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QPR rotate their way to Watford bore draw
QPR rotate their way to Watford bore draw
Monday, 29th Dec 2008 14:34

Paulo Sousa made another six changes to his starting eleven and watched on as QPR failed to break down Watford at Loftus Road.

If this was, as I billed it on Saturday in the match preview, a chance to chart Sousa’s progress as QPR manager then I suppose the obvious conclusion to draw today is; ‘promising but lots to learn.’

I have enjoyed much of what the Portuguese has brought to Loftus Road in his short time in charge, and with just one defeat in eight matches since taking over it is hard to argue with his results so far, however he must take some responsibility for two drawn games that should really have been wins over the Christmas period.

Charlton were there for the taking on Friday and even with Rangers playing well within themselves an away win was only denied by a late disallowed goal and two errors from Radek Cerny. I could not help but think how different that would have been had we played the same side that defeated Preston the week before.

That was only a good point, I mused afterwards, if we used our refreshed and rested players to pick up all three against Watford. Now, reflecting on a dour goalless draw with the Hornets, it has to be said that Sousa’s decision to make six changes to a winning team on Friday and then six changes again on Sunday looks ill-advised.

QPR were second best throughout the first half against a stubborn but limited Watford side and should have been behind by the time Sousa changed things and added an extra striker at half time. The second half was better and only bad luck and desperate defending in a couple of goal mouth scrambles prevented the R’s winning but throughout both the game at The Valley and Sunday’s match QPR looked like a team that had had 12 changes made to it in two matches – disjointed, unsure of themselves, lacking shape and well below par.

Following the Boxing Day draw Damien Delaney and Damion Stewart were recalled to the starting eleven at the expense of Matt Connolly, who was given a torrid time by Lloyd Sam in the Charlton match, and Kaspars Gorkss who became the second consecutive man of the match to be rewarded with a place in the stands in the following game. Gavin Mahon and Hogan Ephraim replaced Leigertwood and Alberti in midfield and Helguson and Agyemang came in for Blackstock and Di Carmine up front.

Watford left Grzegorz Rasiak on the bench despite his goal against Bristol City on Boxing Day - Tamas Priskin shrugged off injury concerns to start in attack. Leigh Bromby, Mat Sadler and John Joe O’Toole were all dropped after the 4-2 home defeat by City.

The game started at a pedestrian pace with only one QPR corner to show for ten minutes of huffing and puffing. Lee Cook took it which gave the Watford fans in the School End an early chance to dish out some abuse to their former charge, he delighted them by curling a corner straight to the goalkeeper Loach at the near post.

The first real chance of the game came just before the quarter hour. Tommy Smith ran across field from deep and switched the play from right to left to first Williamson and then Harley who fired a low cross right through the six yard box, fractionally too far ahead of Priskin and out for a throw in on the other side.

With the diamond midfield formation preferred by Sousa the full backs can be a little exposed without a covering winger and Watford had obviously picked up on this from the video – tormenting Ramage and Delaney with several two on one situations down either flank. Delaney coped reasonably well but Ramage, with the crowd on his back from the first whistle, struggled at times and seemed to lose more and more confidence with each passing minute. It did not help that Williamson, impressive at Vicarage Road and equally so here, was the overlapper down Ramage’s side more often than not.

Another over load on Ramage’s side should have brought the first goal on 20 minutes – Jenkins crossed to the back post and Williamson who had all the time he needed to finish a relatively simple chance but took an abysmal first tough that allowed Cerny a chance to race from his line and intelligently punch the ball away from the Watford player before he could shoot. This was a golden chance for Watford to take the lead their performance thus far deserved.

Rodgers’ men did not have to wait long for another opportunity. From their first corner of the game Mariappa flicked on at the near post and Priskin headed wide at the far under little pressure when he really should have done better. A fierce drive from 25 yards by Williamson that seemed to take a deflection on the way whistled an inch or so wide of the post with Cerny well beaten a short time later – referee Penton awarded a goal kick.

QPR finally started to come into the game in the last ten minutes of the half. First a silly foul on the edge of the penalty area on Cook, who had his back to goal and was heading away from danger at the time, gave the former Watford winger a chance to deliver a dangerous cross. He did not disappoint, picking out Helguson at the back post who, like Williamson before him, made an absolute pig’s ear of a great chance when he sent his diving header bobbling wide of the post. Mariappa was booked by Penton in the aftermath for protesting too vehemently either about a possible push under the free kick or that Helguson was offside.

