Ten man QPR win well at Norwich - full match report Thursday, 18th Sep 2008 04:33
Despite playing for 70 minutes with ten men QPR deservedly picked up all three points at Norwich City on Wednesday night.
Last minute of the match, cross from the left, header at the back post… the fans held their breath.
A few short months ago I have no doubt that Norwich’s French striker Antoine Sibierski would have been wheeling away to celebrate clutching a get out of jail free card and a goal bonus. The QPR side of 2007/08 conceded last minute goals more often than it showered together, but despite reports to the contrary being transmitted live across the airwaves back in London the ball did in fact fly wide, kissing the most recent coat of white gloss off the post as it went. Cerny was beaten, the home supporters thought it was in, it was the only time in the entire evening that we’d rode our luck. To see the ball crash into the advertising hoardings instead of the net was just reward for a QPR team about as well organised and committed as I’ve ever seen.
Like last season Rangers found themselves down to ten men early on – Matt Connolly got his marching orders in the twenty fourth, some twenty minutes later than Damion Stewart was dismissed on this ground last season and the target for 2009/10, if we still have to come here in the league of course, must be to try and keep a full compliment on the field until at least half time. Having said that I’ve a sneaky feeling Iain Dowie actually quite enjoys his side being a man light. The problems and challenges faced by a team with a numerical disadvantage play to Dowie’s strengths – organisation, discipline, commitment, team shape and tactics. He’s a super manager in this situation and has now already this season clocked up more than 90 minutes of football away from home with ten men without conceding a goal.
He promised he’d bring us these attributes and my God has he delivered so far. The difference between the collapse with ten men here in April and the superb performance and win on Wednesday night was there for all to see – incredibly QPR could have scored more in the first half after the red card and although their attacking ambition died a death after the break they rarely looked unduly troubled.
QPR recalled Martin Rowlands to their starting line up for the first time in the league this season. The reigning Player of the Year replaced Danny Parejo in the attacking midfield trio after a below par performance from the Spaniard at the weekend. Hogan Ephraim also did little to impress in the Southampton game and was the predictable victim of Emmanuel Ledesma’s return from suspension – those two were joined by Cook behind Blackstock and in front of Mahon and Leigertwood. At the back Connolly partnered Stewart in the middle of Ramage and Delaney with Cerny in goal. Lee Camp’s days at QPR look more and more numbered with each passing match.
Norwich gave a home debut to French striker Antoine Sibierski alongside Arturo Lupoli, buoyed by their first win of the season at Plymouth on Saturday.
The game started with three ridiculous decisions from the linesman on the away end side of the ground. Two throw ins were awarded to Norwich despite coming off home players last and QPR were denied a corner after Rowlands reached the byline when it was clearly their ball. The bias of the man with the flag on our side of the pitch never let up and I certainly wouldn’t want to see him at another Norwich match any time soon.
Sibierski was Norwich’s most eye catching player early on as he first drew a booking from Matt Connolly who dangled a leg out as his opponent spun away down the flank on halfway. This was Connolly’s first offence of the match and although I do think it was a booking I also think a lot of Sibierski’s experience went into the incident – he seemed to be on his way down before Connolly had even touched him, if indeed he did touch him, and I can’t say I was too surprised to see him get straight up and sprint down the field to contest the resulting free kick. It would prove to be a costly moment for the young centre half thirteen minutes later.
In the meantime Sibierski unleashed a goalbound missile like shot from the edge of the area that caught Damion Stewart flush in the gut and rebounded out for a corner. Stewart teetered for a moment, but there was never any danger of a count being required. Darel Russell also looked eager to impress with two long range strikes on the goal, both comfortably dealt with by Cerny. Needless to say the Czech goalkeeper followed these saves up with a wild one handed flap at a corner but Norwich had nobody available to capitalise on his wanderings.
