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QPR and Sheff Utd draw little festive cheer from dour stalemate – full match report
QPR and Sheff Utd draw little festive cheer from dour stalemate – full match report
Sunday, 20th Dec 2009 22:49

Paul Hart’s reign at QPR began with a dull 1-1 draw with Sheffield United at Loftus Road on Saturday. It was all downhill for the R’s once Mikele Leigertwood had given them the lead in the opening minute.

There was a little bit of everything that has driven me up the wall at QPR in recent times on display at Loftus Road on Saturday. Another new manager being introduced to the crowd, another puzzling team selection, another chance to have a good game of ‘count the out of position players’, a lacklustre game and performance, frustration, poor refereeing, miserable opposition and comments in the post match press conference that had me wondering exactly what game I had been at.

Paul Hart apparently believes that we attacked in waves in the second half on Saturday and really drove home our advantage. It could be a long hard winter folks. For now the benefit of the doubt is owed after only one match and one can only hope he played this team because it was the one that did well on Monday and he is only just getting to know his players. But to be honest there was a lot in this display that I fully expected to see from a Paul Hart managed side and the whole spectacle worried and depressed me in equal measure.

For his first game in charge Hart kept faith with the team that drew 2-2 at West Brom on Monday evening. That meant the bizarre situation with Simpson wide right, Routledge wide left and Taarabt up front with Agyemang continued. Watson and Leigertwood played in the middle of midfield with Faurlin still on the bench. Ramage, Gorkss, Stewart and Williams played across the back four in front of Cerny in goal.

Sheff Utd were without top scorer Darius Henderson so started with Richard Cresswell and Jamie Ward in attack. Nick Montgomery returned from suspension to protect the back four and Mark Bunn got the nod to start in goal ahead of Ian Bennett.

Bunn found himself picking the ball out of the net inside the first two minutes. Wayne Routledge perhaps should have done better when played into the penalty box by Patrick Agyemang but after dummying inside onto his weaker left foot United were able to scramble the ball behind for the first corner of the game. From that set piece Morgan headed the ball out to the edge of the box to Leigertwood who returned it with interest, into the bottom corner via a hefty deflection possibly off Morgan again.

A terrific start to the game for Rangers, and for Leigertwood who played really well for the first half hour of the game against his former club before fading badly as the afternoon wore on.

Without a win in five an early goal should have given the home team a much needed confidence boost but they gifted United a soft equaliser within six minutes. A routine throw in routine between Halford and Stewart close to the QPR corner flag turned to disaster when Ben Watson played a woeful ball into his own penalty area looking for Ramage but missed the right back by some considerable distance and actually played Halford in instead. His cross to the near post was bundled home by a combination of Gorkss and Cresswell with the QPR man appealing in vain that his opponent had converted the chance with his hand.

The game then died a bit of a death, a regular occurrence on a day when there were often long passages of aimless play in the centre of the park between any chances being created. Adel Taarabt collected a short corner from Ben Watson in the 20th minute but after turning inside the United penalty area he could only drag a low shot wide of the post. Leigertwood did likewise but that was all there really was to note from a thoroughly drab encounter until the game sprung to life a little bit with tthree chances inside two minutes around the half hour mark.

First Taarabt slipped a nice through ball in for Routledge who seemed set to beat Bunn to it only for the goalkeeper to gather very well at Routledge’s feet. Since being booked at Scunthorpe for diving when it was a clear and obvious penalty Routledge has stayed on his feet remorselessly and while I’m not saying he should dived here as Bunn clearly took the ball there were one or two incidents in the area when he should certainly have been asking the question, and of course we were owed a free kick for a foul on him not given in the build up to Chelsea’s goal in the League Cup.

Fresh from that reprieve United attacked with Cerny forced to punch away a free kick from Quinn under heavy pressure after Simpson had stupidly pushed Jordan Stewart in the back. Then Quinn tried his own luck with a shot from the edge of the area that flashed wide of the keeper’s post. Quinn was an omnipresent and very impressive pest at the heart of the United midfield, his striking ginger hair and beard making his work rate obvious as this shock of orange flew around the pitch leading his team and covering every blade of grass. I was very impressed with him.

