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QPR brought back to earth by resurgent Rams - full match report
QPR brought back to earth by resurgent Rams - full match report
Sunday, 28th Sep 2008 19:43

It was a real case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ at Loftus Road on Saturday as QPR followed up three excellent away performances with a poor defeat against Derby County.

Just as it seemed things were all going so well. Perhaps this was simply a game too far in the midst of a tough spell of fixtures, or maybe the good performances on the road bred cockiness and over confidence in our team, or possibly it was just a bad day at the office for Rangers – whatever it was the home side was very poor, almost unrecognisable from the QPR side that won at Aston Villa on Wednesday, and got everything they deserved.

QPR did not, or were not allowed to, pass the ball even half as well as they did at Villa and Coventry last week and insisted on presenting Derby with possession in dangerous areas time after time. Derby, who did not have a midweek game it is worth remembering, looked fresher, stronger, meaner, leaner and faster than QPR. The Rams won the vast majority of the second balls and were the better team for all but ten minutes just after half time.

Iain Dowie made one change to the side that won at Villa Park. Former Derby loan man Dexter Blackstock came back into the attack after being rested for the cup match, Patrick Agyemang was the man who made way for him. Lee Cook returned to the squad but not the team, he was on the bench. That meant Buzsaky, Ledesma and Rowlands were again trusted with providing support to Blackstock while Parejo and Mahon had to hold the midfield. At the back Matt Connolly continued instead of Ramage at right back, Hall and the in form Stewart started in the centre with Delaney at left back and Cerny in goal.

Paul Jewell brought his Derby side to Loftus Road with just one league win to their name all season but unbeaten in their last three games. Jewell replaced Villa with Ellington in attack after a draw against Cardiff City last time out. Only three of the Derby players on view were not brought to the club by Jewell despite him being in charge for less than 12 months.

Derby posed the first threat in the fifth minute when Barazite swung a corner to the far post and Albrechtsen was left unmarked after coming up from the back. The Dane couldn’t direct his header on target but this was a warning of Derby’s potency from set pieces – something that would play a key role in the game later on.

Ledesma dragged a long range shot wide and Martin Rowlands just couldn’t finish a flowing move inside the first few minutes but it was Derby who started the game stronger and they went within inches of opening the score just before the 15 minute mark.

Buzsaky miscued a clearance in his own penalty box after a Derby corner and then couldn’t get out into the left back spot quick enough to prevent Connolly swinging over a teasing low cross to the near post. Damion Stewart stretched out a foot and diverted the ball agonisingly across the goal line and out for a corner no more than a foot wide of the far post – it was risky, and almost certainly not what he intended, but had he done nothing Hulse was waiting unmarked, four yards out from goal for what surely would have been a simple tap in.

Despite playing poorly and struggling to put anything together QPR actually created the best chance of the half after 22 minutes. Delaney started the move at left back and after a one two between Rowlands and Parejo in the centre circle Rangers started to move forwards with the ball at last. Rowlands found Ledesma who delicately chipped a ball in behind the Derby defence for Parejo, who had continued his run, to pick up on inside the penalty box and roll a perfect ball past Carroll and into the goal mouth where Dexter Blackstock was denied by a tremendous challenge from Connolly and Carroll was able to recover in the ensuing scramble. Terrific last ditch defending from Connolly but really Blackstock should have scored and only he knows how he didn’t – still, it was good to see QPR finally put something together after half an hour of turgid fair on their part.

QPR were not able to produce moves like this on a regular basis for two reasons – firstly we were far too narrow, everybody was cramped into the middle of the field and we had no natural width. We were also failing to support Blackstock adequately leaving him isolated and firmly in the pocket of Albrechtsen and Leacock. Secondly Derby were pressing us really well, with Green and Addison particularly busy and hard working in midfield. They didn’t let us settle in possession at all and as a consequence we gave the ball away with alarming frequency – Mahon and Parejo were particularly guilty, although they would rightly point to the lack of options available for a pass in the face of such high octane opposition.

The point about Derby’s hassling and QPR’s profligacy in possession was emphasised when Mahon turned into a world of trouble short of the halfway line, lost the ball to Green and was grateful to Hall for denying Hulse a shot on goal with a terrific sliding tackle in front of the Loft. Mahon has never been quite as good since I wrote an article for this site about how well he was playing – a closed mouth gathers no foot. He does a steady and important job for us sitting there but games are increasingly passing him by for pace and I wonder if Tomassi, no spring chicken himself, has been earmarked as his replacement.

