|Drought continues as QPR pay the ultimate penalty|
Wednesday, 10th Dec 2008 11:58
QPR stretched the run of away games without a goal to eight, missing a penalty and several very presentable chances at Hillsborough as Sheffield Wednesday won 1-0 with a scrappy goal from Leon Clarke.
Come on chaps, this is getting a bit silly now.
At the start of this little run of games without scoring away from home, some eight matches and most of the second half at Aston Villa now, 760 minutes, we were not even creating chances and did not deserve to score. Now we are doing everything but hit the hole and what started as an irritant and something for the Soccer Saturday statisticians to put on the vidiprinter before matches is now a serious problem.
“The goals will come,” said Paulo Sousa after he watched Martin Rowlands miss a penalty and Heidar Helguson add another sitter to his portfolio. Hmmmmmmm.
To make matters worse this latest set back came against a mediocre team playing poorly. Failing to score at Birmingham, Reading and Swansea is fair enough but I cannot ever recall seeing Sheffield Wednesday play as badly as they did on Tuesday night – devoid of tempo, passion or an ability to pass a ball ten yards to a team mate they were the worst team we have played in quite some time and still we didn’t score.
QPR were the better team for long periods, certainly the whole of the first hour where Wednesday mustered only one shot in anger, and yet have nothing to show for their efforts this morning other than another catalogue of missed chances and five or six further reasons to hate playing against Lee Grant. Why does that boy always play like a bloody world beater against us?
A change was forced on Sousa coming into the match with Dexter Blackstock ruled out with a back injury suffered in the first half against Wolves. Mikele Leigertwood returned from his latest suspension in his place with Rowlands pushing up behind the front two of Helguson and Agyemang. Leigertwood played in midfield with Ephraim and Mahon. At the back Kaspars Gorkss and Damion Stewart continued at centre half despite Fitz Hall coming back from a three game suspension, Hall began on the bench.
Wednesday had one time QPR transfer target Tommy Spurr back in their line up after he missed out with a dead leg at the weekend, another defender Rangers did once get their hands on Frankie Simek started the game despite a hamstring complaint. The club’s player of the month Leon Clarke started in attack with Francis Jeffers – former Derby man Marcus Tudgay began on the wing.
QPR started the game very brightly, shutting Wednesday down quickly in midfield and using the extra central attacker behind the front two to build regular three on two situations down the middle of the park. The first effort on goal was a good one, Hogan Ephraim on the end of a decent move wide in the penalty area but his shot was saved by Grant at the near post and the resulting corner cleared.
The positive start should really have been rewarded with a goal in the tenth minute. A poor clearance from Grant didn’t even reach the halfway line and landed straight at the feet of Patrick Agyemang. The big striker pushed the ball back into the open grass behind the defence, stayed on his feet despite Beevers’ wild attempt to clear him out which surely would have resulted in a red card had it succeeded, and then raced into the penalty area before squaring the ball across goal to Heidar Helguson.
This was it, the moment we had all been waiting for, seven long games over almost three months waiting for a goal away from home was surely about to come to an end. Well, no actually. Six yards out, totally unmarked and with the goal at his mercy Helguson shot first time and watched in horror as Lee Grant flung himself across goal to make a miraculous one handed save and deny Rangers the opening goal. A superb save, quite magnificent, but in truth the keeper should never have been in the equation, Helguson should have buried it before Grant even got a sniff.
If Rangers fans thought that miss was bad, worse was to come as the visitors continued to dominate. In the twenty fifth minute a good cross to the back post from Ramage, yes you read that right, looked destined for Helguson’s head until Frankie Simek put two hands in the striker’s back and shoved him to the ground. It was a mindless thing to do on the Wednesday player’s part, absolutely brainless, and the most stone wall penalty referee Nigel Miller has ever had to give.
Helguson picked himself up to argue with Rowlands over who was taking the spot kick but the captain won through and he placed the ball on the spot in front of the expectant QPR fans. Rowlands ran from the edge of the penalty area, drilled the ball right footed straight down the middle and Grant, although he had dived off to his right, managed to get a toe on the ball and divert it high into the night sky. Rowlands seemed to be bundled over as he tried to reach the ball as it dropped but a free kick was awarded the other way and the goal drought had now reached new levels of farce. It was heartbreaking.
