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QPR pay the penalty at Middlesbrough - full match report
QPR pay the penalty at Middlesbrough - full match report
Sunday, 28th Feb 2010 22:49

QPR were beaten two nil at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday, with both goals coming from the penalty spot.

If this does prove to be Mick Harford’s last game in charge then it provided a nice microcosm of his second spell in charge. There were things to admire, there were positives, but there were defensive mistakes and a lack of clinical finishing as well. Ultimately QPR put a bit of effort in, got the ball in the right areas, and hoped that would be enough.

Had the now weekly defensive disasters been outside the penalty box instead of inside it might well have got us a goalless draw from a thoroughly awful game against very meagre opposition – however Rangers decided to give Ikeme some penalty saving practice with two spot kicks conceded and another couple of lucky escapes besides.

We were sadly good enough in any department once again.

Harford kept faith with young striker Antonio German up front after a full debut goal and man of the match award against Doncaster but he, rather cruelly, played the teenager up front alone and he found it very, very tough against Wheater. Jay Simpson was moved back into a midfield five and while that didn’t work well for German, or Simpson really, it did enable Buzsaky to move into the centre of midfield with Faurlin and Leigertwood and he played better than he has been doing recently. Lee Cook was wide left. The back four was made up of Ramage, Stewart, Gorkss and Hill with Ikeme in goal.

Boro were without £3.5m transfer window signing Scott McDonald so partnered Chris Killen and Leroy Lita in attack. Barry Robson ran the show for them from midfield, clearly and obviously the best player on the park.

QPR started the game reasonably brightly. An early handball from Kyle Naughton presented Akos Buzsaky with a chance to deliver the ball into the penalty area and win the first corner of the game which came to nothing. Rangers were then denied a penalty when Lee Cook went to ground in the penalty area after a decent move down the left but to be fair it looked like he had made a lot of it and with referee Andy Woolmer right on the spot to emphatically wave the appeals away he was probably lucky not to receive a yellow card.

Boro’s first serious attack came in the tenth minute. Faurlin slid through the back of Killen on the edge of the QPR penalty box and Carl Ikeme had to scramble across and palm the resulting shot from Gary O’Neil out for a corner, although it looked like it might have flown wide without the keeper’s intervention. Ikeme than flapped around underneath the corner and was fortunate to receive a free kick from the referee to relieve the pressure.

Rangers were back on the attack three minutes later with probably the best move they have put together in an away game for a few months. Cook tricked his way past two wide on the left before firing an excellent 30 yard ball to Buzsaky in space down the middle of the field. He in turn picked out Jay Simpson marauding forward down the right with a similarly impressive pass but the loaned Arsenal man could only fire against the back support post behind the goal when he really should have hit the target.

Boro had a very good looking appeal for a penalty turned down in the twentieth minute. Kaspars Gorkss allowed a through ball to bounce causing a problem for Damion Stewart who was harshly penalised for a foul on Killen wide on the QPR right. As Gary O’Neil prepared to take the free kick I noticed just how ridiculously unmarked Jeremie Aliadiere was bang in the middle of the goal. My attention was drawn to him as the ball came over so I missed the ball’s point of contact with Kaspars Gorkss at the near post but the home crowd and players appealed as one for handball and the general consensus at the back of the away end was that it was a stick on penalty. Woolmer awarded a corner.

Let off gratefully received QPR strung a decent move together down the left saw Buzsaky, Cook and Hill combine to free Leigertwood into the penalty area and his low shot was saved at the near post by a previous scourge of QPR Danny Coyne. Leigertwood actually had quite a reasonable game in midfield I though, and the dynamics of him Faurlin and Buzsaky as a central three worked quite well – certainly better than he looks as a central midfielder in a 442 set up.

Boro had the ball in the net in the twenty fifth minute but were denied a goal by a linesman’s flag. First Leroy Lita was allowed to play on in the penalty area despite looking blatantly offside when he received the ball – QPR successfully muscled up and won the ball back from him only for Hill to then play a hospital pass to Faurlin on the edge of the box, he gave the ball away to Robson who slipped it through to Killen but luckily this time the flag shot straight up as the former Celtic man finished low past Ikeme.

The home side had a great chance to take the lead just before half time with a chance that epitomised the malaise that surrounds QPR at the moment. Don’t get me wrong the performance here and at Coventry, while still being fairly anaemic as far as attacking intent goes, were better than some of our other recent away performances. But that desire to win the ball, to press forward, to keep possession, to win tackles and to compete just isn’t there sometimes. You can see this really clearly in the way we defend in wide areas – that desire to stop the ball coming into our penalty box just is not there. Matt Hill was supposed to be coming in here as a nugget little full back, Mick Harford’s man, who would organise and tackle and fight and compete but he’s actually one of the worst bloody offenders for shying away and turning his back.

