|QPR secure shock League Cup win at Swindon - full match report|
Wednesday, 13th Aug 2008 23:13
QPR surprised even themselves on Tuesday night by not only playing brilliantly, but winning in the League Cup at Swindon Town.
I arrived in Swindon at 5pm and had a couple of hours to kill before kick-off. As the train approached the city the bright blue skies I left behind at Paddington were gradually turning to dark grey – just for a change in Swindon. It was obvious the heavens would open for business at some point and rain would start chucking it down. At that point as I peered out the window and pondered this thought - I realised how stupid I was to have travelled all that way wearing just a t-shirt. Some people never learn.
I stopped off in the Town Centre for a quick bite to eat and a drink and it indeed starting to pour with rain. I was still a good ten minutes walk from the County Ground and I looked on grimly in my t-shirt. The rain was so heavy I decided to go and buy a brolly for £6 from Debenham's. By the time I'd purchased that and made my way back out onto the street the sun had come out, the rain had stopped and I knew it would be a good night from that point on.
We started the match with Lee Camp in goal, Matthew Connolly at right-back, Damien Delaney as Captain at left-back and Kaspars Gorkss paired with Damien Stewart in the centre of defence. In midfield we had Emmanuel Ledesma on the right, Lee Cook on the left and Mikele Leigertwood and Daniel Parejo in the centre of midfield. Up front it was Angelo Balanta and Dexter Blackstock.
If it didn't seem like we had an attacking plan against Barnsley on Saturday but it was obvious what the score was here. The players were clearly instructed to get the ball to Emmanuel Ledesma as soon as possible and hence a glorious performance ensued. In the second minute Ledesma picked up the ball on the left and cut inside before slotting a smart through ball for Dexter Blackstock to chase. The idea was right but the Argentine played it with too much weight and Peter Brezovan collected.
Over the next few minutes it was interesting to note that Lee Camp collected the ball on two occasions and immediately tried to look for a player the quick throw but seemed hesitant as it wasn't really on. He looked frustrated with the men in front of him as a result as it forced him to kick up field.
In the fifth minute, one of these kicks landed at the feet of Daniel Parejo, who had barely touched the ball until now. The Spaniard though didn't need much opportunity to show his class by playing a lovely disguised pass to Lee Cook when everybody else thought he was going to play it the other way. Cook was probably surprised too because he took a poor touch when it was easier to control and as a result, his cross went to no-one but this was a positive start. Brezovan then cleared the ball up field and Damien Stewart won a header and the ball ended up with Matthew Connolly on the right of defence. Connolly fed the ball into the feet of Angelo Balanta, who had his back to goal and he cleverly turned his man before finding Ledesma whose cross was well blocked.
Connolly found himself high up the pitch just moments later and after another fine run from Balanta, he played a clever one-two with him and his cross was cut out by a Swindon defender for a corner. Ledesma whipped that in superbly to the back post where Kaspars Gorkss headed dangerously across the goal, but Swindon managed to clear their lines.
Moments after, Dexter Blackstock got in on the action, making a fine run and holding up the ball before cleverly slotting in Ledesma who burst onto the scene but saw his shot deflected and over for another corner. Ledesma whipped in another beautiful ball which Swindon cleared, but only as far as Lee Cook on the left and he crossed it back in to Blackstock who almost scored with a great volley but put it just wide. There were only about eight minutes on the clock by this point but it was all Rangers.
Brezovan took his goal kick quickly though and the ball found its way out to the left. Suddenly Ledesma was too far up the pitch and Connolly was left in a one v one situation with Anthony McNamee and he delivered a peach of a cross to the back post which Jon-Paul McGovern headed just wide. It was a warning that Swindon were ready to pounce on any opportunity we granted them.
Interestingly it was in about the eleventh minute that Lee Camp managed to distribute the ball with his first throw. It went straight to Damien Delaney who proceeded to just launch the ball up the pitch and we lost possession. I wonder where we've seen that one before.
After a quarter of an hour we gave away a needless free-kick which Swindon played a clever disguised pass out to the wing. The cross was fired in and the effort on goal took a deflection which went flashing just past the post. Had it been on target, Camp looked beaten. From the resulting corner, the ball was only half cleared to the edge of the penalty area to Billy Paynter who struck a beautiful dipping volley at goal which Camp saved superbly.
Up until now, all the action had been down the right with our Argentine, but Lee Cook finally got involved with a really clever spin deep into our midfield. He took out two players with the move and played in Delaney on the overlap or cut the ball back to Mikele Leigertwood who made a good supporting run. Leigertwood's cross however was cut out for yet another corner, this time though, on the left side. Parejo curled in a dangerous ball but Swindon bravely cleared again.
