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QPR score at last, but only manage draw at Plymouth
QPR score at last, but only manage draw at Plymouth
Sunday, 14th Dec 2008 18:56

QPR finally broke their scoring duck on the road with Heidar Helguson’s first half goal at Home Park. Substitute Steve MacLean equalised late on for Argyle and both sides had goals ruled out harshly by linesmen.

Pretty standard Championship fair this – two scrappy goals decided a game played on a pitch better equipped for growing rice on than playing sport and everybody left talking about incorrect decisions from officials.

QPR finally scored a goal away from home after a quarter of an hour, with the 800 minute without one landmark fast approaching, although Helguson did his best to miss it. Then in typical Rangers style they spent the second half sinking deeper and deeper into their own half, inviting more and more pressure from the home side until substitute Steve MacLean chipped home the inevitable equaliser eight minutes from time.

Plymouth thought they had taken the lead inside two minutes but the linesman ruled the ball had not crossed the line, it looked like a goal to me, then on the stroke of half time a shot from martin Rowlands flew into the bottom corner but was disallowed for offside against a man who did not touch the ball. Two poor pieces of officiating from linesmen at the opposite end denying either team a victory, but ultimately a draw was a fair result between two sides evenly matched and destined to meet again at this level next season.

Paulo Sousa made one change to his line up going into the match after the unfortunate one goal defeat at Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday night. Hogan Ephraim dropped to the bench, Lee Cook replaced him at the tip of the diamond in midfield. Leigertwood, Mahon and Rowlands made up the middle four with Agyemang and Helguson partnered up front – Dexter Blackstock recovered from his back injury sufficiently to take his place on the bench. At the back Mat Connolly remained injured so Ramage and Delaney played at full back either side of Gorkss and Stewart and in front of Cerny in goal.

Plymouth were without Emile Mpenza in attack so partnered Paul Gallagher and Rory Fallon up front. Former QPR players Chris Barker and Simon Walton both started the game, in this fixture last season both played in QPR shirts. The home team’s starting eleven remained unchanged after an unfortunate defeat against Birmingham on Tuesday, their third straight defeat coming into the game.

QPR started the game very slowly, struggling to adapt to the pudding like surface and looking lethargic and well off the pace. Plymouth by comparison began the game very brightly and thought they had taken the lead inside the opening two minutes. Desperate defending prevented a goal but conceded a corner in front of the away end and Rangers then contrived to leave the home team’s biggest aerial threat Krisztain Timar completely unmarked at the back post as Summerfield swung the ball over. A flick on in the six yard box saw the ball land at Timar’s feet and he hammered a low drive in on goal which seemed to hit the base of the post and Cerny before rolling over the line and being cleared by Delaney. The home fans on either side of the goal celebrated and it certainly looked to me like it had rolled in, any further in and Delaney would have got tangled up in the net clearing it, but the linesman ignored the appeals and QPR lived to fight another day.

Summerfield hit a low drive from the edge of the box after five minutes that Cerny easily saved down by his feet then Simon Walton headed over a Chris Barker cross at the back post two minutes later when he really should have hit the target. In Rory Fallon Plymouth had a man who had the beating of Damion Stewart in the air and not many people in the division have managed that this year – that advantage meant they were able to exert constant pressure on the QPR defence at the start of the game then later on when they were chasing the match and it would eventually prove crucial. This was Stewart’s least convincing game for some time.

After a nerve jangling opening ten minutes Rangers settled down and began to pass the ball around nicely. Martin Rowlands started to get hold of the ball in midfield and dictate the direction and pace of the play and suddenly the R’s looked very comfortable. Lee Cook screwed a badly mishit shot wide from the edge of the area and Heidar Helguson shot straight at Larrieu in the Plymouth goal with their first attempts of the match.

Then the moment finally arrived, the away goal we had waited so long for, just before we managed to clock up 800 minutes on the road without one. A quarter of an hour in and Damien Delaney took a throw in down by the corner flag, Lee Cook intelligently ran over the ball giving Martin Rowlands time to pick out an exquisite ball to the back post which cut the Plymouth defence and goalkeeper in two and allowed Heidar Helguson a simple finish in front of Chris Barker. He did contrive to hit the post with his first effort and can perhaps count himself lucky that the ball came straight back to him for a second attempt which he tapped in. Still, luck has been the watch word for the Icelandic international since he signed for us and this was his first bit of good fortune. QPR were in front away from home, I had almost forgotten what it felt like.