QPR were far from on the back foot though. Dexter Blackstock picked up where he left off on Sunday with a hard shift of work that unsettled Dejan Stefanovic in the Norwich defence. Three or four times in the opening half hour the experienced defender allowed balls to bounce and Blackstock to muscle him into position. Stefanovic, normally a player I rate very highly, only started to look competent once Blackstock had tired in the second half and reverted to type when Patrick Agyemang started running at him with fresh legs. The decision to award him man of the match by the sponsors surely has something to do with the quality of his company at the post match buffet rather than any footballing reasons because he was clearly one of the worst defenders on view on the night by some distance and no more a man of the match than a rocket scientist in my opinion.
Lee Cook was also getting involved early doors, embarking on two lung busting runs down the centre of the field the likes of which used to cause palpitations in Championship defences and yield terrific results for Rangers. Sadly Cook is struggling to recapture his old form and twice stood on the ball just as he looked set to break through. When he did get the ball away Cook found Ledesma and his shot was deflected a foot or so high and wide of the top right hand corner of David Marshall’s goal. Cook picked up a hefty knock after winning the ball back on the far touchline in the first half as well – judging by what he was left holding after the incident and the look on his face I’d suggest he was merely concerned for his future family allowance rather than an injury ruling him out of the Coventry game.
Then, a flashpoint. After twenty four minutes Norwich cleared a QPR corner down the field and sprung a counter attack. Matt Connolly was one of those left behind to cover and although he beat Lupoli to the first ball with a sliding challenge on halfway it was always going to be risky for him to get up and launch straight into another as the ball ran to Pattison and so it proved. The result, a crude lunge at the Norwich players’ shins that sent him flying three feet up in the air and could have caused horrific injury. A red card offence in itself in my opinion but the referee played it safe and showed a second yellow – Connolly was walking long before the referee had even arrived at the scene of the crime. A silly couple of tackles from a player I’ve come to expect better of.
Dowie sent on centre back Gorkss for a clearly disappointed Lee Cook and strangely the sending off actually galvanised QPR. The game remained even but the chances started to fall the way of the Londoners and Norwich looked increasingly like a team unsure of what was going on or what they should do about it.
The only goal of the game came just after the half hour courtesy of a farcical thrice taken free kick. The madness began when referee Shoebridge penalised a crowd of Norwich defenders, Bertrand chief amongst them, for bundling over Emmanuel Ledesma about 30 yards from goal. The officials had a hell of a job getting the wall back a full ten yards and when Ledesma went for goal the ball was clearly blocked by the arm of one of the Norwich players, possibly Fotheringham.
That meant a free kick a good deal closer and more centralised. Again the Norwich wall was reluctant to retreat, again Ledesma took responsibility and again it was blocked by a defender although this time rather than punching the ball clear Mark Fotheringham decided to come tearing out of the wall before the ball was kicked so when it finally smacked him square in the chops he was barely five yards away. The protests of innocence from the guilty party and howls of derision from the home fans at the decision to show a yellow card and allow a retake had me questioning just how firm a grasp of the rules of the game they have in these parts. At the third time of asking Rowlands stepped up and drilled an unstoppable shot low through a gap in the wall created by Dexter Blackstock and into the corner of the net. Marshall in the City goal didn’t even know it had happened.
So with only ten men on the field QPR had taken the lead and incredibly that advantage should have been doubled or even tripled in the following five minutes as Norwich struggled to know what to do about it all. First Ledesma ghosted in behind an increasingly shakey back line to craft a chance with a flick over the last man on the edge of the six yard box. The ball just wouldn’t come down for him, but even so it was a gilt edged chance and few could believe it when he skewed the ball wide from five yards after doing the hard work brilliantly.
Seconds later Shoebridge bought a blatant dive from Ledesma wide on the right and awarded a free kick which the Argentinian swung into the near post himself. Dexter Blackstock strode onto the ball and somehow contrived to head it over the top despite being onside and completely untroubled by the Norwich defence that was still studying offside laws module 1.1 back on the 18 yard line. Even had he made no contact at all Ledesma’s delivery may have gone all the way in itself.
