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A goal worth waiting for from Connolly seals deserved Blackpool point - full match report
A goal worth waiting for from Connolly seals deserved Blackpool point - full match report
Monday, 18th Jan 2010 19:18

Matt Connolly’s glorious first ever goal for QPR sealed a richly deserved point for the R’s at Blackpool on Saturday in Mick Harford’s first game in charge.

If you feel supporting QPR recently has been like banging your head against a brick wall, I’d advise you avoid the Flavio Briatore exclusive interview in today’s Mirror. Only QPR’s enigmatic and ego driven owner could possibly defend the way he is running QPR by pointing out that the sixth permanent manager to leave the club inside two years under his command walked out after just five matches, rather than being sacked. Well that’s alright then, presumably. Why Hart decided to up and leave is unclear - stories range from the unbelievable (he fell out with Adel Taarabt) to the clearly spun (the board didn’t like the long ball football) into the more plausible (Hart wanted to sign x,y and z and was calmly told that this wasn’t his job and he would be getting a, b and c instead).

At the moment that question is second only to why the hell Hart, with a CV most chairmen would hesitate to even wipe their arses on, ended up as our manager in the first place. And why the person who decided he might defy his earlier record at a club run like ours only to be proved wrong within five minutes of him taking over is still in a job himself.

While Briatore was once again trotting out the totally illadvised, highly insulting, terribly naive and frankly absolutely bloody moronic line about caring little for what QPR fans who “turn up and pay £20 think” to Oliver Holt of the Mirror (him writing about Bernie and Flavio is a little bit like getting Michelle McManus to do restaurant reviews), other journalists were picking up on the potential story of QPR fans coming dressed as clowns to the Scunthorpe home game in a fortnight. A fun and peaceful way of conveying displeasure with the farce that QPR has clearly and obviously become - a message that will probably fall on the deaf ears of a man who says Rangers fans could only have dreamed of having the players we currently have in our team when they took over. Ahhh yes, those long lonely nights when I laid awake and dreamed of Patrick Agyemang in Hoops.

But then even at the circus you can find moments of magic and pure beauty to entertain yourself and on a grey day by the sea side in the bitter north west on Saturday Matthew Connolly performed a trick seldom seen from him before, and unlikely to be repeated again any time soon you would think. The full back’s equaliser six minutes from time was no more than QPR deserved for a second half performance that showed just how far a bit of effort and a positive attitude can take you in football - even with everything that has gone on over the last two months QPR were comfortably better than a team lying three places higher than them at the start of play once they had shrugged off a dire first half performance that could have seen Blackpool out of sight by the break.

For that Mick Harford deserves credit, it was his introduction of Hogan Ephraim at half time that swung things back in our favour, and although his starting eleven had several problems with it and Rangers could have been well beaten by the break the second period did at least provide a chink of light and some genuine pride in our team for the first time in several weeks.

Harford made three changes at the back following the shambolic defensive efforts against Sheffield United in the cup on Tuesday. Both full backs were dropped with Matt Connolly replacing Gary Borrowdale at left back and Fitz Hall coming in for Ramage on the right. On loan Wolves keeper Carl Ikeme replaced the out of form Radek Cerny in goal behind Stewart and Gorkss. In midfield Buzsaky Routledge started on the wings with Faurlin and Leigertwood in the middle. Up front Agyemang and Taarabt got the nod with top scorer Jay Simpson left on the bench.

Blackpool recalled former QPR man ian Evatt to the heart of their defence after he missed the draw at Cardiff last week with a suspension. Another former R, Danny Nardiello, was on the bench after a recent successful loan spell at Bury.

The sides exchanged shots from long range inside the first five minutes with Taarabt’s effort blocked by a defender on the edge of the box and Blackpool winger Barry Bannan firing straight at Carl Ikeme. Dressed all in red and cutting an athletic figure, Ikeme is almost David James like in his style and looks though obviously not quite as talented. he would go on to have a very secure and, considering his lack of first team action in recent times, surprisingly confident debut. He does however have a tendency to leave shots he believes are going wide of the post only for them to be somewhat closer than he probably originally judged - David Vaughan tried a low shot in the first half that stuck in my mind, Ikeme pulled his hands away and will say he was right to do so as it went wide of the goal but I must admit my arse was twitching as he did it - maybe his judgement is razor sharp, maybe he’s a lucky sod, we shall discover more in the coming weeks I’m sure.

