QPR secure overdue league win at Scunthorpe - full match report Sunday, 30th Aug 2009 21:51
QPR secured their first away win since January, and first victory anywhere in the league this season, thanks to an early Adel Taarabt goal against Scunthorpe at Glanford Park on Saturday.
Jim Magilton’s life as Ipswich manager did not get off to the best of starts either. He famously said before a match at Loftus Road that after failing to win any of his first five games in charge he was so low he could “walk under a door in a top hat”.
He was not in the best of moods last week either as QPR, without a win in their first four league games, squeezed through in the League Cup by the skin of their teeth against Accrington Stanley despite a dire performance. There were no witty one liners after the match from the new QPR boss, unless you count his incorrect assertion that we can only get better as humorous, merely fury and bile spat back at his underperforming players – some of whom he criticised by name in an always risky managerial strategy.
He got a reaction of sorts at Scunthorpe on Saturday as Rangers finally got off the mark in the league with a 1-0 win. Changes were made – Jay Simpson came in for a debut in attack with Adel Taarabt recalled in a supporting role. Hogan Ephraim got a start in the league wide left with Routledge wide right and Leigertwood with Faurlin in midfield. At the back Matt Connolly finally, finally, finally started at centre half with Fitz Hall. The players responded positively with a blistering start that could have seen them two or three goals up and playing ten min inside the first quarter of an hour.
They scored once, but one by one the old QPR traits started to emerge again. The ambition went out of the side, the shape folded, they stopped engaging Scunthorpe high up the field and most importantly they stopped maintaining possession. Ultimately it was lucky that it was only a poor Scunthorpe side in opposition.
The first thing I noticed as the teams emerged from the tunnel was that Fitz Hall appeared to be throwing up on the halfway line. I don’t know if he had come out of the tunnel with water in his mouth or something but there was no drink in his hand and he definitely appeared to be chundering prior to kick off. Worrying signs. Nevertheless QPR started the game in flying form and could easily have been two goals up and playing against ten men in the first three minutes.
In the opening thirty seconds there was a flash point by the corner of the Scunthorpe penalty box; Jay Simpson got an early debut touch when he ran onto a ball into the channel behind a static defence down the QPR right but found himself cruelly chopped to ground by a scything tackle from Iron goalkeeper Joe Murphy. The Irish keeper was needlessly far out of his goal, the tackle was a very poor one and he was extremely fortunate to only be shown a yellow card. I know there seems to be this commonly accepted idea that if a striker I heading away from goal or is wide on the pitch then it is not denying a goal scoring opportunity but I’m sorry, with the goalkeeper a good 25 yards off his line and the ball already pushed past him under what circumstances is that not a clear and obvious goal scoring chance? Murphy was very, very lucky in my opinion.
Faurlin’s well flighted inswinging free kick was cleared from inside his own six yard box by Mirifin under little pressure.
That was all quickly forgotten when QPR took the lead on their next attack. Adel Taarabt collected a pass from Leigertwood midway inside the Scunthorpe half, played a messy looking one two with Faurlin and then cut straight through the heart of the home defence with a direct run that took him past two players before he was able to produce a neat, side footed finish past Murphy and into the net.
QPR’s excellent start continued in the fifth minute when excellent build up play saw Simpson feed Routledge on the edge of the area but Rangers found themselves crowded out without being able to get a shot away. Simpson seemed to have got in behind Byrne when chasing a long ball from Borrowdale in the next attack but slipped at the vital moment.
QPR crafted two further great chances inside the opening 20 minutes. The R’s were left to lament Murphy’s continued involvement in the game when the keeper made a fine one on one save from Mikele Leigertwood after a quality thirty yard through ball from Faurlin that cut the defence in half. Ephraim dragged a tame shot wide of the post then Jay Simpson really should have hit the target with a free header from ten yards after the move of the match. There seemed little on as Taarabt collected the ball and ran into three Scunthorpe players wide left, but after a neat one touch move between him, Faurlin and Ephraim on halfway QPR were able to spread the play right to first Leigertwood and then Ramage. He fed Routledge whose cross was plum on Simpson’s head ten yards out from goal but sadly the debutant could not find the target with a weak effort.
