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Shot shy Rangers easily beaten
Shot shy Rangers easily beaten
Saturday, 9th Dec 2006 20:46

QPR slipped to a fourth consecutive defeat at Stoke City on Saturday.

Well there was no fighting this year, and the controversial incidents went Stoke's way for the first time in a couple of trips here, but the game was as dire as ever and Rangers were lucky to get nil.

After the authorities at Stoke once again showed their competence by "forgetting" to send a bus to take the away fans back to the station we were left with a long old trek back to town - a large proportion of which was taken up by an argument over whether we actually managed to have a shot on target in the entire match.

My brother said that Kevin Gallen's thirty five yard, five bounces and into the keeper's arms, effort counted as a shot statistically - I said he was an idiot.

Life without Lee Cook continues to look like a frightening prospect for QPR. That's two games without the highly rated winger in the side now - no goals scored, four conceded and no points won. Last week in his absence we did at least create some chances to miss.

Not quite as frightening as John Gregory's post match comments mind - "the 3-5-2 formation was a success", "we played them off the park for long periods". Maybe I ended up at the wrong match yesterday.

In fairness Gregory was hardly overflowing with options yesterday. Ray Jones and Zesh Rehman were suspended, Gareth Ainsworth, Steve Lomas, Lee Cook, Pat Kanyuka and, as usual, Dominic Shimmin were all injured. Then there's the likes of Matthew Rose, Adam Czerkas and Egutu Oliseh who clearly have no future under Gregory and will therefore not be called upon even when the situation is as dire as it was yesterday.

As QPR funnelled another aimless attack down the middle of the park to the grateful Michael Duberry I considered that, particularly in the case of Oliseh with Cook out, this smacks a little of cutting off your nose to spite your face. But what do I know about it? I just edit the website.

The long list of absentees finally saw a change at the back with Mancienne at last given a chance to show what he could do at centre half alongside Stewart - this is a partnership that many fans have been screaming for after weeks of torture at the hands of Rehman. Mauro Milanese came back into the side for the first time since the Port Vale defeat but instead of going to left back and Bignot to the right side he slotted into a three centre half formation. Bignot and Bailey were the wing backs.

Smith, Gallen and Rowlands started as the three central midfielders with Nygaard and Blackstock up front.

Gregory says the new formation worked well so I'm happy to go with that, he's the professional, but it looked like a hotch potch mess of players out of position and unsure of their roles from where we were sitting.

It took just eight minutes for the in form home side to carve QPR apart. Hoefkens and Lawrence combined down the right to set up Lee Hendrie who was denied by Simon Royce at point blank range. The rebound found its way to Ricardo Fuller on the edge of the box but he fired high into the sparsely populated away end.

In the 16th minute Stoke cut through down the R's left again and this time there was nothing Royce could do to prevent them taking the lead. Fuller ran in the wrong side of Milanese and the pair pulled and pushed each other for twenty yards until they reached the area and Fuller predictably hit the deck. Referee Martin Atkinson pointed to the spot before the big Jamaican had even had a chance to complete his first roll.

Higginbotham took his usual penalty - hard and straight down the middle - to put Stoke one up. It was no more than they deserved.

Within five minutes Fuller had broken the offside trap again. This time the pass through from Hendrie had just too much weight behind it and the ball skipped away from him to Royce. The Jamaican didn't give up though and charged down Royce's attempted clearance. Fuller re-gathered possession down by the corner flag and after surveying his options he went for a spectacular chip into the net from right out on the touchline - he made a good job of it too but Royce made it back in time to catch under the cross bar.

Rangers made a brief sojourn into the Stoke half of the field around the half hour mark. Stefan Bailey dallied over a cross but did enough to win a corner which Rangers took short and wasted.

At the other end a short time later Liam Lawrence delivered a corner taking lesson with a devilish delivery that eluded a clutch of players in the six yard box and found Michael Duberry unmarked at the back post but he could only sky a half volley into the stand.

The second half began as the first had finished, with Stoke on the attack. Andy Griffin tried to replicate his awesome strike against Coventry a month ago with a similar long range effort but this time the ball sailed high and wide into the Boothen End.

Soon after Damion Stewart was caught in possession trying to dribble past players in his own half and Darrell Russell was released into the QPR penalty area. Michael Mancienne rescued his partner with a splendid covering challenge.

After the hour mark QPR enjoyed their best spell of the game - they had two penalty appeals turned down and a near miss, but still failed to provide a serious test of Simonsen in the Stoke goal. First of all Dexter Blackstock collected the ball in the area with his back to goal only to be shoved to the ground by Michael Duberry. No spot kick was awarded.

Then a superb inswinging free kick from Mauro Milanese had goal written all over it but Nygaard failed to make contact at the back post and the ball drifted a couple of inches wide. Finally Jimmy Smith looked to be tripped just inside the area but his theatrical fall did him no favours and the appeals were waved away. For me, the Blackstock incident was a better shout and would have been given as a free kick anywhere else on the field, or as a penalty at the other end.

Rangers wouldn't have deserved a penalty equaliser even if they had been awarded. Furlong was introduced for Blackstock and although he looked sharp and got the ball moving a bit the chronic lack of width provided by the formation meant they never looked like scoring and Stoke were always comfortable. Marcus Bignot's mishit cross which Simonsen claimed right under his bar was as good as it got - and there's no way in the world that can be counted as a shot.

