Done at one end, Dunne at the other, QPR salvage a point – full match report
Monday, 26th Sep 2011 00:41 by Clive Whittingham
A last minute own goal from Villa centre back Richard Dunne won a deserved point for QPR at Loftus Road on Sunday.
Often in football you’re left thinking you didn’t really get what you deserved. At Loftus Road on Sunday some did, and some didn’t.
Barry Bannan, for instance, deserved a goal. A little whispy haired fellow with a face like an ageing lighthouse keeper and the body of a hyper-active 12 year old, Bannan was Villa’s outstanding player by a country mile. He was inventive, ambitious, determined and skilful. QPR are familiar with him, having faced him during his clutch of loan spells in the Championship, but he looked a cut above that, and most of his team mates, in this performance. Few players deserved a goal more but Aston Villa on the whole didn’t deserve one, and they only got the Bannan strike because of a piss rank decision from the match referee.
Which brings me onto the people in charge of appointing our referees each week, who also got exactly what they deserved here. So far this season, and without wishing to get all high and mighty with you this was pointed out in the match preview, Michael Oliver has, for one reason or another, found himself almost constantly immersed in one controversial penalty decision after another. He’s given penalties that almost certainly weren’t and turned down those that definitely were. He turned West Ham v Leeds in the Championship into a farce and was rewarded for that with an appointment to referee Aston Villa at Everton where he again made a horrendous error over another penalty decision – not awarding a spot kick to Leighton Baines who was obviously hacked down but told to get to his feet. To repeat the same action and expect a different result is the definition of insanity – again they appointed him to a big match, again there were big decisions to make in both penalty areas, again he got them wrong.
QPR were below par. Joey Barton and Alejandro Faurlin, two of the stars of last week’s big win at Wolves, were crowded out of the game and conceded too much possession and we didn’t attack with the same purpose and threat as we had done in the last two games. Nevertheless a point was the least QPR deserved for their endeavour and they got it in stoppage time with Richard Dunne bundled an equaliser through his own net. Dunne has now done that nine times in his professional career – he was outstanding otherwise and didn’t deserve that fate but then, like I say, it was a day when some got their just deserts and others didn’t.
Before the game QPR were forced into making one change to the team that won so handsomely at Molineux. Danny Gabbidon left the field early a week ago with a jarred knee and he was ruled out for this game which meant a recall for Fitz Hall at centre half alongside Anton Ferdinand. Paddy Kenny was the goalkeeper behind them as usual with Armand Traore at left back and Luke Young on the right against his former club. Further forward Shaun Derry and Alejandro Faurlin anchored the midfield with Joey Barton, Adel Taarabt and Shaun Wright Phillips further forward. Jay Bothroyd kept his place at the pinnacle of the formation despite DJ Campbell coming on and scoring in the victory last week.
While QPR were perhaps a little spoilt for choice in attack the opposite was true of Aston Villa who went into this game without their record signing, England international Darren Bent. Emile Heskey was also missing, although that’s probably more of a blessing, and that meant that Alex McLeish set up with a single striker in a solid and negative 4-5-1 set up with the in form Gabriel Agbonlahor leading the line with three goals from his first five Premiership starts.
Aston Villa were unbeaten so far in the league this season coming into this game and sitting sixth in the league. However four of their five previous league games had been draws, they had lost badly to out of form Bolton in the midweek Carling Cup game and Alex McLeish, who wasn’t a popular appointment to begin with, was starting to become subject to some murmurings of discontent from the natives.
The educated guess before the game was that Villa would look to sit deep and keep things tight with the aim of counter attacking QPR using the pace of Agbonlahor and Charles N’Zogbia. Rangers meanwhile were expected to go for the jugular. That anticipated chess match didn’t seem much in evidence in the opening five minutes as both sides flew out of the traps in an end to end encounter that zipped along at a fair old whack. The early chances did go QPR’s way – Jay Bothroyd found the side netting with a deflected shot after two minutes and then Adel Taarabt cracked the outside of the post with a trademark long range curling effort that had Shay Given in the Villa goal scrambling forlornly across his line and grasping thin air.
Taarabt was at the heart of everything QPR did early in the game. He was the first of several home players to try his luck with a free kick on the edge of the Villa penalty area when Petrov was pulled up by the referee for a foul on Luke Young as Villa cleared a QPR corner. The Moroccan’s shot hit the wall and flew out of play for a corner that Taarabt then played short and wasted. Villa are a big side, and it’s understandable that QPR were therefore reluctant to sling over crosses from wide set pieces, but the quality of dead balls all afternoon from the Hoops was abject and must be worked on an improved.
Another chance came Taarabt’s way before the quarter hour when Shaun Derry was able to win back possession from N’Zogbia deep in the Villa half and set up Shaun Wright Phillips who had a shot blocked in the area and then watched as Taarabt was crowded out of the subsequent half chance on the edge of the six yard box.