Cerny smothered a tame shot by Pearson but had hearts in mouths midway through the half when a seemingly long and aimless ball hit him square in the chest and flew out for a throw in with no Derby players within 20 yards of him. Cerny blamed the bright autumn sunlight, but wasn’t wearing a cap before and didn’t put one on afterwards so he can have few complaints. He continues to terrify me and I’m really not convinced he’s good enough for a team with promotion aims at the moment – even when he does catch the ball, which isn’t often, he looks uncomfortable doing it and he is regularly berated by the defenders in front of him.

Ledesma picked up another silly booking, for dissent this time, ten minutes before half time when Parejo was harshly penalised for a foul on Jordan Stewart and he disputed the award of the free kick. Typical all round really – Parejo had a poor match, Ledesma doesn’t know when to shut up and the referee was over fussy and whistle happy all afternoon. Derby had a half hearted appeal for a penalty in their final attack of the half, Damion Stewart tussled with Ellington under a cross from his namesake Jordan but there were few appeals and it looked like six of one to me.

QPR started the second half much brighter and although they were still very narrow in attack they almost managed to craft an opening goal inside the first two minutes. Ledesma cut into the penalty area on his left foot and saw a curling shot from 18 yards deflect first off Jordan Stewart, then off Connolly and finally off the base of the post before bouncing wide for a corner. It would have been a scrappy goal in keeping with the general feel and look of the game to this point. From the resulting corner Ledesma came in unmarked at the back post and cracked a first time half volley a foot or so over the bar with Carroll struggling to reach it – he should have hit the target in truth.

Derby’s first chance of the half came courtesy of a mix up at the heart of the QPR defence. A long ball down the field from Leacock was contested by Hall and Ellington with the Derby man coming out on top and the ball running in behind the last QPR man. Damion Stewart initially hesitated either believing it would run through to Cerny or an offside flag would be raised and then had to show all his speed and strength to first catch up with Hulse and then execute a fantastic goal saving sliding tackle on the corner of the six yard box.

Green then had a shot easily saved by Cerny and Hall slid under Hulse as he was preparing to shoot – Derby’s increased influence on the game sparked Dowie into life and he replaced Buzsaky, still a long way from his best after injury, with Cook to add some much needed width to the attack. Over the course of the next 35 minutes Cook continued his recent trend of cutting inside rather than taking a man on down the line, and didn’t get to the byline once, but the crosses he did produce were better than anything we’d managed before he came on and we looked a better side going forward with him in it.

On the hour it looked like Rangers had finally managed to break the deadlock. Damien Delaney knocked the ball down the line looking for Rowlands and when Leacock hit the deck theatrically looking for a free kick that wasn’t forthcoming Rowly had the chance to search out Blackstock at the near post who darted in front of his man and could scarcely believe it when his crisp left foot finish cracked against the post, bounced against Carroll and somehow stayed out. We should have realised then that it wasn’t to be our day.

In the 68th minute Derby gave a warning of what was to come. A corner from the right by Barazite was not cleared properly by Hall or Mahon and when the ball broke to the corner taker again he sent a rasping drive fractionally over the bar. The ball had rolled invitingly and looked prime for a first time strike but Barazite took two touches and from then on the chance didn’t look quite as presentable but it was certainly a warning to QPR that Derby could threaten from set pieces – a warning the home side didn’t heed.

Five minutes later the away side went close again, this time Miles Addison seized on a slack clearance from Hall and returned the ball with interest, striking the top of the cross bar from fully 30 yards with Cerny seeming to leave it believing it was going over. For all the midfielders QPR used on the day, seven in total, Derby looked more organised, stronger and quicker in the middle of the park and Addison was their outstanding player on the day. Their form has improved massively since he came into the team and it’s easy to see why on this showing – his performance deserved a goal really.

Derby sent on Villa for Ellington while Iain Dowie added Leigertwood to his midfield at the expense of Mahon. When Agyemang came on for Ledesma QPR went to something more like a 4-4-2 formation but rather than go out to win the game the change opened the R’s right up and suddenly what looked set to be a 0-0 draw from a poor performance started to look more and more like an inevitable defeat. QPR remained lacklustre whereas Derby stepped things up a gear. Villa’s first involvement saw him lose out in a tussle with the imperious Damion Stewart chasing a through ball and taking a whack to his head the process – while he was on the sideline having tape added to the wound the visiting side took the lead.

Again it was a corner from the Derby right that caused QPR problems. Barazite swung it over, three Derby players converged on the near post, Hulse missed it altogether when he probably should have headed for goal and suddenly it all opened up for Martin Albrechtsen, totally unmarked in an area normally filled by Gavin Mahon and the centre half prodded the ball into the corner past Patrick Agyemang who should have done better on the back post.