The referee then awarded a similarly soft free kick at the other end after what looked like a good tackle from Gorkss and finished the half by giving Norwich a corner after a poor cross had flown into the stand – even the Norwich players had lined up for a goal kick but he insisted a corner should be taken and after a deep set piece to the back post Fotheringham unloaded a mishit shot on goal that Cerny gathered easily. The referee seemed to me to get himself tied in knots trying to give decisions that evened out earlier mistakes and by the time he’d finally brought the half to a close and called for the oranges he was really starting to lose the plot.
It appeared that Norwich had run out of ideas towards the end of the first half, resorting more often than not to a long punt down the field in the general direction of Sibierski. The tactic had Damion Stewart and Kaspars Gorkss wondering if they’d really needed to change out of their club suits to take part. Roeder did come up with something a bit different at half time but it was so blatant and easy to deal with that it effectively sealed Norwich’s fate.
Off went Lupoli, I can only assume through injury, and on came Lee Croft apparently carrying more spare tyres round his midrift than they keep at the back of a Kwik Fit garage. The plan from there on in was simply give the ball to Croft on the right wing as often as possible and he’ll do the rest. Sadly for Roeder QPR were much stronger defensively down the left with Rowlands and Delaney than they were down the right and, as it turns out, Lee Croft isn’t actually all that good. The usual ten minute onslaught you get at the start of the second half in these situations never materialised and it wasn’t until deep in the second half that the Canaries threatened very much at all.
Rangers abandoned all attacking intent in the second half, choosing instead to form two solid banks of four and rely on formerly Blackstock and latterly Agyemang to run, chase and hassle as the lone front man. This worked well at Bristol City at the end of last month and did so again here although the travelling fans were indebted to Kaspars Gorkss for a magnificent goal saving sliding tackle on Sibierski as he prepared to tap home Matt Pattison’s cross. Gorkss didn’t make the best of first impressions on QPR fans but this was some second coming. His performance was almost entirely faultless for me with headers not only won but directed into team mates or space with real intelligence, firm tackles, excellent distribution and positioning – an all round top centre half performance and Damion Stewart was pretty superb alongside him as well. Gorkss really showed why we paid the money for him on this performance.
Norwich got a chance of a free kick goal for themselves when Leigertwood was harshly adjudged to have upended Hoolahan. The former Blackpool man made a mistake not putting a cross in when he had the chance and ended up running away from the goal and risking losing the ball so he flung himself down and bought an attacking set piece. From the free kick Fotheringham beat the wall but Cerny just about kept the sheet clean with an unorthodox two handed palm round the post. Cerny had hearts in mouths all over the away end as he punched the resulting corner to nobody in particular and he continued to punch rather than catch for the rest of the game much to the consternation of the travelling support.
Norwich were forced to spend a substitution when Kennedy picked up a head injury after a clash with Blackstock, Grounds came on for him and Roeder soon had the board out for a third and final time to introduce Jamie Cureton to the fray in place of the ineffective Hoolahan. The script seemed to be written for the former QPR man to come on and break our hearts but almost immediately he was involved in a clash of heads and spent a good ten minutes off the field having all manner of things done to his scalp before returning with a ridiculous looking white turban on. That period of time at ten v ten was crucial time wasted for Norwich and allowed Rangers to draw breath.
Dowie replaced Blackstock, harshly booked by the referee for repetitive fouling, with Agyemang with thirteen minutes to go – a much needed change. Blackstock’s work rate and attitude has improved immeasurably since last season and he again spent time in this game filling in at full back or centre half when he thought the team needed cover. If I have a criticism of Dowie on the night it’s that he didn’t replace Blackstock earlier because by the sixty fifth minute the exertions of playing alone up top with ten men had Dexter blowing through every orifice and barely able to put one foot in front of the other. Agyemang when he came on looked bright, aggressive and lively and gave the Norwich defence an added headache just as they were probably thinking about slinging a few more men forward. Rowlands had a chipped shot on goal fly over and Ledesma also worked room for a shot before firing off target and then being replaced himself by Akos Buzsaky on his long awaited return from injury.
