Rams make Rangers wait after stalemate – full match report
Wednesday, 20th Apr 2011 01:47 by Clive Whittingham
QPR and Derby always seem to struggle to win home fixtures against each other and that proved to be the case again at Loftus Road on Monday night.
It seems that QPR are going to walk (or crawl) over the finishing line rather than sprint triumphantly through it. The points gap at the top of the Championship, and associated goal difference, is such that only the ultimate pessimist could ever possibly believe there is a chance we may do a Paula Ratcliffe and not make the finishing line at all. But after the shock and humiliation at Scunthorpe, and the nail biting and arse clenching at Barnsley, came a night of pure, unbridled frustration against Derby at Loftus Road on Monday night.
Far from indulging on a prolonged promotion party as many (including me) had anticipated QPR have in the last week created a situation where points are still required from four devilish looking final games of the season. Not many points admittedly, and they’re only required at all if two of the chasing pack win three matches while we lose all four, but points all the same and it would have been much more relaxing to have it all sewn up officially by now.
Relaxing this encounter with the Rams most certainly was not. Nigel Clough has been more of an accountant than a football manager since taking charge after ten years at Burton Albion, hacking a massively over inflated and over paid squad to pieces while shouldering the expectations of one of the division’s biggest home supports, and he is a man who appreciates the limitations he is working under. Faced with a trip to the league leaders he set his team up to be solid defensively, and brutal in the tackle. If it moved, Derby kicked it. Three times they were lucky to escape without having a player sent off, and they successfully managed to completely destroy a full 20 minutes of the second half by causing injuries, feigning them or making substitutions.
It was a supreme ball ache, but QPR grew too impatient too quickly, hitting too many long balls too soon. They had threatened repeatedly in a first half where Heidar Helguson and Wayne Routledge should have had a goal each and Adel Taarabt had gone close with his latest goal of the season attempt but allowed their key players to drift out of the game in the second and the game petered out into a hopeless draw.
The early omens had been good, QPR were at full strength from the kick off. Paddy Kenny started in goal having just been named in the division’s team of the year along with Adel Taarabt who was the main support runner for Helguson. Tommy Smith and Routledge joined in the attack from wide with Shaun Derry and Alejandro Faurlin anchoring the midfield. At the back Bradley Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly and Clint Hill made up the defence.
Derby have endured another poor season, but have shown signs of life recently and beat promotion hopefuls Leeds last time out. That game had prompted everybody’s favourite pantomime villain Robbie Savage to suggest he may put off his long overdue retirement, currently scheduled for four games time (count the days), for another year. “I controlled the midfield” Savage told Sky Sports at the weekend, and he was particularly full of himself in this game too, taking time out from his holding midfield position to gesture repeatedly to the pocket in his shorts he believed he was keeping Taarabt in, like a bad comedian with one joke.
He’s been praised left right and centre by the media and even some QPR fans today for his performance in this game but I’ll warn you in advance he’s getting little from me. Not because I think he’s an absolute cock (although I do) but because I sat and watched him last night and cannot understand how anybody can say he was and is anything other than increasingly out of his depth in this league.
More on that as we go on I’m sure. To begin with Savage was the furthest thing from anybody’s mind at Loftus Road, packed in the home sections but sparsely populated in the away end with most of the Rams justifiably electing to stay at home and watch the game on Sky Sports. Paddy Kenny gave the massed ranks an early scare when he dallied over clearing a Kaspars Gorkss back pass and lashed it into the onrushing Theo Robinson who luckily could only direct the ball off into the Loft. Kenny had seemed to approach that clearance with some trepidation and it soon became apparent why as Bradley Orr retreated to take the goal kick for him.
It either says a lot about what Neil Warnock thinks of Kenny, or indeed not much about what he thinks of Radek Cerny, that he started with a goalkeeper who wasn’t even fit enough to take his own kicks. Allowing a defender to take them instead is a Sunday league set up and immediately sets a team on the back foot as firstly they can rarely kick it as far as a goalkeeper who does it for a living and secondly it allows opposing strikers to push as far forward as they like and remain onside in case the clearance is headed back down the field. Thankfully Kenny loosened up enough to do his own kicking from the midway point of the first half but it is a worry with a hectic Easter period approaching.
With four minutes on the clock QPR threatened for the first time. Tommy Smith and Heidar Helguson combined nicely with a one two on the edge of the area before the former tried to pick out Wayne Routledge in the penalty area and he was crowded out of possession and a corner was conceded. From that set piece Gorkss rose highest, heading the ball powerfully down to the back post where Helguson skewed wide from close range while off balance – he should have scored.
