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Park standard defence betrays high quality attack as QPR drop two points against Coventry – f
Park standard defence betrays high quality attack as QPR drop two points against Coventry – f
Sunday, 29th Nov 2009 22:45

An ability to defend set pieces meant QPR were forced to settle for a point against Coventry City at Loftus Road on Saturday despite dominating for long periods.

Perhaps in the calm of a Sunday evening spent on the sofa with a glass of wine in hand Jim Magilton may be reflecting on the old adage about not trying to fix that which is not broken in the first place.

With the QPR manager absolutely seething in his post match press conference and his assistant embroiled in an unseemly clash with supporters in the Paddocks at the full time whistle you would have thought Rangers had been beaten and beaten comfortably. That certainly wasn’t the case, QPR were brilliant once again on Saturday, dominating a Coventry side so convincingly and for so long that it was embarrassing at times, but the anger and frustration of the management staff was there because for all the quality and threat posed only one point was achieved.

Coventry are the fifth side to come to W12 this season and escape with a draw, and with them probably more than anybody else ‘escape’ was the operative word. Chris Coleman, such a classy and attractive central defender in his playing days, is now reduced to scraping points from barrel bottom performances based around cynical tactics of the absolute worst kind. City wasted time from the first minute even when not in front, hurrying their clearances only during the brief period QPR actually led the game, violently scythed down any QPR player they could get near, hassled the referee, hoofed the ball down the field whenever they had it and threatened exclusively from set pieces.

QPR didn’t win because they could not defend those set pieces. Magilton inherited a team in the summer that didn’t concede or score. He has rectified the latter superbly, if only he’d left the latter well alone instead of messing about with the back four remorselessly, largely to make sure his favourite Fitz Hall can play whenever he is fit, we’d have certainly been celebrating a 2-0 win here. Last season’s back four wouldn’t have allowed either of City’s goals on Saturday and for all of Magilton’s justified teeth gnashing at the rank defence for both City’s goals on Saturday he has to take ultimate responsibility for taking an air tight defence from last season and turning it into football’s equivalent of a colander.

Such a shame that we’re talking about problems, complaints and frustrations because QPR were once again wonderful to watch at the weekend and the game was both enthralling and entertaining.

Following the defeat at Doncaster Magilton made changes to his side. Kaspars Gorkss was punished for his mistakes in the build up to both Rovers goals by being dropped in favour of Fitz Hall who played alongside Connolly and in between Borrowdale who was recalled at Williams’ expense against his former club and Leigertwood ahead of Cerny. Steven Reid was removed from the middle of midfield to allow Watson and Faurlin more room to manoeuvre and supply Buzsaky, Routledge and the recalled Taarabt behind Simpson.

Coventry were without Marcus Hall in defence but started with Richard Wood who was linked with QPR before joining City from Sheffield Wednesday recently. Former QPR man Leon Best and persistent scourge of the Hoops Clinton Morrison started in attack with Freddy Eastwood ready to threaten from the bench. Sammy Clingan continued to miss out with a toe injury despite targeting this game for his comeback originally. The Sky Blues came into the game without a win in seven since the Northern Ireland international picked up his injury.

The teams exchanged similar chances in the first ten minutes. Taarabt dragged a shot wide from the edge of the box after being teed up by Watson, then at the Loft End one time QPR target Patrick van Aarnholt was denied by a splendid save from Cerny after he smashed a lay off from Morrison towards the bottom corner with power and precision.

Stephen Wright produced a last ditch sliding tackle to deny Routledge as he tricked his way into the area and Watson leathered a shot into a small but boisterous band of travelling fans behind the goal after a Buzsaky corner was cleared at the near post – once again the problem of failing to beat the first man at the near post with corners was a real issue for QPR on Saturday.

