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Ainsworth's Rangers topple the table toppers - full match report
Ainsworth's Rangers topple the table toppers - full match report
Thursday, 30th Oct 2008 02:33

QPR defeated top of the table Birmingham for the first time in 23 years on Tuesday night – Samuel Di Carmine won a memorable match with a wonderful long range strike.

This one really did have everything. A great goal, an upset, controversy, bizarre weather, a referee apparently fresh from a secure mental unit intent on wreaking havoc, a committed and exhilarating QPR performance and, ultimately, a win against Birmingham City at the 15th time of asking.

QPR never beat Birmingham, and didn’t look very likely to do so here when calamity match official Stuart Attwell harshly showed a straight red card to Mikele Leigertwood before half time, but with Hall and Stewart standing firm at the back and Damiano Tommasi adding class, guile and grit to the midfield the R’s rarely looked like relinquishing a lead given to them in fine style by Samuel Di Carmine just after half time.

From quite beginnings this blossomed into one of those special nights at Loftus Road.

Ainsworth, or whoever is picking the QPR team these days, made three changes despite the impressive performance and result at Reading on Saturday evening. Parejo, Buzsaky and Mahon were all dropped from the midfield, replaced by Ledesma, Blackstock and Damiano Tommasi who made his QPR debut just a week after former manager Iain Dowie said he wasn’t fit enough to play in the Championship yet.

Birmingham were dealt a blow in the warm up when Scottish international striker Garry O’Connor, who’d scored twice in the weekend win against Sheffield Wednesday, pulled up with a hamstring injury forcing Alex McLeish to make a late change to his line up. That switch saw James McFadden come in for a start alongside Kevin Phillips with Cameron Jerome also fit enough to start as a third attacker. Former QPR favourite Nigel Quashie made the bench.

A threatening line up to say the least, and Jerome wasted no time in making an impact. With just one minute on the clock a dog leg in the QPR back four allowed the former Cardiff man to run in behind unchallenged and onside. With several options available to him Jerome elected to strike hard, low and early from distance forcing a good save from Radek Cerny who flung himself off to his left and palmed the ball wide with two hands. A tremendous save, but Jerome should have done better.

Birmingham didn’t dwell on the missed chance, and thankfully from a QPR point of view neither did Cerny. Within 60 seconds the offside trap was sprung again, this time by Phillips, and the master poacher must have thought he’d scored as he swivelled and struck a powerful half volley goalwards from eight yards out wide of the target. Cerny, much maligned but recently in good form, produced an even better save than his first one – a truly world class stop off to his right as the ball tried to search out the bottom corner. But for the Czech goalkeeper QPR would have been down and out before they had even had a chance to play their way into the match.

However Birmingham didn’t have things all their own way in the first ten minutes. After losing O’Connor in the warm up McLeish was forced into his first substitution of the night after just ten minutes when full back Stuart Paranaby sank to the turf on the Ellerslie Road side of the ground and immediately signalled for a stretcher. His replacement was 19 year old Jared Wilson, making his first ever appearance for the Blues and Rangers got plenty of joy targeting him for the rest of the evening.

Nafti and Cook both traded 20 yard shots off target as the game finally started to settle down after the quarter hour mark.

Emmanuel Ledesma had penalty appeals waved away by the officials after he claimed Quedrue had handled his header back across the goal and the Argentine was soon involved in a flowing counter attack move from a Birmingham corner. Damiano Tommasi had started the game looking a little ring rusty but by the twentieth minute he was well into his stride and his calm pass out from the back set about a move that ended with Di Carmine cracking a shot against Carsley from the edge of the penalty area. This was the move of the match by some distance, and the crowd were starting to warm to Tommasi after a few wayward touches early on brought moans and groans.

Lee Cook was struggling for form again wide on the left, conceding possession, losing his footing and failing to deliver a good ball into the box when given the opportunity. However in the last five minutes of the half he started to come to life with first a wicked low cross that Taylor did well to get behind for a corner, and then a lovely piece of trickery that flummoxed Wilson altogether and got the young full back booked for a poor foul. From the free kick Martin Rowlands swung the ball in right underneath the cross bar and Maik Taylor had to make a fine one handed save to prevent the opening goal. Another low cross from Cook was toe prodded a foot wide of the post by Blackstock as the winger continued to improve.

