QPR outclass Cardiff to pull five points clear – full match report
Sunday, 28th Nov 2010 20:20 by Clive Whittingham
QPR moved five points ahead of Cardiff, and eight of Swansea, at the top of the Championship with a thrilling 2-1 win against the Bluebirds at Loftus Road on Saturday.
Bring a friend for God’s sake, football doesn’t get any better than this.
The biting cold, pierced by the high intensity gleam of the floodlights that made a near faultless playing surface sparkle in a luminous green colour was the ideal backdrop for what was an almost perfect football match at an atmospheric Loftus Road.
Goals, entertainment, and controversy – this game had the lot and it ebbed and flowed throughout. QPR fans begged for the final whistle as they held their 2-1 lead through four agonising minutes of stoppage time but to be honest I could have watched this game all night. A captivating, enthralling, encounter that only the Championship could really serve up.
Talk to me about Arsenal and their easy on the eye total football style, or Manchester United and their ruthless effectiveness at home. Talk to me about Rooney and Drogba and Giggs and Scholes and Essien. Talk to me as much as you like but remember that nine times out of ten Man United, Arsenal and Chelsea are playing against teams vastly inferior to themselves, who set up with everybody behind the ball and try not to get beaten or, worse still, just sling their reserve side out to start with and as good as admit they don’t think they can win.
Next year that might be us, Rangers are now unbeaten in almost half a season and clear once more at the top of the league, and one can only hope we maintain this high intensity, ambitious attacking game at the higher level should we ever make it. It’s the QPR way and it’s fantastic to see it back at Loftus Road after an absence of six years.
How do you like your attacking threats? Big and muscular, powerful and poised – Jay Bothroyd and Rob Hulse delivered a comprehensive lesson in the art. Tricky and different, skilful and quick – Craig Bellamy and Adel Taarabt were right on top of their games and shared a goal each. Throw in a conventional threat from wide areas or two in the former of Chris Burke and Tommy Smith, a ball busting central midfield destroyer such as Shaun Derry or Seyi Olofinajana, and good old fashioned right backs marauding forward down their flanks to pose an attacking threat whenever they could, and if there are two finer exponents of that art in this league than Kyle Walker and Kevin McNaughton then let them speak now or forever hold their peace, and you have a recipe for the perfect Championship match. Amongst it all Alejandro Faurlin and Peter Whittingham, gifted left footed players, adept at finding space to express themselves where there seems to be none, calmly spraying balls this way and that with occasional threats on goal thrown in for good measure.
This was high quality stuff, between two freakishly well matched teams who even after 96 minutes of football were still flying at each other’s throats and looking to score more goals. No men behind the ball and holding what we have here – this was like a Kevin Keegan wet dream.
After feeling the pinch of injuries and suspensions in recent weeks Neil Warnock was able to call on almost a full strength QPR team for this game. Crucially Shaun Derry returned to the centre of midfield alongside Alejandro Faurlin reuniting a partnership on which QPR’s excellent season so far has been founded. Matt Connolly moved back to the heart of the defence with Kaspars Gorkss. Clint Hill and Kyle Walker were the full backs ahead of Paddy Kenny while Bradley Orr had to make do with a place on the bench on his return from suspension. Up front Rob Hulse led the line following his first ever QPR goal against Preston last week, Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt kept their places in support but Tommy Smith was recalled at the expense of Leon Clarke who dropped to the bench. Noticeably the name of Martin Rowlands was missing from the team sheet altogether amid rumours of a loan move to Crystal Palace and a frosty relationship between him and the coaching staff. Heidar Helguson appeared among the replacements for the first time in more than a month.
Cardiff left Michael Chopra on the bench, preferring to partner Craig Bellamy and Jay Bothroyd together in a conventional big man-little man strike partnership. Chris Burke and Lee Naylor returned to the side after missing last Saturday’s defeat to Nottingham Forest with injury and former Rangers’ loanee Tom Heaton started in goal on the ground where he made a solitary QPR appearance last season. Accrington Stanley were the opponents that night, and the crowd was less than half what it was on Saturday. Kettles of fish sprang to mind as he emerged from the tunnel.
