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Out of the blue, Rangers outclass Palace – full match report
Out of the blue, Rangers outclass Palace – full match report
Sunday, 11th Apr 2010 23:36

QPR ended a run of seven without a win and all but secured their safety in the Championship with an eye catching 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on Saturday.

When QPR lost the 1986 League Cup final to Oxford United at Wembley the Rangers manager Jim Smith seemed more delighted than most of the U’s players. Smith had left our opponents less than a year before, and even turned up for the big day in a yellow tie. Rangers, having beaten Liverpool in the semi final, were heavily backed favourites and lost easily. Smith did a fine job at Loftus Road, but will always be remembered for that day.

At one stage on Saturday morning I did wonder whether we were all set for a little re-run in South London. While obviously not of the same magnitude as a cup final, there was a lot riding on Saturday’s encounter and having nabbed a copy of The Independent sport section on the train only to find Neil Warnock’s weekly column once again filled with prose about how difficult he was going to find the return, how much he liked Palace and their fans, how he’d love both clubs to stay up and so on and so forth I have to say I rolled my eyes and feared the worst.

As it turned out, there was only ever going to be one winner of this match. Warnock had played the occasion to absolute perfection – numbing any potential hostilities with his niceties in the pre-match build up while firing his own team up behind closed doors to a level not seen by a QPR team for some months. Fifty topless chavs jumping up and down in unison with their arms around each other does not a hostile atmosphere make and having succeeded in putting his side of the story over to such an extent that many Palace fans actually applauded a man who walked out on them prior to the kick off, Warnock then set about comprehensively dismantling his old team on the pitch.

This was, admittedly against vastly inferior opposition, a very different QPR performance to the one we saw at Leicester on Monday. Rangers’ attitude was spot on, Warnock’s tactical reshuffle after an early injury to Damion Stewart worked perfectly while Paul Hart floundered with his own enforced early change and succeeded only in making Palace even worse than they were to start with, the football we played was crisp and incisive and the defence, superbly led by Peter Ramage, was absolutely spot on.

Following that thrashing at the Walkers Stadium Warnock made a couple of changes. Dusko Tosic was finally given a debut at left full back instead of Matt Hill while Radek Cerny returned in goal for his first start in three months. Gorkss and Stewart started at centre half with Ramage at right back. In midfield Lee Cook dropped out to allow Akos Buzsaky to return wide right with Leigertwood and Faurlin in the middle and Ephraim wide left. Up front Priskin and Taarabt partnered each other.

Palace had Alan Lee fit again, but only on the bench, and started with Calvin Andrew and Stern John in attack. Of the players linked most heavily with moves to QPR following Warnock’s defection Julian Speroni started in goal, Neil Danns and Darren Ambrose in midfield, but Nathaniel Clyne was only on the bench. Danny Butterfield returned at right back after four games out, probably grateful for Cook’s absence after the Rangers winger ripped him apart during John Gregory’s reign at QPR.

Those set ups lasted barely four seconds. From the kick off Palace dollied a hopeful, aimless long ball up the field (c Paul Hart) and Damion Stewart and Calvin Andrew came together in a sickening aerial collision. They’re both obviously tough lads, and both tried to get up and play on after it, but Stewart sunk to the ground almost immediately after trying to do so and was soon taken away on a stretcher while Andrew lasted only a further ten minutes before having to admit defeat. Stewart has since been diagnosed with a fractured skull and brain bleed, and I’m sure everybody on LFW would join me in extending our very best wishes to him on his recovery. Iain Hume gives hope to his continued involvement in the game, but right now his health is all that matters.

So an immediate reshuffle for both teams. Warnock went first, sending on striker Jay Simpson for his stricken centre half. This worked an absolute treat for us. Peter Ramage moved to centre half and excelled against Stern John who grew more and more frustrated with the Geordie’s incessant attention as the match went on. Mikele Leigertwood, absolutely dreadful in midfield against Leicester, could have played in his club suit at right back while his move back enabled Buzsaky to partner Faurlin in a midfield partnership many QPR fans have wanted to see and the pair of them ran the game.