As half time approached QPR were starting to dominate and after tricking his way to the byline, and then into the penalty area past Queudrue, Rowlands ultimately only found Taylor with a low cross into the six yard box – he’d waited an age for an option to appear around the penalty spot for a cut back but a team mate never arrived.

Ainsworth’s team talk promised to be a simple one, much more of the same please, but a minute before he got a chance to deliver it his world came crashing down around his ears. A break in play allowed Lee Carsley to have the latest in a long line of conversations designed solely to influence the match officials. Not since my Mum was last dragged to a QPR game has anybody been so miserable and sour faced at a game at Loftus Road as Carsley was on Tuesday night. He was a whistle and a set of cards away from refereeing the game himself and after yet another chat with Attwell, this time about Mikele Leigertwood, the former Everton man finally got the reaction he’d been looking for.

Carsley latched onto a loose ball in midfield and was immediately fouled high and late by Leigertwood. Before I could even finish saying “that’s our first booking” Attwell was on the scene, semi erect, with a red card in hand. He just couldn’t wait to do it, he gave himself no time to think about the decision, the card was out before Carsley had even hit the deck. Carsley’s latest moan fresh in his ears and an ego demanding a feed inside his chest the young referee had done it again – another rank and wrong decision, another game seemingly ruined.

QPR were fuming, rightly so, and just as he’d done with his ghost goal decision at Watford a month before Attwell decided the best thing for him to do would be to inflame the situation further rather than attempt to calm things down. In stoppage time Birmingham looked to make the most of their extra man with a break down field, James McFadden was clearly pushed over by Tommasi as he attempted to join in but the referee waved play on advantage. McFadden though took the law into his own hands with a clear kick out at the Italian in full view of the referee.

Attwell saw it, pointed at both players, and promised to come back and show cards. On first viewing it looked like the numbers may be evened up. Not so. The next break in play was actually the half time whistle at which point Tommasi was booked, fair enough, and McFadden was let off without so much as a talking to. A scandalous piece of refereeing again. QPR players and coaches surrounded the official as he left the field – sadly the FA think he’s brilliant, he thinks he’s brilliant, and he doesn’t need to trouble himself wasting time talking to the likes of us. QPR will appeal Leigertwood’s red card and lose.

So a first real crisis for Ainsworth to deal with at half time. There was much discussion in the South Africa Road stand about what he might do, in the end he decided to stay true to his attacking beliefs. Ainsworth kept his two strikers on the pitch, ignoring the accepted logic that in such a circumstance one forward shall be removed to accommodate two banks of four. Lee Cook, poor for most of the first half but for two deliveries into the box in the last few minutes, was the man sacrificed for Gavin Mahon. He formed a midfield three with Tommasi and Ledesma behind Blackstock and Di Carmine.

Ainsworth’s positive approach to playing with ten men was rewarded less than ten minutes after the break when QPR took a shock lead. Not for the first, and certainly not for the last, time on the night Tommasi started it all off with an interception in midfield followed by a crisp, accurate pass. Di Carmine was the recipient, picking the ball up 25 yards from goal, but there seemed to be little danger to Birmingham when he cut inside and looked up for options. I can still scarcely believe what happened next.

Samuel Di Carmine, widely considered to be the worst of the foreign signings made under QPR’s new regime, a player who at best had shown one or two nice touches in his brief first team involvement to date and at worst had looked out of his depth, drew his foot back and drilled a fearsome right foot shot with such power it knocked him clean off his feet. The ball flew like an arrow into the corner of Taylor’s net. Di Carmine got such power and venom behind the strike that it ripped into the back of the net before the keeper had even set off on his dive. He didn’t even know it had happened. Loftus Road erupted.

The visitors were stung into life – they peppered the QPR penalty box with crosses and corners for the next five minutes and must have thought they had an immediate riposte when Kevin Phillips rose at the back post to head past Cerny from six yards. For reasons known only to himself Gavin Mahon was ambling around behind his keeper on the goal line and he calmly put his foot through the ball and cleared the danger.

