QPR lose Leeds battle, but win Championship war – full match report
Monday, 9th May 2011 22:33 by Clive Whittingham
QPR lost their final match of the Championship season against Leeds at Loftus Road on Saturday – but it didn’t matter a bit.
In the end, wasn’t it all so beautifully QPR? Having spent so much of this season saying how atypical our relentless, consistent dismantling of this notoriously difficult league has been it’s somewhat comforting to report that Rangers reverted back to their farcical type right at the death.
Where was the title sealed? In an away game against a near rival? In dramatic fashion at Loftus Road? At Watford last week? No, ultimately the final confirmation that QPR are indeed the champions of the second tier of English football came in a disciplinary hearing at the FA headquarters an hour before the kick off at the final match. Only at QPR would a junior defence barrister be welcomed into the end of season celebrations as if he were the 30 goal striker who’d fired the team to the promised land.
On the pitch Rangers proved they’re a QPR team at heart – they finished with a defeat, and a centre half playing up front, and three separate pitch invasions met with a mixture of cheers and jeers. There was a fight between QPR fans in the Lower Loft, and then as if to go one better and even bigger one in the upper moments later. One wonders whether the Premier League is really ready for the sort of farce that only our club can produce.
QPR are like a badly behaved two year old – excitable, naïve, into lots of things they shouldn’t be, never more than five minutes away from another trip to A&E with the long suffering supporters cast in the role of doting parents very much in love with their offspring but wondering on a daily basis what on earth they did to deserve being lumbered with such a burden on their emotions.
Those emotions have been stretched this way and that by events on and off the field since the turn of the year. By the time the teams took to the field for the final match of an incredible season (even by our standards) that actual football was irrelevant – reading the papers recently you’d be forgiven for thinking that had been the case for several weeks.
The QPR team featured Radek Cerny in goal instead of the injured Paddy Kenny, but Clint Hill returned at left back for a forty third appearance of the season on an ankle doctors said would struggle to make it to the end of September without an operation. Matt Connolly and Kaspars Gorkss played centre half with Bradley Orr at right back. In midfield, the man who has attracted all the headlines Alejandro Faurlin smiled like he hadn’t smiled for weeks as he walked out of the tunnel alongside Shaun Derry. Few players deserve the promotion as much as those two, few players deserve the adverse attention he’s been getting less than the mildly mannered and wonderfully talented Argentinean. In attack Akos Buzsaky was preferred to Adel Taarabt in a move that smacked of ‘play for your future’ with Tommy Smith and Wayne Routledge offering support behind Heidar Helguson.
Leeds came into the season on something of an end of season wobble – two wins from nine league games turning a season that seemed destined to finish with a play off campaign into one that has rather petered out. They could still have made the six with a win here, a defeat for Forest at Palace, and a six goal swing but in reality regrouping and buying four new defenders this summer is a more productive outcome for them than a premature promotion. Australian defender Patrick Kisnorbo returned to the bench after 14 months out injured, he was given a rousing reception by the travelling 1,800 fans when he was introduced in the second half and could be a key addition to a back four that has shipped far, far too many goals this season for a team with Premiership ambitions. One of the prime reasons for that turnstile like rearguard, Alex Bruce, sat alongside him on the bench.
As if acting as some sort of metaphor for the day the early morning torrential rain and wind had given way to a glorious day of warm sunshine by the time the game began and as if things couldn’t get any better for QPR, who came out of the tunnel to a roof lifting roar from the fans and generous guard of honour from the Leeds players, the visitors’ suspect backline gave up an opening goal inside the first 30 seconds of the game.
It was Bradley Orr who started things off, winning the ball back from Leeds’ kick off and then commencing a move that flowed from back to front and left to right through Buzsaky, Derry, Hill on the left, Buzsaky on the edge of the area and then finally Tommy Smith whose weak side footed finish should have been held by Leeds keeper Kasper Schmeichel but was instead spilled out into the goal mouth and Heidar Helguson tapped home from a yard out and then wheeled away to celebrate after a quick check with the linesman that he was onside.