Helguson looked full of confidence and goals against Preston in the last home game but was ‘rested’ for Charlton and was pretty poor throughout this match. I really do not agree with leaving out in form players and the enforced rest certainly did not seem to have done the Icelandic international many favours.

Cook sent another decent ball into the six yard box with the next attack but De Merit was on hand to head the ball out for a corner from underneath his own cross bar. At the other end Smith curled a tame effort wide of the post from the edge of the area. As the game petered out to half time Ramage conceded possession to McAnuff and then missed a tackle on him which meant he had to wrestle him to the floor to prevent him racing away – an act that earned him a booking. A problem entirely of Ramage’s own making.

Not surprisingly Sousa made a change at half time. Lee Cook went off to be replaced by Dexter Blackstock, a strange choice for me as I thought Cook was a long way from being our worst player in the first half and had created the few decent opportunities we got. Nevertheless a change needed to be made and within seconds of the restart Blackstock turned in the box and drove towards goal before his progress was halted by a fine tackle from the impressive Mariappa just inside the penalty box. Still it was nice to see the R’s finally attacking Watford with a bit of purpose.

The first real test of Loach in the Watford goal almost found the young keeper wanting. He made a poor mistake for the third Bristol City goal on Boxing Day and looked low on confidence as Agyemang brought down a knock on from Rowlands’ free kick. With his back to goal Agyemang hooked an improvised effort on goal over his shoulder that Loach fumbled in the six yard box – in the end he was grateful to De Merit who bravely slid in ahead of Damion Stewart to prevent the opening goal.

On the hour Watford replaced Priskin with Rasiak. The decision brought cheers from the away end which I thought was a little harsh on Priskin who had been an injury doubt before the game and, in the first half at least, got the better of Stewart on quite a few occasions. Rasiak introduced himself to the game by immediately flattening Fitz Hall in an off the ball incident – after brief consultation with the linesman referee Penton showed the Polish forward a yellow card. Rasiak was then fouled himself by Rowlands down by the corner flag, a foul which earned the QPR captain a booking.

Despite the changes it was starting to look more and more likely to be a goalless draw and that feeling only grew stronger when another free kick from Rowlands was headed back across goal by Helguson and Blackstock was just too far in field to get up high enough and head home. From a Rowlands corner on the Q Block side of the ground Blackstock did get up and make good contact but just could not get above the ball enough and his header flew a foot too high with the keeper beaten. Agyemang had half hearted appeals for a penalty waved away in between the two Blackstock efforts but in truth it never looked like a foul by one time QPR transfer target Lloyd Doyley – he had a very steady game on the right side of the Watford defence.

QPR went reasonably close with two long range strikes – first Rowlands cracked a first time volley from 25 yards that flew just too high, then Ephraim tried his luck off the floor from similar distance but could also only find the Lower Loft with his effort.

In the final ten minutes both sides went agonisingly close to winning the game. After Jay De Merit had been penalised for deliberate hand ball just past the halfway line QPR had a chance to load the penalty area for another long ball down the field. The ball eventually dropped in the six yard box where Helguson looked all set to sweep the ball home from close range at the back post but Loach got a good block on it with his thigh and deflected it out for a corner.

Then at the School End a rare Watford attack resulted in a corner which QPR, apparently collectively asleep in the penalty area, allowed to be taken short to the unmarked Smith on the corner of the penalty box. Helguson spotted the danger and came tearing back down the field to get a tackle in. The ball broke free to Ephraim who went sprinting off on the counter attack but Penton penalised Helguson for a foul and showed him a yellow card. From the free kick Williamson beat the wall and Cerny but the ball cannoned back off the post, hit the stricken goalkeeper on the back of the head and went out for a corner. Rangers were lucky not to concede both from Williamson and a Cerny own goal.

Both teams made late changes with Bromby on for Bricutt in the away side and Gavin Mahon, who had had a very poor game, making way for Mikele Leigertwood. QPR subsequently went close to winning the match when a good ball from Ephraim down the right sent Helguson in behind Harley to cross dangerously into the six yard box. Mariappa got himself in all sorts of problems trying to clear it and eventually sent the ball bouncing into the turf and then agonisingly up and over the cross bar. A late own goal to win the match for Rangers would have been harsh on Watford, and Mariappa in particular who had been their best player on the day.

