|QPR dealt cruel late blow on lonely night in the north - full match report|
Wednesday, 14th Jan 2009 20:26
QPR suffered last minute cup heartbreak at Burnley on Tuesday night as a slip by Damion Stewart allowed home town boy Jay Rodriguez through for a last, gasp winner.
There was a queue out into the car park at the Burnley Gala Bingo on Tuesday night. Or were the old hags simply huddling together for warmth while they had a fag? Either way it was proving to be a more popular option than the stands at nearby Turf Moor for an FA Cup Third Round replay between the local team and Queens Park Rangers.
It is a desolate place Burnley. Dank, cold, uninviting, poorly lit even in the day time and infested with that special breed of teenager that hangs around in a group and can amuse itself for days and weeks on end simply by laughing and/or throwing things at people passing by trying to go about their daily business. The ridiculously big Tesco store next to the Bingo hall looked to be doing a good trade when I went in for a Lucozade before the game, but in reality nobody in there had the money to buy anything - they were just attracted by the warmth, bright lights and chance to play on a moving walkway.
It would be unfair to suggest that a place with a Championship football club in a decent ground has nothing for people to do but to be honest take away the Clarets and the big supermarket and all you're really left with here is a Dominos Pizza.
The 3,760 brave souls and idiots that did fancy the football saw Burnley win of course, a last gasp goal right at the end of extra time scored by a 19 year old local boy. However even the laziest hack would have thought twice before mentioning the much talked about lesser spotted magic of the FA Cup after this one. Sure, for Jay Rodriguez the night ended well and it was a relief to see a teenager in Burnley and not be worried for the future of my car's alloy wheels, but magic was in short supply here.
Rodriguez's goal was the last word on a cup tie that looked dire when it came out of the hat and got steadily worse from there. At Loftus Road a QPR team chopped and changed to within an inch of its life fumbled around with a Burnley side with its mind on other things like a virgin trying to unhook a bra for the first time. Ninety minutes passed without us managing one successful stab at the target. One shot off the cross bar was all two teams of handsomely paid footballers could manage in more than an hour and a half of their chosen profession - "Burnley defended quite well" protested the QPR players who felt the fans were out of order for not applauding their efforts.
Rather than boo a second time the fans simply thought better of attending at all. Around 200 QPR fans made the long haul north and huddled together for warmth in the decrepit old away end. Entire tiers of the stands directly in front and to the left of the visitors were closed altogether and those that did open their doors were sparsely populated. It had the look and feel of a reserve team match and with Paulo Sousa yet again making a host of changes to his starting eleven QPR got into that swing of things a little more readily than the people who had taken a day of their lives and given it to the British motorway system might have liked.
Fitz Hall came in at right back for Matt Connolly alongside Stewart, Gorkss and Delaney and in front of Radek Cerny in goal. In midfield the dynamic Mahon and Leigertwood partnership was reunited to groans, Martin Rowlands was there to provide light relief, Emmanuel Ledesma and Matteo Alberti left and right seemed unsure why they were there at all. Up front no sign of Saturday's goal scorer Dexter Blackstock, young Sam Di Carmine was given the unenviable task of leading the line by himself against the experienced pair of Carlisle and Caldwell at the heart of the home defence.
The game started at a slow pace with only an eye catching move between Di Carmine and Ledesma on the edge of the box, Steven Caldwell just covered back in time to deny the Italian a run on goal, to take note of before Burnley were dealt an injury blow. Already shorn of top scorer Martin Paterson through a knock picked up in the warm up Owen Coyle lost Chris McCann from his midfield after a quarter of an hour and introduced Alan Mahon in his stead.
Mahon actually had the home team’s first serious effort on goal which was easily gathered by Cerny, Gudjohnson tried his luck from distance on the half hour but could only send the ball spiralling high into the deserted stand behind the goal. Ledesma had a tame low shot on goal that Jensen saved easily.
