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Late show wins R's point
Late show wins R's point
Tuesday, 8th Aug 2006 16:41

QPR won their first point of the season in dramatic fashion against Leeds United last night.

When Nick Ward told Rivals over the summer that he was looking forward to his first taste of the Loftus Road match day experience I'm not sure he expected anything quite like last night. He should have done though, it was typical QPR in every way.

A positive first ten minutes belied negative 4-5-1 tactics but Leeds quickly took over the game and ran it until the eightieth minute - only goalkeeping heroics kept QPR within touching distance. Defensive mix ups, last ditch block tackles, team mates arguing - there was an air of desperation about Rangers for seventy minutes of the contest.

Finally with ten minutes to go two strikers were introduced and the whole thing took off. Rangers won a point with a late penalty, threw it away immediately with a crass piece of defending from the kick off, won it back again when Ainsworth chased a lost cause and Baidoo pounced and then blew several chances to win all three in injury time.

Never a dull moment, welcome to English football Nick.

Mind you speaking of dull, Rangers did start with just one striker for their first home game of the season. At Burnley on Saturday everything was going well until the defence had a brain explosion, but the fact is we were never going to score at Turf Moor. I doubt we'd have managed one by now if we'd stayed there over the weekend and kicked a ball around after Burnley had gone home.

Starting with the same system, with poor Czerkas continuing his initiation alone up front, was as good as handing Leeds a point or all three if they scored first. I felt sure Baidoo would start if Gallen and Nygaard were still unfit but Waddock and McDonald thought better of it and Shabazz began on the bench.

Nevertheless the home side began brightly. Cook, Ainsworth and Ward saw plenty of the ball and Rangers carved out two good opportunities in the first ten minutes. First Adam Czerkas did well to reach a through ball ahead of Leeds keeper Tony Warner but in trying to lift the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper the Pole miscued and toed it wide of the post.

That chance wasn't easy, but within five minutes Rangers had carved Leeds apart for a second time and really should have scored. Gareth Ainsworth went screaming through the middle after neat passing in the centre of the field but never looked confident enough to try a shot with his left foot and ended up scuffing a weak shot with the outside of his right almost straight at Warner. A left foot effort, even a mishit one, probably stood a better chance of finding the corner but it's easy to say that from the South Africa Road stand.

Rangers continued to press - Matthew Kilgallon was fortunate to escape a booking when he hacked down Gareth Ainsworth, Lee Cook saw the resulting free kick palmed out for a corner by Tony Warner. Then Stephan Crainey did find his way into the notebook for a blatant handball that prevented Ainsworth from breaking down the right flank.

In the eleventh minute Lee Cook cut inside from the left wing and sent a drive two feet over the bar. It had been one way traffic up to this point, all signs pointed towards the School End, but Rangers hadn't scored and that seemed to inject some belief into Leeds. Very quickly the Yorkshiremen took the game over completely.

The first shot across the bows came from Horsfield in the sixteenth minute. Rangers messed around with the ball around the edge of their own penalty area, eventually settling for a risky back pass to Jones from Rowlands which Horsfield chased down. Jones cleared the ball against the giant Leeds forward but it bounced away and to safety rather than back into the danger zone.

Two minutes later and a nod down from Butler at the back post after a long throw was turned goalwards by David Healy but Jones was down quickly to smother the danger. The two clashed again in the twenty sixth minute, Healy squirming past Rose and getting his shot away from the edge of the area but Jones comfortably saved again.

There was nothing comfortable for Jones when he was next called into action in the thirty first minute. The ball was again allowed to come loose in the penalty area and Steve Stone blasted it towards goal - Jones saved and was then up quickly to block Stone's second effort on the rebound with an even better stop. The Welsh keeper was right back to the top form we saw from him at the end of last season and Rangers needed him to be - the defence was being torn apart time and again, offering no protection to their veteran stopper.

It seemed only a matter of time before Leeds went in front and they really should have opened the scoring ten before half time. Eddie Lewis tormented Marcus Bignot down the Leeds left and pulled the ball back into the penalty area from the byline. The whole back four had been sucked into the six yard box so when Lewis' cross went behind them all it seemed a formality for right back Gary Kelly who just had to keep his shot low as he arrived late at the back post. Luckily for QPR the former Irish international lost all composure and thrashed it into the Upper Loft.

Rangers needed something. They hadn't been in the Leeds half for almost half an hour, they had no answer to Lewis, Horsfield or Healy, they should have been at least two goals down. It was a shambles. That something they needed came five minutes before half time, Damion Stewart took charge of the situation and executed a magnificent sliding tackle on Bakke on the edge of the area. The big Jamaican dispossessed his opponent and, better still, sent the ball thirty yards down field straight to Czerkas.

The Loft cheered, his team mates applauded - finally a decent, strong piece of defending. And yet referee Kevin Friend, after a delay of almost ten seconds, decided that in fact this magnificent piece of defending was a foul. Not only that but a foul worthy of a booking. He'd spent most of the half giving lots of questionable decisions to the home team, as is his usual way, but suddenly he strapped on a pair and decided to give one the away side's way.

