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QPR rue missed chances in Sheff Utd stalemate - full match report
QPR rue missed chances in Sheff Utd stalemate - full match report
Sunday, 8th Mar 2009 15:37

QPR were once again left to rue missed chances as their run of games without a home win extended to seven. For their part opponents Sheffield United are now unbeaten in thirteen away matches.

An advert for the Championship it was not. Two second tier teams supposedly with hopes and aspirations of doing better fought out a dire draw that did little for either at Loftus Road on Saturday.

QPR had the better of it but were left to rue finishing akin to that of a team of partially sighted pensioners, Sheff Utd showed all the ambition of a dead drug addict but tested Cerny on several occasions when they did bother to attack hinting that three points could have been theirs for the taking had they shown the desire to get them. Too much long ball, too many chances wasted, too much mediocrity – only four or five players of the twenty eight used on the day looked competent at the level they currently compete at, sadly for the neutrals two of those players were the goalkeepers

Ultimately both teams went away reasonably satisfied, nursing several bumps and bruises and justifiably pointing accusing figures at a Loftus Road playing surface more suitable for the burning of foot and mouth infected livestock than playing sport on.

It is getting harder and harder to first guess and then try to describe what sort of a team in what kind of shape Paulo Sousa selects week to week and that is certainly the case here. It appeared that Rangers had largely returned to the diamond formation Sousa used when he first arrived at the club. Jordi Lopez played at the base of the midfield set up with Leigertwood and Miller ahead of him although rather than play on the tip behind he strikers as he had done on Tuesday against Norwich Wayne Routledge played as a more conventional winger on the right to some effect in the first half, then on the left where he got little joy from Kyle Naughton in the second. Dexter Blackstock and Sam Di Carmine were the two strikers ahead of that schamozzle, the usual back four of Connolly, Gorkss, Stewart and Delaney lined up in front of Cerny behind it.

United kept faith with the same system that won at Coventry during the week taking their run of unbeaten away games to twelve but changed personnel. Danny Webber and Greg Halford were recalled at the expense of David Cotterill and Leigh Bromby. That meant a lone striker role for Darius Henderson in a 4-5-1 formation – support came from Webber from wide and Brian Howard through the centre. Everybody’s worst enemy Chris Morgan captained the side at centre half alongside Matt Kilgallon.

In a scrappy start to the game it was the physios of both teams involved in the action more than anybody else early on. Damion Stewart and Jordi Lopez clashed heads in the centre circle but were forced to try and get back into position as referee Neil Swarbrick showed crass ignorance of the rules and waved play on. As soon as play came to a halt, luckily without a United goal, both players hit the deck again and required lengthy treatment while Swarbrick apologised to their team mates for not stopping the play. All very well holding your hands up and apologising but QPR could easily have fallen behind with only nine players able to participate when it is generally accepted that play must be stopped for head injuries.

For their part United picked up a couple of early knocks as well including one to midfielder Brian Howard who hit the deck theatrically under minimal challenge from Jordi Lopez. After initially laying motionless and apparently in absolute agony on the ground Howard made a miraculous recovery when he realised he had not been awarded a free kick and was even able to remonstrate with the referee about alleged use of an elbow by the QPR man. Swarbrick rightly ignored his pathetic whining and ordered him to the touchline – the irony of a player in a side captained by Chris Morgan, a former team mate of Iain Hume as well, moaning about the use of an elbow certainly was not lost on the supporters around me in F Block.

Every Sheff Utd injury, QPR tackle or incident of any sorts really brought United’s ginger midfielder Stephen Quinn scurrying across to volley abuse at any opposition players or match officials within ear shot. Perhaps had Quinn and Howard spent as much time with the ball at his feet as they did with their mouths open United’s midfield would not have been so dull and lacking invention on the day.

Danny Webber’s flicked header wide after Halford’s cross and Blackstock’s shot straight at the goalkeeper after out muscling Kilgallon was all either side had to show from a dire opening during which nobody seemed willing to get the ball down on the floor and move it around with any thought or purpose.

