QPR frustrated by Coventry's ten men - full match report Sunday, 11th Jan 2009 20:32
Coventry City left Loftus Road with a deserved point despite playing for almost an hour with ten men against an out of sorts QPR side.
Patience seems to be the watch word at Loftus Road at the moment. Everybody agrees that we need it, nobody seems to have it. Flavio and the board preach patience and three years plans and yet have worked their way through four managers in eighteen months, the fans moaned about the long ball football played by Dowie but moan and groan when balls are not played for quick enough in the new system and Sousa says it will take time to build a team and yet changes his starting eleven’s personnel and system between every match.
Frustration is another word being regularly uttered around W12. Club captain Martin Rowlands again used his programme notes to express his frustration with supporters who boo the team but then the 12,000 or so QPR fans inside Loftus Road on Saturday had to sit frustrated while their club captain mercilessly kicked every corner and free kick straight to the nearest Coventry player to head clear. By the end of this fourth consecutive draw Sousa looked frustrated, the players looked frustrated, I was frustrated, everybody was bloody frustrated.
That was partly down to Coventry who recovered from the first half sending off of Stephen Wright to produce a committed and organised display that deserved the point it won and they could have actually taken all three. Had they done so QPR would have had few grounds for complaint because although a lot of the ideas in both team selection and the way we played were sound the pace of it all was sadly lacking and the laboured speed of the Rangers’ possession played right into Coventry’s hands. The passes we are making are mainly the right ones and most of the time they are good ones but they need to be done quicker so that the recipients have space to work with. The abysmal service to the strikers from wide areas also needs looking at urgently – we know all about Delaney in that capacity but Connolly was also poor, though better than Ramage, and Rowlands was shocking when it came to delivering the ball into the box.
Here’s another word for you – crisp. That’s what the QPR passing needs to be and is a pretty accurate description of the weather at Loftus Road on Saturday.
As usual there were plenty of changes to the QPR starting eleven. Matthew Connolly came into the defence on the right side instead of Peter Ramage, the midfield changed from a diamond to a more conventional 4-4-2 set up with Mahon dropped and Rowlands partnering Wolves target Mikele Leigertwood in the middle. Wayne Routledge made his debut wide on the left while Hogan Ephraim started wide right with Lee Cook ruled out through illness. Up front Sam Di Carmine was dropped to the bench and Heidar Helguson partnered Dexter Blackstock.
Coventry had injury problems at the back with Scott Dann missing and Marcus Hall ruled out after team mate Leon Best annihilated his nose in a freak training ground accident earlier in the week. That meant midfielder Aron Gunnarsson had to play at right back, right back Stephen Wright had to play centre half and youngster Ben Turner made just his eighth start of the season.
With games off up and down the country, including Fulham’s match just down the road, there was some doubt about the status of this fixture prior to kick off but referee Keith Stroud passed the pitch fit to play on at 2pm after a brief inspection. QPR’s creaking under soil heating system had just about done its job but the weather had clearly taken some toll on the playing surface which looked bare and cut up even before the match kicked off in sub zero temperatures and light snow. Rangers unusually played towards the Loft in the first half.
Coventry settled to their task much quicker than Rangers and forced four consecutive corners inside the first five minutes. The strength of the QPR side in the air got them through the early scare with Gorkss, Leigertwood and Stewart to the fore with impressive clearing headers. QPR forced a corner of their own after nine minutes but Rowlands curled it straight into the arms of Coventry keeper Keiren Westwood. A free kick slightly wide of the corner of the penalty box followed soon after and Rowlands could only find the first Coventry man at the near post who headed it behind for another corner from which Rowlands repeated the trick. This was just the beginning of an afternoon of thoroughly wretched service from the midfield to the strikers with Rowlands particularly culpable but certainly not alone.
Coventry forced another corner after a quarter of an hour which Cerny flapped over his own bar under no pressure when he really ought to have caught it. The next set piece came to nothing and on the next City attack Connolly had to recover his own mistake on the edge of the box with a fine diving header back to his goalkeeper as Tabb hunted an opportunity.
The first serious chance of the match fell to Helguson after a knock down by Blackstock but the Icelandic striker fired high over the bar from 15 yards when he had enough time and space to do better. Helguson then tried to flick a cross to the near post goalwards while laid on the ground but could only kick it straight to Westwood – the poor service soon resumed though with Connolly proving to be little better than Ramage when it came to crossing, his best chance to provide a good ball into the box went begging when he hammered it along the ground straight at the first Coventry defender when he had time and space at the end of a decent move.
QPR’s tactics in the first half clearly revolved around getting the ball to Wayne Routledge as much as possible which was a reasonable idea with an unconventional right back in the Coventry side. Routledge looked bright and pacey but often mis-controlled or overran his chances. In fact the out of position midfielder Gunnarsson actually dealt with Routledge a lot better than the recognised right back Wright. Whenever the former Sunderland man had to come across and cover against Routledge he looked really uncomfortable. Stroud let him off with his first cynical trip on the winger as he raced to the byline, but produced a yellow card for a less nasty foul five minutes later when he body checked him to the ground after being beaten again.
