|Golden Graham smashes QPRâs unbeaten record â full match report|
Fri 10th Dec 2010 23:32 by Clive Whittingham
QPR’s record breaking start to the season ground to shuddering halt in front of the television cameras on Friday night as an impressive Watford side won 3-1 at Loftus Road.
How quickly things can change in football. Seven points clear, bang in form, brimming with confidence, free scoring, freewheeling, Premiership bound. That was the script. It seemed the one actually delivered to the QPR team prior to Friday night’s live BBC encounter with Watford was meant for Coronation Street actors celebrating their fiftieth anniversary on the other side in the time honoured manner - disaster, destruction and uncertainty. Train wreck this most certainly was.
It was always going to happen. We were never going to go through an entire season unbeaten. But the immediate reaction is to ask why now? Why did it have to happen in a winnable home game, against an out of form team, live on television with Steve Claridge sitting in the studio, cock in hand, vigorously masturbating while wearing an ‘I told you so’ smile? It is, in many ways, the worst possible time with a horrendously difficult Christmas period featuring three away games against sides chasing us in the league plus a home match against third placed Swansea.
But better it happen in these circumstances - against a Watford team that created more chances, kept possession of the ball better, passed with more purpose and were the more impressive team on the night – than, say, a month ago at Portsmouth where defeat would have been the work solely of an incompetent referee. We could talk about at least one penalty QPR should have had, or the fact that Watford’s second and third goals could feature as pictorial examples in the rules of the game next to the word ‘offside’, but these would be Steve Cotterill like excuses designed to paper over the cracks of what was a sub standard performance from QPR, and an above par showing from Watford.
The Hornets deserved this. By far the better side throughout as QPR once again froze in front of the television cameras. Televised defeats have become a regular feature of supporting QPR, televised humiliations by Watford come like night follows day. Four times the cameras have screened fixtures between these sides since we were promoted back to this level in 2004 and in those games Watford have won four times, scored 12 goals and conceded just two.
Neil Warnock, still in shorts, was forced into a team change with Rob Hulse poorly – Heidar Helguson was recalled to the starting eleven against the club he had played for twice before, Hulse was forced to sit on the bench when Patrick Agyemang failed a late fitness test on the latest of his catalogue of poxy, niggly, insignificant knocks. Never before has somebody of such muscle and power missed so much action for so little.
Smith, Taarabt and Mackie provided support for the lone striker with Derry and Faurlin tucked in behind as usual. At the back it was the usual foursome of Walker, Gorkss, Connolly and Hill ahead of Paddy Kenny.
While Rangers were victim of the health and safety Nazis on Humberside and sat out last weekend, Watford recovered from a run of seven games without a win to snatch a late 3-2 home victory against Leicester thanks to a goal from Danny Graham. That was the former Middlesbrough man’s tenth of the season and he tormented QPR here, benefiting from lenient application of the offside law to turn in a man of the match performance that was rewarded with two goals.
Things had started reasonably well for QPR. In the third minute Paddy Kenny launched a quick counter attack down the right flank with a drop kick that Jamie Mackie ensured turned into a QPR throw in a promising position. That throw was hurled in to Heidar Helguson’s feet and after a neat touch and lay off to Mackie the former Plymouth man was able to skip along the edge of the area and drag a low, left footed shot wide of the post.
A minute later Mackie was involved again, driving in down the right with a direct run at the heart of the Watford defence. After reaching the edge of the area he played a one two with Faurlin, the second part of which was majestic from the Argentinean and almost sent Mackie through on goal. As the ball skipped up off the turf Mackie improvised and headed the ball down to Helguson who controlled in the area and after being afforded time to turn sent a snap shot goalwards that Loach palmed over the bar. Either side of him and it was in, but Rangers had to settle for a corner which Clint Hill attacked and looked set to lodge a decent effort on goal only for John Eustace to reach up and palm the ball away from him with his left hand. The QPR players appealed as one for the penalty, which it obviously was, but referee Darren Deadman showed little emotion in waving the appeals away. This would not turn out to be the finest evening for Deadman and his team of officials who, live on television, showed clearly just what abysmal standards of officiating we have to put up with below the Premiership.
The first warning of what was to come came on eight minutes. Danny Graham picked the ball up wide on the right flank and comfortably turned Kaspars Gorkss before feeding Buckley who had more time and space than he really allowed himself in crossing hurriedly onto the roof of the net. This is the sort of incident you may see 30 times in a season. It was nothing in truth; a broken attacking move of little consequence. But with the benefit of hindsight the ease at which Graham manoeuvred Gorkss into position and then turned him, and the space Buckley was able to find down the flank was a sign of things to come.