QPR were quite simply running the show and the support play at times was a joy to witness. Parejo combined with Ledesma in the centre and Connolly made a great overlap into the box for the Argentine to play a delightful reverse pass into his path. His cross however was just cut out for another corner, but the deflection itself almost went in. It was amazing we still hadn't opened the scoring. Ledesma was at it again in the 22nd minute, showing wonderful control from a booming kick to the wing from Lee Camp. His touch was almost instant and he found Blackstock just outside the box. Blackstock had two men on him, but an unexpected turn took him away from both defenders and in on goal, but his shot was tame and Brezovan saved. He should have scored but it was a delightful move to watch.
In the 25th minute Ledesma was the threat again, picking up a throw from Matthew Connolly and then turning his marker inside out before crossing to Blackstock who headed over. By now we were all over Swindon and they had very little chance to reply. Stewart however kept giving away free-kicks when he didn't need to from Brezovan's goal kicks. Until now it was the only real blight in our performance.
Ledesma shot at goal with a free kick after a foul on Balanta but that was saved and the clearance came back out to him that resulted in some fine passing involving him, Parejo, Cook and Delaney as we spread the ball from one side to the next. Eventually it found its way to Leigertwood who was just outside the box and he flashed his shot inches past the post.
Shortly after that, Parejo found the ball in the midfield, controlling the ball with a masterful touch with two players on his back. He wasn't finished there though, a splendid turn and dribble showed he could also accelerate away from these men and suddenly he was surging towards goal. He laid in Ledesma on the left who cut inside and fired a shot at the far post which looked destined for the net but somehow went just wide!
Blackstock then had a bit of fortune as he chased a Camp kick into the wing and accidentally handled the ball as he challenged with the keeper. It wasn't given and suddenly he was racing towards an empty net with the Swindon defence scrambling to make it back and with Balanta and Cook in support. Blackstock though somehow delivered an awful cross over all of the players and it went out to safety. For it to still be 0-0 after 30 minutes was really incredible.
We continued to apply the pressure though and weren't fazed by not having scored. Balanta found the ball in the box again and swivelled on it before seeing his shot blocked and out for another corner. It was on Parejo's side again and he curled the ball into the near post which Delaney met and struck at goal. It hit a Swindon body and landed at Balanta's feet for him to poke home at point blank range. Finally it was 1-0 and no more than we deserved.
Then, and in typical Rangers style, we conceded almost instantly. We gave away another needless free-kick down Swindon's left and McNamee crossed to the far post which was headed back across goal and landed at the feet of Simon Cox who turned well on the ball and drilled his strike in the bottom right hand corner.
It didn't bother us too much though because we went right back on the attack and Ledesma should have put us in front in the 35th minute. Balanta got hold of the ball with his back to goal from a Cook pass and turned neatly before sprinting forward with the ball. He slotted in Ledesma who beat Yinka Casal and sent another strike that had "goal" all over it flashing just wide.
Brezovan took the resulting goal-kick too quickly and suddenly Swindon lost the ball and it landed at the feet of Ledesma who was through on goal and one-on-one with the keeper. Brezovan to his credit stayed big and brave and somehow smothered Ledesma's shot, who really should have scored. Balanta then burst away down the right on our next attack and beat his man before firing the ball across the face of the goal. Blackstock sprinted forward in support and flung himself at the ball but it just evaded him and he, rather than the ball, ended up in the back of the net. Any contact would have resulted in a goal as Brezovan was no where to be seen.
Then, after 38 minutes of scintillating play by the Hoops, we finally had a passage of indifferent play. Stewart managed to slice a clearance out for a throw when under little pressure before Ledesma went close with a back-post header from a Cookie cross. Shortly after that Delaney tried to do too much with a needless flick pass and lost the ball and possession around the halfway line. Lilian Nalis sprayed his pass out to the left wing where McNamee was only too happy to oblige and send in a fabulous cross which was converted by Paynter with a wonderful header. We were 2-1 down and neither we nor Swindon could believe it.
In the 43rd minute we had another chance to make amends. Balanta was unnecessarily fouled and from about 30-35 yards, Parejo smashed in a superb drive from the free-kick off the foot of the post with Brezovan well beaten. We nearly equalised two minutes later when a great tackle by Connolly high up the pitch saw Ledesma gain possession. For the first time in the match he decided to cross with his right foot, surprising Swindon and Balanta controlled and turned before seeing his shot deflected just wide.
The only other notable point was Stewart completely screwing up a header under no pressure at all after he took a poor touch that sent the ball into the air. Luckily Gorkss was on hand to clear any danger and with that, the referee blew for what was an absolutely pulsating first half of football.
Despite going in at half-time 2-1 down, there was a positive vibe in the stands that the team could turn it around in the second half and even if we lost, which would have been a travesty given what we had just witnessed, you would still have come away satisfied. Within 60 seconds of the restart though we were level and a sweeping move ending with a one-two between Cook and Balanta saw the Cookie Monster deliver a trademark cross right into the path of Blackstock who thumped his header home for 2-2 and it was game on again.