Paul Hart, whose mad cap substitutions became a running theme in his five matches as QPR manager, sent on full back Nathaniel Clyne for his striker and if ever you needed a further example of the merits of the manager we have as opposed to the one he replaced the fact that Warnock sent a striker on for a defender while Hart did the exact opposite was surely it. That, and QPR’s total dominance of the game from that point on.

Rangers took the lead in the tenth minute after a sustained period of pressure on the Palace goal. Faurlin twice worked the ball out to the left for first Ephraim and then Tosic to cross but both deliveries were cleared. At the third attempt Ephraim’s cross deflected down to Priskin in the area off a Palace player with many in the away end appealing for handball. Priskin didn’t hang around for a whistle, instead laying the ball back to Buzsaky who drilled a powerful first time shot into the bottom corner. It was in as soon as it left his boot, a fine strike, Buzsaky’s tenth of the season.

Leigertwood fed Simpson who shot straight at Speroni from a tight angle before Buzsaky had half a chance for a second goal when Shaun Derry cleared a Taarabt corner out to him on the edge of the area but his half volley, extremely ambitious and from great distance, curled and swirled onto the roof of the net with Speroni seemingly confident that it was heading out.

Taarabt had one of those maddeningly inconsistent first halves. Twice he made Sean Derry, seemingly detailed in some sort of man marking role, look a complete fool with outrageous pieces of skill that saw Adel and the ball disappear from in front of Derry’s eyes without him even realising it had happened. However on several occasions Taarabt chose the wrong option with poor shots when he had team mates up in support. Still, seeing Derry humiliated in any circumstance is worth the admission money alone.

Palace threatened when Clint Hill glanced a head towards goal from a corner but Faurlin had time to step off the back post and clear away. The home team’s best chance of the first half came five minutes before the break when a broken passage of play in the midfield area enabled Ambrose to work the ball through to Hill again. The midfielder ran into the area from deep, unmarked and onside, and aimed for the far top corner of the net but Radek Cerny made a fine one handed save to deny him.

Rangers were soon back on the attack though as Ephraim, playing better than he has all season, stole possession from the hapless Butterfield and found Simpson on the edge of the box. Simpson’s hold up play was much better than it has been on Saturday and he was able to roll Lawrence and curl a shot wide of the far post on this occasion. He still doesn’t look particularly confident in front of goal at the moment though and needs a goal to reignite his form.

Things threatened to boil over for the first time in the game right on half time. Dusko Tosic, who had impressed with both his defensive work and offensive overlapping runs from left back in the first half, lost out to Danny Butterfield as he marauded forwards again. In an attempt to get back round and prevent Butterfield exploiting the space he had left Tosic wrestled Butterfield to the ground for a clear and obvious foul that referee Nigel Miller gave immediately. Butterfield though decided to take the law into his own hands and flung an arm out at Tosic – in typically Eastern European footballer style the QPR man hit the deck clutching his face only to make a miraculous recovery when it became apparent the referee wasn’t buying any of it.

Now this is where I don’t rate Mikele Leigertwood as a good captain. When Tosic went down Shaun Derry came across and stood over the QPR man hurling abuse at him. He was then allowed to stand with the referee and continue his rant at both player and match official while Leigertwood just sort of stood by and allowed the QPR player to be booked while Butterfield escaped without punishment. Our captain should have been there fighting our corner, making sure that either the referee was aware of Butterfield’s conduct or that Derry wasn’t allowed to dictate the decisions. That’s harsh criticism maybe, because Leigertwood played very well on Saturday and kept Darren Ambrose totally out of the game, but I just felt the differing conduct of the two captains was stark in that instance.

Rangers were applauded from the field at half time after an extended period of six added minutes, and the QPR fans were back on their feet during the break as well when a plucky member of the Crystal Palace under tens girls side lifted her Palace shirt to reveal the blue and white hoops in front of the away end. With a huge smile on her face the action drew disdain from her young team mates, and huge cheers from the travelling QPR fans. Good on her.