Ikeme was beaten for the first time in QPR colours, though through little fault of his own, in the tenth minute. Bannan, a total pest to Hall throughout the first half, made the most of the centre-half-cum-full-back going to ground early when he expect a cross to come from the byline. Instead Bannan checked back and produced a perfect ball to the back post where Faurlin was caught ball watching by Charlie Adam who stole in to thump the ball into the roof of the net. It was all just far, far too easy for Blackpool and the run of games without a clean sheet stretched to 17 consecutive matches.

Now I know this is going to look like my regular bout of Fitz Hall bashing and it looks like I have a thing against him, but he was absolutely dire at full back on Saturday. I can rarely recall him playing in that position before and however out of form ramage is he will always be a better option there. I can perhaps understand Harford’s thinking if he was perhaps choosing his full backs based on Ian Holloway’s propensity to knock diagonal crossfield balls over the heads of small full backs, and Connolly did a reasonable job on the left side, but Bannan was a little, nippy fella and he torched Hall for the hour he played. Hall went to ground for the first goal and was annihilated for pace for the second before being substituted.

Hall stood off Bannan and allowed him to cross again on the quarter hour and Rangers were fortunate that Brett Ormerod, impressive in everything other than his finishing on the day, sidefooted wide from the middle of the goal when left unattended.

QPR were outplayed in the first half and looked for the most part like a side just going through the motions. Having said that there was a brief five or ten minute rally midway through the half starting straight from the kick off after the Blackpool goal when a run and through ball from Taarabt that set Faurlin up for a weak shot straight at Paul Rachubka the Blackpool goalkeeper. Wayne Routledge hammered a ball right through the six yard box across the face of the goal after getting on the end of a good move inside the Blackpool penalty area tight to the byline, and then thought he’d been presented with an ideal chance for an equaliser when Rachubka nervously spilled the ball at Agyemang’s feet but his side footed finish into the empty net was interrupted by a ridiculously late offside decision from the linesman - it was never really clear who he’d decided was off in that instance. Adel Taarabt took his turn to flash one across the face of goal after tricking his way into the penalty area but the lack of a goal scorer chancing his arm and getting into the six yard box was palpable with jay Simpson strangely relegated to the bench.

Blackpool regained their ascendancy in the final quarter of an hour before half time and QPR were lucky to survive numerous scares. Kaspars Gorkss had to hack a loose ball away inside his own six yard box after Ormerod had got to the byline and cut the ball back past Ikeme - anybody gambling on that would have had a simply tap in for 2-0. Ormerod was at it again five minutes before the break as a devilish low cross to the back post threatened to present an easy chance for Adam coming in at the back post in identical circumstances to the first goal - Ikeme bravely flung himself down into a crowd of boots and legs and successfully got the ball away with an unorthodox punch. Ian Evatt headed wide from a corner when he probably would have backed himself to score and then a minute before the break Neil Eardley crossed for Gary Taylor Fletcher and only he will know how he missed the target after being left unmarked.

QPR had enjoyed flashes of decent possession and chances but had been a clear and obvious second best and were lucky not to be further behind at half time. Blackpool were able to provide good quality balls into the penalty area far too easily and tangerine shirts were left unattended in the penalty area with alarming frequency. Blackpool themselves did not look terrific at the back, Evatt was solid as you would expect but Baptiste looked a total liability, and judging by the conversation in the shambolic away end at half time if the fans could have given the half time team talk the message would have been ‘get stuck in a little bit more and show some belief.’

Mick Harford was the man charged with delivering that team talk, described with the fires of hell in his eyes as “a bit of a chat” in post match interviews, and he accompanied his no doubt calm and soothing words with a substitution. Akos Buzsaky, not as bad as he has been in recent weeks but still ineffective when used as a winger, made way for Hogan Ephraim who Harford was instrumental in bringing to the club in the first place after coaching him at Colchester United. Ephraim’s introduction proved to be a master stroke, reinvigorating QPR who were much more committed and with it in the second half.

The R’s could have been level within five minutes when Taarabt picked the ball up on halfway and ran at the heart of the Blackpool defence. Ephraim, who scored on this ground last season in a 3-0 win, made a run into space in the right channel and should really have been played in but Taarabt backed himself, skipping to the edge of the area before unloading what looked to be a tame shot on goal. The ball squirmed past Rachubka who went down in instalments, hit the inside of the Blackpool post, rolled along the goal line, hit the post on the other side and bounced back into play. QPR won a corner in the follow up and should really have scored when a low cross into the area was sidefooted wide of the post by Agyemang – unmarked, dead centre of goal, no more than eight yards out.

