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QPR return to form but can't find killer goal at Cardiff - full match report
QPR return to form but can't find killer goal at Cardiff - full match report
Thursday, 26th Feb 2009 11:39

QPR were once again left to rue missed chances as a dominant second half performance yielded only a single point from a trip to Cardiff on Wednesday night.

Well somebody got three points last night but sadly it was me on the way home - roasted on a spit of my own impatience in the “active traffic management” system on the M42 that felt the traffic should be managed at 40 miles per hour on three lanes of empty motorway at one in the morning.

In life you do not always get what you deserve. I challenge anybody to say I deserve a sixty quid fine and inflated insurance premiums for the next three years for doing forty eight miles an hour down an empty stretch of motorway in the middle of the night and I do likewise to anybody who thinks QPR did not deserve more than the single point they took from Ninian Park earlier in the evening.

QPR stretched their unbeaten run of away league games to five matches but three of those have been draws and once again on Wednesday night it was only poor finishing that let us down. After a nervous and shakey beginning when QPR struggled to get hold of the ball and were lucky to survive early scares this blossomed into a performance that, by the middle of the second half, took the game over and completely dominated it.

Cardiff missed chances, denied by a goal line clearance early in the first half and left to rue Michael Chopra’s Conference standard finishing in the second, but for the last half an hour of this game they barely got out of their own half and were ultimately lucky to escape with a point. While QPR fans left the ground buzzing with talk of performances from Leigertwood, Gorkss, Stewart, Cook, Routledge and Mahon, yes Mahon, Cardiff were left to lament two penalty appeals which, when they see them again on the television, they will be embarrassed by.

Rangers came into the game on the back of one of their worst performances of the season against Ipswich on Saturday. The team just did not function at all against the Tractor Boys, weighed down by fans’ expectations and a formation that simply does not work in home games. Away from home though Paulo Sousa’s 4-5-1 is exactly the right way to play and the team showed that on Wednesday night. Damion Stewart was recalled to the back four at the expense of Fitz Hall alongside Gorkss, Delaney and Connolly and was absolutely superb. Radek Cerny, returning in goal at the expense of Lee Camp, had only a couple of serious saves to make. In midfield the much maligned Gavin Mahon was back to his best - stopping, blocking, getting and giving. Nothing fancy, but a vital role away from home. Mikele Leigertwood was outstanding alongside him with Miller, Cook and Routledge the attacking options in the five. Routledge was given a predictably warm reception by what the tannoy announcer hilariously described pre-match as “the most welcoming fans in the league”. Up front Heidar Helguson returned with Saturday’s goal scorer Sam Di Carmine benched.

Cardiff came into the game without the physical presence of Jay Bothroyd in attack but it seemed nobody had told that to either Roger Johnson or Darren Purse, the home centre backs, who spent the entire evening knocking long balls down the centre of the pitch straight onto Damion Stewart’s head. Paul Parry, more of a winger than a forward, interchanged with top scorer Ross McCormack up front alongside Chopra - the three of them were wholly ineffective. City’s best player, as if I needed to be made to look stupid again, was full back Kevin McNaughton who I had incorrectly pin-pointed as a potential weakness in the match preview. He was the home team’s best player in the first half and it was only after the break when he was withdrawn, presumably through injury, that QPR, and Lee Cook in particular, came into the game as an attacking force. Lord help me keep my big mouth shut.

The game started at a frantic pace with nobody showing any willingness to put a foot on the ball and calm things down. It was no surprise then that the first meaningful shot of the game came from a set piece. A well flighted corner was flicked on by Johnson and struck goalwards by Purse, worryingly left unattended at the back post, but what looked from our vantage point at the far end of the pitch to be a combination of Matt Connolly on the ground in the six yard box and Radek Cerny kept the ball out and scrambled it away.

QPR started slowly. Wayne Routledge was copping some fearful abuse from the home fans and, for me, he looked a little daunted by it all and showed nervousness and timidity early on. On the other flank McNaughton had Cook well under wraps. However after ten minutes the R’s did create a chance to score - a good one at that. Routledge made an idiot out of one time QPR winger Mark Kennedy down by the corner flag and cut the perfect ball back from the byline to the onrushing Liam Miller. For me Miller should have struck the ball first time as it arrived at his feet but the Irishman elected to take a touch and try to round Konstantopoulos in the Cardiff goal - ultimately the keeper got the better of the encounter.

The teams exchanged half chances around the twenty minute mark. A good cross from the impressive Chris Burke was touched back by McCormack in the penalty area to Rae who drilled wide of the post. Rae was the victim of some moans and groans from his own fans as Cardiff wilted in the second half so it is not only us that do that to defensive central midfielders in home games. Delaney did well to just about keep hold of Burke on the night in a far superior performance to the one he produced against Ipswich.

