|QPR beaten by Norwich at rain lashed Loftus Road - full match report|
Wednesday, 4th Mar 2009 16:28
QPR slipped to a poor 1-0 home defeat, their sixth game without a win, against relegation threatened Norwich City on Tuesday night.
“We apologise for the current delay to your service here just outside Leicester. I’m afraid we have a gentleman on a bridge in front of us who would like to jump in front of the train as it passes by,” said the guard. It rather summed the evening up. Quarter to two in the morning and the kicks in the nuts just kept coming. Still, I suppose it could have been worse, I could have been the man on the bridge – perhaps he had just had his season ticket renewal letters through from QPR?
Of course under normal circumstances, at a normal time of the day, no railway guard would ever be so frank with his passengers as to the reasons why the service had ground to a halt just past Market Harborough. Then again the man in the buffet car would never invite you down there “just for a chat” in his announcements either. I guess when it gets late in the day people relax more, care less and move away from what they do normally.
The same could be said of QPR. The players and management still talk about play offs, Mikele Leigertwood the latest spouter of such fanciful nonsense in the local press, but they already look to have more than one eye on next season and are slowly sinking into a malaise that even teams as poor as Norwich can take advantage of.
Don’t get me wrong, QPR were the better team in this match and should have won, but the goal that beat them was a defensive shambles of the highest order and it could have been worse had rookie referee Graham Scott stuck to his guns when he initially awarded Norwich a first half penalty but later downgraded it to a corner.
The R’s lined up in another new system. After 4-5-1 and 4-4-2 in the two away games leading up this fixture Sousa switched again to a narrow 4-3-3, eyes down for any line across, with Routledge playing behind a front two of Blackstock and Helguson. The usual back four of Connolly, Gorkss, Stewart and Delaney started in front of Cerny in goal. Sousa gave a first start in midfield to Spanish midfielder Jordi Lopez in between Leigertwood in an unorthodx semi-wide-left role and Miller on the other side.
With a strong wind whipping torrential rain over the roof of the Ellerslie Road stand and into the faces of those in South Africa Road Lopez, a man who spent the last four years of his career in Seville and Majorca, probably wondered what on earth he had let himself in for. The conditions were biblically bad and dominated the match far more than either of the two teams – at one stage it looked like Norwich would have to head back up the A12 in an arc rather than their team coach.
City, four points adrift of safety at the start of play, were without former QPR striker Jamie Cureton but Carl Cort was passed fit to continue his run of six goals in six games against QPR. Wes Hoolahan started in attack alongside him.
Despite the conditions the game started brightly and boh teams had great chances to open the scoring in the first five minutes. First a nice move through the QPR midfield ended with Lopez playing a super ball through the Norwich back four for Helguson to run onto but the finish did not match the quality of the build up as the Icelandic striker fired across the face of goal and out for a goal kick. Almost immediately the R’s were forced t survive a nervy moment of their own when an overhit free kick from Sammy Clingan was spilled inexplicably and under no pressure by Cerny twelve yards out – QPR managed to get enough bodies around the ball to deny Hoolahan a sight of goal and clear it away.
It was the start of a really poor night for the QPR goalkeeper although he was equal to a bullet header from Carl Cort a minute or two later. A cross from the impressive Jonathan Grounds was met powerfully at the near post by Cort who had run in front of Stewart but his header flew straight at Cerny from twelve yards out.
Blackstock turned Shackell on the edge of the box but fired wide after a quarter of an hour and then Lopez saw a free kick bounce fractionally wide of the post after Helguson had been fouled by Doherty on the edge of the box after bringing the ball down with his back to goal..
That was nothing compared to a similarly bizarre passage of play ten minutes before half time. Former Man City winger Lee Croft, still looking like he could do to lose a few pounds, ran onto a ball in the right channel and pushed it past Lopez. He appeared to have overrun the ball but hit the deck under challenge from Lopez. Referee Scott was in close attendance and pointed straight to the penalty spot much to the rage of the QPR players and fans in the Lower Loft. The outraged reaction sent Scott scurrying across to his linesman and after a brief consultation he changed his mind and awarded a corner which in turn sent Croft and his team mates, hands on head, racing across or protests and explanation.
This is an interesting trend that has developed this season. Before the kick off in August I think I could count on the fingers of one hand the amount of times I have seen a referee change his mind over a penalty but this season I have already seen it happen five or six times. It hardly reinforces the message that the referee’s decision is final and is to be respected – players are being rewarded for crowding and intimidating the match official. Still, if the right decision is made in the end it should not really matter how it is reached. On this occasion I felt Croft had run the ball out of play and was looking for a penalty as a runner up prize for his efforts, however having said that I don’t think Lopez got much of the ball so it was either a goal kick or a penalty. A lucky escape either way.
QPR had their own dispute with a linesman within two minutes. A corner from Lopez was missed completely by Marshall at the near post and nodded towards the empty net by Wayne Routledge, Gary Doherty got something on the ball but then very coolly, and rather stupidly, allowed it to bounce so Marshall could have another bash at claiming the ball which he did from either dead on or just behind the goal line. Routledge appealed frantically to the match officials but no goal was forthcoming leading one wit in the F Block to suggest the Loft End lineman might like to run the full length of the pitch to help us out.
Marshall looked almost as nervous as Cerny in the unforgiving conditions and was lucky to get away with a punch back out into traffic in the first minute of the second half – Liam Miller tried an instinctive lobbed return over the keeper but ultimately, agonisingly, over the cross bar as well. Miller looked frustrated with himself but it was a tough chance to take on. Basically QPR started the second half as they had finished the first – on top, but lacking a final ball or finishing touch. Helguson headed a free kick from Routledge wide and then Mikele Leigertwood forced a clawed save out of Marshall when he cut in from the left flank and launched a dipping long range shot from the corner of the penalty box.
