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So near and yet so far, QPR fail to halt Wolves’ promotion charge – full match report
So near and yet so far, QPR fail to halt Wolves’ promotion charge – full match report
Sunday, 19th Apr 2009 23:15

Wolves sealed promotion with a 1-0 victory against QPR at Molineux on Saturday. Sylvain Ebanks Blake got the crucial goal after a mistake by Damion Stewart.

The stories, the pictures and the headlines rightly belonged to the home team at Molineux on Saturday. Thousands streamed onto the pitch at full time to celebrate the culmination of a three year plan executed to perfection by a manager given the time to do his job properly.

On the field QPR demonstrated just how close they are to being a force in this division with a solid performance that had the home side worried until an error from Damion Stewart gifted them a winner – Sylvain Ebanks Blake again, developing a Clinton Morrison like knack for scoring against the R’s. Off the field all the evidence was plain to see for the QPR board that success is not achieved in English football via the methods they are employing and while we’re actually agonisingly close to having a seriously good chance of getting promotion from this league, in other ways we’re absolutely light years away.

QPR have worked their way through five permanent managers and two caretakers in three spells in the time Mick McCarthy has been given to shape a Wolves team in his own image – honest, hard working, hard to beat. Sylvain Ebanks Blake, or someone of similar ilk, is all that separates the teams but until QPR can find a manager that suits them, and leave him to do his job for a period of time, it will be some time before we can run onto the pitch at Loftus Road in celebration in the same way the Wolves fans did on Saturday.

The QPR team charged with pooping the Wolves party boasted one change to the one that came from two down to beat Sheffield Wednesday on Easter Monday. Adel Taarabt was dropped to the bench to allow Rowan Vine, who scored against the Owls, to take his place in the attack alongside Heider Helguson. Cook and Routledge were charged with supplying that pair from wide with Lopez and Mahon preferred to Leigertwood in midfield – had things gone differently in January Leigertwood could easily have been lining up against us in Wolves colours. At the back Stewart and Gorkss were the centre halves between Ramage and Connolly at full back and in front of Cerny in goal.

Wolves, fresh from a dramatic 3-2 win of their own on Monday when Andy Keogh struck late to beat Derby, made two changes to their team. Sylvain Ebanks Blake, with four goals in five career appearances against Rangers prior to kick off, returned after three games out with a hamstring injury to partner Keogh in attack. Sam Vokes dropped down to the bench. At the back Stephen Ward came in at full back instead of Matt Hill.

There was also a change of referee from the advertised appointment. John Moss came in for Kevin Wright who was presumably injured.

Wolves first real opportunity came in the tenth minute. A long free kick from halfway was only partially headed clear by Vine and from that point on QPR struggled to clear their own area. Edwards fed the ball wide to Jarvis, Wolves looked to get the former Gillingham man one on one with Ramage at every possible opportunity, and his near post cross was acrobatically headed away by Stewart. The ball again fell to a Wolves player, Jones this time, on the edge of the box and his cross was perfect for Edwards arriving late but Radek Cerny was equal to the midfielder’s header – changing direction splendidly to tip the ball around the post for a corner.

From the corner Cerny was penned in under his own cross bar by two Wolves players but although Rangers again had problems clearing their lines Edwards’ tame volley from the edge of the box posed little danger. First test passed.

At the other end Rangers had a half chance to take the lead as the twentieth minute approached. Wayne Routledge pinched a loose ball midway through the Wolves half and seemed to have a chance to run through on goal but Jody Craddock came across as the last defender and got an untidy but effective tackle in on the little winger before he could get a shot away. Routledge appealed to referee Moss in vain for a foul.

Routledge’s next involvement was to send a low cross into the Wolves penalty area from the right wing that eluded everybody except Lee Cook who should have done better than simply toe the ball wide at the far post. In front of the away end Keogh turned Gorkss and sent a low cross towards Berra who had stayed up from the back after a corner but Cerny was alert to the danger and flung himself forwards from the goal line to smother the pass.

The Jarvis v Ramage battle was a key feature of the first half with success evenly split – Ramage got a couple of good tackles in on him to block crosses, but was equally caught short a couple of times and had to rely on his centre halves to clear dangerous crosses. Strangely on the one occasion they really could have got the tricky winger in behind Ebanks Blake chose instead to fire a shot high and wide into the away end with Jarvis completely free for a run on goal to his left.

When Jarvis did receive the ball in the next attack seven minutes before the break he combined with Keogh to win a corner which he took himself and amazingly curled over Cerny and against the cross bar without a touch from anybody. Jordi Lopez was on the line at the back post but would have had real difficulty keeping it out had it dipped underneath the bar.