At the other end a super cross-field pass from Leigertwood found Routledge hugging the touchline and he confidently flicked the ball over Kennedy with his first touch giving him a clear run into the penalty area as the Cardiff man struggled to turn. Routledge was the wrong side of Kennedy and he knew it but the home player just about saw off the danger by flinging an arm across Routledge and thrusting him to the ground. Routledge went over very easily for me and it would have been a harsh penalty. The linesman closest to play, who looked like a prime candidate for a stomach stapling operation, kept his flag down which at the time I thought was fair enough but as the game progressed it turned out his flag was only ever raised to give decisions in favour of Cardiff so I’m not sure you can take his word for it after all. He struggled, understandably, to keep up with the play for most of the night and to be honest I’m not sure the most overweight man in the ground should really be running the line.

Liam Miller was the first man to go into the referee’s book for a poor foul on Ledley deep inside the Cardiff half. East could easily have let him off with what was his first foul of the game but it seems churlish to complain when two minutes later Mikele Leigertwood was lucky to get away with a thigh high lunge on McNaughton who subsequently required extensive treatment in the centre circle and was substituted at half time. The home fans bayed for blood, the referee settled for a free kick and a final warning.

Cardiff sprung the QPR offside trap five minutes before the break when Ledley was played in by Chopra but his shot from just inside the penalty area was bravely and importantly blocked by Kaspars Gorkss.

The teams emerged for the second half with one change made. McNaughton was withdrawn after an impressive first half and replaced by Comminges who was sent off in the fixture at Loftus Road earlier this season. Comminges was not even half as good as McNaughton had been and was consistently out numbered and ripped apart down his flank in the second half with Cook and Leigertwood to the fore.

The next forty five minutes were about as well as Cook has played this season after a poor first half. Within two minutes of the restart he had picked the ball up wide on the left touchline, turned and accelerated away from Cardiff’s new arrival and collapsed in a heap on the edge of the penalty area buying a free kick from our referee. Liam Miller sized the free kick up and was clearly aiming low for a gap to be created by Mahon peeling away just before the shot. Sadly Miller’s aim was slightly out and he succeeded only in blasting the ball straight into the gut of one of the blue bricks in the defensive wall.

Cardiff then came back into the match and enjoyed what would turn out to be their last ten minutes of pressure. It all started with Michael Chopra theatrically hitting the deck under minimal contact from Kaspars Gorkss and appealing demonstrably for a penalty to be awarded. It never was. Cheating, plain and simple. Not the first time Chopra has done that in his career, not even the first time he has done it against us. East was absolutely right to wave the appeals away and could even have showed Chopra a yellow card.

Chopra tried to take his frustration out on Radek Cerny but succeeded only in hammering one very presentable chance into the away end and then sending a low daisy cutter straight at the Czech keeper from 20 yards - the Czech keeper did initially spill the ball back out into the red zone but no Cardiff players were around to capitalise on it.

Just after the hour Chopra beat the offside trap, although with The Big Easy now running the QPR backline and mercilessly giving Cardiff everything that wasn’t difficult, but completely miskicked a great chance across the face of goal to a somewhat surprised Kaspars Gorkss who needed help from Delaney after initially hurrying his clearance. That was to be Chopra’s last act of the match as he was then replaced by Peter Whittingham with Paul Parry moving into a central attacking role as a result. Mark Kennedy smashed a ridiculously ambitious long range shot off in the general direction of the city centre.

The mood among the home fans did not improve much when Parry took Stewart to the byline and was then the victim of a crude lunge by the Jamaican which should have been a free kick and booking at least but was actually given as a QPR goal kick right in front of the most vociferous Cardiff fans. Mr East was not winning many friends in South Wales although having given them a penalty and disallowed a Coventry goal on his last visit here perhaps they have had their fair share of decisions from him this season. QPR completely took over and dominated the game from this point on.

That may have had something to do with Sousa’ first change of the match. Liam Miller, turning in his least impressive performance for the club so far, was replaced by Matteo Alberti who initially assumed Miller’s central position but soon moved wide to the right allowing Routledge to come infield and get more involved. Miller had been tidy in the first half but gave the ball away three or four times in quick succession after the break, including a nightmare header back to he keeper much like the one Gavin Mahon attempted on Saturday against Ipswich. Like Mahon, Miller got away with it more by luck than judgement and taking him off was the right decision particularly as he was on a yellow card. Having said that Alberti quickly found himself in the book for a foul as well - his fourth yellow card of the season from three starts and five sub appearances.

QPR’s first chance of the half came through Damien Delaney who embarked on the kind of marauding run that he became known for last season up to the edge of the penalty area and beyond, collected the second half of a one two with Helguson before seeing his shot blocked away by Purse. Delaney played really, really well in the last half hour but he was not the only one. Cardiff struggled to get out of their own half in the final third of the match and were lucky to survive when a poor back pass from Kennedy was cleared straight to Routledge by Konstantopoulos, no doubt nervous after his horrendous mistake at Wolves on Sunday and dodgy with his kicks all night. Routledge saw the chance of a dream goal to silence the home boo boys but volleyed narrowly wide of the open net from an acute angle.