Blackpool responded with a flurry of shots on goal. Ian Evatt knocked a corner down for his centre half partner Baptiste whose low shot appeared goal bound before Matthew Connolly cleared it for another corner. From that set piece Blackpool looked long to the far side of the area where Adam met it full on the volley first time but guided a skilful low shot just wide of the post through a crowd of bodies in the penalty area.

QPR equalised ten minutes after half time in controversial circumstances. Taarabt, whose first name was given as ‘Del’ in the programme which is a great nickname waiting to happen, hit a speculative shot from distance that deflected off Baptiste and out for a corner kick. Taarabt appealed enthusiastically for handball and surprisingly referee Trevor Kettle agreed with him and awarded a penalty. For me it certainly didn’t look like one at the time and although subsequent replays have shown the ball striking Baptiste on the elbow I still think it is a harsh decision.

Del has been rather petulant upon the award of recent penalties, clearly believing he should take them rather than Buzsaky. With the Hungarian off at half time Taarabt got his chance, and impudently chipped the spot kick home with Rachubka committing himself early to the other corner. It was no more than taarabt deserved really for a typically influential display. When on the ball he excited the crowd, teased the Blackpool defence, and posed a real threat. His play acting upset the home fans and his body language was absolutely appalling throughout - huge exasperated, exaggerated arm throws and shoulder shrugs whenever anything went wrong or the ball wasn’t passed to him. His chasing back also left a lot to be desired. Still, his effectiveness and threat posed when in possession made him one of the best QPR players on the day and I will personally take all the extras that come with him just for what he brings to our side. Hopefully Harford can intimidate the other side of his game out of him a little bit in the second half of the season.

After the goal Taarabt was to the fore as QPR really began to play very well indeed. The Moroccan combined with Ephraim regularly down the left flank in a way not seen since the home game with Swansea last season. A neat one two between the pair on the edge of the area sent Ephraim in behind the Blackpool defence to the byline but his cut back was sliced half a foot over his own bar by Baptiste who managed to get there before Agyemang could convert. Agyemang then headed the resulting corner over the bar.

Minutes later Ephraim cut inside on the edge of the penalty area and tried his own luck only to fire wide of the post. His introduction had made a real difference to us though. Holloway attempted to make a game swinging change of his own on the hour, replacing Bannan with our old foe Ben Burgess - a tiny, tricky winger replaced by a monstrous lower league target man. This seemed a strange decision for me, not necessarily bringing Burgess on but certainly taking Bannan off surprised me because he’d been Blackpool’s main threat in my opinion.

The penalty was such a soft decision, and from a referee who normally revels in making QPR thoroughly miserable, that my immediate thought when it was awarded that Mr Kettle would either make us retake it until we missed it (and Ephraim’s encroachment on the kick certainly gave him the opportunity to do so if he wished) or even it up with an equally soft award at the other end so hearts were well and truly in mouths 20 minutes from time when Stewart inexplicably wrapped his arms around Blackpool sub Ben Burgess as he brought down a long ball in the penalty area. It was a clear and obvious infringement and one Stewart was lucky not to be penalised for.

Having improved so much in the second half it was somewhat galling to fall behind again with less than a quarter of an hour left for play. Not for the first time this season the goal came as QPR were attempting to make a substitution. Peter Ramage was due to come on for Fitz Hall but the ball did not go dead and Pool took advantage and attacked down Hall’s side. Vaughan ran in behind him and although his low cross was cleared at the near post by Gorkss the ball flew straight to Adam on the edge of the box whose low shot on goal was flicked past Ikeme by Taylor-Fletcher from close range. Gorkss, prostrate on the ground after completing the clearance, had not been able to get up and out in time to play his former team mate offside.

Back came Rangers though and with six minutes to go Rangers got the second equaliser their second half performance deserved – and in some style too. Matt Connolly started the move on halfway with a ball up to Agyemang that he headed onto German who brilliantly held off Baptiste and chested it onto Connolly who had moved on after playing the ball to take up an attacking position on the edge of the box. Connolly had never scored a goal in his professional career prior to this but you would never have guessed that from the way he controlled the ball twice on his thigh and then hooked a superb volley over Rachubka and into the net on his unfavoured left foot.

Connolly was mobbed by his team mates and made a point of showing his badge to the jubilant QPR fans in the side stand. The goal was certainly no more than QPR deserved and it was good to see the players get their rewards for a determined and spirited second half rally. If we have to wait two years for Matt Connolly’s next goal that’s fine, as long as his next one is so spectacular. Well worth waiting for.

With Paul Hart’s thoroughly miserable and extreme “what we have we hold” style substitutions in the bristol City game still reasonably fresh in the memory it made a pleasant change to see both managers encourage their sides to go for it in the closing stages and the final five minutes of the match were played at a frenetic pace with both teams pushing for the killer goal. Holloway sent on former QPR man danny Nardiello while Harford stuck with Agyemang, German and Taarabt in attack with Ephraim joining in from wide left.

