New boys shine in pulsating six goal thriller – report
Sunday, 2nd Feb 2014 18:52 by Clive Whittingham
Kevin Doyle and Mobido Maiga both scored debut goals as QPR and Burnley fought out a splendid three all draw at Loftus Road on Saturday.
Considering their respective league positions and records this season, QPR and Burnley have probably copped more than their fair share of grief during the 2013/14 campaign to this point.
The Clarets sat third at the start of play on Saturday, operating on easily the lowest budget of any of the top six sides, but much of the coverage of their ascent through the Championship this season has centred on when an apparently inevitable collapse will occur. Even with the January addition of Ashley Barnes from Brighton alleviating the concern over the lack of cover for star striking duo Sam Vokes and Danny Ings it seems to be the received wisdom that Sean Dyche’s side will fall away during the run in. Squad’s too small, injuries will hit them harder than most, etc etc.
QPR were second as the sun rose on a blustery day in W12 on Saturday, fresh from a run of four consecutive league wins. But entertainment has been in short supply at Loftus Road this season, with the success so far built on a strong defence rather than eye catching attack, and Tuesday night’s grind against a dreadful Bolton Wanderers side did little to raise spirits among a group of supporters who don’t want to seem ungrateful, but would like a little more bang for their buck. A season ending shoulder injury for 15 goal top scorer, and former Burnley man, Charlie Austin on Tuesday, closely followed by a nasty looking knock sustained by right winger Matt Phillips after just six minutes of this encounter, heightened the pessimism.
Both sides looked like they had points to prove in this live Sky fixture. Harry Redknapp flung the shackles off his team and started with two strikers – including debutant Kevin Doyle, swiftly signed to cover the Austin absence – and a midfield that, on paper, looked wide open with Phillips and Armand Traore right and left and Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar in the middle. Enough of the safety first approach, let’s step up to the plate and have a few big swings. No concession from Burnley either, who stuck to their tried and trusted formation with Vokes and Ings up top together and came with a willingness to attack scarcely seen from visiting teams on this ground this season.
The result was a magnificent spectacle. Like two boxers at the peak of their careers standing toe to toe and trading blows, QPR and Burnley slugged at each other for an hour and a half of wonderful Championship action that left the crowd in throaty voice and warm of heart. Pacy wing play, combative midfield action, mesmeric moments of brilliance from Niko Kranjcar, crisp, clinical striking play - football, it turns out, still can be really bloody exciting.
It was very second tier at times: a strong wind influenced play and there was a good deal more long ball played than in other Rangers matches this season; the goals came mainly from set pieces and individual mistakes; but it was a brilliant, thoroughly entertaining game all the same.
QPR started much the brighter, turning in their best first half performance of the season that suggested Harry Redknapp had demanded a strong start and revenge for a meek surrender in the corresponding game between these two at Turf Moor back in October. Doyle almost had his partner Andy Johnson racing in on goal after three minutes but visiting keeper, and former QPR loanee, Tom Heaton raced from his line to claim. Then Johnson flicked a Kranjcar corner goalwards at the near post and drew another save from Heaton and although the R’s had lost Phillips, and replaced him with Junior Hoilett, by this stage it didn’t upset their momentum and they took the lead while the former Blackpool winger was still having his body bag zipped up.
The R’s have been so poor with their corners for so long it really beggars belief that Niko Kranjcar hasn’t been taking them more often before this. The Croatian had already picked out Johnson perfectly when he whipped a sixth minute ball into the six yard box and Kevin Doyle, whose deceptive aerial strength will be a key feature of the next few months of QPR’s play, rose highest to plant a firm header into the School End net.
The Irish international striker had scored just three times in 29 appearances for Wolves in the division below prior to moving to Loftus Road, but a change is as good as a rest sometimes and after scoring early he seemed imbued with self belief and confidence. A sharp interception gave him a chance to shoot wide after 11 minutes and later he chased back 80 yards to execute a fine tackle in his own half. His enthusiasm got the better of him with a bad tackle and yellow card for a foul on Jason Shackell late in the half but overall this was a hugely encouraging debut.