Norwich were clearly getting frustrated and after a naughty over the ball studs up challenge from Stefanovic yielded a free kick on the edge of the QPR penalty area a set to took place between he Norwich man, Leigertwood and Stewart. Hands seemed to be raised and tempers flared so I half expected a red card to be produced but bizarrely, after seeming to write in his notebook for a good thirty seconds, Shoebridge stuck with the free kick to QPR and showed no further cards.
The QPR fans near me were fearing four, five or even six minutes of stoppage time so three seemed like a decent result when it was shown although the joy would have been short lived had Sibierski connected with an acrobatic scissor kick that he aimed at a cross from Croft – luckily for the visitors a fresh air shot was the Frenchman’s only reward for hard work.
He went a damn site closer with his final effort of the game though. A deep cross from Bertrand found the Frenchman at the back post and his header looked for all the world like it was going to nestle in the bottom corner but flew half an inch wide. The linesman on the near side finished the game as he’d started it with a criminally bad decision in favour of Norwich and pointed for a corner which Marshall came up from the back for. Cerny managed to gather it in and unloaded a shot on the gaping goal at the far end himself which Agyemang may have caught and rolled in had the final whistle not beaten him to it.
So back up to fourth then in the fledgling Championship table and we face Coventry on Saturday full of confidence. Coming out of the ground afterwards a Norwich fan near me said to his mate he could barely recall a side so well organised after a sending off as QPR. He was right. There were star performers all over the pitch for Rangers but particularly Mahon, Leigertwood and Rowlands in midfield and Damion Stewart and Kaspars Gorkss at centre half. Ask most QPR fans about the latter pair and I’m sure the word ‘dodgy’ would be used at least once but under the hazy lights at Carrow Road the pair of them were nothing short of magnificent – barely breaking a sweat as they calmly secured three points for Rangers with a faultless defensive display.
The players and fans were delighted at full time and a rousing chorus of ‘the R’s are going up’ serenaded the players as they made their way back to the sheds. Martin Rowlands was last to leave the field and he made a big difference to us. A final thought, courtesy of message board regular Swiss Cottage, we now only need to average 1.5 points a game to make the top six. On the pitch at least, things are getting better all the time.
QPR Star Man – Kaspars Gorkss 9 Almost impossible to choose this with Stewart, Delaney, Mahon, Leigertwood and Rowlands all realistic candidates. I’ve gone for Gorkss because he had to come in after half an hour in a time of crisis and settle straight in with an unfamiliar partner, he’s also had a poor start to his time here so must have been nervous, but he never missed a beat all night, not a beat. Every header, every tackle, every pass was well executed, thought out and calm. Terrific display.
Referee: Rob Shoebridge (Derbyshire) 3 Eccentric. The two things he got right were the big decisions on the night – the QPR goal and the Connolly sending off. Rangers can have few arguments with the latter while Norwich have only themselves to blame for the former. Apart from that though he gave some truly perplexing stuff, handed out cards inconsistently, added only three minutes to the second half when QPR could have had few complaints with six or more, corners when they were goal kicks, throw ins the wrong way, bizarre free kick decisions including one where Damien Delaney tripped over his own feet and saw a free kick awarded to Norwich. Ably assisted by two of the worst linesman I’ve ever seen in my life. The three of them were a circus act at times.
Attendance: 24,249 (900 QPR approximately) Not a massive travelling support, awkward spot to get to midweek of course, but those that did go were really loud and supportive of the team throughout the match. The Norwich fans started off in fine voice and the game was played in a terrific atmosphere at first but after the sending off the home crowd mirrored their team – nervous, apprehensive, restless and, ultimately, quiet.