Late agony prolongs QPR’s 15 year wait – full match report
Tuesday, 26th Apr 2011 21:22 by Clive Whittingham
It has been said for many years that QPR are incapable of arranging a piss up in a brewery, and on Monday at Loftus Road a further body of evidence was added to the prosecution case.
The formula for piss ups in breweries is a simple one; open the brewery, invite the people in, maybe hand out some plastic glasses at the door. The equation facing QPR on Saturday wasn’t even that difficult. Win. Simply win, then everything else would be irrelevant.
Having failed to complete the equation successfully Rangers were left to rely on that last refuge of the nervous team coming to the end of a long hard season – results elsewhere. At ten to five, as Colin Webster drew a frustrating afternoon of action to a close at Loftus Road , one crucial result elsewhere stood in our favour with Derby repeating their trick of the previous Monday in W12 by holding one of the promotion chasers, Norwich on this occasion, on their own patch.
That was all the encouragement a capacity home crowd needed, and literally thousands of them streamed onto the lush green playing surface to celebrate the promotion. Anybody who has ever feared for the evacuation potential of the ageing Ellerslie Road side of the ground can sleep easier in their beds now having seen that entire side of the ground empty out onto the field in a matter of seconds - a heaving mass of sweaty bodies pouring down from the back of the stand clambering over seats and other supporters as they went. Adel Taarabt was carried aloft on the shoulders of fans while Bradley Orr was grabbing hold of anybody he could find asking them “have we done it?”
But on eleven previous occasions this season the Norwich result has been going in our favour at the final whistle of our game only to change on the final kick of their game in the Canaries’ favour and so it did again here. In scenes reminiscent of the tragic farce at Scarborough where the home chairman stood overlooking an expectant crowd that had invaded the pitch with his finger on the champagne cork ready to celebrate survival just as Carlisle’s Jimmy Glass hammered in a last minute goal against Plymouth to save them and relegate the Gulls instead, news slowly filtered through that Norwich had indeed scored a third goal thereby condemning this promotion and title race that has essentially been over in our favour for the best part of a month to drag on for another week. The Carlisle caretaker manager that day was Nigel Pearson, whose Hull side made it a record 17 away league games unbeaten with a richly deserved draw in this game. His job for the summer will be establishing why a team so formidable on the road is terrified of its own shadow at home.
There followed an amiable sort of chaos that stretched on for the best part of half an hour with those who can do maths remaining disconsolately in the stands while those who can’t danced up and down on the pitch. QPR haven’t had a lot of practice at dealing with such moments and that was painfully obvious to neutrals in attendance. Were those on the pitch celebrating moving six points and 14 goals clear of Cardiff with two goals left to play? Were they celebrating because they didn’t know the Norwich score? Were they celebrating at all or just glad of a chance to run on the pitch? The public address system repeatedly relayed the news that as both Cardiff and Norwich had won the party would have to wait for another day, and that the players would not be coming back out (not that there was any room for them anyway) but the celebrating throng remained. In the absence of anything better to do with their time they sang songs in praise of Lakshmi Mittal and then, bizarrely and belatedly, Flavio Briatore who laughed, waved, and no doubt began to plot the next 45 per cent hike in season ticket prices.
Things had all started so positively as well. QPR came into the game on the back of an excellent performance against third placed Cardiff at the weekend where they twice recovered from falling behind to draw and could easily have won. Despite the heat and pressure of that game just 48 hours previously Neil Warnock made just one change to his starting 11 here. Paddy Kenny collected the LSA Player of the Year award prior to kick off and started in goal as usual but he had a new centre half in front of him with Fitz Hall preferred to Matt Connolly alongside Kaspars Gorkss in between Bradley Orr and Clint Hill. Shaun Derry and Alejandro Faurlin anchored the midfield with Tommy Smith and Wayne Routledge bombing forward behind Heidar Helguson leading the attack. In Hull in January Adel Taarabt threw his most spectacular tantrum of the season and demanded to be substituted before half time, the captain owed his team a performance here completing the three man attack behind the lone striker.