Jay Bothroyd is the subject of growing discussion among the QPR fans at the moment. Nobody is faulting his effort levels or performances, which are both very high, but he continues to spurn good chances to score thereby undermining the other fine things he is doing in the lone striker role. This issue was highlighter perfectly before the 20 minute mark when first he turned beautifully in the left channel and delivered a devilish low cross into the six yard box where he really should have been himself. Then when Villa cleared a subsequent corner and fouled Taarabt wide on the right Joey Barton delivered a rare good free kick on Bothroyd guided the header wide despite meeting it first in the centre of the goal. Personally I’d persevere with Bothroyd who I believe is playing well, and played well again today, but he has to be more ruthless in front of goal.
Bothroyd was at the heart of the next decent QPR attack at the midway point of the half – nonchalantly flicking the ball into the path of Luke Young and then looking rather surprised when Young chose to play it back to him wide on the touchline when it seemed as if the full back had time and space to drive into the area against his former club. Nevertheless, back in possession, Bothroyd sent a high cross to the back post where Joey Barton miscued an effort on goal that he should have done better with despite the angle being against him.
On the half hour the pattern for poor set pieces started to develop into a trend – this time Barton worked his corner out to the edge of the box where Faurlin hopelessly skied a first time shot into the Villa fans behind the goal. Against Wolves last week, an unimaginative home side playing in rigid straight lines, Faurlin was magnificent but here against a much more defensive minded Villa side that packed the midfield he, and Joey Barton, struggled to exert influence.
As part of setting up not to get beaten, rather than to go out and win the game themselves, Aston Villa engaged in what could kindly be called systematic fouling in this game. By that I mean they were happy to take a yellow card to halt an attack and get everybody back in position, and they were happy to take a yellow card in any circumstances as long as they didn’t have one already and it disrupted QPR. The first such cynical hack to draw a card actually came from the first Villa corner of the afternoon – awarded eight minutes before half time and cheered ironically by the increasingly grumpy but very loud away fans. QPR cleared it and broke quickly in a counter attack that saw first Taarabt hacked to the ground, and then Barton resulting in a yellow card for Stephen Warnock. It’s very easy to commit a foul like that and accept the yellow that comes your way.
Anyway Bothroyd took a turn with this free kick from range and got no closer than Taarabt had earlier, or several of his team mates would manage later.
With two minutes to go before the break the impressive and industrious Bannan showed the home side how to take a free kick. After a poor throw by Traore, who was reasonably impressive again but provides a heart in mouth moment at least once every quarter of an hour, Villa won the ball back and then got a free kick on the edge of the box for a foul by the otherwise excellent Ferdinand on Agbonlahor. Bannan took it and curled the ball nicely over the wall with his left foot but Paddy Kenny made up the ground across his goal line impressive and clawed the ball out when it seemed to already be behind him and in. Another outstanding save to add to his growing collection and the clean sheet remained in place as the teams trooped off for half time.
It seemed that Villa were too negative in the first half, even for Alex McLeish’s liking. They started the second with a purpose and ambition that had been completely absent before half time and comprehensively dominated the first quarter of an hour of the half which resulted in them taking a controversial lead.
The half began with two more refereeing decisions – first Hutton was booked for a hack on Shaun Wright Phillips after he’d been done for pace, and then Ferdinand was treated to a free kick as Agbonlahor ran clear on goal after nudging the defender in the back. But soon it was all eyes on Villa and Paddy Kenny had to be alert and strong in his six yard box when Bannan’s wild volley was deflected up into the goal mouth by Agbonlahor. Both Ferdinand and Fitz Hall seemed to be struggling with injury at this point and Villa looked to take advantage as first Kenny had to claim a ball low at Agbonlahor’s feet when the rest of his team mates seemed to have stopped and given it up, then the keeper rushed from his line and clattered into Fabian Delph whose lobbed effort drifted wide of the open net as a result.
And then, just before the hour, the first big controversial incident of the game. Villa were on top, no question, and when Luke Young was sucked out of the right back spot and Villa worked the ball into the space he’d vacated QPR had a real problem. That danger seemed to have been alleviated when N’Zogbia crossed far too deep for Agbonlahor rushing in at the back post but as the ball drifted away to safety the shrill blast of the referee’s whistle pierced through the Loftus Road atmosphere. He’d given a penalty.
It took a while for everybody realise that’s what Michael Oliver had done – given that it wasn’t a penalty, none of the Villa fans behind the goal appealed for a penalty and only one or two of the Villa players even put half a hand in the air to ask the question that’s understandable – but a penalty had been given all the same. Barry Bannan, Villa’s best player by a distance, scraped his kick into the bottom corner with Kenny heading in the right direction but not there quickly enough. It should also be said, as it becomes important later, that Traore was booked in amongst this nonsense.