Coventry took the lead after a quarter of an hour with a real route one goal. Buzsaky was penalised for a foul on van Aarnholt in the Coventry half and the Dutch left back launched a huge clearance into the QPR penalty box. Leon Best then simply climbed higher than Connolly, as you would expect, and sent a percentage header in the vague direction of the goal – probably even he was surprised that it found just the right amount of loop and direction to drop into the net with Cerny totally helpless. This was a ridiculously soft goal, caused largely by the stupid situation where Connolly was marking Coventry’s chief aerial threat while Hall took the smaller and trickier Morrison. That wasn’t the case at the start of the game and why a change was made is unclear – whoever’s decision it was wants their arse kicking as anybody with even a slim grasp of the concept of football could tell you Hall v Best and Connolly v Morrison was the blindingly obvious way to play.

No matter - QPR were soon back on the offensive. Ben Watson should have at least hit the target with his shot from the edge of the box in the twentieth minute after a neat one two. Then Jay Simpson did have the ball in the net after another neat move on the edge of the area but his side footed finish was ruled out for offside. That was particularly frustrating for the home crowd as while the linesman at the School End was flagging everything offside, the one at the Loft End may as well have left his flag in the dressing room. QPR were later penalised for offside despite Routledge putting his hands in the air and walking away from the ball and yet Coventry players were allowed to start offside, stay offside and end offside whenever a ball was played into the box but would only be flagged if they actually touched the ball. Having two linesmen with completely different ideas of the offside law and what counts as interfering with play was very frustrating and made the match official team on the day look a bit daft at best and completely incompetent at worst.

Ben Watson drilled a free kick into the wall after a clear and obvious foul by Richard Wood on Jay Simpson 25 yards from goal. A further foul from Wood, deliberate and nasty after being outskilled by Wayne Routledge, drew a booking but in the meantime Coventry failed to clear the ball and Fitz Hall saw a header saved by Westwood as Borrowdale crossed well into the penalty box. Westwood made a more taxing save to deny Taarabt after he’d tricked his way into the penalty area.

Leon Best actually went close to extending the visiting side’s lead when he headed a Bell cross wide from close range with Cerny beaten as QPR’s centre halves continued to muddle their roles. Matt Connolly made up for his poor play for the goal with a tremendous goal line clearance as Gunnarsson’s header beat Cerny but ultimately Coventry’s lead lasted little more than a quarter of an hour. An intricate passage of passing play among QPR’s midfielders came to a head when Faurlin elected against an obvious pass to the left where Borrowdale was free in space in favour of a far more difficult straight dinked pass in behind the Coventry defence. The Argentinean judged it to absolute perfection, playing a peach of a pass into Simpson’s pass and with no offside flag to save City this time the Arsenal loanee flicked a first time effort past Westwood and into the net. Faurlin’s pass was Wilkins like in it quality and execution and worthy of a far higher level than this.

Rangers could have gone in at half time in front had Routledge not fired straight at Westwood in the box or Simpson been able to get over a great cross from Borrowdale inside the six yard box – he couldn’t, and his header flew over the bar instead. It was good to see some decent service from the recalled left back though as this has been seen as a weakness in his game that prompted the signing of Tommy Williams during the international break.

The second half started in almost identical fashion to the first with Taarabt sending a tame effort on goal, Westwood saved it on this occasion, before Coventry were denied a goal by a fine bit of defending. Cerny denied them in the first, in the second the hosts were indebted to Borrowdale who swept in with a ball and all tackle on McIndoe who had somehow been allowed to wriggle past Connolly and Hall on the edge of the box and get a clear sight of goal before being cleaned out by the QPR left back.

Thereafter there was only one team in it. Coventry dropped very deep and started to employ cynical tactics that included to flagrant time wasting for which goalkeeper Westwood was eventually booked. In fairness to the keeper the rules do still stupidly allow keepers to pick the side they take their goal kicks from and that was what he did every single time. Why that is I do not know - you cannot take corners from whatever side you like and the only thing this achieves is giving keepers a chance to waste time.

Leigertwood drilled a shot just wide of Westwood’s post and then on the hour Taarabt beat the keeper all ends up with a magnificent 20 yard lob that agonisingly bounced back into play off the cross bar. That was Cantona like in its execution and would have been just rewards for Taarabt and QPR whose play when in possession was a joy to behold at times. Taarabt had another shot wide and Routledge was denied a clear run on goal after more expansive passing from Faurlin by van Aarnholt who appeared to pass the ball back to Westwood as he won it but the keeper picked the ball up without action from referee Mike Jones. Jones was forced to produce a yellow card for first van Aarnholt and then Cork who both hacked down the insatiable Taarabt.

