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Five star Boro run a sword through QPR’s hapless defence – full match report
Five star Boro run a sword through QPR’s hapless defence – full match report
Sunday, 6th Dec 2009 19:26

QPR suffered their biggest home defeat in six years at Loftus Road on Saturday as Middlesbrough made the most of one of our worst defensive displays in living memory to take all three points.

I spoke at some length in the match preview about a clash of good and bad omens in this fixture. Middlesbrough had never won at Loftus Road in 19 attempts, Gordon Strachan had picked up his first wins as Coventry and Southampton manager in his fifth games in charge. Something had to give, predictably it was the QPR defence that cracked first.

Actually cracked implies it was solidly together in the first place. It wasn’t. A rank Coventry side, beaten 1-0 at Scunthorpe earlier today, cut it apart numerous times last week and the recall of Kaspars Gorkss this weekend was more elastic bands and chewing gum than concrete and super glue for the leaky dam. Against an attack of far superior quality to the one we collapsed against last week Rangers were powerless to stop a deluge of goals; five of them, from eight shots on target, on a sorry, sorry day for Jim Magilton’s men.

Having spent an hour and a half stationary outside St Pancras station in the morning because rats had chewed through the signal cables, listening to Kerry Katona’s rival for mum of the year smack her three young children about at an adjacent table for such heinous crimes as “putting your face against the window” and “colouring too loudly”, I should probably have realised which omens were going to win through on Saturday and turned for home at the first possible opportunity. It was one of those days where nothing went right.

Pre-match changes to the defence that Magilton criticised so heavily in the wake of last weekend’s impressive performance but disappointing result at home to Coventry were inevitable and Kaspars Gorkss was recalled to the starting line up at centre half at the expense of the injured Matt Connolly. Mikele Leigertwood and Gary Borrowdale were the full backs in front of Cerny in goal and there was again a starting place for the much maligned Fitz Hall. In midfield Watson and Faurlin again had the job of building from deep while Routledge, Taarabt and Buzsaky supported Simpson in attack.

Gordon Strachan came into the game searching for his first win as Boro boss and partnered Dave Kitson and Leroy Lita in a strong looking attack for this division. It was a relief to see Adam Johnson missing from the line up but former Portsmouth man Gary O’Neill returned to skipper the side at the heart of the midfield.

There was also a change to the advertised refereeing appointment with Keith Hill replaced by Phil Gibbs – his second QPR appointment of the season following the 1-0 defeat at Bristol City in August.

The good and bad of Adel Taarabt shone through early on. In the fourth minute he cut in from the left, played a nice one two with Routledge but then hammered over when he should have at least found the targt.

Then after a Middlesbrough attack broke down on the edge of the QPR penalty box in the eleventh minute Mikele Leigertwood played the ball up to Simpson who held it and laid it very well indeed to allow Routledge to set Taarabt free down the left but he hammered high and wide after reaching the penalty area when he had plenty of support to his right. Leroy Lita then did likewise at the other end, after being allowed to collect the ball wide right and come inside far too easily he sent a tame shot straight at Cerny when Kitson may have expected a pass.

Mikele Leigertwood headed a Ben Watson corner over the bar when he may have done better on the quarter hour and then Gary Borrowdale tested Brad Jones with a fine shot from long range as Rangers started the game brightly and on the front foot. Another terrific move involving Faurlin, Watson and Taarabt set Simpson up for a low shot that went just wide of the far post.

The first real sign of what was to come was in the twenty third minute when Mark Yeates was able to collect the ball in between the back four and two deeper lying midfielders of the home side and fire an unstoppable shot over Cerny from 30 yards and flush against the cross bar. Cerny was lucky to see it fly out, and then bounce back in off him or Gorkss as confusion reigned but Rangers ultimately survived – but didn’t heed the warning.

That gap between the defence and Faurlin and Watson was a problem from that moment on. Yeates and Julio Arca revelled in the space there and again I wonder whether the pace of Damion Stewart that would have enabled the back four to push up more and close up the space that Boro’s creative players revelled in.

Whether that would have worked or not we certainly missed Stewart’s pace against Lita who collapsed theatrically under challenge from Fitz Hall in the area midway through the first half when a more realistic fall would probably have yielded a penalty. Hall got away with one of those against Leicester, conceded a penalty against Palace, and still insists on putting his arms all over opponents in the penalty box. The incident led to some widespread abuse for Lita from the home crowd but as it had done with Andy Cole two seasons ago that only served to wind him up and by the end of the second half he was almost unplayable.