It could easily have been two on seven minutes. Shaun Derry was given all the time and space he needed to thread a pass through to Helguson who was completely unmarked on the edge of the area. He found Faurlin similarly unchallenged to the left of the box and although Smith’s cross was subsequently cleared Derry again found room to cross and Helguson headed for goal from the edge of the area but could only find Schmeichel.
Within 90 seconds Buzsaky had found another acre of space in the centre of the field and found Faurlin who wriggled through the powder puff attempts to dispossess him of two Leeds players and then unloaded a shot from distance that Schmeichel palmed away with two hands. It almost seemed written that Faurlin would score at some point, but it wasn’t to be on this occasion or at all in the end.
The goals against column tells you all you need to know about Leeds’ defence this season but this was League Two standard stuff from them at this stage and QPR fans started to dream of a repeat of our 6-0 end of season thrashing of Palace the last time Loftus Road felt, and looked, like this. Their only threat in the opening 20 minutes came when Max Gradel overhit his cross from wide on the right but almost inadvertently lobbed Radek Cerny who sensibly turned the ball over the bar
Rangers were quickly back on the attack with Wayne Routledge accelerating through the vast swathes of space between the Leeds midfield and defence before hitting a shot from the edge of the area that Schmeichel turned into the path of Helguson and he should have done better than to simply toe it straight back to the goalkeeper. Tommy Smith would also probably like his best chance of the first half over again – he glanced a near post header from Buzaky’s corner over the bar when he’d been left unmarked and should have at least found the target.
Then, two things happened. Firstly Neil Kilkenny had quite a dramatic personal episode in the middle of the field. Kilkenny is an extremely limited footballer and plays the role of Robbie Savage, Graham Alexander, Liam Lawrence, Shaun Derry et al in trying to referee the game without a whistle. Midway through the first half he erupted in an aggressive ball of froth, spittle and anger. Nobody escaped – Schmeichel, Connolly, O’Brien, Naylor, Lichaj all copped a mouthful. He stood in the centre circle foaming at the mouth, red in the face, and one by one picked on his team mates as he rotated 360 degrees in a torrent of anger and abuse. Suddenly, all that space that QPR had been revelling in disappeared.
Secondly, Akos Buzsaky rotated with Tommy Smith and Wayne Routledge. This is a common tactic that QPR have been using for the majority of the season where the supporting cast of three behind the striker rotate from time to time, but on this occasion it made us a much less effective unit. Buzsaky, controlling the game and moving QPR around the field in a way that once again made me wonder why he’s been so underused in recent months, became isolated in a wide roll while Routledge became crowded through the centre of the field.
The players have since said that the euphoria of the FA verdict that pumped them up to produce a fabulous first 20 minutes seemed to suddenly wear off at this point in the game but in my opinion the increase in tempo from Leeds and the slight change in our shape turned the game in favour of the visitors.
Leeds levelled just after the half hour through Max Gradel – a strike he would call opportunist, but anybody analysing it from a QPR point of view would label shambolic. One long ball through the middle from Richard Naylor tempted Cerny from his line but he wasn’t nearly brave or committed enough to the cause and instead of clearing everything out – ball, Gradel and anybody else in the way – he allowed the Leeds man to nip in and lob it into the empty net.
LofforWords has predicted the outcome of 48 different matches this season and got only one of them right. The pre-match assertion that Gradel is a limited player with poor technique is right up there with some of the site’s worst calls – he looked a very decent player to me in this game, posing QPR problems with his pace and displaying a better control of the ball than I’ve credited him with before. Still a Championship player at best, but a better one than I’d previously had him down for and now with 18 goals to his name this season.
Seven minutes after the break Billy Paynter won a loose ball in the air in the area and headed it against Matt Connolly – weak appeals for a handball penalty were waved away and QPR broke at speed on a counter attack that ended with Akos Buzsaky hitting the ball too well and sending a true strike down Schmeichel’s throat when a shot either side of him would have caused the keeper serious problems.
