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Another Sheff Utd draw, but QPR now heading in right direction – full match report
Another Sheff Utd draw, but QPR now heading in right direction – full match report
Sunday, 14th Mar 2010 23:00

For the third time this season QPR and Sheffield United drew 1-1 on Saturday, although this time it was Rangers who dominated and should have left with all three points.

I do wonder if managers believe that simply saying something in a post match press conference makes it true. Sheff Utd assistant manager Sam Ellis’ assertion that the Blades had been the better side on Saturday was almost as laughable as his previous claim after Chris Morgan had left Iain Hume with a fractured skull, bleeding on his brain and in intensive care that Hume and Barnsley “made a little bit more of it that they probably should.”

For those who weren’t at Bramall Lane on Saturday ignore the ramblings of a bitter northern fool searching frantically for excuses for his side’s chronic under performance this season. Ellis, and manager Kevin Blackwell, can talk about injuries and suspensions and they can broadcast complete make believe about dominating games when the visiting team has registered nine shots on target to their three but the thousands of Sheff Utd fans streaming out of Bramall Lane long before the final whistle and chants calling for the head of the manager speak for themselves.

United are ninth and declining, with a squad many felt was good enough to challenge for the top two this season. It’s a good job the tickets are so cheap at Bramall Lane, a season low £19 for a seat in the away end, because the football played by the home side is one dimensional to the point of farce. Only when Darius Henderson, bizarrely left out of the starting eleven, came on in the second half did they look threatening and then QPR survived by showing a bit of backbone for the first time in a while.

Rangers have shown a lot of welcome new traits since former Blades boss Neil Warnock took over. They cast aside Plymouth with such ease on Tuesday night that many QPR fans came away underwhelmed with just how straightforward it had all been and they stuck three through one of the promotion chasers last weekend with only one goal conceded across the 180 minutes. On Saturday they came from a goal down to take something and avoided defeat on the road for the first time in five attempts. Ultimately only a combination of bad luck, poor finishing and fine goalkeeping from United’s Mark Bunn denied the R’s a deserved win.

Not surprisingly Warnock stuck with the same team that had brought him six points from his first two games in charge. That meant Carl Ikeme continued in goal, and after his recent more commanding displays between the sticks and Radek Cerny’s worryingly dodgy performance in the warm up that was a bit of a relief. Connolly, Stewart, Gorkss and Hill made up the back four with Leigertwood and Faurlin, overcoming a stomach bug in the lead up to the game, in the middle of midfield. Priskin played wider to the right, Ephraim on the left with Taarabt behind top scorer Jay Simpson in attack.

United lost Ched Evans, Jamie Ward and Lee Williamson to injury in their midweek defeat at bottom of the table Peterborough. Ward had been the most impressive Blade in the three meetings between these sides so far this season so his absence was very welcome, as was that of Darius Henderson through whom so much of United’s hopeful long ball rubbish is played. Blackwell bizarrely decided to leave his top scorer on the bench despite him being available for the first time in three games after a ban. The terminally offside Henri Camara partnered persistent scourge of QPR Richard Cresswell in attack.

The most impressive QPR players since Warnock took charge have been Adel Taarabt and Alejandro Faurlin. The pair combined twice in the opening ten minutes to create presentable chances as Rangers started much the stronger of the two sides. Hogan Ephraim won the first corner of the game inside the first sixty seconds which gave Faurlin a chance to swing the ball over and Taarabt’s header, that was possibly flying wide, was cleared from the danger area by the United defender stationed on the post. After seven minutes Faurlin found Taarabt in space in the right channel from open play and the Moroccan sent a devilish low cross right through the penalty area with nobody able to get a touch.

Taarabt was at the heart of everything good QPR were doing and when he produced an eye catching combination of headers with Jay Simpson on the edge of the United penalty area the loaned Tottenham man was able to race into the box and fire a low shot on goal that Bunn beat away two handed. While Taarabt was causing United no end of difficulties at one end of the field, QPR’s task at the other was being made ridiculously easy by Henri Camara’s laughable inability to stay onside. He seems quite quick, so the need to go so early shouldn’t exist, but he was flagged so routinely throughout the match it actually became quite amusing, particularly as he looked stunned and shocked every single time.