Hull set a league record 16 consecutive away matches unbeaten when they drew 1-1 at Swansea last week but they were beaten 4-2 by Middlesbrough at home on Saturday and came into this game knowing only a victory would do to keep alive their already very slender play off hopes. Matt Duke returned in goal after Vito Mannone picked up an injury in the Saturday game. Nigel Pearson selected former QPR loanee Jay Simpson in attack alongside Matty Fryatt with further support from Richard Garcia and it was Fryatt who almost gave the Tigers a first minute lead as they crafted a three on three counter attack that ended with the former Leicester man drilling a low shot from the right side of the penalty area that Paddy Kenny did well to save with his right boot.
If the passionate and noisy home crowd thought that was going to be the start of a nerve laden under-performance from their team they were quickly reassured. Adel Taarabt, comprehensively marked out of the first meeting between these sides, danced his way into a free kick by the corner flag and then delivered a fabulous cross that Heidar Helguson headed fractionally over the bar.
In the ninth minute Taarabt laid another one on a plate, and this time the invitation was gobbled up enthusiastically. Wayne Routledge was the beneficiary, easily outpacing the Hull defence after Taarabt had sliced them asunder with an astute through ball and then, for once, showing great composure in a one on one situation with the goalkeeper to finish confidently and give QPR a one nil lead. They couldn’t have wished for a better start.
Things got better still. Within two minutes of falling behind Hull, who lost Liam Rosenior and Vito Mannone to serious injuries in the first half of their Saturday match, were forced into a substitution. Man Utd loanee Cory Evans was withdrawn from the midfield and replaced with another Premiership loan, Everton’s Hope Akpan.
QPR needed no such encouragement, and really looked in the mood with Taarabt at the heart of everything good they did. In the nineteenth minute a miracle occurred – Fitz Hall found a QPR player in the penalty box with one of his “long” throws. That man was Heidar Helguson who intelligently flicked the ball goalwards forcing a save under his crossbar from Duke.
Although Hull briefly threatened when Fryatt found space in the area to lay a ball off to Simpson who fired over from 20 yards play soon returned to the far end of the ground. Just before the half hour mark Adel Taarabt swung a wonderful, undefendable ball into the area that unbelievably passed right through the corridor of uncertainty between the defenders and keeper without a player from either team gambling sufficiently on the quality of the ball in to arrive and get a crucial touch.
Two minutes later the Moroccan was at it again, making the most of hard work and strong running with the ball at his feet by Tommy Smith to trick Richard Garcia into a soft foul setting up a free kick opportunity in a promising position wide on the right. Taarabt, typically, took the free kick himself and delivered with devil and accuracy once again. Once more everybody in the penalty box missed their chance on the first occasion, then when Kaspars Gorkss nodded the ball back into the heart of the goalmouth having retrieved it from the back post area a scramble that seemed to last for 40 days and nights ensued during which Shaun Derry probably came as close as anybody to sticking it away but Hull were able to clear. It seemed like only a matter of time, and by the end of the afternoon that’s exactly what it was - although not in the way we anticipated at this stage.
Hull sparked a scramble of their own six minutes before half time - though it was nowhere near as dramatic and heart stopping as the QPR version - when a corner was allowed to fall loose in the penalty area and Rangers were again indebted to the hard working Tommy Smith for closing down and blocking a shot from Jay Simpson, who scored 13 goals for a mostly poor Rangers side last season so does know where the net is even if his stats this year, just six goals all season, suggest otherwise. One of the many good things about Tommy Smith is that even when he’s not in his best form, and he hasn’t been for the last two games, his work rate is always absolutely exceptional. Simpson showed an interest in the ball when it was returned to the area seconds later but Paddy Kenny rushed from his line to defuse the danger, performing a spectacular midair summersault after colliding with Fitz Hall in the process. He required lengthy treatment on what seemed to be a collarbone injury, sparking a chant from the Loft about him only needing one arm.
That left a decent length of stoppage time to be played at the end of the half but other than a further Hull corner, headed away by Helguson, and a QPR free kick 45 yards from goal awarded for a foul on Routledge that Taarabt ludicrously decided to step up and shoot towards goal with predictable results, action was few and far between in the closing stages. QPR were applauded from the field at half time, half the job had been done and done very well but such was the hosts’ superiority in the half it was hard to shake the feeling the scoreline should have been more convincing.
