QPR still haunted by Holt and Norwich demons – full match report
Monday, 28th Nov 2011 00:58 by Clive Whittingham
QPR suffered their annual defeat at Carrow Road on Saturday as Norwich resisted a second half fightback from Neil Warnock’s men to secure a 2-1 win with a late winner from Grant Holt.
It’s unlikely to be any consolation to Neil Warnock and his players left to contemplate this defeat on the train ride home – but all the great QPR sides lose at Norwich.
To be fair all the rubbish QPR sides lose at Norwich as well. Whether it’s Les Ferdinand and Stan Bowles leading the attack, or Steve Slade and Mike Sheron, QPR teams through the ages have found a way to lose on this ground and just as the present set continued the proud recent record of regularly winning in Stoke last week, they happily did their bit to keep the curse of East Anglia alive and kicking at Carrow Road on Saturday.
Rangers have met Norwich more than any other side in the country – 114 competitive meetings prior to this one – but practise hasn’t made perfect in this part of the world. Two wins and three draws from the last 13 visits here stretching back 15 years, and QPR fans across the world still wake in a cold sweat in the dead of night after nightmares about us blowing our one and only Football League Championship here in 1976. We’ve brought some good teams here in that time, and some bloody awful ones as well, but it’s all been to no avail. In a title winning season of just five losses last term one of those setbacks inevitably came at the hands of the Canaries. Saturday’s loss was an improvement in many ways – this was the first time in four attempts that we’ve managed to get through a game in Norwich without having a player sent off, though the fact that one was suspended before kickoff had a lot to do with this 2-1 defeat.
Joey Barton’s single game suspension was just about the only piece of pre-game chat that turned out to have any truth in it whatsoever. I’m starting to wonder whether the team news emanating from Loftus Road prior to matches at the moment is dreamed up using the same random draw machine that Stuart Attwell uses to make his refereeing decisions. Since the Blackburn furore, where Neil Warnock criticised a supporter for leaking team news onto the web prior to matches and even went so far as to publish his e-mail address on the official website, the club has used its media outlets and local press to churn out one false story about injuries after another.
Prior to this game Heidar Helguson, Jay Bothroyd, Armand Traore, Luke Young and Danny Gabbidon were all either doubtful or definitely ruled out and yet all played some part in the game. Meanwhile Paddy Kenny, not mentioned in any official advance team news, is out for up to eight weeks. There have been clues pointing to an injury to Rangers’ inspirational goalkeeper all week – Brian Murphy tweeted last weekend that his torn calf muscle had come “at the worst possible time” and then on Wednesday the R’s moved to sign free agent Richard Wright before Ipswich nipped in first. Quite what the club gains by keeping Kenny’s injury a big secret I’m not sure.
Anyway, after all of that, Radek Cerny started in goal for the first time since the final day of last season after the Premier League refused permission for an emergency loan despite Rangers losing both goalkeepers to medium term injuries last weekend. This was Cerny’s first Premiership appearance in more than three years. Gabbidon partnered Anton Ferdinand at the heart of the defence with Clint Hill left and Young on the right. In midfield Shaun Derry replaced the suspended Barton alongside Alejandro Faurlin with Armand Traore wide left. Jamie Mackie alternated between the right flank and attack with Shaun Wright Phillips also handed a fluid role behind in form Heidar Helguson as the lone striker.
There were wholesale changes for Norwich prior to kick off as well despite a decent performance and narrow defeat against high flying Arsenal last weekend. Kyle Naughton was dropped for the match against the club he almost joined in the summer and replaced by loaned Man Utd defender Ritchie de Laet which, given his laughably inept performance at Loftus Road last season for Portsmouth, could only be a good thing for the visitors. Wes Hoolahan was also surprisingly left out and replaced by Simeon Jackson up front alongside Steve Morrison who’d given Rangers a torrid time in both matches with Millwall last season. David Fox also dropped out so Andrew Surman could come into the midfield.
Despite the Paddy Kenny news things seemed altogether brighter in the QPR camp pre-match. The Norwich fans in the pub seemed less than impressed with the changes made by Paul Lambert as they looked to avoid a third successive defeat for the first time in more than two years, while the visitors were just grateful to field such a decent team after the pre-match horror stories emanating from the Harlington training ground. And it was the Super Hoops, sporting the best away record outside the big four in the league, who started on the front foot by forcing an early corner which Danny Gabbidon hooked over his shoulder towards goal but Norwich were able to scramble away. They responded with a long range shot from Jackson that Cerny claimed confidently under his cross bar.