Referee Webster added one minute to the end of a pretty turgid half during which time Damien Delaney was quite rightly booked for a ridiculously stupid piece of play. With Eagles tight to the touchline and going nowhere Delaney made his mind up for him by committing early and obviously to a tackle so all Eagles had to do was nudge the ball down the line and brace himself. Some of the things Delaney does at times are worthy of a pub footballer and he did not improve greatly in the second half, continuously looking wholly uncomfortable with the tactic of playing the ball out from the back.
Carlisle headed that free kick wide and there was still time before the whistle for Robbie Blake to fire a low shot on goal after breaking free in the left channel – Cerny saved well and did even better to hold onto the ball as Wade Elliott raced in looking for a rebound.
As usual QPR came out for the second half two minutes later than their opponents, and looked like a team that had been sitting on their backsides for two minutes longer. From the kick off only Martin Rowlands will know what he had in mind as he passed a 50 yard ball back into his own half, over the heads of all his team mates and out for a throw in by the corner flag. As Burnley are, unlike QPR, able to a keep a ball for more than two touches from their own throw in that quickly turned into a corner and as Burnley are, unlike QPR, able to miss the first defender at the near post with their corners every now and again that turned into a very presentable chance at the back post which Clarke Carlisle headed wide of the post.
Burnley do like to try and pass the ball around but after losing McCann the quality of that play in the midfield area diminished and Mikele Leigertwood ran the show in the middle third once that change had been forced on the home team. It was a typically robust but fair tackle from him that set up the opening goal eight minutes after half time. Alan Mahon dallied on the ball inside his own half and Leigertwood was quickly on the scene to effortlessly rob his man of possession and carry the ball towards the Burnley goal. As Caldwell came across to meet him Leigertwood slipped the perfect ball left to Di Carmine who took a touch to steady himself and then finished low underneath Jensen and into the net. A terrific counter attacking goal from QPR’s best two forward players on the night – Leigertwood had his best game of the season in midfield, Di Carmine led the line very well and deserved his second goal for the club.
Rangers should have been two up within six minutes as Burnley were again caught in possession in midfield. This time Martin Rowlands pinched the ball from Wade Elliott and strode towards the penalty area with the home side melting away in front of him. After a neat one two on the edge of the area with Di Carmine it seemed easier for Rowlands to score than miss but he leant back just too far and his shot hit the top of the cross bar and bounced away to safety.
Burnley should have been down and out, within two minutes they were level in the tie again. A routine cross from the right seemed to be posing few problems for Cerny until he inexplicably elected to go with a one handed punch instead of a catch. His weak clearance dropped limply in the penalty area and after Gudjohnson had seen a powerful low drive blocked on the line by Mahon, Thompson had the composure and piece of mind to take a touch and dink the perfect finish over the crowd in the six yard box and in off the underside of the bar. Rowlands made an attempt to make out that it hadn’t crossed the line as it bounced back out into play but in truth it was not the most taxing decision the linesman will have had in his career.
Sadly after a period of terrific form during the Autumn Cerny has taken a bit of a dive just recently. With two goals at Charlton coming from him flapping at crosses, the Coventry strike on Saturday a direct result of him getting sloppy and trying to second guess a brighter player and now this I think he has directly cost us four goals in five matches since Christmas. Very worrying, especially as it was the inexperienced Reece Crowther on the bench again for this game with Jake Cole out with a broken finger and Lee Camp out of favour to such an extent he has trained with the juniors in the past couple of weeks.
Thompson went close to scoring again twice in quick succession after equalising. First he met a deep cross at the back post and tried to angle it past Cerny and into the far corner but just could not get the ball to bend as he wished. Then a simple two yard header at the back post was snatched away from him at the last second by a desperate finger tip save from Cerny as he back peddled under a cross from Eagles on the left wing. Hall was just about holding onto Eagles in an unorthodox full back roll, but it really was only just about and Hall looked uncomfortable with both the marking job he had been detailed to do and the passing and footballing elements of playing full back.
At the other end another flowing counter attack involving Leigertwood, Rowlands and Di Carmine broke down when the Italian was cynically hauled back off the ball by Caldwell who, once the ball had gone out of play, was booked by referee Webster – a card that he misses the League Cup semi final with Tottenham through suspension. He was banned from the game at White Hart Lane as well.