On one of the few occasions the former Wigan striker did manage to stay the right side of the last man he really should have scored – with Rangers appealing for a foul in back play but referee Tony Bates waving play on United were able to burst into the penalty box with Quinn who pulled the perfect ball back behind the backtracking QPR defenders to Camara who had hung back in space well and seemed ideally placed to slam the ball home from fifteen yards out but instead blasted high and wide to the delight of the QPR fans behind that goal. Kaspars Gorkss led a deputation of four QPR players surrounding the match official before Ikeme returned the ball into play from the goal kick.

The two sides exchanged presentable chances around the 20 minute mark. United went first, almost making the most of a fumble at the near post from Ikeme after Nosworthy’s long throw but Gorkss scrambled the ball away as Cresswell loitered ready to pounce. Rangers then stormed down the other end and were terribly unfortunate not to open the scoring as Hogan Ephraim sent a low cross shot past Bunn and off the base of the far post with Simpson somehow failing to get a touch to convert the chance from a yard out. Two or three times just lately, most notably in the last minute at Coventry, Simpson has missed these gilt edged, sliding chances from deep inside the six yard box – if only he could be as clinical from under the crossbar as he is in the rest of the area.

Cresswell had, somehow, scored three times in three matches against QPR prior to this game despite seeming to have no footballing ability whatsoever. His afternoon of lousy first touches and theatrical falls to the ground under minimal contact reached a new low when he embarrassingly flung himself to the floor in the penalty area only for the free kick to be given the other way. It was an obvious dive, but as the linesman nearest the incident gave Rangers absolutely nothing all afternoon we could perhaps count ourselves fortunate that he didn’t flag for the spot kick. Another QPR free kick, this time wide on the right for a trip on Faurlin, was swung onto the roof of the net by Taarabt as the time ticked past the 30 minute mark.

The United fans have been less than happy with the way their season has been going of late – seven consecutive away defeats culminating in Tuesday’s dire loss at bottom of the table Peterborough (we can empathise with them there) has dented their play off chances. That discontent shone through ten minutes before the break when full back Jordan Stewart cracked a shot from the thick end of 40 yards that bounced three times before being comfortably claimed by Ikeme – the Blades’ first shot on target, if you could call it that, brought a huge ironic cheer and sarcastic applause from the home fans.

Despite being mocked by their own fans the home side enjoyed a little spell of pressure in the moments immediately after that. I’m a big fan of Matt Connolly as both regular readers will know but I thought on Saturday he was a little bit too nice at times, not being firm enough in the tackle or assertive enough with his opponents. When he allowed a routine ball into his channel to bounce and then Jordan Stewart to get in front of him and turn Rangers had a problem and Connolly was forced to concede a free kick. The delivery from Mark Yeates, absolutely imperious against us at Loftus Road for Middlesbrough before Christmas but almost totally anonymous in this game as United focussed the ball exclusively down the middle of the park, was cleared by Stewart and Montgomery thrashed a volley into the upper tier of the stand behind the goal. Montgomery has been linked with QPR in the wake of him rejecting a new United contract last week but he wasn’t in the same league as Faurlin on this performance, and didn’t look significantly better or worse than Mikele Leigertwood either.

Rangers had two further excellent chances to open their account in the final two minutes of the half. Taarabt worked hard to win the ball back in the centre circle and then free Ephraim in the penalty area but his finish when faced with Bunn one on one was weak to the point of pathetic and the keeper was able to easily fall on it. Taarabt then sent Simpson in on the other side of the penalty area and although the loaned Arsenal forward posed Bunn more of a problem than Ephraim had with a fierce drive from close range the keeper was still equal to it and beat the ball away.