Patrick Agyemang was next to try his luck, firing a low shot that Larrieu saved well. Agyemang was pretty poor apart from this though – he seemed to be playing a lot wider than in recent games with Cook and Helguson going through the middle. Agyemang’s body language was not great at times and he posed little threat to Plymouth – it was certainly a performance vastly inferior to the ones he produced against Palace and Wolves last week. When he is interested Agyemang is almost unplayable but as he does not score very often he’s almost useless to the team when his effort level drops even slightly and he did not do a lot for us on Saturday.

Plymouth had further cause to feel aggrieved with the linesman in front of the away end when a cross by Mackie struck Gorkss on the hand and flew out for a corner. The linesman gave nothing, referee Kevin Friend decided he had handled the ball but gave a free kick outside the area rather than a penalty kick – at the time I thought that the handball looked accidental but having given it Friend really had to award the spot kick as Gorkss was clearly in the area.

Both teams had great chances to score in the final minute of the half. First QPR found the net for the second time in the game, Martin Rowlands curling the ball into the bottom corner from 20 yards out. Bizarrely though the celebrations were cut short by a linesman’s flag which disallowed the goal, presumably for offside against Heidar Helguson even though the striker never touched the ball as it went through and in. Under the new offside laws this decision looked a very poor one, and just like the Barnsley v Burnley game a fortnight ago I felt the referee and the linesman should have had a discussion about who had been flagged offside and whether or not he was interfering. In my opinion the goal should have stood.

Rowlands and Helguson were both furious and while arguments with both officials continued Plymouth got on with the game and could have rubbed salt into the wounds with an eqauliser at the other end. Gorkss was caught the wrong side of Mackie as he raced onto a through ball, the winger opened his body up and prepared to bend the ball around Cerny and into the top corner but the Czech keeper read his intentions and saved splendidly at close range – a class save that ensured the R’s led at half time although Ainsworth, Sousa, Rowlands and Helguson all had a say with the officials on the way off the pitch adamant that the score should have been two nil.

QPR started the second half in confident mood. Martin Rowlands tried to trick Larrieu with a free kick by whipping it towards the bottom corner when he should really have crossed it, the captain was about a foot away from being vindicated as the ball flashed wide of the post with the keeper beaten. Damien Delaney also tried his luck with a fierce long ranger but Timar got across to block while at the other end a touch back from Fallon to the edge of the area presented a great chance to Simon Walton but he almost cleared the roof of the stand with his effort.

Ten minutes after the break, and with the abysmal Home Park floodlights giving a unique 'football by candlelight experience', QPR had a chance to make the game safe when a good move involving Helguson, Rowlands and Cook ended with Agyemang racing in behind Seip but his effort on goal was tame and bobbled wide of the post. Larrieu appeared to save it but a goal kick was given, either way Agyemang should have done better with what was a very presentable chance.

Despite the narrow margin QPR actually looked comfortable at this stage which makes it especially frustrating that, just as we had done against Wolves in our last home game, we stopped doing what had got us into the winning position. QPR stopped pressing high up the field, they stopped passing the ball, they stopped getting Rowlands in possession in decent areas, they stopped creating chances or even trying to create chances. The basically put the cue on the wrack with half an hour still to go and basically demanded that the back four and goalkeeper win them the game.

Paterson hit a low shot that Cerny picked off his toes with two hands on the hour then five minutes later a goal mouth scramble under a Somerfield cross was belatedly hacked away by Gorkss. Seip headed over from a corner when he really should have done better as the pressure mounted.

Sensing that QPR were slipping out of the game Sousa replaced Cook with Ephraim but it made little difference, the mentality of the team was set and could not be changed. Plymouth for their part brought on Noone, a low to the ground and pacy winger, for Paterson who had just hit a tame shot straight at Cerny from a Clark throw in and then later took off Gallagher and replaced him with MacLean. The home crowd reacted badly to Sturrock’s decision to take Gallagher off but in fairness had the Scottish striker put as much into his performance as he did into his diving, cheating and moaning at the referee he would have had a case to stay on. As it was he spent the vast majority of his time offside, on the floor feigning injury or berating the match officials and was completely ineffective as a result – Plymouth looked far more dangerous when MacLean came on.

Only Mackie will know how he didn’t equalise 15 minutes from time when he collected Noone’s cross at the near post, turned his man and then lifted the ball over the bar from about three yards out. Noone and Walton both hit efforts off target from the edge of the area then Cerny made a super save to deny MacLean and Hall, just on for Ramage to add aerial prowess to the defence, hacked the ball away. Ramage's last action in the game was to pick up a booking for a foul on Noone but just before that Timar had fouled Helguson but not been booked.