The game seemed set for extra time a long time before it actually got there. The final 20 minutes or so became very stop start with the referee getting more pedantic as the evening went on and both teams making two substitutions each. Sousa sent on Helguson for the tiring Di Carmine in attack and youth teamer Ramone Rose for Gavin Mahon in midfield. Di Carmine has copped a bit of stick from me in recent weeks but I thought he did well in difficult circumstances in this game, mixing it with two physical centre backs and showing good touch, awareness and passing ability to go with his hold up play. If there is a criticism it is that when he picks up a knock or gets tired towards the end of a match he just gives up and flops about until he is taken off when he needs to keep going. Ephraim went on for the ineffective Ledesma and Burnley for their part sent on Jay Rodriguez, a local boy despite the name, for Robbie Blake and Alex McDonald for Joey Gudjohnson.
Despite the lacklustre end to the game Rangers really should have won the tie with four minutes to go. Again Leigertwood was at the heart of it all, moving silkily into space in the midfield and then releasing a perfectly timed pass for Rowlands to race in behind the Burnley back four. Normally if there is a player you would want in this situation Rowlands would be that man and he calmly travelled into the area, moved the ball out of his feet, held off the late challenge and then inexplicably hacked a horrible shot high and wide of the post when it seemed easier to score. It capped another poor performance from the captain and condemned Rangers to half an hour of extra time.
In truth they nearly didn’t even get that as in four minutes of added time Burnley actually managed to get the ball in the net to win the match, but they were pulled up by the officials. Fitz Hall turned a routine defensive situation wide on the QPR right into an all out emergency when he slipped under pressure from Eagles and allowed the Burnley winger to race to the byline in the penalty area and pull the ball back into the danger zone. The scramble that ensued was biblical and only came to an end when Eagles himself nudged the ball into the net past Cerny at the back post however the flag had long since been raised to deny him and so, with the antiquated wooden seat in the away end doing more damage to my backside than a pool party at Michael Barrymore’s house, we settled in for an additional half hour of mediocrity.
The first half of extra time, with QPR still kicking away from their own fans, gave little to write home about. McDonald made a complete mug of Delaney wide on the QPR left seven minutes in but after moving across to the corner of the penalty box his tame shot was saved by Cerny who needed two attempts to gather it. Alberti was booked for a crude challenge on Eagles as Rangers continued to smother Burnley’s outstanding player.
Two minutes before the water break QPR got the ball into the net only to be left exasperated by a farcical piece of officiating. Hogan Ephraim, proving to be a real threat to the tired Burnley legs with a number of forceful forward runs, slipped a good ball through for Helguson who suddenly found himself all alone and facing the Burnley goal. He ran onto the ball but assumed he was offside so slowed down and actually looked at the linesman. The official stood with his flag by his side and even ran along with Helguson as if intimating play on. The Icelandic international seemed somewhat surprised but hammered the ball past the keeper anyway and commenced the celebrations. Some hour or so later the dipstick running the line actually decided that he probably was offside after all and stuck the flag up.
Now I am all for the new idea where officials are encouraged to wait and hang fire with a flag until they are absolutely sure the player that is offside is going to get involved with the play but come on, purlease, when there is only one attacker and one football in fifty square yards of space what did the bloody linesman think was going to happen? Was Les Ferdinand suddenly going to parachute in from an onside position and hammer in a glorious winner clutching a signed FA Cup registration document in one hand and a bottle of 1997 Chateuaneuf du Pape in the other? It made him look absolutely ridiculous, drew laughter from the crowd and exasperation from both benches. Yet another example of somebody who could recite the rule book to you in his sleep, but lacks the first idea of what it actually feels like to play football. Embarrassing.
QPR kicked towards their own supporters in the second period of added time and really started to throw caution to the wind in the quest for a winner in open play. Ramone Rose looked very impressive wide on the left, giving Alexander a torrid time until he picked up a knock landing awkwardly after a header. Before that he had visited the byline and whipped a ball into the near post where it sat agonisingly still and unattended no more than a foot away from the open net with nobody able to get a finishing touch to it before Burnley cleared. He then cracked a curled shot from the edge of the box that Jensen needed to extend himself right across the goal to palm it away from the bottom corner.
