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Just a little bit of history repeating
Just a little bit of history repeating
Monday, 17th Apr 2006 01:21

Rangers blew a two goal lead in the last ten minutes against Norwich on Easter Monday. Can it get any worse?

My god where do I start? QPR were two nil up, three if the linesman had any balls, five or six but for an outstanding performance from the Norwich keeper, playing some decent football and holding Norwich at arms length. The home side seemed happy enough to let us win, in fact most of the fans in the Barclay End even cheered the QPR goals as they felt it was brining Nigel Worthington closer to the sack.

"We want Worthy out," they sang in unison, "Nigel give us a wave" was the taunt from the QPR fans. Booed and heckled by their own support the Norwich players seemed bereft of life, regularly misplacing passes into touch thanks to lack of confidence and communication. Worthington cut a lonely figure on the touchline, the QPR fans were in good voice, the team seemed to have regained a little pride in themselves, the Norwich fans were happy, we were happy, the home players were resigned to defeat and yet somehow we managed it.

QPR lost the un-loseable game.

Not only that but they did in such spectacular fashion that it was all over in ten minutes. Twenty to five and we're winning two nil, ten minutes later and it's all over. The QPR players trudged over to the away section and applauded but they looked shell shocked. The QPR fans didn't know whether to applaud their efforts for eighty minutes or throw seats at them for being so utterly gutless when the going got tough. Worthington skipped off down the tunnel to reflect on his free escape from jail and Gary Waddock just stood there, hands on head, wondering what in the name of god he has to do to get that third win under his belt.

On the one hand I felt deeply sorry for him, on the other I wanted to strangle him.

It was a very long, very quiet, alcohol fuelled trip back to Doncaster station for the Northern R's. I know it doesn't matter, I know we're not going down, I know I shouldn't care but God this one really hurt. Surely even those that were dancing around at the back of the away end at the end of the match despite the collapse must have a little voice in their head saying teams that end a season in this kind of form often find it very difficult to pick it up again the following August.

It's going to need a restructure of Watford proportions this summer to avoid relegation next season.

Waddock was forced into changes prior to kick off. Ian Evatt, Scott Donnelly, Richard Langley and Shabazz Baidoo were all injured and missed out. With Rose still out that meant a first start under the new manager for Georges Santos in defence, and the former Ipswich man was jeered by the home support before the kick off.

Waddock also decided to bring back the out of form Marcus Bignot at right back in place of Kus who dropped to the bench. This seemed a strange decision with Kus apparently just starting to find his feet and impress in the first team and only three games left to look at him before deciding whether or not he should stay.

So the back four in front of Jones consisted of Bignot, Shittu, Santos and Mauro Milanese who looks a shoe in for player of the month at the moment. In midfield Langley was replaced by Steve Lomas who partnered Saturday's man of the match Stefan Bailey in the centre. Cook and Ainsworth started on the flanks. Up front Nygaard and Furlong renewed their unorthodox partnership.

The game started at a pedestrian pace befitting a meaningless end of season encounter. Norwich's teenage full back Michael Spillane sent a tame effort straight at Paul Jones early on while at the other end Gareth Ainsworth was stopped on the edge of the box after he'd threatened to run all the way through and open the scoring.

Robert Earnshaw was renewing his battle with Danny Shittu for the first time since the Play Off final three seasons ago and although the big defender had the better of the early exchanges Earnie did manage to break free in the seventh minute but his effort from just inside the area was mishit and easy for Jones to claim.

In the thirteenth minute Marc Nygaard squandered the best chance of the game so far when he headed Gareth Ainsworth's cross wide of the post.

Just after the twenty minute mark both sides had good chances to take the lead from set pieces. Firstly Gary Doherty was penalised for a foul on Marc Nygaard right on the edge of the area left of centre. The ball seemed ideally placed for Ainsworth, or at least a right footer, to either shoot or send a cross into the back post but Rangers called their opponents' bluff and Lee Cook went for goal with his left foot. It wasn't a bad effort either but Rob Earnshaw managed to get the top of his head to the ball and divert it behind for a corner which was easily claimed by Gallagher.

At the other end a foul by Lomas on Robinson gave the home side a chance to test their free kick taking abilities but Earnshaw kicked the ground before the ball and hilariously stubbed an embarrassing effort out for a goal kick by the corner flag. Rangers had brought a good number of travelling supporters with them and the sight of a former Cardiff man making such a mess of a free kick only improved their mood and the volume of their singing.

