Watson and Cerny to the fore as QPR run continues with Toon point - full match report Thursday, 1st Oct 2009 22:06
QPR's unbeaten run in the league was stretched to six matches on Wednesday night when the R's drew 1-1 with leaders Newcastle.
My God QPR are good to watch at the moment. I’m not quite at the stage where I’m willing to beg for forgiveness for all I said about Jim Magilton when he was appointed and throw myself at his feet, nor am I willing to alter my pre-season prediction of us missing out on the play offs, Christ I’m not even willing to bet too much money on us getting a result at Swansea on Saturday - but Jesus Christ I have loved watching that team of ours in the last four games.
Crisp passing, wonderful movement, great goals, flowing moves from back to front - what on earth is wrong with us? What are we doing? It’s like you went to bed with your tired old hag of a wife for the millionth consecutive night after 40 years of marriage and woke up in the morning having your groin rubbed by Melanie Sykes. What is going on? I mean what is actually going on here? How did this happen? Don’t answer, you might jinx it.
I apologise for bringing trash American television into this but there is a scene on Friends where Chandler has the various erogenous zones of a woman (apologies for turning into Swiss Tony for a moment there) explained to him in great detail by Monica and Rachel. Later in the episode a rather bedraggled and flustered looking woman rushes into the girl’s apartment fresh from Chandler’s bed and hugs them both while screaming “thank you”. At about 10pm last night I was tempted to go and bash the visiting dressing room door down in a state of semi arousal. QPR, while not the finished article, are truly beautiful at times at the moment. A team you’d want to watch. And on Wednesday night 2000 Londoners were in Newcastle to do just that.
Things must be going well, Jim Magilton actually named an unchanged side for the first time this season. That meant Jay Simpson leading the attack by himself with Rowan Vine in support. The midfield had the crucial Rowlands-Watson axis at its heart with in form wingers Routledge and Buzsaky either side of them. At the back Stewart and Gorkss played centre half with Borrowdale and Leigertwood at full back which, rather sadly, meant no place in the side for Geordie Peter Ramage in a game he would so loved to have taken part in. Ramage was unfortunate to be dropped from the starting eleven in the first place and Leigertwood’s excellent form since that decision was made meant the decision was inevitable - but it was still hard not to feel sorry for the lad. Radek Cerny was, of course, the goalkeeper.
Newcastle had a giant forward line with Andy Carroll and Nile Ranger partnered in attack supported by Kevin Nolan from midfield. Their intentions were clear right from the off - get the ball up to those three as quickly as possible and batter, bully and barge chances from there. A more physical team you would struggle to find at this level. Fabio Coloccini was out injured, as was influential full back Ryan Taylor so Danny Guthrie and Danny Simpson returned to the line up following a 4-0 weekend win at Ipswich.
Now I’ll start with an apology. My eyesight is shit hot - I can read the departure board on platform three of Doncaster railway station as my train pulls into platform eight - but even I struggled to tell players apart from our seats right at the back of “level seven”. For those that weren’t there, just to give you an idea, the cloud cover sat between levels four and five. I could just about tell our players apart but Guthrie, Nolan and Butt all looked the same to me in the Newcastle midfield so excuse me if I mix any of them up. In summary I thought Butt was bloody awful, Guthrie not much better and Nolan reasonably good. But that might be nonsense. Owain in our travelling party described it as like sitting in another room trying to watch a friend play Sensible Soccer on a portable television - and as promised at the time I’ve nicked that as the best way of summing it up.
It is a quarter of a mile from the seats in the away end to the goal at the far end of St James’ Park but that didn’t stop the sizeable travelling fans getting overly excited in the second minute as Rowan Vine unloaded a shot from distance that trickled through to Harper in the Newcastle goal. Radek Cerny was then called into action as Rowlands left a back header a little short and the Czech keeper had to nip in ahead of Ranger to retain possession.
The game then started to settle down into a contest between two sides of contrasting style. Newcastle looked to hit their big men up front early whenever possible, QPR were content to play through midfield with Ben Watson at the heart of all the good things they did. It was Watson in fact who gave QPR the lead after six minutes, collecting a weak clearance from Enrique forty yards out from goal, driving towards the centre of the area and then hitting a low shot that clipped the back of Taylor’s heal on its way through, wrong footing Harper in the process, and rolling delightfully into the unguarded net.