Stewart picked up the game first yellow card for a crude challenge on Ward, who was certainly fouled on that occasion but hit the deck very easily on several others, but United could not deliver from wide areas with the same quality as a moment before.

Two minutes before half time Ramage played a lovely ball in field for Taarabt who fired over from the edge of the area when facing up to Morgan one on one. Considering the Moroccan’s keenness to take opponents on no matter how many of them there are around him it seemed strange that he shied away from a one on one opportunity on this occasion.

Two minutes of added time were indicated before the break and the Blades really should have taken the lead in that stoppage time. Stephen Quinn surged into the box after playing a one two with Ward. When Quinn’s cross from the byline deflected up into the air no QPR players reacted and Ward was free to guide a first time volley towards goal and should have done much better than drag it wide of the target.

The second half was to be a dour affair. United attempted to run the clock down at every possible opportunity clearly happy with a point and QPR lacked the intuition and ability to break down their physical defence. When Taarabt did buy a free kick with a theatrical fall on the edge of the box five minutes after the restart he could only clip the free kick into the wall when the position of the ball demanded much better.

That, and a speculative volley from Simpson at the back post that flew across the face of goal after great work and a nice cross from Agyemang was all either side produced in the first quarter of an hour of action. Agyemang certainly worked very hard on Saturday, remorselessly running and chasing the ball down for the team. But his first touch remains embarrassing and his footballing ability is sadly lacking. While I can see his use as a physical presence against someone like Morgan he is still an impact sub at best for me and certainly is not good enough to play as a lone striker in the Championship. His shinning of the ball straight back to Sheff Utd when it dropped invitingly in the penalty area for him highlighted the problem.

Things may have been better had Simpson been playing up front with Agyemang instead of wide on the right. The potential of that partnership shone through with 25 minutes left for play when Agyemang knocked a ball down for Simpson who seemed to be clearly and obviously hacked down in the six yard box by Morgan but no penalty was forthcoming. That typified a poor display from referee Neil Swarbrick for me – any big decisions such as cards or penalty appeals were ignored altogether, and I lost count of the number of times he clearly and obviously guessed at a decision. Twice right underneath my seat in the F Block he had no idea whether it was a corner or a goal kick, both times the decisions went Sheffield United’s way, both times they were complete guesses. That, and his failure to adequately punish Sheff Utd’s obvious time wasting tactics, or add on sufficient time for them at the end, add up to a poor day all round for the official.

That lack of a penalty award could have been exacerbated had Walker not fired over into the Sheff Utd fans in the School End who were by this point having an almighty row with a gang of stewards and police in the upper tier.

Paul Hart made his one and only substitution of the day with little more than 20 minutes left, sending on Rowan Vine for the ineffective Jay Simpson. That change might have made sense had Vine gone to play up front with Agyemang but instead the silly situation where Taarabt played u front while a striker struggled in midfield was allowed to continue – and my how Vine struggled. Clearly heavier and slower than before his injury and now seemingly devoid of all confidence he managed to get a shot away that Bunn gathered comfortably seven minutes from time but apart from that spent the his entire time on the pitch hopelessly miscontrolling the ball and falling over. A loan spell at Millwall is rumoured, it may well be the best thing for him. He’s not even a shadow of himself at the moment, it’s heartbreaking to watch.

Quinn fired wide as his all action afternoon continued and Taarabt was crowded out in the penalty area as QPR attempted to snatch a winner. Another presentable free kick on the edge of the area was struck into the wall by Watson, Morgan was booked for the challenge on Agyemang this time but as the ball stayed out he will feel the ends justified the means.