But what exactly was he booked for? Hauling Agbonlahor back (he didn’t) to prevent him meeting a cross at the back post and giving Villa the lead (he wouldn’t have done)? Is this not denying a goal scoring opportunity? If you’re going to be a pedantic arsehole and give a penalty for something that, were it penalised every time would see games finishing with Rugby League scores, then you have to send the player off. It was a piece of officiating to be ashamed of. It was a pathetic decision. Pathetic, embarrassing, shambolic, farcical and absolutely bang wrong.
It’s a decision made by somebody who has been to all of his little meetings and sat in front of all his little video tapes and seen all this shirt pulling going on in the penalty area and decided that he’s going to make an example of somebody. And so he has lain in wait, like some half aroused lion ready to leap on an unsuspecting victim and then feast on their violated flesh, desperate to penalise somebody for a shirt pull in the penalty box. This is a referee who two weeks ago at Everton didn’t see Aston Villa blatantly hack down Leighton Baines in the penalty box and yet here is giving a spot kick for the most meagre of fouls, if indeed there was a foul at all which I’m not convinced there was. He is a referee who is over thinking and analysing every big decision rather than just giving what he sees – he’ll give a pathetic penalty like that to make an example of somebody, but then he won’t give a blatant one because it’s too blatant, and he won’t give you a controversial decision if you’ve had one against you because it might be seen as him evening it up. Shambolic.
The sense of injustice only would have festered had N’Zogbia found the back, rather than the side, of the net when Villa came flooding forward again a moment later.
And then Villa stopped attacking. Almost as quickly as their onslaught had begun it ended and never recommenced. They had shown that, on the attack, they could cause QPR a world of problems but like some old fish wife calling the kids in off the street at dusk McLeish’s had ordered them back into the deep lying defensive set up they’d occupied previously. Had they kept going they’d have won 2-0 at least, now it became a question of whether QPR could score given the paucity of home goals on this ground this season so far.
The final half an hour would be a mixture of increasingly desperate QPR attacks and awful refereeing. After the hour James Collins hacked Shaun Wright Phillips down on the edge of the area for an obvious free kick and yellow card. That seemed to be what Oliver was about to do but having awarded the free kick and reached for a card he was then confronted by Richard Dunne who spoke to him for ten seconds and the card went back in his pocket. “Book him and I’ll release those pictures of you on Chatroulette ref”, said Dunne. Possibly.
Needless to say the free kick was wasted again, a poor shot from Faurlin this time, but Rangers were on the front foot again within seconds as Taarabt accelerated through the middle. Again Collins fouled him but this time play was waved on with QPR in the midst of a promising advantage where Shaun Wright Phillips had the ball alone against eight Villa defenders and a keeper – once that “advantage” ran a predictable course Collins was indeed booked but his job had been done.
Neil Warnock introduced DJ Campbell for Jay Bothroyd at the midpoint of the half – a change that almost brought immediate rewards when Taarabt’s exquisite lofted ball into the area was held by Campbell and touched off to Shaun Wight Phillips whose low drive was very well saved by Shay Given.
And this pattern continued. With 20 minutes left to play Petrov executed a wild tackle on Shaun Wright Phillips in the Villa right back slot. The Hungarian, as he always does, then screamed in the face of the referee to presumably try and intimidate him into reducing the planned punishment. On this occasion he was shown a yellow card but the real controversy was only a second or two away.
When Given palmed the resulting Barton free kick behind for a corner it set up an incident where Alan Hutton blatantly saved a goal bound header from Ferdinand away from both the goal and Bothroyd loitering for a tap in with his arm. You could never wish to see a more obvious handball and penalty and yet referee Oliver and his hapless assistant gave nothing. It was a penalty all day, all night, all week long. I was embarrassed for the officials on that one, a blind bank vole would have seen it.
Villa sent on Marc Albrighton for Bannon but continued to pick up yellow cards – Agbonlahor the latest for a needless kick out on Ferdinand as he brought the ball away in his own half.
Neil Warnock for his part sent on Heidar Helguson instead of Shaun Derry to add extra meat to the Rangers attack against an increasingly physical Villa side. That change could have left the hosts more susceptible to counter attacks and indeed within a minute or two one such break unfolded but was quickly snuffed out by Shaun Wright Phillips back tracking and executing a nice tackle on the edge of his own box.
Having survived that QPR then set off on an attack of their own. Or they would have done had N’Zogbia not hacked Helguson down, for which he was booked, and Warnock not gone through the back of Barton immediately afterwards. Warnock was already on a yellow card, so this meant he couldn’t have another one apparently. Joey Barton took his turn at wasting a well placed free kick. It was shaping up to be one of those days.
