|Faurlin stars as Warnockâ€™s reign starts with a Carson aided bang â€“ full match report|
Sunday, 7th Mar 2010 21:21
Neil Warnock got his reign as QPR manager underway with a fine 3-1 win at home to promotion chasing West Brom on Saturday, although the victory owed much to the incompetence of visiting goalkeeper Scott Carson.
Has anybody noticed that the sun seems to have come out since the Bhatia/Mittal/Warnock revolution at Loftus Road? Months and months of losing on Saturday and then battling through snow and sleet to work for five days waiting for the next defeat to come around and now, suddenly, all seems right with the world again.
On Saturday my train was 45 minutes late because of a signal failure and I was accused of trying to use a stolen Oyster card on the tube because the bank card mine uses to top up has expired. I’d resigned myself to thinking it was just one of those days – we were never likely to beat West Brom anyway so let’s look ahead to Plymouth and treat anything from this game as a bonus was my attitude prior to kick off. But there was just a feeling, right from the kick off in the bright spring sunshine, that this was QPR’s day. There was a beautiful freshness about our side, a confidence not seen in the players for months.
Had Paul Hart or Mick Harford selected a team that included Tamas Priskin playing wide, three forward players rotating manically and leaving us open to a simple West Brom goal, and a second half introduction of a second right full back that somehow seemed to leave us more open down the West Brom left than we had been before they would have been pilloried. But there was a magnificently different and hugely welcome atmosphere around Loftus Road on Saturday. An atmosphere of tolerance, patience and support. No talk of being richer than anybody, no talk of promotion, no mention of projects – just a good honest football team securing a fine win having started as underdogs. It was a wonderful day to be a QPR fan.
In fairness Rangers, then under the guidance of Marc Bircham and Steve Gallen, could have counted themselves very unfortunate not to win against West Brom at The Hawthorns in December – they went two nil up that night and were only denied a third by some miraculous goalkeeping from Dean Kiely. On Saturday the Baggies had Scott Carson in goal, and he turned in a performance more worthy of his namesake Frank to gift the R’s three points. Had the beleaguered keeper, laughably a former England number one, played in both games we could well have taken six points from a team the league table suggests is the second best in the division. Outfield the Baggies looked tired after eight games in 23 days in February, they were a long way below their best, but a point would not have been beyond them with even a mildly competent goalkeeper between the posts. Instead they lost consecutive away games in the league for the first time this season. That Carl Ikeme, third choice at West Brom’s bitter rivals Wolves, had his best game in QPR colours at the other end only served to rub salt in the wounds.
Neil Warnock’s first QPR team selection showed four changes – including the total omission of Lee Cook presumably due to injury, with Hogan Ephraim starting wide left. The starting eleven was difficult to pin down to be honest. Matthew Connolly and Matt Hill were the full backs, Damion Stewart and Kaspars Gorkss the centre haves and Carl Ikeme the goalkeeper but it got somewhat more complicated from that point onwards. Mikele Leigertwood and Alejandro Faurlin played in the middle of midfield with Ephraim wide left. Simpson led the line but Taarabt and Tamas Priskin rotated with him and each other between a leading striker, supporting role and left wing positions on an almost constant basis. In attack it worked well, in defence not so much and West Brom scored as a direct result of it.
West Brom had Ishmael Miller back on the bench after a catalogue of injuries but Giles Barnes missed out, as did player of the season so far Graham Dorrans who was consigned to the bench along with the other players who played 90 minutes for their countries in the week – Abdoulaye Meite and Robert Koren. They included three former QPR loanees with Ben Watson in the centre of midfield, Steven Reid in an unorthodox right back roll and Jerome Thomas wide on the left.
There was much endeavour and effort in the first quarter of an hour, but barely a chance worthy of note. Faurlin had a shot from the edge of the area blocked by Olsson after good work from Taarabt with West Brom appealing for a foul in back play. Rangers opened the scoring in the sixteenth minute following a very poor mistake in his six yard box by the West Brom goalkeeper Scott Carson.
Carson was, incredibly, England’s number one keeper just 18 months ago. He looks a nervous quivering wreck now and the only thing more amazing than his presence in a team at even this level at all is his status as West Bromwich Albion captain. The other ten players in the visiting side had good cause to give their skipper a withering look a quarter of an hour in when he presented Rangers with the opening goal. A low cross from the QPR right by Adel Taarabt looked to be a routine pick up for the goalkeeper but he spilled it under pressure from Hogan Ephraim and that allowed Jay Simpson to slam in his thirteenth goal of the season. Simpson endured an unhappy time on loan at West Brom last season, unfairly criticised while playing out of position on the wing, but he showed his former club just what a good goal poacher he is by being in the right place at the right time to profit from Carson’s howler.
QPR were buoyed by that opening goal and threatened to break away again soon after only for Mulumbu to haul back Taarabt as he was about to release Ephraim down the left – referee Stuart Attwell, a man with QPR history, failed to show him a yellow card when he should have done, but in fairness he had a very good game apart from this and QPR did score a second goal within five minutes anyway.
