QPR's lead cut to four points after Norwich stalemate – full match report
Sunday, 17th Oct 2010 20:25 by Clive Whittingham
Norwich missed a penalty, and QPR several excellent chances, as the clash of first v third in the Championship finished goalless at Loftus Road.
I came to the astounding conclusion during the week that I’m actually becoming less tolerant of people. That’s astounding because it’s a bit like realising Wales has got a bit wetter or Al Qaida have got a bit more militant or Mikele Leigertwood has become a worse passer of a football – considering the starting position you wouldn’t have thought it possible for the situation to deteriorate further.
I came to this realisation on Monday when I paid £12 extra for first class train tickets from Sheffield for this crucial game on Saturday – simply because I couldn’t stomach another four hours of travel at the mercy of screaming kids, selfish arseholes playing music on their phones with no headphones, hen parties quaffing Stella at 8am in the morning and any other human being at all really.
My decision appeared vindicated when the seat opposite me, behind me and to my right sat mercifully empty at the start of the journey and when they were filled, they were filled by former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan, or potentially somebody who earns a living as a look-a-like of former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan. Here is a man who was once the greatest batsman in the world, scything through the Australian attack and bringing home the Ashes in triumphant manner after decades. He did, however, bring a four year old with him who played his Nintendo DS with no headphones in. So he’s not perfect, and neither it seems is Neil Warnock.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and with it I wonder if Warnock would make a different change from the one he made midway through the first half on Saturday when Akos Buzsaky pulled up with a muscle injury? With the natural replacement Ali Faurlin only fit enough for half an hour of football at most Warnock sent on Mikele Leigertwood instead and sadly he did more to harm QPR’s chances of winning this match than most of the Norwich players. Within seconds of arriving on the field Leigertwood was chasing back into his own half after Wes Hoolahan who had breached the QPR midfield – the problem was, Shaun Derry was also pursuing Hoolahan, and so began an hour where Leigertwood was either in Derry’s way trying to do the same job as him, or handing the ball back to Norwich with ridiculous regularity when he tried to do the job that Buzsaky and Faurlin had done in that position for the first ten games of the season. The harder he tried the worse he got, the worse he got the more Loftus Road’s biggest crowd for six seasons moaned and groaned, the more the fans grumbled the worse he got and so it went on to the point where it was almost like playing with ten men.
With hindsight Warnock would have been better served putting Faurlin in for half an hour and then replacing him later, or sending on Bradley Orr and moving the ever impressive Kyle Walker forward, or putting Radek Cerny in midfield – or anything other than what he did do really. It’s the first time this season I can recall thinking Warnock may have got a team selection or substitution wrong.
Initially Warnock had selected the same starting eleven that had won at Crystal Palace to maintain a six point lead at the top of the division prior to the international weekend. That lead had already been cut to three points by the time Rangers kicked off against the third placed Canaries as Cardiff had secured a victory at home to Bristol City at lunchtime despite being two nil down inside the first ten minutes. Another defeat for City on Tuesday and we may have new manager syndrome to deal with on Friday night at Ashton Gate as well as everything else that comes with a trip to Bristol City.
Still a starting eleven that saw Kenny in goal behind Walker, Gorkss, Connolly and Hill in defence, with Derry and Buzsaky initially further forward and then Helguson up front supported by Hogan Ephraim, Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt had every right to be confident at the beginning of the game.
Norwich brought back Adam Drury at left back and selected last season’s 30 goal top scorer Grant Holt in attack alongside one time QPR transfer target Simeon Jackson who belied a slow start to his Canaries career with a brace in a 3-0 win at Bristol City a fortnight ago.
QPR started brightly and City’s keeper John Ruddy was forced to rush from his line and claim the ball at the feet of newly capped Scotland international Jamie Mackie after Adel Taarabt threaded a clever through ball in his direction after three minutes. The visitors then responded in kind with the first corner of the game, headed with by defender Leon Barnett making the eighth appearance of his loan spell from West Brom. Barnett was strong in the air, but almost useless with the ball on the ground, and turned in a wildly inconsistent performance as a result.
Norwich, and Gary Holt, really should have opened the scoring after eight minutes. The giant striker, a giant mass of unkempt hair and wobbly bits, clearly thrust a forearm into Kaspars Gorkss’ face as the pair competed for high ball on the edge of the penalty area. I think we’re highly unlikely to see a more blatant free kick not awarded this season but referee Andy Penn, a man with a lengthening history of odd decisions against QPR, waved play on which gave Holt the chance to trundle into the area like an old diesel locomotive and toe poke a shot towards goal that was comfortably saved by Paddy Kenny because he’d stayed big and not committed himself too early.
This began half an hour or so of refereeing from Mr Penn that had me wondering whether he’d had a piece of the generous 5/1 price offered against a Norwich win by the bookmakers prior to kick off. The most infuriating aspect of his performance was this constant theme of Holt being allowed to do pretty much whatever the hell he liked to Gorkss and Connolly, while Helguson found himself penalised for much the same sort of thing at the other end. Three red cards to QPR players in four previous matches with us hints at a man who spends his spare time poking needles into an effigy of Jude the Cat and at times in the first half Rangers were battling against an unashamedly inconsistent match official as well as a very well equipped and organised Norwich team.
