Barnsley touch wood but the luck’s all R’s – full match report
Sunday, 8th Aug 2010 19:07 by Clive Whittingham
QPR got their season off to a flying start with a 4-0 win against Barnsley at Loftus Road on Saturday, but had to survive a few scares along the way to prevail.
If you can’t be good, be lucky. On Saturday at Loftus Road QPR were an encouraging mixture of both. Twenty two times now Barnsley have tried, and twenty three two they have failed to win at Loftus Road since they handed down a similar mauling to Rangers in 1949. On the evidence of this latest horror show they may want to consider just forfeiting this fixture in future seasons, they simply cannot catch a break in W12.
Rangers seemed to revel in an improved Loftus Road atmosphere, without the nastiness and suffocating levels of expectations that have weighed heavy on the shoulders of QPR teams for the past two seasons. Two years ago Radek Cerny was booed within ten minutes of beginning his Rangers career in this fixture after a couple of nervy moments, on this occasion the Czech watched from the bench as Paddy Kenny did his very best to gift Barnsley an equaliser on the stroke of half time and was then applauded to his feet by the newly tolerant Loftus Road faithful.
That was just one incident where Barnsley could, and indeed should, have scored. Three times they struck the post with Kenny beaten and the game still in the balance, three times they gifted QPR embarrassingly simple goals through defensive ineptitude. Two of those were penalties and just to further exacerbate the visitors’ frustrations with an inconsistent and eccentric refereeing performance they were somehow, inexplicably, denied a spot kick of their own in the second half when Fitz Hall turned LeBron James and plucked the ball out of the air with his right hand before clearing.
Rangers were deserved winners here don’t get me wrong. The two goals that they scored in open play came on the back of eye catching one twos between Faurlin and the suddenly effective Hogan Ephraim around the edge of the box and there was some decent football played to go along with a new found robustness. Shaun Derry and Clint Hill took no prisoners, Bradley Orr was industrious down the right and Jamie Mackie ran himself to water. Warnock’s mission to add grit and steel to the mixture over the summer appears to have worked.
But Barnsley, admittedly with a circus like defence that included two full backs of park football standard, could be forgiven for wondering just how it got as bad as it did.
Rangers were dealt a blow before kick off when Akos Buzsaky pulled out with a thigh strain that is also expected to keep him out of Hungary’s game at Wembley on Wednesday evening. Presumably, although not certainly, he would have been in the side instead of Hogan Ephraim who lined up behind Heidar Helguson along with Mackie and Adel Taarabt who was given a standing ovation on his return. Derry anchored the midfield with Faurlin while at the back Orr and Hill played right and left of Hall and Gorkss.
In 2003 QPR opened the season against Blackpool at Loftus Road in heat so severe the game was stopped every 20 minutes for the players to take on water. On Saturday the heavens opened with a heavy shower upon kick off, sending those in the Lower Loft scrambling for cover at the back of the stand. The two teams made the most of the slicked up surface to exchange chances inside five minutes. Helguson held the ball up on the edge of the Barnsley box and then touched back for Faurlin who fired high into the travelling 800 from South Yorkshire. Play then switched to the other end where Tykes’ skipper Stephen Foster planted a firm header fractionally over the QPR bar after being left unmarked at Barnsley’s first corner of the game.
After that the game settled into a more regulated pattern. Barnsley relied on impressive central midfielder Hugo Colace to pull the strings but were often frustrated in attack by an overly robust approach from target man Andy Gray who was penalised frequently. Rangers were happy to pass the ball around in the Barnsley half, but were unashamedly long ball from defence with a two minute passage of play in which both goalkeepers traded two drop kicks each from one end of the pitch to the other doing little to fire the imagination.
Things started to open up a little bit around the quarter hour mark. First some hard work from Jamie Mackie, a sure fire fans’ favourite with his constant running and niggling, won a corner for Rangers. Adel Taarabt dropped it dangerously at the back post where Kaspars Gorkss challenged to try and head home. The ball came loose to Hogan Ephraim who intelligently planted a header back across the face of goal and Helguson managed to head over when it seemed easier to score.