Opening salvos successfully fired the match then settled into the pattern that would persist for much of the afternoon – and it wasn’t a pretty one for QPR or their centre half pairing. In the ninth minute a ball knocked into the right channel by Norwich seemed to be well within Anton Ferdinand’s control but, as he did at Stoke early in the game last weekend, he allowed it to bounce and that was all the encouragement Steve Morrison needed. In a flash the situation changed, suddenly it was Morrison in control of the ball and goalside of Ferdinand who was left trailing in the Welsh international’s wake as he accelerated towards goal. The opening score seemed certain as the in form striker looked for his fourth goal in as many games but Cerny rushed from his line and made a fine save one on one at Morrison’s feet.
Steve Morrison was a non-league striker until relatively recently playing for the likes of Bishop Stortford and Stevenage. He struggled initially at Millwall in the Championship before spectacularly finding his feet and I felt it was a big risk for Norwich to spend quite so much money on him to lead their Premiership attack. When you look at him it’s difficult to really pick out his forte – is he a hold up and lay man like Helguson? Is he a speedster who is going to enjoy frightening defenders with his pace like Agbonlahor? Is he a giant target man like Kenwyne Jones? Is he all about clinical finishing like Jermain Defoe? Personally I don’t really see him as any of these – he’s just a steady all round centre forward. Against QPR though he persistently looks like a world beater. At The Den last season he cost Danny Shittu his QPR career by absolutely annihilating the giant centre half in every area of the game. On Saturday he set about Gabbidon and Ferdinand in the same manner – crawling all over them, winning every header, threatening every time he went forward. It’s little short of a miracle that he didn’t score in this game.
Ferdinand’s afternoon wasn’t about to get a lot better. Within four minutes of that let off Rangers fell behind in amateurish circumstances. Morrison won what I felt was a pretty generous free kick from Clint Hill wide on the QPR left which Rangers scrambled out only as far as former Chelsea trainee Andrew Crofts whose well drilled low shot deflected an inch or two wide of the post with Cerny at full stretch but seemingly well beaten. QPR had escaped again, but had good reason to feel hard done to when the subsequent corner dropped at the back post and was pretty blatantly handled by Russell Martin. Referee Mark Clattenburg waved the appeals away and when the Canaries then won a second corner kick in quick succession a loose ball in the penalty area bounced off Ferdinand straight to Martin who hammered in his second goal of the season. Martin, a full back and recent makeshift centre half, could hardly be termed prolific with seven goals in a year and a half but he’s managed two against QPR now in as many meetings. His goal crowned an excellent all round display here.
QPR probably feared the worst at this point but they recovered from a single goal deficit to record a memorable win at Stoke seven days prior to this match and could have drawn level within two minutes of going behind when Shaun Wright Phillips ran onto a Helguson flick on in the area and seemed to be taken out by goalkeeper John Ruddy as he reached the loose ball first but no penalty was awarded by referee Mark Clattenburg.
Rangers actually enjoyed decent spells of possession in the first half, but for every moment of quality or hope there were two heart in mouth sessions at the other end. For a team so easy on the eye Norwich played an awful lot of percentage balls into the channels on Saturday and while that may not be in keeping with their reputation it was the perfect tactic to attack Ferdinand and Gabbidon with as neither looked comfortable in the presence of Morrison once turned around. A foul by the former on the Norwich striker set up an Andrew Surman free kick at the midway point of the half and although QPR did get that one away the ball fell to Crofts who drilled over.
It wasn’t just the centre backs struggling in Hoops. Clint Hill and Armand Traore looked wholly uncomfortable as a partnership down the left in the first half – countless times Traore came short for an inside ball only to see Hill hoist it high down the line to nobody in particular. Both players were at fault – Hill for regressing to Championship standards and Traore for very quickly losing heart with the situation and failing to give Hill any other options than that same constant short one. Up front Heidar Helguson was marshalled far better than he had been against Stoke, but QPR looked for his head more than his chest and that doesn’t play to his strengths. Finally Norwich’s high tempo, high pressing game completely dominated the centre of the QPR midfield in the first half – Shaun Derry must be used as a holding defensive midfielder or not at all as he has neither the legs nor the ability to play a conventional central midfield role like this anymore. We really missed Joey Barton in that position in this game.
The faster, livelier, better and stronger Canaries came within inches of doubling their lead after 25 minutes when Morrison was afforded the time and space to pick his spot from the edge of the area but chose one an inch or so too high of the top corner. At the far end of the ground Helguson could only watch on jealously and wish for such an opening himself. He headed a deep cross wide under heavy contact from Barnett and then when Armand Traore won a free kick on the corner of the area Wright Phillips wasted the set piece by drifting it delicately into the arms of Ruddy. Barton’s set piece delivery was missed almost as much as his energetic central midfield play.
On the evidence of the first 35 minutes of play it was hard to argue against Norwich deserving a half time lead. But QPR started to gain a foothold in the game in the closing moments and by the time the oranges and mugs of tea were handed round in the dressing rooms the scores could easily have been tied again.
