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Where on earth did that come from?
Where on earth did that come from?
Saturday, 22nd Sep 2007 11:53

The Queens Park Rangers players suddenly discovered a bit of fight and commitment within themselves on Saturday and battled to a creditable draw against league leaders Watford.

It's hard to know whether to be delighted or furious with the players after that performance. QPR fans don't expect a lot, their spirits firmly beaten into the ground by years of mediocrity and under achievement, but they do like to know their players are trying and they stayed behind after the final whistle on Saturday to thank the players for at least making the effort against Watford.

Danny Cullip was immense at the back, Adam Bolder certainly a lot more like his old self in midfield, Blackstock and Ephraim combined quite nicely up front and even the laziest of all our players Stefan Moore got off the bench to clear one off the line and slam in an equaliser. With Watford top of the table it felt like a win - delighted.

However this performance and game came just four days after the most abject and lethargic display you could ever wish to see from basically the same group of players. Nardiello apart QPR were an embarrassment to the shirts they were wearing against Plymouth on Tuesday and thoroughly deserved their 2-0 defeat. Again I was treated to some programme notes on Saturday that were apparently written by people at a different game to me last time out - "could have gone either way" was the verdict on the Argyle game. To be honest I don't think we'd have scored if we were still playing them now.

Where was the passion, the effort, the commitment, the desire and the ability that the players showed against Watford when we played Plymouth? If they'd shown even half this application against Ian Holloway's men we would have won, that would have been four points for the week and we would have been up and running. As it is we're now the only side in the football league without a victory and while that's thoroughly deserved based on all but two of our league games so far it's harsh on the players who really put their bodies on the line against Watford and deserved more than the point they got. Why didn't they do that on Tuesday night though? Furious.

The Plymouth defeat mercifully resulted in changes - Gregory's mid week assessment that the same players would have to be ready to play against Watford almost saw my match ticket going on EBay but I kept the faith and boarded the early train from Newark.

There was no possible scenario I could imagine that would see us beat Watford who I tipped to do well in the summer and have impressed me so far this season but I received a boost at half two when the team sheet went up on the wall of the member's bar. Sam Timoska. I'd almost forgotten how to spell his name and had an order ready to go into the printers on Monday for 2000 Loft for Words "Bring back Sammy" badges and posters in preparation for the start of a campaign.

What a massive relief it was after two months suffering at the hands of John Curtis and Zesh Rehman to have a proper footballer and no nonsense defender at right back again. Sammy isn't the greatest player but he's committed, his positional sense is excellent, he tackles like a demon and you can rely on him. I'm convinced that John Curtis is actually Simon Barker who fancied another run out in Hoops despite his advancing years and expanding waist line. Rehman played reasonably well against Plymouth on Tuesday night but after a steady 50 minutes of football from him he promptly fell flat on his arse at the first sign of trouble and cost us a goal - even when Rehman is playing well he cannot be relied upon. To see Timoska out there was fantastic, had I been sitting in the Paddocks I would have had to be restrained from running onto the pitch and shaking his hand.

He was joined in defence by Cullip, Stewart and Barker in front of Camp with Mancienne still out.

There were changes in midfield too with Stefan Moore thankfully left out in favour of Gareth Ainsworth - his first game since breaking his leg against Luton at Easter. Ainsworth lasted barely half an hour before he started limping and by half time he was shattered and didn't reappear but desperate times call for desperate measures and his effort and enthusiasm, even for just a half, were just what we needed and lifted the whole team. Rowlands played left with Bolder and Leigertwood in the middle. Nardiello and Blackstock started up front with Sahar busy at the Synagogue.

The game started as many expected with Watford full of confidence and attacking from all angles, while QPR looked fragile and prime for a collapse. After two minutes Gavin Mahon sent an effort wide of the goal after Watford had cut through the QPR backline too easily.

Marlon King joined the in from Darius Henderson in attack and after good work between the pair of them Tommy Smith crossed low behind a scrambling QPR defence for Lee Williamson who hammered the ball into the Loft when he should have done better. Just three minutes in and Watford had already carved out two great chances.

Dexter Blackstock worked a good opening at the School End but fired wildly off target before play switched back to the other end again. A cross from Johnson into the QPR penalty area was diverted over the bar by the outstretched leg of Damion Stewart when an own goal could so easily have been the result. From the corner Danny Shittu at 33/1 (yes we had it on) met the cross powerfully but saw his header turned over the bar smartly by Lee Camp.

Blackstock narrowly failed to get on the end of a cross from Ainsworth and then Wild Thing himself fired into the Watford fans when well placed to do better. This was all inside the first ten minutes - a truly pulsating start to the derby game.

