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Ramage does the damage as QPR claim opening day point – full match report
Ramage does the damage as QPR claim opening day point – full match report
Sunday, 9th Aug 2009 16:17

Despite dominating for long periods QPR were indebted to full back Peter Ramage’s flukey late goal for snatching a point from Blackpool at Loftus Road on day one.

I’m growing increasingly concerned by my feelings towards England cricketer Stuart Broad. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to use LoftforWords to make an announcement about a dramatic change in my lifestyle. I just fear that if I was under the influence, in a dimly lit nightclub, and I saw him from behind with the flowing blonde hair… well, it could be an easy mistake to make is what I’m saying.

Of course after approaching him it would quickly become apparent that he is in fact a bloke and then there’d be one of those split second decisions that are often so difficult to make when drunk between walking on past and pretending you were going to the bar all along, or pressing on regardless and seeing if he ‘fancies a coffee’ as Blackpool manager Ian Holloway might have put it.

On Saturday against Holloway’s new side QPR were the footballing equivalent of the England fast bowler – an attractive proposition until you get to the top where Heidar Helguson and then Patrick Agyemang provided the bloke’s face to ruin it all. On this evidence QPR, who knocked it around nicely and created numerous chances in a game they really should have won, are still that clinical centre forward away from being a genuine force.

Heidar Helguson got the nod on Saturday with Taarabt alongside him, despite Magilton showing a preference for the Agyemang and Vine partnership during pre-season – they both had to make do with seats on the newly extended bench of seven substitutes. There were less surprises in midfield with Mahon and Rowlands the preferred central midfield partnership throughout the summer, Wayne Routledge an obvious choice wide on the right and Angelo Balanta rewarded for his excellent friendly form with a starting role wide left as Lee Cook continues to battle knee injuries. At the back there was no place for Matt Connolly as he continued his comeback from a knock with a place on the bench. Gary Borrowdale got his long awaited debut at left back, Peter Ramage was the full back on the other side, Fitz Hall was given the nod at centre half ahead of last year’s Player of the Season Damion Stewart alongside Gorkss against his former club with Cerny in goal.

Blackpool’s summer spending only started in earnest this week. They gave debuts to Jason Euell and Charlie Adam with two players who arrived late on Friday, Neal Eardley and Ishmel Demontagnac on the bench. David Vaughan was passed fit to play after picking up a knee injury in last week’s pre-season win against Everton. Manager Ian Holloway was greeted with warm applause on his return to Loftus Road as the match kicked off in bright sunshine and high temperatures. There was no sign of the infamous Blackpool black kit though.

Rangers started the game in bright and determined mood. They had a corner inside the opening sixty seconds, taken by Routledge and cleared by Burgess only as far as Rowlands who took a touch on the edge of the box to set himself and create space before seeing his shot blocked away for another corner by Baptiste. That came to nothing but within two minutes another set piece, this time taken by Angelo Balanta who received it back in a short routine, could easily have produced the opening goal but Heidar Helguson could not guide his header on target.

Helguson and Taarabt both tried their luck with shots around the ten minute mark, with the latter coming at the end of a tremendously skilful piece of play and neat exchange of passes with Balanta and Helguson on the edge of the area. Rachubka was equal to the task on both occasions, denying Taarabt with a low save down at his feet combined with a block tackle from Keith Southern. The football was really flowing at times and QPR went close twice more in quick succession – first when Balanta’s cross was pumped into the School End by Helguson at the back post, and then when Routledge played a lovely ball in behind Crainey for Taarabt to run onto but from a tight angle he could only shoot straight into the midriff of Rachubka covering his near post. Unlike last season QPR were at least creating chances, and getting bodies into the penalty area, however as far as taking those chances was concerned it was simply more of the same from 2008/09 as the R’s struggled to turn possession, performance and chances into goals.

QPR went agonisingly close to opening the scoring in the twenty fifth minute after great work down the right flank by Wayne Routledge. Left one on one with Blackpool left back Stephen Crainey he always looked a strong favourite to reach the byline and having beaten his man for pace and skill he did exactly that before cutting the ball back across the face of goal to Helguson who stabbed a mishit shot flush onto the face of the crossbar and out again. The striker’s frustration was compounded when he miscontrolled a ball on the edge of the box and then crunched Adam with a nasty, two footed lunge over the top of the loose ball. D’Urso was quickly on the scene with a booking but for me Helguson could have had few complaints had it been red.

Blackpool came into the game for the first time after the half hour. Ben Burgess, once feared as one of the biggest threats to QPR in our League One days when he played for Stockport and Brentford on loan from Blackburn, fired a warning shot across the bows when he brought a ball from Crainey down in the penalty area, turned and fired across Cerny and wide. Taylor Fletcher then had a tame shot from the edge of the area that bobbled straight through to Cerny.