On this occasion he stood back and left Cook playing piggy in the middle with two Boro players wide on the QPR left. The result was a dangerous cross into the box from Robson. Stewart got his clearing header all wrong on the edge of the six yard box and teed up a gilt edged chance for Aliadiere eight yards out at the back post but the Frenchman fired wide when he should have scored. If Warnock is coming into our club next week, our full backs will be first in the firing line in my opinion. It is far, far too easy to get a cross into the QPR penalty area whether Ramage, Connolly, Hill or Borrowdale are playing. Two minutes later, another cross from Robson, this time Killen headed wide.

The game swung on two penalty decisions in the final five minutes of the first half. Both were given, the first for a foul by Ramage on Alliadiere as he went to ground and the Boro winger touched the ball past him, the second for a ridiculously clumsy challenge from Gorkss on Lita after getting the wrong side of him in the penalty area. Gorkss is a player I like and rate, Ramage is a player I have a lot of time for because of his work ethic and attitude, but I’m afraid both of them were dire on Saturday and totally at fault for the goal. Ramage was foolish to go to ground, and although the replays are slightly kinder to him than the live action was on the day, it still looks like a blatant spot kick. Gorkss had his worst game for the club since the Sheff Utd 3-0 away game in my opinion – centre halves are taught in the womb not allow the ball to bounce and yet with a pacy handful like Leroy Lita buzzing around like an angry wasp Gorkss allowed the ball to hit the ground time and time and time and time again. It was like he was a centre forward pressed into action at the heart of the defence for the first time. Once again for the penalty a ball bounced in behind him, Lita stuck himself between Gorkss and the ball and waited for contact then flung himelf to the floor when he felt it. The linesman flagged for the foul, but referee Woolmer was way ahead of him and had already pointed to the spot and produced a yellow card. QPR could have few complaints – punished for incompetence and crass stupidity in equal measure.

Both spot kicks were taken by Scottish midfielder Barry Robson, both were drilled solidly down the middle, the only difference was Ikeme fell weakly off to his left for the first, and then weakly off to his right for the second.

Believe it or not in amongst the self destruction in defence QPR did actually carve out a couple of chances of their own. Jay Simpson looked offside when he ran onto an Akos Buzsaky pass and hit a low shot that Coyne saved but there were no question marks over the chance a moment later when the Hungarian let rip himself from distance and Coyne spectacularly turned the swerving effort over the bar. Buzsaky really benefited from the move into the centre of the field and that shot was vintage stuff, the likes of which we haven’t seen from him for months.

QPR had to endure another penalty appeal straight after the break when the home fans, outnumbered two to one in the stadium by giant flags, screamed for handball against Matt Hill. The away end was too far away for me to make a fair judgement but three spot kicks in seven minutes would have probably been too much to bear. It was all too much for Young North to bear anyway – however his attempts to leave and go back to the pub were thwarted by the police who told him he had to stay in the ground for the full match. Are you allowed to be held in a football ground against your will?

Ten minutes after half time Mick Harford made two changes to his team. Matt Hill was replaced by Gary Borrowdale, a straight swap presumably injury related although Hill had been pretty awful, and Antonio German left the field to make way for Marcus Bent. As discussed on the message board during the week this was a tough assignment for German against Boro’s imposing centre halves and it proved to be too much for him on the day. Harford’s decision to move Simpson wide to the right, switch to a 4-5-1 and ask German to lead the line alone asked a lot of the kid and he couldn’t quite deliver. There’s a big difference between playing with a partner against Doncaster at Loftus Road than playing alone up front, away at Middlesbrough and I felt it was unfair of Harford to ask German to do that job. Bent provided a bit more of a threat after coming on, wearing ridiculous bright yellow boots, but not much more.

The first half had been mediocre – lacking quality and only really threatening a goal from a penalty or set piece. That was nothing compared to the second half though that was a long, dragging, dirge that made the £26 entrance fee a total embarrassment. A couple of looping crosses into the penalty box which resulted in Damion Stewart heading over the Boro bar is the only note I made between the fiftieth and sixty sixth minute which says a lot for the fair being served.

When the several-thousand-pounds-a-week footballers did eventually decide to string something vaguely entertaining together Damion Stewart was forced to clear behind from inside the six yard box. Carl Ikeme had hearts skipping a beat throughout the QPR support when he then came for a routine catch from the resulting corner and dropped it straight into the crowd of players – he was able to recover possession but I continue to struggle to see what more he’s bringing us than Radek Cerny.