The chance came at a cost, Gorkss suffered a nasty cut to the head and was immediately withdrawn to have the wound stitched, a procedure that took the thick end of ten minutes and left QPR a man short. Heaven forbid we get a man sent off this season because we were a bit of a mess while Gorkss was off and Barnsley almost profited when a stretched QPR backline partially cleared a low cross straight to Colace who let rip with a fierce drive from fully 30 yards that beat Kenny and pinged off into the crowd after striking the top of his post. Gorkss’ return, swathed in bandages and missing a number from his new shirt, was met with applause and sighs of relief.
Taarabt’s influence on proceedings grew as the half wore on. He had a low drive from the edge of the area finger tipped around the post by Steele after 14 minutes and then ten later saw a more considered, curling effort palmed away by the keeper diving to his left. He wasn’t afraid to drop deep and demand the ball to try and make something happen either, a sublime pass with the outside of his right foot cut the Barnsley defence in two and should have resulted in at least a shot on goal only for Mackie’s first touch to fail him badly. There were many things to admire about Mackie on Saturday, his control of the ball was not one of them.
Barnsley’s solution to the growing threat of Taarabt was to foul him, and the Moroccan will have to put up with that on more than one occasion this season. A needlessly robust, two footed tackle by Martin Devaney ten minutes before half time was clearly designed to injure Taarabt and prevent him from inflicting any more damage and disgracefully escaped without a yellow card. It failed in its mission as well and five minutes before the break Taarabt found the key to the Barnsley door. He tricked his way into the area and then with the byline approaching collapsed under heavy pressure from Stephen Foster with referee Linington well placed to point straight to the spot. Barnsley protested vociferously, and Taarabt isn’t exactly known for staying on his feet in such situations, but the referee’s mind was made up and Foster was booked for his troubles.
It was perhaps a little surprising that it wasn’t Taarabt himself down to take the kick, but Heidar Helguson did a perfectly reasonable job of allowing Steele to dive one way as he calmly rolled the ball the other for the first QPR goal of the season.
That should have been that for the first half really, but Linington then added three minutes of injury time which perplexed the faithful in F Block as the trainer hadn’t been onto the field and Gorkss had left immediately for his treatment, and in that time Barnsley had two golden chances to equalise. First Faurlin was harshly penalised 45 yards out from goal after appearing to win the ball. The free kick was stood up to the back post where Paddy Kenny, under no pressure at all, completely misjudged the flight of it and dropped the ball behind him. That left Adam Hammil with an open goal and a tight angle but his header was somehow diverted onto his own post and away to safety by Helguson, who was back to defend the free kick. Kenny laid in the penalty area with his head in his hands for a minute or so, but he was trying to save face more than anything.
Barnsley had time for a corner at the end of all that and although the initial delivery was too high for the crowd in the penalty area it was kept in down the left by Hammil and then worked in field brilliantly by Colace whose devilish cross into the six yard box should have been converted by any one of the queue of visitors waiting for its arrival. QPR would have had little cause for argument had they been level at the break.
Half time provided a chance for QPR to heed the warning signs, but it seemed the new look R’s spent the break discussing their respective summer holidays as Barnsley picked up where they left off and struck the post again within 60 seconds of the restart. This time Gray held the ball up well on the edge of the six yard box with Gorkss between him and the goal. Rather than attempt to turn and shoot the former Sheff Utd target man simply waited for support to arrive and then teed up Hammil whose scuffed shot bobbled through the crowd, past Kenny, off the base of the post, back out into play and then fractionally wide off Gorkss. From the corner Kenny again came for a ball he was never going to get and Foster stole in behind him but volleyed wide.
Mackie sent a free header straight at Steele in QPR’s first attack of the half a couple of minutes later but Barnsley were straight back on the attack after that and their travelling fans, entire team, substitutes and coaching staff rose as one to demand a penalty when Fitz Hall thrust up an arm in desperation and plucked a loose ball from the sky deep inside his own penalty area. It was an obvious spot kick, everybody in the ground saw it, but Linington waved the prolonged appeals away. The visitors seemed to be sapped of spirit by this incident and it was all Rangers thereafter.