QPR’s domination was almost total, a goal simply had to come and 20 minutes from time City finally cracked. Faurlin swung over a great corner that caused problems at the back post as Simpson and Hall tried to finish. The ball broke to Routledge whose low shot from the edge of the area was blocked by Best but it fell to Buzsaky who drilled into the net from a tight angle via a deflection that sent the ball flashing past Westwood and into the net.

Coventry almost immediately brought Clarke on for van Aarnholt and Eastwood on for Bell and I had to laugh at the sudden change in attitude, especially when Westwood tried to retrieve a ball quickly from the Lower Loft for a goal kick having spent the previous hour trying to piss time away. Needless to say the QPR fans were not particularly helpful in the face of such cheek.

Now at this point I felt we had done the hard bit. Coventry were clearly attempting to run the clock down and get away with a point, the difficult task was breaking that down and getting in front. Having done that it should have forced Coleman to show his hand, send his team forward a little more and leave more gaps in a previously stubborn defence. Rangers should from this point have been able to simply pick Coventry off at will and register another three or four goal haul. Why therefore we resorted to the time honoured QPR tactic of sitting back and trying to soak up pressure I do not know. Coventry are as limited and miserable a side as we will face at home this season and yet instead of going for the third goal and finishing them off we started to sit deep and get through to full time ourselves. I didn’t understand that tactic when we were crap and I certainly don’t understand it now we have an array of attacking talent.

With ten minutes to go Magilton reinforced our new ‘what we have we hold’ approach to the game by putting Steven Reid on for Taarabt. Again, this made no sense to me. Taarabt head caused Coventry problems all afternoon and as they pushed forwards looking for an equaliser he was sure to get more chances to do so. From not making sense initially the change was rendered a complete disaster as Coventry scored an equaliser immediately after it was made. Buzsaky stupidly left a leg in on Stephen Wright to the right of the QPR penalty area and the full back gratefully accepted the gift and hit the deck. Michael McIndoe whipped the free kick into the near post and with the defence nowhere to be seen and Cerny flapping wildly Richard Wood was able to steal in and equalise.

With Taarabt gone it may have made sense to introduce Patrick Agyemang especially as City were quickly reduced to ten men. Stephen Wright was the man to go, for the second consecutive season at Loftus Road, for yet another crude, cynical and totally deliberate foul on Akos Buzsaky. Wright, who saw fit to throw his captain’s armband at the referee on the way off, epitomised everything that was bad about City – quite happy to kick his way through a more talented opponent in the name of getting a draw. Clearly by his reaction, and from what Coleman said afterwards, they didn’t believe he should have been sent off. I’m forced to wonder just how often they feel Coventry players should be allowed to physically assault opponents without picking up cards? You could not wish to see a more blatant double yellow red card than this and apart from his fouls on Leigertwood and Buzsaky that drew cards he got away with numerous others. No amount of Morrison trying to hold the referee’s arms down by his side could change his mind and he was certainly lucky to get away with that himself.

Sadly City’s numerical disadvantage, and five minutes of added time, couldn’t yield a QPR goal with Watson and Buzsaky both shooting over and the final whistle was greeted with a sort of resigned frustration. No real applause and no booing either. Assistant manager John Gorman got involved in a dispute with a supporter in the Paddocks and all in all it was very frustrating that such a good performance hadn’t won us the three points.

QPR fans are fine people to be getting all worthy and talking about a victory for substance over style, that this undoubtedly was. We know all about trying to punch above your level in this league and Coventry reminded me very much of the Ian Holloway side that included Evatt, Shittu, Santos, Nygaard, Doherty, Furlong, Bircham and others and set out to bully 52 points together to keep us up first and foremost. Had Coventry come to Loftus Road and played an attractive, open style, and attempted to win the game they would simply have gone the way of Preston and Barnsley who tried to do that and conceded nine goals between them.