The best two chances of the match for QPR fell to Helguson in the final ten minutes and both, unsurprisingly, came down the left side where QPR were running riot. First Cook swung over a tremendous cross to the back post where Helguson’s was unmarked but volleyed first time into the ground thereby taking all the pace off his shot and allowing the Cardiff keeper and easy save. Konstantopoulos would have been powerless to do anything had Helguson hit the target with his next effort two minutes later - this time it was the imperious Leigertwood making tracks down the left and delivering a near post cross that Helguson beat Johnson to at the near post but side footed wide.

That was a snip of a chance really and should have been the match winner. Still, while it is easy to critcise Helguson for missing chances, the fact that he could find himself unmarked in the area twice in two minutes when playing as a loan striker against two experienced centre halves should tell you a lot about his movement and footballing brain. Di Carmine goes to ground too easily for me and despite his goals Blackstock still often looks flat footed, like he is reacting to things that have already happened rather than anticipating them before they do. Helguson for me, despite the misses, is clearly our best striker.

Sousa sent on Blackstock and Di Carmine for the final couple of minutes while in a rare Cardiff attack Parry tricked his way into the area and hit the deck under challenge from Gorkss - the Latvian clearly took the ball but the home fans made their exasperation known anyhow and demanded a penalty that East rightly waved away. In three minutes of added time at the end of the game normal service was resumed when Routledge tormented Kennedy and hammered a fantastic cross across the face of goal, through the six yard box and out the other side, without anybody getting a touch. That was to be the last act of any note although at full time I noticed that only three or four of the players came across to recognise the away support - Connolly, Gorkss, Delaney, Ainsworth and maybe one or two others. The rest went straight down the tunnel and while I don’t think that is particular problem, a big deal or particularly unusual I just wondered whether they were making a point after the treatment of Mahon on Saturday. Probably not, but it did cross my mind.

Overall then a good point well won but once again it should have been three. All eyes were on Mahon after his abomination at the weekend but he was solid and impressive as the holding midfielder - a role he plays well away from home but on that isn’t as necessary at Loftus Road and often seems to hold the team back. Mikele Leigertwood was superb alongside him, Cook and Routledge had good second halves after lacklustre performances in the first and Gorkss and Stewart were back to their best at centre half.

Cardiff looked much like any other side in this league to me and clearly the reason everybody seems to beat everybody else is that there just is not a great deal between any of them. QPR were more than a match for them here and in seven games against the top four sides this season we have lost only once and conceded just one goal. After struggling for away points in the first half of the season we now look really solid on our travels and are a more effective side away than we are at home. On Wednesday night we were solid, good on the ball and after a nervy beginning pretty confident as well while always lacking the final cutting edge.

It was like Saturday never happened.

Have Your say >>> Rate The Players

Cardiff: Konstantopoulos 6, McNaughton 8 (Comminges 46, 5), Purse 7, R Johnson 7, Kennedy 7, Parry 6, Rae 6, Ledley 7, Burke 7 (Owusu-Abeyie 73, 6), Chopra 5 (Whittingham 66, 6), McCormack 6
Subs Not Used: E Johnson, Scimeca

QPR: Cerny 7, Connolly 7, Gorkss 8, Stewart 8, Delaney 8, Cook 7, Miller 6 (Alberti 58, 6), Leigertwood 8, Mahon 7 (Blackstock 89, -), Routledge 7, Helguson 6 (Di Carmine 90, -)
Subs Not Used: Hall, Lopez
Booked: Miller (foul), Alberti (foul)

QPR Star Man - Mikele Leigertwood 8 Ran the midfield throughout. A muscular defensive presence when Cardiff had the ball and a dangerous forward thrusting weapon when we did. Excellent all round midfield display.

Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire) 6 The Cardiff fans were moaning about him on the radio afterwards but I thought he got both of their penalty appeals absolutely spot on. One was a blatant dive and the other was a good tackle from Gorkss. Should have booked Stewart and Leigertwood for their fouls and was assisted by a truly awful linesman down at our end of the ground but not bad overall.

Attendance: 17,340 (300 QPR approx) The QPR support was excellent in volume if not numbers. Chants of “Paulo Sousa’s blue army” rang out for a constant 20 minutes in both halves and everybody was right behind the team and offering noisy support. Such a shame it is not like that at home matches. The Cardiff fans were noisy and passionate to start with but almost silent during the second half except for moans and groans at their own players which, considering they are fourth in the table, made about as much sense as our treatment of our team at Loftus Road.

Photo: Action Images

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