The game had clearly gone away from Rangers and when Daniel Parejo selfishly hacked the ball into the stand from 30 yards out with several team mates ahead of him waiting for a cross the boos and cat calls started around Loftus Road. Parejo certainly hadn’t had a good game, easily his worst since arriving, and when you couple a poor performance with his body language it doesn’t look pretty. While Buzsaky, Ledesma and Mahon hardly covered themselves in glory either I thought Parejo was lucky to survive the three substations Dowie made, although I do reiterate there was rarely more than one option for a pass when we had possession and often there wasn’t even that.

Derby doubled their lead in the final minute of the match, and yet again it was a right wing corner by Barazite that caused all the problems. Villa and Stewart tussled while chasing a long through ball and the QPR man came out on top once again but at the expense of a corner. Barazite took it again, Derby players converged on the near post again and Villa got above slack marking from Connolly to head into the bottom corner with nobody on the front post.

This was the cue for the ground to empty on three sides with those remaining choosing that moment to start signing songs against the new ticket price rises. The Derby fans were given warm applause for their chants on the same subject but it all had a rather hollow sound because had QPR been winning, nobody would have said anything. I’m alright Jack. QPR fans once again missing a chance to show that we can unite when necessary.

The key to this defeat in my opinion was the strength down the spine of the Derby side. Leacock and Albrechtsen were excellent at centre half, likewise Green and Addison in midfield and Rob Hulse up front. Despite QPR outnumbering them down the middle the Londoners lacked any genuine width and Derby were able to outmuscle their hosts in key areas. Only Stewart and to some extent Hall impressed down the centre of the QPR team. I like the formation and system QPR play, whenever they switch to 4-4-2 the amount of ‘luxury’ players in the team is exposed and we all remember what happened at Sheff Utd earlier this season.

The narrowness of the team was the biggest concern for me, and that needs to be looked at before the game with Blackpool on Tuesday. It is just so like QPR to build all our hopes with three terrific performances on the road and then come home and lose a winnable home match. If it was indeed complacency against a previously poor but now improving Derby side then it could easily strike again on Tuesday with Blackpool tipped by many for relegation but starting the season well – I’m sure after the summer shenanigans over Kaspars Gorkss the Tangerines will be well up for this one as well.

More width required, and the fact that we’ve only scored two goals in four games now needs to be addressed as well. Blackstock should have had at least one on Saturday and missed sitters at Coventry and Norwich as well. I only hope after such a promising start to the season he’s not going to suffer another crisis of form and confidence. He does need much more support though and considering he had three attacking midfielders supposedly playing alongside him he could expect more help and more pass options than he got. It didn’t help that he was playing against two quality centre halves at this level in Albrechtsen and Leacock and he basically had to do it by himself.

The key problem though, and always has been, is that QPR are always likely to struggle when I am positive and predict a win in the match preview. I shall go back to being nervous and miserable ahead of the Tuesday night match this week I promise.

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QPR: Cerny 5, Connolly 6, Stewart 8, Hall 7, Delaney 6, Mahon 5 (Leigertwood 70, 6), Parejo 5, Rowlands 6, Ledesma 5 (Agyemang 77, 5), Buzsaky 5 (Cook 56, 7), Blackstock 5
Subs Not Used: Camp, Ramage
Booked: Ledesma (dissent)

Derby: Carroll 6, Connolly 7, Leacock 8, Albrechtsen 8, Stewart 7, Barazite 7 (Davies 84, -), Green 8, Addison 8, Pearson 7, Ellington 6 (Villa 76, 7), Hulse 7
Subs Not Used: Bywater, Kazmierczak, Nyatanga
Booked: Leacock (foul)
Goals: Albrechtsen 80 (assisted Barazite), Villa 89 (assisted Barazite)

QPR Star Man – Damion Stewart 8 In terrific form and came up with a number of timely blocks, terrific last ditch challenges and goal saving tackles. He also won everything in the air and covered an immense amount of ground as Derby dominated. Another great performance and long may it continue.

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Greater Manchester) 5 Didn’t do a great deal wrong but he was often over fussy for me and a little whistle happy – blowing for fouls that could easily have been allowed to play on and generally interrupting the game when there was no need. The booking for Ledesma after a free kick was wrongly given against Parejo summed it up really, although Ledesma really must start keeping his mouth shut. Not too bad but not great either.

Attendance: 14,311 (1300 Derby fans approx) The idea for a silent protest was ditched and that enabled the QPR fans to sing ‘who the f*** are Man Utd’ for 15 minutes on the back of the cup draw and then not say much else for the rest of the afternoon. The Derby fans were pretty quiet themselves until they took the lead and sang thereafter. Both sets of fans vented their spleen on the ticket price rises, but they both waited until stoppage time to do it.

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