As detailed in our match preview on Friday Coventry are lucky to even be treading water in this league with their best players constantly sold, attendances and atmosphere at their home games almost non-existent, and no super rich backer in the same league as our own to cover up such problems. They need 52 points as quickly as possible and they did what they had to do to get one of those on Saturday. I’m certainly not going to sit here and pretend they should have done something else for the good of the game but that doesn’t make their style of play any less vile or disgusting to watch. You will struggle to find six worse examples of cynical play than the bookings they picked up on Saturday.

I was actually really proud of QPR on Saturday. In the face of extreme physical provocation and intimidation they continued to try and play their football, entertained us royally, and were hugely unlucky not to win. That they didn’t is down entirely to two pieces of defending worthy of a park team and it remains Magilton’s single biggest failing that he took over the division’s best defence and instead of leaving it alone turned it into a leaky mess that has conceded four utterly shambolic goals against Doncaster and Coventry in the last two games. I would venture to suggest that had Stewart and Gorkss started on Saturday we’d have won the game 2-0.

Enough complaining though because there was much to admire about the way we played. Alejandro Faurlin was an absolute joy, I think he gave the ball away twice in the entire match and was spraying the ball around beautifully. Watson too was excellent, no longer crowded and cluttered by the presence of Reid and right back to his best. Routledge was threatening and Taarabt was brilliant as well. Simpson continues to really impress me with the way he leads the line and he is fast approaching double figures for the season despite missing the first month.

Once again, even though we hadn’t won, I came away from Loftus Road feeling happy, entertained, impressed and proud of the team. I’ll look at the defensive problems we’re having in more detail on LFW during the week but for now it seems churlish to end on a complaint despite the disappointing result because we played well and went to win the game – Rangers had 27 attempts on goal on Saturday. And we’re up to fifth. And the match preview turned out to be spot on. So life’s not so bad after all.

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QPR: Cerny 6, Leigertwood 6, Hall 5, Connolly 5, Borrowdale 7, Watson 8, Faurlin 9, Buzsaky 6, Taarabt 8 (Reid 80, -), Routledge 7, Simpson 7
Subs Not Used: McWeeney, Ramage, Agyemang, Pellicori, Gorkss, Williams
Goals: Simpson 35 (assisted Faurlin), Buzsaky 69 (unassisted)

Coventry: Westwood 7, Wright 6, Wood 6, Barnett 6, Van Aanholt 7 (Clarke 72, 6), Bell 6 (Eastwood 74, 6),Gunnarsson 5 (Madine 80, -), Cork 6, McIndoe 6, Morrison 6, Best 7
Subs Not Used: Ireland, McPake, Cranie, Grandison
Sent Off: Wright (two bookings)
Booked: Wood (foul), Van Aanholt (foul), Westwood (time wasting), Cork (foul), Wright (foul), Wright (foul)
Goals: Best 16 (assisted Van Aarnholt), Wood 81 (assisted McIndoe)

QPR Star Man – Alejandro Faurlin 9 A superb display. The boy can pass the ball so well and having quickly adapted to the Championship he is now able to guide QPR around the field really effectively. He’s such a good player to watch and always seems to have both an awareness of where all his team mates are and time and space in which to execute the key balls. His assist for the first goal was pure class.

Referee: Mike Jones (Cheshire) 7 Could easily have sent more off here to be honest as Coventry were brutal at times. In the end impossible to argue with any of the cards he handed out. Few other mistakes made. The main problems were caused by the two linesmen – one who felt everybody was offside all the time, the other who didn’t seem very sure what offside was.

Attendance: 13,712 (700 Coventry approx) I thought there was decent atmosphere inside Loftus Road although the way the team is playing it is a shame that more people are not coming to watch the boys. The Coventry fans didn’t travel in particularly big numbers but they’re always pretty boisterous visitors and as well as standing throughout and ripping the advertising hoardings out at one point they celebrated their goals enthusiastically to say the least.

Photo: Action Images

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