QPR launched a prolonged period of pressure that included three corners and two very good efforts on the goal around the quarter hour mark. The first set piece was won by a typically industrious piece of play by Jamie Mackiee down the right wing and when it dropped at the back post Norwich were unable to clear their lines. Heidar Helguson hit the deck with a reasonable penalty appeal but with Mr Penn not interested the ball was cut back to Kaspars Gorkss and he drilled a shot low and fractionally wide of the base of the post with the goal crying out to be scored.
Rangers were awarded a second corner when the referee ruled the shot had deflected and while that one came to nothing a third was won straight away, although the travelling 3100 Norwich fans were furious and seemed certain it had come off Kyle Walker’s shin last, and that flashed all the way across the face of the Norwich goal with nobody able to get a touch. QPR maintained possession, fed the ball back to Paddy Kenny who in turn launched the ball forward to the edge of the Norwich area and Adel Taarabt was able to work space for a shot that Ruddy saved comfortably.
Buoyed by this first decent spell in the game QPR were quickly on the offensive again when a firm, uncompromising challenge from the excellent Kaspars Gorkss on Simeon Jackson enabled Mackie to tear away down the right flank and cross low into the area but again there were no takers and the ball flew right through the area and away to safety. Gorkss was by now sporting his trademark bandage to stem the flow of blood from his latest head wound – he’s going to have a face like the front of an old stock car by the time he finishes his career.
Then came the moment that perhaps took the game away from QPR. Akos Buzsaky, reasonably impressive in the first 20 minutes with a range of passing that hasn’t always been on display since he took over from Faurlin after the Ipswich win, suddenly pulled up and signalled immediately to the bench that he wouldn’t be able to continue. On came Leigertwood and when his first touch took the ball straight to Hoolahan who crossed for Holt at the back post you sort of knew that this change wasn’t going to be a conspicuous success.
That cross was a good one from Hoolahan, but was just too far in front of Grant Holt who had peeled onto Clint Hill at the back post but stood little chance of reaching the ball. A wrestling match ensued between Hill and Holt resulting in both players hitting the deck and Mr Penn pointing to the penalty spot. My first reaction was that it was a penalty. It reminded me a lot of the one we won for a similar foul on Heidar Helguson in almost the exact same position against Barnsley on the opening day of the season – we screamed for a spot kick that day, and we’d have screamed again here if Holt had been decked in Hoops. The only thing I would say is that referee Penn was looking at the incident from a poor position, his view obscured by a raft of players from both sides, while a linesman on the Ellerslie Road side of the ground with a clear view gave nothing.
It mattered little. Wes Hoolahan stepped up and calmly slammed the ball wide of the post to waste Norwich’s best chance of winning the game. City had scored in every one of 32 consecutive away games prior to this one, but it was hard to see why with penalty taking of this standard – Kenny had guessed the right way and probably would have saved it had Hoolahan succeeded in keeping the ball reasonably close to the goal.
Shaun Derry had been shown a yellow card for dissent in the aftermath of the spot kick award, and Norwich picked up their first caution of the game as we moved towards half time when Elliott Ward committed a cynical foul on Adel Taarabt after the Moroccan had tricked his way past him.
That, and Heidar Helguson’s low drive from yet another corner that looked destined for the back of the net until it was blocked on the line, was the only action of real note in the final 15 minutes of the half.
I was surprised to see Kyle Walker and not Bradley Orr on the field for the start of the second period. Walker, who struggled to be fit for England Under 21 duty because of a back problem, spent most of his time off the ball towards the end of the first half limping, holding the base of his spine, flexing and generally looking uncomfortable. This all magically subsided whenever he got the ball and set off on another speedy run down the flank that caused Norwich problems all afternoon but still seemed to be a problem and I wondered if we might see a change at the break. Nevertheless he emerged, still limping, and went on to impress throughout the second period while continuing to appear in great discomfort whenever the ball was in another area of the pitch.
The first chance of the half fell the way of Holt who was in the thick of everything threatening Norwich did unlike his partner Jackson who remained on the periphery throughout the match. The giant forward sent a bouncing volley towards goal from the edge of the box and he speed of the ball as it kicked up off the turf meant Paddy Kenny needed two attempts to grasp it. I was impressed with Holt, effective in a Jon Parkin sort of a way, but I thought Gorkss and Connolly were absolutely excellent and dealt with him very well indeed.
Gorkss almost had a big impact down at the Loft End as well, crashing a header against the post from eight yards out after meeting Taarabt’s first corner of the half powerfully. The goal, had it been scored, would not have counted though as Penn had already decreed Gorkss took an illegal ride on the back of an opponent to climb so high and meet the ball so well. That decision looked to be fair enough.
Rangers forced a series of corners thereafter but were never able to go that close again and on the hour Norwich came out of their shell with a volley of set pieces of their own around the Rangers penalty area. Jamie Mackie was booked for a foul on Russell Martin to set one of those free kicks up but a Jackson shot on the turn that was blocked away by a combination of Gorkss and Connolly was as close as the visitors came to ending QPR’s long run of home games without conceding a goal.