Lewis struck the resulting free kick round the wall and towards the bottom corner but Jones was alert and got down quickly to make a smart save.

Neither side made a change at the break although half time was extended by a good seven or eight minutes as a search for a fourth official from the crowd took place. One of the linesman had picked up an injury in the first half and been replaced on the line by the fourth official Phil Barnes so it was up to one lucky soul from the Lower Loft to keep the managers in check and the substitutions flowing in the second half.

This break allowed the smokers amongst the Rangers support extra time to dip below decks and satisfy their habits - the new regulations at Loftus Road turned the corridors downstairs into a scene from London's Burning. I'm not sure this idea is going to work very well somehow.

The second half began much as the first half had ended with Leeds pouring forward at every opportunity. Rangers did at least offer something on the counter attack though. Their first chance of the half came when Ward cut in from the right and sent a low shot in on goal which Warner saved easily.

Moments later Ward and Cook combined well and the latter sent a terrific ball through into the penalty area looking for Milanese on the overlap but Kelly just beat his opposite number to the ball and hacked it behind.

Leeds replaced Bakke with new signing Ian Westlake while Rangers introduced Ray Jones for Adam Czerkas but continued with the 4-5-1 formation.

Most of the play was taking place at the School End but unlike the first half Leeds were struggling to create many clear cut chances. A shot from Horsfield was heroically blocked by Rowlands around the hour mark before Ainsworth headed the ball over after another swift break from Ward and Cook.

The two or three half chances Rangers had created since half time barely papered over the cracks at the back and sure enough, in the sixty fifth minute, another defensive disaster allowed Leeds to open the scoring. David Healy headed Steve Stone's cross against the bar and after Marcus Bignot made an almighty mess with the rebound Eddie Lewis was on hand to hook the loose ball into the top corner and send the travelling two thousand into raptures.

Loftus Road fell silent. There was no way Rangers were ever going to get back into the game playing the way they were. Even moving Gareth Ainsworth into attack alongside Jones made little impact - Rangers' plight was highlighted when a tame cross from Lee Cook was fumbled in the six yard box by Warner but there wasn't a QPR player within ten yards who could capitalise on the mistake. What the R's needed was a poacher, somebody to scamper around Jones' feet and look for these little knock downs and rebounds. Enter Shabazz Baidoo for Marcus Bignot.

Now it's fair to say that Shabazz endured an indifferent end to last season. He stalled over signing a new contract and was labelled greedy by the fans and to make matters worse he missed some guilt edge chances as the campaign drew to a close, including a last minute chance to win the game against Brighton which he elected to back heal towards goal instead of hammering it into the roof of the net.

This summer Baidoo has shown signs of improvement though. He's signed a new contract with the club and looked sharp in pre-season culminating in a fine strikers' goal in the final Italian friendly against San Antonio. Two years ago he came off the bench against Leeds and terrified them with his pace, ultimately setting up an equaliser for Kevin Gallen, and last night he did the same thing again.

Matthew Kilgallon, so strong and composed all night, was suddenly floundering at the heart of the Leeds defence. Time and time again he attempted a wild hack at Baidoo as the youngster skipped past him and suddenly Leeds looked rattled.

In the eighty first minute Rangers got their reward for changing the system when Gareth Ainsworth crumbled under minimal contact from Crainey and a penalty was awarded. Ainsworth certainly played for the spot kick and having watched the replay this morning I can say with some confidence that this was a vintage Kevin Friend home town decision - I told you we needed to have him at Loftus Road one day.

Martin Rowlands stepped up to take the kick with Rangers' two first choice penalty takers off the pitch and Ainsworth still waking up in a cold sweat thinking about his effort against Stoke. Warner tried everything he could to put him off, wandering off towards the corner flag for a drink and a chat with the linesman - behaviour that earned him a deserved yellow card. Paul Butler was lucky not to be booked as well as he wandered round the penalty area talking to his keeper and moaning about the placing of the ball to the officials.

Finally after a lengthy delay the whistle was blown and Rowlands stepped up. Warner guessed the right way but Rowlands' kick carried too much venom and zipped into the bottom corner.

Rangers were level but they seemed to busy congratulating themselves as Leeds kicked off. With Bignot off the pitch, Stewart celebrating and Rose struggling to jog back Rangers had only Mauro Milanese in the right position as Leeds restarted. Kevin Blackwell's men pumped the ball into the Rangers' red zone and simply kept it there. There was nothing fancy about it, they just showed determination to regain the lead and because Rangers never set themselves up correctly after the goal what followed was inevitable.

Horsfield and Stone combined on the edge of the box after Stewart missed his header, the ball was chipped in behind Rose and with the flag down Horsfield had time to pick his spot and side foot home Leeds' second goal of the night. New Rangers' signing Zesh Rehman watched on from the stands probably wondering if he'd made a big mistake - I wouldn't play in the middle of that defence if you paid me a million pounds!

The game should have been all over in the eighty third minute when Lewis' left wing cross landed plum on Horsfield's head but he thumped his effort wide of the post.

