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Brave, plucky, gallant but ultimately beaten, QPR exit League Cup at Chelsea - full match report
Brave, plucky, gallant but ultimately beaten, QPR exit League Cup at Chelsea - full match report
Thursday, 24th Sep 2009 22:05

While the effort, commitment and at times quality of the QPR players has drawn warm praise from all sides this Thursday in the cold light of day the fact remains the same - Chelsea sadly won 1-0.

A successful cup upset is very much like baking a cake. Numerous ingredients have to blend the right way and some have a better knack for making that happen than others. Exactly how close QPR came to producing the footballing equivalent of Jane Asher’s finest at Chelsea on Wednesday is hard to tell, but I’d say the R’s were pretty damn close indeed - certainly closer than they came in the FA Cup on this ground 18 months ago when they lost by the same scoreline and a similarly fortuitous goal but rarely strung an attack of their own together in anger. On Wednesday QPR played their own game, and looked good doing it.

For a cup upset to take place you need the favourites to play within themselves, or rest key players. Chelsea did both, and needed to bring first Frank Lampard, then Ashley Cole and finally John Terry on from the bench in the second half to slip through the gears enough to see off QPR’s challenge that was not only spirited and plucky, but bloody impressive and skilful at times as well.

To beat the odds the underdog needs to play at the absolute maximum of its ability and probably a bit beyond as well - and while a shattered looking hooped side was hanging onto Chelsea’s coat tails a little bit by the end there’s no doubt that Rangers certainly did all that and more for the first hour or so. Led superbly once again by Martin Rowlands Rangers did not sit back and try to soak up everything Chelsea had to offer as they had done on their last visit here and at Old Trafford in this competition last season. Alejandro Faurlin’s passing game would not have looked out of place in the home side’s midfield, Jay Simpson fought like a Trojan in attack, Vine, Buzsaky and Routledge provided occasional menace, Stewart and Gorkss were commanding at the back and Leigertwood and Borrowdale had their best games of the season at full back. Tom Heaton was superb in goal. And it still wasn’t enough.

That’s because for that upset to take place you need something to go your way: a ball to drop, a shot to hit the post and come out, one to fly into the net off somebody’s arse. At Aston Villa last season Gareth Barry went through on goal to equalise and decided that was the time to try a scooped lob. He’ll never do it again in his life, he’d certainly never done it before in his career, but he shanked it wide and that’s what QPR needed that night.

On Wednesday we needed a referee to do his job. We needed Premiership referee Mike Jones to forget where he was, forget he was refereeing Chelsea, and do his job. To see that Wayne Routledge was fouled, or that Joe Cole had handled the ball, in the lead up to the deciding goal. He didn’t, Chelsea scored, QPR could not. It was not to be. Rangers fans were left to claim moral victories for the way they played, the way the fans sang, or the way Chelsea had to send on the big guns to see them through. No points, or cup progress, for moral victories I’m afraid guys - but plenty of reason to be proud of our players for having a go in the face of stiff opposition rather than sitting back and waiting for the inevitable.

Jim Magilton made two changes before the start of play - one enforced and one not. Alejandro Faurlin came into the midfield alongside Martin Rowlands in place of the cup tied Ben watson with Routledge and Buzsaky on the wings and Vine with Simpson in attack. Tom Heaton made his second start in goal, both in this competition, instead of Radek Cerny, behind Saturday’s back four of Leigertwood, Gorkss, Stewart and Borrowdale.

The league Cup probably does not figure too highly on Chelsea’s list of priorities this season and with a transfer embargo and African Nations Cup to think about during the winter it was no surprise to see the big names rested from their starting eleven. Salomon Kalou and Fabio Borini played together in attack, Joe Cole made a long awaited come back from eight months out with a knee injury, and there was a debut in midfield for £18m summer signing Yuri Zhirkov.

It was no surprise to see Chelsea start on the front foot although QPR probably expected a better quality of officiating from their “elite” list officials than they got in the first five minutes. Kalou, offside by the thick end of three yards, was allowed to play on by linesman Mike Cairns and fired a low shot at the near post that Heaton did well to keep out. Cairns was at it again minutes later when Borini ran through obviously offside to no flag – when one did eventually go up the travelling thousands from Loftus Road let out a huge ironic cheer hat really should have embarrassed the linesman and his very basic grasp of the rules of the game.

Refusing to be overawed, Rangers swung play straight up to the other end and Jay Simpson unloaded a shot into the Matthew Harding stand to let Chelsea know they would not get things all their own way.

Chelsea could easily have taken the lead after ten minutes through young Fabio Borini. The 18 year old was a surprise starter for me as I had expected to see Daniel Sturridge given a chance to stretch his legs for the first time since his move from man City but Borini was Chelsea’s top scorer in the reserves last season following a move from Bologna and went within inches of opening the scoring here with a flicked header at the near post from a Zhirkov cross that just had too much purchase on and ultimately flew into the partisan QPR following in the Lower Shed.