Having made a change after ten minutes Nigel Pearson gambled on playing another card at half time, and nearly found himself busted within ten seconds of the second period beginning. Aaron McLean, a big name January transfer from Peterborough who has once again failed to make the significant impact expected of him at the higher level, came on for midfielder Tom Cairney and almost immediately found himself crashing to the turf clutching his knee in agony after a clash with Shaun Derry. Referee Webster had already stopped the play and awarded QPR a free kick for a high boot on Alejandro Faurlin, or so it seemed at first, but after a lengthy bout of treatment for McLean Hull actually returned the ball right down the field to Paddy Kenny which all seemed rather strange.
Perhaps a more physical approach to a game where flair players Routledge and Taarabt had held the greatest influence in the first half was a half time theme for the Hull manager because no sooner had the game restarted than Andy Dawson clattered through the back of Heidar Helguson for a clear an obvious first yellow card of the game. From the free kick, 40 yards out and wide on the QPR right, Adel Taarabt either got the cross hopelessly wrong and watched angrily as it sailed out for a goal kick, or he tried an audacious lob which Matt Duke was never getting to but which flew comfortably off target – I don’t think you’d ever get an honest answer from our captain as to which it was.
And some more rugged, kick em now and ask questions later, approach work from Hull presented QPR with their next chance seven minutes later. A pacey counter attack was almost brought to an end by Garcia’s crude lunge on Taarabt in the centre circle but Helguson played on and then won a free kick of his own right on the corner of the penalty box after a trip from Anthony Gerrard. Webster awarded the second free kick, showed a yellow card for the first tackle to Garcia, and play recommenced with Taarabt smacking the free kick well wide of the top corner.
At this stage everything seemed to be going well and the game reminded me of an end of season match with Swindon at the end of our last promotion season, 2003/04, where we scored early and saw the job through. Fitz Hall was having his best game of the season in defence just to add to the sense of security, when Matty Fryatt did turn him on the edge of the area just after the hour he quickly executed a brave block. Then when the former Leicester man, who scored a winning goal for the Foxes on this ground last season, seized on a rare misjudgement from Hall and raced into the area ready to almost certainly score Hall came back at him and pinged the ball away for a corner with a powerful sliding tackle.
But these chances, that started with that little half opportunity on the edge of the box for Fryatt, started to come with greater frequency. QPR were visibly wilting – through tiredness or nervousness or both. They started to perform that well worn QPR trick of old with the back four sinking far, far too deep into their own half which in turn gave the midfield too much space to cover and too much work to do which in turn left the attackers isolated. Suddenly Alejandro Faurlin was giving the ball away and Shaun Derry was becoming overrun. Hull sensed their opportunity and with McLean, Fryatt and Simpson already out there Richard Garcia pushed further forward still changing a 4-3-3 into almost a 4-2-4 which then forced the QPR back four back further still. Just before the hour mark I would have happily said we were comfortable, ten minutes later it felt like we were hanging on. A low cross from James Chester was intelligently flicked on by Fryatt from close in but with Kenny beaten and watching the ball go on its way it flew inches wide of the top corner.
It was clear QPR needed some fresh legs, but with Ishmael Miller’s loan from West Brom expired and Rob Hulse’s form since joining from Derby not great Neil Warnock’s options were limited. What QPR needed was a fresh pair of lungs in midfield, and somebody to hold the ball up front (Helguson looked like he needed to spend some time in an iron lung by this point after another afternoon of hard graft in the sun) to enable the defence to step forwards ten yards. Warnock brought on Hogan Ephraim for Tommy Smith to try and fulfil the first part of that and the initial signs were good as he chased and harried his man out of possession to at least get Hull going away from our goal for a brief moment.
I’d have been tempted to take Adel Taarabt off at this stage myself, and it’s not often I say that. After a superb performance for an hour he’d started to become a bit of a liability to us because he was clearly struggling for energy levels. Twice the ball was played up to him on the halfway line only to bounce horribly off his first touch and straight back to a Hull player to attack us. The reason he was left on was there for all to see 20 minutes from time when Taarabt suddenly got his first touch spectacularly right with a glorious turn on the halfway line that opened up the entire opposing half of the field for him to run into but having reached the penalty area at an acute angle he powered a shot high into the side netting with Duke confident of his angles.