Four minutes of added time came and went with few other incidents of note, although Harley did pick up a booking for fouling Helguson, leaving the QPR fans to harshly boo their team from the field before skulking off into the night.

Rangers have now played for 180 minutes against the team with the division’s worst defence without scoring. Thankfully QPR improved sufficiently in the second half to keep Watford scoreless themselves and prevent a repeat of the hammering we took at Vicarage Road but this was still two points dropped rather than one won.

There were one or two positives. Fitz Hall looked very good following his recent return to the side although Damion Stewart was not as good as he has been recently alongside him. Patrick Agyemang showed tremendous work ethic up front without ever posing much of a goal threat and Hogan Ephraim played pretty well in the second half after an anonymous first period.

Lee Cook, Gavin Mahon, Damien Delaney and Peter Ramage have all copped stick for their performances from fans at the game and on the message boards. For me I did not think Cook had a particularly good or bad game – both our first half chances came from his crosses. Mahon I thought was poor, slow and laboured in everything he did and prone to passing poor balls backwards to defenders who were then under pressure. Ramage and Delaney suffered most from that but I feel there are supporters out there who are desperate to slag those two off before the match has even started.

That has not happened over night and for no good reason, both players are having poor seasons and need to be replaced, but it cannot be doing them much good to have their own fans on their back, especially as their positions are right in front of the stands. Ramage especially looks miserable and bereft of confidence, not a good thing for a player who is poor in the first place, and Delaney looked frustrated with himself on several occasions despite having a better game than his recent performances. He incurred my own wrath when he curled a cross into the Loft under no pressure whatsoever but had Connolly played as Delaney did on Sunday I don’t think anybody would have said anything about him.

In the end though it has to be seen as four points dropped over Christmas and, for me, too many changes to the team spoiling the momentum the Preston win could have helped to build. The team selection against Burnley on Saturday will be interesting, almost certainly more interesting than this match.

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QPR: Cerny 7, Delaney 6, Ramage 5, Hall 7, Stewart 6, Cook 6 (Blackstock 46, 6), Rowlands 6, Mahon 5 (Leigertwood 84, -), Ephraim 6, Agyemang 6, Helguson 5
Subs Not Used: Connolly, Ledesma, Alberti
Booked: Ramage (foul), Rowlands (foul), Helguson (foul)

Watford: Loach 6, Doyley 7 , De Merit 6, Mariappa 8, Harley 6, Bridcutt 6 (Bromby 89, -), Williamson 7, Jenkins 6, Smith 6, McAnuff 5, Priskin 6 (Rasiak 62, 5)
Subs Not Used: Lee, Hoskins, O'Toole
Booked: Mariappa (dissent), Rasiak (off the ball incident), DeMerit (deliberate handball), Harley (foul)

QPR Star Man – Fitz Hall 7 Best of a mediocre bunch in my opinion. Strong in the air and looked pretty confident bringing the ball out and at least trying to pass it about. Also put in several good, strong tackles and blocks. Pretty difficult to pick a star man though truth be told.

Referee: Clive Penton (Sussex) 6 I was surprised to get home and find seven yellow cards had been shown because that seems like a lot. Depending on what Mariappa said to him it was hard to argue with any of the cards awarded and although he failed to play advantage when he should have done on two occasions he was not too bad I didn’t think.

Attendance: 16,196 (2500 Watford approx) That nasty feeling returned to Loftus Road with loads of QPR fans looking to barrack their own players at every possible opportunity. From my point of view I was out of my seat twice on Sunday, once in fury at Ramage for his piss poor piece of play that resulted in his yellow card and once when Delaney curled a cross into the Loft under no pressure whatsoever which was unforgivable for a professional footballer. Clearly yelling abuse won’t help these players but it is hard sometimes to smile and clap along at incompetence. There are some people though that don’t just get irate every now and again after a mistake, they are on their cases all the time and looking for mistakes that are not being made just so they can have another go. After a terrific atmosphere at the Preston game it was back to being nasty and not particularly conducive to good football on Sunday.

Photo: Action Images

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