QPR up to sixth, but denied more by Speroni heroics - full match report Thursday, 5th Nov 2009 11:51
QPR moved back into the play off places on Tuesday night despite being held to a draw by Crystal Palace in a fast and at times frenetic London derby at Loftus Road.
When QPR were relegated back to this level from the Premiership in 1996 one of the regulars in A Kick Up The R’s composed a song about our new found lower level to the tune of Oasis’ Wonderwall one of the lines of which was “and all the keepers we play against are blinding.” It did seem upon relegation that, as well as the likes of Tommy Widdrington having an abnormal ability to beat our own Juergen Sommer from 35 yards or more, most of the goalkeepers we did face initially seemed to be mini miracle workers.
Fast forward to Tuesday night and QPR were again being thwarted in increasingly unlikely circumstances by a goalkeeper right on top of his game. Julian Speroni, often harshly written off as a dodgy keeper by fans of other Championship clubs mainly because he is a foreigner with strange hair, showed exactly why he walks away with Crystal Palace’s Player of the Year award every season almost as a matter of routine with a string of spectacular saves to restrict Rangers to a single point. The goal QPR did manage, the one that got them the draw that moves Jim Magilton’s men up to sixth in the league after 15 matches, came from the penalty spot and frankly it was hard to think of another way to force the ball past Palace’s irrepressible Argentinean wearing the gloves.
Faurlin, Buzsaky and Vine were the most unlucky – all three struck seemingly goal bound shots from the edge of the box in the final 20 minutes of the game only to see them palmed away. Buzsaky’s in particular, coming as it did from behind a wall that included every member of the Palace outfield unit and a good few QPR bodies as well, looked impossible to see never mind get down to and save. Sometimes you just have to put your hands up and praise true brilliance in an opponent and Speroni was indeed absolutely bloody brilliant on Tuesday night.
Following Friday’s home defeat by Leicester live on Sky Jim Magilton made two changes to his team. Ben Watson was back from his suspension to face his former club in midfield with Faurlin and that meant Leigertwood could revert back to right full back at the expense of Peter Ramage who dropped to the bench. Fitz Hall came in at centre half instead of Damion Stewart who seemed to be injured or ill against the Foxes when he was badly out of form. So a new look back four of Leigertwood, Hall, Kaspars Gorkss and Gary Borrowdale started in front of Cerny with Akos Buzsaky and Adel Taarabt right and left of the Faurlin and Watson partnership. Wayne Routledge and Jay Simpson started in attack.
Listening to the teams being read out was quite a comical experience with no fewer than five ex-Palace players in the QPR line up and the sizeable following from south London reacting to each name with a different level of ferocity. Gary Borrowdale actually got a round of applause, Wayne Routledge was the target of most of the abuse.
Palace for their part made changes too. Unsurprisingly, after Leicester’s success with the formation on Friday, they reverted to a five man midfield set up with Stern John starting for the first time in three months up front by himself, supported from deep by Darren Ambrose, and Alessane N’Diaye providing a muscular presence in the middle Clint Hill returned to the defence after a suspension.
The game quickly settled into a predictable pattern - Palace looking to be physical and flood the midfield to prevent QPR playing through them with the ease they did Preston and Reading in recent home games and Rangers struggling to pick their way through a forest of bodies. The only time Rangers really found a way through this tangled mess of a midfield was when Wayne Routledge turned and fired goalwards in the tenth minute but Speroni was more than equal to that. The keeper was able to let a subsequent effort from Leigertwood dribble wide when the full back failed to catch a shot properly from what has become a trademark distance for him to score from since moving to Rangers. Leigertwood looked so much better and more comfortable at full back on Tuesday than he ever had in the middle of midfield on Friday reaffirming my belief that he is either a right back or not in the team at all as it stands at the moment.
Quite out of the blue QPR took the lead in the 18th minute from the penalty spot. Adel Taarabt skipped into the penalty area with the ball at his feet and took Palace full back Danny Butterfield to the byline before turning back inside. As he did so the Palace man went to ground, always a fatal mistake with Taarabt around, and felled the QPR winger for an obvious spot kick. Butterfield, who never looked anything special to me in his early days at Grimsby but has forged a very steady Championship career since then with Palace, must be getting a little sick of visiting Loftus Road – it was he that was tormented by Lee Cook in the 4-2 QPR win here a couple of seasons back, and he gave away a spot kick that day as well. For the third time in five games Akos Buzsaky converted comfortably from 12 yards, sending Speroni the wrong way to the put the R’s in front.
Palace went close to equalising from a corner within two minutes. Ambrose took it, swinging the ball into the back post where the powerful figure of N’Diaye met it with a downward header that was blocked by Buzsaky on the line. The ball rebounded out into the six yard box where Claude Davis led a queue of Palace players trying to force the ball home but Radek Cerny calmed the situation with a sound catch under the cross bar.
Palace should have been level on the half hour when Ambrose crossed for John but his header brushed the base of the post on the way wide. This was an almost identical situation to the one Matt Fryatt equalised from on Friday, and in truth John should have scored as well, so lessons clearly have not been learnt there.