As the time ticked into double figures Buckley had a golden chance to open the scoring. Again Gorkss was caught napping, with a lazy defensive clearance straight onto the substantial forehead of Martin Taylor. The former Birmingham man, and one time QPR transfer target, headed the ball back into the danger area. Gorkss then floundered in front of Buckley, first allowing himself to be nutmegged and then buckling as he tried to turn with the same deft and speed of the Exxon Valdez. Buckley ran clean through into the area but always seemed to be lacking sufficient confidence and conviction to finish and ended up side footing a weak effort on goal from the corner of the six yard box that Paddy Kenny saved well with his shins. A golden chance that should have been taken.
QPR responded with another penalty claim as Helguson collapsed optimistically under minimal contact by Andrew Taylor as Smith lofted a high cross into the area. That was never going to be awarded as a spot kick and QPR seemed too pre-occupied with both the referee and showing off in front of the cameras. More slack play on the quarter hour saw Rangers mess around needlessly with the ball on halfway and when Clint Hill slipped Watford were in behind them again with a chance that turned into a corner when Gorkss hacked it behind. Helguson cleared with ease, but that was hardly the point.
At the other end the recalled Iceland striker managed to create a chance for himself by flicking on a long ball, then collecting the rebound as it came to him from Lloyd Doyley and hacking a mishit shot wide of the target from outside the penalty area. That was pure luck really, a scratchy, bitty piece of play that didn’t really deserve to result in anything other than the goal kick it brought. Watford on the other hand were purposeful, direct and dynamic. Cowie drilled wide of the target after an attractive one two with Graham but again the chance came from QPR giving the ball away while gratuitously trying to play out from the back.
At the exact halfway point of the first half QPR fell behind. The move was some time in the making, Watford forming a number of triangles down the QPR right and playing the ball neatly between each other without ever really threatening. Throughout this it was clear that QPR were outnumbered. A Watford player would join in without a marker, and another would peel off into an increasingly loaded penalty area. It was a nervy situation that developed quickly into a complete disaster as Andrew Taylor was played in behind to the byline. His cross was deflected high up into the air by Walker and the only player in the penalty area who read it was Graham and he was subsequently able to calmly steal in unmarked and side foot in from eight yards out. Watford can be pleased with the build up and finish, but QPR didn’t do enough to affect the play and get in the faces of their opponents – a feature of the season so far at Loftus Road but a quality sadly lacking in this game.
Within four minutes it was two nil, and while Rangers had only themselves to blame for the first they could justifiably point accusing fingers at the officials on this occasion. A free kick, half cleared, was stuck in behind the QPR defence to Graham who looked offside at the time and subsequently turned out to be the best part of three yards off on the television replays. Kenny rescued the situation initially with another leg save in a one on one situation but the ball was immediately returned to the area by Mutch following a throw in and when Martin Taylor climbed but missed the ball Kenny was helpless as it sailed into the far corner of the net unchallenged. A failure in concentration certainly, but it should have been a free kick the other way before the situation had ever occurred.
QPR looked shell shocked, Watford were buoyant, and just after the half hour the irrepressible Graham ran in behind the sluggish back four of Rangers again before winning a corner when his half volley was deflected wide. QPR struggled to clear the first set piece for a second which Martin Taylor attacked at the back post but headed wide.
Watford were better than QPR. I could search for different adjectives and hence forth with hyperbole but it really was as simple as that. They were sharper, keener and more assertive across the field and consistently outnumbered QPR in wide areas. Rangers didn’t keep possession well enough, easily hustled and harried from the ball by a Watford side right on top of their game. Dare I say the visitors out-QPRd QPR? Everything we’ve come to expect from Rangers this season turned up in spades tonight, but it turned up wearing yellow shirts.
With around eight minutes remaining the half Buckley picked up the first yellow card for a canny bodycheck on Clint Hill as Rangers attempted to construct a rare move on the edge of the area. Smith and Hill’s neat exchange of passes drew the free kick which Taarabt smacked over the wall and past the motionless goalkeeper but half a foot wide of the top corner as well. Loach tested the referee’s patience with some flagrant time wasting, a theme of the remaining hour of the game, but in truth even by this stage that appeared an unnecessary measure with Watford well in control and destined to win however long the game went on for.