Again though this was far from one way traffic. Magilton had resisted the urge to pack his midfield and was happy for his team to go toe to toe with Chelsea in an open, passing game. A brave and some would say foolhardy decision but it was so nice, and rewarding, to see the R’s really go at it rather than just stick everybody behind the ball and play for penalties. Wayne Routledge gave the Bridge a glimpse of why managers at Spurs, Fulham, Portsmouth and Aston Villa felt he had the potential to play at the highest level when he set off from the halfway line on a marauding run that carried him past five would by tacklers before he released the perfect pass left to Akos Buzsaky. Routledge had taken so many Chelsea players out of the game that Buzsaky had all the time he needed to set himself on the edge of the area and after a first touch to shift it out of his feet the Hungarian was probably disappointed to curl a 20 yard effort past Hilario in the Chelsea goal but past the top corner of the net as well.

The end to end action continued on the half hour when a low shot by Faurlin at one end rolled straight to Hilario after the home defence backed off him and invited him to have a crack and then Chelsea broke down the left with an attack that ended when Joe Cole slid a ball right across the face of Heaton’s goal when Ferreira found him at the front post. The loan Man Utd keeper was similarly untroubled by a subsequent corner that Malouda first hit the near post defender with, then selfishly drilled the rebound into the side netting with a queue of team mates awaiting service at the far post.

QPR were certainly giving as good as they got – using considered play between Borrowdale and Buzsaky down the left to get Rowan Vine in behind the Chelsea defence on two or three occasions only for the final ball to let us down, and out and out pace and power from Routledge and the marauding Mikele Leigertwood down the right to worry the hosts only for the same problem to occur. It was great to watch at times, both the QPR performance and the match in general. Whereas I had sat through the previous tie here and the one at Man Utd nervously watching through my hands and waiting for inevitable heartbreak I actually found myself spending long periods of this game relaxed in my seat and enjoying the football. It was just a shame that occasionally QPR let themselves down with a final ball or dollied up pass that allowed Chelsea to steal possession back or survive a threatening attack. All in all though I was impressed and pleased going into half time.

Despite there being no injuries, no goals and no substitutions referee Jones added a minute onto the first half officially, and then played more to allow Chelsea to take first a free kick and then a corner. The free kick was a harsh call, given against Martin Rowlands for what looked like honest endeavour amongst a crowd of opponents. Belletti hit a trade mark thunder bolt over the wall and Heaton had to come across and bat the ball away for a corner. Time had long since expired but Chelsea were allowed to proceed anyway – Gorkss got the crucial clearance in to prevent heartbreak right on half time.

QPR’s performance, particularly the impressive showings from Rowlands and Faurlin in the middle of midfield, worried Ancelotti enough to summon the first of his big name substitutes for the second half. Frank Lampard came on for the ineffective Malouda and immediately made a difference. At one stage in the first half the QPR fans had cheekily been cheering the passes from their team but there was far less time for Faurlin to spray the ball around as he had done to great effect in the first half, and far more threat for Martin Rowlands to deal with, once Lampard came on.

Nevertheless QPR started the second half reasonably brightly and thought they had carved out an ideal chance for an opener when Vine’s through ball sprung the offside trap (not difficult with the dozy Mr Cairns on the line) and Wayne Routledge raced through. He and Hilario arrived at the ball simultaneously outside the penalty area but the goalkeeper was allowed to clear as Routledge elected not to challenge – personally I felt a boot should have gone in from the QPR man and anything could have happened had he done so as he looked favourite to win the ball.

Rangers then had reason to feel aggrieved with the referee again as Jones ridiculously punished Simpson for a perfectly fair shoulder to shoulder challenge with Mikel short of halfway, and then immediately awarded another more clear cut one on the edge of the penalty box. As usual in these situations Frank Lampard stepped forward to take it and as usual he just pelted it hard into the wall at about waist height. Now I know full well that there examples of spectacular Frank Lampard free kicks knocking around but is it only me that thinks his technique of simply walking up and walking it seems to work once in a hundred attempts, if that? When the likes of Belletti are on the field should this agricultural method of taking free kicks even be given the time of day? Who cares is the answer to that, certainly not me on Wednesday night, but it is an irritation of mine when watching Chelsea as a neutral.

With their next attack Chelsea took the lead, and again Mike Jones was at the centre of things. Tearing into the Chelsea half with the ball at his feet Wayne Routledge was clearly tripped as he danced across the face of the penalty area. He stayed on his feet, possibly with a very harsh booking for diving at Scunthorpe still fresh in his mind, but lost the ball. Instead of bringing play back as he should Jones waved play on, Chelsea stormed down the other end and with suspicion of a handball from Cole in the build up and then offside when the pass was finally played Kalou was able to slot home the opening goal off the base of the far post past the helpless Heaton. QPR with very good reason to feel aggrieved.

Possibly in an attempt to make amends Jones then presided over a couple of soft QPR free kicks around the Chelsea penalty area and they in turn resulted in a series of corner kicks. However as with the open play opportunities to deliver in the first half the final ball was often found wanting with only a well flighted Buzaky corner that looked to be landing plum on the head of Kaspars Gorkss steaming in at the back post before it was cleared really troubling the hosts. When in advanced wide positions Chelsea still looked to pick out team mates, whereas QPR in similar circumstances were happy every time to play a percentage ball into the box with nobody in particular in mind. It was another one of those small differences that added up to a cup exit for Rangers.