Rangers had been lucky to score one after eighty minutes of huffing and puffing so it seemed unlikely they'd manage two and some of the fourteen thousand inside Loftus Road decided to head out and beat the traffic.

They missed a thrilling last five minutes as a result. Baidoo and Jones grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and set about demolishing Leeds in the closing stages. Baidoo and Ainsworth combined in the final minute of normal time to send Jones through but from eight yards out slightly wide of the target the giant front man smashed his effort into the crowd.

QPR could have been forgiven for thinking the chance had gone and they may as well give in but remarkably they created four more magnificent opportunities in the four minutes of added on time. First a cross from Cook was headed up into the air by Butler and landed at the feet of Jones and Ward on the edge of the box. Jones took charge and sent a bouncing volley through the crowd of players but straight into the arms of Warner. Either side of him and it was a goal.

It didn't matter though, sixty seconds later another cross from Cook caused panic in the box, Leeds let the ball run assuming it was heading out for a goal kick but the never-say-die attitude of Ainsworth kept it alive at the back post and just as the ball seemed destined to trickle back to Warner Baidoo gambled and arrived at the near post right on cue to smash it into the top corner.

Loftus Road erupted, Baidoo erupted and danced around like some crazed Monty Panesar impersonator. Rangers had done it. Two all.

Most teams would have settled for that but the final two minutes of injury time played out like a Kevin Keegan wet dream. Rangers had six players pushed right up the field and Leeds kept three or four down at the School End looking for a third goal as well. In the ninety third minute Baidoo broke down the right and produced a superb through ball for Jones. Big Ray had blazed over the bar from the same position five minutes earlier but this time he kept his shot low, Warner saved but couldn't hold the ball which bounced back to Jones who was laid out on the ground. Jones tried to hook the ball back into the six yard box but it was blocked, then he tried to force it home himself and Warner re-gathered.

Confidence was flowing through the Rangers side now. Baidoo picked the ball up on the halfway line, wide on the right, in the final minute of injury time and set off for goal again. He tricked his way to the edge of the area before Kilgallon, probably wondering where it had all gone wrong, cynically hacked him down twenty five yards out from goal.

The Leeds man was rightly booked and Rangers had a chance to win the game with the final kick. Lee Cook stepped up to take the free kick which he bent into the wall, it bounced loose in the area and Jones swivelled and leathered a snap shop on the half volley. It looked for all the world like it would rip the net off the goalposts and win Rangers three points but somehow, God knows how, the ball flew wide of the post and Leeds survived. The whistle went after the resulting goal kick and the home fans rose to acclaim their side - second best for so much of the match but with enough belief and spirit to come out at the death, win a point and go painfully close to snatching all three.

There's work to be done, the drama at the end hardly covers what was a poor performance for the vast majority of the game but there were so many positives to take from the game Gary Waddock will no doubt be delighted. The impact his two young guns up front, Baidoo and Jones, had from the bench was something to behold. The fact that Rangers kept going when the game seemed to be lost, and then didn't just settle for the point after the equaliser bodes well for the rest of the season.

The memories of Burnley firmly put to bed, it's now imperative that Rangers pick up where they left off last night and really fly out of the traps against Southend on Saturday. The Shrimpers conceded two soft goals from corners at Crystal Palace last night and if Waddock can tighten his defence with the introduction of Rehman and abandon the 4-5-1 in favour of a starting place for Jones, Baidoo or, hopefully, Blackstock then we should have an excellent chance of getting that first win.

Pause for breath.

You R's!

QPR: P Jones 9, Bignot 4 (Baidoo 76, 8), Rose 4, Stewart 4, Milanese 5, Ainsworth 7, Lomas 7, Rowlands 7 (Bircham 89, -), Cook 7, Ward 7, Czerkas 5 (Jones 54, 7).
Subs not used: Cole, Kanyuka.
Goals: Rowlands 80 (pen), Baidoo 90
Bookings: Stewart 39

Leeds United: Warner 7, Kelly 7, Crainey 5, Butler 7, Healy 7 (Carole 76, 6), Horsfield 8 (Moore 84, -), Lewis 7, Stone 8, Bakke 7 (Westlake 50, 6), Derry 6, Kilgallon 6.
Subs not used: Gregan, Blake.
Goals: Lewis 65, Horsfield 82
Bookings: Crainey 6, Derry 45, Warner 79, Kilgallon 90 Rangers Star Man - Paul Jones 9 - Obviously the temptation would be to single Baidoo or Ray Jones out for their impact at the end but the drama of the last ten minutes barely disguised a poor performance for the most part and but for some heroics from Jones, particularly before half time, the two goals at the end would have been academic.

Referee: Mr K A Friend 5 - Well we were right, he is a home town decision maker. Apart from the scandalous decision against Stewart in the first half just about everything went Rangers way, including a highly debatable penalty. God forbid we have him for an away game again this season, I had just about all I could take at Bramall Lane last time.

Attendance: 13,966

Photo: Action Images

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