The two best chances came in the 60 seconds immediately before the refreshments. Rangers should have known all about de Laet’s imitations after last season’s horror show from him in W12 but they never once got Wright Phillips, Traore or anybody else to run at the Belgian consistently. He gave them a little reminder of just what a poor player he is with a stupid foul on Wright Phillips a minute before half time that allowed the former Man City man to redeem his earlier poor delivery and he did that in spades. A wicked cross through a questionable wall and right across the face of the goal should have been converted by Shaun Derry at the far post and only he will really know how he missed.
Lambert’s men possibly thought that was them safe through to the break but Rangers set about their hosts immediately after the resulting goal kick with Faurlin winning the ball back in the centre circle and allowing Wright Phillips to accelerate forward into the area and strike a low shot that Ruddy fumbled into the path of Mackie who should have done more than find the side netting despite the tightness of the angle. Suddenly it was QPR who wanted more than the one additional minute of time at the end of a first half that they’d largely been second best in.
The more I see of QPR at the moment the more I think the half time break at Tottenham could prove to be the pivotal moment in the season. Harry Redknapp spoke of hearing a proper tear up in the Rangers dressing room at White Hart Lane that day the upshot of which has been a change of system and the disappearance of Adel Taarabt. QPR have been excellent since then. I can’t imagine the scenes below decks at Carrow Road on Saturday were quite as animated as they had been in North London but clearly firm words were said because Rangers were a much more committed, organised and threatening outfit in the second period.
A warning shot was fired three minutes into the half by Shaun Wright Phillips who belied his slight frame to muscle his way through a robust Leon Barnett challenge and hook Clint Hill’s low pass past Ruddy, but also wide of the target.
Norwich responded in kind, making the most of three quick fire possession concessions from QPR to set Jackson racing away into the Rangers half. When QPR had the ball Jackson was apparently so badly injured the Norwich physio was busy phoning his family in Canada asking if they wanted the life support machine turned off but the sight of a team mate robbing the otherwise excellent Faurlin of the ball and providing a chance of a shot on goal saw Jackson complete the most remarkable recovery ever recorded by medical science and he then gleefully skipped off to the edge of the area before drilling a low shot wide of the post.
Norwich were forced to replace De Laet with Kyle Naughton when the defender pulled up hurt just before the hour mark and Rangers sent on Jay Bothroyd for Clint Hill moments after the left back had headed Wright Phillips’ corner over the bar. I thought this was an excellent change made by Neil Warnock and it set QPR up for a final half hour where they really should have gone on to win the match. Bothroyd provided much needed support to Helguson in attack while Traore dropped back to left full back and provided improved distribution from that area. The R’s also started to get Jamie Mackie running at Paul Tierney more often, a tactic that worked really well for Arsenal on this ground a week ago, and the rewards were almost instantaneous.
With both sides still settling into the revised set ups Mackie advanced to the edge of the Norwich penalty area after a poor clearance from Barnett and then drilled an unstoppable low shot off the base of Ruddy’s post. The chance seemed to have gone but Luke Young continued his recent trait of popping up in the opposing penalty area just when he’s most needed but least expected and produced a very calm and composed finish into the gaping net.
Rangers were level, and with Mackie relishing every opportunity to run at a rather frightened looking Tierney in the proceeding minutes the game only looked to be heading one way. If only Wright Phillips could take a leaf from Mackie’s book and attack with the same pace and purpose more often.
A free kick hit so far high and wide of the goal by Anthony Pilkington that it almost landed in Huddersfield where he used to play his football did little to mask the fact that Norwich were rattled an on the back foot. But like Warnock before him Lambert reacted quickly and produced a pair of substitutions that changed the game. On came Grant Holt, who’d given the R’s a torrid time in both matches last season, and Wes Hoolahan who had been a partner in crime for him in those matches. The QPR defence had completely failed to deal with the physical threat posed by Steve Morrison so it was always likely to struggle with Holt who is almost twice the width of his striking partner and so it proved.
Within two minutes of their introduction the newbies combined to restore Norwich’s advantage. Like the two previous goals in the game Holt’s close range shot from Hoolahan’s cross was preceded by a near miss that probably had the defending team thinking they’d survived the worst of the threat. In the seconds leading up to the match clinching moment Morrison had dragged three players towards him and the byline before dropping a cross plum onto Holt’s head at the back post but Shaun Derry was back on the line and able to block. QPR failed to clear their lines though, and possibly had a claim for a foul on Shaun Wright Phillips as the ball reached him on the edge of the area, but with Clattenburg waving play on Hoolahan swung his boot and Holt could hardly miss from six inches out.