Palace were really pressing at this stage and QPR were struggling to get out of their own half. When Radek Cerny rolled a ball out or played a goal kick short the Palace attackers hassled and harried the QPR defenders into mistakes, when he kicked it long the powerful visiting back four simply won headers and pumped the ball straight back. Rangers were lacking a plan B, but having said that they really should have doubled their lead against the run of play five minutes before half time. Adel Taarabt gathered possession on the halfway line after a foul on Jay Simpson was waved play on advantage and the Moroccan laid the perfect ball through to Routledge who beat the offside trap, and the advancing Speroni with a first time shot from the edge of the box but the ball rolled a fraction wide of the post to the delight of the Palace fans who had given him more stick than any of their other former charges in Hoops.
The game seemed to be opening up a little more as first half stoppage time played out. Simpson saw a shot saved by Speroni and then Palace broke quickly with John crossing for Ambrose but the former Ipswich man just couldn’t get a toe on the ball as it flashed across the face of the penalty area. QPR were perhaps a little fortunate to be ahead at half time, but having said that Routledge really should have scored to make it 2-0 – a miss further confounded by a stupid booking for kicking the ball away after being flagged offside.
Requiring at least one goal in the second half Neil Warnock decided to be a little more adventurous after half time, removing N’Diaye from his midfield and replacing him with Freddy Sears who has yet to score in ten appearances for the Eagles since joining on loan from West Ham in the summer. There’s a penalty miss against Scunthorpe amongst that run, but then there is also of course the perfectly good goal he scored at Bristol City that the referee didn’t see.
This decision by Palace to go to 442 really opened the game up and made for a cracking, end to end second half that provided rich entertainment for the 14,000-odd crowd inside Loftus Road. The first of Speroni’s truly spectacular saves came in the 53rd minute. Again Taarabt was at the heart of the QPR attack, tricking and turning Butterfield in the box before touching it back to the edge of the D to Faurlin, who had earlier wasted a wide free kick by blasting it over the bar, and his well struck side footed effort looked destined for the bottom corner until Speroni hurled himself across the face of goal and palmed the ball wide. This was probably Faurlin’s best game for QPR so far and a goal would have been just rewards for a classy performance and expansive passing game. Earlier Danns had blasted over for Palace when well placed to do better.
Palace fired another warning shot on the hour when Neil Danns crossed to Stern John and he headed against the base of the post – although I believe he had been flagged offside and it would not have counted. QPR never really marked John properly all night for me, he always seemed to be able to ghost in between the two centre halves without one of them taking responsibility for him and he was often free and goal side of his man when balls were delivered into the area in the same way Matty Fryatt was far too often on Friday night.
Still QPR looked good on the attack though and the relentless flow of skill and pace towards the Loft End goal almost forced an own goal from Clint Hill when Taarabt was played in by Buzsaky and chipped the ball over Speroni only for Hill to force it over his own cross bar by about half an inch with a miscued clearance off his knee that could so easily have gone into the net.
The equaliser when it came was pretty typical of Palace. A long ball forward from Butterfield was flicked on in the air first by John and then Ambrose whose header dropped in behind Hall for Sears to run onto. The loaned West Ham striker looked suspiciously offside when the ball arrived at him, although having had so many decisions from the linesman in the second half it seemed churlish to complain, and in his desperation to get back Hall was too physical and wrestled his opponent to the ground. It looked a blatant penalty and sure enough referee Russell pointed to the spot for the second time in the game. The in form Darren Ambrose stepped up to send Cerny the wrong way an roll home his third goal in as many games and ninth off the season overall.
It could have got worse for Rangers who were indebted to Radek Cerny for a fine low save when Alan Lee, sent on for the tiring John, was left totally alone at the far post to head Sean Scannell’s cross goalwards. But it could also have been so much better as Speroni twice produced heroics in the final ten minutes to deny QPR a winner.
First Akos Buzsaky tried his luck from a free kick. QPR attacked down the right with Routledge but as they did so the linesman on that side started to frantically flag for a foul. That confused many as no Palace player had got near to Routledge at all but what the assistant had actually seen was Claude Davis’ cynical and needless haul back on Agyemang right in the centre of the field as the QPR sub threatened to get ahead of the Jamaican and onto any subsequent cross. The foul looked to be in the area but after consultation with his linesman the referee, who seemed as confused as the rest of us, gave a free kick right on the very edge of the box and showed a yellow card to Davis who was absolutely furious about the whole thing. Palace brought everybody back behind the ball but the chance still looked plum for Buzsaky. The Hungarian curled the ball low round the wall with pace and direction but Speroni, despite not even seeing the ball until it was almost upon him, managed to turn it round the post to Buzsaky’s clear disbelief. From the corner Ben Watson met Buzsaky’s kick powerfully at the near post but his header flashed wide and into the Lower Loft with many in South Africa Road expecting the net to bulge.