Just after the quarter hour a scrappy piece of play in the midfield was broken up by Liam Miller who knocked a reasonable ball in behind an out of position Matthew Kilgallon. Dexter Blackstock controlled it on the edge of the box and then as Kilgallon funnelled back he turned him and tried an ambitious twenty yard half volley on goal that bounced awkwardly in front of Kenny and almost embarrassed the goalkeeper, in the end he got just enough of a glove on it to divert it wide of the post. That pass was one of the few really positive contributions made by Miller on the day – the system may not suit him and the playing surface certainly doesn’t but there is no excuse for bottling out of tackles with the frequency he did on Saturday and he really must assert himself on matches more if he is to earn a longer deal at Loftus Road.

Sheffield United’s best chance of the half came from a free kick. Damion Stewart had an uncharacteristic rush of blood to the head and crudely whipped Henderson’s legs out from under him wide on the Sheff Utd left by the dug outs. With the striker’s back to goal and few options available for a pass it was a silly and needless foul from Damion and it deserved the first yellow card of the game – only his third of the season. The impressive Kyle Naughton took the resulting set piece, inswinging with his right foot, and delivered a high hanging cross into the penalty area. Mikele Leigertwood attempted to head clear but only succeeded in sending the ball looping towards his own goal. Under pressure from Henderson a combination of Cerny and the cross bar kept the ball out and Chris Morgan hammered the rebound into the side netting.

Blackstock probably should have done better when a long ball from Delaney was flicked into his path by Di Carmine. The striker was easily able to accelerate away from Morgan who would have been going backwards had he moved any slower but Blackstock could only spoon the ball wide from fifteen yards out when the time came to shoot. He certainly looked much more interested and more of a threat on Saturday than he did against Norwich on Tuesday.

The injuries kept coming though and Paddy Kenny needed treatment after clashing with Sam Di Carmine over a loose ball in the penalty area. The subsequent four minutes of added time at the end of the half passed without major incident although Lopez did try and ambitious 30 yard free kick effort on goal but Kenny could have thrown his cap on that one.

Sheffield United came out and started the second half the stronger of the two teams. Within two minutes Danny Webber was left unmarked at the back post and cut the ball back to the similarly unattended Nick Montgomery on the edge of the box. The midfielder’s fierce drive was expertly kept out by Cerny with a fine save. Within five minutes Montgomery had fed Weber in a coincidental role reversal but the same result, a fine save from Cerny with his legs to deny the United player, kept the score deadlocked.

Matthew Connolly had a very good game, his best for some time, but on both these occasions he had been sucked too far infield to a centre half position leaving an unmarked player behind him. He did it once in the first half as well but Henderson could not flick the ball on. Whether that was the full back’s poor positioning, or the lack of a conventional right winger to offer cover and support behind him I could not be sure.

Blackstock thought he’d scored with Rangers’ first real chance of the half when he headed a cross from Leigertwood towards goal. The ball beat Kenny all ends up but flashed a foot wide of the bottom corner.

Paulo Sousa then, ten minutes into the half, made his first change of the day and once again it was Liam Miller sacrificed. After a bright start to his QPR career Miller is regressing at an alarming rate for me. A lot of his passing is neat and tidy but he is very lightweight, offers little by way of attacking penetration and nothing defensively. He bottled three or four tackles on Saturday and was an obvious option to be withdrawn. Matteo Alberti came on for him and sadly for the Italian had just one of those days. He tried hard, and never hid, but every dribble he went on and every pass he attempted ended with Sheffield United in possession and, within ten minutes of coming on, had missed the game’s best chance for a goal.

United also made a change, replacing Brian Howard with tiny Jamie Ward. Howard had, unsurprisingly, been sitting down receiving treatment yet again just before being changed. You see less medical treatment in an episode of ER than we got at Loftus Road on Saturday – a product of a physical game and certain players trying to manipulate the match officials.

Just after the hour QPR missed three of the best chances they will get in a match all season. First a cross by Lopez was only partially cleared and fell to Wayne Routledge in the penalty area. His poor first touch diverted the ball back to Lopez who tried a shot on goal but inadvertently crossed the ball to the unmarked Di Carmine at the back post. The Italian sent a miscued volley looping back across goal and Blackstock really should have converted it from a yard out – Kenny made an astonishing one handed save to deny him and then incredibly Kaspars Gorkss hammered the rebound wide of the unattended goal from about three feet away.