Surman fired over the bar after a sleeping QPR defence allowed a two on one situation to develop at a short corner, and then headed over after more fine approach work from Morrison but an equalising goal looked more likely than a third for Norwich thereafter. Warnock sent on Akos Buzsaky for the below par Derry and Tommy Smith for Wright Phillips with time ticking away. Luke Young’s well flighted cross was directed powerfully towards goal by Helguson but the distance to goal, some 15 yards, meant Ruddy had a clear sight of the ball and plenty of time to deal with it. Ruddy was helpless to stop Young’s next involvement though as the all action full back chipped a deep cross to the far post and inadvertently planted the ball onto the face of the cross bar.
Teams in this situation nearly always get a final gilt edged chance to get the goal they desperately need – and QPR were no exception on Saturday. A slick move that involved first Mackie, then Smith and finally Bothroyd ended with the former Cardiff striker flighting a perfect cross to the back post where Helguson seemed ideally placed to thump home a close range header but in actual fact directed the ball over the bar for a goal kick. As has been the case everywhere except Fulham this season, Rangers were much the better side for having Bothroyd on the field.
As the game became stretched and ragged substitute Naughton was booked for fouling Tommy Smith and both Alejandro Faurlin, who should score more goals, and Akos Buzsaky, who would have fancied his chances from the position he found himself in, hammered 20 yard shots over the bar. By the time three minutes of stoppage time was indicated the game was up and the extra seconds ticked by without further incident. Make that one win from nine visits to Norfolk for QPR.
Neil Warnock spoke after the match about his team being robbed, while Paul Lambert claimed his side were good value for all three points. Bizarrely there is evidence to back both points of view.
In Morrison Norwich had the best attacking player on the pitch and were the better side for the majority of the first half at least. QPR meanwhile made far too many mistakes, particularly in defence, and had too many issues with their system and set up to win a Premiership match. The two centre backs were poor, Clint Hill’s distribution frequently conceded possession, Shaun Derry looked off the pace in the centre of midfield and Heidar Helguson was isolated in attack while Wright Phillips didn’t seem to know where he was playing or what his job was. You cannot have all those niggles and issues and still hope to win a game in the top flight of English football.
That said QPR did have the best of the second half, particularly once Bothroyd had come on to provide support for Helguson and Traore had moved to left back to improve the quality of possession in that area of the field. They created the best of the chances, scoring a nice goal and going close on several other occasions. They also had the outstanding midfield player on show in Alejandro Faurlin.
Ultimately though it was the failure of either Anton Ferdinand and Danny Gabbidon to cope with the physicality and movement of first Morrison and then Grant Holt that cost us this match. That said, given QPR’s record here we’d probably have lost with Vidic and Kompany in the heart of the defence. It’s just one of those things.
Norwich: Ruddy 7, Martin 8, Barnett 5, De Laet 6 (Naughton 58, 6), Tierney 5, Pilkington 7 (Hoolahan 70, 7), Johnson 6, Crofts 6, Surman 7, Morison 8, Jackson 7 (Holt 70, 7)
Subs Not Used: Rudd, Fox, Bennett, Wilbraham
Booked: Naughton (foul)
Goals: Martin 15 (unassisted), Holt 73 (assisted Hoolahan)
QPR: Cerny 6, Young 8, Gabbidon 5, Ferdinand 5, Hill 6 (Bothroyd 57, 7), Wright-Phillips 6 (Smith 79, 6), Derry 5 (Buzsaky 77, 6), Faurlin 8, Traore 7, Mackie 7, Helguson 6
Subs Not Used: Putnins, Orr, Hall, Puncheon
Goals: Young 59 (assisted Mackie)
QPR Star Man – Alejandro Faurlin 8 Missed Joey Barton alongside him but was still the outstanding ball player on view in this game. Rivalled by the equally excellent and in form Luke Young.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear) 7 A decent and sensible performance overall as we have come to expect from this referee. As ever though points come off for key decisions wrong and I felt there was a clear handball worthy of a free kick in the run up to the first Norwich goal. Clattenburg wasn’t ideally placed to see that to be fair to him, the linesman on the away end side of the ground was but given his decision making throughout the afternoon it’s no surprise he failed to flag for it. A more inept performance from an assistant referee I think we’ll struggle to find this season. Appeals for a foul on Wright Phillips prior to the second goal looked less clear cut.
Attendance: 26, 781 (1,500 QPR approx) A decent atmosphere inside Carrow Road as always, although the fans to the immediate left of the away end remained as lifeless as ever – particularly when compared to the boisterous lot to the right. The music after the goals could create the impression that you have stumbled into Norfolk’s premier gay nightclub by mistake and would be absolutely hilarious if it didn’t immediately follow QPR conceding another bloody goal at Carrow Road. On The Ball City on the other hand remains absolutely hilarious regardless of circumstance.
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