Prior to the start of play Cardiff had lost four games more than this unbeaten QPR side but only two points separated the teams with City boasting an impressive away record of six wins from nine matches compared to QPR’s four wins and five draws.
There’s little left for the two men on the touchline to see or do in their careers. Well on the way to 2000 games managed between them, and boasting eight promotions, Dave Jones and Neil Warnock look like men who’ve simply thrown caution to the wind to this season and gone for it – Warnock, still laughably in shorts until QPR lose a game, seems to be enjoying it while Jones is the modern day Steve Coppell, getting steadily more miserable with each passing victory for his side. Jones blamed referee Kevin Friend for his side’s demise, but made key tactical mistakes in the second half and ignored two very good shouts for penalties from the home team. It was hard not to sympathise with him though, Cardiff should have had a spot kick seven minutes from time with the score at 2-1 – it wouldn’t be the Championship without an incompetent referee.
I wondered before the game, with Cardiff’s forward line boasting pace in abundance, whether Warnock may have been tempted to return Bradley Orr to the side at right back and move Kyle Walker to the left to provide extra mobility to the QPR defence. I wondered that a little bit more after three minutes when winger Chris Burke gave Clint Hill a comprehensive going over and smashed a low cross into the near post that Kenny claimed cleanly with Bellamy loitering in the vicinity awaiting a fumble.
Kenny quickly bowled the ball out to Faurlin and Rangers went on the attack themselves, stringing together an attractive five pass move that culminated with Rob Hulse touching the ball off to Mackie who fired a foot or so wide of the post from fully 25 yards. Heaton had a clear sight of the ball and would have made the save had it been targeted inside the post rather than wide. Olofinjana then tried his luck from similar range, but it posed more threat to the greenhouses to the rear of the properties on Loftus Road than it did to Paddy Kenny’s goal.
Cardiff’s attack is sufficiently threatening to create problems for opponents out of nothing, so the last thing QPR needed to do was give them a helping hand. In the ninth minute a slip in midfield by Faurlin as he received a pass from Derry conceded possession to Bellamy who found Burke racing forwards down the right flank. Having reached the penalty area he teed up Whittingham for a curling left foot shot from 20 yards that cleared the crossbar by a matter of inches as Kenny scrambled across praying for a positive outcome – the keeper would have been nowhere near it had it dipped in.
And Rangers didn’t heed that warning. After a penalty appeal at the School End when Blake appeared to divert Taarabt’s cross behind with his arm Cardiff were gifted the opening goal by a slip in almost the same place as Faurlin’s earlier mistake, this time by Kaspars Gorkss. Personally I felt awarding a spot kick against Blake when his hand was down by his side and the cross was fired at him from a few yards away would have been harsh, but we had a penalty awarded at Portsmouth for less so City could count themselves lucky with that, and the through ball to Bellamy who appeared to be a yard or two offside when Bothroyd seized on Gorkss’ error and played him in. The Welshman appeared at first to have taken too long over his finish, and Paddy Kenny did get a foot to the subsequent shot, but it found the back of the net anyway and Cardiff were in front.
QPR’s response came within five minutes - an equalising goal that again owed much to incompetent play by the opposition defence. Tom Heaton moved out into the right back spot to take a free kick but completely fluffed it, hacking it right into the heart of his own defence where Rob Hulse seized on it and was immediately hauled to the ground by Mark Hudson. Unbelievably the former Palace defender escaped without a booking but when the free kick was taken by Taarabt and nodded down across the face of goal by Gorkss with nobody able to get a touch QPR were able to keep the pressure on and fashion their first goal of the afternoon.