This “if you’ve already been booked you won’t get another one” rule was applied to James Collins next. Another bad foul on the edge of the box, this time on Helguson, and another ticking off rather than a card followed by another terrible QPR free kick, this time by DJ Campbell. The frustration was enough to peel the skin from your face.
Neil Warnock sent on Tommy Smith for Shaun Wright Phillips and then watched in anger as the new man produced a cross that seemed to be patted down by Hutton’s hand in the penalty area right under the nose of the referee but no spot kick was awarded. On that occasion I thought the referee was right.
When the game moved into stoppage time and Armand Traore was sent off, for a needless lunge on Marc Albrighton that clearly warranted a yellow card at least, the writing seemed to be on the wall. Warnock lambasted Traore as he went off, but they both knew his first yellow card had been a joke and Villa should already have had two off if the rules had been applied equally to both sides.
Albrighton, apparently close to death after the tackle, made a miraculous recovery to storm down the other end and hit a deflected shot on goal and at the Loft End Tommy Smith nodded a deep Helguson cross back into the danger zone but nobody had gambled on him doing so.
Just as the ghost seemed to have been given up though QPR equalised. Helguson was the creator, taking the ball to the byline and cutting it back into the six yard box where the presence of three Villa defenders, a goalkeeper and DJ Campbell caused sufficient panic for the ball to bobble into the net off the knees of Richard Dunne. Harsh on him, but no more than QPR deserved.
Anton Ferdinand had to be dragged away from the referee by his manager at full time – had the game been officiated properly then QPR would have won 2-0 and few could have complained had that been the score.
Villa were miserable here except for 20 minutes in the second half when they actually decided to attack QPR and subsequently carved the hosts apart at will. How frustrating it must be for the Villa fans and players to see their team do that, but spend the other 70 minutes in cynical time wasting and systematic fouling mode. In a footballing contest Aston Villa would have won – but they were so busy putting McLeish’s trademark misery into football form it never seemed to occur to them that this was the case. “1-0 to the boring team,” the Villa fans sang, as if it was something to be proud of. It wasn’t, and they knew that, despite the bravado.
QPR were short of their best. Whether Villa did something to deliberately target them or simply had more bodies in their area of the pitch Faurlin and Barton weren’t nearly as effective as they had been against Newcastle and Wolves. We didn’t get Shaun Wright Phillips on the ball enough in dangerous areas and we were often short of men in the penalty box when we did attack in the channels.
Nevertheless there was a lot to admire about QPR, and if I was able to say the same about the referee then I’d be reporting on a home win.
QPR: Kenny 7, Young 7, Ferdinand 8, Hall 7, Traore 6, Faurlin 6, Derry 6 (Helguson 79, 7), Wright-Phillips 7 (Smith 86, -), Taarabt 7, Barton 6, Bothroyd 7 (Campbell 66, 6)
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Orr, Buzsaky, Connolly
Sent Off: Traore 90 (two bookings)
Booked: Traore (foul), Traore (foul)
Goals: Dunne 90 og (assisted Helguson)
Aston Villa: Given 7, Hutton 5, Collins 7, Dunne 8, Warnock 6, Petrov 6, Ireland 5, Delph 7, N'Zogbia 6 (Weimann 85, -), Bannan 8 (Albrighton 72, 7), Agbonlahor 6
Subs Not Used: Guzan, Delfouneso, Beye, Lowry, Gardner
Booked: Warnock (foul), Hutton (foul), Collins (foul), Petrov (foul), Agbonlahor (foul), N'Zogbia (foul)
Goals: Bannan 58 (penalty)
QPR Star Man – Anton Ferdinand 8 In a slightly below par QPR performance overall I thought Ferdinand stood out at the heart of the defence – keeping pace with the inform Agbonlahor and rarely losing out in a tackle or aerial contest. He’s playing a lot, lot better than I ever thought him capable when he first arrived.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland) 3 The thing about a penalty decision is it’s either a penalty or it’s not a penalty. This means that even if you had to decide what it was without seeing the incident you stand a fifty fifty chance of getting it right. In the West Ham v Leeds game, the Everton v Villa match and then again today Michael Oliver has had at least seven penalty incidents to adjudicate on, and he’s yet to get one right. I mean even if the kid tossed a coin on these, heads a penalty tails play on, he’d get more right than he’s currently managing. Without going into why so many Villa players on yellow cards were allowed to get away with crude tackles without receiving a second yellow there were three key incidents in the game – and he was badly wrong with two of his three calls. Not good enough.
Attendance: 16,707 (1,800 Villa fans) A disappointing attendance again, but a great atmosphere inside Loftus Road. It didn’t quite rock like it did against Newcastle, but the Villa fans were the nosiest we have had in W12 for sometime and the home fans continued to back their team right to the death, even when all hope of taking anything from the game seemed to be lost.
Photo: Action Images
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