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Rangers choke on the long old poke – full match report
Rangers choke on the long old poke – full match report
Sunday, 16th Aug 2009 21:59

QPR surrendered points to Plymouth with a goal at the death for the third season running. This one was particularly heartbreaking with Gorkss’ own goal coming with virtually the last kick of the game four minutes into stoppage time.

Those who have only recently started to look out for the results of Plymouth Argyle thanks to the new Aviva car insurance adverts probably feared the worst yesterday. Those of us more familiar with travelling all day just to endure the annual late kick in the teeth the Green Army always seems to reserve for QPR simply sat and waited for the inevitable.

I am starting to view this yearly slog down to the south coast, long enough for the more conventional QPR fans but a bloody head in hands monstrosity of a journey for the Sheffield R’s, as a punishment for all sins committed over the previous 12 months. We are essentially paying hundreds of pounds and spending seven hours in filthy old trains to sit and be toyed with for 90 minutes before suffering cruel heartbreak and then more train travel. That will certainly teach me for swearing in front of young children, coveting thy neighbour’s ass and anything else I might have done wrong since the same thing happened last season.

Three times in three visit to Home Park QPR have conceded in the last eight minutes, two of those goals in stoppage time, and that has turned two victories into draws and a draw into a defeat. It is not hard to see the reasons why either – it all comes back to the professional attitude I spoke about in the match preview.

Whoever the manager is, whoever the players are, QPR’s attitude to away games absolutely stinks. We never expect to win, either the players or the supporters, and on the rare occasions we do get in front we squander chances to put the game to bed with the casualness of a training session, hand possession back to the opposition remorselessly and sink deeper and deeper in defence. Then everybody looks at each other apparently surprised and heartbroken when the inevitable goal goes in. Until this malaise is shifted from our squad and replaced with the clinical, professionalism we saw briefly at Exeter on Tuesday we shall go nowhere and the players will have only themselves to blame.

The culpable starting eleven this year welcomed back Heidar Helguson and Adel Taarabt after midweek international excursions at the expense of Patrick Agyemang and Rowan Vine – neither of whom did a lot to further their causes at Exeter on Tuesday, or as second half substitutes here. Fresh from his St James’ Park hat trick Wayne Routledge started wide right with Akos Buzsaky making a return to Home Park wide left and the dreaded Mahon and Leigertwood partnership in the middle of the park. Peter Ramage and Fitz Hall were both recalled to the back four instead of Damion Stewart and Matt Connolly who can both count themselves unlucky to be dropped – Gorkss and Borrowdale made up the defence ahead of Cerny in goal.

New loan signing from Man Utd goalkeeper Tom Heaton took his place on the bench along with Alessandro Pellicori and Hogan Ephraim who both scored during the week.

Plymouth signed Rangers midfielder Alan Gow on Friday but could not get him down to the south coast and registered in time to play. They did include another new Old Firm signing Cillian Sheridan who signed on loan from Celtic last week and started this game on the bench with Jamie Mackie and Rory Fallon the preferred front two. The first 20 minutes was a scrappy affair dominated by set pieces. Three times in the opening period Taarabt was fouled after his touch and skill proved too much for the Plymouth defence but those set pieces, along with four QPR corners, cam to nothing as the delivery left plenty to be desired. Kaspars Gorkss’ pre-season goal against Southampton filled me with hope that we had worked on a long standing fault in our game during the summer but on Saturday it was back to the bad old days as Routledge, Buzsaky and others mercilessly hit the first man almost every single time. When one did eventually find its way through Ramage headed into the stand behind the goal.

At the other end I was keen to have another look at Rory Fallon following Paulo Sousa’s rumoured interest in signing him for QPR in January. Fitz Hall and Gorkss looked wholly uncomfortable with him in the first 20 minutes and did not win a single header against the big New Zealander at all. However as the game progressed the pair of them started to crowd him out and, more importantly, deal with the second balls as they dropped with Hall in particularly good form on the day.