Just as happened here last season, Wednesday made two substitutions before half time. Last time we played here Laws made the changes of his own free will to try and redress the balance in a one sided game, this time the situation was forced on him by injury. First Esajas, who had been hobbling for some time, was withdrawn with a suspected broken toe and replaced by Wade Small. Then former R Frankie Simek, who had been a doubt to start with, followed him off ten minutes later to be replaced by crusty old Steve Watson at right back.
With two minutes of added time to be played at the end of the half Sheffield Wednesday actually managed to string a move together, the first real passage of quality passing football in the match. Steve Watson started a passage of quick fire, one touch passing wide on the right feeding it into Small who then found Jeffers on the edge of the box. His shot was crowded out by the QPR defence but the ball broke to Clarke who shot straight at Cerny. It was a classy end to a first half embarrassingly low on quality.
QPR started the second half in much the same way as they had the first, getting in behind the Wednesday defence at will and missing chances with alarming frequency. Patrick Agyemang beat the home team’s flimsy offside trap within three minutes but ran wide of the goal and dragged his shot through the six yard box and out the other side without further interference. Then Heidar Helguson ran through in the other channel and drilled a powerful shot that Grant saved well with two hands.
Sousa responded to this continued failure to capitalise on chances created by replacing Hogan Ephraim, who had started the game well but faded, with Lee Cook. Martin Rowlands moved back into midfield giving the new man the chance to support the two strikers and soon he was getting in on the act – another through ball, another run on goal, another poor shot dragged wide when well placed to do better. The pattern of play was so frustrating by this stage I could happily have ripped off my own face and thrown it at our players. It’s large, white, rectangular in shape and has a bloody net hanging off the back for God’s sake – somebody pass me some crayons so I can draw them a picture.
Wednesday had been absolutely rank up to the hour mark and I can scarcely recall a team misplacing so many passes straight into touch under little pressure. However they were never going to keep that level of performance for the entire match and with 25 minutes to go they started to come into the game. The first real threat on the QPR goal in the second half came when Jeffers worked a short corner routine with O’Connor and fired the ball through a crowd of players in the penalty area. Nobody got a touch but with the QPR players seemingly giving it up as a goal kick Mark Beevers up from the back was able to reach the loose ball on the byline and cut it back past Cerny and through the gaping goal mouth. No Wednesday player had shown the foresight to get in there just in case and Leigertwood was able to clear at the far post.
QPR had been decent at the back apart from this, with Gorkss to the fore again, but a break down in communication between the Latvian and Damion Stewart on the edge of a penalty area almost allowed Tudgay to burst into the penalty area and seize a loose ball – in the end Stewart had enough pace and strength to retrieve a potentially embarrassing situation.
Jeffers had been absolutely awful for most of the night up to this point, spending most of the game standing offside and then berating the linesman when the flag went up, and Laws withdrew him with 20 minutes to go sending on loaned West Brom forward Slusarski in his stead. This change sparked the home team’s best spell in the match that eventually yielded the only goal of the game.
It certainly was not pretty – Wednesday kept the pressure on by lofting a series of balls into the penalty area in the hope that Leon Clarke, a man not so much carrying a spare tyre round his waste as the entire car chassis, could wrestle somebody out the way and create a chance. The former Wolves and, briefly, QPR man is so God damn slow he has to spend large parts of the match lumbering around like an escaped zoo animal with his arms all over the defender in front of him trying to bundle his way through and referee Nigel Miller seemed quite happy for this to go on. Just to really put the tin hat on the evening it was this one paced, bumbling, oaf of a man was the man to finally break the deadlock and give Wednesday all three points.
Again it was horrendously scrappy. QPR had ample chance to clear yet another aimless lofted ball into the penalty box before and after Slusarski headed it back into the danger zone but eventually Tudgay’s low shot was parried by Cerny and Clarke hammered in the rebound from a suspiciously offside position. It was a goal worthy of the game it won – scrappy, depressingly low in quality, scored from a long ball into the penalty box and owing a debt of gratitude to the other team’s incompetence. An advert for the Championship this most certainly was not.
After falling behind against the overall run of play Sousa immediately replaced Mahon with Di Carmine and the Italian soon got his chance to show he’s just as profligate in front of goal as everybody else. A through ball from Cook seemed to have him away behind the home defence but his chronic lack of pace enabled Beevers to get back at him and clear the ball from the edge of the penalty area before he managed to get a shot away. Beevers looked strong when defending, both tackling and heading, but his distribution was absolutely shocking for most of the game.