Within three minutes QPR had doubled their advantage. Ephraim worked a beautiful give and go with Faurlin on the edge of the box and, as you would expect from the reigning QPR player of the year, the return ball was threaded to absolute perfection. That gave Ephraim a chance to reach the byline unchecked and fire a low cross into the near post. It looked routine for Steele but he fumbled badly and, typically, Mackie was bustling, hustling and harrying in the vicinity anyway and decided to poke the ball home from a yard out before dancing a celebration jig by the corner flag.
On the hour Bradley Orr was harshly booked for a trip when a simple free kick award would have sufficed and Foster saw a half volley blocked inside the area when the resulting cross fell to him. It was typical of Barnsley’s luck on the day that QPR then went straight to the other end of the field and scored again. This time the goal was entirely of the Tykes’ own making.
Jay McEveley has never been very good, or very slim, but he, and fellow hapless full back Bobby Hassell, looked embarrassingly out of his depth on Saturday and cost his side a third goal with a crass piece of play. Having won the ball back from Helguson deep in his own area McEveley then decided that rather than clear it he’d fire, and I mean fire, a low rocket of a pass at Doyle who was no more than six yards away from him. Predictably he was caught off guard by this ludicrous piece of play and miscontrolled the ball back in the direction of McEveley. By this time they seemed to have decided that clearing it wouldn't be a bad idea after all but that much blubber doesn’t move quickly and in the time it took them to make the decision Helguson nipped in, poked the ball away, gratefully took Doyle's boot to the shin and hit the deck for the second penalty of the day.
Taarabt won the first penalty and allowed Helguson to take it, the Icelandic striker returned the favour by allowing Adel to stroke home his first of the season in similar style.
It was now a question of how many. Ephraim carried the ball to the edge of the area and laid it off for Taarabt who drilled a low first time effort wide of the far post, then a low cross from the Moroccan was inadvertently steered towards his own goal by Shackell who was grateful to Steele for a fine reaction save.
Barnsley sent on Iain Hume, still sporting the hideous scars of a sickening clash with paid football thug Chris Morgan, but apart from dragging an early effort wide of Kenny’s post Hume seemed interested only in moaning about perceived injustices from the referee, digging out his own team mates, and ultimately hacking through the back of Adel Taarabt for which he was lucky to escape a card. Taarabt dusted himself down to deliver a perfect cross to the back post which Heidar Helguson failed to make contact with altogether when it looked easier to score.
Helguson was really good on Saturday I thought. He led the line well, won plenty in the air, brought others into play and deserved his goal. He should have had at least one and probably two more though – the header in the first half and this chance in the second seemed harder to miss but miss them he did. In the same way we have to accept the bad bits of Taarabt to enjoy the good, we probably have to accept that Helguson is going to miss chances but is worth his place for the goals he does get and the work he does for the rest of the team. Either that or quickly get a yellow away kit designed and tell him he’s back at Watford again.
The Icelandic target man actually got a lesson in finishing from Fitz Hall bizarrely who seems to revel in opening day games against Barnsley having bagged two in this same fixture in 2008. Again Ephraim and Faurlin combined, wide on the QPR right this time, and again the return ball to the former West Ham man from Faurlin was absolutely sublime and almost worth the entrance fee by itself. Ephraim then delivered a lovely low ball through the corridor of uncertainty between defence and goalkeeper and Hall, who had stayed up from an earlier corner, slid in from four yards out at the back post.
Hall, much maligned on this website and a surprise choice as captain, did some good and some bad things on Saturday. He didn’t win nearly enough ball in the air for a man of his size, and he seemed to lack faith in his hamstrings’ and groin’s ability to cope with a run at full pelt resulting in some poor positioning at times. In the last minute of normal time one such incident necessitated a fine last ditch challenge from Gorkss to deny Hume a clear run on goal. But overall he was fairly steady. Ephraim, with two assists to his name, flitted in and out of the game across the whole 90 minutes but having brought next to nothing to the team in 16 straight starts at the end of last season he can point to a new found end product as signs of improvement over the summer.