Palace had the first chance of the second half when Neil Danns ran through behind the QPR defence in very similar circumstances to those that saw Hill break through in the first half. Danns though could only drag a poor shot across the face of goal and a good couple of yards wide of the far post.

The sides then traded chances with Stern John chesting down and firing high into the Palace fans before Faurlin smacked the ball against the bid screen in the stand roof when teed up by Taarabt on the edge of the area after a free kick. Faurlin then combined with Ephraim to set up Priskin but he blasted over from an awkward angle with Simpson in the six yard box appealing for a cross.

Rangers were the better side - all thoughts of Neil Warnock being a long ball manager must surely be banished by this performance that was dictated by Buzsaky and Faurlin at the centre of the team. Palace for their part were wholly predictable – knocking one long ball after another (c Paul Hart) at Stern John who was constantly beaten in the air by Ramage and Gorkss. Ramage was particularly impressive after moving to centre half, and John’s frustration at the splendid marking job he was doing on him threatened to escalate when Ramage messed around with the ball before a Palace throw in and John poked him the face. Miller saw it, but sensibly took no further action with Ramage finding the whole thing highly amusing.

Clearly struggling to get a foothold in the game Paul Hart made a change to his Palace side on the hour. Alan Lee came on for the unimpressive Danny Butterfield to add some physical presence to the attack. Before the change had a chance to take effect though Rangers doubled their lead in controversial circumstances. Adel Taarabt put a deft through ball in behind the Palace defence that turned Clint Hill around and gave Jay Simpson a chance to run through on goal. Hill did just about get to the ball first, sending it spiralling back towards the stand behind the goal. Speroni raced from his line and appeared to have prevented the corner with a spectacular header into touch – the Argentinean was furious when his efforts went unrewarded and the linesman flagged for a corner. The replays have proved inconclusive since, and it was impossible to tell from where we were sitting, so we’ll go with the linesman’s judgement as he had the best position.

I did wonder whether referee Nigel Miller might award Palace a soft free kick for some non-specific pushing or holding offense just to avoid the controversy but Taarabt’s delivery landed plum on Gorkss’ head and he sent the ball flying into the far bottom corner to all but seal the victory.

That was a terrific time to score because for the next ten minutes or so after that Lee won every single header that came his way and Palace were able to finally keep the ball in the QPR half, away from the QPR players, for periods of time. Sadly for the home side Lee then picked up a knock of his own and had o go back and sit on the bench with Ertl coming on to replace him. It brought an end to Palace’s brief threat in the game that had seen Scannell and Danns shoot straight at Cerny and Ambrose fire over after being teed up in the area by Danns.

Speroni had to be alert to deny Priskin 20 minutes from time. Neat play between Faurlin and Buzsaky in the middle of midfield ended with the Hungarian being sent into the right channel behind the Palace defence. Priskin turned one way and then the other, just about keeping his footing and confusing Lawrence at the same time, then a powerful shot high at the near post was beaten behind by the Palace goalkeeper.

Two of Rangers’ most impressive performers on the day actually combined in error to almost bring Palace back into the game with time running out. Faurlin thought he’d tricked his way out of trouble on the edge of his own box when he lobbed the ball over Ambrose and collected it on the other side but Derry steamed in to win the ball back and Ambrose then played it through the area to the back post. Tosic, a breath of fresh air at left back to this point, allowed it to run through seemingly believing there was either nobody there or that Cerny should have come out and collected it. Instead Scannell collected and shot for goal but Cerny was equal to it with a smart low save at the near post. Cerny didn’t have a great deal to do on the day, but his handling was perfect all day and the clean sheet was only our second in 32 attempts.

It could so easily have been three in the last minute of normal time when Miller played a good advantage after Buzsaky had been crudely felled and Ephraim was able to slip a ball in behind the Palace defence for Taarabt. His low cross looked perfect for Simpson but although he got to it first ahead of Hill his instinctive first time effort went just wide of the post rather than into the bottom corner. Palace’s frustration manifested itself in a cynical foul from McCarthy on Taarabt after he’d been skinned – an obvious second booking of the game.