Sadly for Ephraim, Simpson and the rest of the travelling QPR party those chances came either side of the opening goal of the game from Sheffield United against the run of play. Rangers failed to clear the penalty area adequately after Ikeme had fisted a corner well away from the goal and when the ball was delivered back into the area by the corner taker Yeates, briefly operating on the left rather than the right, Cresswell twisted his body brilliantly to angle a header past Ikeme and into the top corner. As I say, Cresswell’s success against us and as a professional footballer in general frustrates and amazes me in equal measure. Eight goals so far this season, four of them against us.

In recent weeks QPR’s total inability to score, or even threaten a goal, away from home made conceding the first almost a terminal problem. Back to the pub at half time? Not any more. Rangers were level within five minutes of the restart. After surviving a free kick whipped into Ikeme’s arms at the back post after a handball from Tamas Priskin the R’s launched a counter attack that saw Gorkss play a long ball, Simpson brilliantly beat Morgan to it and flick on, and Taarabt out pace and out muscle Marcel Seip before beating Bunn with a cool low finish to send the travelling faithful behind the goal into raptures.

Taarabt had been impressive in the first half, but he was on a whole different level at the start of the second, tormenting Chris Morgan like a cat with a mouse and drawing a foul from United paid thug on the edge of the penalty box which brought the only yellow card of the game two minutes after drawing the R’s level. Referee Bates had a good game I thought, and Morgan certainly couldn’t complain at his yellow card, however if I had to criticise I thought further cards could and should have been produced as Morgan, Seip and others systematically kicked Taarabt up in the air every time he got the ball under control. When James Harper was then allowed to cynically hack down Faurlin after he’d made him look a fool in the centre of the field without a card being produced the referee was taking his leniency too far. As it turned out a card for Harper may have gone down well with the home fans who cheered his withdrawal in the sixty seventh minute louder than they did their goal. Morgan, typically, was allowed to stand over Taarabt pointing the finger and grunting like a lobotomised gibbon after he’d been fouled yet again but Morgan knew he couldn’t deal with the youngster, and Taarabt knew it too, calmly picking himself up and walking away.

Anyway, sorry, bit of a tangent there – Taarabt took the free kick himself, curled it over the wall and forced a tremendous one handed tip over from United’s best player on the day Mark Bunn.

Bunn denied Taarabt again on the hour, and the Moroccan fired another chance over after Damion Stewart had nodded a free kick into his path. Leigertwood thought he saw a chance for a goal against his former employers when Faurlin produced a lovely piece of skill and teed him up on the edge of the area but his well struck shot flew wide of the top corner. Rangers were dominant though, and the home crowd was growing restless.

That Harper substitution allowed Blackwell to finally introduce Darius Henderson, and if you thought the decision to leave him out was daft in the first place, it only looked more so when the former Watford man came on and completely changed the course of the game. He signalled his intentions by immediately wrestling Matt Hill to the ground and winning a free kick for his side – several times Rangers were penalised for battling with Henderson when he seemed to be the sinner.

United were on top from the moment he came on. Rangers were lucky to survive a corner twenty minutes from time when they fell completely asleep and allowed two United players to work a short routine and burst into the area but Ikeme gathered through a crowd of bodies in the six yard box. Ikeme was much maligned by the QPR fans after his arrival from Wolves, but has commanded his area superbly in the last three games and he took the pressure off our defence with several brave and competent catches on Saturday. He may turn out to be a decent signing yet.

The loan signing now taking the most stick from the QPR fans is Tamas Priskin. Out of position wide on the right and struggling to match the work rate, commitment and effectiveness of his team mates the Hungarian cuts a lonely figure at times. However I feel that, as the latest nominated boo boy, some Rangers fans are desperate to get on his back whether he’s actually done anything wrong or not. Twice on Saturday I heard cries of “you’re shit Priskin” before the ball had even got to him and on both occasions he did actually get a flick on to it. He’s not ours and he’s not good enough but at the end of the day the manager we wanted in charge, the manager we wanted to be given total control, is picking him and we have taken seven points from nine with him in the team. There’s not a lot of height in the QPR attack so he does give us an outlet for clearances down the right side and is serving some purpose for us. How about we trust in the manager we wanted and cut Priskin a bit of slack?