Neil Warnock then decided to play his first card from the bench, sending on Adel Taarabt instead of Akos Buzsaky. Taarabt’s firt action was to swing over a corner that Schmeichel made a right pig’s ear of under pressure from Smith who then reached the rebound, headed it toward goal and forced a fine save from the young goalkeeper. Now on such a day of celebration and against a team with such a meagre defence this could have been a fill your boots afternoon for Adel but either through lack of fitness or a questionable attitude he just didn’t look interested from the moment he came on.
Probably his worst half hour of the season culminated in a daft yellow card from mark Clattenburg. Kilkenny, tired of berating his own team mates, set about winding Taarabt up by kicking him when the ball was in play and sledging him when it wasn’t. After one such episode where the Leeds man thrust out his lower lip and plucked it backwards and forwards with his index finger ending in a handbag session while a throw in was being taken. The linesman on the far side of the field drew Clattenburg’s attention to it and he then tried to call both players together for a discussion. Taarabt refused to go and was rightly booked as a result.
Warnock also sent on Peter Ramage for Clint Hill whose cement mixer ankle needed another break. Ramage went into centre half with Connolly moving to left back but his impact, while immediate, was not positive. Ross McCormack, who had waited all season to get his first goal for Leeds last week against Burnley, doubled his tally for the campaign when he was allowed to run to the end of the box and unload a shot into the bottom corner, but it would never have found the back of the net without a giant deflection of first Ramage and then Gorkss that diverted the ball so dramatically it could easily go down as an own goal.
Leeds raided the School End again two minutes later when Licaj cut in from the right and tried his luck at the near post but found Cerny switched on to the danger and able to save down in the bottom corner.
To add to the mild frustration of going behind Clattenburg’s persecution of Heidar Helguson stepped up a gear thereafter. The giant Icelandic striker was penalised constantly, regardless of what had happened, and that came to a head after the hour mark when he went to meet a long ball down the field but was caught flush in the face by Richard Naylor’s elbow before he could reach it. The result? A Leeds free kick. You could hardly make this stuff up. Helguson was absolutely fuming, and had to be restrained from confronting the match official by physio Nigel Cox. Clattenburg was happy, rightly, to wave away Richard Naylor’s penalty appeal when he clashed with Kaspars Gorkss under a high cross and to be fair he had a very decent game in the middle once again.
Warnock withdrew Helguson after this, and replaced him with Danny Shittu. A defensive substitution on paper, but not as it turned out as Shittu subsequently went into attack. Now Shittu has been used in such a role before, by the football visionary that is Aidy Boothroyd at Watford, and even scored against QPR at Vicarage Road once in a 4-2 win. But this seemed like a strange decision, at odds to Warnock’s assertion that we wanted to win this game and avoid being doubled by Leeds. I’m certainly not the biggest fan of Patrick Agyemang but he surely would have been a better option here.
Anyway, proof that Neil Warnock can do no wrong almost came immediately as Shittu strode into the area, swivelled on a bouncing ball and cracked a half volley over the ball. When Arsenal won their first league under Arsene Wenger they finished it with a fourth goal in a home rout against Everton from Tony Adams, inexplicably appearing at the end of flowing passing move to rifle home in front of the North Bank. This was potentially our Tony Adams moment, but Shittu couldn’t keep his shot down and didn’t really get anywhere close to a sniff of a chance again. If there has been a fault to Neil Warnock’s management this season (and you have to look bloody hard for one) his use of his bench has rarely improved our team during a game.
Leeds’ first substitution of the game almost made an immediate positive impact. Davide Somma, who trialled at QPR the summer before last but was rejected in favour of Alessandro Pellicori, seized the ball on the halfway line with his first touch and then hammered a shot wide of the post after accelerating towards the penalty box.
His striking partner Ross McCormack, looking like a man with 22 goals to his name this season rather than two, went a whole lot closer to scoring a third goal of the match seven minutes from time. Midway through the QPR half and with few options for a pass available he decided to let rip from the best part of 35 yards, The audacity of it seemed to catch out Cerny who waved the shot goodbye, and then looked rather surprised as it cracked against the top of the post and flew out for a goal kick. Roughly three inches away from a goal of the season contender.