That lead was threatened seriously for the first time after 18 minutes when Newcastle were awarded a controversial penalty. Referee Rob Shoebridge, of Bristol City v Crystal Palace ghost goal fame, was in eccentric form all night and his decision to penalise Damion Stewart for handball when Taylor hit a half volley at him from half a yard away at speed could kindly be described as harsh and more accurately decribed as blood ridiculous. Stewart’s arm was by his side and frankly if that is deliberate hand ball I’m a China man. Nevertheless a penalty was awarded. Danny Guthrie stepped up to take it but just as he had done against Barnsley on Saturday Cerny guessed right, diving to his right this time, and made a fine save. Unlike Barnsley Newcastle could not force the ball home on the rebound and QPR had survived.
Sadly around the half hour mark QPR were knocked out of their stride. Newcastle stepped it up a gear or two, Rangers stopped retaining possession as they had been doing, the defence looked nervous and Cerny was required to make several outstanding saves to keep us in the game. First Guthrie broke into the right channel of the penalty area one on one with the Czech keeper but Cerny read his intentions and saved splendidly. Within two minutes Carroll had headed goalwards from a corner but Borrowdale cleared the ball from the line as part of his post marking role. Then 90 seconds later Kevin Nolan powerfully met a right wing cross but Cerny saved right under the cross bar – Nolan enthusiastically appealed that the ball had crossed the line but his claims were waved away.
That was just about the only decision referee Rob Shoebridge gave our way all night – a referee so clearly influenced by a big home crowd that it became a standing joke by the end of the game. When Simpson climbed over a defender to win a header he was penalised for climbing, when Carroll did it we were penalised for backing in. When QPR players had their ankles nipped nothing was given, Newcastle won a plethora of free kicks for the same thing. With the away fans up in the Gods and the Newcastle fans pretty vocal in their support and intimidation of players and match officials it can be a really easy night for a weak referee if he wants it to be and Rob Shoebridge certainly fancied an easy night. At one stage I thought he’d had a stroke and could only lift his arm up on one side. I would have rushed down there to do the FAST drill with him but by the time I’d made it down three quarters of a million flights of stairs the game would have been over anyway.
Ranger should have done better eight minutes before half time when he planted a free header comfortably over the bar. At this stage it looked like Rangers, so composed and dominant in the first half hour, would be grateful just to get through to half time with their lead intact however in the final five minutes of the half they got things together again and twice went close to doubling the lead. First Akos Buzsaky drilled a 25 yard shot inches wide of the top corner with Harper beaten all ends up and waving the ball goodbye. Then after a poor clearance from Harper the same man was left with the tricky task of lobbing back into the half open goal from some fifty yards. If you wanted such a chance to fall to any player you would probably pick Buzsaky but the Hungarian miscued his first time effort and sent it out for a goal kick by the corner flag.
Fears that QPR may come out for the second half looking to try and soak up Newcastle pressure were quickly allayed. The R’s were out on the pitch warming up, knocking the ball around and geeing one another up a good three minutes before Newcastle finally strolled back into the arena and Magilton’s men started the half much the sharper of the two sides. They forced two early corners, the first was drilled across the face of goal by Routledge after a good routine with Vine. The second was crossed by Vine to Stewart who planted a firm header half a foot wide of the goal when a goal would have been an absolute certainty had it been on target.
Newcastle did however introduce Jonas Gutierrez for the awful Butt at half time and it was this as much as anything that got them back into the game. Nicky Butt was infamously named as the best player at the 2002 World Cup by legendary football and Viagra salesman Pele but he looked a pale shadow of his former self in this game – slow as a bus, with the touch of an arthritic elephant. He was comprehensively out fought, out run and out played by both Rowlands and Watson throughout the first half and while I would say it is a shame to see a well decorated and obviously talented footballer on the wane like this, I’ve always hated the nasty, ugly little git so I actually think it’s fantastic.
