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Much improved QPR hold high flying Reading - full match report
Much improved QPR hold high flying Reading - full match report
Sunday, 26th Oct 2008 19:05

Gareth Ainsworth started life as caretaker manager of QPR with a creditable performance and point from his team at Reading on Saturday night.

Life without Iain Dowie at QPR started as life with him ended – a goalless draw on the road – however Saturday’s result was just about the only comparison you could draw with the debacle at Swansea.

QPR looked solid at the back, snapped into tackles, stayed in shape high up the field, passed the ball well and looked committed to the cause – none of that could be said about them on Tuesday. But for Radek Cerny, the goal post and a hefty slice of luck Swansea could have scored five or six against Rangers at the Liberty, on Saturday Reading were left to reflect on two half hearted penalty appeals and little else. A draw in South Wales was grossly unfair on the home team, on Saturday it was nothing less than QPR deserved.

The decision to remove Dowie after just 15 competitive matches, eight of which he managed to win, seems harsh to me but it’s hard to argue that the quality of football was nose diving in recent weeks culminating with a performance to be thoroughly ashamed of during the week. If I thought he’d been sacked for that I’d have a lot more time for the decision than I do at the moment.

Saturday’s team selection hinted at the real reason for the change with Flavio Briatore’s stamp all over it. Di Carmine and Parejo were preferred to Dexter Blackstock up front, the chairman had made Dowie aware in no uncertain term in recent weeks that he felt the players he’d worked hard to bring into the club during the summer should be in the team, Parejo in particular. There were changes in the problem full back positions as well with Leigertwood switching to right back and Matt Connolly getting a long overdue recall, albeit at left back with Stewart and Hall at centre half in front of Cerny. In midfield Lee Cook and Akos Buzsaky started wide of Mahon and Rowlands.

Blackstock made the bench, Peter Ramage was apparently injured although he’s in such poor form at the moment it’s difficult to notice whether he’s fit or not, Damien Delaney was dropped altogether. There was also a place amongst he subs for Damiano Tommasi just three days after former manager Iain Dowie claimed he was not match fit enough to be considered for selection yet.

Reading kept faith with the team that just about managed to beat struggling Doncaster at the Madejski Stadium on Tuesday night. That meant youngster Jem Karacan kept his place in midfield ahead of James Harper, the division’s top scorer Kevin Doyle started in attack.

QPR started the game really well, passing the ball crisply and penning Reading back in their own half. Hearts were in mouths in the away end after four minutes though when a long kick down the field by Hahnemann took a big bounce off the turf and seemed destined to fly over Cerny’s head as he raced out of his penalty area to deal with it, in the end the Czech stopper judged it right and dealt with the danger well with his head as Noel Hunt waited to pounce.

The sides exchanged corners after first Kebe and then Rowlands had strikes deflected wide but the keepers dealt with both crosses easily

Reading had to wait twenty minutes for a clear sight on goal, Jimmy Kebe had the chance but he fired the ball into the side netting after Karacan had flicked a cross from Hunt on to him. At the other end Di Carmine first chance came when he showed great strength to bundle his way past Bikey and get away a shot on goal from the corner of the penalty box – Hahnemann punched the shot out for a corner although in truth it looked like it might have flown wide without the keeper’s intervention.

Reading had their best effort on goal just before the half hour mark when Doyle tricked his way past Leigertwood wide on the QPR right and then sent in a devilish delivery to the back post that Cerny left alone and Kebe just failed to reach as it flashed across the goal and out for a goal kick. QPR were lucky to survive that in truth, it was the first time Reading had got in behind the excellent Rangers back four.