QPR didn’t heed that warning and Blackpool took the lead against the run of play eight minutes before half time. Pool counter attacked and when Fitz Hall went to ground without winning the ball back on halfway Rangers were always likely to be short of defensive numbers. That said there seemed to be little danger when an innocuous long ball was played into a penalty area populated only by Gary Taylor-Fletcher with his back to goal and Gary Borrowdale in close attendance – credit to the former Huddersfield man though for controlling and holding the ball up long enough for Ben Burgess to trundle into view and slide a side footed effort past the despairing dives of Gorkss and Cerny and into the far corner of the net.

Undeterred Rangers kept going about their business and the final chance of the half fell to the home team with a minute left – Wayne Routledge’s poor inswinging corner was easily cleared at the near post by Crainey but his header flew only as far as Angelo Balanta on the edge of the box and his first time effort flew a foot wide of the post and into the side netting with many in the South Africa Road stand celebrating what they thought was an equaliser.

QPR started the second half with renewed purpose and were desperately unlucky not to be level within a minute of the restart. Fitz Hall, who scored twice on the opening day of last season against Barnsley, sent a looping header from Martin Rowlands’ well flighted free kick over Paul Rachubka in the Blackpool goal only to see the keeper fling himself backwards and acrobatically claw the ball back into play, Balanta then smashed the rebound against the base of the post from eight yards when he really should have found the back of the net. You just started to wonder whether it was going to be one of those days. Mahon headed straight at the keeper when Routledge and Ramage produced a right wing cross just to reaffirm that feeling.

Things only got more frustrating around the hour mark. Chasing an equaliser Jim Magilton shuffled his pack with Vine and Buzsaky coming on to rapturous applause from the home stands at the expense of Balanta who was unfortunate to taken off early and Helguson who was lucky to have stayed on that long. Within three minutes of the changes being made Martin Rowlands then collapsed under heavy challenge on the edge of his own penalty box and he had to hobble off after lengthy treatment from Paul Hunter. It certainly did not look good for Rowlands, another knee injury the early diagnosis, after six months out with a torn cruciate ligament last season. That necessitated the introduction of Agyemang earlier than Magilton would have liked and although he came on and played very well there were a few moments when QPR’s five attacking players seemed to be very narrow, and there was a lot of pointing and organising going on whenever a ball went out of play before they finally looked settled again. Heads were in hands when Routledge hit the deck and required treatment but he was fine to continue after a minute or so with the physio.

Buzsaky’s first involvement saw him foul Charlie Adam and take a yellow card for his troubles, which looked harsh considering he had only just stepped onto the pitch. Wayne Routledge was also booked for a foul after play had initially been allowed to continue. Overall though this was not one of Mr D’Urso’s worst games by any stretch of the imagination.

Despite the confusion, changes and loss of Rowlands who had been impressive to that point QPR continued to pour forward. Memories drifted back to last season’s game between the two at Loftus Road when Akos Buzsaky stepped up to hit a free kick from fully 30 yards but where he hit the bar and QPR scored the rebound in that match, this time his low effort missed the bottom corner by a good foot with Rachubka only mildly concerned. Mahon headed off target from a Ramage cross and Vine volleyed into the Loft after Baptiste had first cleared a Buzsaky free kick for a corner, and then headed the corner straight to Vine. It was all one way traffic but Blackpool, with Baptiste and Evatt to the fore, were standing firm. Holloway sent on Ormerod and Clarke for Taylor-Fletcher and Vaughan to try and freshen up his attack and keep possession higher up the field – really though they only looked threatening when the ball was at the feet of Jason Euell wide on their left. Euell looked slimmer, fitter and quicker than he has for some time and could be yet another player to have his career rejuvenated by Ian Holloway.

Agyemang was his usual ungainly self after his introduction – not particularly good or attractive to watch but bloody effective and six minutes from time he put what should have been the equaliser on a plate for Rowan Vine. Muscular forward play in the left channel enabled Agyemang to control and hold the ball up on the corner of the penalty area, then he delivered an inch perfect cross to the back post that completely cut Rachubka and Evatt out of the game. All Vine needed to do was find the target, somehow he side footed wide of the far post with a first time effort from six yards out. Half hearted penalty appeals for a hand ball at the Loft End were waved away, rightly from where I was sitting but people in the Lower Loft tell me Edwards definitely stuck out an arm. That really did look to be that.

Not so, Rangers stuck to their guns and kept playing their football and received some reward with four minutes left to play. It was Sod’s Law from a Blackpool point of view that having repelled so many genuine, conventional efforts on goal they were eventually beaten by a complete fluke. Vine fed Ramage in the right channel on the overlap and the full back’s attempt to set his right footed cross out wide enough to miss the block tackle of Crainey inadvertently gave it enough bend and purchase to beat Rachubka in the Blackpool goal and fly into the top corner for his first goal for the club.