Hoilett struck a long range effort wide, Richard Dunne required a bandage around a nasty head wound, and Michael Kightly was yellow carded for pulling back Hoilett after the Canadian had skipped past him. Everywhere you looked there were incidents taking place and referee Roger East incurred the wrath of a sizeable travelling support by subsequently failing to yellow card Joey Barton for two quickfire fouls on Kightly and Jones – the latter was probably at least a booking on its own but having escaped punishment the uneven tempered QPR midfielder went on to have his best match of the season at the heart of a fine performance.
But Burnley recovered well from the Londoner’s strong start. A great tackle from Clint Hill prevented a thirteenth minute corner causing problems and Sam Vokes shot wide after surviving a hand ball appeal. Rangers couldn’t afford to switch off and infuriatingly for Harry Redknapp that’s exactly what they did – leaving two attackers with only And Johnson for company at a Burnley throw in allowed the impressive Kieren Trippier to whip in a low cross and Danny Ings needed no second invitation to slam in the equaliser. A fifth goal in six games for the former Bournemouth man takes him to 22 in 32 appearances this season, two of them have come against Rangers.
Back came the home team – retaking the lead within nine minutes of losing it when another Kranjcar corner from the left caused havoc and Richard Dunne hooked a spectacular, powerful volley over his shoulder and into the roof of the net. His first goal in more than two years – get that into you.
And who knows, had Michael Kightly shot rather than taking a needless extra touch when space suddenly opened up for him in the penalty area during three minutes of added time at the end of the half the visitors could have gone in at the break level at 2-2. That would have been incredibly harsh on the hosts, but Nedum Onuoha looked uncomfortable at right back and Benoit Assou-Ekotto far too casual on the opposite side which, allied with a more attacking midfield set up, left QPR looking more vulnerable than they have in any other match this season. Still, breathless stuff, and half time was a much needed chance for a breather.
What would the second half bring? More caution? A more conservative approach? Not a bit of it. Ding, ding, seconds out, round two, fists flying all over the place once again.
Notice served, action followed seven minutes later. Armand Traore lost possession at the end of a mazy run into Burnley territory and from there Rangers were simply too slow and casual with their tracking back. The visitors worked the ball wide left to Kightly who neither Hoilett nor Onuoha did nearly enough to oppose and he crossed to the near post where Vokes was on hand to slam in a second equaliser of the day.
The London side had responded well to the first Burnley goal, but the second one caused an alarming haemorrhage. Benoit Assou Ekotto began his pitch for the Burnley man of the match award by allowing Scott Arfield to escape down the right and cross low for Ings to volley over when he should have hit the target. Lesson unheeded, the Cameroon full back was then far too casual with Ings himself just after the hour, allowing himself to be robbed while trying to shield a ball out for a goal kick and then feigning a knee injury as the possession was squared for Vokes to stick home number three. Marney subsequently lashed over as Onuoha’s struggles on the opposite side continued. Now the momentum had swung alarmingly in the opposite direction.
When Ings – tireless, fearless, a constant menace – crafted a chance all for himself with a purposeful dribble to the heart of the QPR penalty box 20 minutes from time the only surprise was that he subsequently curled the ball wide when it seemed easier to score. Burnley, robbed of Charlie Austin by Rangers’ greater spending power during the summer, will surely field offers for their latest outstanding young forward this summer.
Redknapp had seen enough, and sent on Mobido Maiga for Andy Johnson who’d struggled to make an impact. The Malian seemed a gratuitous signing on deadline day – loaned in from West Ham seemingly because there was still half an hour of the window left and Rangers like signing players his addition means that QPR now have seven players on temporary deals when only five can be selected in a matchday squad. Manchester United’s Will Keane, signed on loan just an hour before Maiga, will no doubt have one or two doubts in his mind about the move this evening given that he was the one chosen to drop out of the squad altogether for this game. Given Maiga’s appalling performances for West Ham it seemed a difficult move to justify, and a running style akin to an inebriated tyrannosaurus and two early crosses straight into touch here did little to allay fears.