If QPR fans thought that was wasteful they could scarcely believe what happened next. From the restart QPR took possession again, Chris Morgan took a Sunday league footballer style fresh air shot at a clearance and Blackstock ran in behind him into the penalty area. Blackstock then cut the perfect ball back into the area, behind Di Carmine who had run to the near post, but plum onto the boot of Matteo Alberti arriving late at the back post. The sub had all the time in the world to take a touch and pick his spot but incredibly lashed a wild effort over the bar from eight yards out. It rather summed up Alberti’s day – his worst performance for the club by some distance. I hope it has not dented his confidence too much.

The QPR players were almost punished for the profligacy in front of goal when Kyle Naughton cracked a shot on the School End goal that Cerny tipped into the side netting after the United man had been left completely unmarked on the blind side of the wall at a free kick. Naughton is big news in South Yorkshire and made his England Under 21 debut at his home ground against the Czech Republic earlier this season. I was really impressed with him, he was one of the few Sheffield United players looking to play football on the ground on the day and certainly their stand-out talent for me.

Kevin Blackwell sent on loaned striker Craig Beattie in place of Danny Webber with a quarter of an hour still to play and he almost made an immediate impact when one of Halford’s dangerous long throws was hacked into his path by Morgan up from the back but Cerny was alive to the danger and smothered at the striker’s feet. Paulo Sousa for his part sent on Angelo Balanta for Di Carmine who had minimal impact and Hogan Ephraim for Mikele Leigertwood who had a poor game against his former club. That gave QPR possibly the most lightweight and attacking midfield four I have ever seen with Routledge, Lopez, Ephraim and Alberti across the middle but it was all to no avail. Certainly nobody can accuse Sousa of not trying for the win or lacking ambition.

In the final five minutes Lopez stung Kenny’s hands with a free kick and Beattie cut the ball back from the byline only to see Cerny handle it superbly in the six yard box as Jamie Ward threatened to pounce for a winner. After failing miserably to cope with the conditions on Tuesday night it was good to see Cerny back on top form on Saturday.

A draw then, another one. Some of the chances we have missed to turn these stalemates and narrow defeats into wins beggars belief. Thinking back to games like Crystal Palace away, Sheff Wed away, Norwich and now Sheff Utd at home we really could be a long way further up the table with a cutting edge. That must be addressed prior to the start of next season. One thing noticeable that even Sheff Utd who seemed happy with a point for most of the game got four or five men in the box for every cross - QPR rarely managed to get more than two in there. People like Leigertwood and Miller really must bust a gut to get in and around the penalty box when we are crossing the ball.

Sheff Utd were everything I expected them to be. Tough, solid, uncompromising – certainly not very inspiring but difficult to beat and break down. They look to have too many weaknesses, particularly at the heart of their defence, to be promoted this season but we shall see. QPR played them better than most, but couldn’t find a goal. Their attitude to the game, basically we’d like to win but let’s concentrate on not losing first, QPR’s wastefulness in front of goal and a dire playing surface contributed to a drab game that will be almost instantly forgotten by most who were there.

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QPR: Cerny 8, Connolly 7, Stewart 6, Gorkss 6, Delaney 5, Lopez 6, Leigertwood 5 (Ephraim 81, -), Miller 5 (Alberti 54, 4), Routledge 6, Di Carmine 5 (Balanta 76, 6), Blackstock 6
Subs Not Used: Mahon, Hall
Booked: Stewart (foul)

Sheff Utd: Kenny 8, Naughton 7, Naysmith 6, Morgan 5, Kilgallon 5, Howard 5 (Ward 59, 6), Quinn 5, Halford 7, Montgomery 6, Henderson 6 (O'Toole 81, -), Webber 6 (Beattie 68, 6)
Subs Not Used: Lupoli, Bromby

QPR Star Man – Radek Cerny 8 Sound handling and good saves. Right back on form after a terrible performance on Tuesday night. Matt Connolly we next best although once or twice we got caught out at the back post after he had come too far infield.

Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire) 6 Not too bad but missed a fair bit of physical contact from both teams that should have brought free kicks. Quinn was very lucky not to be booked for backchatting after spending the whole afternoon mouthing off, likewise Howard. Almost cost QPR a goal in the first half by playing on when there were two head injuries. Average performance I would say.

Attendance: 13,718 (1100 Sheff Utd approx) Quite a small following from Sheffield I thought considering their position in the league. The atmosphere at HQ was pretty poor once again, very few songs and chants and little noise.

Photo: Action Images

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