Taarabt beautifully set up Faurlin to cross from the corner of the penalty area but his ball was just too high for Gorkss. Tommy Smith retrieved the ball by the right hand corner flag, faced up his man and then delivered a perfect left footed delivery straight onto Gorkss’ head and the Latvian didn’t need asking for a third time – he thumped an unstoppable header past Heaton and into the bottom corner. Huge credit must go to Taarabt, Faurlin and Smith who keep the pressure on for almost two minutes with three fine deliveries into the penalty area that Hudson and co at the back for Cardiff simply couldn’t cope with.
Both teams were now settled and well into the game, buoyed by their respective goals, and the chances flowed at a rate of one every couple of minutes after Gorkss equaliser. First Hulse, in really top form for the first time since joining QPR, nodded down for Taarabt on the edge of the area but his shot was blocked away.
Four minutes later Craig Bellamy got in down the right and cut the ball back towards Bothroyd only for Kyle Walker to intervene. Rangers didn’t really have anybody that could live with Bellamy and within 45 seconds he was in behind the home defence again, this time choosing to go for goal himself and volleying high into the Loft End. For all the ironic cheers and jeers he drew with that effort it was clear to everybody inside the ground that Bellamy was playing extremely well and QPR were affording him far too much time and space to do damage – partly that was because he is such a good player with a natural instinct for drifting into space, but I also think the QPR defenders showed him too much respect and were afraid to get close to him because they knew he could burn them for pace if he had grass behind them to put the ball into and chase.
At the other end Taarabt was posing a different kind of threat to Cardiff but Hudson and Blake were making all the same mistakes as Gorkss and Connolly were with Bellamy – conceding too much time and space for the Moroccan to operate in. I expected Olofinjana to try and nail Taarabt early in the game on Saturday but he wasn’t really detailed to deal with him and in fact the only time the pair did come face to face was midway through the half when Taarabt faced the big Nigerian up, hinted at a run to the right, and then drew his body back the other way and took a shot on with his left that flew a couple of yards wide of the far post.
Taarabt wasn’t nearly as effective on the half hour when Cardiff crowded him out as he hunted for options on the edge of the penalty area and then Whittingham cleared the ball down field to Bothroyd who outpaced Gorkss and was then denied by a fine, brave save by Paddy Kenny down at his feet. When we sold Damion Stewart in the summer the one major concern I had was that it left us short of pace through the middle of our defence with neither Gorkss nor Connolly particularly quick. That hasn’t really been a problem so far this season, and Stewart has not been a success for Bristol City, but for the first time on Saturday I thought our centre backs looked really slow and were regularly in trouble against Cardiff’s speedy front two. Gorkss and Connolly constantly backed off looking for the sanctuary of their own 18 yard box and on this occasion Gorkss needed Kenny to rescue him from an increasingly dire looking situation as Bothroyd bore down on goal.
In the closing ten minutes of the half Cardiff won a couple of corners, both of which were bravely headed out of the heart of the six yard box by Clint Hill. At the School End Tom Heaton got down well to save Alejandro Faurlin’s low drive from the edge of the area in the bottom corner and the chasing pack looking to seize on the rebound were subsequently flagged offside.
The second half was a slow burner to begin with, at least when compared to the end to end breathlessness of the first. An early foul on Faurlin gave Taarabt a chance to deliver a ball to the heart of the penalty area but Heaton confidently emerged from his goal line to claim the ball after it had initially been headed high into the night sky. QPR also forced a corner, and were left half heartedly appealing for a penalty that was never going to be awarded when Rob Hulse’s near post flick may, or may not, have struck the arm of a defender.
Cardiff, for their part, threatened when Bothroyd ran at Gorkss and forced a corner with a cross that was headed behind at the near post. When that set piece was cleared Danny Drinkwater, in a rare attacking position, dragged his shot wide.