If the first goal had owed much to incompetent goalkeeping, the second was all about Rangers as Matt Connolly finished off a glorious passing move that had memories of October’s free scoring games at Loftus Road flooding back. Taarabt wandered over to the left to collect possession and feed Priskin on the edge of the box, he teed it up for Faurlin who played a world class first time pass in behind Marek Cech who had come too far infield and allowed Connolly a free run on goal and the full back finished coolly under the keeper. That was, strangely, the first thing Connolly had really done right after a nervy opening 20 minutes in which he’d needlessly shanked a ball into touch and allowed Jerome Thomas to get the run on him a couple of times.
West Brom pushed to come back into the match and twice went close around the half hour mark. First Mikele Leigertwood held onto the ball for too long and conceded possession – Ikeme rushed out smartly to save low at Simon Cox’s feet although the striker looked well offside as the ball was played towards him. The former Swindon hitman seemed to be a considerable distance beyond the last man when played the ball in the Baggies’ next attack as well but the flag stayed down and Ikeme was forced into a fine one handed save off to his left to deny Ben Watson as he chimed in late from midfield with a shot from the edge of the box. From the corner Watson headed for goal only to see it blocked by his, briefly, former QPR team mate Reid accidently in the six yard box.
Ikeme has not won many fans in W12 since signing from Wolves, and it is hard to see why Radek Cerny has not been restored to the starting line up ahead of him after some shaky recent performances. But Ikeme was in fine form on Saturday – commanding his area well and making several excellent saves. Sadly his kicking, particularly out of his hands, remains abject.
The system with two or three players rotating between the centre forward, supporting role and right wing position proved to be QPR’s undoing ten minutes before the break as West Brom were able to profit from acres of space down their left flank and pull a goal back when Thomas, unchallenged, crossed and Chris Brunt, unmarked at the back post, angled his header perfectly over the goalkeeper and into the far corner.
Rangers went to pieces after that – losing all shape and grip on the game. West Brom had several chances to equalise before half time. First of all Hogan Ephraim, who had earlier won the fans’ claim for chasing back to force a goal kick from a promising West Brom attack, was harshly penalised for raising a boot on the left corner of the QPR penalty box. That seemed to present Brunt with an ideal chance for an effort on goal but West Brom elected to tap the free kick to him before the shot and that allowed Matt Hill to race from the wall and block it away. I will never understand why professional footballers moan like hell to get a wall moved back ten yards only to then tap a free kick and allow the blockers to race eight yards closer. Brainless play, especially with a dead ball specialist like Brunt ready to pounce.
There were only a couple of minutes left until half time at that point but QPR still had another couple of scares to survive before the break. James Morrison delivered a wonderful cross to the back post, behind the QPR defence, ahead of Ikeme and luckily agonisingly out of the reach of the onrushing West Brom forwards. Then Ikeme had to rush out and deny Thomas with a fine one on one save after the ball broke into the penalty area from a tackle by Connolly on Cox.
There was still time for two yellow cards in injury time – one for Cech for pulling back Priskin, the other for Priskin for demanding Cech was booked. I’m not in the habit of praising the award of yellow cards but frankly I applaud Attwell’s stance in booking Priskin as this continental style of requesting cards for other players is not something I want to see in the English game.
At two one the second half promised to be a long and stressful affair for the QPR fans. Chris Brunt fired wide after claims for a push on Matt Hill were waved away, then he smacked another shot into the wall from a free kick after Faurlin had halted Reid’s powerful midfield break with a cynical foul that rightly brought a yellow card. In the next attack Brunt was left one on one with Hill and was allowed to deliver a fine cross to the near post where Cox instinctively met it on the half volley but sent his effort flying over the bar.
West Brom were pressing, and the impressive Brunt was at the heart of everything good they did. He may have been a good candidate to take a penalty kick had one been awarded for what looked like a very clumsy challenge from Gorkss on Cox in the penalty area just before the hour mark. Rangers were lucky to survive, it looked like a penalty to me.
Warnock had seen enough, and shuffled his pack by sending on Akos Buzsaky for Hogan Ephraim. A change was needed, but personally I felt Tamas Priskin, after a reasonable first half, was really struggling in the second and was a more likely candidate for the chop than Ephraim who had worked hard throughout. Buzsaky made an immediate impact after his introduction – firing a tame shot straight at Carson with his first touch, and then whipping a devilish corner into the near post with his second that could so easily have resulted in a goal for Damion Stewart had he made firmer contact.
The renewed thrust installed into Rangers’s play by Buzsaky resulted in a third, game killing, goal with 23 minutes left to play although once again the goal owed more to ridiculous goalkeeping than anything good QPR did. The problems for the visitors started when Adel Taarabt tricked Chris Brunt by the dugouts and was then cynically hauled back by the Northern Irishman who was rightly booked by referee Attwell. The free kick was taken by Akos Buzsaky who launched a high, hanging delivery to the back post. Everybody missed it, including Carson, who then could only watch as it bounced up and over his head, off the inside of the post, and then along the line from where it had enough spin to carry it into the net. Initially I was sure this goal would be disallowed as the linesman was standing there with his flag up, and Adel Taarabt had been standing five yards offside when the kick was taken, however once the ball hit the net he suddenly seemed to change his mind and flag for the goal and the R’s were three one up.
