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Rowlands and Rangers run riot at Watford
Rowlands and Rangers run riot at Watford
Saturday, 29th Dec 2007 12:52

QPR moved out of the bottom three with a shock 4-2 win over second in the table Watford.

What do football fans know about football? "Lost the plot" "bloody idiot" and "he's got to go" were all remarks heard on the concourse of the away end at Vicarage Road before kick off on Saturday as the tannoy system ran through the bizarre looking QPR side. Buzsaky, the best and most in form player we have, dropped in favour of a 17 year old kid on his debut. Vine dropped as well for Nygaard. It looked like a plan cooked up down the pub with Bob Malcolm, rather than one into which a great deal of thought had been invested.

And yet, Rangers were brilliant. The decision to switch Rowlands to the middle of midfield in place of the suspended Leigertwood proved to be inspired with Rowly playing out of his skin both in attack and defence. The introduction of Balanta added something a bit new and while he looked raw at times he set up two of the goals with cute passes that showed great ability and awareness. To cap it all De Canio made good substitutions at excellent times in the game to settle the team down and see the victory through. Congratulations are in order for the Italian, those calling for his head after Plymouth will presumably be taking today off.

That's why we pay to watch the team and he gets paid to pick it. I'd tipped us for a defeat here, just for a change, but I did say I expected this game to be easier than the one at Plymouth and I was at least right about that. Watford looked a distinctly average side - typifying a division this year that apart from West Brom is evenly matched in its mediocrity and likely to provide the Premiership with two of its three relegated teams next season.

One dimensional, boring, ineffective long ball football played by players that looked nervous and low on confidence after four defeats and two draws from their last six games at home. The first half was more evenly matched than the 3-0 half time lead suggests but there's no doubt that QPR looked the more confident and competent team at both ends of the field.

Apart from the Nygaard and Blackstock forward line Rangers lined up with Rowlands and Bolder in the middle of midfield and Balanta and Ainsworth wide of them. Damion Stewart returned from suspension in place of Simon Walton who can count himself unlucky to be dropped after a steady display at Plymouth on Boxing Day. Rehman partnered him with Malcolm, now sober, and Barker the full backs. Camp was the keeper as always.

Aidy Boothroyd continued his recent policy of starting without Danny Shittu. He also left out Marlon King. After watching Jackson and De Merit flounder at the back and Ellington and Henderson produce nothing up front it's really hard to understand his thinking behind these decisions - if Shittu is available we should be having a look in January, he changed the Watford performance totally when he came on at half time and clearly still has an affinity with the QPR fans, throwing his Watford shirt into the away end at full time and laughing along with our chants of "sign him up".

The game started much as you might have expected. Watford came at QPR with one long ball into the box after another while Rangers were left to play on the counter attack. The only action in a dull opening ten minutes saw Damion Stewart have two goes at clearing another long hoof down the field but only half manage it, Williamson then worked the ball into the space Stewart had vacated on the edge of the box and Francis turned it towards goal but his weak side footed effort from 20 yards was easily gathered by Camp.

Youngster Angelo Balanta had made a nervy start to his full QPR debut, but he showed the touch and confidence of a seasoned professional in the 13th minute when he cut in from the left wing onto his right foot and curled a beautiful 30 yard pass into the path of Dexter Blackstock running into the area. The ball cut between Matt Jackson and Jordan Stewart perfectly and when the latter tried to recover the situation with a robust body check on Blackstock there was only one decision the referee could make and Chris Foy rightly pointed straight to the spot.

The last time Rangers had a penalty Martin Rowlands almost uprooted the post at Charlton Athletic but he made no mistake this time, firing an equally powerful shot into the corner with Lee diving the wrong way.

Watford have grown accustomed to falling behind at home in recent weeks and the goal did little to change their direct style of play. Time and time again they pumped hopeful long balls down the pitch trying to force an error and half chance out of the QPR back four. This policy did lead to a lot of free kicks around the QPR penalty area - the harshest of which came when Ainsworth was penalised for fouling Henderson when it looked like the Watford man had stuck an elbow into Ainsworth's face. Wild Thing was forced to leave the field for lengthy treatment on a nasty gash above his eyebrow and QPR were left to defend four free kicks without him - the closest Watford came was when Nathan Ellington struck a 25 yard effort from the corner of the penalty area into the two man wall. Rangers struggled to get the ball away properly and Ellington loitered around the penalty area, eventually hammering a half volley over the bar after Henderson had won another flick on.

Watford make the old Plough Lane Wimbledon side look like Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side but as the half hour approached QPR doubled their lead by playing them at their own game. Martin Rowlands saw a very poor corner headed straight out by the first Watford man, and his second effort wasn't much better after Chris Barker had forced Lloyd Doyley into conceding another. The ball was again cleared out to Rowlands who cut inside his man and travelled into the penalty area before firing a low cross that Blackstock met with a looping effort that deflected wide. After a couple of sighters Rowlands had his eye in now and at the third time of asking delivered a glorious whipped ball right onto the head of Damion Stewart who attacked the near post and powered a header into the top corner for his fourth goal of the season and third of the month.