Both goalkeepers endured nervy moments around the hour mark. Borini’s close range shot forced Heaton into a fine low save and then at the other end a 30 yarder from Buzsaky dipped awkwardly in front of Hilario, skipped up off the lush turf and forced the keeper into an unorthodox and uncomfortable save down low to his right.

The problem with falling behind to a superior team, other than the obvious, is that they will simply keep possession and tire you out giving your players the run around. Mindful of the weary legs and need for an equaliser Jim Magilton introduced first Adel Taarabt for Rowan Vine, then Ephraim and Pellicori for Simpson and Rowlands. Although the changes were probably dictated by fitness as much as anything else it was a shame because Pellicori did not hold the ball up as well as Simpson, the midfield missed Rowlands’ bite and although Taarabt clearly worried Chelsea on several occasions the absence of Vine meant we often only had one body in the Chelsea penalty box when in a position to cross. To make matters worse within seconds of coming on Ephraim caught a nasty one right on his forehead and needed immediate treatment to a cut that ultimately saw him play the final quarter of an hour in a white bandage hat.

Chelsea sent on Ashley Cole for Zhirkov and John Terry for young Sam Hutchinson who had looked pretty reasonable on his debut. The latter copped fearful abuse from the sizeable away support for the rest of the game with various quips about his mother’s fondness for giving the checkout a miss echoing round Stamford Bridge to the home fans’ bemusement.

Rangers were tiring though and could easily have conceded a second when first Belletti stormed down field and sent in a low cross that seemed certain to be put through his own net by Damion Stewart until Heaton swopped in to pick the bobbling loose ball up on the goal line. 40,000 people, Stamford Bridge, impossible cross, own goal almost a certainty – Damion Stewart Jamaican centre half, seriously easy going.

Heaton knew rather less about his next save as a powerful effort from Joe Cole caught him square in the mouth and stayed out.

Three minutes of added time were indicated but QPR looked absolutely shattered by that stage and only had a wild long range shot from Mikele Leigertwood that flew into the upper tier of QPR supporters over by the corner flag to show for their final efforts in the game.

Even in a below par performance with a scratchy side out the pace and physicality of the Chelsea players, their touch on the ball, the accuracy of their passing and their reading of the game was superior to QPR’s. We knew all of that before the game started but QPR more than matched it all with hard work and a fair bit of football of their own. As on Saturday there was not a bad player in the QPR team and if they can carry this into Saturday’s game then Barnsley will be in serious trouble – if.

QPR have played some excellent football in the last two matches and could easily have added a famous win at Stamford Bridge to the weekend success at Cardiff. The challenge now is to transfer it to Loftus Road where the atmosphere is much less supportive and much more expectant, and to games against the likes of Barnsley which may be a bit of a come down for the players after this trip. If QPR can continue to produce performances like this on a consistent basis this season then Chelsea away could well be a league fixture next season rather than a cup one.

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Chelsea: Hilario 7, Ivanovic 7, Ferreira 6, Hutchinson 7 (Terry 77, 7), Belletti 7, Malouda 6 (Lampard 46, 8),Zhirkov 7( A Cole 69, 7), Mikel 8, J Cole 7, Borini 7, Kalou 7
Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Essien, Matic, Bruma
Goals: Kalou 52 (assisted Cole)

QPR: Heaton 8, Leigertwood 8, Stewart 8, Gorkss 8, Borrowdale 7, Routledge 7, Rowlands 9 (Ephraim 73, 7), Faurlin 8, Buzsaky 7, Vine 7 (Taarabt 66, 7), Simpson 7 (Pellicori 73, 6)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Ramage, Mahon, Agyemang

QPR Star Man – Martin Rowlands 9 Very hard to pick a man of the match with QPR playing so well. I though Heaton was excellent in goal, Leigertwood had one of his best games for the club at right back, both centre halves were outstanding, Faurlin really stood out with some wonderful passing ad so it goes on. But the beating heart of the team, the driving force behind the side and the man making such a difference to us at the moment was once again Martin Rowlands.

Referee: Mike Jones (Cheshire) 4 It is often a bitter accusation levelled at referees in defeat in these matches that a Premiership referee looks after Premiership players. Mike Jones did little to distance himself from that idea on Wednesday. The Chelsea goal could have been disallowed for three separate offences, some of the free kicks given to the host were soft in the extreme and some of the things QPR were left to suffer with no free kick, including a horrible tackle from behind on Jay Simpson just before he went off, were astonishing. Ably assisted on the line by Mike Cairns who turned in just about the worst performance I have ever seen from an assistant referee.

Attendance: 37,781 (6000 QPR approx) As you would expect, fairly quiet from the home fans who rank this competition low on their list of priorities and probably feel they have bigger fish to fry. At the other end the QPR fans were in great voice, thankfully steering clear of the disgusting Didier Drogba chant, and backing the team throughout. Everybody chuckled at the John terry chants and Paul Furlong got a standing ovation from the R’s at half time while the Chelsea fans had to have it explained to them via the public address system exactly who he is.

Photo: Action Images

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