Henri Camara, onside for the second time in the game, ran across the face of the area and blasted wide as the game entered its last ten minutes, then with time really ticking down United had their best chance of the half when Bates waved away appeals for a foul on Ephraim, Cresswell ran in behind Connolly and crossed low to the back post where the onrushing Darius Henderson somehow contrived to miss the ball completely when faced with an absolute sitter from close range.

Three minutes of stoppage time was mostly disrupted by Neil Warnock making substitutions – Buzsaky came on for Taarabt and Cook for Ephraim but neither saw much of the ball and Cook’s only real involvement was after the final whistle when he gave his shirt to a youngster in the crowd who he had hit with a ball during the warm up before the match. A nice touch.

Overall this was a very satisfactory performance from QPR, and one that could easily have yielded three points with better finishing in the first half – Hogan Ephraim and Jay Simpson twice should have done better with excellent chances before the break. Nevertheless to remain patient and come from a goal down to take something from the game, and actually outperform a team on its own patch for the first time in months was very pleasing. Things may have been different had United started with Henderson instead of Camara, they looked a different side when he came on and Rangers only just about coped with him for 20 minutes so may well have struggled over 90.

I thought Connolly and Priskin, though harshly criticised, were below their best while Taarabt and Faurlin impressed through the middle and Ephraim had his best game for sometime – although he really should have scored his chance in the first half. Overall though I came away feeling positive and very happy about our performance – it will need to be every bit as good against in form Reading on Tuesday night, the Royals will present a much sterner test than the one dimensional Blades who I fully expect to be under new management when we next visit.

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Sheff Utd: Bunn 8, Nosworthy 6, Morgan 6, Seip 5, Stewart 6, Yeates 6 (Little 84, -), Montgomery 5, Harper 5 (Henderson 67, 7), Quinn 6, Camara 4, Cresswell 6
Subs Not Used: Bennett, Taylor, Fortune, Lowton
Booked: Morgan (foul)
Goals: Cresswell 44 (assisted Yeates)

QPR: Ikeme 7, Connolly 5, Stewart 6, Gorkss 6, Hill 6, Faurlin 7, Leigertwood 6, Priskin 5, Taarabt 8 (Buzsaky 87, -), Ephraim 7 (Cook 90, -),Simpson 6
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Ramage, Vine, Balanta, Borrowdale
Goals: Taarabt 49 (assisted Simpson) 

QPR Star Man – Adel Taarabt 8 Has played some of his best football of the season so far in the last three games and tormented Sheff Utd for long periods of the game on Saturday. Took his goal very nicely and was twice denied by great saves from Mark Bunn. United found in the second half that the only way to stop him was to kick him up in the air and I thought Taarabt responded well to that – not getting involved when Morgan tried to provoke him, not diving and having a go at the referee, not getting frustrated and throwing his arms around and not deciding he’d had enough of the physical stuff and hiding, all of which we have seen from him before. It seems Warnock has had an immediate positive effect on him.

Referee: Tony Bates (Staffordshire) 7 Refereed well with very few decisions, if any, I could actually remember thinking were outrageously wrong. Points deducted for the performance of the linesman in front of us who gave some very perplexing stuff against QPR and for not producing more yellow cards, particularly for Harper and Seip, when they cynically fouled more talented QPR players who’d out foxed them and were running clear into the United half.

Attendance: 23,456 (600 QPR approx) United are getting impressive home support at Bramall Lane these days, Warnock recalled pre-match how the crowd for his first game was around the 9000 mark, but the natives are clearly restless with the way their team is underperforming. They were streaming out long before the end and chants of Blackwell out were clearly audible in the second half. QPR travelled in bigger numbers than they did for the cup game, and those to the left of the goal certainly did their best to get an atmosphere going with constant singing in the first half and plenty after the goal as well.

Photo: Action Images

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