Then just before the hour Cardiff made a very strange substitution. They took off Drinkwater and put on Jason Koumas. Now on the face of it that was a pretty obvious move to make as Koumas has been a sparkling talent in this league before and Drinkwater had hardly caught the eye in an hour of action. However in doing that Dave Jones removed the man who was keeping Kyle Walker under wraps down the right flank of the QPR team. In an evenly matched game Walker could easily have been a key figure for QPR but Drinkwater had, to this point, prevented him from making much impact in attack. Within 55 seconds Koumas had been yellow carded for an ugly challenge on Walker tight to the far touchline and for the last half an hour of the game QPR looked so much more dangerous down the right than they had done before while Koumas offered almost nothing going forward for City. If Drinkwater was injured then fair enough, if not then Jones may wish to examine his own decision making before questioning that of the referee especially as they spent much of the second half knocking long balls up to Bothroyd thereby reducing Craig Bellamy’s effectiveness markedly.
A second booking in as many minutes for the visitors saw Whittingham have his name taken for a cynical shirt pulling offence against Taarabt as he skipped his way towards the Cardiff the penalty area. It seemed as if QPR were starting to get on top and Rob Hulse nearly hammered home that point when he collected the ball in the penalty area and fired wide after engineering space for himself. Finally on Saturday QPR saw something like the Rob Hulse they thought they had bought in August, battering the inadequate Hudson into submission. Hulse later glanced a header wide after Adel Taarabt used trickery to create space for a devilish cross from the flank. Rangers were slowly tightening the vice.
Jamie Mackie came close to breaking his 12 game QPR scoring drought with an instinctive 25 yard snap shot in the sixty sixth minute. Patient, passing build up play around the edge of the Cardiff penalty area almost resembled an ice hockey power play for a minute or so as the likes of Derry and Faurlin moved the ball this way and that probing for an opening. Eventually the ball was fed into Hulse’s feet on the edge of the box and he brilliantly muscled Blake out of the way before touching it back to Mackie who saw his shot acrobatically saved by Heaton – had he set it out wider of the goalkeeper to start with Rangers would have been in front.
They didn’t have to wait much longer though. From the corner Taarabt’s delivery was cleared initially, but then played back to him by Derry whose crossfield pass was flicked perfectly to the Moroccan by a flick on from Tommy Smith. Showing rigidity not always apparent in his game Taarabt ploughed through an early tackle from Lee Naylor designed to stop him causing havoc in the penalty area and with Naylor now out of the game that was exactly what he did. Taarabt surged into the area, ran straight at a rather terrified looking Hudson, performed a couple of well executed step overs and a drop of the shoulder to create space and then dispatched a perfect left foot shot past Heaton and into the far top corner of the net. Taarabt raced away to celebrate with assistant manager Keith Curle on the touchline as Loftus Road erupted. It was nothing more than QPR deserved having dominated the match since the half time break.
Cardiff responded immediately and were unfortunate not to level when Burke cut into the area after receiving the ball from Craig Bellamy and then unloaded a shot at goal that flicked off Kaspars Gorkss on the way through, caught Paddy Kenny full in the face and stayed out. Not for the first time this season I wondered if this amazing run of good luck and fortune we’ve enjoyed this season might just well mean it’s our year. Kenny can do no wrong, even when he doesn’t seem to know anything about what’s just happened, and after one save with his face he then made an unorthodox stop with his feet when a low shot from Peter Whittingham seemed to have deceived him, either through a deflection or a bad read on the goalkeeper’s part. Whatever the reasoning, he managed it, and the lead remained intact.
Cardiff sent on Michael Chopra for Chris Burke ten minutes from time and immediately threatened after Taarabt conceded possession in a poor area – Clint Hill didn’t seem too disappointed to receive a yellow card having cynically stopped the counter attack in its tracks with a foul on Kevin McNaughton. Taarabt was again lucky to get away with some selfishness when a foul on Rub Hulse presented Rangers with an interesting attacking free kick that he drilled straight into the wall when a cross was the obvious option – Cardiff countered and the R’s were lucky to survive. Taarabt was otherwise excellent though – unusually diligent in his tracking back and typically effective in possession. In many ways he was the difference between the two sides.