Still at least there was a bit of action to attract attention now. With fifteen minutes left to play Adel Taarabt, sent on for Faurlin to little effect, had a low shot comfortably saved by Coyne. More abysmal, and I do mean truly abysmal, defending from QPR then saw Lita rob the dithering Borrowdale on halfway and race through on goal before Ikeme made a fine save to deny him. Borrowdale almost repeated the trick ten minutes or so later when he completely misjudged a routine through ball and had to stick out a hand and palm it away to prevent Lita running through on goal – referee Woolmer was caught on the blind side and waved play on when a red card would have had to come out had he seen it. Ikeme had to make another good save from Lita in the last minute of normal time when, again, Borrowdale erred in defence. The “ironic” adulation of Borrowdale from the QPR fans constantly singing his name, a celebration of mediocrity if ever I heard one, looked especially bloody stupid at that point. Another average player earning excellent money from QPR for little return.

QPR went as close to a goal as they did all day just over ten minutes left to play. A good cross from Peter Ramage, just about the only thing he did right on the day, was nodded down by Bent at the back post and Leigertwood drilled a first time volley against the base of the post with Coyne well beaten. It was an excellent move from QPR and the Londoners were very unfortunate not to get greater reward for it. When your luck’s out in football it really does feel like the world is against you and in the very next attack a fine cross by Lee Cook from the other side was slammed home by Bent whose shot was too powerful for Coyne to save despite getting two hands to it – of course the linesman had already flagged Bent offside and the goal was ruled out. It never rains…

When Lee Cook sent a superb cross through the six yard box and out the other side with jay Simpson inches away from converting at the back post you knew it wasn’t going to be our day. Well, you knew that before them, but that just reaffirmed it.

This was very similar to the defeat at Coventry a fortnight ago in many ways. A game of thoroughly appalling quality played in a soulless new stadium in front of a sparse and almost completely silent crowd. A game QPR had marginally the better of only to be punished for utterly rank defensive errors – and in truth we made enough of those for Boro to have at least one more penalty and another goal. Decent chances to score went begging and Rangers rarely looked like actually making one of them pay in truth.

Intensity is the word that sprang to mind a few times. Even when we’re doing things right we just lack the intensity to really hammer home a chance or complete a crisp pass and make a crucial tackle. We just sort of amble through games making silly mistakes at one end and missing chances at the other. We lack an intensity and commitment that we have all seen from Neil Warnock’s Crystal Palace side this year – and at the moment I’d pay the required compensation to get him in here myself if I had it.

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Middlesbrough: Coyne 7, Naughton 6, Wheater 7, McManus 6, Pogatetz 6 (Taylor 78, 6), Flood 6, O'Neil 6, Robson 8, Aliadiere 5 (Franks 66, 6), Lita 6 (Arca 83, -), Killen 6
Subs Not Used: Jones, Hoyte, Miller, Grounds
Booked: Killen (foul)
Goals: Robson 39 (penalty), 45 (penalty)

QPR: Ikeme 6, Ramage 4, Stewart 5, Gorkss 4, Hill 4 (Borrowdale 53, 4),Cook 6, Leigertwood 7, Faurlin 6 (Taarabt 69, 6), Buzsaky 7, Simpson 6, German 5 (Bent 54, 6)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Vine, Balanta, Ephraim
Booked: Gorkss (foul)

QPR Star Man – Mikele Leigertwood 7 Best of a mediocre bunch I thought, rivalled only by Akos Buzsakyfor an award that could easily have been put down as N/A this week. Put himself about and had a couple of decent efforts on goal, didn’t give the ball away as much as he usually does. The midfield combination of Legs, Buz and Faurlin in the middle was a rare positive from the day.

Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire) 5 Hard to argue with either penalty decision as they both looked blatant however Woolmer missed another spot kick when Gorkss apparently punched the ball clear, and should have sent Borrowdale off for denying Lita a clear run on goal with an astonishingly obvious hand ball that the referee missed altogether. Turned down an early penalty appeal from lee Cook that should have been either a penalty or a booking.

Attendance: 17,568 (500 QPR approx) Middlesbrough fans like flags – there were nearly as many giant flags as there were empty seats. But for an enthusiastic gang of flag wavers to the right of the away end there was very little noise at all from the home fans. QPR had a couple of groups of singers, one lot rolling out the old ‘Rangers aggro’ songs which may go some way to explaining the ridiculously over the top police presence which presumably Boro now have to pay for.

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