It was Yeates at the heart of Middlesbrough’s opening goal some eight minutes later. Leigertwood knocked a long ball down the right flank which with Pogatetz at left back for Boro was a complete waste of time (though that didn’t stop him trying it constantly) and the Austrian headed it down to Yeates who had time and space to run at the QPR defence until he was crudely chopped down by Hall. With the free kick awarded a good 40 yards wide of the QPR goal, and Hall booked, we got a chance to see just what a week on the training ground presumably working on defending just this type of set piece that had proved our undoing against Coventry had done for the back four. Answer – absolutely sweet fuck all.

In almost identical circumstances to the first Coventry goal a week ago O’Neil swung the ball over and Kitson flicked the ball into the net past Cerny. This was a defensive shambles. Fiitz Hall’s challenge for the free kick and marking of Kitson for the goal was frankly laughable but he was certainly not alone in his incompetence – looking at the replays again any number of Boro players could have taken advantage of Sunday league style defence with St Ledger goal side of Gorkss and Wheater absolutely, completely unmarked just behind Kitson ready to finish if he didn’t. A couple of our defenders even seem to be on the edge of the penalty area with their hands up appealing for offside as the ball is stuck in the net so God knows what script they were reading from. Shambolic.

The goal killed what little atmosphere there was around the home stands and made QPR’s task a lot more difficult – chasing the game against a team of Boro’s quality was always going to be tough. It also seemed to knock QPR’s confidence far more than it should and the deficit could easily have been two as Rangers strolled around and looked disinterested in a Middlesbrough throw in, allowing Gary O’Neil two touches without challenge before he launched a dipping shot that Cerny saved well one handed.

The game was effectively ended as a contest two minutes after half time and yet again it was a defensive nightmare from a set piece that did all the damage. Leigertwood’s costly slip on halfway instigated the corner that O’Neil took and St Ledger headed goalwards from six yards out only to see it blocked away by the raised hand of Ben Watson. The referee was too quick with his whistle and awarded the penalty before Wheater smashed in the loose ball (Wheater totally unmarked once again it must be said) but it mattered little as Lita smashed the spot kick into the net down the middle and then marked on an ill-advised run down the touchline mocking the QPR fans who’d abused him so roundly in the first half – a celebration which earned him a yellow card.

Magilton’s reaction to going two behind was to take off Buzsaky and Simpson and introduce Vine and Agyemang. Now on those days when nothing goes right it’s often best to sit and say nothing and I shall do in future because no sooner had I finished ranting about what nonsense it was to replace your chief goal threat when two goals down Agyemang had finished coolly from close range after great work down the left flank by Vine – his first touch of the ball and I looked a complete prat just to really put the tin hat on my day.

That should have been game back on with the home crowd suddenly alive with optimism but sadly within seconds Middlesbrough were two goals ahead again after more pitiful defending. Mikele Leigertwood passed the ball calmly down the line straight to an unmarked Mark Yeates for reasons known only to himself. The former Colchester man played the ball back in behind Leigertwood to Lita who was left one on one with Hall and there was only ever going to be one winner in that complete mis-match of pace and ability – Hall stood so far off his man it basically invited him to do as he pleased and Lita gratefully accepted that invitation by cutting inside into the area and banging a third goal in off the base of the far post. Centre back play that brought memories of Zesh Rehman flooding back.

There was a chance to come back into the game again when Jones went walkabouts under a high cross from the left but Routledge tried to play the ball back across the face of goal instead of shooting himself with the goal gaping and nobody had gambled enough to get on the end of it. QPR maybe could have had a penalty fifteen minutes from time as Pogatetz took a wild swing at a ball in the penalty area and seemed to catch Agyemang after completely missing his intended target but the appeals were mostly from the crowd and having waved Lita’s claims away in the first half Gibbs was never going to give that one.

Play was soon flowing down to the School End once more and after Lita had humiliated Gorkss for pace this time before cracking an improbable effort against the post Gary O’Neil skilfully managed to convert a difficult rebound into the empty net for a goal his performance thoroughly deserved. Ben Watson is with a Premiership club at the moment, and believes he can play first team football in that division, but when you compare his performance on Saturday with that of the excellent O’Neil the difference is stark to the point of embarrassing.