QPR were under siege and with the defence dropping deeper and deeper and showing no forward ambition at all that allowed Plymouth to keep pummelling our penalty area with crosses and through balls. It is no way to defend a lead and something had to give – eight minutes from time the inevitable goal came. A long ball forward from Seip found Fallon on the edge of the box who beat Stewart in the air and flicked on to MacLean who in turn skipped around Gorkss and flicked a neat finish over Cerny and into the roof of the net.

The really irritating thing about it all was as soon as Plymouth had equalised QPR reverted back to what they were doing before – keeping possession, pressing high up the field and trying to score. Had we just kept doing that throughout the game we would have won, the mentality of our players when leading by a single goal in the second half absolutely stinks at times.

Heidar Helguson went into the book for a crude tackle on Chris Clark as he pushed forward from full back, although seconds earlier Chris Barker had upended Dexter Blackstock in similar circumstances without receiving a card. With the very last kick of the game a cross from the Plymouth right struck Mikele Leigertwood square in the chest in the penalty area – an incident that brought Plymouth fans on all sides of the ground to their feet screaming for handball but it never looked like it and Kevin Friend ignored the appeals before blowing the final whistle almost immediately.

All in all I would say this is a good point, but that’s because I see QPR as nothing more than a mid table side in this league. Birmingham came here on Tuesday and were second best throughout by all accounts but won 1-0. QPR got their noses in front here and showed in long periods of the first half and the start of the second that they had the measure of Plymouth and knew how to beat them. Ultimately a poor attitude to holding a lead and complete departure from the good things that got us into that position cost us two points. That QPR went straight back to the good habits immediately after conceding the equaliser only served to highlight their shortcomings even more.

Rangers have done this bloody stupid, unproductive and ultimately costly sitting back and hoping for the best nonsense ever since they came back into this division – five seasons under five different managers and two caretakers.

Birmingham are a team in the top two, QPR are not. This week we have totally dominated at Sheffield Wednesday and lost, played well enough to have won at Plymouth and drawn. One point when it should have been four or six. You would hope that given time Sousa will install discipline in the team and teach them that you do not defend narrow leads by lining up on the edge of your own box, constantly giving the ball away and hoofing the ball down the pitch whenever you get it back.

Defending a lead is about keeping possession, staying in shape, and doing the good things that got you into that position in the first place – it’s not about pointing at your poor, overworked goalkeeper and saying “you, win this game for us.” I won’t hold out much hope – Holloway, Waddock, Gregory, Harford, De Canio, Ainsworth and now Sousa have all failed to shift this negative mentality from our team so I don’t expect it to change any time soon.

Next Saturday the R’s face Preston before a trip to rock bottom Charlton. Six points must be the aim if QPR have any play off ambitions at all this season, Preston would be seven points ahead of us were they to win in W12 next week while we have seen very recently just what a crap side Charlton are. To do so we have to build on this away goal and hope if gives Helguson the confidence to bury some of the chances he’s getting and have a better attitude towards defending a lead.

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Plymouth: Larrieu 6, Clark 6, Timar 7, Seip 7, Barker 6, Mackie 6 (Marin 78, 6), Summerfield 6, Walton 6, Paterson 6 (Noone 69, 6), Gallagher 5 (MacLean 77, 7), Fallon 7
Subs Not Used: Folly, Cathcart
Booked: Walton (foul)
Goals: MacLean 83 (assisted Fallon)

QPR: Cerny 8, Ramage 6 (Hall 81, 5), Stewart 6, Gorkss 7, Delaney 6, Mahon 6, Rowlands 7, Cook 6 (Ephraim 68, 5), Leigertwood 6, Agyemang 5 (Blackstock 77, 5), Helguson 6
Subs Not Used: Cole, Tommasi
Booked: Ramage (foul), Helguson (foul)
Goals: Helguson 16 (assisted Rowlands)

QPR Star Man – Radek Cerny 8 A superb save in the first half to deny Mackie one on one and keep QPR in the lead, then two or three other outstanding stops in the second half to win them a point. Could do little about the goal. Martin Rowlands ran him close.

Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire) 6 Not too bad overall. Both QPR bookings followed identical fouls by Plymouth players that did not get yellow cards but other than that he was unfussy and even handed which is not usually the case with him. Plymouth will say they should have had two penalties but he needed help from his linesman with the Gorkss decision and the one at the end didn’t look like a handball in a million years. Not for the first time a decent refereeing performance was let down by the ineptness of the two linesmen.

Attendance: 10,747 (600 QPR fans approx) Home Park seemed quieter than normal to me, certainly quieter than our last visit here. The away end was somewhat emptier than may have been expected with hundreds of QPR fans stuck at Paddington with flooding on the line at Swindon. Rangers have given fans until Wednesday to get a full refund on their tickets and deserve credit for making that offer.

Photo: Action Images

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