A couple of minutes later we nearly took the lead. Balanta got possession of the ball with a lovely take and ran at goal before finding Blackstock whose effort went missed and stayed in the field of play. The ball was crossed in and Parejo nodded the ball into the path of Leigertwood who hooked his shot just wide.
Nothing much further happened until we actually took the lead in the 55th minute. Ledesma showed great tenacity to close down Casal and put him under pressure, forcing a corner in our favour. It was crossed into the box and eventually fell to the feet of Delaney about 12 yards out and he fired through a bunch of players and through Brezovan's legs for 3-2.
Swindon though had a chance to equalise when Nalis shot through a crowd of players in the 62nd minute and put the ball in the back of the net, but his goal was ruled out correctly for offside. A minute after that, Ledesma gave away a silly free-kick on the left wing and McGovern's delivery was almost converted by Paynter who headed narrowly over.
In the 69th minute Balanta had me purring again after linking with another great one-two with Ledesma. Balanta controlled a difficult ball so intelligently with his chest and turned superbly before playing Ledesma back in who saw his shot saved. Ledesma though was starting to irritate the Swindon fans, what with his foul earlier but also with some of his other antics. He went over easily once or twice throughout the match and also was moving the ball forward at free-kicks whenever the referee turned his back. This time Ledesma fouled another player and as they argued, proceeded to grab hold of his face and neck while the referee wasn't looking. He continued this and irritated the Swindon players and eventually the referee called him over. He'd already been booked by now for kicking the ball away earlier so the referee sensibly called over captain Delaney to have a word.
In the 73rd minute Stewart was at it again; giving the ball away under no pressure with a stray pass. Parejo was on hand to win it back and get him out of jail and then a minute later, Samuel Di Carmine was introduced for Dexter Blackstock.
The silly fouls continued and this time Lee Cook gave one away in a wide-right position for Swindon. McNamee's delivery was hooked over from a dangerous area and once again we were lucky to get away with it. In the 80th minute Stewart missed another easy header from a relatively hopeful ball and Swindon almost snuck in but the chance fizzled out for a corner after great covering by Connolly. Cook had to punch away McGovern's dangerous corner amongst a crowd of players.
It wasn't like we were hanging on at all, but we were our own worst enemy at times by creating our own problems. Iain Dowie decided it was time for a change and withdrew Ledesma in place of Matteo Alberti in the 82nd minute. The Argentine went off to a standing ovation from both sets of supporters for what was simply an outstanding individual performance. Fair play to the Swindon fans for that one because at times they did boo him too but recognised his brilliance and contribution to this game. Swindon though still fancied their chances and a minute after Ledesma went off they were on the attack down the right. Hasney Aljofree made a great overlapping run down their right and put in a superb cross that Leigertwood did remarkably well under pressure to put out for a corner with his chest.
McGovern's cross was met by Nalis and his header went over after good pressure from Stewart, which, sadly was his first real positive contribution to the game but better late than never. Two minutes later though he gave away another needless free kick just outside the penalty area which had me yelling in anger. McGovern flashed a shot just wide of the post and it so easily could have crept in. I was delighted they took him off moments later because I thought he'd played well.
We then went back on the attack with just a couple of minutes to spare. Di Carmine provided his most notable contribution with a delicate touch and then pass to Balanta who raced at the Swindon defence before firing a fairly tame shot over and in the last minute, we should have wrapped the game up when Parejo won the ball and broke on the counter but after finding Balanta, the Colombian played poor ball to Di Carmine and the chance came to nothing.
The fourth official held up the board with five minutes of injury time to the groans of our crowd, but luckily we held on firm despite a scary moment in the 94th minute when Leigertwood came close to heading into his own net from a long punt down the pitch.
This performance will live long in the memory. It was a great effort by both teams, but particularly ours as we played some sensational football and two men stood out as head and shoulders above the rest on the night. Take a bow Emmanuel Ledesma and Angelo Balanta for two stunning displays and if we wondered what our foreign imports would be like on a cold, wet and miserable Tuesday night against some supposedly lower class opposition - well here's your answer - they were all great. It could have been a one off or it could have been because we were playing Swindon. It sounds like they didn't play well though, but they did and made good use of the ball when they had the opportunity and scored two very well taken goals.
If we can maintain this form and show similar performances against Championship class opponents then we will really frighten the pants off some teams this season. With the knowledge that we've got some proven quality still to return I can't but help be excited by the possibilities these players can offer. Dowie will have been thrilled with them tonight and rightly so - but the guys who came in and did a job have given him some real selection headaches ahead of our trip to Bramall Lane on Saturday.