It was no surprise that when Norwich were awarded another free kick in a dangerous position Earnshaw had nothing to do with the taking of it. Eight minutes before half time the Welshamn picked up the ball with his back to goal twenty five yards out. Everybody could see Santos coming and knew exactly what was about to happen, Earnshaw was sent flying through the air by a crude challenge.

This is just the kind of thing that Georges does which really irritates supporters. Earnshaw was going nowhere, miles from goal, with his back to the danger area and few options to pass to. Suddenly, one rush of blood to the head from Santos and we're left defending a pre-rehearsed dangerous situation.

Santos should have been booked, and he almost paid the greatest price of all when Norwich sprung a surprise on QPR, shifting the free kick way off to the left where Huckerby stood all alone and unmarked. Luckily the former Man City forward fired the ball high into the home end and wasted the chance when he really should have done better.

Just as the game looked set to peter out into a goalless half time QPR broke the deadlock. Mauro Milanese took a throw in on halfway and found Cook who made excellent headway into the Norwich half. He found Furlong who was fouled but with the referee waving advantage the ball was moved right to Ainsworth who took a touch to steady himself and then unloaded a powerful low drive across the face of Gallagher's goal and into the far corner. The goal was a great end to a terrific, flowing, passing move and well done to the referee for getting the advantage rule dead right.

The home fans roundly booed their team and manager off at half time while the population of the away end was left to celebrate the opening goal of the game with a trip to the bar.

At half time Worthington removed Spillane and replaced him with McVeigh but the change looked to have really back fired when QPR flew out of the blocks and penned their hosts back in their own half.

The pressure paid off in the fifty first minute when Rangers had the ball in the net for a second time, or so it seemed. Cook sent a wicked outswinging corner over from the right and Nygaard met it powerfully at the near post. Somehow Gallagher got across to his right to claw the ball out from underneath the bar but it was all to no avail as Furlong pounced on the rebound and forced the ball over the line. Andy Hughes tried to scramble the effort away but we were dead in line with it and the ball was clearly a good foot over the line. Except the referee missed it and the linesman lost his bottle so the goal Rangers deserved was not forthcoming.

The protests would have been louder if Darren Huckerby had equalised when he should have done a few moments later but Paul Jones pulled off another of his point blank saves to deny him.

Still this was a rare foray into the Rangers' half from the home side and normal service was resumed shortly afterwards when Nygaard's ambitious twenty yard volley deflected past the stranded Gallagher but missed the post by about three inches. From Cook's corner Gallagher, Doherty and Furlong all challenged for the cross and the ball bounced off the top of the cross bar and behind.

It seemed as though we were in for another one of those days where Rangers just couldn't kill the game off and ended up leaving with just a point. Those fears were put to bed on the hour when Lee Cook doubled the lead. The diminutive left winger collected possession just inside the Norwich half wide on the left and set off towards goal in trademark fashion. Andy Hughes came across but Cook hurdled the challenge and continued into a three on two situation with Furlong and Nygaard in support. Just as it looked like he'd gone too far Cook unloaded an unstoppable shot into the bottom corner and the travelling support erupted.

Cook dashed off towards the corner flag to perform another of his bizarre dance routines with Stefan Bailey and it seemed as though that elusive win was finally there for the taking.

Rangers really were playing well at this stage. Milanese and Cook were ripping the home side apart down the left hand side and Stefan Bailey was running the show from the centre of the park. Bailey has all the tackling and defence that Marcus Bean had but he's got a load of skill and ability to go with it and his passing was superb all day. Up front Marc Nygaard was having his best game for a while and Rangers looked like they could score every time they came forward.

Mauro Milanese went on one of his swashbuckling runs down the left flank fifteen minutes from time and after a neat one two with Nygaard on the edge of the area he tried to chip the ball across the face of goal for Furlong but Doherty was on hand to scramble the ball behind.

Things soon started to go wrong though. A harmless cross by McVeigh found Gareth Ainsworth under no pressure whatsoever in his own penalty area. Rather than clear it Wild Thing tried to execute a delicate back header to Jones but he got far too much purchase on it and the keeper was forced into a spectacular one handed save up in his top corner.