Just to infuriate the travelling faithful further the only chance to get a decent cross in the box with this formation was from corners and after taking a dismal short one in the first half, Milanese and Smith did exactly the same in the second half and it was again blocked away without reaching the penalty area. Quickly taken short corners when two on one out wide are a good idea, short corners when Stoke are back and it's two on two by the flag are a stupid, idiotic waste of time, which ironically is what this trip north turned out to be for the QPR fans.

Milanese compounded matters with a yellow card for a cynical handball preventing a Stoke break on halfway. Atkinson allowed an advantage to unfold before returning to book Milanese later. Nygaard was also carded for a clumsy foul on Duberry.

Stoke spent the closing stages threatening to extend their lead. Darrell Russell lost his footing in the area but appealed for a penalty anyway, the claims were waved away. Then Lee Hendrie volleyed two efforts on goal in two minutes, one he caught too thick and sent wide of the left post, the other he sliced high and wide of the other top corner. Hendrie also had a long range free kick blocked away. Russell also tried his luck from 20 yards with similar results.

Pulis sent on Patrik Berger and Vincent Pericard as the game drifted towards full time. In stoppage time the two combined to create a gilt edge chance for 2-0 but despite having the entire goal to aim at Pericard contrived to miss the ball altogether in much the same way as Nygaard at Palace last week.

Speaking of Nygaard, he headed Kevin Gallen's well flighted cross half a mile wide and then collapsed with one of his injuries in the final action of the match. No doubt we'll be adding his name to the team news next week.

This was another very poor show. With the Sky Sports, Sporting Life and BBC websites all reporting a terribly one sided game, and the reporter on Soccer Saturday telling the sensible stay away Rangers fans that their team had barely registered a shot in anger it's a little concerning to hear Gregory claiming that we played Stoke off the park for long periods.

It's also worrying to hear him giving such high praise to Kevin Gallen who was, but for an occasional decent pass, off the pace and ineffective.

The one positive I took from the game was the performance of Mancienne and Stewart together. They certainly looked capable of forming a partnership together and it remains a mystery to me why Gregory dispensed with the idea of Rehman at right back after it worked so well at Southampton.

Bignot and Bailey were hopelessly lost in the wing back rolls. Bailey tried time and again to dribble past his marker but it's just not his game and the lack of anybody out on the wings with him meant he either had to check back inside or try and beat at least two Stoke players every time he got the ball. It was the same for Bignot - neither has the pace or skill to do the attacking and the defending required of a wing back.

Up front Blackstock and Nygaard both showed an excellent work ethic throughout but the formation was so narrow and the wing backs so ineffective they didn't even get scraps to feed on never mind decent service.

Gregory would no doubt argue that playing 4-4-2 with Rowlands on one wing and Smith or Gallen on the other, Bignot Mancienne, Stewart and Milanese at the back, would have left us more open and got us thrashed again and he's probably right. But the formation we were in offered no attacking options, and no hope of a goal and should have been changed for the last fifteen minutes at least.

On now to two crucial home games. I get the impression Gregory is just trying to keep our heads above water until the January transfer window and points from Wolves, and particularly Barnsley on December 23, will be crucial in achieving that goal.

As for Stoke, well they look to be one twenty goal striker away from being the best team in the league. If they had somebody up top with more about him than Fuller, Sidibe or the hilarious Pericard then they could really start to pull away at the top. It will be interesting to see how they cope when the numerous loan signings they've made start to return to their parent clubs though.

We've got more important things to worry about than that of course.

Stoke Simonsen n/a, Hoefkens 7, Duberry 8, Higginbotham 7, Griffin 8,Lawrence 8, Diao 7 (Brammer 80, -), Russell 7, Hendrie 8 (Berger 87, -),Sidibe 6, Fuller 7 (Pericard 74, 4).
Subs Not Used: Sweeney, Buxton.
Booked: Griffin.
Goals: Higginbotham 17 pen.

QPR Royce 7, Bignot 5, Mancienne 7, Stewart 7, Milanese 5,Rowlands 6 (Ward 87, -), Bailey 4, Gallen 5, Smith 6, Nygaard 6 (Baidoo 90, -),Blackstock 6 (Furlong 70, 7).
Subs Not Used: Cole, Bircham.
Booked: Mancienne, Milanese, Nygaard

Attendance: 16,487

QPR Star Man - Michael Mancienne 7 - Performed very well at centre half with Stewart which is where he should now stay despite Rehman's return next week.

Ref: M Atkinson (W Yorkshire) 4 - Clearly knows the score in Stoke: home team win, controversial incidents go their way, everybody goes home happy, nobody runs on the pitch, nobody gets beaten up. I'd have given the penalty to Stoke in the first half - Milanese was the wrong side of his man the whole way and although Fuller went down looking for it a penalty was the correct decision. But at least one, if not both, of the second half incidents involving Smith and Blackstock were penalties as well. Smith fell theatrically, but so did Fuller. You can't even level a diving criticism at Blackstock - that was a stone wall pen. Very home orientated, assisted by one linesman who never put his flag down and one who never put it up. No the best display of officiating you're ever likely to see.

Photo: Action Images

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