Referee Darren Deadman then entered the fray for the first occasion, awarding a corner when Helguson had clearly just missed the chance. Savage led a deputation of Derby players around the referee and sure enough, as all spineless Championship referees do all the time, Deadman then evened it up by awarding Derby a goal kick from the next corner despite Helguson’s header clearly deflecting out of play off a defender. Had the ball gone in the net, he’d have given them a free kick for a non-existent push. It’s the way officials at this level of the game work.
Derby threatened briefly with the time in single figures when Jamie Ward brought the ball down in the penalty area and hooked it over his head for Theo Robinson to attack, but Clint Hill bravely put himself between the ball and the goal and blocked the chance away to safety.
QPR were quickly back into their attacking groove and should have scored in the eleventh minute. Taarabt, who try not to forget was “in Savage’s pocket” at all times, skinned his man and accelerated away down the right before passing the ball to Orr. The right back elected to come in field rather than return the ball to his Moroccan team mate and he picked out Faurlin on the edge of the area. In typical style the Argentinean produced an improvised and quite brilliant chipped pass in behind the defence that eluded Smith but fell perfectly for Routledge in the six yard box but when faced with a choice of shooting or setting up Helguson at the back post he did neither and hit a wild effort across the face of goal and away to safety when it seemed a goal was certain. At this point I’d have told you it was only a matter of time, an hour or so later everybody was counting the cost of these missed chances.
The first flashpoint of what would become a very physical and poorly refereed game occurred just before the quarter hour mark. Taarabt and Savage were at the heart of it all as you would expect. The QPR man collected possession on halfway and turned to face his opponent head on. Savage waited a split second, and then launched himself into a two footed ankle high scissor kick that chopped Taarabt to the ground and saw players from both sides immediately pile into a handbag throwing session in front of the dugouts. On almost exactly the same blade of grass in a home game against Reading earlier this season Bradley Orr was shown a red card for an almost identical tackle on a player coming directly towards him. At the time I believe I said I didn’t agree with the decision, but could understand why it was given – you cannot, in the current climate, leaving the ground and tackle through the air with two feet. Except, you can if you’re Robbie Savage – then it’s only a yellow card.
Not receiving decent, regular service to feet angers Taarabt and causes him to throw one of his childish hissy fits – and we were treated to one of those later in the game for that reason – but actually kicking him only serves to make him more determined to punish you with the ball at his feet. Far from take Taarabt out of the game Savage actually seemed to anger him with his wild hack and after another foul on him two minutes later, and a booking for Wayne Routledge presumably for speaking out of turn, the Moroccan swung over a delicious free kick that Tommy Smith headed over when well placed.
There was better still to come though – within a minute Taarabt (still, apparently in Savage’s pocket remember) collected a nod down from Heidar Helguson 25 yards away from goal and immediately let fly with an outrageous lob with the outside of his right foot that needed Derby’s on loan keeper Brad Jones to scramble back and flick over the bar with his fingertips. A truly outstanding moment on what would become a fairly dire night of football.
When Derby did threaten it tended to come from their imposing central midfield pairing of Stephen Pearson and James Bailey – both pretty tall, well built lads. Partly that was because both of them could obviously play a bit, but mainly it was because if they didn’t threaten nobody would with Patrick-Agyemang-play-a-like Robinson doing his very best headless chicken impression in the Rams attack. Bailey almost scored completely by accident in the twentieth minute when a throw in that was never meant for him in a million years somehow bobbled past three or four players from both teams and found its way to him on the edge of the area – he chanced his luck still further with a long ranger but could only find the Upper Loft.
Then after Taarabt had tried to trick Savage, lost the ball, won it back again, and then cheated trying to win a free kick without success a counter attack saw Bailey pile forward again and, on this occasion, drag a much lower shot from similar range wide of the post with Paddy Kenny easily covering it.
There was another half chance in between those two, when Davies made the most of some confusion between Orr and the otherwise impressive Derry to move into the area and strike a volley over the bar from an unforgiving angle. That was nothing compared to the opportunity a minute before the break though when Robinson accelerated into the penalty area. With Gorkss committed to a sliding tackle in back play and two men up in support to the left bang in the middle of the goal it seemed that QPR were almost certain to be trailing at the break but Robinson showed all their clear thinking and composure of an epileptic gnat and hammered a ridiculously bad shot into the Lower Loft with the goal at his mercy. His pace and athleticism promises much, but very much like with Danny Haynes at Barnsley on Tuesday I can’t help but think there’s a track and field team out there more suited to his skill set.
Still, it was hard to argue that Derby hadn’t finished the half marginally the stronger team. That hasn’t been that unusual at Loftus Road this season – games against Portsmouth and Ipswich sprung to mind as the players trooped from the field. On those occasions QPR were rewarded for sticking at it and remaining patient with two two goal wins so it was disappointing to sit through a frequently interrupted second half of this game where Rangers completely abandoned everything they did well in favour of a hoof and hope game plan.