Rangers brought on Josh Parker who looked lively again, and Antonio German who twice let himself down with a poor touch – first toeing the ball further ahead of himself than he would have liked robbing him of a shooting opportunity, then completely miskicking a first time shot on the edge of the box. Barnsley sent on new signing Jeronimo Neumann after receiving his paperwork late on Friday. It looked like they were bringing one of the players’ wives on at first, with a slight frame and blond hair tied in a pony tail, and such was his meagre effect on proceedings they may have been better served doing just that. Worryingly for Barnsley both he and Lovre looked like the kind of hopeless foreign signings QPR made in the summer Gary Waddock was in charge.
There was a big chunk of stoppage time added to the end of the half again, four minutes this time, which gave Rangers a final chance to show McEveley up again. Mackie tricked his way past him and then ran fully 40 yards with the pub footballer first hanging off him, then pulling his shirt, then deliberately kicking him, and finally wrestling him to the floor like a desperate old rugby league player. It was a shamefully cynical piece of play and at a different time and scoreline may well have resulted in more than the yellow card it got. Anybody with any pace in wide areas will destroy this Barnsley side this season.
After baying for blood there the crowd rose to appreciate the efforts of the players, and unlike last season the team made a point of acknowledging the support as one. For their part the Barnsley players trooped straight off without going to their fans who had made the long trip for nothing. That, and the constant infighting and arguing between their players in the second half, doesn’t bode well.
Overall there was a lot to be pleased about in the QPR performance, although I did feel that the formation, such as it was, melted away into a disorganised mess at times. Barnsley were able to get overlaps on our full backs quite easily and a better, or luckier, side may have punished us more for some sloppy play. We lack pace at the back. Two years ago we beat Barnsley on day one and were then brought crashing down to earth by Sheffield United a week later – we shall see if history repeats itself on Saturday.
QPR Kenny 5, Orr 7, Hall 6, Gorkss 7, Hill 7, Ephraim 7,Derry 7 (Leigertwood 79, 6), Faurlin 7, Taarabt 8 (Parker 77, 6),Helguson 7 (German 83, 5), Mackie 7
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Clarke, Connolly, Borrowdale
Booked: Orr (tripping)
Goals: Helguson 41 (penalty, assisted Taarabt), Mackie 53 (assisted Ephraim), Taarabt 63 (penalty, assisted Helguson), Hall 81 (assisted Ephraim)
Barnsley Steele 5, Hassell 2, Shackell 5, Foster 4, McEveley 2,Hammill 6 (Neumann 76, 5), Doyle 5, Lovre 5 (Butterfield 86, -),Devaney 5 (Hume 46, 6), Colace 7, Gray 6
Subs Not Used: Preece, Dickinsone, Boulding, Potter
Booked: Foster (foul, penalty concession), McEveley (professional foul)
QPR Star Man – Adel Taarabt 8 Solid performances from Orr, Derry and Helguson, and eye catching moments from Faurlin and Ephraim but overall the key difference between the sides was Taarabt. There was a nice balance about his game – sometimes he was a bit selfish and took players on, on other occasions he looked for team mates and played some fine passes, and it’s the balance of the two that was sometimes out of kilter last season. He made the first goal happen and his sublime pass to Mackie in the first half deserved a better end product.
Attendance 13,445 (800 Barnsley approx) A much better, and nicer, atmosphere inside Loftus Road than has been the case for the last few seasons. Even in the five minutes either side of half time when we rather fell apart there was little abuse hurled down from the stands which is a positive sign. The Barnsley fans rose as one for the penalty appeal but were otherwise fairly subdued.
Referee: James Linington (Isle of Wight). 5 Last time we had him for a game he got a mark of five and I said he made some rather eccentric decisions. I could just copy and past that write up here because it was the same again. Both QPR penalties looked fair, but Barnsley should certainly have had one of their own. Of the bookings Orr’s was harsh, McEveley was lucky his wasn’t a red and both Hume and Devaney should have been at least yellow carded for their respective hacks on Taarabt.
Photo: Action Images
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