But sure as eggs is eggs, the sky is blue, Ashley Young is a cheat and John Terry is a horrible, racist scumbag, whenever LFW ventures an opinion the opposite tends to immediately come true. Maiga curled a shot wide from the edge of the area on 73 and then, ten minutes from the end, inevitably popped up in the right place at the right time to slot home from close range after Junior Hoilett had finally, finally managed to bundle his way past Burnley’s other impressive full back Ben Mee for the first time. I’m claiming half an assist myself.
Loftus Road was rocking now, noise not heard in these parts for many a long month, and roared on by a vociferous home crowd Rangers pressed for a winner. It looked like they had it when Hill met another well delivered corner seven minutes from the end but the ball flew wide when the net seemed certain to bulge. Given that an equivalent set piece at the other end provoked a nervy goal mouth scramble, and Dyche sent on another striker – Junior Stanislas – for midfielder Michael Kightly 3-3 seemed an unlikely final score despite the small amount of time remaining.
Redknapp’s only concession to a more defensive approach all day was introducing Karl Henry for Armand Traore but having played so well here on Tuesday the former Wolves man was back to his slapstick poorest here and was the last person you wanted a last minute chance to break to in the area – he fell over the ball and face planted into the turf.
Four minutes of added time brought one, final, heart stopping moment as Assou Ekotto was once a-bloody-gain far too relaxed and casual in dealing with a dangerous situation in the Burnley right channel. Suddenly, with Green a long way from his line, the full back conceded possession to new boy Stanislas and could then only watch as an instinctive first time lobbed effort sailed over his head, down out of the sky and, mercifully, agonisingly, just wide of the far post. That proved to be the last kick of a pulsating encounter that brought thunderous applause from a richly entertained crowd. Championship football at its absolute rip-roaring best.
Ultimately the only shame in it all is a 3-3 draw probably does more for rampant Leicester’s promotion push than it does for either QPR or Burnley.
QPR: Green 6; Onuoha 5, Dunne 7, Hill 6, Assou-Ekotto 4; Phillips – (Hoilett 6, 6), Barton 8, Kranjcar 7, Traore 6 (Henry 83,-); Johnson 6 (Maiga 68, 6), Doyle 8
Subs not used: Carroll, Hughes, Zamora, Murphy
Goals: Doyle 7 (assisted Kranjcar), Dunne 34 (assisted Kranjcar), Maiga 79 (assisted Hoilett)
Bookings: Doyle 40 (foul), Dunne 46 (foul)
Burnley: Heaton 6; Tripper 7, Duff 6, Shackell 6, Mee 7; Kightly 7 (Stanislas 85, -), Arfield 7, Jones 6, Marney 7; Ings 8, Vokes 8
Subs not used: Lafferty, Wallace, Cisak, Edgar, Long, Barnes
Goals: Ings 25 (assisted Trippier), Vokes 54 (assisted Kightly), 62 (assisted Ings)
Bookings: Kightly 14 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Kevin Doyle 8 When you lose a player of Charlie Austin’s quality to a long term injury just days before the transfer deadline, options for an adequate replacement are limited. QPR have done well to pick up a player of Doyle’s quality and age at such short notice and he showed his quality here with an early goal, excellent hold up and lay game and admirable work rate. The goal nudges him slightly ahead of Joey Barton in the star man stakes.
Referee – Roger East (Wiltshire) 8 Upset the Burnley fans in the first half by booking Michael Kightly immediately, then allowing Joey Barton plenty of leniency after several quick fire fouls, but overall he refereed well, got the key decisions right and aided the flow of the game.
Attendance – 16,393 (1,700 Burnley approx) Disappointing to see a few empty seats around for such a big game at the top of the table, but then a 12.15 kick off will always have that affect. Good following from Burnley and a great noise made by both set of fans – the best atmosphere at Loftus Road for some time, in keeping with the action on the field.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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