Gutierrez gave Leigertwood a torrid time because he had too much space to play in because Wayne Routledge, threatening as he was going forward, was very poor with his tracking back. He was also Mr Shoebridge’s dream man and the pair soon struck up a lively relationship whereby Gutierrez would throw himself to the floor, the home crowd would bay for a free kick, and a free kick would be awarded. Sadly no QPR play was to enjoy such a friendship with the match official on the night. The first of these, seven minutes into the second half, was ideally place right on the left edge of the penalty area but Danny Guthrie inexplicably lashed it over a crowded six yard box and vulnerable looking goal into the stand to the disgust of the home support. Guthrie said after the game he still expected to be taking the penalties despite his first half miss here – on this evidence the former Liverpool trainee will be lucky to still be in the team in future matches, never mind getting first dibs on the set pieces.
QPR had two decent efforts on goal either side of the hour mark. Rowan Vine dragged one wide from the edge of the box at the end of a flowing move and then when a wicked corner from Buzsaky was allowed to drop right in the heart of the goal mouth Damion Stewart, laid out on the floor at the time, flung a boot at it to divert it towards goal only for Harper to produce a fine reaction save. Stewart was unlucky not to have a couple of goals on the night and his titanic struggle with Carroll at the other end was wonderful to watch – good, old fashioned football. Carroll’s best effort on goal actually came from a low free kick (yes another one) that flew through the wall but straight at Cerny who was grateful to claim it with two hands by hi feet.
Chris Hughton had seen enough and with about half an hour left for play he sent on Marlon Harewood for his home debut instead of Ranger. At Ipswich on Saturday I liked the look of Ranger a lot more than Carroll, but on Wednesday I thought Ranger looked pretty poor, very leggy and ineffective. Now Marlon Harewood strikes me as a bit of an idiot. The first thing he did after coming on was chases six QPR passes around our back four like a headless mentalist and this tired him out very much, leaving him standing on the halfway line blowing through every orifice with hands on knees for the next five minutes or so. Not really a surprise considering the weight he appears to have pagged on since he was a first teamer at West Ham. Sadly though Harewood has already scored against QPR for Nottingham Forest and West Ham and he was to add a third club to that list within ten minutes of being introduced.
Shortly after the sub Alan Smith received the first yellow card of the night for a frankly disgusting tackle on Akos Buzsaky. With the Hungarian receiving the ball with his back to goal, on the halfway line tight to the touchline and with little support Smith could have done his job properly and simply jockeyed him out of position and won a throw in. Instead, apparently angered by some perceived earlier injustice, he absoilutely cleaned the QPR man out from behind in a tackle very similar to the one Tomas Repka ended Tony Thorpe’s time with QPR with back in 2004. From behind, completely unnecessary, highly dangerous - gratuitous violence. Leaving Buzsaky in a heap on the floor Smith leapt up, once again mouthed off at the referee and stormed off with his yellow card without so much as a cursory word to his stricken opponent. Behaviour typical of the man throughout his career.
Luckily two things then happened. First Akos Buzsaky picked himself up and carried on, second it turned out Damion Stewart had been watching all this with great interest and apparently didn’t much care for what he’d seen. Roughly ten minutes later a loose ball on halfway presented the big Jamaican with his chance and he didn’t miss. You could hear the crunch and see Stewart’s pearly white smile even from our seats up in the clouds. Even the 35,000 Geordies in attendance, a race of people not noted for their squeamishness, winced as Stewart pounced on his prey like a hungry alligator. We didn’t see much of Smith after that - maybe he is not quite as brave as he first thought. I mean hacking through the back of a creative winger whose tackles per season rarely run out of single figures is one thing, but actually mixing it with a very large, very physical, very angry Jamaican centre half - like I say, not quite as brave as he first thought. On a night when justice and fairness was in short supply from the match official, Judge Stewart decided to execute a sentence of his own. Hilarious.
With twenty minutes remaining the equaliser arrived, and it was that silly sod Harewood who got it. A ball stood up at the back post gave Carroll all the invitation he needed to attack over the back of Stewart and nod down into the six yard box where Harewood was on hand to bundle in ahead of Gorkss from all of a yard. There seemed to be a disagreement in the back of the net as Nolan attempted to retrieve the ball from Cerny, and at one point the keeper seemed to have been pushed over, but Shoebridge returned the ball to the centre spot and took no further action.
Magilton responded to this set back by taking off Simpson, who had done a wonderful job leading the line once again, and bringing on Adel Taarabt. Not deterred by his unfortunate treatment at the hands of his own fans on Saturday Taarabt immediately showed confidence and self belief in taking on two Newcastle men on the edge of the box and planting a low shot wide of the post.