Taarabt’s free kick was a rare good moment from him and the home side, and he quickly reverted to type when seizing on a loose ball after John Eustace lost his footing only to reject two obvious passing opportunities in a four on three counter attack and drag a tame shot wide of the post. This was Bristol City all over again, the former Tottenham man at his absolute worst live on national television. Quickly Rangers were forced onto the back foot. Faurlin, another who suffers the Taarabt trait of performing badly on television, weakly lost a 50/50 challenge in midfield that resulted in another Watford attack which ended when Mutch blasted over from the edge of the area. Mutch, a loan player from Birmingham, was just one of a clutch of outstanding visiting players on view.
Had the half time scoreline been three nil complaints would have been few and far between and that’s exactly what it should have been. The Watford time wasting after taking the lead yielded three minutes of stoppage time, but that almost brought a positive outcome for them. Rangers won a corner midway through that extra period and although Taarabt delivered a reasonable cross into the box it was cleared back out to him. When it’s your day it’s your day, when it’s not don’t try it on. A fortnight ago against Cardiff in an identical situation Taarabt took on the full back, beat him, and went on to score the winning goal against our nearest title rivals. Here he lost possession, facilitating a lightening Watford counter attack that at one frightening moment numbered six yellow shirts to three blue and a goalkeeper. Mutch and Graham finished the move, racing towards the QPR penalty area with the home side frantically back tracking as Watford teased them with one slick pass after another. When Graham finally cut the ball back to Mutch eight yards out and unmarked the writing was on the wall and the finale was ready to be completed with a flourish only for Clint Hill to sling his carcass in the way and produce an unlikely block of Mutch’s shot that had beaten Kenny all ends up and seemed destined for the bottom corner. A lucky escape Rangers scarcely deserved.
Pass me a tea cup and let me throw it at the wall. Half time was a crucial moment. QPR have recovered from similar positions before this season, in fact they turned around a two goal deficit in two and a half minutes in stoppage time at Derby back in August, and Watford aren’t exactly a side you’d trust with dog walking duties such has been their attitude to leads this season. Even in victory against Leicester last week they had blown a two goal lead to put the whole shooting match in doubt at one stage. A new script was submitted for consideration. Warnock, clad in shorts, heroically delivering a famous team talk to rouse his troops to a glorious recovery. Television pundits would swoon yet, it was just a matter of time.
What a cruel mistress time can be. That woman you had an affair with at work only to find she’s not that interested after all once you’ve left your wife. Three minutes QPR were permitted before the final nail was hammered in by a Teeside lad gleefully clutching a hammer and cackling into the night sky against the backdrop of the floodlights. Danny Graham was offside as McGinn played him through by winning a sliding tackle as Rangers dallied once more, but then the offside law had been treated more as a guideline than an actual rule all night and he was waved on in the name of laziness and incompetence and calmly slotted beneath Paddy Kenny to kill the game off.
“Was that offside?” Text messages flooded into LoftforWords Towers from the poor sods sinking deeper into a frozen depression in W12. Does anybody really know what offside is anymore? Apparently not. Graham was the definition of offside, but by the close of play an angle had been found by the television director where if the play was stopped at just the right moment he was only two yards off, and his foreskin may have been on, and we’re meant to give the benefit of the doubt to the attacker anyway so who’s arguing? Not me funnily enough, because despite the illegitimacy of it all it was thoroughly deserved. Graham, and Watford, were superb. Offside, but superb.
Referee Darren Deadman was a man let down by his assistants. Two marks against Watford’s name in his notebook that, had the lines not been run by representatives from the Royal Society for the Blind on an equal opportunities venture, should not have been there. Keen not to miss out, he quickly donned his bathers and leapt into the pool of farcical incompetence himself.
Two minutes after the third goal Heidar Helguson was hacked to the ground by a tackle from behind as he received the ball to feet. Play was waved on, seemingly just for the hell of it. Watford strung two passes together and Danny Graham was then crunched in identical circumstances by Matthew Connnolly who won the ball, but in a manner not permitted since the late 1980s. This time a free kick was awarded. And Kyle Walker was yellow carded. Why? Who can say? Maybe Walker had picked up Rob Hulse’s stomach bug and was looking a little peaky. Excuses for booking a black right full back for an offence committed by a very white centre half are, I’m afraid, few and far between.
Deadman has the name, appearance and mannerisms of an undertaker, and it was nice that he produced the standard Championship refereeing display live on terrestrial television for the nation to see tonight. If you’re one of those people who says they support Liverpool while sitting at home watching their games on television, and then feels the need to ring 606 to hence forth about how Roy Hodgson has had quite enough time with the mess he inherited and should be replaced by Kenny Dalglish, oh and by the way the referee was rubbish as well, then please take note of tonight. This wasn’t even a particularly noteworthy performance from the officials and yet they awarded two goals that should have been disallowed and failed to spot one blatant penalty. This is Championship refereeing my friends, brain activity scans of these officials could actually produce enough evidence to switch off their life support machines – if only the useless fuckers were attached to them.
