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Stewart takes flight to claim Villa scalp - full match report
Stewart takes flight to claim Villa scalp - full match report
Thursday, 25th Sep 2008 02:43

QPR's impressive League Cup run continued on Wednesday night as the R's won 1-0 at Premiership side Aston Villa.

Much as it is hard for a pessimist like myself to admit I think we are all slowly coming round to the idea that QPR could well be the real deal this season. Last Wednesday at Carrow Road the R’s found themselves successfully hanging onto a 1-0 lead in unlikely circumstances and then seven days later at Villa Park, against one of the top five teams in the country, they were at it again.

Neither the Norwich or Villa results would have been achieved by any other QPR side that’s taken the field over the past decade and to be honest I’m still in a state of shock that the current one has managed it. Years of underachievement and poor performance have led me to expect the worst but QPR go back to Loftus Road on Saturday with two wins from three away games, and the defeat at Coventry on Saturday was seriously unfortunate as well.

This win at Villa Park, that featured some stylish football from the Championship side, is the highlight of the season so far and while Coventry fans will remind us that Dowie won at Man Utd with them in this competition this time last season before going downhill it’s hard to see this QPR side fading in the same manner over the cold winter ahead.

That it was QPR doing the giant killing on Wednesday, rather than falling at the feet of minnows themselves as has usually been the case in the past, is testament to the way Dowie has married his own strengths in organisation and commitment with the footballing ethos introduced by Luigi De Canio last season.

All the ingredients for a cup shock were there. Villa rested some, but certainly not all, of their star names and this game came in an incredible fixture pile up for them that saw them in London, Bulgaria and West Bromwich inside six days last week. Though Martin O’Neill has a terrific history in this competition and it represents one of few realistic chances of silverware for the Villains there was some doubt before the match just how serious the home side would take it and only 17,000 Villa fans turned up to find out. QPR for their part, unlike their last visit here in the League Cup four years ago where they were fortunate to cling on to a 3-1 defeat, brought players capable of causing Villa problems and while the home side played well within itself QPR excelled in key areas. Roared on by 4000 travelling fans in the North Stand the scene was set, and Rangers didn’t fluff their lines.

Iain Dowie made a couple of changes to his line up after the weekend defeat at Coventry. Peter Ramage and Lee Cook were both left out of the matchday squad altogether with Matt Connolly reurning from suspension at right back and Akos Buzsaky getting a first start of the season in one of the three attacking midfield roles. Alongside the Hungarian, Daniel Parejo got a recall at the expense of Mikele Leigertwood which meant the Spaniard sharing holding duties with Rowlands alongside Mahon. Up front Patrick Agyemang replaced Dexter Blackstock in the lone striker’s role while Fitz Hall returned to the heart of the defence with Damion Stewart instead of Kaspars Gorkss.

Villa, coming into the game on the back of three tough away games in two competitions over seven days, made changes of their own. Gabriel Agbonlahor, who scored but was later sick on the pitch at West Brom on Sunday, was replaced in attack by Marlon Harewood who scored against Rangers the last time we faced him in his West Ham days. Curtis Davies and Martin Laursen were both left out of the defence with Zat Knight and Carlos Cueller coming in to replace them. In midfield there was a first domestic start of the season for 20 year old Isaiah Osbourne. Brad Guzan replaced his fellow countryman Brad Friedel between the sticks.

In the early stages it was clear that this would be no backs to the wall, hoof the ball downfield and hope for the best performance from QPR. The passing football was soon flowing through midfield and Akos Buzsaky fired over the bar and into the Holte End at the end of the first meaningful attack of the match. Villa responded with a hopeful long range effort of their own but Craig Gardner could only find the back of the stand behind the goal containing the QPR support with his shot. Not to be outdone Emmanuel Ledesma fired high wide and handsome a short time later – supporters clutching hot drinks in far more danger than either keeper or the score sheet in the opening stages.

The first real chance of the game went the way of Villa in the twelfth minute. Mahon was guilty of conceding possession in a bad area of the field and when Patrov clipped the loose ball in behind the defence for Harewood to chase it looked like his carelessness may well be punished. Harewood checked back onto his favourite foot, opened his body up to search for the far corner, and promptly hoisted the ball high into the North Stand to the QPR fans’ delight.

Rangers' first real threat on the goal followed two minutes later – a free kick from 25 yards after a foul on Ledesma by Zat Knight. Daniel Parejo struck the ball, seeking out the left corner of the net as we looked at it from the opposite end, a corner left surprisingly and temptingly open and available by Guzon who seemed to be positioned too far to his left for my money when the free kick was taken. Sadly for the visitors Parejo could only find the top of the wall, and a resulting corner, with his shot. Had he beaten the wall there would have been little Guzon could have done to stop it.

The R’s fashioned a chance in open play on their next attack, another free flowing move through the midfield, but after skipping all the way across the face of the penalty area with the ball seemingly stuck to his toes Ledesma could not work space for a shot and ended up being crowded out, In between that and the free kick Ashley Young fired wide of the post for the home side. At times QPR seemed to have the Arsenal disease of always wanting to beat an extra man or complete another pass instead of shooting - this was never going to be 6-0 though.