An error from Gorkss just before the hour gave Hoolahan a sight of goal but the Latvian recovered sufficiently to block the resulting shot while Helguson was off target with another back post header from a Delaney cross at the other end and then saw a low shot saved from close range but he had long since been flagged offside – stil it might have helped his confidence a little had he stuck the ball away anyway.
A ridiculous thirty seconds of play where both goalkeepers launched long clearances straight to their opposite number highlighted the difficult conditions the players were having to grapple with.
The goal when it came, twenty two minutes from time, was an absolute unmitigated disaster. First Delaney, on half way and facing his own goal, fired a ridiculously ard passstraight at Gorkss’ head resulting in the concession of possession inside our own half. Norwich attacked but Rangers seemed to have things under control as they funnelled back into their own penalty area. Under control that is until Damion Stewart poked the ball towards Gorkss who miscontrolled again and lost out to Hoolahan. He in turn crossed the ball to Russell whose tame shot was spilled into the bottom corner of his own net by Radek Cerny. Defending of a Sunday league standard. Abysmal.
It summed up the night for a number of players. Damien Delaney put an unbelievable amount of effort in but the harder he tried the worse he got. In the first half he produced an excellent cross for Helguson that Doherty did well to clear but after that his service from wide areas just got steadily worse and worse as the night went on – countless times he misplaced passes and kicked crosses straight into the stand. Gorkss too had his worst game for the club and Stewart probably his worst of the season. Cerny failed miserably to cope with the conditions – flapping wildly at crosses and spilling the only save he had to make all night into his own net.
Sousa responded immediately sending Ephraim on for Miller but the body language of the players was noticeably down beat after the Norwich goal and it was clear that any chance we had of winning the game, or even taking a point from it, had gone. The players simply did not believe in it any more after falling behind. Norwich sent on Alan Gow for Hoolahan, presumably to provide some fresh running legs to prevent QPR having easy possession as they chased an equaliser.
Eight minutes from time Bertrand was booked for heaving the ball away down the field after the whistle had blown and from the resulting free kick Gorkss headed tamely straight at Marshall when any kind of power or direction towards the back post would surely have brought and equaliser. There were other chances as well - when Damion Stewart stayed forward after a free kick he got the ball trapped between his chest and that of Doherty in the six yard box. When it eventually came loose Dexter Blackstock poked it past the post. Other than that a twenty five yard shot from Matt Connolly that was as wet as the weather was as good as it got and Norwich were able to comfortably hang on to their lead, although I’m sure it didn’t seem comfortable to them, through three minutes of added time.
Overall then a hugely frustrating night and QPR’s hopes of achieving anything other than a mid table finish this season are surely now long gone. QPR dominated the game, few people can deny that, and Norwich were very poor but you must take your chances when they come and Rangers missed a sack load on Tuesday night. Helguson gets into the positions to score wonderfully, better than any of our other forwards, but he is missing some real sitters at the moment. Blackstock continues to look flat footed and reactionary to me – lacking in effort and posing very little threat to opponents.
The switch of formation also made us very narrow – we struggled to get Routledge into the game and whenever we did he was mobbed in a crowd scene on the edge of the box. I felt sure he would be moved wide to the right in the second half but it never happened. Norwich were simply able to muscle up and force him out of the game.
A poor performance, chances missed, a bad defeat to a team that may yet be relegated and all played out in front of several thousand very soggy and disgruntled QPR fans. As an advert for season ticket sales it was about as good as the covering letter Rangers are sending out with this year’s form. From a ticket sales point of view this is not a good time for the team to be suffering a crisis in form and confidence and I say again, the tide turns quickly against QPR managers under the new regime. The club can say the season ticket price is a good deal until they’re blue in the face – it’s not. Likewise Sousa can talk about building for next season as much as he likes, if we keep playing like this he won’t be around to see it however ridiculous we may think the idea of sacking yet another manager may be.
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QPR: Cerny 3, Connolly 5, Stewart 5, Gorkss 4 (Hall 87, -), Delaney 4, Leigertwood 6, Routledge 6, Miller 5 (Ephraim 69, 6), Lopez 7, Helguson 4 (Di Carmine 74, 6), Blackstock 4
Subs Not Used: Mahon, Alberti
Norwich: Marshall 5, Otsemobor 5, Shackell 6, Doherty 6, Grounds 7, Croft 6, Clingan 6, Russell 6, Bertrand 6, Hoolahan 6 (Gow 70, 5) Cort 6
Subs Not Used: Nelson, Carney, Lappin, McDonald
Booked: Bertrand (kicking the ball away), Croft (foul)
Goals: Russell 68 (assisted Hoolahan)
QPR Star Man – Jordi Lopez 7 Passed the ball nicely enough and tried to move QPR around the field. Set piece delivery was a bit hit and miss but overall he was the most impressive of a mediocre bunch.
Referee: Graham Scott (Devon) 7 The penalty decision apart this game was relatively incident free for the new boy on the Championship list. I felt he controlled the game well and showed a good deal of common sense – only once blowing his whistle when an advantage could have been played (in the second half as Delaney brought the ball out and was fouled) and he immediately apologised for that. The question of changing your mind on penalties is one I will address later in the week.
Attendance: 13,533 (1000 Norwich approx) Grumpy and wet. The Norwich fans made a decent noise from down the far end but except for a few muffled chants about ticket prices at the back of the F Block Loftus Road was almost totally silent for most of the night.
Photo: Action Images
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