Feeling a little hard done to Rangers waved an Audley Harrison like fist of retaliation by way of three mishit crosses and a low shot from the edge of the area by Clint Hill which was deflected wide for a corner but even without opposition would have struggled to reach the back of the net from 20 yards out. As had been the case throughout the game the subsequent set piece proved to be more dangerous for Watford as they showed exactly why they have scored 35 goals this season, equal to QPR and Cardiff at the start of play, with a swift counter attack. This time Faurlin slipped on the edge of the area, the Hornets broke down field and Mutch should have done much (sorry) better when played in with time and space at the back post – he checked back inside and side footed a tame effort that did beat Kenny, but was headed off the line by Shaun Derry.
Unbelievably, and depressingly, we’re only ten minutes into the second half at this point. I should drink more, I make less notes then. Ahem, 56 minutes and another soft Watford free kick was awarded wide on the QPR left. Rangers spent some time retreating into the area to line up for the anticipated cross only to find that Watford were sharper in body and mind once more – a quick set piece was laid to Mutch who drilled a routine low shot at Paddy Kenny. The keeper made a bit of a mess of it all, fumbling and bumbling the ball out into the six yard box for a gift wrapped early Christmas present to Danny Graham – only the Watford man and QPR goalkeeper will know how the subsequent shot from point blank range struck the stricken QPR keeper on the end of his foot and ballooned over the bar. Watford wasted the resulting corner, probably confused at what they’d just seen.
Substitutions before the hour saw mercy killings of Alejandro Faurlin and Adel Taarabt, replaced by Bradley Orr and Leon Clarke. Orr seemed keen to make an impression and organise the beleaguered back line as Kyle Walker moved into midfield, Leon Clarke seemed keen to get back into the main stand and have something to eat. Andrew Taylor was yellow carded for time wasting over a throw in while all this was taking place – needless and unnecessary. It’s an hour after the final whistle as I write this and if we were still playing Watford would still be winning. The sun rises just before 8am tomorrow and if we were still playing then Watford would still be winning. We’re at Leeds next Saturday at 3pm and if that game was postponed to allow this game to continue through next weekend like some fortnight long test match to settle this odd rivalry between the two once and for all Watford would still be winning. To be booked for time wasting here was naïve.
Shaun Derry knew all this and his frustration boiled over just after the hour when he had a minor spat with John Eustace – the Watford captain’s Graham Alexander like tendency to referee the game, get away with repeat offending, and play handball in his own penalty area with no comeback from the officials was too much for QPR’s overworked central midfielder to stand and the pair had a little bump and barge like a pair of posh bankers arguing over a spilt pint of Peroni. QPR were awarded a free kick as a result, and then got another one straight away when it was launched forward towards Helguson who caught Mariappa flying out of his defensive position and milked him for a foul. Tommy Smith took the kick with Taarabt now withdrawn, and curled it right across the face of goal and wide from just outside the area.
With around 25 minutes to go the linesman on the Ellerslie Road side of the ground momentarily removed his flag from his rectum and raised it to flag Danny Graham offside. This brought resounding cheers from three sides of the ground, relieved to see that the official hadn’t passed away as was the fear after his failure to disallow Watford’s third goal. The sarcasm was short lived and swiftly punished. QPR, as they were somewhat prone to do all evening, punched the free kick downfield straight onto the head of Martin Taylor and the ball was floated in behind Gorkss and Connolly once more. Graham received it, offside again but having had one decision it was unfair to expect another, and he teed up Mutch whose powerful effort was held cleanly by Kenny under the cross bar.
At the other end the linesman who had waved Graham on prior to the second Watford goal used his eagle eye to flag Clarke offside as he attacked a long ball which was just as well because his flick on fell to Mackie who was crudely upended in the area for what would surely - even with Snap, Crackle and Pop running affairs - have been a certain penalty.
To their credit Mackie and Helguson kept plugging away. The latter picked up a scramble on the edge of the area and bumbled a low shot straight at Loach 20 minutes from time, then won a cross from Walker at the back post and headed down towards the former whose improvised effort required a tip over from Loach at full stretch. The Watford goalkeeper, in recent England squads, had been faultless to this point and remained so with a fine save away to his left to deny Helguson who won the resulting corner powerfully at the near post. That resulted in a second corner that was again won by Helguson and this time clearly handled by Martin Taylor, who was rewarded with a free kick was a perceived pushing offence by Gorkss. Another generous decision, but it is the season of giving after all.