Rangers seemed to get a bit of a raw deal from the match officials to me in the first half. Almost all fifty fifty decisions went the way of the home side including two farcical offside decisions in the final minute of normal time before half time. First a ball out to the right wing was ignored by heider Helguson who was offside and allowed to run through to Wayne Routledge who was not. The flag went up anyway, very prematurely and to the disgust of the QPR players. Then within thirty seconds Helguson was played in behind the Wolves defence and looked obviously offside but the same linesman this time decided to wait until Helguson had controlled the ball and set off on a run before raising as flag as late as the cross country trains that serve the city’s railway station.

Referee Moss compounded QPR frustration with the first yellow card of the match for Jordi Lopez after he had challenged Karl Henry in the air. Lopez had twice been warned by the official after previous fouls so in fairness it seemed that the card was for repetitive fouling rather than that one specifically.

QPR looked more comfortable as the half went on and the crowd quietened down. Matt Connolly comfortably cleared a dangerous cross from Keogh inside the six yard box in a minute of added time at the end of the half and Rangers were decent value for their stalemate at half time.

Having done the hard work initially of killing the game and silencing the crowd QPR were faced with the same task again at the start of the second half and failed to do it. Wolves took the lead inside the opening minute. Although he may stand a very good chance of getting the player of the year award at Heathrow next week Damion Stewart was culpable on two counts in the build up. First he stood off and allowed Ebanks Blake to first head in the air and then bring down and control a long ball forward from goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, then as Wolves worked the ball from right to left and then in behind the R’s defence the Jamaican attempted to run it out for a goal kick, got it horribly wrong, and allowed Andy Keogh to steal in and cut the ball back to Ebanks Blake who scored his twenty fifth goal of the season easily from eight yards. A disastrous and highly costly piece of play from a defender who has been very reliable this season until recently when errors that were once a trademark of his game have started to creep back in.

Suddenly Molineux was alive with noise on all four sides and all the patience and resoluteness Rangers had shown in shutting them up and neutralising their team was wasted. It was now a completely different game – one QPR would have to chase while at the same time remaining vigilant against the division’s best team, now playing with the pressure off somewhat.

QPR set about that task immediately and went close to an equaliser immediately. Ward was booked for a foul on Routledge wide on the QPR right and when Hennessey punched Lopez’s free kick out to the edge of the box Vine found himself with the ball at his feet and the goal gaping ahead of him – Ward redeemed himself for the foul with a fine, brave block.

Rangers then came within the width of the cross bar of getting an equaliser. Gavin Mahon spotted Ward out of position in the Wolves defence and played Wayne Routledge into the vacated space. He fired a great ball across the face of the area giving Vine a chance to strike the ball first time. His shot deflected off the Wolves man, sailed over Hennessey who was completely wrong footed and landed flush on the frame of the goal in almost the exact spot Jarvis’ had found earlier. As if that was not frustrating enough the rebound eluded Jordi Lopez who was completely alone and unmarked waiting for the ball to drop six yards out – it would have been a tap in but the spin of the ball on the bar took it away from the Spaniard.

Down at the other end referee John Moss had to keep a close eye on two clashes between goalscorer Ebanks Blake and QPR keeper Radek Cerny just before the hour mark. First the striker challenged him in the six yard box after a corner and then seemed to grab hold of him as Cerny tried to launch a quick counter attack. That sparked a bit of a hand bags session and when Kaspars Gorkss first mis-controlled a high through ball and then left a header back to the Czech slightly shortit gave Ebanks Blake a chance to leave a boot in a second time – which he duly did. Cerny was content to get up and play the ball when he could have made more of it.

That proved to be Ebanks Blake’s last action of the match – he was taken off after an hour as he continues to recover from a hamstring injury. Marlon Harewood, a member of the Aston Villa team beaten by Rangers seven months and three managers ago, came on to replace him and having watched the former West Ham man valiantly swing his banjo around that night in a fruitless search for the nearest cow’s arse I cannot say I was too disappointed to see him replace a man who has been a constant thorn in the QPR side since he burst onto the scene at Plymouth nearly three seasons ago.

Whether it was the sight of Ebanks Blake heading off or not QPR seemed to up it a gear and really should have equalised in their first attack after the substitution. A ball from Connolly tight to the touchline on half way tempted Edwards out of his holding position to attempt an intercept. When he missed the ball it gave Gavin Mahon a chance to break into space in the Wolves half and having picked out the perfect through ball the former Watford man deserved better than to see Heider Helguson hit a low shot with the outside of his right foot straight at the legs of he onrushing Hennessey. It was the best chance QPR created all day and Helguson should have done better with it.