Twice in quick succession after the half hour mark Rangers defenders were forced into last ditch tackles in the penalty area. First Connolly took his time before cleaning Harewood out as he prepared to cut the ball back from the byline then Damion Stewart tracked John Carew for 40 yards down the touchline before dispossessing him. To be honest it was a privilege to see Carew in the flesh such is his ability to play the target man role without ever just being somebody Villa can hoof long balls to. In fairness though Stewart stuck to his task well and did a damn sight better job than West Brom managed at the weekend.

I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of the Villa striker on just how Stewart got on. Carew has of course been everywhere and seen and done everything in the game but I can’t imagine he’ll have had too many tougher nights than this.

As the half ticked down QPR became less and less ambitious and seemed content with holding out for a goalless halftime score. Ashley Young was having none of that though and after curling a 20 yard shot wide of the post himself he then delivered a peach of a cross into the six yard box that Cerny missed and Harewood planted over from four yards out. He may never get a simpler chance.

Plenty of positives to take from the first half, some of the football we played in the first stanza was exceptional, but plenty to worry about as well and had Villa had a football player up front instead of Marlon Harewood it may well have been 2-0 to the home side at half time just like last time. For me you could tell the ‘Championship’ players in the QPR side – Delaney, Mahon and Agyemang had looked pretty poor at times in the first half. Although we’d held our own I have to confess that an upset was the furthest thought from my mind as some lunatic was allowed to belt out a hideous ditty about John Carew on the big screen at great volume. I’d just sent my brother off to find my elephant gun when the teams re-emerged.

Villa clearly got a bit of a ticking off to go with their oranges at the break and they addressed the challenge of the second half with renewed vim and vigour forcing several corners that Cerny took great delight in flapping at, to a chorus of ‘catch the ball’ from the away fans, and a shot from Gardner that was goalbound before it struck Delaney and deflected away to safety. QPR were really clinging on at this point but every team has ten minutes of pressure in a match regardless sof circumstance and whereas that was the cue to cave in last season, this term Dowie has injected a steely resolve to call upon in just such an occasion. As at Norwich far from crumpling under pressure and adversity, QPR actually thrived on it.

Despite starting the second period poorly and being under pressure for almost the entire first 15 minutes QPR took a shock lead with their first attack of the half. Cometh the hour cometh Damion Stewart. Rangers owed a debt of gratitude first of all to referee Lee Mason who awarded a corner on the left flank when it was clearly a goal kick after coming off Buzsaky last. Normally in those circumstances the referee immediately blows up for a free kick to the defensive side but with little contact inside the area Guzan was able to get a firm punch away and Mason kept quiet. The ball ran across to Daniel Parejo wide on the QPR right and he whipped in a glorious cross which was gobbled up enthusiastically by Stewart at the near post after he’d remained forward following the corner. The Big Jamaican’s third of the season headed with such velocity it nearly ripped the net off the back of the posts.

This capped a fine night for Stewart who dealt with Carew admirably at the back and won us the game going forwards. The mental side of things, and a tendency to switch off, has always been Stewart’s biggest problem but he’s been almost faultless since returning to the team this season and Dowie has clearly been working on several aspects of the big man’s game. He has all the attributes to be a super player and he’s certainly showing that at the moment.

QPR could even have doubled the lead when Emmanuel Ledesma cut in from the right and fired a low shot in on goal that Guzon parried out into the danger zone and was fortunate to see the loose ball fall to a team mate who cleared.

Villa were starting to panic and O’Neill reached for his substitutes card with little over 20 minutes left in the match. The sight of Gabriel Agbonlahor on the touchline probably filled the QPR players with dread, especially as he replaced the terminally awful Marlon Harewood in attack. Rumours that Harewood is still out on the Villa Park pitch now frantically wafting a banjo around and shouting about a cow’s arse are apparently unfounded but I do know for sure that even if he'd stayed there until day break he still wouldn’t have managed to score. He was dire, the worst player on the pitch by some considerable distance.

Rangers also had cause to worry about the referee. I’m always wary of Premiership officials refereeing Premiership teams in situations like this because as soon as the lower league side takes the lead all the decisions start going the way of the big clubs and sure enough, probably with the incorrect decision to award QPR a corner for the goal still fresh in his mind, Mason started to award one questionable free kick after another to the home side. The most farcical saw Di Carmine, introduced for Agyemang with 25 minutes to go, chase Zat Knight down to his own byline and then watch perplexed as the big man fell over under no contact whatsoever and picked the ball up on his way down only to be awarded a free kick himself. Ledesma was harshly penalised for a foul that looked like a good tackle and Delaney was booked for a poor lunge on Craig Gardner - Villa quickly followed this up with bookings of their own for Gardner and Cuellar as frustration started to set in.

