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Lifeless R's beaten at Norwich
Lifeless R's beaten at Norwich
Saturday, 30th Dec 2006 20:39

Norwich City inflicted a sixth defeat in seven matches on QPR in monsoon conditions at Carrow Road on Saturday.

I know I'm a miserable git and I need to look at the positives but for me QPR are currently in a lethal position. They are hovering just above the relegation zone with their next four away games against the four teams below them in the league. Three of the fans' most detested opponents, Cardiff, Luton and Stoke, lie in wait in the final three home games eager to hammer the final nail in.

Manager John Gregory has said for some time that he's looking forward to having a chance to sort a few things out during the January transfer window but the club is skint and the squad is already massive. Very few of the current squad would attract any interest from anywhere else and most are on long contracts so will probably have to stay.

The recent run of results has drained all confidence from the side and a good number of the squad know their futures lie elsewhere. Just as when QPR were relegated in 2001 they have a massive squad many of whom already have their minds on their next career move.

To make matters worse Hull City can look forward to a hefty dose of new manager syndrome in January as they are currently in the hands of a caretaker and three of the bottom four have a fair bit of money to throw at the transfer window themselves. Three of the four clubs directly above QPR in the table at the start of play picked up points this weekend.

From the second top scorers in the league two months ago Rangers have now failed to find the net in five of the last eight games. At Stoke they failed to register a shot on target in the whole match, against Crystal Palace they managed just one in the whole second half, one in the second half against Wolves and none in the second half yesterday at Norwich.

Over the past three weeks Gregory has tried different formations, different players in every position, different tactics and different mentalities to largely the same end - two goals scored, three games lost, one solitary win and four poor performances. It doesn't look like the answer is at the club at the moment. If it is that answer is currently tossing it off and taking the money until the end of the season or is so demoralised they're finding it hard to perform to any kind of level.

Oh and it bloody pissed it down on the way back to the station - happy New Year!

Mercifully the team reverted back to a 4-4-2 formation for yesterday's game after a centre half dominated 3-5-2 at Birmingham on Boxing Day - how frustrating was it to see lowly Luton play Birmingham off the park with a standard 4-4-2 on Friday night by the way?

Steve Lomas returned to the line up in place of Marc Bircham who left the field early at Birmingham. He was joined in midfield by Kevin Gallen who replaced Jimmy Smith, the Chelsea youngster unable to play through suspension and a quirk in his loan deal that will keep him out of the Colchester game on Monday as well. Martin Rowlands returned to the right flank instead of Zesh Rehman so the back four in front of Royce was Bignot, Stewart, Mancienne and Milanese. In midfield Lee Cook and Martin Rowlands played left and right of Gallen and Lomas. Paul Furlong continued in attack with Ray Jones replacing Dexter Blackstock as his partner.

Norwich boss Peter Grant added Youssef Safri to his line up because Carl Robinson was suspended. Jurgen Colin replaced Andy Hughes and Adam Drury returned after missing the Southend game with a hip injury.

Rangers started the game reasonably well. They looked a much more fluid and balanced outfit with Rowlands back on the right side and Cook returned to a proper wingers' roll after playing further infield on Boxing Day. Both players were involved heavily in the opening exchanges - Rowlands made excellent ground down the right flank on numerous occasions while Cook was forced into plenty of defensive work by the impressive Lee Croft who produced excellent crosses and poor attempts at conning the officials in equal measure.

In the eighth minute Huckerby's cross found Dublin at the back post and he headed down for Earnshaw but the Welshman was flagged offside in the six yard box. Earnshaw's header bounced wide of the post anyway.

At the other end Martin Rowlands collected a poor pass from Croft in the tenth minute and fired wide from outside the penalty area. Six minutes later Rowlands was the key man again, surging down the right flank after a good pass from Steve Lomas and then sending over the perfect cross. Paul Furlong met the ball with a firm header that Gallagher saved, Cook smashed the rebound across the face of goal to Jones who attempted a shot on the turn but that was blocked as was another follow up, this time by Gallen, and the ball spun away for a corner.

Ten minutes later Stewart was caught out by Earnshaw as he tried to shield a ball away for a goal kick and the big Jamaican hauled him to the ground as he tried to recover. The incident took place a matter of inches away from the penalty area and Stewart was unlucky to escape without a card or a spot kick being awarded. Marcus Bignot wasn't so lucky in the next attack when he dragged Huckerby back to prevent the speedy winger racing away from him and he picked up the first yellow of the game from Phil Dowd.

Norwich have been on a poor run of form themselves over the past few weeks and could only draw 0-0 at home to bottom of table Southend who played a good chunk of the game with ten men on Boxing Day. It wasn't hard to see why, they looked low on confidence and a quiet home crowd did little to back them. Had Rangers gone in front during their little ten minute spell of pressure in the first half they may have been well on course for a win but when Mauro Milanese slammed a presentable chance out for a throw in you sensed it wasn't going to be QPR's day. Norwich started to find their feet a little after this and dominated the remaining hour of the game.

Perhaps the key moment was yet another injury for Martin Rowlands. He'd been a real threat down the right until he pulled up with what looked like a recurrence of his calf injury. Gregory immediately replaced him with Nick Ward but the midfield never quite carried the same penetration without Rowlands. Indeed at times in the second half with Lee Cook apparently missing in action, Ward struggling with his full back and the conditions and Gallen conceding possession with unusual frequency it felt like Steve Lomas against the world. Dickson Etuhu must have thought it was Christmas all over again as he overpowered what little opposition there was in the middle.