Understandably QPR attacks became fewer and further between as the half went on but just after the hour mark Ledesma was given a chance to shoot for goal after being chopped down by Ridgwell 25 yards out. Ridgwell didn’t look nearly as calm and dominant in this game as he did in the corresponding fixture. His curling free kick beat the wall, but was expertly saved by Taylor down in the bottom corner. McLeish took this as a cue to throw on Marcus Bent for the ineffective Cameron Jerome and former Arsenal trainee Owusu-Abeyie who, despite spending the last 18 months of his career playing in Moscow, struggled more than anybody else with the treacherous conditions and was therefore almost completely useless after coming on, posing QPR no threat whatsoever.

As the drama and tension built, snow began to fall. The end of the first half had been played out in heavy rain but as the second half wore on and the temperatures dropped that turned to a full on snow storm that engulfed the stadium and by full time made it difficult to see the ball at the far end of the pitch. The inclement weather conditions only served to add to the atmosphere.

Ainsworth made further changes midway through the second half. First Akos Buzsaky came on for Dexter Blackstock, then after an onset of cramp had brought the latest lecture for player and referee from Lee Carsley Sam Di Carmine went off and Hogan Ephraim came on for a rare appearance this season. It doesn’t surprise me to see Ainsworth re-involving Ephraim, his work rate and attitude is right up Wild Thing’s street.

I am surprised however at the tactical astuteness of our caretaker – he seems like a natural. His half time sub worked very well and these further changes, and the decision to leave Tommasi and Ledesma on, meant QPR actually tried to keep the ball when then had it rather than just lumping it downfield and retreating to the edge of the box as we have seen them do in these situations in the past. Despite having ten men QPR continued to string moves together and it proved to be a much more effective and less tiring way of running the clock down.

Queudrue fired high into the away end from long range and then Phillips did likewise after Cerny’s one and only mistake of the night – a mishit clearance that flew straight to the striker but from 45 yards in those conditions it would have taken something very special and Phillips didn’t have it in him. Nobody could get on the end of a low cross from Wilson eight minutes from time that flew right through the six yard box without a touch from anybody and as belief among the home ranks grew, Loftus Road was in full voice. The visitors were starting to run out of ideas.

In blizzard like conditions Attwell added four minutes to normal time, and it turned out to be one of the most action packed periods of added time we’ve seen at Loftus Road for many a long month. Needless to say most of it revolved around our increasingly eccentric match officials. First a neat move down the right between Ledesma and Ephraim saw the Argentinean skip into the area and crash to earth under what looked like a push from Murphy. Attwell looked at the incident, looked at his linesman, looked at the incident again and then almost as an afterthought as Birmingham prepared to launch the ball back down the field he booked Ledesma for diving and awarded a free kick.

Ledesma does dive, we all know that, and it was impossible to see if he did or didn’t here from my point of view but the time it took Attwell to come to a decision and the way he looked at the linesman and everybody else for help leads me to believe that this decision, like so many of his on the night, was complete and utter guesswork.

He wasn’t finished yet either – the third yellow card of the evening for a QPR player went to Radek Cerny for time wasting. It capped an at times astounding refereeing display.

Then, in the dying seconds of stoppage time, the heartbreaking moment arrived. Another Birmingham attack, this time ending with a decent ball into the box, and suddenly it all opened up for the visiting team. The ball was too close to the goal for the QPR defenders, too far away from the goal line for Radek Cerny and then there he was, through the wind and the chill and the rain, the Birmingham hero Kevin Phillips with a trademark three yard tap in to the empty net. Loftus Road fell silent, had all the effort been for nothing? Actually, no. For the first time in 94 minutes of football Mr Atwell and his travelling circus gave QPR a break in the form of an offside flag. Phillips was offside. The goal was ruled out. QPR fans celebrated as if a second goal had been scored by their team, in fact the score remained 1-0 and that was plenty good enough for the home faithful.

As Cerny pumped the resulting free kick down the field the final whistle was blown – had it counted, Phillips’ goal would have been the last kick of the game.

The QPR fans went ballistic at full time, greeting the team with a raucous ovation as they made their way around the pitch together as a group. Gareth Ainsworth could scarcely hide his delight but seemed keen for the players to take the praise, despite his tactics and substitutions having a great deal to do with the win. When other managers would have tried to hold on at nil nil Ainsworth left two strikers on there to win the game – and one of them came up trumps for him.