The impressive Stewart denied Kebe a further effort on goal with an uncompromising block tackle on the half hour before Cerny went from villain to hero in a matter of minutes. He had looked secure and confident under crosses to this point but came up with a flap that had become his trademark until a couple of games ago – the ball dropped behind him and Connolly clearly had hold of Jimmy Kebe’s shirt as he attempted to convert. It was a risky thing to do but the incident took place on the blind side of the officials and play was waved on. It goes in the ‘you’ve seen them given’ category, but it would have been harsh. Cerny was immediately given a chance to redeem himself when Noel Hunt headed for the bottom corner, the Czech flung himself across goal to make a sound save at the base of the post.

Two minutes after the break QPR survived their biggest scare of the match. A cross from the Reading right by Noel Hunt was punched out of play by Gavin Mahon, tracking back to the byline with his arms above his head. He didn’t move his arm to the ball, but he did have it up in the air, and to tell you the truth I thought it looked like a blatant penalty, and QPR were lucky to escape with the linesman looking right at it on that side of the pitch. From the resulting corner Karacan fired wide after a goal mouth scramble that saw Rosenior and Ingimarsson have mishit efforts blocked away.

QPR’s first attack of the half ended with a foul on Buzsaky thirty yards from goal by Armstrong after Bikey had conceded possession in his own half – Parejo beat the wall with the free kick however such was the distance to the goal Hahnemann had all the time he needed to come across and safely gather the ball.

Gareth Ainsworth sprung into action for the first time in his managerial career after an hour replacing Di Carmine with Blackstock. The young Italian really struggled up front by himself. He showed one or two nice touches and good pieces of hold up play but in only the ninth start of his professional career, away from home in the Championship against a physical centre half like Bikey, it was always going to be a big ask for him and it was somewhat irresponsible of whoever made the decision to throw him in like that. He tried his best but it wasn’t really good enough on the day.

Blackstock probably didn’t expect to be left out but he has been poor in recent matches and produced his best display for a few weeks in the last half an hour, winning the ball in the air more often than not and actually posing a QPR attacking threat for the first time in the game – it’s easy to say that we could have won had he started but perhaps being dropped to the bench was just the kind of kick up the arse he needed.

Blackstock’s first action in the game was to race in and clatter Hahnemann after the American goalkeeper had fumbled a long range volley from Buzsaky. Hahnemann let in two very poor goals at Preston last week and looked a little nervy against QPR without ever being seriously threatened. He needed two attempts to gather a long range effort from Lee Cook but was able to save comfortably from a mishit Parejo volley twenty minutes from time, again this came after great work from Blackstock to nick the ball away from Bikey around the penalty spot and then deliver back into the area for the Spaniard to try his luck. Bikey had hardly been tested to this point but looked very uncomfortable once Blackstock was against him and not a patch on Stewart who was a tower of strength at the other end.

QPR enjoyed a god ten minutes of pressure, as most teams do in a game, around the Blackstock substitution but that came to an end when Dexter failed to get power and direction on a superb cross from Leigertwood to trouble the Reading goalkeeper – that’s right, a good cross from a QPR right back, who would have thought it?

As well as the crosses Leigertwood was very solid in defence and forced eading to swap Hunt and Kebe over numerous times looking for a weakness in the QPR back four. From being a weak spot in the team the full back positions suddenly became a strength on Saturday with Connolly and Leigertwood both excellent – it should be a while before either Ramage or Delaney return to the team on this evidence and that’s certainly no bad thing on their form so far this season.

Sensing things weren’t going to play Steve Coppell sent on Cisse and Harper to boost his midfield, Karacan and Gunnarsson were the men replaced. After this Reading started to up the tempo and push for a win. Stephen Hunt fired a free kick wide of the post after a foul by Stewart on Doyle then Martin Rowlands was fortunate not to put through his own net with a header from another Hunt cross. From the corner Bikey, up from the back, thumped a header wide with Cerny beaten – he should have scored.

QPR’s only booking of the match went to Daniel Parejo, seemingly for kicking the ball away after a foul although it was difficult to tell and looked harsh. The Spaniard was possibly lucky to avoid a sending off having been booked because within seconds he was theatrically collapsing in the penalty area as the ball ran out for a goal kick, Bikey was in close attendance and Parejo obviously wanted to buy a penalty from him but Foy was in an excellent position to judge the amount of contact and there was none. Parejo was withdrawn a short time after that for Balanta who had little time to do anything other than win a time wasting free kick in injury time.

