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QPR pay the penalty at Old Trafford - full match report
QPR pay the penalty at Old Trafford - full match report
Wednesday, 12th Nov 2008 19:46

QPR’s League Cup run came to an end on Tuesday with a narrow defeat at Old Trafford against Manchester United.

Football is often a game of small margins, and at quarter to ten on a wet Tuesday night in Manchester QPR were about two feet away from glory. Ten yards out and facing the goal with the ball at his feet Emmanuel Ledesma had the chance to write his name in QPR folklore, the specially commissioned T-shirts were already on the printing press, all he had to do was score. He took a touch, opened his body out, beat Kuszczak all ends up, and rolled the ball wide of the post. The final whistle followed seconds later.

Rather than a special garment bearing his image under the words “I was there when…” all the young Argentinian had to show for his night’s work was the shirt of Carlos Tevez, his fellow countryman who scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot with less than a quarter of an hour to play.

In fairness it was no more than United deserved from a game they dominated completely from start to goal, and although there is a long and chequered history of penalties being awarded at Old Trafford there can be few complaints about the game winning one here, but in many ways QPR were unlucky not to force extra time at least. In a game like this you would expect United to have most of the possession and the chances – to win you have to soak all that up and take your chance when it comes. QPR waited 80 minutes to get that chance, but missed two or three opportunities when they did come at the death and therefore have nothing to show for a monumental effort led by the near perfect trio of Radek Cerny, Fitz Hall and Damion Stewart. The soaking up was done with some style and in the end we were punished not for defensive mistakes but for a lack of cutting edge in the attacking third. Again.

QPR started the game with Dexter Blackstock alone in attack with support coming from Buzsaky, Cook and Parejo in forward midfield roles. Rowlands and Mahon played as holding midfielders with Tommasi dropping out of the matchday squad altogether, Ramage, Stewart, Hall and Connolly made up the back four in front of Radek Cerny.

Unsurprisingly Man Utd made a whole host of changes for this League Cup tie but big names like Gary Neville, Anderson, Nani, Park and most notably Carlos Tevez were all involved from the off. The home side could easily have been ahead in the first 30 seconds when an attack straight from the kick off ended with a cross from Nani that was blocked, seemingly with arms above his head, by Connolly. It really did look like a penalty to me and with the linesman looking right at it we were probably lucky to escape on that occasion.

The game quickly settled into the pattern of play you would expect from such a tie. QPR slipped into two banks of five on the edge of their own box with even Dexter Blackstock coming back to get involved in the defensive shape. United passed the ball backwards and forwards around the QPR penalty area almost like an ice hockey power play with Rangers reluctant to engage anybody until they came within 20 yards of the goal and even then they seemed happy to allow long range shots as long as long as dangerous balls weren’t played into the penalty box.

Carlos Tevez was the first to try his luck – Radek Cerny pulled off a smart save to deny him. Cerny was on hand with another save from Tevez moments later although this time he fumbled the ball and had to get down sharply to deny Park Ji Sung on the rebound.

With the ball flying backwards and forwards around the QPR penalty area and Rangers already camped deep in their own half I was finding the whole thing pretty stressful and overwhelming at this stage, I certainly wasn’t getting a lot of pleasure out of the game let’s put it that way. It was hard to believe that we’d only been playing for eight minutes at this stage, it felt like hours.

On the rare occasions we did get the ball back we did look to pass it – Rowlands and Mahon really popped it about and spread it quite nicely at times – but with only Blackstock in attack and no support for him moves broke down as soon as they neared the halfway line and it was backs to the wall once again. Quite a few of the QPR players looked very nervous to begin with particularly Matt Connolly and Daniel Parejo, while Connolly recovered from his early concessions of possession to put in a decent display at left back Parejo started badly and fell away before getting the hook at half time – it all just seemed too much for him.

The visitors did settle to their task and started to look more comfortable, while always being under pressure, as the half wore on. One thing they could not afford to do was give possession away deep in their own half and when Akos Buzsaky did that after 20 minutes Tevez pounced and raced into the penalty area before pulling the ball back towards his onrushing team mates. Luckily for Buzsaky Fitz Hall was growing in stature by this stage and he got back with a timely interception and Cerny collected the ball as Dowd ignored half hearted claims for a pass back.

Buzsaky then fed a glorious ball down the line for Ramage with the outside of his right foot but the move came to nothing and he then bizarrely seemed to just walk off the pitch leaving QPR with ten men. The Hungarian was obviously injured but with no replacement ready QPR were forced to defend with ten men as United really piled on the pressure – in the end Hall and Stewart coped admirably. Eventually Patrick Agyemang came on for Buzsaky wide on the right.