An attempt to lob Paddy Kenny from fully 60 yards by former Tranmere man Steven Davies within a minute of the restart drew a few smiles – it landed at the back of the Upper School End and was closer to hitting the back of the net at Griffin Park further down the Westway than at Loftus Road. But Rangers offered little in return and frustration started to set in among a previously boisterous home crowd as Faurlin hacked a poor shot over the bar from long range eight minutes later.
The frustration wasn’t helped by the match referee Darren Deadman – a man very keen on having all the throw ins taken in the right place, and absolutely determined that all the shiny television cameras should see him smiling and laughing off any criticism presumably under some misguided belief that having Don Goodman say “it’s nice to see a referee doing his job with a smile on his face” is a mark of a successful night, but not quite so good at actually refereeing the football game some lunatic had left him in charge of.
Just before the hour mark the card was in his hand again, and as with Savage previously it could easily be argued it was the wrong colour. Daniel Ayala was the culprit this time, lunging in on Smith with no control and studs showing in an attempt to win a loose ball. You cannot commit to tackles like that anymore but yet again Mr Deadman bottled the big decision and issued only a caution. From the free kick the ball dropped in the area and was then cleared behind for a corner by Jamie Ward who theatrically, laughably, flung himself to the ground under no contact whatsoever and was promptly awarded a free kick despite the linesman, who had a better view, awarding a corner.
Make hay while the sun shines as they say, within three minutes Derby could easily have been ahead. Jamie Ward, Derby’s outstanding player on the evening, skinned Bradley Orr down the left flank and quickly moved into the penalty area before pulling a perfect pass back behind the onrushing players who had all been sucked into the six yard box. It was plum for a midfielder arriving late in the old Stewart Wardley style and Pearson did just that and must have thought he’d scored after unloading a thunderous drive that somehow Paddy Kenny diverted away from goal with a breathtaking one handed save. A stop so good it won him the Sky man of the match award.
It was already ludicrous that Sheffield United should be staring relegation in the face while having a player as good as Ward out on loan, and having seen him play to such great effect in the second half here it’s even more difficult to understand. I’m not sure Scunthorpe, Preston and Palace could have found a bigger pillock than Mickey Adams to put in the Bramall Lane hotseat had they been allowed to pick one themselves. Apart from Paul Hart.
The officials didn’t improve in the final third of the game. First a Derby counter attack from a QPR corner was cynically brought to a halt by Faurlin who deliberately wrestled his man to the ground – a yellow card all day long but given only as a free kick – then an obviously offside Wayne Routledge was allowed to proceed and chip a cross to the back post where Helguson bundled a half chance past the post.
That was a rare moment of decent possession for Routledge, and Taarabt had hardly been passed the ball at all on the other side since half time. QPR had gone away from what they do well, they’d stopped getting their better players on the ball in dangerous areas and had played right into Derby’s hands in the process. Routledge, Smith and Taarabt all looked lively in the first half, and mostly anonymous in the second as their team mates resorted to aimless balls down the field. Why, when sticking to the game plan and remaining patient had worked so well in similar situations against Ipswich and Portsmouth here, they did this God only knows and it only got worse as the substitutions were made.
Midway through the half Adel Taarabt was removed, throwing water bottles and kicking the tunnel wall as he went, but rather than send on Ishmael Miller, Akos Buzsaky or even Rob Hulse against his former club Warnock sent on Patrick Agyemang. Now I can see that Hulse isn’t playing well, and that a game where standing still for more than half a second resulted in your legs being snapped off below the knee probably wasn’t ideal for Buzsaky, but the selection of Agyemang was mystifying. Agyemang is the last resort, he’s for when everything else has been tried and he is most certainly not the first port of call in any circumstances. He was terrible here, which I don’t hold against him really because he’s not a very good footballer.
In the end the only surprise was that having two footballers as obviously limited as Agyemang and Robinson on the field at the same time didn’t cause God to angrily decide that humans could no longer be trusted with football and open up a vortex through which the entire sport was sucked from the world never to be seen again.
Anyway 18 minutes to play another nasty foul, on Faurlin this time, another yellow card, for Bailey this time, and another wasted chance as Faurlin hooked a poor free kick over the bar by some distance.
Four minutes later, while shuffling a ball out for a goal kick, Kaspars Gorkss was needlessly shoved headfirst into one of the Sky cameras causing his weekly facial wound that required bandaging. Gratuitous, needless, nasty, dangerous – yellow card. I was starting to wonder what you have to do to get a red card from Mr Deadman at this stage, but then I remembered him refereeing our game with Newcastle here last year and the answer came to me immediately. Wear Hoops.