Three minutes of time was added on at the end of the match, an astonishingly small amount of time given the time wasting that United had flagrantly engaged in for the entire half, and QPR were almost able to natch a scarcely deserved winner with virtually the last kick of the game. Routledge sent in a beautiful cross from the right and Ben Watson guided a near post header onto the top of the cross bar with Bunn well beaten. The goalkeeper then made a big point of chasing his defenders down the pitch in mock rage at their efforts and this latest cynical attempt to run the clock down was punished with the third yellow card of the game. Sadly as Mr Swarbrick had ludicrously only added three minutes onto the end of the game and as Bunn is unlikely to be booked five times this season and suspended this was barely punishment at all and in fact the keeper still wasted a further half minute retrieving the ball and taking the kick even after the booking. The Sheffield United players, frankly, took the piss out of a weak minded official on Saturday and got exactly what they wanted.

It wasn’t the referee or the time wasting that prevented QPR from winning this game though, it was our own inability to see the blindingly obvious. Sheff Utd are a good, solid team in this division but they are not some unbeatable, dominant force for us to fear. We made life really difficult for ourselves on Saturday – firstly by gifting them an equaliser, secondly by sticking with a bizarre and ineffective system that included at least three players out of position at all times and thirdly by then launching long balls down the field towards Agyemang who couldn’t beat Kilgallon and Morgan in the air if you offered him a million quid and gave him a thousand attempts at it.

Was I the only one there on Saturday that wondered why we were playing a winger up front and a striker on the wing? And then sticking with that even though Taarabt was consistently crowded out in the middle and Simpson was completely useless on the flanks? Why Routledge was playing wide left for the majority of the game? Why our best player in recent weeks Alejandro Faurlin spent the whole game on the bench? Even when we did make a change we put Rowan Vine on out of position instead of the Argentinean and Vine was so far off the pace in every single way it was embarrassing to see a once tidy footballer playing that way. Vine should be nowhere near our first team at the moment, he doesn’t look like he’s ever played the game before. Very sad indeed.

Overall I came away from Loftus Road reasonably pleased with a point but bored by what I had seen. The football from both teams was poor, one came for a point and wasted time until they got it the other wanted all three but had no clue how to go out and get it. It’s terribly frustrating when you know what a side is capable of and you see them so far below that. Sadly I fear this will become the standard for the rest of the season, particularly when the new manager enthused about the performance afterwards, and that glorious October of flowing football and wild scorelines will be looked back on fondly and never achieved again.

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QPR: Cerny 6, Ramage 5, Stewart 6, Gorkss 7, Williams 7, Routledge 6, Leigertwood 6, Watson 5, Simpson 5 (Vine 68, 3), Taarabt 6, Agyemang 6
Subs Not Used: Taylor, Hall, Pellicori, Faurlin, Balanta, Parker
Booked: Stewart (foul)
Goals: Leigertwood 2 (unassisted)

Sheff Utd: Bunn 6, Stewart 7, Kilgallon 7, Morgan 7, Walker 7, Montgomery 7, Quinn 8, Kallio 6, Harper 6, Cresswell 6, Ward 7
Subs Not Used: Bennett, France, Evans, Reid, Little, Geary, Camara.
Booked: Morgan (foul), Bunn (time wasting)
Goals: Cresswell 8 (assisted Halford)

QPR Star Man – Tommy Williams 7 A good all round performance. Got some nice crosses in from the left when attacking and defended very well indeed. A wonderful cross field ball to pick Routledge out two minutes from time sealed the deal.

Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire) 4 Failed to either produce yellow cards or add on sufficient time for the blatant time wasting. Missed an obvious penalty for a challenge on Jay Simpson. Guessed a ridiculous amount of decisions through the game. Largely kept the cards in his pockets and wasn’t overly fussy which is a positive but overall this was a poor performance.

Attendance: 12,639 (1500 Sheff Utd approx) Loftus Road was like a morgue for the most part. Sheff Utd travelled in decent numbers and made noise on and off but by and large the ground was silent and everybody seemed bored, cold and pretty glad to get off home at the end of the game.

Photo: Action Images

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