United fans in the main stand twice though Carlos Tevez had scored just before half time. First he stuck out a leg at the near post after a low cross from Anderson but Hall did enough to get the ball wide of the post and win a goal kick, although Nani was so certain it was a corner he took the ball over to the corner flag and left it there anyway. Then seconds later Tevez went even closer at the near post, this time from an O’Shea assist, his close range finish grazed the outside of the post. Hall produced another super block to deny Tevez a sight of goal as he burst into the area on the end of a one two move with Anderson.

Two minutes of injury time were advertised, but Dowd played three to give United a chance to have one last go from a corner – Stewart cleared the ball and the whistle sounded immediately. Rangers had been under the cosh, and were yet to have a shot on goal of their own, but they were hanging in there. If there was a criticism of them in the first half it was that twice they had been given a chance to put a couple of free kicks into the box from 40 or 50 yards out and twice the delivery had been very poor. Set pieces were always going to be our best chance of nicking a goal and the way we wasted the ones we got was disappointing.

Ainsworth made another change at half time, bringing on Ledesma for the ineffective Parejo. Ledesma raced out onto the pitch from the touchline, scooting and weaving as he went, enthusiasm that drew plenty of laughter from supporters of both sides. He would prove to be QPR’s most potent attacking weapon as the second half wore on but to begin with the pattern of play remained the same with the game being played almost exclusively around the Stretford End penalty box that QPR defended in the second half.

Park sent a tame shot straight at Cerny while Anderson, Nani and Gibson all hit 20 yarders wide of the post. Tevez must have thought he’d broken the deadlock when he unleashed a fearsome shot from 15 yards out after a jinking run but Cerny flung up an arm and deflected it out for a corner. The Czech keeper had no such worries with shots from Nani and Tevez around the hour mark though – first Anderson hit a well positioned direct free kick wildly out for a throw in by the corner flag then Nani repeated the trick with a drive in open play. It must be quite difficult to take a free kick 20 yards out from goal slightly right of centre and kick it straight out for a throw in by the corner flag, even if you’re trying to do it, but Anderson managed it to the delight of the QPR fans at the other end of the ground.

It seemed that United were running out of ideas but QPR lacked the wherewithal to capitalise. Agyemang missed a chance to switch play across field and get Cook and Rowlands in behind the United defence and then when the ball did find the QPR left winger in space he kicked it on into the grass behind the full back only to be beaten in a foot race by Johnny Evans. It may only have been a reserve team and it may have been nil nil at this stage but the way the United players seemed to glide across the ground and keep possession with such ease was something to behold – we’re light years behind that sort of level I’m afraid.

The closest United came was on the hour mark when Park Ji Sung cut into the penalty area and unloaded a powerful shot across the goal that beat Cerny all ends up but rebounded back into play off the top of the goal post. Other than that the second half was a tale of long range shots dragged wide of the post as Stewart and Hall continued to look Premiership class.

Cerny made a terrific save from Anderson with twenty minutes left for play but soon QPR went on the attack and finally registered a shot on the goal. A quick throw from Ramage had Ledesma in behind the United back four and suddenly we had that all too rare sight of a QPR winger reaching the byline and cutting a ball back into the area. Ledesma embarrassed O’Shea on his way into the box before looking up and picking out Dexter Blackstock at the back post – sadly for the travelling thousands the cross was played just behind Blackstock and he couldn’t quite angle his body to force anything other than a tame header straight at Kuszczak. Still, at least we had posed an attacking threat and, in Ledesma, had somebody capable of beating opponents.

United were clearly starting to get frustrated but two minutes after the Blackstock chance they introduced young striker Danny Wellbeck at the expense of Rodrigo Possebon and it gave them a crucial added cutting edge. Four minutes after coming on Wellbeck ran in behind the QPR defence, turned Ramage on the byline and then hit the deck as the ball ran back to Cerny. He would not have scored, he had toed the ball too far in front of him and Cerny had collected, but for the first time in the game a QPR player had lost his composure and gone to ground on an opponent. Stretford End, United struggling, player sent sprawling – there was only ever going to be one call. Ramage looked distraught, his best performance for the club so far ruined by a rush of blood to the head.

Tevez embarked on a mazy, bendy, ridiculously over elaborate run up and some half hour later arrived at the ball and sent Cerny the wrong way to give United the lead. Before the kick had even been taken Ainsworth was readying Sam Di Carmine on the bench and sure enough once United had gone into the lead the Italian came on to replace Lee Cook.

Now with three recognised strikers on the pitch QPR actually started to threaten. Almost right from the kick off Blackstock declined to shoot when the ball bounced up invitingly in the penalty area for him and then on the very next attack the R’s got the ball in the net. Again Blackstock struggled to get a shot away with the ball bouncing all over the place, then Mahon hit a half volley into the ground and as the ball bounced up Di Carmine headed home from six yards out. The away end burst into life, but the passion was killed almost immediately as the sight of a linesman’s flag in the air brought a premature end to the celebrations.