Tommy Smith then fired wide of the post in similar style to Williamson and Mahon in the opening moments and that signalled a bit of a turn around in the flow of the game. Rangers seemed buoyed by the way they'd held out under intense pressure and grew in confidence. Danny Cullip in particular was starting to have an enormous game, mauling Darius Henderson at every opportunity and winning every single header against him. Henderson was barely afforded a touch of the ball all afternoon by a magnificent display from the centre half.

The Watford chances started to dry up a little and when the ball did finally break their way again, Timoska swooped in with a trademark covering tackle right in the centre of the penalty box. The Fin arrived from nowhere to hurl himself at the feet of Williamson just as he unloaded a fierce drive. Timoska must be heading towards double figures now of goals saved in this way since moving to Rangers from MyPa.

Cullip and Timoska's domination of their respective opponents continued as Johnson was muscled out of a ball in the penalty area. The Middlesbrough loanee hit the deck in a very theatrical way and pleaded for a penalty from referee Keith Hill but, rightly, got nothing.

Blackstock glanced a header over the bar around the half hour mark and then a short time later saw Lloyd Doyley take the ball off his toe as he prepared to shoot following good work from Adam Bolder. Bolder and Leigertwood were certainly playing a lot better today than they had in previous matches but that might be because the quality of opposition, and our backs to the wall approach, made it more like an away game than a home one and the pair are more suited to a defensive approach.

In the final five minutes of the half Rangers were dealt two big injury blows and both teams had chances to take the lead going into the break. First Danny Nardiello pulled up with a hamstring injury and was immediately replaced by Hogan Ephraim in attack, then Dexter Blackstock headed a cross from Timoska over the bar.

Watford responded with a rasping 20 yarder from King which Camp brilliantly saved down low to his right. Henderson managed to escape from his footballing lesson at the hands of Cullip just long enough to smash the rebound goalwards but he found Camp back on his feet and in inspired form with another fine save. Of course Cullip had released his bleach haired friend for a good reason - Henderson was offside and the goal wouldn't have counted. Still a fine double save from Camp who wasn't to know that.

Finally it became apparent that Gareth Ainsworth wouldn't be back for the second half either as he really started to limp badly on his injured leg. Sure enough after 15 minutes to catch our breath the teams re-emerged with Moore taking up Ainsworth's position wide right. Watford also replaced De Merit with Mariappa for the second half.

It had been a thoroughly enjoyable first half between two teams throwing themselves at each other and giving 100 per cent. All it lacked was a goal and sadly for QPR, who'd put so much into the first half, the deadlock was broken in Watford's favour four minutes after the restart.

A harmless looking cross from the Watford left flew over everybody in the penalty area but when Chris Barker elected to try and shuffle the ball out of play rather than deal with it and attempt a clearance Tommy Smith outpaced him and hooked the ball back from the byline into the six yard box where Adam Johnson could scarcely miss with his header.

I feared heads would drop at this point. Rangers didn't deserve to be behind and had given the game everything - would they be able to cope mentally with the lack of reward for that? For the first time since Bristol City the answer was yes. QPR simply rolled up their sleeves and went back to work. Within eight minutes they finally had a home league goal to celebrate.

Ephraim, quick and lively up front since is introduction, fed Rowlands and in turn Moore as Rangers finally started stringing passes together for the first time in weeks. Moore delivered an excellent cross to the back post for Blackstock who climbed above his man, looped a great header over Poom and couldn't quite believe it when the ball bounced back into play off the cross bar. Just as the home fans were fearing it wasn't their day Moore arrived on the scene following up his own cross and sent a rasping shot high into the roof of the net through a crowd of players to equalise.

Loftus Road erupted, Moore celebrated like a man who had just had the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders - massive relief all round. Suddenly QPR looked the better of the two sides. Cullip was still eating Henderson alive at one end while attacking the Loft Stefan Moore was playing like I'd never seen before and Danny Shittu was twice forced into last ditch challenges to deny Blackstock as Rangers pushed forward.

Watford replaced the ineffective Henderson with Nathan Ellington and slung McAnuff on for Smith as well but it only had an effect when the referee intervened and reduced the home side to ten men. Mikele Leigertwood, putting in his most impressive performance for QPR so far, stuck a foot out as Lloyd Doyley threatened to run past him over by the dug outs. A foul for sure but Doyley made a huge amount of it and Leigertwood was shown a second yellow card when surely a talking to and final warning would have been more appropriate.