Seven minutes from time Cardiff should have been awarded a penalty. That familiar story of pacey striker running at terrified centre halves that had dominated the day at both ends of the pitch was played out again as Bothroyd sprinted right at the heart of the QPR defence with the ball at his feet. After turning back inside he then hit the deck after a blatant trip by Matt Connolly who had committed himself too early the other way. It was a clear and obvious penalty without even needing to see the replay, those in F Block were unanimously agreed, but referee Kevin Friend, never shy of favouring a home team unmercifully, ignored the lengthy appeals from the visitors.
On went the game and within a minute Cardiff were tearing into the QPR penalty area again. This time it was Bellamy and again he fell to the floor as he entered the area. Hill was the nearest man to him but it was an obvious dive. Presumably Bellamy was looking to exploit any doubt in the referee’s mind over the previous decision and get him to even up the poor call against Cardiff with an equally bad one in their favour. The calls were ignored, and Bellamy was booked, although as the subsequent corner was still allowed to be taken I presume the booking was for dissent rather than the dive itself, otherwise Rangers would have restarted play with a free kick.
Leon Clarke came on with three minutes remaining – ostensibly to waste time and allow Adel Taarabt to receive a standing ovation on his way off – but he could hardly have made a bigger impact with his seven minutes on the field. The first thing he did was scythe down Kevin McNaughton wide on the Cardiff right, a challenge for which he was booked, and the resulting inswinging free kick from Whittingham was headed away by Derry.
Then, in the last minute of four added at the end of the game when Agyemang, another late sub for the tireless Mackie, crawled all over Lee Naylor Clarke was able to collect possession down the QPR right and power into the penalty area. I don’t think it would be too unfair to say that hopes of a positive outcome at this point were low but Clarke, to his credit, did some sort of Bambi on Ice routine and bumbled past Blake who then clearly and obviously wrestled him to the ground for a stone wall penalty. Three sides of Loftus Road erupted as one, and then stood astonished and captivated as Friend ignored the appeals, Clarke rose from the ground and poked the ball back into play on the edge of the box. Penalty or not the goal was still there for the taking but for reasons known only to him, and possibly the Gods of comedy who created the situation for their own general amusement, Fitz Hall entered the stage from the right with the ball rolling towards him, the goal gaping, and not a Cardiff man in sight. Hall struck it hard and low but Cardiff threw a get out of jail free card in his way and blocked the ball away on the goal line. QPR were at this point a team that was supposed to be hanging on at 2-1 but still they came – Agyemang had finished mauling Naylor’s carcass and made his way into the area to collect the rebound for a second time. He chipped it up to the back post and with the stimulation of it all threatening to pop my eye balls in their sockets Leon Clarke reappeared for act two, but fluffed his lines and nodded the ball onto the roof of the net.
Whether Friend was just evening up the poor Bothroyd penalty decision by not awarding Clarke his, couldn’t be doing with the hassle when he knew he was going to blow the final whistle after the goal kick, or is just completely incompetent it was hard to tell. Dave Jones bleated and moaned to anybody that would listen to him after the game about the Bothroyd decision, but strangely didn’t mention the foul on Clarke which was every bit as blatant. I wonder why?
This was a tremendously entertaining, even game between two sides with an abundance of attacking talent going all out to win the game right to the end. Even in stoppage time with a one goal lead QPR were on the attack and looking to add a third goal. Had both sides been awarded the penalties they should have been by referee Kevin Friend then it would have finished 3-2 with a last minute winner, probably by Rob Hulse, and that would have been fitting drama and excitement for a game as enthralling as this. It was impossible to take your eyes off it for a moment.