As usual Clinton Morison had plenty to say to the referee about both decisions, and in fact every decision anybody made all day. He is a complete pain in the arse but funny all the same and after lambasting the referee for booking Wright he then went to cover the near post for the free kick and gave the home fans in the Loft end some stick as well. It nearly proved to be the ultimate egg on face moment as Rowlands yet again kicked the set piece straight to the first Coventry man, him, and he sliced it horribly over his shoulder and no more than a foot over the cross bar. It was nearly a repeat of the famous Andy Pearce own goal in this fixture at the same end back in 1993 and I would loved to have seen Morrison’s reaction had it flown into the roof of the net – it would have brought the house down that’s for sure.
Just after the half hour both sides tried their luck from long range with Tabb barely testing Cerny with a dipping volley and Connolly firing high and wide from the edge of the box when he had better options available left and right.
The game seemed to be petering out towards half time in truth until suddenly a flash point occurred in the middle of midfield. A loose ball bounced up into the air just inside the Coventry half of the field and Heidar Helguson appeared to use the upper part of his arm to knock it down into space and attempt to run in behind the Coventry defence. Before the City players could even appeal Wright came tearing out of the centre half position and launched a wild chest high lunge on the QPR man leaving him poleaxed on the turf. It was a pretty horrific lunge and Stroud wasted no time in issuing a deserved straight red card. Wright reacted angrily, jabbing his finger at Stroud’s face and storming off down the tunnel, needless to say Morrison had a good long say about it all as well but quite what the Coventry players could complain about I do not know. They are always very physical visitors to Loftus Road and in the 37 minutes he had been on the pitch Wright had done nothing but get caught out of position or outpaced and then foul his man. He had done Routledge twice and could have done some serious damage to Helguson with a reckless lunge.
The sending off meant another reshuffle at the back by Chris Coleman. Alleged QPR transfer target Jay Tabb came to right back, Gunnarsson went to centre half and Morrison came back into a wide midfield role. With two out of position midfielders and an inexperienced youth team graduate in the back four QPR really should have been able to move through the gears and win the game comfortably from this point but Coventry continued their physical approach to the game, were very well organised, highly committed and stubbornly held onto their clean sheet. It helped that Tabb was able to just about keep pace with Routledge – the QPR debutant had enjoyed some success pushing the ball past Wright and drawing a foul but whenever he tried it against Gunnarsson or Tabb he got little joy and both Coventry players were very impressive in trying circumstances.
Coventry actually forced yet another corner, their sixth of the half, after losing a man but could so easily have been behind in first half injury time when a clearance by Gunnarsson landed plumb on the left peg of Delaney on the edge of the penalty area. The Irishman let rip with a tremendous volley that looked for all the world like it was going to scream into the top corner but Westwood flung himself to his right and made a superb strong one handed save to keep it out – you will have to watch a whole lot of football to see a better save than that one. The half time whistle followed seconds later.
The attitude at half time amongst most in the South Africa Road Stand seemed to be that we would go on to win the game quite comfortably but that certainly did not fit in with how we had played in the second half and although Rowlands blasted a shot wide of the target inside the first five minutes it was actually Coventry that had more of the possession to start with and they certainly looked well drilled and organised in coping with the situation. The first real chance of the half for QPR fell to Blackstock who got on the end of a loose ball behind the Coventry defence but made a real mess of the finish leaving the City players to besiege the linesman over the lack of an offside flag – Fox was booked for dissent in the aftermath.
After that QPR had more of the ball but they were laboured in what they did. Players wanted one too many touches, or played three passes when two would have done. There just was not the pace and zip to the QPR play that you need to make a success of a passing game in this league. Some of the balls out to the wingers were right in idea but poor in execution – Routledge often needed to bring a ball out of the air with his chest or head and then get it under control with a second touch before he could start running at his man and by that time he had often been closed down. Last season under De Canio the football we played against Bristol City and Stoke went in a similar pattern to this, but it was a hundred times faster and therefore more effective. Hopefully that will come with time under Sousa but the laboured pace of it all on Saturday played right into Coventry’s hands and they were able to keep QPR at bay pretty easily – the continued insistence that all free kicks and corners should be kicked straight at the head of the nearest Coventry player certainly did not help.
When a decent cross into the box did come it was Ephraim that provided it but his low centre was toed wide by Helguson who should have scored. Other than that a poor header from the otherwise impressive Leigertwood on the hour was about as good as it got for the home side and frustration grew on three sides of the ground with the usual abuse of QPR players by their own fans clearly audible.
Frustration grew on the pitch as well with Gunnarsson booked for kicking Routledge, then Routledge was carded harshly after an argument with the ever vocal Morrison who somehow escaped with just a ticking off from the match official. He cannot say anything of any significance to the referee because despite talking to him constantly throughout every match he never seems to be booked for it. I do have a sneaking admiration for the way he plays the game – thoroughly irritating but good value entertainment wise.
A further delay in proceedings after a clash of heads between Best and Gorkss added to the stop start nature of the game which was further exacerbated by the inevitable time wasting from the team with ten men. Coleman had to replace Best who it turns out has fractured his cheekbone – Leon McKenzie came on for him.