Norwich kept the ball in the box from the corner for a good three minutes which caused no end of needless panic in the R's defence and when Jones elected to punch rather than catch a cross he made a hash of it and Huckerby was on hand to climb above Bignot and send the ball looping into the corner of the net off his head. This was Jones' first error since moving to the club and came at the worst possible time, just as Rangers should have been closing the game out.

Worthington sent on Johansson and Henderson for Hughes and Jarvis as his side chased an equaliser. Tempers flared ten minutes from time when Darren Huckerby's outrageous dive was rewarded with a free kick on the edge of the penalty area and Stefan Bailey steamed in with some choice words. Dickson Etuhu charged after Bailey swinging his arms around and both players were carded. The free kick came to nothing because Doherty fouled Shittu.

Big Danny almost killed the game off again when he sent a powerful header in on goal from a Lee Cook corner but Gallagher pulled off a brilliant save and Norwich tore away down the field to equalise soon after.

Johansson pulled the ball back from the byline and with Santos and Shittu sucked right into the six yard box Earnshaw calmly hung back by the penalty spot and crashed home the second Norwich goal of the game past the despairing dive of Jones.

Amazingly Rangers could and should have retaken the lead a minute from time. Lomas sent a lovely ball out to the right for Ainsworth who delivered the perfect cross for Furlong. Furs got a boot to the ball and sent it goalwards but it lacked power and Gallagher made another save to deny him. In stoppage time Marc Nygaard tried his luck with a free kick from twenty five yards and although his powerful strike looked to be heading towards goal Doherty got his body in the way and diverted it over.

As if blowing the two goal lead, and a couple of chances to snatch the points anyway, wasn't bad enough another defensive disaster let Earnshaw in to win the game for home side seconds from time. McVeigh knocked the ball down in the six yard area with Shittu, Santos and Jones all scrambling around frantically trying to remember what their jobs were Earnshaw lashed into the empty net.

I still can't believe this actually happened. Even the Norwich fans we spoke to afterwards admitted we were much the better team. In Ainsworth, Cook and Bailey we had the three outstanding players on the pitch while the likes of Doherty and Robinson were simply awful for the home side. But for Gallagher in the Norwich goal this could have been a massive away win.

Earnshaw didn't get a kick all day against Shittu and yet he finished the day as the match winner. Unbelievable.

The key seemed to be the changes made by Worthington. McVeigh was the most impressive Norwich player on show for me and he only played the second half. Just when the home side needed a final push Worthington introduced Henderson and Johansson to seal the points. Waddock had Bircham and Kus on the bench who could have come on and added an extra body to the defence to maybe double up on Huckerby or Earnshaw, or tightened the midfield but he was slow to react and that cost us.

In 1976 QPR came to Norwich on Easter Monday and got done 3-2 as well, of course there was much more riding on that game. I felt utterly sick walking away from Carrow Road yesterday and ultimately the result was meaningless, heaven only knows how the QPR fans felt that day.

Two games and counting.


Gallacher 9, Spillane 5 (McVeigh 45, 7), Shackell 5, Doherty 3,Drury 4, Hughes 6 (Henderson 79, 7), Etuhu 6, Robinson 5, Huckerby 7,Earnshaw 7, Ryan Jarvis 7 (Johansson 78, 8).
Subs Not Used: Lewis, Charlton.
Booked: Etuhu.
Goals: Huckerby 78, Earnshaw 85, 90.

QPR: Jones 3, Bignot 4, Shittu 6, Santos 5, Milanese 7, Ainsworth 7,Bailey 9, Lomas 7, Cook 8, Furlong 6, Nygaard 7.
Subs Not Used: Cole, Bircham, Kus, Munday, Howell.
Booked: Santos, Bailey.
Goals: Ainsworth 45, Cook 61.

Att: 24,126

QPR Star man - Stefan Bailey 9 - Not since a young Nigel Quashie appeared in the R's first team have I been so excited about a midfielder from our youth team. The boy can pass, tackle and run better than Lomas or Bircham. He played the second half with a real swagger, dropping his shoulder and scooting past opponents with ease. Must play the final two games and really should be the man we look at building a midfield around in the coming seasons.

Ref: B Curson (Leicestershire) 7 - Seemed to give most of the fifty fifty calls to Norwich but he kept the cards in his pocket for the most part and played the advantage rule excellently throughout. He was let down by a blind linesman who really should have awarded Furlong's goal.

Photo: Action Images

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