As you would have expected looking at the league table the teams were incredibly evenly matched. Dave Jones brought Craig Bellamy inside to play as part of a conventional front two, and largely matched QPR’s successful system across the park. In Jay Bothroyd and Rob Hulse both teams had old fashioned target men who were right on top of their game and won just about every header they went for against the respective centre half pairings who were mediocre for both sides. The knock downs and lay offs by Hulse were seized on principally by Adel Taarabt while Cardiff had Craig Bellamy sniffing around at the other end – again you could barely get a cigarette paper between the respective performances with neither defence coping well with Taarabt or Bellamy all afternoon. Cardiff had Chris Burke, QPR had Tommy Smith. Cardiff had human battering ram Seyi Olofinjana, QPR had Shaun Derry once again shining in his continuing Indian summer.
The reason QPR won, in my opinion, was because of their ball retention and work rate. QPR had an amazing 62 per cent of the possession according to the after match stats and were able to pick up enough second balls from Bothroyd at one end while maintaining possession for long periods around the Cardiff penalty area – the value of having the ball and keeping the pressure on summed up perfectly by our two goals which both came after initial deliveries into the box had been cleared. Cardiff had nobody in their midfield that moved the ball around and won it in the air as well as Alejandro Faurlin and nobody in their team who worked as hard as Jamie Mackie and that overall tenacity, class and work rate told in the end.
I’ve shied away from any “we’re the real deal” statements that I usually make just before QPR collapse but it almost feels as if we’ve had our sticky spell and are hitting top gear again and everybody is coming back to form and fitness and the forthcoming fixtures look favourable…
Remain calm everybody, nice and calm.
QPR: Kenny 8, Walker 7, Gorkss 6, Connolly 6, Hill 6, Derry 7, Faurlin 7, Mackie 7 (Agyemang 90, -), Taarabt 8 (Clarke 87, -), Smith 7 (Hall 90, -), Hulse 8
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Orr, Helguson, Ephraim
Booked: Hill (foul), Clarke (foul)
Goals: Gorkss 18 (assisted Smith), Taarabt 68 (assisted Derry/Smith)
Cardiff: Heaton 7, McNaughton 7, Hudson 5, Blake 6, Naylor 6, Drinkwater 7 (Koumas 57, 5), Whittingham 6, Olofinjana 7, Burke 7 (Chopra 80, -), Bellamy 8, Bothroyd 8
Subs Not Used: Marshall, Gyepes, McPhail, Keogh, Matthews
Booked: Koumas (foul), Whittingham (foul), Bellamy (dissent)
Goals: Bellamy 13 (assisted Bothroyd)
QPR Star Man – Rob Hulse 8 This should probably start being the ‘QPR Star Man (apart from Adel Taarabt) Award’ because the Moroccan could easily have taken the honours yet again for a scintillating display culminating in a fine goal. However I thought the way Hulse led the line and pulled Blake and Hudson apart throughout the match was wonderful to see. His work rate and heading ability meant the centre halves didn’t get a moment’s peace, or a clean header, all afternoon. It was Hulse’s best performance for us by some distance and worthy of recognition in my opinion.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire) 5 Overall I thought he controlled the game well and wasn’t over fussy with either the whistle or the cards. However a referee who gets the key decisions in the game wrong cannot be marked too highly. Both Bothroyd and Clarke were denied absolutely blatant penalties for no reason at all, and Bellamy’s first goal was a yard offside at least.
Attendance: 17,316 (2,500 Cardiff) A terrific atmosphere inside Loftus Road with all four sides packed to the rafters and two sets of supporters really giving it their all and responding to the enthralling action being played out in front of them. It felt like the old Ian Holloway Second Division days in the second half as QPR pressed for the winner and the crowd got louder and more enthusiastic with every attack. Mercifully I saw no trouble all day and haven’t read any reports of anything serious either which makes a refreshing change in this fixture.
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