As far as goal chances went Fallon found the net inside a quarter of an hour but was well offside and had long since been flagged. QPR’s best early effort came from Buzsaky with a free kick on the quarter hour – Taarabt was again the man fouled, this time by Fletcher, and that gave the Hungarian a chance to dip an effort over the wall but not past Larrieu who made a fine save to deny his former team mate. Buzsaky had another effort ten minutes later, sending this one over the bar, but it was Taarabt and Routledge catching the eye more than anybody else.

Routledge is so much better than he showed us last season and it seems his Exeter hat trick may have finally given him the confidence to show us exactly what he can do. He gave Sawyer and Patterson a torrid time all afternoon on Saturday and was unlucky to get on the score sheet in the first half – not so much with his ridiculous 35 yard attempt that bounced wide, but a first time volley from the edge of a box after a Buzsaky corner had been partially cleared looked for all the world like it was going to find the net before Larrieu produced a super save down to his right. The Frenchman was on his toes again around the half hour when Taarabt combined brilliantly with Buzsaky on the edge of the area but could only find the outstretched glove of the onrushing Plymouth keeper in a one on one opportunity.

While all that was going on, and sorry to go all Test Match Special on you, the match notes reveal that LFW’s roving reporters came under attack from two giant bumble bees that had previously been showing an interest in an adjacent Buddleia. They were safely pushed aside using a programme before Young North was required to complete his swift and somewhat cowardly escape over his seat and into the row behind. Anyway, as I was saying, corner taking apart Routledge was right up there with Hall and possibly Leigertwood as well as QPR’s best player on the day and hopefully he is going to be a proper threat to Championship teams this season rather than the expensive enigma he was in 2008/09.

Rangers took the lead two minutes before half time. A loose ball down the QPR left flank was picked up skilfully by Taarabt who ran away from the sliding tackle of McNamee towards the penalty area. His low thrash to the back post looked suspiciously like a shot but a deflection off Timar sent it spinning up into a crowd of players and Heidar Helguson reacted first with a downward header into the bottom corner. That’s the sixth QPR goal of Helguson’s career, and four of them have come at Plymouth and Blackpool – he must like the sea air.

Both sides made changes at half time. Paul Sturrock sent on Cillian Sheridan for the ineffective Steve MacLean and switched his side into a narrow formation with three strikers. Jim Magilton moved away from 442 (Christ don’t tell Flavio) and used Helguson, and then Agyemang after the hour, as a lone striker with Routledge, Taarabt and Buzsaky as a three behind him with Mahon and Leigertwood holding. This had mixed effects really – Taarabt remained a threat, and Routledge continued to torment Sawyer when he was on the extreme right of that three and Leigertwood had an excellent game in the holding role. However Buzsaky was quiet in the second half, Mahon had his worst game for some time with constant possession concession and when he came off the bench Agyemang did next to nothing – failing to hold the ball up, trouble Seip and Tmar or maintain possession all of which you would think were included in his pre-substitution instructions from the bench. The service to him was not great to be fair, but he really needed to be more of a presence for us when we were trying to stay in shape and hold onto a lead.

Taarabt was 14/1 for the first goal of the second half with the bookies at half time and those clutching betting slips were out of their seats and ready to collect within five minutes of the restart. Taarabt first spread a lovely pass out to the QPR right where Routledge was able to torment Sawyer once again. The winger cut inside and fed a ball to the very edge of the penalty box were Taarabt arrived on cue with a glorious first time shot that looked for all the world like it was going to scream into the top corner before whistling just past the post and clattering into the back stanchion.

Plymouth’s new signing and latest introduction Sheridan fired one chance wide of the post from a narrow angle and was unlucky with another from a corner which Buzsaky shuffled off the line comfortably with his chest. Plymouth’s corners were a whole lot better than our own needless to say.