QPR were sadly continuing to suffer difficulties down their right hand side. Routledge was again caught napping defensively as Gutierrez and Enrique ganged up on Leigertwood and although the latter eventually worked a way through into the area with a clear sight of goal he could roll the ball harmlessly into the side netting. I was very impressed with Enrique overall, on one occasion Routledge pushed a ball past him into the area and I assumed that he would simply collect on the other side and accelerate away as we see him do every week but Enrique matched him stride for stride for pace and hardly put a foot wrong all night. This chance was the cue for a tactical switch with Buzsaky coming over to the right to try and provide a bit more presence in defence and Routledge moving across to the QPR left where Newcastle were focussing less of their attacking play.
Gutierrez had much less of an influence on things after this – still flopping about all over the place for free kicks but getting much fewer opportunities to run at Leigertwood one on one. His final act in normal time was a cross that Marlon Harewood miscued high and wide ten minutes from time.
I had expected a fair wedge of stoppage time with the injuries to Buzsaky and Smith, the substitutions and the dispute after the goal and when Rowan Vine made a point of walking very slowly off the field when he was replaced by Faurlin I felt sure Shoebridge would take a further chance to give Newcastle a leg up and add at least five minutes. In the end he only allowed three although in that time QPR managed to pick up three bookings. The first went to Leigertwood for a horrific lunge on Gutierrez as the Argentinean touched a ball round him tight to the touchline. After a full half of watching the Newcastle man hit the deck as soon as he felt the breath of an opponent on the back of his neck it was something of a relief to see him properly fouled. Leigertwood was perhaps lucky to get away with a yellow for that but when Buzsaky refused to retreat from the free kick while he, correctly, pointed out that they had moved it a few yards closer to the goal he got a booking too. Cerny got a good punch to the free kick and the rest of stoppage time ticked down with Routledge, Faurlin and Watson playing decent possession football underneath the away fans.
A good performance then, and creditable point that we certainly all would have gladly accepted at kick off. Newcastle were big and physical but we stood up well to that with Damion Stewart back at his imposing best in defence and then played around them with Watson, Rowlands, Routledge, Buzsaky and Simpson all enjoying periods of success against previously established Premiership players like Guthrie, Butt, Nolan and Smith. Watson was clearly the star turn, running the game through the QPR midfield, and it is the introduction of him and Jay Simpson along with a return to form for Akos Buzsaky balancing the side out when previously everything had been going through Routledge that has led to this sudden up turn in performances.
I didn’t actually think we were as good on Wednesday as we were at Cardiff ten days ago. In the first half we were indebted to Cerny for making several saves when we started giving the ball away needlessly, and in the final 20 minutes we were hanging on a little bit and looked very tired. While the international break may be seen to be coming at a bad time for a team in form it may be ideal for us if we have to put in another big effort at Swansea on Saturday.
Overall though this was excellent, again it was hard to pick a bad player on the QPR side and many Newcastle fans have since said we were the best side they have played this season and were unlucky not to win. Prior to this game Hughton’s men had won all five home games in league and cup so for us to be coming away disappointed with only a point tells you everything you need to know about how we are playing at the moment and how we went about our business at St James’ Park. Really well done Rangers.
QPR Star Man – Radek Cerny 9 Giving the goalkeeper the man of the match would suggest QPR have claimed a point in a backs to the wall effort. That certainly was not the case but with a penalty save and three other outstanding stops in open play it is hard to look beyond Radek for the star man award. Ben Watson was the outstanding outfield player in a good all round performance from QPR.
Referee: Mr R Shoebridge 3 I thought he was a bit of a joke to be honest. Allowed the game to be refereed by the home crowd and Alan Smith. The penalty decision was incorrect and the sheer volume of 50/50 calls that went Newcastle’s way was laughable by the end. Bought every single dive from Gutierrez and overall looked like a poor referee hunting an easy evening out.
Attendance: 38,923 (2000 QPR approx) A strange atmosphere with the cauldron like noise and verve of the home fans way, way down below the away end in the lower tier, bowl like bit of the stadium. The QPR fans made a hell of a racket up in the top tier but I’m not sure how much of that made it down onto the pitch. It is a surreal vantage point to watch football from.