Rangers also sent on Fitz Hall late on as a makeshift target man and he brought his long throw with him, one of which was partially cleared to the edge of the box and Lee Cook but his half volley flashed two yards wide of the post. QPR slung over a few late free kicks and corners but really never looked like they believed they might score.
Wednesday actually finished the game with ten men when winger Wade Small collapsed near the touchline clutching his face. When the referee asked him to roll off the field he decided he was alright after all and trotted off to the middle of the pitch where he then sat down again. With blood pouring from a facial wound it was clear he would not be able to continue and he ambled off with the physio. Grant had thrown the ball out of play for all this to happen and in the latest chapter of the ever growing dossier entitled ‘footballers are really thick’ Martin Rowlands decided to return the ball to him by kicking it out for a goal kick by the corner flag. This gave Grant the opportunity to waste another minute retrieving the ball, respotting it and pissing about with his goal kick. Quite why Rowlands decided this was a better idea than kicking it straight back to the keeper only he will know. Grant was eventually booked for his time wasting but he had done his job well on the night and the final whistle, after four minutes of added time, followed the goal kick he was punished for dallying over.
For me this was disappointing for so many reasons. Sheff Wed are a steady team at this level but they were well, well below par here. For the majority of the match they struggled to string two passes together and relied on strikers with absolutely no knowledge of the offside rule and in Clarke’s case no actual ability whatsoever. We will never have a better chance to go to Hillsborough and win because although QPR were a long way off their best, they were still better than Sheff Wed on the night and had enough chances to win by two clear goals. Wednesday will play a million times better than this and lose.
I was also a bit disappointed by the way our players seemed to lose belief so easily. They make the right noises about this current goal drought not playing on their minds but it quite clearly is. Rowlands was a clear candidate for man of the match until his penalty miss after which he was totally ineffective and had his head down. Patrick Agyemang was a thorn in the Wednesday side throughout the first half but spent most of the second half throwing his arms up and stamping his feet at the passes he was receiving and the unfairness of it all. Agyemang doesn’t score many goals, he brings work rate and running to the team and when that stops he’s little more than a lump of flesh to us. Helguson had a good first half despite his miss but was hardly seen at all in the second. Yes it’s frustrating, yes it’s hard to explain and no it won’t do the confidence of players much good to keep missing gilt edged chances but that does not mean you let your heads drop and stop getting into the position to miss.
On the positive side we are now creating chances. This run started at Birmingham, Swansea and Reading where we did not have a shot worthy of note in 270 minutes of football. The fact that it is now roughly 760 minutes since we last scored away from home is now down to missing chances, rather than not bothering to attack. There is a difference, and it is a positive step even though it does not feel particularly great when we miss penalties and chances from three yards out.
What will happen next is we will score three times away from home and lose 4-3, it’s as inevitable as losing an away game 1-0 after dominating and missing two sitters.
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Sheff Wed: Grant 9, Simek 5 (Watson 38, 7), Beevers 6, Wood 6, Spurr 6, Tudgay 6, McAllister 5, O'Connor 6, Esajas 5 (Small 28, 6), Jeffers 4 (Slusarski 72, 7), Clarke 5
Subs Not Used: O'Donnell, Smith
Booked: Grant (time wasting)
Goals: Clarke 75 (assisted Slusarski)
QPR: Cerny 7, Ramage 6, Stewart 7, Gorkss 7, Delaney 6 (Hall 88, -) Mahon 7 (Di Carmine 79, -), Leigertwood 6, Rowlands 6, Ephraim 6 (Cook 55, 6), Agyemang 6, Helguson 5
Subs Not Used: Cole, Tommasi
QPR Star Man – Kaspars Gorkss 7 Yes, again. Strong in the air and composed on the deck, best of a mediocre bunch in my opinion.
Referee: Nigel Miller (Durham) 5 Good to see the cards kept in his pocket apart from Grant who deserved his. The penalty was a good decision as well put apart from that he seemed to make a number of perplexing decisions – allowing Clarke to consistently foul opponents without punishment, giving hand ball decisions when they were fired at a player from a yard away and then allowing play to go on when players deliberately controlled the ball with their arms. It was a strange performance really, very frustrating and inconsistent at times.
Attendance: 14,792 (300 QPR approx) Seeing Hillsborough this empty is quite sad actually. There were vast banks of empty seats wherever you looked and all the atmosphere of a funeral parlour. The tiny group of QPR fans made little noise and mostly sat shivering and waiting for the inevitable. A crowd and atmosphere to suit the style and quality of the match.
Photo: Action Images
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