Agyemang, along with Rowan Vine, had been sent on in a double substitution for the tiring Taarabt and Simpson with a quarter of an hour left to play. Simpson had endured a tough night at the hands of Davis and Hill and the feeling in F Block seemed to be that Agyemang’s introduction had come a good 20 minutes later than it really should – the R’s were just not physical enough and lacked a plan B when the fancy passing football and building from deep broke down. I personally would have had ‘Dave’ on before the hour mark just to provide some muscle and take the heat off Simpson a little bit. Sure enough once introduced Agyemang really put himself about and roughed up the Palace back four to great effect.
Vine thought he’d won the game with a crisp half volley after Faurlin had headed the ball back across the face of the area. The ball carried such power and venom that a save seemed impossible but the keeper reacted splendidly to flip himself up and turn the ball over the bar. Like I say, sometimes you just have to surrender yourself to the brilliance of our opponent.
The game was being played at a frantic pace by this stage and referee Russell did very well to keep a hold on proceedings – although Alan Lee can count himself very fortunate to have stayed on the field after striking out at the excellent Kaspars Gorkss as the pair chased a long ball in behind the QPR defence. Palace’s physical approach to games really seems to suit Gorkss who was man of the match in both fixtures last season and was arguably QPR’s best player on Tuesday night as well.
It is typical of Rangers’ approach to games under Jim Magilton that there was to be no settling for a point. In three minutes of added on time the R’s flooded forward looking for that late winner and almost ended up with nothing at all. A move broke down on the edge of the box and suddenly palace were streaming forward seven on four. Darren Ambrose picked the right pass as he searched out substitute Hills in the left channel of the penalty area but the Palace youngster seemed to lose his footing as he struck for goal and could only blast the ball into the away end. A big relief for most inside Loftus Road.
The word ‘fair’ was used a lot on the tube home. A draw was probably a fair result because for all of Speroni’s heroics Palace had more than enough opportunities to win the game themselves – John hit the post twice, N’Diaye had one off the line and Cerny saved well from Lee. Undoubtedly the Palace goalkeeper was the star of the show but this was not all one way traffic and while both teams could lay claim to having the better of proceedings a draw was just about the right result.
Being a game in hand on a night when nobody else played the point lifted QPR four places into sixth and again, I think that is pretty fair for how we have done in the first 15 matches of the season. I am enjoying watching us, and I enjoyed Tuesday night’s match which was a thoroughly entertaining, and pulsating encounter. It is hard to believe that these teams fought out the dullest and drabbest goalless draw you are ever likely to see on this ground just six short months ago. We do however seem to lack a bit of a plan B. As Leicester had done on Friday Palace enjoyed great success by hassling us high up the pitch and not allowing us to play the ball out of defence. This in turn forced Cerny to kick long more than he and his manager probably would have liked and Palace were able to deal with that very comfortably and simply return the ball down the pitch on almost every occasion. I would have had Agyemang on earlier personally but we need to come up with some other ideas to break down opposition that play us as Leicester and Palace have done in the last few days.
My other worry is we don’t really win games when we don’t play well. When we’re hot, we’re really hot, but to challenge for promotion you have to win when you’re not at your best and the only time I think we have done that this season was against Scunthorpe. At Plymouth and Bristol City and against Leicester and Palace at home we have conceded very soft goals that have turned what could have been scrappy wins into draws, and handy draws into defeats. Rangers must add a tough and ruthless element to their game, particularly their defending, if they are to build on what is undoubtedly a hugely promising start to the season.
Crystal Palace: Speroni 9, Hill 5, Fonte 7, Davis 6, Butterfield 6, Ertl 6, Ambrose 7, Derry 6, N'Diaye 6 (Sears 46, 6), Danns 7 (Hills 84, -) John 6 (Lee 67, 6) Subs Not Used: Clyne, Carle, Moses, Scannell Booked: Davis (shirt pulling) Goals: Ambrose 62 (penalty)
QPR Star Man – Alejandro Faurlin 8 Narrowly beating Gorkss, who I thought was right back to his best, Faurlin takes the award for recovering well from a poor performance on Friday, passing the ball well and getting forward from midfield. His calm and confident performance at the heart of a hugely congested midfield performance was worthy of high praise and shows how well he is settling down to the rigours of Championship football. Attempts and succeeds with passes that others in this league wouldn’t even see in the first place.
Referee - Mike Russell (Hertfordshire) 7 One or two dodgy decisions and moments of confusion, most notably the Buzsaky free kick resulting from the foul on Agyemang. Russell seems to be keen for his linesmen to get involved in decision making all over the park and once or twice I felt he allowed himself to be overruled by hs assistants when he personally didn’t think it was a free kick. That’s not necessarily a problem, but it does make referees look a little unsure of themselves at times. Both penalty decisions and yellow cards given were correct.
Attendance - 14,377 (1700 Palace approx) A very decent atmosphere inside Loftus Road for almost the entire match with both sets of fans really backing their teams. This was of course helped by the action on the field which was played at a very high tempo with both teams going to win the game.