Referee Roger East had a reasonable day all in all, although was possibly slightly fussy. There was a lot of whistle from him at times, but not cards which although is usually a relief was not a particularly good thing when Plymouth were kicking Taarabt from pillar to post in the first half and further punishment was probably required. His one really dodgy moment came with little more than twenty minutes left for play. First Taarabt was obviously fouled in the Plymouth half but was told to get up, Argyle then broke and players and fans appealed as one for handball as Fallon’s shot was deflected wide – it did not look like a penalty from the far end of the ground and a corner was the right outcome from where I was.

There was hint of the defensive farce to come when a long ball down the field resulted in the nightmarish scenario of Gorkss and Cerny heading towards each other at full pace with a ball between them. The goalkeeper nervously stuck his head on the ball, sending it into the chest of his own defender and back past him into the area where he was able to pick it up with no Plymouth players around to take advantage.

QPR’s approach to the second half was very frustrating for me. Initially Plymouth came flying at us with plenty of crosses into the penalty box and that was to be expected. We then seemed to settle down and started to keep possession much better for ten minutes or so but a really soft corner concession where Cerny was unable to keep a slack back pass, possibly from Ramage although I could not be sure, in play signalled another slack period of play where we just kept giving the ball back to Plymouth and putting ourselves on the back foot.

Ephraim replaced Buzsaky, who was given a splendid reception by all four sides of the ground which was nice to see, and then Vine came on for the tiring Taarabt with just over ten minutes remaining and had a hand in three great chances for the R’s to kill the game off. First he lost out to Timar on the edge of the box after Ephraim had played him through, then he a cut ball back from the byline that eventually worked its way through to Routledge on the edge of the box but his attempt at a first time volley spun off the outside of his foot and out for a goal kick right in front of us. There was to be no run out therefore for Tuesday’s goal scorer Alessandro Pellicori who instead had to make do with warming up on the touchline while LFW regular Dai shouted “feed the Pelican” at him in a Welsh accent.

The best chance for Vine was his 85th minute run on the goal that really should killed the game once and for all. In behind Seip and Timar and with the ball at his feet Vine could only produce a tame finish after arriving in the penalty area and Larrieu read it and made a low save to his right. The rebound bounced up agonisingly out of Agyemang’s reach and QPR’s chance to seal the victory had gone. This profligacy would haunt them all the way back to West London.

The substitution of Plymouth’s best outfield player on the day Alan Judge brought boos and cat calls from the home fans for their own manager but Sturrock would get the last laugh.

Plymouth stormed down the other end and only two super sliding tackles from Fitz Hall on the edge of the box within two seconds of each other denied first Fallon and then Sheridan a sight of goal. I am certainly a critic of Fitz Hall, he’d be third in line for that spot next to Gorkss behind Stewart and Connolly if it was my job to pick the team, but he was very good on Saturday after he had got a poor first 20 minutes out of the way.

The fourth official then showed that five minutes would be added on, and the inevitable Plymouth goal came in the third of those. First an inswinging corner from the Plymouth right caused chaos, Timar saw a half volley cleared from the line by Ephraim and then Mahon also hacked away from under his own cross bar as Timar followed up his own effort and tried to scramble the ball home.

The warning was not heeded, and the farce deepened as Sawyer launched a long throw into the area that Fallon beat both Mahon and Ramage to at the near post to send the ball bobbling agonisingly across the face of the goal and eventually in off the waist of Kaspars Gorkss about two yards out from goal. Another late sickener, but not more than QPR deserved for their ridiculous defending in stoppage time.