Di Matteo sent on the giant Ishmael Miller to boost his attack but Warnock responded by attempting to sure things up by sending on Peter Ramage for Adel Taarabt, another decision that would have been roundly abused had it been made by one of his predecessors, to allow Connolly to took infield and provide extra protection against the ever threatening Jerome Thomas. In true QPR style though the introduction of a second right back only seemed to make us more vulnerable to attacks down that flank. Jerome Thomas cut into the penalty area under minimal challenge and dragged his shot wide shortly after the change, then later defender Jonas Olsson was given the freedom of the left West Brom channel but his low shot into a crowded six yard box was just about dealt with by Ikeme whose brave command of his penalty area in the second half and fine saves in the first contributed much to this victory.
Another change saw Rowan Vine come on for Priskin and although Vine still looked sluggish and overweight he did play a wonderful through ball for Simpson behind the West Brom defence but the loaned Arsenal striker’s poked finish past Carson was kept out through a combination of meagre touch from the keeper and a goal line clearance. With four minutes of normal time left Vine almost profited from a fine ball himself, thi time from Mikele Leigertwood, but after cutting into the penalty area and shooting low for goal in similar style to that which brought him a goal against Reading earlier this season he could only find Carson with the strike.
Four minutes of added time were broken up by a nasty looking injury to Simon Cox who lay motionless on the floor after an aerial collision with Carl Ikeme in the penalty area and was eventually replaced by Luke Moore after lengthy treatment. Cox had, a minute earlier, turned and struck a shot straight at Ikeme after the ball bounced to him from a Steven Reid long throw. A scramble at the heart of the QPR penalty area that the R’s eventually cleared was as threatening as West Brom got after that, the game had been effectively gone for them since the Buzsaky goal.
At the final whistle Warnock came onto the field to applaud the QPR support and made every one of the players do the same which was a very welcome move after recent games where only a couple of the players even bothered to acknowledge our existence at the end of games. Things could scarcely have gone better for the new manager on his first day in the Loftus Road dugout.
There were a great many positives about this QPR performance. Carl Ikeme had his best game for the club so far with three or four fine saves and great command of his penalty area, and Adel Taarabt and Akos Buzsaky also had their best games for sometime – excellent team performances rather than individual show boating. Jay Simpson moved into the top five scorers in the division with his goal and worked hard while Tamas Priskin was better than he has been recently in the first half before fading in the second. The main plaudits though have to go to Alejandro Faurlin who was masterful at the heart of the QPR midfield - defending and attacking with equal vigour and effectiveness in an all action display worthy of Martin Rowlands. He will have impressed his new manager more than anybody else I’m sure.
Rangers looked a different side on Saturday, boosted by new manager syndrome and showing renewed and heart warming confidence in their own ability. The result from this game was always a going to be a bonus, the big one is Plymouth on Tuesday and a victory there would go a long way to setting up a relaxing and enjoyable end to the season.
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QPR: Ikeme 8, Connolly 7, Gorkss 7, Stewart 7, Hill 6, Taarabt 7 (Ramage 69, 6), Leigertwood 7, Faurlin 8, Ephraim 6 (Buzsaky 59, 7), Priskin 6 (Vine 77, 6), Simpson 7
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Balanta, Borrowdale, German
Booked: Priskin (dissent), Faurlin (foul)
Goals: Simpson 13 (assisted Taarabt), Connolly 18 (assisted Faurlin), Buzsaky 67 (free kick)
West Brom: Carson 3, Reid 6, Tamas 6, Olsson 7, Cech 6 (Miller 64, 5), Morrison 6 (Dorrans 68, 6), Mulumbu 7, Watson 6, Brunt 7, Thomas 7, Cox 6
Subs Not Used: Kiely, Mattock, Koren, Moore, Meite
Booked: Cech (foul), Brunt (foul)
Goals: Brunt 36 (assisted Thomas)
QPR Star Man – Alejandro Faurlin 8 A really impressive performance at the heart of the QPR midfield that included a fine passing game, including a wonderful through ball for Connolly’s goal, and sound, committed and firm defensive work. He’s like an Argentinean Martin Rowlands, moving from box to box without breaking a sweat, spreading the play when in possession and breaking up opposition attacks when not. Could have shied away from tackles after his booking but continued to play in the same manner and really impressed.
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire) 7 A referee with QPR history, but hard to think of too much he got wrong in this game. Marks off because I think West Brom probably should have had a penalty in the second half when Gorkss wrestled Cox to the ground, and Mulumbu should have been booked for a cynical foul in the first half. Other than that though it was hard to argue with the four cards awarded, in fact I would go so far as to praise him for booking Priskin for his mock card flashing gesture that we just don’t want to see.
Attendance: 14,578 (2300 West Brom approx) A much better atmosphere around Loftus Road. It has seemed at recent home games that some fans have just been waiting for things to go wrong and then leaping on the team when they did. Here the overriding feelings were much more those of support for the team and the players. It was a much happier, noisier, more supportive and more enjoyable place to be on Saturday.
Photo: Action Images
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