Nigel Pearson responded immediately, adding some more height and pace to his side in the form of David Amoo, a Liverpool loanee, instead of Simpson who was warmly applauded by his former fans. Ammo would turn out to be the heartbreaker.
The match officials were maybe starting to tire a little themselves as silly mistakes started to creep into their games after an almost faultless first hour. QPR would have had good cause for argument had they conceded 18 minutes from time as Webster first mistakenly awarded Hull a throw in when his linesman had correctly given it the other way, then immediately backed that up with a free kick for the visiting side and finally another throw down by the corner flag when the free kick from Dawson had clearly skimmed off the head of Jack Hobbs last – Paddy Kenny confidently came out to claim the resulting cross to end the dispute.
Warnock blinked again with a quarter of an hour left, bringing on Patrick Agyemang for the battered, bruised and exhausted Helguson. Against Derby in the last home game Agyemang had barely looked like a footballer at all, then at Cardiff on Saturday he could have been mistaken for a young Les Ferdinand. You never know quite what you’re going to get from Dave and sadly, in this game, he lapsed once more into a very convincing impression of a supporter who won a place in the team in a raffle – full of effort and endeavour, with all the subtlety and guile of a house brick. When you’re luck isn’t in, it isn’t in, and he would have a chance to send us into the Premiership that I’d have fancied Helguson to bury all day long later in the game.
By that stage Hull had equalised as three consecutive offside decisions went against Rangers - all marginal but all probably correct. First Amoo and McLean chased a ball through to Paddy Kenny from what looked like obvious offside positions without being flagged but I’ll give the linesman the benefit of the doubt that he would have flagged had either of them touched the ball. Then at the Loft End Wayne Routledge looked level to me as he ran in behind the Hull defence and squared it to Taarabt who fired home but he was flagged – apparently, though I haven’t seen them myself, the television replays show him to be off. From my position in F Block he looked bang level.
Then, as Rangers’ tired midfield failed to contest a clearance from Paddy Kenny that was subsequently dropped straight back in behind our back four, the dreaded moment occurred. Amoo seized his chance, the flag stayed down, and the powerful forward belied his tender years to remain composed and lash the equaliser into the roof of the net.
Three sides of Loftus Road fell deathly silent, nobody able to do anything other than hold their heads in their hands or gallantly admit that it had probably been coming. On Saturday at Cardiff QPR were six inches away from the Premiership when Heidar Helguson stuck a glorious late chance wide. Here, they were ten minutes away. Ten lousy, bastard minutes.
Such is the crazy way of things the Hull goal actually seemed to lift some of the pressure off QPR’s shoulders. Suddenly they started to do the things they should have been doing for the previous 25 minutes. Things that, had they been done, would have resulted in us comfortably seeing the game out. Things like stringing eight or nine passes together, defending ten yards higher up the pitch, pressing forward for a second goal of our own and so on. Had we done such things with Helguson on the field who knows what riches and treasures would now be ours for sure, but by only doing such things once Patrick Agyemang had lumbered off the bench we merely opened ourselves up to further frustration and humiliation.
Four minutes from time a Premiership standard pass in behind the Hull defence from Faurlin drew a Ryman League standard finish from Big Dave as he correctly assessed that Duke was a long way off his goal line and then executed a hopeless lobbed finish that flew over the bar. He could have done anything he liked with that chance – a lob, a chest and shot, three touches and a delicate finish, a volley, a master blast, a bicycle kick. Anything at all. Maybe that was the problem, too many options for a player of very little brain.
The substitutions and lengthy spell of treatment for McLean at the start of the half secured five minutes of additional time, and referee Webster did QPR another favour two minutes into that by harshly adjudging Jack Hobbs to have fouled Adel Taarabt 25 yards out from goal in the centre of the field. Anthony Gerrard was booked for questioning, with some justification, whether that was a bit of a treat for a desperate side.
This was our David Beckham moment - a last chance, a last kick, a final opportunity. The script seemed written as well when, for once, Taarabt walked away from the ball leaving none other than Alejandro Faurlin to take the kick - the man whose transfer may yet rob us of promotion should we ever get round to sealing the bloody thing. You could imagine the Norwich and Cardiff fans seeing ‘A Faurlin 90’ coming up on the ticker and bemoaning the unfairness and illegality of it all. I don’t usually get too excited about our free kicks because, well, they’re usually bloody awful but as Faurlin walked himself back five paces it seemed destined. The match report intro was writing itself before my eyes. This was it, 15 years of Stewart Houston and Carl Leaburn and Christer Warren and Karl Connolly and administration and LDV Vans ties with Dagenham and fucking Redbridge and it was all about to end.