Reading’s final serious attack of the match came five minutes from time, sub Cisse flung himself at Hunt’s corner and did well to direct a 12 yard header on target at all, never mind find the top corner. Cerny produced an outstanding save to deny him the only goal of the game. Liam Rosenior was booked for a bad foul on Cook as time ran down and frustration grew in the Reading ranks.

Hunt sent a low cross through the six yard box in injury time but the final whistle sounded without further incident and Ainsworth and his players were left to reflect on a point well won – the first points dropped by Reading at home this season.

This was an entirely different 0-0 to the Swansea game, just rewards for a solid and committed performance. On Tuesday night we were hanging on, here we looked comfortable. The back four, Stewart and Leigertwood in particular, was excellent and Cerny too seems to be coming into good form all of a sudden – three good performances on the trot for him now. The two central midfielders played well too, the wingers and forwards less so, but we still passed the ball around nicely when we had it and kept out shape a lot higher up the pitch rather than always retreating back to our own penalty area as we did earlier in the week.

With the other problems that have been stacking up seemingly solved the spotlight was again thrown on the one issue that we have been unable to solve since Patrick Agyemang stopped scoring – we don’t have a strike force worthy of a top half team in this league. Still, overall, I was impressed.

However let’s not think that this one performance means that Flavio influencing team selection and sacking managers that won’t do what he wants is ever going to work. Briatore’s background is in clothes and racing cars, not football. The changes at full back worked here but the idea that our striking problem can be solved by picking two inexperienced kids in Di Carmine and Parejo is nonsense. Dowie knew we needed a striker, and he was right. Briatore must find a manager that he trusts enough to leave alone and do the job, as Steve Coppell said afterwards team selection is not and should never be a committee decision.

In the meantime QPR face another daunting task as table topping Birmingham come to Loftus Road. If ever a caretaker manager deserved support and a rousing reception at HQ it’s Gareth Ainsworth and I’d hope the QPR fans can oblige him on Tuesday night.

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Reading: Hahnemann 6, Rosenior 6, Bikey 5, Ingimarsson 7, Armstrong 6, Kebe 7 (Long 80, -), Gunnarsson 6 (Harper 73, 6), Karacan 6 (Cisse 73, 6), Stephen Hunt 6, Noel Hunt 6, Doyle 6
Subs Not Used: Andersen, Kelly
Booked: Rosenior (foul)

QPR: Cerny 8, Leigertwood 8, Stewart 8, Hall 7, Connolly 7, Buzsaky 6, Mahon 7, Rowlands 7, Cook 5, Di Carmine 5 (Blackstock 60, 7), Parejo 6 (Balanta 86, -)
Subs Not Used: Delaney, Tommasi, Cole
Booked: Parejo (kicking the ball away)

QPR Star Man – Mikele Leigertwood 8 An unorthodox selection at right back but he was impeccable. Solid in defence forcing Reading to swap their wingers over, a move that didn’t really work with Connolly almost as good on the other side, and excellent with the ball at feet. We actually had some crosses coming in from right full back for the first time this season. I’m not convinced he’s a permanent solution there at the moment but he’s certainly a better bet than Ramage. Cerny and Stewart both also excellent and worthy of mention.

Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside) 7 Pretty decent overall. One or two decisions I would question and I think Reading probably should have had a penalty for the Mahon handball although that was more a linesman’s call than Foy’s – his past record shows that if there’s a penalty to be given he normally gives it so we were fortunate there. Other than that hard to argue with much he did.

Attendance: 20,571 (2500 QPR approx) On the TV the QPR fans sounded pretty good, from those at the match apparently we started quietly and improved as the game wore on and belief that we could get a result grew.

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