Plenty of QPR eyes will have been on Watford right back Lloyd Doyley who has been strongly linked with a move to W12 this transfer window. Boothroyd said last week that we couldn't afford him, not sure he's even convincing himself with that one, but he looked decent enough to me. Certainly better than anything we have in that position at the moment. He's got a handy long throw to go with his solid defence and overlapping runs. Not the greatest crosser of the ball though.

He was involved in one of the more bizarre moments I've seen this season midway through the first half. QPR cleared yet another Watford free kick down the field and Doyley, left back as the last man, was left to turn and chase as the ball bounced over the halfway line. He then inexplicably picked the ball up, presumably thinking he'd heard a whistle from the referee. After a stunned moment of silence where players, officials and supporters wondered what the hell was going on Foy whistled and awarded QPR a free kick, Doyley then realised that Bolder and Blackstock were keen to get a quick free kick taken that would have left QPR with three players steaming through on goal unchecked so he threw the ball away and picked up a booking for his troubles.

For a team so utterly determined to play the ball in the air as often as possible, and who feel that their defence is good enough to leave Danny Shittu on the bench, I was surprised at just how unsure and unsteady the Watford back four looked under any kind of pressure. On the half hour QPR scored the goal of the game after first De Merit and then Jackson had a go at clearing a bouncing ball but only succeeded in finding Rowlands. He nodded a header to Bolder who flicked the ball over his man to Balanta who in turn clipped a gorgeous pass in behind the last man first time for Rowlands to run onto and lash home confidently - finishing the move he'd started with an emphatic finish.

For all Balanta's nervousness and naivety he'd shown twice in the opening half hour what great touch, vision and ability he possesses and looks a very exciting talent. Rowlands was having a magnificent game, combining his two goals with an aggressive and all action display in the middle of midfield. Some of the tackles he won were bone crunching and just what supporters want to see. He covered every blade of grass in what is surely his best display of the season and one of his best ever for the club. We must hope that talk of a January transfer window move to Leicester is just talk because you need continuity when overhauling a team and Rowlands is one of the few players we have who is good enough to play for the new look QPR we've been promised.

It was important having gone 3-0 up to see that through until half time. With QPR developing a taste this season for conceding goals in injury time there were a few groans and grumbles when Foy added four minutes onto the end of the first period - presumably for the treatment required by Ainsworth and by Watford keeper Richard Lee who had earlier rolled around theatrically trying to get Dexter Blackstock booked after they'd both challenged for a through ball - needless to say he was soon up on his feet and fine again.

Watford went close in the added time when Francis tried to direct a Doyley cross towards goal only to see it blocked by Rehman. The home fans appealed for handball but it clearly hit him in the stomach - Rangers couldn't clear properly though and Williamson collected the loose ball on the edge of the area before curling a low drive round Camp and onto the base of the post. The ball bounced back out, hit Camp on the back of the hand and went out for a corner - a lucky escape, but a goal against at that late stage would have been harsh on Rangers and they were back in the dressing rooms with a deserved clean sheet seconds later.

At the start of the second half Watford introduced Danny Shittu for Matt Jackson. Boothroyd has used Shittu as a makeshift striker at times this season but he did start at centre half. It was inevitable that Watford would come out fired up and have a real good go for the first ten or 15 minutes of the half - sadly Rangers couldn't hang on and get through this period and the Hornets pulled a goal back within seven minutes.

Rangers faced a series of corners and didn't look as comfortable under them as they had in the first half with Shittu an added threat in the area. It was the former QPR man that got his head to one in the 52nd minute, diverting the ball to Francis at the back post who headed across goal past Camp. The ball wasn't going in, but when Zesh Rehman tried to clear from under his own cross bar the ball incredibly struck Lee Camp on the back and flew into the net without a Watford player needing to get a touch. Terribly bad luck, and not what Rehman deserved after another improved performance from him. Camp deserved better as well, the command of his area was better in this game than it has been for some time and he came and caught crosses under pressure five or six times during the match - a great asset when dealing with Watford's direct approach and something I was worried about before kick off.

Bad luck or not it set the cat among the pigeons a little and when Watford slung on Marlon King for Nathan Ellington the problems looked set to grow. Rarely has an away end been so quiet and nervous at 3-1 up but the QPR fans were too busy hoping and praying that a heartbreaking Watford come back wasn't on. Shortly after coming on King went within an inch of halving the deficit when Henderson touched Stewart's cross back to him and he missed the top corner by a matter of inches with a measured 15 yard curling effort.