Had QPR continued in this vain Scunthorpe could have been staring down the barrel of a really big score. The Iron had conceded 12 goals in four matches coming into this game and it really was not hard to see why. Slow and square at the back Nigel Adkins’ team had nobody that could live with Routledge, Taarabt, Ephraim, Simpson or Faurlin. It was men against boys in the early stages. It seemed QPR had finally clicked.
Things seemed to start going a little awry when Matt Connolly picked up a nasty gash to his head. The former Arsenal man, keen to make a good impression after his recall, had marked Hooper out of the game in the first 20 minutes and won a number of crucial headers when he was a clear second favourite to do so. However his enthusiasm and confidence got the better of him midway through the first half when he clattered through Hooper’s back sending the striker sprawling and leaving himself with blood spewing from a head wound. It initially looked like Scunthorpe were getting Jonathan Forte dressed to replace Hooper but he stayed on after treatment, as did Connolly although play was initially stopped for a minute or so while physio Paul Hunter tried to stem the flow with Vaseline, and then again when it became clear that swathes of bandages and a new shirt were going to be necessary.
Once play got back underway QPR simply were not the same side. Simpson became isolated in attack, asked to field and hold up one hopeful long punt in his direction after another and wait for support that took an age to arrive. The ball retention started to plummet with Mikele Leigertwood consistently the chief conceder of possession. Taarabt disappeared from the game totally, seemingly employed as part of a wide left double act with Ephraim that worked well against Swansea last season but doing neither that nor supporting Simpson and seeing virtually none of the ball as the game progressed. The team lost shape, stopped pressing Scunthorpe, stopped engaging Scunthorpe players high up the field, stopped passing the ball, stopped maintaining possession and started to sit deep and hope for the best.
As QPR performances go it was almost like a parody of itself – we normally score first then sit back and hope for the best, here we scored with virtually the first kick of the match and then attempted to hang on for the entire game. It was mind blowingly, incredibly frustrating because if ever there was a team ripe for a sound thrashing it was Scunthorpe and if ever there was a team with attacking players capable of doing just that it was QPR and yet despite showing all the intentions of doing so in the first quarter of an hour or so Rangers then just gave up, slunk back into bad old habits and were ultimately fortunate that it was only Scunthorpe they were playing otherwise the famed late goal against could have cost us two points or worse.
Paul Hayes fired a warning shot straight at Cerny after the defence had backed off and then Scunthorpe went closer still when more backing off allowed Martyn Woolfoord a chance to cut in and shoot. The whole move began when Fitz Hall intercepted well on halfway and raced into the opposing penalty area looking for a goal of his own – a poor cross on the left foot from Ramage saw Murphy claim and when both Leigertwood and Faurlin missed tackles in midfield Scunthorpe were able to break. Woolford’s deflected shot flashed all the way across the face of goal and out for a corner – Matt Sparrow should really have tapped it in from the edge of the six yard box but was not alive enough to the situation and took a fresh air shot as the ball bounced past him. A terrible pass from Routledge straight to Hayes in the QPR half set up another attack which ended with Hooper shooting tamely at Radek Cerny. Like I say, we were becoming far too easy to play against.
It was around this time that referee Graham Salisbury started to have an impact on proceedings. First he missed an obvious hand ball from Woolford on the edge of the area and allowed Spence to get a long range shot away with QPR players to a man still appealing for a free kick. Then there was a farcical passage of play where an offside flag was raised against Hooper, and remained raised for a good minute while the referee allowed play to go on. Quite apart from the referee’s mantra supposedly being ‘look through play towards your linesman’ what in the name of God is that Britney Spears style ear piece and mic for if it is not to communicate with the other officials? Did he have the Racing Channel on there or something? Very poor, and in many ways the official is lucky he did not have a real incident on his hands there because had Scunthorpe scored during that minute of effectively dead play he would have had problems, likewise had the linesman got bored and dropped his flag – well done to him for standing firm in the face of incompetence.
Even when playing poorly, as the R’s undoubtedly were in the closing stages of the first half, they still fashioned chances. Faurlin blasted a foot wide from distance with Murphy beaten all ends up and Taarabt found the same B Leckey Roofing advertising hoarding with another shot from long range.