A third goal would have been just rewards for Rangers who were the better side here by some distance. While Palace completely bypassed their talented midfield players with an endless stream of pointless and aimless long balls up to a striker incapable of beating his markers in the air (c Paul Hart) Rangers played some lovely football and moved the ball around brilliantly with Buzsaky and Faurlin outstanding in midfield.

This was an afternoon for myth busting and score settling. The idea that Warnock’s pre match praise for Palace would somehow damage our own team’s confidence and effect our performance was dispelled comprehensively - Rangers were attractive, effective, confident and dominant. The criticism that Warnock is a long ball manager was shown to be total nonsense as well – this was the best passing football we have played for some time. Palace would be in the play offs but for the points deduction – wrong, they were bloody awful. Buzsaky and Faurlin can’t play in the middle of midfield we need a destroyer – wrong, they were excellent and both did their fair share of hard work, tackling and defensive work. When Danns broke through at the start of the second half it was Buzsaky chasing him back and putting him off.

It was hard to pick fault with anything QPR did on the day. Although the whole thing was overshadowed with the news about Damion Stewart, the subsequent reshuffle worked really well for us. Ramage revelled in the centre back role and turned in his best performance for the club, Leigertwood was excellent at right back and the middle of our midfield creative and impressive. Ephraim and Priskin both played well in wide areas and Gorkss had his best game for some time – we spoke in the pub before the game about whether Gorkss’ recent loss of form may be down to covering for Hill who has been poor since signing from Wolves. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the introduction of Tosic, rusty but impressive all the same, improved Gorkss’ game.

It will take a miracle for Rangers to be relegated now, and Warnock can finally start planning for next season properly. Whether Crystal Palace will be on that fixture list in 2010/11 remains to be seen, on this evidence they will be lucky to stay up and their dire style of play and shambolic tactical set up brought memories of our unhappy Christmas with Paul Hart flooding back. They couldn’t really have a worse manager in charge at the moment, as far as I’m concerned we couldn’t really have a better one.

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Crystal Palace: Speroni 6, Butterfield 5 (Lee 58, 7 (Ertl 70, 6)), McCarthy 6, Lawrence 6, Hill 6, Ambrose 5, Derry 5, Danns 6, Scannell 6, John 5, Andrew 5 (Clyne 23, 5)
Subs Not Used: Manns, Carle, Hills, Davis
Booked: McCarthy (foul)

QPR: Cerny 7, Ramage 8, Stewart - (Simpson 8, 6), Gorkss 7, Tosic 7, Buzsaky 8, Leigertwood 8, Faurlin 8, Ephraim 7, Priskin 7, Taarabt 7 (Parker 90, -)
Subs Not Used: Putnins, Cook, Brown, Oastler, German.
Booked: Tosic (foul)
Goals: Buzsaky 11 (assisted Priskin), Gorkss 60 (assisted Taarabt)

QPR Star Man – Peter Ramage 8 Faurlin and Buzsaky were excellent but Ramage has been playing well for a few weeks now and takes the award here on merit. Having prepared all week to play at right back he had to slot in at centre half after a minute and was brilliant there, marking Stern John out of the game and hardly putting a foot wrong in the entire match. First to the crowd with his shirt at the end and clearly delighted with the result at the end of his best ever QPR performance.

Referee: Nigel Miller (Durham) 8 I thought he allowed Shaun Derry to boss him about a little bit at times, but other than that it’s hard to think of a decision he got wrong. Both bookings were justified. The controversial corner for the second goal wasn’t his decision, and the linesman was in a better position than the TV cameras or the Palace supporters.

Attendance: 20,430 (2462 QPR approx) Palace have adopted a continental ‘ultras’ style of support in the corner of the ground near the away end. This involves lots of meandering humming noise while jumping up and down and is, shall we say, a bit different. Having been in the Stadio Olympico to see 80,000 Roma fans doing this in unison seeing 50 topless chavs with plastic flags and 1980s hair cuts with their arms round each other wasn’t quite as impressive but at least there was an atmosphere, and in far too many of the soulless new grounds we’ve been to this season that hasn’t been the case. Rangers travelled in big numbers and were pretty loud throughout.

Photo: Action Images

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