Lee Camp: He started ever so slightly nervously and seemed to want to show he could throw the ball out even when nothing was on. He didn't really do anything wrong on the night, making one fabulous save from Billy Paynter and not really being able to do anything about Swindon's goals. It was a decent performance and his kicking on the night was fine.
Matthew Connolly: I personally don't think Peter Ramage or Matthew are natural right-backs, but Matthew showed how it should be played with his performance tonight. He was superb defensively and don't get fooled by McNamee's performance. McNamee played well but he only did well whenever we lost possession and were stretched, with Ledesma sometimes high up the pitch and offering no protection. Connolly also linked wonderfully at times with Ledesma and made some cracking overlapping runs. If Ledesma ends up staying on the right-win then I'm really excited by this combination down that side.
Damien Delaney: It wasn't a particularly great performance and I don't quite think he's hit the ground running yet this season. I'm not particularly concerned but he was sloppy in possession at times and prone to lumping it down the pitch if he doesn't feel anything is on. Still, he got a good goal and at times he supported Cook with good overlapping runs without really any end product to show for.
Kaspars Gorkss: It was a steady no frills performance. He was a thorn on our attacking set plays where he won many back post headers and if we keep delivering like we did tonight, he will surely pop up with some goals.
Damion Stewart: Unfortunately Stewpeas had a pretty bad game and it was the only real blip on an otherwise superb showing from Rangers. It's hard to know where to start and I do feel a bit sorry for him, but his timing was all wrong and he made so many unnecessary fouls in dangerous areas that he didn't need to. But the real word here is "unforced errors" and he's making too many of them. Too often he struggled to clear the ball under little or no pressure and quite often it was his own touch or technique to blame. It's still early days of course and only his first game of the season, so there are likely to be cobwebs but he really needs to get on his game and find form quickly. It's not often player's can make me swear out loud or make me cross, but he made me shout some vile stuff to myself at least three or four times.
Emmanuel Ledesma: I thought long and hard about what I wanted to write here because I don't want to heap too much pressure on this boy. But I can't help it, can I? He put in a performance that ranks among some of the very best I've seen from a player in a Rangers shirt. It was that good. Some may say it was only Swindon, but you can only compete against what's in front of you and he was absolutely sensational in everything he did on the night. We've unearthed a real gem of a player here, there's no doubt about it and if we've got any business sense then we ought to buy him now and forget about delaying it until the end of the season. It was an exciting individual display which still had bags of potential about it, and sure he won't reach these heights in every game but if finds 50% of this performance against Sheffield United he'll still have them in bags of trouble.
Lee Cook: It was the perfect game for Cookie. He was still rough around the edges at times but it was a great match for him to practice some of his key skills. He took on some players tonight which he didn't do much of at Burnley but I gather this will have helped fine tune his performances in the future more. He was in and out of the game, but that's mainly because Ledesma had most of the ball.
Mikele Leigertwood: He had an efficient game in the middle and played well. He kept it simple which allowed our creative players to get on the ball and do the business. No nonsense and got on with the dirty work when required. He still managed to get forward once or twice and at the right times too so he can be really pleased with his night's work.
Daniel Parejo: He drifted in and out of the games at times but just has a maturity and touch about him that does show there is some serious class there. He played a couple of passes that nobody on the pitch saw but unlocked some great situations. He's calm and composed which I like and he knows when to be fancy and when not to be. He also has a knack of being in the right place at the right time which is the sign of a good player. Like Ledesma he proved he can deliver from crosses and free-kicks and I don't remember the last time we had so many fantastic options in that department. We will score a lot of goals from dead play scenarios and this will be vital to our success this season.
Angelo Balanta: On this form we do not have any other strikers better and the way he played was way beyond his years. His ability to hold up the ball and play with his back to goal was superb, but equally he showed a fantastic first-touch and understanding of when to set the ball and lay it off, or when to turn and go at defenders. It was almost masterful in the way he did it and he also has knack of still being in control even when the ball is bobbling, bouncing off shins or in awkward 50-50 situations. It's the sign of a very good player in the making and if he continues to progress as rapidly as this, we've got a superb asset on our hands because this was the type of performance that makes attacking play tick.
Dexter Blackstock: He worked quite hard up front and although at times he was a bit sketchy he was generally doing good work and got his goal. He might have got a few more had he been a bit more composed in front of goal, but there are signs of the Blackstock who scored a bunch of goals to keep up us the season before last and I'm pleased about that.
Samuel Di Carmine: Didn't have too much time to impress and once or twice chose the wrong option but also once or twice showed some nice touches too.
Matteo Alberti: Barely had a chance to get involved.
Referee – Richard Beeby 7 I thought he had a good game and went relatively unnoticed. He officiated sensibly and there were no wild or crazy decisions. Anything he generally did that irritated either sets of fans looked like the right decision to me.
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