With less than 20 minutes left to play suddenly Coventry had something to waste time for. Helguson gave the ball away on the halfway line but worked hard and chased back to try and win possession back from Mifsud as he raced into the QPR half. The intention was admirable but the result was sadly inevitable – a needless foul on the Coventry man thirty yards out from goal wide on the right. Daniel Fox took the free kick and with Cerny clearly expecting a cross to the back post and moving accordingly Fox was able to calmly whip the ball into the near post and the back of the net after one bounce. A stupid free kick to give away and a poor piece of goalkeeping – Rangers were now in deep trouble.
Sousa reacted immediately, sending on Ledesma for Delaney and later Di Carmine for Leigertwood, but Coventry had something to hold onto now and QPR had not looked much like scoring up to that point anyway. Morrison made a point of going around all his team mates and geeing them up every time the ball went out of play.
Routledge volleyed wide just before the 80 minute mark and a scramble in the Coventry area came to nothing just after but the best chance of the entire match came eight minutes from time when a rare mistake by Gunnarsson, who misjudged a header, gave Heidar Helguson time and space ten yards out from goal but somehow the striker panicked and hacked a wild shot out for a throw in on the South Africa Road side of the ground. Helguson looked nervous in front of goal when he first joined the club and missed several sitters, he then found form with a goal at Plymouth and two against Preston. The decision to drop him after that brace for the game at Charlton looks like a bigger mistake with each passing game as he is now back to snatching at chances and missing sitters again.
Coventry made a strange change in my opinion five minutes from time when they took off Mifsud and brought on Eastwood. With QPR committing more and more men forward Mifsud’s pace was a useful weapon on the break. Shortly after removing him Coventry surrendered a cheap equaliser. With two minutes left a cross field pass from Damion Stewart was hooked into the penalty area by Sam Di Carmine and with defenders and goalkeeper leaving it to each other Dexter Blackstock showed tremendous bravery to beat them all to the ball and nod it into the gaping goal.
Blackstock now has 12 goals this season, the ninth best in the league and four of the players ahead of him are only there courtesy of goals scored from the penalty spot or in cup competitions – Sylvain Ebanks-Blake included. His all round performance on Saturday was pretty dire again but it is hard to argue with his goal scoring record in a team that struggles to score or create chances.
Scandalously, after a second half of five substitutions, two goals, two injury stoppages including a lengthy clash of heads and copious amounts of time wasting by the Coventry players only four minutes of stoppage time was added, a minute of which was pissed away by Westwood with an offside free kick that he was eventually booked for messing about with.
Nevertheless QPR did get a chance to win the game in that additional time. A foul by Gunnarsson on Helguson set up a free kick just over 20 yards away from goal. Martin Rowlands and Emmanuel Ledesma lined the ball up and eventually the Argentinean stepped up to hit it. He looks so good in the warm up with shots from this range but his tame effort cleared the cross bar with something to spare and sailed wastefully into the empty seats. The whistle followed shortly afterwards and the team was booed from the field by a good portion of the fans that had remained in the ground.
So another irritating day all round. This was always supposed to be a season of building and consolidating and we are stronger in both personnel and league position than we were this time last year. This season is all about putting together a squad to make a push next year and when you consider we now have Routledge, Cook, Buzsaky, Vine, Helguson and others all ready to go come August I would say it is mission achieved on that front.
The frustrating element is that at times we look good enough to make the top six this season, only to then play poorly and spurn chances. Two dropped points on Saturday, two against Watford and two at Charlton would have put us fourth in the table. I just do not think we are quite good enough for that this season sadly and that means there will be more frustrating afternoons like this to come over the remaining 19 matches.
Booked: Routledge (off the ball incident), Helguson (foul)
Goals: Blackstock 87 (assisted Di Carmine)
Coventry: Westwood 7, Wright 3, Turner 6, Fox 7, Gunnarsson 7, Beuzelin 6, Doyle 6, Tabb 8, Mifsud 7 (Eastwood 84, -), Morrison 7, Best 6 (McKenzie 66, 5)
Subs Not Used: Marshall, Thornton, Wynter
Sent Off: Wright (dangerous foul play)
Booked: Wright (foul), Fox (dissent), Gunnarsson (foul), Westwood (time wasting)
Goals: Fox 73 (free kick)
QPR Star Man – Mikele Leigertwood 7 Hard to pick a star man from such a mediocre display but I thought Leigertwood had his best game for some time and if we are going to sell him we must think very carefully about who would replace him in the team because although he is inconsistent he’s a better bet than Mahon and on this form he is a valuable player to the team.
Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 6 The Coventry fans seemed to be pretty irate with him and I suppose we would be in the same situation but it was hard to argue over any of the cards they received, including the sending off which even Chris Coleman says they will not be appealing against. I thought the booking of Routledge was harsh considering Morrison’s behaviour and only adding four minutes on at the end was a farce but other than that he was not too bad.
Attendance: 13,330 (1100 Coventry fans approx) Pretty poor atmosphere at Loftus Road again with everybody either too cold or too frustrated to sing very much at all. Coventry did not travel in big numbers but they were loud throughout.