QPR weren’t far away from a fairytale end of their own, two minutes from time, when they almost scored twice in 60 seconds. First Routledge sent Tommy Smith through on goal but Schmeichel produced the save of the game to deny him with an outstretched leg. Then Routledge and Taarabt worked a short corner routine that ended with the latter crossing to the near post where a firm header from Gorkss may have resulted in an equaliser but the glanced effort he managed merely flashed through the goal mouth and out for a goal kick. On the day QPR could scarcely have deserved an equaliser less, over the course of the last nine months no team in the world would have deserved one more.
Clattenburg played two minutes of added time, but didn’t advertise the fact on the board to give the players a fighting chance of making it off the field before the inevitable pitch invasion at the final whistle. Why? Who knows. Announcements had repeatedly told supporters that any pitch invasion would merely serve to delay the presentation of the Championship trophy and yet the selfish few went on anyway. To make matters worse still after the pitch had been cleared and the trophy presented the players’ lap of honour was interrupted by a second invasion that forced our wonderful squad of players, some of whom had very young children with them, to go running for the tunnel for a second time. If the first invasion was selfish, the second one was dangerous, and brought the lap of honour to an end before they had made it all the way around the pitch with the cup. Those involved should be ashamed.
But it’s a lone moan on a glorious day to be a QPR fan. Whatever the outcome of the FA hearing, I wanted to know before the start of this game because to have it hanging over us right to the death would have been too much. Having heard, it would have been nice to go on and win the game and had we taken any of the numerous chances we had while leading 1-0 I think we would have done with something to spare. In the end, perhaps the occasion was too much, and I certainly think the substitutions and the performances of one or two players smacked a little of ‘minds on the beach’.
Saturday was almost entirely about events off the pitch. Before the match, immediately after the final whistle, and long into the evening. There will be more on LoftforWords, a part two of the match report if you like, later this evening.
QPR: Cerny 5, Orr 6, Connolly 6, Gorkss 6, Hill 6 (Ramage 65, 6), Derry 7, Faurlin 6, Routledge 6, Buzsaky 7 (Taarabt 55, 5), Smith 6, Helguson 6 (Shittu 72 6)
Subs Not Used: Putnins, Agyemang, Moen, Ephraim
Booked: Taarabt (dissent)
Goals: Helguson 1 (assisted Smith)
Leeds: Schmeichel 6, Connolly 6, Naylor 6 (Kisnorbo 79, 7), O'Brien 6, Lichaj 6, Gradel 7 (Watt 85, -), Kilkenny 6, Howson 6, Johnson 6, McCormack 7, Paynter 5 (Somma 65, 6)
Subs Not Used: Higgs, Bruce, Livermore, Bromby
Goals: Gradel 38 (assisted Naylor), McCormack 68 (unassisted)
QPR Star Man – Shaun Derry 7 Hard to pick a man of the match on a day when, for whatever reason, our team hit the wall after 20-odd minutes. The player who held it together the best, the player who has held us together all season, and for me the biggest surprise success of the entire year was/is Shaun Derry. So we finish with him. The anti-footballer.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear) 7 Seemed to decide quite early that Heidar Helguson was always the sinner, and penalised him constantly thereafter including the ridiculous incident in the second half where he had a free kick given against him for being elbowed in the face. Other than that though he was very steady indeed, and while I’m sure I’ll moan like hell next season about the officiating favouring the bigger clubs I am looking forward to the improved standards of officiating we can look forward to.
Attendance: 18,234 (1,800 Leeds approx) A fantastic atmosphere inside Loftus Road to begin with – having tortured us for weeks the FA verdict actually served to heighten the emotion and I wasn’t the only one moved to tears as the teams came out of the tunnel. I thought it was a real shame that so many people chose to ignore the repeated pleas and invade the pitch at the end of the game, delaying the presentation of the trophy, and then a second time forcing the players to scoop up their little kids and cut the lap of honour short. The third pitch invasion, to hear Warnock’s speech from the director’s box, but the other two was pure self indulgence from people more bothered about being on the pitch than watching us collect the trophy or parade it around.
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