Parejo stung the keeper’s hands with a low drive eight minutes from time but QPR’s attacking ambition was becoming more and more limited with each passing minute and whenever they did venture into the Villa half Mason immediately whistled against them and the ball came flying back over their heads.

Suddenly with barely two minutes left for play it looked like the game was up. Another long ball up towards Carew found the Norwegian free of the shackles of Stewart for once and with Agbonlahor pulling Hall the other way Gareth Barry was left to coast through unopposed onto the flick on. Cerny half came off his line but it was a real gift for the England midfielder – what his big idea was next only he will know. With the ball sitting up invitingly he elected to put his foot under the ball and lift it over the advancing goalkeeper, he succeeded only in spooning it horribly wide. He won’t need telling twice what a complete balls up that really was.

Dowie sent on Balanta and Leigertwood to waste time and Villa spent the three minutes of stoppage time forcing a couple of goal mouth scrambles, one of which ended with Rowlands literally crawling on hands and knees to get in front of a shot from Barry, but eventually, after what seemed like an age, the whistle sounded. A fine evening of work for an impressive young QPR side.

The final whistle was greeted with euphoric cheers from the travelling thousands and the QPR players hugged each other in triumph down on the pitch. This may not matter much to the Premiership sides, although why they’re all so keen to toss off their only real chance of silverware is beyond me, but it was a fantastic result for QPR and a great night for the supporters. Just reward for the years and years of misery at the hands of lower league opposition in knock out competitions. Leyton Orient, Leyton Orient can you hear me now?

Of course you need a bit of luck to win these games and I can’t ever recall Gareth Barry fluffing his lines so badly when through on goal as he did in the last minute of this match, nor is he likely to do it again, but the QPR defence had worked so hard all night in the face of serious pressure that you could say they deserved that break. Even if you don’t think they deserved it they got it, and it hammered the final nail into the home side’s coffin.

This wasn’t a perfect display by any means. Gavin Mahon looked a little off the pace in the first half, both Agyemang and Di Carmine struggled in the lone striker role I thought and Delaney had a mediocre game at left back giving the ball away too much in possession and not doing enough to stop dangerous crosses coming into the box. But to pick fault after such a great effort and terrific result would be churlish. Fitz Hall was excellent on his return and the combination of Rowlands, Parejo, Ledesma and Buzsaky in the midfield looked fit to grace stages like this on a weekly basis. Certainly it was better than anything Aston Villa had on offer in the middle of the park – on this evidence you’d have picked a QPR player for an £18m move to Liverpool, not the plodding Aston Villa captain.

On now to two winnable home games and while I always sit hear and write about how typical it would be of QPR if after all this we were to go home to Loftus Road and get beaten I’m not going to this week. We are a good side at our level, a bloody good side, and if we can maintain a level of performance anything like we’ve managed in these three successive away games that looked so daunting when we began then we should beat both Derby and Blackpool with something to spare. It’s a big ‘if’ of course, but maybe it’s time for even me to let my misery guard down and show the confidence in our players that their performances merit.

Well done my R’s.

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Aston Villa: Guzan 6, Gardner 6, Cuellar 6, Knight 5, Shorey 6, Osbourne 5 (Routledge 67, 5), Petrov 5, Barry 5, Ashley Young 7, Harewood 4 (Agbonlahor 67, 6), Carew 7
Subs Not Used: Friedel, Delfouneso, Davies, Salifou, Reo-Coker
Booked: Cuellar (foul) Gardner (foul)

QPR: Cerny 7, Connolly 7, Hall 8, Stewart 9, Delaney 5, Mahon 7, Rowlands 8, Parejo 8, Ledesma 8 (Balanta 90, -), Buzsaky 7 (Leigertwood 81, -), Agyemang 6 (Di Carmine 66, 6)
Subs Not Used: Camp, Blackstock, Gorkss, Ephraim
Booked: Delaney (foul)
Goals: Stewart 58 (assisted Parejo)

QPR Star Man – Damion Stewart 9 He really is in top form at the moment. Always easy to single out the goal scorer but apart from the match winning header he also dealt magnificently with John Carew almost all evening, and almost faultless display of centre half play. Magnificent.

Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire) 4 Not too bad at all for the first hour but after getting the corner decision so badly wrong in the lead up to the goal he then seemed desperate to even things up. Some strange decisions given from that point on reaffirming my dislike for Premiership refs when Premiership teams are losing to sides from lower divisions. Look after your own and all that, he certainly did his best for them in the last half hour.

Attendance: 21,541 (4000 QPR fans approximately) The Villa fans were as quiet as I’ve ever known them with one little band of signers tucked up somewhere in the rafters at the Holte End. The QPR support was loud and proud and there was much less trouble than we’d had here last time.

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One user has commented on this story. Click here to add your thoughts:

Quite the best report I have read in years. I was there and your comments made me think I was reliving the game. Loved the point you make about the Ref. My Grandson was the QPR mascot and his Dad had the opportunity of meeting the Ref. before the game, and he said,"I hope your not a homer" to-night. He was indeed,very fair until we scored, after that he gave us nothing. You R'ss. -b.rowe


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