Jay Simpson almost created a superb first QPR goal for himself when he collected Mikele Leigertwood’s cross, controlled and turned his man brilliantly, and then having done all the hard work dragged his shot wide of the post. Simpson looked a little heavy and leggy to me, possibly lacking match fitness, and was asked to play a very difficult role in a poor team display with little support. He should have scored at least one of his chances but overall there were promising signs and I am sure in better performances with players getting up and around to support him he will be a real asset. I could not help but think back to his QPR World interview on Thursday and chuckle – when he said Jim Magilton likes to play football the right way I don’t think he had an image of fielding wild Mikele Leigertwood passes by himself against lumbering centre half David Mirfin in his mind.
One of the main positives of the day was the performances of centre halves Matt Connolly and Fitz Hall. The pair vied for the man of the match award between them, and did so despite both picking up nasty injuries. Connolly’s head wound was strapped up to such an extent that he looked like Frankenstein’s monster by the end of the game and just before half time Fitz Hall was pounding the turf in agony after seeming to pop his shoulder out in an awkward fall. Damion Stewart was being readied on the touchline but after a minute or so of manipulation Hall was able to carry on and complete another fine performance in an impressive season from him so far. Certainly Hall and Connolly looked more solid than any other pairing we have tried this season.
Those bumps and bruises, and another knock picked up by Hogan Ephraim tight to the touchline, meant four minutes of time was added on at the end of the half but QPR were able to make the half time oranges with few further scares.
The second half started much the same as the first had ended – QPR struggling to string anything together or get out of second gear, Scunthorpe simply not good enough to do much about it. Rangers did enjoy a small spell of sustained pressure and a couple of corners around the hour mark. It looked like Faurlin may open his account for the club when one was partially cleared to the edge of the box but he chose to set up Fitz Hall instead of going himself and Murphy was able to beat Hall’s first time volley away with two fists. From the next corner Ephraim’s cross should have been cleared by Woolford but he hit it straight against Routledge giving Leigertwood a chance to loft a shot goalwards but he could only find the roof of the net with an instinctive lob. Faurlin’s passing game on the day was excellent, but he is still a little bit off the pace defensively and positionally for me. The potential partnership of Faurlin and Rowlands at the heart of our midfield is very exciting though.
The two managers reacted before the hour with Magilton removing Taarabt who had disappeared from the game after his early goal and sending on Rowan Vine to try and get up to support Simpson more. Nigel Adkins for his part took off the ineffective Togwell for Grant McCann and Michael O’Connor for Josh Wright. Frankly I am amazed that somebody with the passing game and long range shooting ability of McCann cannot get in this Scunthorpe side. The Northern Irishman had a chance late in the day to stake a claim for a starting place with a 25 yard free kick from a very similar position to the one he scored from at Loftus Road the season before last after a very harsh decision by the referee against Wayne Routledge who seemed to take the ball cleanly. He attempted the same trick – left footed, over the wall, across the goal, into the far corner but credit to either Radek Cerny or goalkeeping coach David Rouse or both for doing their homework and enabling the Czech to read the play and save comfortably in the bottom corner.
Hooper rattled the base of Radek Cerny’s post but had long since been flagged offside, before an inswinging free kick from Wright narrowly avoided another home sub Gary Thompson at the back post and bounced a foot or so wide of the goal.
Scunthorpe had the first of two penalty appeals with a quarter of an hour left to play. Routledge lost the ball on halfway with Ramage already past him on the overlap. That gave Hayes a chance to feed Hooper who was fouled on the edge of the box by Leigertwood. Hayes took the free kick quickly, again feeding Hooper who appealed to the referee that Connolly had hold of his shirt as he turned inside to shoot. It would have been a harsh call.
The second looked more clear cut. A blatant foul on Ramage contesting an aerial ball was missed by the match officials and for a moment it seemed Hayes was in the wrong side of Connolly. The QPR man showed great strength in easing Hayes out of the chance, but the theatrical tumble and loud appeals from the otherwise subdued home crowd may have tempted Mr Salisbury to point to the spot. He resisted the urge once again.
Rangers had two glorious chances to seal the win in the final ten minutes. The best of them fell to Vine who arrived late in the area to pick up on superb hold up play by Heidar Helguson following a great pass from Faurlin but with the ball laid back to him perfectly eight yards out and no Scunthorpe players around him he leant back, got too much purchase on it and sent the ball flying onto the QPR fans behind the goal. The finish of a man very low on confidence.