The problem of ball retention was again causing QPR problems. Just as at Plymouth, too often they lost the ball in their own half or presented it straight back to Watford whenever they did get it out of their own red zone. Up stepped Luigi De Canio with two substitutions to change the course of the second half altogether. Rowan Vine came on for Ainsworth wide on the right and a short time later Balanta was replaced by Buzsaky. The young Columbian has much to be proud of after his full debut, but the more Watford pressed in the second half the more his naivety showed through and he was conceding possession in poor areas. That's not his fault, he set up two great goals on his debut and looks a real talent but the time was clearly right to replace him with an experienced head and he'll have learned a lot from this - hopefully we'll see much more of him in years to come.

The changes solved the problem of ball retention in one fell swoop. Suddenly QPR looked a threat on the counter attack which is a much better method of holding a lead than simply packing your own penalty area and willing the clock to run down. At one stage Rangers strung 11 passes together in the Watford half - they didn't really go anywhere with it, but that's exactly what they needed to do, keep possession and take the desire out of the Watford side. Vine and Buzsaky were key players in that move and others and turned out to be great substitutions at the right time in the game - credit De Canio for that.

Ten minutes from time Buzsaky sealed the win with a fourth goal. Bob Malcolm heaved a long throw down the line which was won in the air by Shittu. Rowlands collected the clearance on the edge of the area and picked out Buzsaky on the opposite side of the box, unmarked and ready to pounce. The pass was perfect and the in form Hungarian had all the time he needed to round Lee, set himself, and thread a low drive through the eye of the needle and into the net past the despairing dive of Jay De Merit.

The away end came alive again, and Buzsaky ran the length of the field to celebrate with the QPR fans. I just can't wait until his name is on a permanent contract with us, he's a worthy wearer of our number ten shirt.

Watford did now push Shittu up front and he bagged a fine volleyed goal against his former club five minutes from time after flick ons from King and Henderson kept the ball alive in the QPR penalty area. It was all too little too late for the home side though and the Watford stands were more than half empty by the time Dexter Blackstock raced away in injury time and fired wide when placed to do better.

So, one of those perfect days. QPR won, nobody else around us at the bottom of the table did and we're now up to 19th, five points clear of Colchester on the bottom. I'll be very surprised if the U's go above us again this season, time will tell.

Man Utd lost as well, and Newcastle, so lots of miserable faces on the train north after the match - lovely stuff. QPR, and Rowlands in particular, have shown in the past two games just how good and bad they can be. With the new signings already starting to arrive its consistency we must target going into 2008, and ball retention - you knew I'd have to mention it again.

Happy New Year to all our regular readers and message board posters, see you all again against Leicester on New Years Day.

Watford: Lee 5, Doyley 6 (O'Toole 79, -), DeMerit 4, Jackson 3 (Shittu 46, 7), Stewart 5, Smith 6, Williamson 6, Francis 6, McAnuff 6, Darius Henderson 6, Ellington 5 (King 68, 6)
Subs Not Used: Mariappa, Ainsworth
Booked: Doyley (throwing the ball away), Smith (foul)
Goals: Camp og 52, Shittu 84 (assisted Henderson)

QPR: Camp 7, Barker 7, Rehman 7, Stewart 8, Malcolm 7, Bolder 7, Rowlands 9, Ainsworth 6 (Vine 64, 6), Balanta 6 (Buzsaky 73, 7), Nygaard 6 (Walton 90, -), Blackstock 6
Subs Not Used: Cole, Moore

Booked: Nygaard (foul), Barker (foul)
Goals: Rowlands 13 pen, Stewart 29 (assisted Rowlands), Rowlands 40 (assisted Balanta), Buzsaky 80 (assisted Rowlands)

QPR Star Man - Martin Rowlands 9 Two goals, two assists, and an awesome display both with and without the ball in the centre of the park. He ran this game from start to finish with the ball, and without it he didn't give Watford a moment of peace in possession, covering miles of grounds throughout the 90 minutes to execute superb tackles, make blocks and interception and lead his team around the park. As near a perfect display as you're likely to see in this division and his best of the season so far. The rumours of a departure this transfer window are hopefully just that, because we really could do with him as a steadying and continuing influence in the team as the personnel changes around him.

Referee - Chris Foy (St Helens) 7 - Refereed the game calmly and sensibly, though a couple of the cards were harsh and once or twice he awarded Watford soft free kicks but overall he allowed the game to flow as best he could and got the big decisions right. Pretty decent all in all.

Attendance: 18,698 (2500 QPR fans approx) The QPR fans supported their team well but for 20 minutes in the second half when everybody seemed terrified that a big Watford comeback was on. The Watford fans were quiet throughout and the majority left early as their team let them down at home again.

Photo: Action Images

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