There are about 15 minutes of the match left at this point but I have not a single note made on my pad after the Gorkss incident. In the remaining time there were stoppages for injuries to Ward, Kenny and others, the usual spate of time wasting from a visiting side happy with a point, no fewer than 11 free kicks and four substitutions all at separate times. With five minutes of time added on at the end (had there been 15 nobody could have complained) that’s the best part of 20 minutes of nothing. The play was stopped repeatedly, for a variety of trivial reasons including a couple of free kicks where there seemed to be no contact at all, and a couple where the team sinned against actually had possession in a more advanced position and would liked to have carried on. QPR sent on first Miller and then Hulse and got longer and more direct with no affect at all against Barker and Ayala who both played well. It was mind numbingly dull, boring even. The worst 20 minutes of football I’ve seen in quite some time.
In the end it was a relief when it all ended. A capacity home crowd who came to celebrate a promotion, and made some terrific noise to begin with, could have gone home even more disappointed than they ultimately did because the longer it went on the more the nightmare scenario of Derby scoring the only goal presented itself. All the plaudits went to Savage but I thought Pearson, Bailey, Barker and Ayala did far, far more than he did. The Rams were set up for a purpose and executed the game plan well, although they could easily have been de-railed had a different referee been in charge.
QPR should not be so keen to depart from their usual game plan. Had we played as we did in the first half an hour for the rest of the match a break through would have come. By losing patience and going too long too soon we played right into Derby’s hands. Routledge, Taarabt and Smith are the players we have that teams fear, and in the first half you could see why. The logic of marginalising them in the second half was lost on me.
Still, we were never likely to do things the easy way.
QPR: Kenny 7, Orr 6, Gorkss 6, Connolly 6, Hill 6, Derry 7, Faurlin 6, Routledge 6 (Miller 83, -), Taarabt 6 (Agyemang 71, 5), Smith 7, Helguson 6 (Hulse 85, -)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Buzsaky, Ephraim, Shittu
Booked: Routledge (dissent)
Derby: Jones 7, Brayford 6, Barker 7, Ayala 7, Roberts 6, Savage 6, Bailey 7, Pearson 7 (Anderson 89, -), Robinson 5, Ward 8, Steve Davies 6 (Leacock 90, -)
Subs Not Used: Atkins, Porter, Doyle, Bueno, Ben Davies
Booked: Savage (foul), Ayala (foul), Bailey (foul), Brayford (foul)
QPR Star Man – Shaun Derry 7 Not many candidates in a mediocre performance. Kenny took the television honours, but I’m not sure about awarding a man of the match award for basically one save however fabulous it was. So I looked to the outfield players who worked the hardest and kept going at it and was left with Derry and Smith, the former just shading it.
Referee – Darren Deadman (Cheshunt) 4 I did wonder after Mr Bates magical adventures at Barnsley on Tuesday whether the league have decided that as we appear to be going up they’re going to give us a tour de force of their most irritating officials by way of a send off. Trevor Kettle booked in for the Leeds game no doubt. Firstly he was picky, constantly stopping a game that was already too stop start to check on players who then turned out not to be injured or to give a free kick when an advantage could easily have been played. Secondly while absolutely crash hot on the placing of free kicks and throw ins, he was regularly clueless about important decisions such as corners (which he kept awarding as goal kicks and vice versa) and two footed challenges of which he left several go. Why was Alejandro Faurlin not booked for blatantly hauling his man down during a Derby counter attack? Why was Robbie Savage not sent off for his tackle on Taarabt? I could go on, but I’ll sum him up with one incident. In the second half after taking a nasty whack to his gentleman’s area from Davies (referee looking the other way at the time) Paddy Kenny was given a chance to regather himself with the ball in the hands of his opposite number Brad Jones right at the other end of the field. With Kenny back on his feet the game could restart – not, however, before Deadman had trotted a full 90 yards back down the field to take the ball out of Jones’ hands, drop it, and tell him to pick it up again. This is where common sense should override any technical rules of the game and in any case five minutes later after another stoppage Kenny restarted the game with no drop ball. A manufactured referee rather than a natural, and a total pain in the arse.
Attendance: 16,745 (300 Derby approx) An excellent atmosphere to begin with, almost Oldham semi final like in the mood and volume, but the second half was like watching paint dry and the noise went the way of the game. Credit to the Derby fans that did travel to London on a working weekday for a game that was on the television, a little gang of them at the back of the stand were bouncing around and singing throughout. We’ve been on those long pointless voyages ourselves and they deserve respect for doing it.
Photo: Action Images
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