Watford started to put Danny Shittu into more advanced positions to try and make their numerical advantage count in the closing ten minutes and it looked set to pay off when the big Nigerian nodded down for Marlon King to shoot. Lee Camp got a good hand to the ball but a goal looked certain as it squirmed away from him towards the goal line. Suddenly from nowhere Stefan Moore appeared on defensive duty with an awesome goal line clearance. What I said about the team at the start of the report applies especially to Moore - how can a player look so lethargic and careless at Leicester and Plymouth and then suddenly play like he'd die or our club on the Saturday?

Ellington almost succeeded where King had failed with the next attack as he unloaded a seriously powerful shot from the edge of the area. Camp flung an arm up instinctively and kept it strong and firm to pull the ball out of the sky like it was no trouble to him at all - a superb save.

The least Rangers deserved was a point and in the end it could easily have been all three. Twice in injury time the R's had chances to win the game. First a ball into the area from Ephraim sailed over the heads of Doyley and Blackstock who both turned and gave chase. Doyley then wrestled his opponent to the ground in the area with a crazy shirt tug but referee Hill waved the appeals away. It certainly looked a penalty to me. Then with the final kick of the match that man Moore appeared again on the right flank, jinking his way into the area past two opponents but blasting a deflected shot wide with the ink still wet on his Roy of the Rovers script.

This was an amazing turn around in effort, commitment and performance from the players. On Tuesday I said they should think very carefully about a charitable donation or laying on some free coaches to away games for QPR fans with their wages because they certainly hadn't earned them. Today they did, and I thank them for that.

Whether this dramatic 100 per cent improvement in performance level and commitment has come in time to save Gregory remains to be seen. The directors' box was like a who's who of football on Saturday. It's lazy journalism to just glance around the South Africa Road stand and pick a name out, especially when you're picking people like Gerry Francis and Dave Bassett who regularly attend games at Loftus Road for pleasure, have been out of the game for years and have shown no desire to come back into it. However the presence of people like Gianluca Vialli, especially when he's sitting next to Gianni Paladini in the middle of the front row like a vulture on Gregory's shoulder, could be significant.

This result and performance may have bought Gregory time and I just hope it's not too late. Prior to this game we watched another dire performance by Cardiff City on the screens in the member's bar - Cardiff beat us 2-0 at Loftus Road, as did Plymouth. Effort on a par with what we produced on Saturday would have seen these two mediocre sides beaten easily in my opinion. Coming up we have games at West Brom and Charlton where we will have to produce this level of commitment and more.

Colchester and Preston away midweek also look tough which puts pressure on the Ipswich and Norwich games and really you'd think Gregory needs at least three wins from these games to keep us in touch and him in employment - that wouldn't be the case if the players had put the effort into the four games played before Saturday.

I hope it's not too little too late because I'd like Gregory to stay and succeed but while my heart says one thing, my head is saying another. Still it was nice to come away from Loftus Road knowing the players had tried and let's just hope they put the effort in again next week at West Brom.

QPR: Camp 8, Timoska 8, Stewart 7, Cullip 9, Barker 6, Ainsworth 7 (Moore 46, 8), Leigertwood 7, Bolder 7, Rowlands 7, Blackstock 6, Nardiello 6 (Ephraim 41, 7)
Subs Not Used: Cole, Bignot, Curtis
Sent Off: Leigertwood (81) (two bookings)
Booked: Bolder (foul), Leigertwood (foul), Cullip (foul)
Goals: Moore 59 (assisted Blackstock)

Watford: Poom 7, Doyley 7, Shittu 7, DeMerit 7 (Mariappa 46, 7), Stewart 7, Smith 8 (McAnuff 73, 7), Williamson 8, Mahon 7, Johnson 7, King 8, Darius Henderson 4 (Ellington 73, 7)
Subs Not Used: Lee, Priskin
Booked: Mahon (foul), McAnuff (foul)
Goals: Johnson 49 (assisted Smith)

Attendance: 14,240 (3100 away fans approximately)

QPR Star Man - Danny Cullip 9 A performance typical of Danny Shittu during his time with QPR against Danny's new club. He rendered Darius Henderson completely useless with a domineering centre half display of wily experience and sheer power. Didn't lose a ball in the air all afternoon and led his men with constant talking and encouragement. What was it Henderson said last week? When I play I score and we win? Fantastic stuff.

Referee: Keith Hill (Hertfordshire) 5 - Missed what looked like a penalty to me right at the death and very harshly sent Leigertwood off. In a derby game as fiercely and fairly competitive as this one you expect a few tackles to fly in and Leigertwood's two offences were worth a yellow card and a ticking off at most.

Attendance: 14,240 (3100 away fans approximately)

Photo: Action Images



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