The closest the R’s came was five minutes from time though when Delaney cut across the face of the area and fired another low right footed shot that took a deflection on its way through and looked for all the world like it would fly past Jensen and into the net until the giant keeper produced an improbable one handed reaction save up to his right after diving left. How he kept it out I will never know. At the other end Eagles volleyed a presentable chance marginally over from the edge of the area dead centre.
And so after all of that it seemed that only penalties would be able to separate the two sides. After 215 minutes of most awful football played between two teams that did not really seem to want to go through (with a trip to another cess hole West Bromwich the reward who could blame them?) penalties it was. Except not. With less than a minute left on the clock an aimless clearance down field was allowed to bounce by Damion Stewart and suddenly the sub Rodriguez was in behind and bearing down on the penalty area. Radek Cerny came out to confront him leaving the youngster the reasonably simple task of lifting the ball over the keeper and gently into the back of the net after an inordinate amount of time. The final, final whistle followed within a minute. And that was it. Just like that. All over.
The QPR players disconsolately threw their shirts into the away end, meagre reward for the travelling faithful, while a lobotomised gibbon screamed "SUPER CLARETS" over the public address system a few times almost knocking both the man and his dog off their feet in the process. If he was not embarrassed he bloody should have been.
Outside a fat kid of no more than ten thought it would be funny to walk past, with his Dad it must be said, the away end and shout "bye bye, bye bye" at the QPR fans. His Dad looked really proud. I consoled myself with the idea that he'd merely amount to just another fat chav fascinated by the bright lights and moving walkway in Tesco and walked back to my car. If I'd smacked the pair of them in the face with a bit of my antique wooden seat it would be me with the football banning order, where's the justice in that? Still, the way QPR are playing away from home at the moment a banning order might be just what I need.
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Burnley: Jensen 8, Alexander 7, Carlisle 7, Caldwell 6, Jordan 7, Elliott 6, McCann 6 (Mahon 20, 5), Gudjonsson 6 (MacDonald 84, 6), Eagles 8, Blake 6 (Rodriguez 69, 6), Thompson 7
Subs Not Used: Penny, Kalvenes, Akinbiyi, Kay
Booked: Caldwell (foul), Mahon (foul)
Goals: Thompson 60 (assisted Gudjohnson), Rodriguez 120 (assisted Carlisle)
QPR: Cerny 4, Hall 5, Stewart 6, Gorkss 7, Delaney 5, Alberti 5, Leigertwood 8, Mahon 6 (Rose 79, 7), Rowlands 5, Ledesma 5 (Ephraim 55, 7), Di Carmine 7 (Helguson 85, 6)
Subs Not Used: Borrowdale, Crowther, Connolly, Ramage
Booked: Delaney (foul), Alberti (foul)
Goals: Di Carmine 54 (assisted Leigertwood)
QPR Star Man – Mikele Leigertwood 8 He and Eagles were easily the most impressive outfield players on the pitch in my opinion. Leigertwood dominated the middle of the park with a strong display with and without the ball, his best performance in that position for many a long month. Desperately unlucky to finish on the losing side.
Referee: Colin Webster (Tyne & Wear) 6 It takes a special kind of man to still be pedantic enough to insist that a free kick is taken from exactly the right place, and even have a crucial one on half way retaken twice, after 110 minutes of football but Mr Webster is that man. He wasn’t too bad really in fairness, hard to argue with any of the four cards and the main complaints from both sides seemed to be more around the assistant referees who can at best be described as eccentric.
Attendance: 3,760 (200 QPR approx) The QPR fans that made the trip were in great voice all night. All in all though you almost felt embarrassed for Burnley and the competition looking out on the best part of 20,000 empty seats. It was pathetic, football clubs face a very rude awakening as money grows tighter still in the supporters’ pockets.
Photo: Action Images
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