The QPR players, almost to a man, sunk to the floor at the final whistle before disconsolately trooping over to the away end to applaud the travelling support. I felt for them, and I applauded them back, but I cannot believe any of them were surprised. You cannot miss so many chances and not be punished. You cannot concede possession short of the halfway line and expect the opposition not do anything about it. It is not acceptable in the final 20 minutes of a game to abandon all previous shape and pattern of play and sink into a shambolic flat back eight 12 yards out from your own goal. Just to really put the tin hat on it all Plymouth almost bundled a scrappy goal in five seconds before the one they did get and we still did not heed the warnings. So I’m afraid lads it’s all very well sinking to your knees at full time and looking devastated, and it’s good that you do seem to care, but you have only yourselves to blame for this.

That professional, winners’ attitude I wrote about before the game still isn’t there. There were hints of it coming into the side under Iain Dowie, the Norwich away game springs to mind last season, but this soft under belly that has been a trait of our sides for years remains. Jim Magilton said afterwards the players don’t realise how good they are and I agree to some extent – with the players we have we should now have the belief in our own ability to be able to hold our shape and go on to kill games like this off with possession and further goals rather than sinking back to our own penalty area and just trying to clear the ball as far down the field as possible.

This was not a good Plymouth side by any stretch of the imagination – nobody lost more home games in the league than Argyle last season and long gone are the days when you would come down here and admire the skills of Friio, Buzsaky, Halmosi and others. Alan Judge apart this looks like a bog standard Championship side fully justifying pre-season expectations of a struggle this campaign and not only did QPR not put it to the sword when they were so obviously there for the taking, they could not even see the bloody thing through – instead Rangers chose to sink as deep as they possibly could and hand Plymouth possession back time and again.

Had you offered me our opening week results before the kick off I probably would have taken them, although a man in front of me coming out of the ground afterwards pointed out in a phone call that we have now played arguably the two worst sides in the league and beaten neither of them which depressed me even more. We are creating chances which is good, and we are playing some nice stuff at times, but as long as that soft, unprofessional attitude underpins our team we shall go nowhere I’m afraid. Have some belief, strength and conviction lads for God’s sake.

Have Your Say >>> Rate The Players >>> Message Board Match Thread

Plymouth: Larrieu 8, McNamee 6, Seip 6, Timar 6, Sawyer 5, Fletcher 5, Paterson 7 (Duguid 86, -), Judge 7 (Noone 82, -), MacLean 5 (Sheridan 46, 7), Mackie 6, Fallon 7
Subs Not Used: Letheren, Arnason, Summerfield, Johnson
Goals: Gorkss 90 og (assisted Fallon) 

QPR: Cerny 6, Ramage 6, Hall 7, Gorkss 6, Borrowdale 6, Routledge 7, Leigertwood 7, Mahon 5, Buzsaky 6 (Ephraim 72, 6), Taarabt 7 (Vine 76, 5), Helguson 6 (Agyemang 61, 5)
Subs Not Used: Heaton, Stewart, Pellicori, Connolly
Goals: Helguson 43 (assisted Taarabt)

QPR Star Man – Fitz Hall 7 I had real trouble deciding between him and Routledge for this – I decided on Hall though because although Routledge looked confident, gave his full back a good going over, was unlucky not to score etc he didn’t ultimately produce anything tangible. Hall on the other hand, apart from a poor start to the game when it looked like Fallon was going to crawl all over our defence, played very nicely, putting in important goal saving tackles and passing a nice ball as well. Taarabt and Leigertwood were also very good.

Referee: Roger East (Wiltshire) 6 Slightly fussy perhaps, and probably should have produced a card for Plymouth’s brutal approach to stopping Adel Taarabt early on in the game, but overall made very few mistakes and did not stand out – which is what you want..

Attendance: 11,588 (1000 QPR approx) QPR travelled in decent numbers and the atmosphere in the away end was pretty decent at times, especially in the final ten minutes when rather than sit nervously the away fans actually got behind their players with prolonged chants of ‘Come on you R’s’. Very few actual songs from the Plymouth fans who booed their own manager for taking off Alan Judge and provided the usual collection of subhuman life forms to the left of the away end for our entertainment and general merriment.

Photo: Action Images

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