It need not have mattered, on the very next attack QPR should have been given a chance to tie the game up from the penalty spot. Again the hold up work and perfect final ball was from Helguson, this time the Icelandic striker slid Wayne Routledge through another gaping hole in the home defence. Routledge’s first touch was heavy, denying him a run on goal, but he had the speed to catch up with the ball and toe it away from Murphy who clearly took the winger’s standing leg and sent him sprawling. Referee Graham Salisbury blew his whistle, and booked Routledge for diving. It looked an absolute stick on penalty for me, but Routledge’s lack of complaints made me think perhaps he had dived. Having watched the replay on television I have not changed my opinion – it’s a blatant penalty and the farce is only deepened by Murphy, riding his luck again, laughing heartily as he goes to take the free kick.
To make matters worse Salisbury allowed Murphy to get on with it from the wrong position, while the booking was still taking place. Scunthorpe stormed off down the field and Hayes was then awarded a very soft free kick for a foul by Hall when they both seemed to be pulling each other, right on the edge of the penalty box by a referee who was a good sixty yards back down the field failing miserably to keep up with the play. This nonsense was all too much for Jim Magilton to bear and the QPR manager and he was sent to the stands for telling a piss poor referee one or two home truths. McCann’s free kick, when it was eventually taken, was nodded wide at the back post.
Just to really put the tin hat on it all Mr Salisbury found five minutes of added time at the end of the game. Fair enough you may think, but when you consider that the first half was extended by only four minutes despite Fitz Hall’s shoulder injury, Hogan Ephraim’s knee injury, the clash of heads between Connolly and Hooper and then further prolonged strapping of Connolly’s head you have to wonder where such an allotment came in the second half where there were no injuries at all.
QPR fans have started referring to the eightieth minute onwards as the ‘witching hour’ and Magilton was indebted to Fitz Hall for a tremendous clearance during the stoppage time to prevent another late catastrophe here. A low cross from the right from Thompson was right into the corridor of uncertainty between defence and goalkeeper and looked like it was going to provide an easy tap in fro Hooper until Hall desperately lunged out a leg and completed a miraculous clearance up, over his head, and away. Tremendous stuff from the much maligned centre half.
Other than that, and a hooked effort from Hooper six yards out from another McCann free kick, Scunthorpe could only turn possession and pressure into a series of poor long range shots and QPR held out reasonably comfortably in the end.
So a win then, at long last, and just about deserved as well. QPR were the better team, created the better chances, and had the outstanding players on the day. Hall and Connolly were solid at centre half, Faurlin’s passing through midfield was very decent at times and players like Routledge, Simpson and Taarabt while only threatening in very small bursts did more than the attacking players on the Scunthorpe side to affect the game.
However we made things tremendously difficult for ourselves. We had the team selection, tactics and attitude spot on to start with so why go away from that? Why allow Scunthorpe back into the game? Why go away from possession football? Had we maintained possession and shape here this could have been a handsome win, instead we were hanging on by the end against a team, on this evidence, vastly inferior to ourselves and this could easily have turned into another one of our late heartbreakers simply through poor attitude to possession of the football.
Hopefully hanging on and actually winning a game will start to build confidence. We have two weeks of training now before Peterborough and with Connolly back in the team at centre half and Faurlin starting to spray the passes around in midfield there are reasons to be positive. We will have to play a whole lot better than this though as Scunthorpe are one of the few sides in this league we would have beaten on Saturday playing as we did for the final hour of the game.
QPR Star Man – Matt Connolly 7 Marked Hooper out of the game, won some brave headers, passed the ball well and generally gave the defensive a more organised and solid look. Fitz Hall was excellent alongside him as well. It was between those two for the award and they look our best bet at centre half as things stand at the moment with Gorkss and Stewart in patchy form.
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire) 4 Worst so far this season. Routledge’s “dive” is a nailed on penalty for me no matter how many times I see it. Scunthorpe were given some really questionable free kicks near the end, not least the one McCann nearly scored from where Routledge clearly took the ball cleanly. The incident in the first half where we played on for a good minute with the flag raised was a farce. Very poor.
Attendance: 5,866 (682 QPR) Almost no atmosphere at all inside Glanford Park for most of the match. The QPR fans roused themselves briefly when Rangers applied some pressure in the second half, and when a catering assistant walked past with a tray of pies, but that was about it. One or two chants from the Scunthorpe fans over the course of the afternoon but they seemed resigned to their fate from early in the game.