Faurlin set off. He took three big steps and then connected perfectly with the ball with the instep of his left foot - Jesus Christ it had half a chance at this point. This little genius of a player, plucked from the obscurity of the Argentinean second division by means yet to be ruled upon, who has torn into a notoriously difficult English league over the last two years with style and panache despite being built like a 12 year old schoolboy and looking more like a Toni and Guy stylist had done all he could. He watched with the rest of us as the ball, spinning like a top, curled perfectly over the wall and then began to arc down towards the bottom corner that Duke had left to his outfield players to cover. It seemed to pick up speed as it went, bugger me it was the textbook example of a free kick, those in the Lower Loft directly behind it began to leave their seats in celebration as Duke set off on what could only have been one of those forlorn dives a keeper makes to give the impression that he’d done all he could before embarking on an inquest with his wall.
But Duke didn’t just dive forlornly. Duke, once of Alfreton Town which I add only for meagre colour and because I did a bit of work for them last season and they’ve already won their league this time around, is a man playing for his future with Nigel Pearson preferring a succession of other options instead of him since selling Bo Myhill last summer. He flung himself down and somehow, despite the ball seeming to already be behind him and in the net, thrust out an inhumanly strong arm to divert it wide of the post. Faurlin, and Taarabt, slumped to the ground.
Just when you think football, and life, has kicked you in the bollocks enough it gives you another one just for good measure.
And, as it turned out, another one five minutes later 110 miles north east up the A11 when Simeon Jackson scored a goal he knew nothing about to give Norwich a win that means while our promotion is all but assured barring an unlikely series of results between us and Cardiff, the possibility of losing the top spot we’ve held all year right at the death remains.
Norwich have done that 12 times this season now. Had all their games finished at 90 minutes they’d be below halfway in the table. But they didn’t, and they’re not, and now we still need another lousy point from either Watford away or Leeds at home.
After another titanic struggle the beached whale had moved an inch closer to the ocean spray. But QPR must wait for another tide before trying again.
QPR: Kenny 7, Orr 6, Hall 8, Gorkss 7, Hill 7, Faurlin 7, Derry 7, Routledge 7, Taarabt 7, Smith 6 (Ephraim 67, 6), Helguson 7 (Agyemang 76, 5)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Buzsaky, Connolly, Hulse, Shittu
Goals: Routledge 9 (assisted Taarabt)
Hull: Duke 8, Chester 6, Gerrard 7, Hobbs 7, Dawson 6, Garcia 7, Harper 6, Evans - (Akpan 12, 6), Cairney 6 (Mclean 46, 7), Simpson 6 (Amoo 71, 7), Fryatt 7
Subs Not Used: Oxley, Devitt, Solano, Belaid
Bookings: Garcia (foul), Dawson (foul), Gerrard (dissent)
Goals: Amoo (assisted Akpan) 80
QPR Star Man – Fitz Hall 8 Without going back and reviewing all his previous performance I’d say this is probably his best showing for the club. Won everything in the air and made some crucial interceptions and tackles in the second half. The defence collectively allowed itself to be sucked too deep in the second half so if there is a criticism it’s that I’d like to have seen him taking a lead in driving them up the pitch and making them defend further away from Paddy Kenny.
Referee – Colin Webster (Tyne and Wear) 7 Not a bad performance at all overall. The late free kick award to Taarabt was generous but he’d let some other more robust stuff against QPR go without punishment before that so he probably owed us one. At the time I didn’t think Routledge was offside for our disallowed second goal but I’ve since been told he was so seven seems a fair mark.
Attendance 17,399 (1,109 Hull) A fantastic atmosphere in the build up to the game and through the first half but the nerves were palpable in the second half and however frustrating it is to see us giving the ball away and dropping deep, I’m not sure the huge exaggerated groans and moans whenever a pass goes astray does much for our players on such occasions. Made ourselves look rather silly with the premature pitch invasion.
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