It’s so hard to pinpoint individuals after such a committed team performance but there were certainly some stars in the QPR team. Stewart and Hall at centre half were magnificent, coping with everything Birmingham and the heavens had to throw at them and rarely looking flustered. Likewise Connolly at left back – he was superb. In midfield Tommasi started slowly but quickly settled into the pace and style of the game and ultimately produced a fabulous performance – I can’t ever recall a QPR midfielder reading the game as well he did and it was no surprise to see the goal coming from another one of his pass interceptions. Martin Rowlands was brilliant alongside him as well.

Ledesma too showed more stomach for the fight on a cold night than I thought he would. Between them him, Buzsaky and Ephraim actually kept the ball for good periods of time in the last twenty minutes, relieving pressure on the defence, frustrating Birmingham and running the clock down. I’ve longed to see a QPR team under pressure play that way rather than just lumping it down the field straight back to the opposition and setting up on the edge of the area to wait for more punishment. To see Buzsaky and Ledesma dropping shoulders and tormenting defenders when really it was meant to be Birmingham attacking us looking for an equaliser was very rewarding.

Di Carmine’s goal was out of this world. It could well be a case of every dog having its day, Sammy Koejoe scored a couple of wonder goals for us as well remember, but this could equally be the start of a good winter for the Italian. I certainly didn’t think he had a goal like that in him, but for some good hold up play and one or two nice touches he’d never even hinted at doing anything like that before, but long may it continue. It was one of those great ‘hug a stranger’ mental moments as the ball flew into the net.

Birmingham for their part looked like they did at St Andrews – plenty of lavish ingredients but a bland dish overall. In Birmingham QPR were ultra cautious and lost, on Tuesday they threw caution to the wind and were richly rewarded.

On now to Ipswich Town, underachieving in the bottom half of the Championship and fresh from dropping two points against lowly Charlton on Tuesday night. Presumably, an hopefully, Gareth Ainsworth will still be in charge and if that’s the case then it seems anything truly is possible.

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QPR: Cerny 8, Leigertwood 6, Stewart 8, Hall 8, Connolly 8, Ledesma 7, Rowlands 8, Tommasi 8, Cook 5 (Mahon 46, 7), Blackstock 6 (Buzsaky 68, 7), Di Carmine 7 (Ephraim 74, 7)
Subs Not Used: Cole, Parejo
Sent Off: Leigertwood (45)
Booked: Tomassi (foul), Cerny (time wasting), Ledesma (diving)
Goals: Di Carmine 54 (assisted Tommasi)

Birmingham: Maik Taylor 7, Parnaby - (Wilson 12, 5), Martin Taylor 5, Ridgewell 5, Queudrue 6, McFadden 6, Carsley 5, Nafti 6 (64, 4), Agustien 6, Phillips 6, Jerome 5 (Bent 64, 6)
Subs Not Used: Doyle, Quashie
Booked: Wilson, Queudrue

QPR Star Man – Radek Cerny 8 Damion Stewart and Damiano Tommasi were superb, but I’ve gone for Cerny because without his two outstanding saves in the first five minutes we’d have been out of the game and then once we’d taken the lead he came and caught everything and commanded his area well in appalling weather conditions. Getting better with every passing game.

Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire) 2 I’ll write in more detail about this guy later in the week but for now let me just say that the FA have got to stop trying to fast track this kid too far too fast. He was so out of his depth here it was embarrassing to watch, losing the plot more and more as the game went on giving one crass and incompetent decision after another. The sending off was harsh, he allowed Lee Carsley to order him about all night with no come back, and he got countless decisions wrong – ranging from difficult calls to the simplest of throw ins. I lost count of the amount of times he clearly had no clue what to give and guessed, I can forgive that once or twice in a match but he was doing it several times a minute at one stage. The amount of times the ball went out for a throw in and he had to guess whose throw in that was after exchanging blank looks with his linesmen had to be seen to be believed. Abysmal.

Attendance: 13,594 (1000 Birmingham fans approx) A fantastic atmosphere inside Loftus Road during the second half aided by the performance of the players, the referee and the weather. Sometimes the place really rocks, and it was rocking on Tuesday night.


Photo: Action Images

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