Ainsworth showed his hand with twenty five minutes left to play. Rowan Vine, who had looked pretty tired and rusty throughout truth be told, was replaced by Adel Taarabt and Lee Cook, following his excellent performance against Sheff Wed with a mediocre one here, made way for Hogan Ephraim. Taarabt showed a number of good touches and vision that brought his team mates into play more but ultimately it was not enough to secure a point. Wolves also made a further change, bringing on striker Sam Vokes for David Jones.

Harewood nearly got his goal in almost identical circumstances to the first one. Damion Stewart again lost his footing while trying to shuffle a ball out for a goal kick and that allowed Edwards to cut the ball back from the byline but where Ebanks Blake found the net with ease Harewood could only shoot straight at Radek Cerny.

Cerny was also equal to a low 20 yard free kick from Edwards after he had been fouled by Lopez on the edge of the area. McCarthy sought to strengthen his defence after this by sending on bleach blond centre back Richard Stearman for Stephen Ward.

With five minutes to go QPR had an ideal chance to equalise. Wayne Routledge seemed to be fouled forty yards from goal as he burst through the centre of the Wolves midfield but referee Moss waved play on. The ball broke to Helguson on the edge of the penalty area and he certainly was chopped down crudely by Berra. Adel Taarabt seemed the most likely striker of the ball as Molineux fell into a nervous silence but ultimately Hogan Ephraim took responsibility and lofted a pretty pathetic chipped effort over the wall and the cross bar by some distance. Taarabt gave his team mate a daggered look – I can’t see Hogan being at the front of the queue for one of those next week against Plymouth should the chance arrive.

Moss added four minutes on at the end of the game during which Vokes volleyed wide from a Harewood knockdown. It was clear from the moment Ephraim put his free kick over the bar that QPR would not equalise and the atmosphere inside Molineux was fit to burst. Repeated pleas over the public address system for fans to remain off the pitch were clearly not going to be heeded and so, roughly a minute early, the referee picked up the ball in the corner as Harewood attempted to waste time and blew the final whistle. Suddenly thousands of people were pouring onto the pitch and the QPR players had to make a swift exit to avoid behind caught up in it all.

Ultimately a predictable afternoon. QPR once again proved to be useful cannon fodder for a team on their big day. One excellent chance was missed by Helguson, who spent too much of the afternoon miscontrolling the ball and straying offside, and Vine had two efforts from distance kept out more through luck than judgement. Ultimately though Wolves had the better of it and although it was a QPR mistake that gifted them the goal they had what QPR lack – a striker that knows where the goal is.

In many ways it is a shame this was not the final game of the season because I cannot think of a more convincing piece of evidence for our owners of what is needed. A pretty evenly matched game settled by a striker the likes of which we just don’t possess who cost a couple of million but is worth twice that now in the transfer market and ten times that in the improved league status his 25 goals this season has helped to secure. A team with one manager left alone to do his job for three years won promotion on Saturday, a side that has worked its way through two permanent ones this season alone was not.

We’re so near and yet so far, and it’s entirely down to us where we go from here.

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Wolves: Hennessey 7, Foley 6, Craddock 8, Berra 7, Ward 6 (Stearman 79, 6), Edwards 7, Henry 7, Jones 6 (Vokes 65, 6), Jarvis 8, Ebanks-Blake 7 (Harewood 60, 6), Keogh 7

Subs Not Used: Higgs, Reid

Booked: Stephen Ward (foul)

Goals: Ebanks-Blake 46 (assisted Keogh)

QPR: Cerny 7, Ramage 6, Stewart 5, Gorkss 8, Connolly 7, Routledge 6, Lopez 7 (Leigertwood 85, -), Mahon 7, Cook 5 (Ephraim 63, 6), Vine 6 (Taarabt 63, 7), Helguson 5

Subs Not Used: Delaney, Miller

Booked: Lopez (repetitive fouling)

QPR Star Man – Kaspars Gorkss 8 Excellent again, could well take the player of the year award next Saturday. Despite boasting a head wound containing thirty stitches he was dominant in the air and calm and assured across the ground as always. Remorselessly consistent and a great rock on which to build our side for next season.

Referee: Jon Moss (W Yorkshire) 6 A late replacement and I felt he was a little bit one sided in the first half, with the home fans baying every fifty fifty decision went their way. Second half he was much better and with only two cards in total deserves some credit for the way he handled a tough game overall. One of the linesmen, the one at the far end from the QPR fans, was dire.

Attendance: 27,511 (800 QPR approx) A big day at Molineux and the home stands were absolutely heaving and, for once, very supportive and patient with their own team. Nerves started to creep in at the end of the first half but QPR hit self destruct immediately after to lift the noise levels. QPR took more than I thought and I did have a chuckle at the “first time at Molineux” chants aimed at the hangers on who suddenly came out of the woodwork for Wolves’ big day.

Photo: Action Images

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