Royce made an excellent save to deny Earnshaw after Dublin's knockdown five minutes before the break but all in all the two centre backs had coped very well with awkward opponents.

Norwich came out for the second half revitalised and ready for action dead on four o'clock. Rangers trooped out a couple of minutes later, mostly looking cold and fed up in the monsoon like conditions. Within sixty seconds of the restart Safri's corner found Jason Shackell unmarked but he headed over. From the resulting goal kick Norwich launched another offensive with Colin and Croft combining to send the former screaming into the penalty area but the excitement was all too much for him and he hacked the ball into the side netting when a square ball would have yielded better results.

Lomas drilled a fine twenty yard effort narrowly wide of the post just after the hour but as far as shots on goal went that was the end of the day's work for the QPR forward line.

Furlong looked his age, Ray Jones looked like a young kid with a lot to learn - still if he's being told that there are Premiership clubs queuing up for his signature despite his recent performances who am I to argue?

Despite playing very well for the first hour Damion Stewart then made a mess of things and allowed Norwich to open the scoring. He climbed unchallenged to head a long ball away but got his positioning all wrong and could only guide it straight to Earnshaw whose well lobbed pass into the area found Dublin perfectly and the veteran forward made no mistake with a sound finish past Royce.

Confidence was now coursing through the Norwich team - whatever Grant said at half time worked a treat. They looked like a handy side in the second half and the home crowd were brought to life by this. The QPR fans waited for that desperate push for an equaliser that all teams launch sooner or later when they're behind but it never came. No further shots were registered on Gallagher's goal.

At the other end Huckerby was having much the better of a terrific battle with Bignot down the flank and if it wasn't for last ditch tackles from Stewart (twice) and Mancienne then Earnshaw and Dublin could both have added to the scoreline. Fifteen minutes from time Colin played the perfect ball to Huckerby who was clean through but his touch was found wanting and the ball skipped away to Royce.

Gregory introduced Blackstock for Gallen and moved Cook in behind the front three to try and get him involved but it made little impact and the game was over as a contest long before the referee actually blew the whistle.

Five minutes from time substitute Hughes combined with Dublin and crossed to Huckerby who was unmarked at the back post but after taking a touch he screwed a shot into the crowd from twelve yards out. The best opportunity for the hosts came in stoppage time when Norwich again breezed through the midfield and sent Earnshaw away but Stewart managed to catch him and execute a great tackle.

As is so often the case with Stewart a good, solid eighty nine minutes of football was ruined by a mistake and a subsequent goal against.

All in all a fair result from a lively contest. Rangers started well with both wingers involved early and had they taken the lead when they should have done through Furlong then maybe the home crowd would have won the game for them. Rangers' failure to do so, and the injury to Rowlands, boosted Norwich who ultimately won the game with something Rangers couldn't offer themselves - a competent and exciting forward line.

We really don't want to be relying on Furlong for the remainder of this season and if Ray Jones thinks he'll make an impact in the Premier League playing like this he can think again. Jones is just a young kid and he could do without this entire contract and transfer nonsense - he needs to go back to what he was doing at the start of the season, getting on with the game, concentrating on his football and trying to do enough to get in the first team every week.

Stewart and Mancienne looked quite solid together, apart from the goal. If widespread reports are to be believed and Avery John and Sam Timoska do join us on the second then hopefully the defence will become more secure. We'll have to keep Mancienne of course which certainly isn't a done deal with all the problems Chelsea are having at centre half currently. Hopefully getting a settled back four is one problem we'll soon be solving.

Rangers now face in form, free scoring Colchester United at Loftus Road. The boys from Layer Road are flying at the moment and they'll be looking forward to playing against a demoralised QPR team. Gregory needs to try and pick the boys up for this one or we could well be treated to a shining example of how good Jamie Cureton can be if you pass the ball to his feet rather than welly it at his head.

A crucial game as we look to secure the first of eight or so wins that will keep us up. Happy New Year to all readers - I shall try and be more cheery in 2007.

Norwich: Gallacher 7, Colin 7, Shackell 7, Doherty 6, Drury 7,Croft 8 (Hughes 77, 6), Safri 8 (McVeigh 88, -), Etuhu 7, Huckerby 7, Dublin 8,Earnshaw 7
Subs Not Used: Lewis, Fleming, Ryan Jarvis
Goals: Dublin 69

QPR: Royce 7, Bignot 5, Stewart 7, Mancienne 7, Milanese 5,Gallen 5 (Blackstock 77, 5), Rowlands 7 (Ward 41, 5), Lomas 7, Cook 5, Furlong 5, Ray Jones 5
Subs Not Used: Cole, Baidoo, Kanyuka
Booked: Bignot, Cook

Attendance: 25,113

QPR Star Man - Steve Lomas 7 - Simply for trying and looking like he gave a toss, when many of his team mates did not. Once Rowlands had gone off he had nothing at all around him in midfield with ward struggling and Gallen and Cook a long way from their best. Probably would have been Stewart had he not made the mistake for the goal.

Ref: P Dowd (Staffordshire) 5 - Pretty home orientated, allowed Dublin to challenge pretty much however he liked while Furlong was penalised every time he went near the ball. Also gave a number of free kicks to Lee Croft in the first half which quite blatantly came from dives, seemed to get wise to him though after a particularly obvious flop right in front of the away fans.

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Photo: Action Images



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