Of course with QPR pushing forward that left gaps at the back and the sight of Tevez, Wellbeck, Anderson and others running at full pelt towards a sparsely populated QPR penalty area was scary to say the least. Thankfully Cerny was in flying form – saving magnificently from first Rafael, then Tevez, and then Nani. I can seldom recall a goalkeeping display like it and as the game wound down I started to reflect that without the penalty United really would have struggled to beat him.

In one of these counter attacks Gary Neville took it upon himself to tear forward from centre half and I could feel the vomit bubbling inside me as the thought of that odious individual scoring against QPR started to come into realisation – thankfully the sprint down the field resulted in a pull or strain and he had to limp back into position, and then off the pitch, without his goal. I do hope it’s nothing trivial.

Di Carmine did at least provide QPR with a presence up front, and he gave United all they wanted in the closing moments after Neville’s terribly sad early withdrawal. Ainsworth moved Fitz Hall into attack as well and in the three minutes of stoppage time Rangers twice forced a corner. The first was taken to the near post by Ledesma and headed out, the second was taken by Rowlands at Damion Stewart’s angry insistence and although the delivery was towards the big Jamaican Man Utd sub Vidic got in first to clear.

In the third and final minute of stoppage time the best QPR chance of the game presented itself to Ledesma. Again the R’s worked the ball into the penalty area, again United struggled to cope with the added weight of bodies, the ball fell to Ledesma and, well, the rest is history. The little winger, who had played very well as a substitute, sunk to his knees and reflected on an opportunity lost in so many senses of the word.

Had QPR taken United to extra time with the extra strikers on the pitch it could have been interesting – the home team certainly wouldn’t have fancied penalties with Cerny the unbeatable goalkeeper between the sticks.

It is easy to say, and I notice a lot of the national journalists have got stuck into QPR on this theme today, that had the visitors shown the same ambition they did in the last ten minutes over the previous 80 that this could have been a very different story. It is not a theory I subscribe to. We were not there to entertain Alan Green and other people in the media, we were there to get a result and bearing in mind the paucity of our attack and the strength in our defence the best way of doing that was obviously to try and soak up pressure and counter attack.

Yes we enjoyed a good spell at the end with an additional forward, but Cerny made four or five more outstanding saves in the final ten minutes when United weren’t even looking to attack that much. Had we set up that openly from the off we would have been destroyed, even with the goalkeeper in inspired form. We did it right, the best we could ever hope for was a couple of chances and we got those but missed. We were in the game right to the end and there was a lot to be very proud of.

Damion Stewart and Fitz Hall were magnificent, Mahon and Rowlands excellent and Radek Cerny unbelievable. The Czech keeper left the field with the QPR fans singing his name completing his turn around from early season clown to new Rangers hero inside two months.

I was sad to see Peter Ramage so upset at the final whistle – clearly distraught at his mistake for the penalty and apologising to the fans high up in the East Stand. Ramage is not my favourite player because his passing and crossing is so poor, however his defending is very sound and on a night where overlapping and crossing was not the order of the day for the full backs he was very solid. It was a mistake for the penalty because he went to ground when he had no need, but he played well apart from that and it is a shame that he was so mortified at the end of probably his best performance for the club.

You need to be lucky to cause a cup upset and QPR’s luck ran out. But I think we were a lot closer to causing a shock here than many people have given us credit for post match and I was personally very proud of most of the team. There’s a very solid foundation of good players at QPR – but plenty of building work still to be done.

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QPR: Cerny 9, Ramage 7, Stewart 9, Hall 9, Connolly 7, Mahon 8, Rowlands 8, Buzsaky 5 (Agyemang 7), Parejo 4 (Ledesma 7) Cook 5 (Di Carmine 7) Blackstock 5
Subs Not Used: Cole, Delaney, Gorkss, Ephraim

Man Utd: Kuszczak 6, Rafael Da Silva 7, Neville 7 (Vidic 89, -), Evans 7, O'Shea 7, Gibson 7, Possebon 7 (Welbeck 72, 8), Anderson 7, Nani 7, Tevez 8, Park 8
Subs Not Used: Foster, Carrick, Manucho, Cleverley, Gray
Goals: Tevez 76 pen (assisted Nani)

QPR Star Man – Radek Cerny 9 An outstanding display of goalkeeping the likes of which I’ve rarely seen. Save after save after save. It needed a penalty to beat him. Fitz Hall and Damion Stewart were both outstanding as well, likewise Mahon and Rowlands.

Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire) 8 No bookings and no real controversy. The QPR disallowed goal was offside, the penalty was a penalty. I thought we were lucky to escape a hand ball shout in the first minute but other than that it was hard to fault the referee.

Attendance: 62,539 (6500 QPR fans approx) It’s amazing how 55,000 people can be so quiet when all in one place but the three sides of Old Trafford with United fans in were like a giant morgue for all but the fifteen seconds after they had scored. The QPR fans were in full voice pretty much from first to last and did themselves proud.

Photo: Action Images

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