Helguson was then taken off and replaced by Rob Hulse who introduced himself to the game first by inadvertently causing a fierce looking black eye to McGinn with a stray arm, and then picking up a yellow card for a similar challenge on Adrian Mariappa. Neither looked like serious intentional fouls to me, but the unfortunate injury caused by the first challenge clearly played on the referee’s mind in the second instance.
QPR were circling the drain by this stage. They looked better when Hulse came on, and his flick on nine minutes from time should have resulted in a goal for Jamie Mackie but he spooned the gilt edged chance over the bar. But within 60 seconds Watford broke with a substitute of their own Marvin Sordell drawing Kenny in a one on one situation but taking too long over his finish and ultimately being forced too far wide. A four goal lead would have been a fair reflection of the game.
In the end, rather embarrassingly, QPR managed to cut into the deficit slightly. After Kyle Walker had found Loach on his guard with a 40 yard shot that never really threatened the keeper, Rangers did finally pull one back when Clint Hill’s cross was flicked on by Hulse, held and touched back by Mackie and Tommy Smith calmly, and rather forlornly, side footed home against the club he and most of his family supports.
Five minutes of added time followed, sparking tantalisingly brief hopes of a Pride Park style comeback but all that followed was another fairly blatant handball by Eustace in his own area (one hand on the ball, the other clutching his own version of the rules of the game that includes numerous perks and benefits for players in yellow) and another golden chance for Sordell to get the fourth goal Watford deserved as he drew Kenny from his area and dribbled a tame shot towards the open goal that was run away from danger by Clint Hill who had scampered back onto his line.
This was a vintage QPR on television performance. Everything good that the R’s have been doing lately, everything you’ve been telling your friends about, was completely abandoned in favour of a limp, lifeless, one dimensional performance. They’ll wonder what on earth you were talking about having seen this – it was ever thus when QPR play on television.
Kaspars Gorkss was a lumbering oaf, Shaun Derry a plodding old man, Alejandro Faurlin a timid shadow of his former self and most of all Adel Taarabt, after six awe inspiring weeks, was back to the selfish, showboating liability he had been the last time he turned out in front of the television cameras against Bristol City. These are our outstanding players, all off their games and behaving as if a win was a formality. It needed Rob Hulse and Bradley Orr from the bench, and the ever impressive Kyle Walker and Paddy Kenny, to provide reminders of what has gone before this season. The only four players who can leave W12 tonight knowing they could have done no more.
It was a chastening experience, and the key is now how QPR respond. Next Saturday we travel to Leeds who are sixth, then it’s third placed Swansea at home, and then we go to Coventry who are fifth and Norwich in fourth. The key to this promotion push has been for some time the way the fans and players react and respond to the first defeat and any drop in form. Games come thick and fast now so we’ll soon know.
Links >>> Message Board Match Thread
QPR: Kenny 7, Walker 6, Gorkss 4, Connolly 5, Hill 6, Derry 5, Faurlin 4 (Orr 59, 6), Mackie 6, Taarabt 4 (Clarke 59, 5), Smith 6, Helguson 5 (Hulse 70, 6)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Hall, Rowlands, Ephraim
Booked: Walker (mistaken identity), Hulse (elbowing)
Goals: Smith 89 (assisted Mackie)
Watford: Loach 8, Doyley 7, Mariappa 6, M Taylor 7, A Taylor 7, Buckley 7 (Deeney 80, -), Eustace 7, McGinn 7 (Sordell 75, 6), Cowie 7, Mutch 8, Graham 9
Subs Not Used: Gilmartin, Hodson, Jenkins, Bennett, Massey
Booked: Buckley (foul), Andrew Taylor (foul)
Goals: Graham 26 (assisted A Taylor), Mutch 30 (unassisted), Graham 48 (assisted McGinn)
QPR Star Man – Paddy Kenny 7 Some nervy moments, and three goals against, but kept the score down with several fine saves including three one on ones. But it’s an award made of tin this week, rather than a golden statue or magnum of champagne.
Referee: Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire) 3 I have cringed in recent weeks listening to Portsmouth manager Steve Cotterill and Reading boss Brian McDermott demeaning one refereeing performance after another when in truth the officials have done little wrong in the game. While I cannot possibly give Deadman any kind of positive remark for this often ridiculous performance that included wild inconsistencies, two goals incorrectly allowed and at least one obvious penalty missed, it is important to point out that QPR lost because Watford were much better than them, not because the referee was a knob.
Attendance: 14,079 (1,500 Watford approx)