was involved in the game sealing moment ten minutes after coming on. Barnsley’s Marciano Van Hoemet carried the ball out of his own half in the 83rd minute but Parejo tripped him as he ran past. For whatever reason Swarbrick didn’t blow for a foul and when the loose ball found its way back to Parejo off Macken Van Hoemet lost his head and lunged in with a disgusting tackle that caught the young Spaniard right in the back of his knee. It was a sickening tackle, probably the worst we’ll see all season, and the red card was quickly shown to the Dutchman who left the field after a lengthy protest. Of course Swarbrick had no choice but to send him off but had he given Barnsley the free kick they deserved in the first place it would never have happened.

Dowie made his second change of the game a short time later – Matteo Alberti coming on for his debut in place of Ledesma. The Argentinean left the field to a standing ovation and it was thoroughly deserved. He was the outstanding QPR player on the pitch for my money – setting up both goals, passing the ball nicely, working hard in defence and showing a quality of touch and vision not usually seen in a player at this level. He’s everything you’d expect from a South American footballer though – plenty of diving and rolling about, show boating at inappropriate times, a questionable approach to the concept of standing ten yards away from an opponents’ free kick and a bizarre pose when standing in a wall that involves one hand cupping his meat and two and the other arm and hand wrapped round his face to protect his nose and mouth. He looked like a gay Zorro and it drew laughter from both sets of fans. Still he looks like a real find and there’s surely more to come from him – it will be interesting to see how he fares in the two away games this week compared to this one.

Barnsley introduced new boy Rigters with ten to play, closely followed by Chelsea conqueror Kayode Odejayi and Diego Leon who looked good in both games against QPR last season but none of them go a sniff of a chance once Parejo had come on to dictate the play and in the end QPR were able to cruise through to full time relatively comfortably although it had certainly been anything but that for most of the match.

On the way out I met message board regular Swiss Cottage on the stairs and he summed it up well – not too bad for a start but you can tell there’s a lot more to come. There were certainly some green shoots of hope for QPR fans here although overall the performance was fairly poor. Ledesma was the man of the match for me but he was run close by Gavin Mahon for all sorts of different reasons. He and Leigertwood certainly can’t play together and with Parejo and Rowlands still to come I’d hope that we won’t see them in the same team again for a very long time. Leigertwood is a quicker and more muscular presence in midfield than Mahon, and he certainly offers us more going forward, but he’s wildly inconsistent whereas Mahon just does a nice steady job whenever he plays. If we’re going to have all these flair players in the team, and I hope we are, then Mahon should play as well just for some balance and defensive cover. I was very impressed with him on Saturday.

At the back Fitz Hall scored twice but was very decent apart from that and looks far, far better and fitter than he did when he first arrived last season. If was the penalty taker as Dowie suggests I’d be very, very surprised but I’d assume he won’t be taking the next one after a dire effort – if we did give him it out of sentimentality to enable him to get a hat trick at 2-1 with the game still in the balance than that’s very poor and not something I want to see us repeat. Our designated penalty taker takes the penalties at all time. Alongside him Gorkss had a nervous debut I thought – he was all over the place in the first 20 minutes and didn’t win a single ball in the air but he settled a little after that and wasn’t too bad, must improve though.

Lee Cook showed bits and pieces on his return but was a long way from his best and did very little in the second half. Matteo Alberti looks a tidy and pacey player to me on the evidence of his brief cameo at the end of the half.

Plenty of negatives though – the first 20 minutes was abysmal, the crowd’s reaction to it wasn’t great myself included, too much dumb football in the second half once we’d taken the lead and the front two had all the cutting edge of a wooden spoon. Still ‘lots more to come’ has to be the line to take out of this. A lot of the players that did play showed terrific ability and potential and when you think of the people we’ve still got to come back into the side that bodes very well. As it stands I’d drop Blackstock and Agyemang for Vine and Buzsaky when they return and in the meantime I think Angelo Balanta really deserves a chance to show that he can do better. Everybody has said the attack is the weak area and it certainly looks it on this evidence.

On now to two very difficult away games. Swindon in the cup has the look of a typical QPR disaster on Tuesday night – although after Radek Cerny’s mediocre debut Lee Camp, who is set to start at the County Ground, will see that game as a great chance to put a marker down and send a message to the manager. Sheffield United away next week is difficult in a different way – they were unlucky to lose at Birmingham on Saturday and will be very keen to avoid a second defeat to start the season in their first home game next week. With the players we have missing we’ll do well to get anything out of that game and playing like this we’ll struggle to escape from the rest of the week without two defeats however, like I say, plenty more to come from these players and the extra quality we’ve brought in over the summer may stand us in good stead.

Match Day Photo Gallery

QPR: Cerny 6, Ramage 6, Hall 7, Gorkss 6, Delaney 6, Ledesma 7 (Alberti 83, -), Mahon 7, Leigertwood 6, Cook 6, Agyemang 5 (Parejo 72, 7), Blackstock 5
Subs Not Used: Camp, Connolly, Balanta
Booked: Cook (foul)
Goals: Hall 29 (assisted Ledesma), 31 (assisted Cook)

Barnsley: Steele 7, Devaney 7, Moore 6, Foster 6, Hassell 6 (Leon 85, -), De Silva 6, Howard 6, Van Homoet 6, Hume 7, Macken 4 (Odejayi 85, -), El Haimour 5 (Rigters 75, 6)
Subs Not Used: Kozluk, Mostto
Sent Off: Van Homoet (83) (serious foul play)
Goals: Hume 5 (assisted Howard)

QPR Star Man – Emmanuel Ledesma 7 Certainly not perfect by any means, lots of play acting and free kicks straight out of play or through to the keeper, but he was our biggest threat and most eye catching player on the day. Credit to Mahon and Hall for good performances as well.

Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire) 5 - The Barnsley fans and players seemed to be irate with him in the second half and I can understand why, we’d have been screaming blue murder in their position. I didn’t think it was a penalty at the time but replays suggest that was the correct decision, likewise the sending off, but he seemed to be very kind to QPR for most of the game to me and bought a lot of the play acting from Ledesma when he really should have played on. The sending off also wouldn’t have happened had he given Barnsley the free kick they deserved a few seconds before, and that in turn wouldn’t have happened had he given a foul that Mahon deserved ten seconds before all of that. Having said that he booked Cook for a foul no worse than three previous Barnsley ones that had gone unpunished. Not great.

Attendance: 14,964 The claim on the official website that there had been “unprecedented demand” for tickets for this one looked like even more of an insult to our collective intelligence when the crowd was announced some three and a half thousand below capacity. A poor following from Barnsley for an opening day fixture I thought, and the QPR fans were far too quick to attack their own side when things weren’t going well and I include myself in that – it is hard not to get frustrated when you think how much we all paid to be there though and this will become more of an issue as we progress through the season I feel.

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