Four minutes from time Charlie Adam had the ideal chance to get a third Pool goal when a blatant elbow by Burgess on leigertwood challenging for a high ball on the edge of the box was ignored by Kettle and a free kick was instead awarded to the home team 20 yards from goal for a meagre foul by Gorkss on Adam. leigertwood was clearly furious with the official and lucky not to be booked for his vociferous protests. Gorkss had a typically fine second half, somehow managing to get a clearance on just about everything Blackpool threw at him, and it would have been harsh on the Latvian had Adam scored from the free kick - fortunately he drilled it straight into the wall.

Another poor piece of refereeing saw Routledge booked in four minutes of added time at the end of the game - Routledge, who had enjoyed a much better second half than first, was clearly fouled on halfway during a counter attack but no free kick was awarded. The winger then angrily chased the ball and slid in on Evatt on halfway resulting in a free kick and, after the most mismatched pushing and shoving contest ever seen on a football field between him and Big Evo, a yellow card. Stewart was able to clear the free kick as it arrived in the penalty area and the final whistle sounded soon after.

This was a creditable display and a decent result. Both the Blackpool goals were very poor defensively - we look vulnerable every time a cross goes into our box despite changing both full backs at the weekend and having two great headers of the ball at centre half. Harford must address that problem very quickly indeed, and Fitz Hall at right back is no kind of solution to it - he was at least partly culpable for both goals.

Ultimately though we were rewarded for simply putting that little bit of extra effort in and playing the game with the right attitude. Hogan Ephraim typified it, but QPR were much more lively and committed all over the field in the second half. Their closing down was much more effective and prevalent and the work rate visibly increased across the team. Connolly’s goal was a really lovely strike and no more than we deserved. Hopefully the players will take on board just how much difference that little bit of extra running made to the performance in the second half, and how the travelling QPR fans responded to it in the second half and at the final whistle. We don’t want to go there and be miserable and abuse the team, we want to go and see QPR do well, and the travelling fans were all on their feet at the end to applaud the team for making the effort.

Nottingham Forest next week looks like a hiding to nothing, but after that the fixtures are not too bad and performances like the one in the second half here will yield points if repeated.

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Blackpool: Rachubka 5, Eardley 6, Evatt 7, Baptiste 5, Crainey 6,Southern 6, Vaughan 7 (Euell 90, -), Adam 7, Ormerod 8,Taylor-Fletcher 7 (Nardiello 89, -), Bannan 8 (Burgess 60, 6)
Subs Not Used: Gilks, Martin, Edwards, Butler
Booked: Adam (foul)
Goals: Adam 9 (assisted Bannan), Taylor-Fletcher 77 (assisted Adam)

QPR: Ikeme 6, Hall 4 (Ramage 79, 6), Gorkss 7, Stewart 6, Connolly 7, Routledge 6, Leigertwood 5, Faurlin 6 (German 81, 7), Buzsaky 5 (Ephraim 46, 8), Taarabt 7, Agyemang 5
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Balanta, Simpson, Borrowdale
Booked: Routledge (foul)
Goals: Taarabt 55 (penalty), Connolly 84 (assisted German)

QPR Star Man – Hogan Ephraim 8 His introduction at half time made QPR a much more committed and threatening attacking force. His hard work and attitude seemed to rub off on the other players and when he got going with Taarabt Blackpool had few answers to the pair of them. Nice to see a wholly committed player getting decent rewards for hard work and an excellent attitude. Should be more involved in future.

Referee: Trevor Kettle (Rutland) 6 Not a penalty for me, and lost it a little bit in the final five minutes with some really bizarre decisions. Also seemed to be in the way of passes and counter attacks more than he should have done. Overall though much better than normal, with only two yellow cards and a lot less whistle than we have heard from him in the past.

Attendance: 7,600 (400 QPR fans approx) The Blackpool fans are really tremendous at creating an atmosphere both home and away. With a guy on a huge drum at the back of the stand leading them on the noise from behind the goal was excellent and it wasn’t unusual to see every Pool fan in the ground joining in with the noise making. The QPR fans shivered in the division’s worst away end, and however badly people are playing I’m not sure shouting “fuck off Hall” every time he comes across to take a throw in on our side of the field really helps anybody. In the second half though the improved performance and effort from the team brought a marked change in atmosphere in the away end and the team was warmly applauded at the end of the game.

Photo: Action Images

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