Loftus Road was jumping at this point and when Andy D’Urso found five minutes of time to add on at the end the push for a winning goal was definitely on. For one glorious moment it looked like Wayne Routledge’s injury time cross was to be headed into the net by Gavin Mahon, in fine pre-season goal scoring form remember, but he could not get enough on it and the ball sailed wide. In the end the only real incident of note in the added time saw Fitz Hall booked for obstructing Paul Rachubka as he attempted to deliver a quick clearance down field after catching a Buzsaky free kick – Hall knew exactly what he was doing and took the card on the chin as a necessary sacrifice to prevent the visitors going on a late offensive.

Overall Blackpool could have had few complaints had they returned home well beaten here. Helguson should have scored in the first half when he hit the bar, and Rachubka made several good saves. Having said that Pool were reasonably solid and well organised and eventually only succumbed to a mis-hit cross with just four minutes left so they could strangely count themselves unlucky not to have won aswell. I was impressed with Jason Euell in their team, and the goalkeeper obviously.

For QPR there were positives, plenty of them. I liked the performances of both full backs. Peter Ramage got the goal and the sponsor’s man of the match award but for me the mythical figure of Gary Borrowdale probably just shaded man of the match. Borrowdale was well positioned at all times and passed the ball very nicely which is vitally important for full backs in Jim Magilton’s team with the new manager liking to build from the back. Having a left footer and left back also adds a lot to the team rather than a right footer out of position. I liked the performance of Rowlands as well and pray that his injury is not as serious as it looked. There was a lot to admire at times from Routledge and Taarabt although both drifted out of the game for long periods, and I thought Agyemang really added something to us when he came on – I believe his best role for us would be as an impact substitute for the last twenty or thirty minutes, as he was used at Preston, and he did that very well on Saturday. Balanta looked good and was very unfortunate to be taken off when he was – did we really need to keep Mahon and all four defenders on at that stage when we were chasing the game and Blackpool were doing very little going forward?

I was also pleased that despite only drawing the game, and trailing it for long periods, the crowd stuck with the team and there was no booing at half or full time. That was a marked difference from last season and bodes well for the coming months when things won’t go our way for one reason or another. A home draw with Blackpool may not be a good result on the face of it but we didn’t lose, we played reasonably well and I saw enough there to suggest we will do reasonably well in these three awkward away games we have now and for the rest of the season.

With 21 attempts on goal probably more than we managed in all our post Christmas home games put together last season that was a positive improvement, but we are just not clinical enough in front of goal and for that reason I think we will come up just short this season. The problem for me remains the same as it was last season – the lack of a ruthless, cruel, razor sharp cutting edge at the top end of the team.

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QPR: Cerny 6, Ramage 7, Hall 6, Gorkss 6, Borrowdale 7, Routledge 6, Rowlands 7 (Agyemang 60, 7), Mahon 6, Balanta 7 (Buzsaky 56, 6), Helguson 5 (Vine 56, 5), Taarabt 6
Subs Not Used: Putnins, Stewart, Connolly, Ephraim
Booked: Helguson (foul), Routledge (foul), Buzsaky (foul), Hall (obstructing goalkeeper)
Goals: Ramage 86 (assisted Vine)

Blackpool: Rachubka 8, Crainey 6, Evatt 6, Baptiste 6, Edwards 6,Vaughan 6 (Clarke 73, 6), Adam 6, Southern 6, Euell 7, Burgess 7,Taylor-Fletcher 7 (Ormerod 68, 6)
Subs Not Used: Gilks, Eardley, Martin, Nardiello, Demontagnac
Booked: Adam (foul)
Goals: Burgess 37 (assisted Taylor-Fletecher)

QPR Star Man – Gary Borrowdale 7 Passed the ball nicely, always in the right position, very solid throughout. Well worth the wait it seems and I was surprised after seeing him at Aldershot and worrying about just how slow he looked. Must keep this performance level consistent if he is to keep Matt Connolly out of the team who personally I would have in defence instead of Hall.

Referee: Andy D'Urso (Essex) 7 Five bookings, which surprised me when I surveyed the notes at the end of the game because it did not seem like a five card game. Akos Buzsaky and possibly Wayne Routledge could have good grounds for complaint against theirs but the others were justified and Helguson was perhaps lucky to escape with such lenient punishment. Solid opening performance from the referee who got very little wrong in my opinion.

Attendance: 14,013 (1500 Blackpool approx) Good to see and hear the Loftus Road crowd stick with the team and the players right to the end rather than abusing, booing and leaving early as became the norm when the going got tough last season. Sad to see that the legendary Blackpool drummer did not make an appearance in the upper School End as he’s often better to watch than the football but Pool travelled in good, and colourful, numbers.

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