Then just to really put the pile of diarrhoea on top of the shit cake four minutes from time the rout was complete. Leigertwood nowhere to be seen, Gorkss back peddling frantically, Mark Yeates able to run to the edge of the area before clipping a fine finish past Cerny for a fifth Middlesbrough goal and his first for the club.

This was a footballing lesson by the end but the score may have slightly flattered Middlesbrough as they picked us off in the final quarter of an hour with QPR players pushing forwards looking for a way back into the game. Nevertheless there’s no arguing that Boro were far superior to us in every department from the fifteenth minute onwards.

Simply put both their centre halves were far better than ours, Wheater in particular, and we had nothing available to us to trouble them. The goal we did get came as Vine who set it up and Agyemang who scored it came off the bench and Boro hadn’t quite readjusted themselves – had they survived that then within a few minute they’d have been set and we wouldn’t have scored at all. Personally I didn’t see the point of taking Simpson off, he should have been left to play with Agyemang however stupid I looked for slagging the sub as the goal went in.

Both their centre forwards were far better than ours as well and we didn’t have a defender on the day that could cope with them. I said before the match it would have made sense to play Gorkss against Kitson and Stewart against Lita and I stand by that as well. Neither Gorkss nor Hall was able to cope with Luta’s pace and aggression at all.

In midfield Faurlin passed the ball nicely but Watson was poor again and in Gary O’Neil Boro had the best player on the pitch who showed Watson exactly what his role really should be all about. How O’Neil and Wheater are playing at this level is beyond me and they must be very near the top of one or two January wish lists in the Premiership.

On top of all of that Boro managed to double up on both Taarabt and Routledge and keep them out of the game. Magilton rotated the pair of them frantically but never once did the obvious thing which was to play Buzsaky in the hole behind the striker where he has excelled before. He remains wasted as a wide player.

A bit of a disaster all round then and it will be very, very interesting to see what Magilton does with his team selection for Monday night’s game at Watford when QPR simply must improve their defence – not just as a back four, but as a whole team because as bad as Hall and Leigertwood were on Saturday, the protection they had from midfield was non-existant.

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QPR: Cerny 4, Leigertwood 3, Hall 3, Gorkss 4, Borrowdale 6, Taarabt 5, Watson 3, Faurlin 6, Routledge 5 (Pellicori 80, -), Simpson 6 (Agyemang 52, 6), Buzsaky 4 (Vine 52, 5)
Subs Not Used: Taylor, Ramage, Stewart, Williams
Booked: Hall (foul)
Goals: Agyemang 53 (assisted Vine)

Middlesbrough: Jones 6, R Williams 7, St. Ledger 7, Wheater 8, Pogatetz 8, O'Neil 9 (Digard 79, 7), Arca 7, Yeates 8, Osbourne 7, Kitson 8,Lita 9
Subs Not Used: Coyne, Hoyte, Riggott, Emnes, McMahon, L Williams
Booked: Lita (over celebrating), O'Neil (foul)
Goals: Kitson 31 (assisted O’Neil), Lita 50 (penalty), 60 (assisted Yeates), O'Neil 75 (assisted Lita), Yeates 87 (unassisted)

QPR Star Man – Alejandro Faurlin 6 The best of a pretty rotten bunch. Passed the ball nicely and tried his best, at times left to play the Boro midfield by himself with Buzsaky, Watson and others badly out of form. Borrowdale perhaps the only other player worthy of some mention and praise.

Referee: Phil Gibbs (West Midlands) 6 Change of official for this one and hard to argue with much he did. Lita and Agyemang both had penalty appeals waved away that may have been given on another day but at least he was consistent with not awarding either. The penalty he did give was blatant but he should have allowed play to continue with an advantage so Wheater’s goal would have counted. Having watched the replay whether Lita did too much wrong in his celebration is open to debate – QPR fans cannot abuse the guy for an hour and then moan when he gives a bit back after scoring.

Attendance: 13,949 (1800 Boro approx) Quiet inside Loftus Road even before the goals started to flow. The team really needed a lift after that first one and we failed to provide it. The abuse of Lita, while understandable, was a bit daft especially straight after the second goal because while he may well be a wanker he was at that point a wanker that had just put his team 2-0 up. The Boro fans travelled in better numbers than they have before for this fixture and made a decent noise once in front.

Photo: Action Images

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