Back at the Loft End a piledriving shot from Kyle Walker that looked to be screaming towards the top corner at a frightening pace from fully 35 yards was deflected towards goal in a different direction by Jamie Mackie in the area and it flew a foot or so over the bar. I don’t think Mackie meant to make any contact with it, indeed he seemed to be trying to duck out of the way and was as interested as the rest of us to see if our irrepressible right back could really beat a very good Championship goalkeeper with a shot from somewhere out by Heathrow Airport.
Helguson missed the same top corner by the same distance with a powerful header when Matt Connolly launched a hopeful long ball/superbly judged 50 yard pass into the Norwich area five minutes later. The Icelandic striker then hit the deck in the penalty area in very similar circumstances to Holt in the first half but this time no penalty was forthcoming and Paddy Kenny had to be alert to snuff out the danger as Norwich broke away down the field.
With the clock ticking down past the 70 minute mark Helguson did finally get some change from the referee when a free kick was awarded right on the edge of the Norwich box following a physical confrontation with Barnett under a high ball forward. The ball seemed ideally placed for a dangerous effort on target but Adel Taarabt’s pitiful free kick flew high and wide into the Loft to sum up a day where nothing he tried really came off. That was a terrible waste of a great opportunity.
Five minutes later there was further frustration for Taarabt as he did finally trick his way into space on the edge of the area only to loose his footing on the lush playing surface and when his pathetic appeals for a free kick were rightly ignored Norwich poured downfield with numbers over in a counter attack. Ultimately Jackson fed Holt in the penalty area and although he was unmarked initially his first touch took him too far wide of the goal and he could only hack the ball into the visiting fans from a tight angle. Holt had only just finished bitter complaints to the referee, and some unnecessary gesturing towards fans in the Ellerslie Road stand, after finally taking an arm to the face in an aerial challenge himself. After spending the entire game to this point trying to split Matt Connolly’s lip or open Gorkss’ forehead wound up again Holt may want to get the glaziers round on Monday to check the windows in his glass house after this little stone throwing tantrum.
The yellow cards started to flow in the closing stages as first Leon Barnett picked up a caution for trying to delay the taking of a throw in by the dugouts so that he could retake his position at centre half. Then Simon Lappin crudely upended Kyle Walker as he burst forward down the right flank. It’s Walker’s ability to commit players and ghost past them while keeping the ball under immaculate control at high speed that makes him such an attractive player to watch and effective weapon to have in our team and I cannot imagine Lappin will be the last card an opponent receives for booting him up in the air this season. While, personally, I always think you should select a player that you own ahead of a short term loanee (especially when that player is as good as Bradley Orr) it’s hard to argue that Walker isn’t a better player than Orr. In fact it’s hard to argue that Walker isn’t our best player full stop at the moment and the extension of his loan into January is terrific news.
The free kick from Lappin’s foul was hung up to the back post by Tommy Smith, newly onto the field to replace Adel Taarabt, and headed back across goal by Heidar Helguson intelligently. From there a goal always looked likely and it needed a fine goal line clearance from Andrew Crofts to deny Gorkss when he sent the ball looping back over Ruddy’s head and seemingly into the far corner of the net before the Welshman’s intervention.
Smith was joined on the field by Patrick Agyemang, presumably to give Norwich something a little bit different to deal with, but it took him the thick end of ten minutes to touch the ball once and he only managed two touches in all before the three minutes of allotted stoppage time ran out and the game was brought to a close with the scoreline fairly, in every sense of the word, and squarely deadlocked.
QPR have now kept a clean sheet in six consecutive home matches and are yet to concede at Loftus Road in the league. Thinking back we rode our luck against Barnsley on the opening day – the Tykes should certainly have had at least one penalty – and Scunthorpe twice squandered one on one chances with Paddy Kenny back in August as well. More recently we just haven’t looked troubled at all. The early jitters have been eradicated from Paddy kenny’s game and the partnership of Gorkss and Connolly is looking immense. The pair of them have in the past struggled with a more physical threat – certainly Coventry profited from putting Leon Best on Connolly last season and Preston have enjoyed regular success against us with Jon Parkin and Neil Mellor in attack – but they played very well against Holt on Saturday and restricted him to two sights of goal, one of which only came about because he was allowed to foul Gorkss in the build up.
The problem, if indeed it is a problem, is that the goals have dried up a little bit and we have drawn the last two home games 0-0. This might, in a strange way, be partly down to the fact that our team hasn’t changed for the past four or five games. Teams seem to be coming to terms with the way we play a little bit and know that Helguson and to some extent Taarabt are absolutely key to our attacking threat. That said, had Buzsaky stayed on or Faurlin come on rather than Leigertwood’s nightmare hour performance where he struggled to complete the simplest of passes, I still think we’d have won here. We were inches away on a couple of occasions from winning anyway and Norwich’s ambition to win the game descended into time wasting and playing for a draw in the final ten minutes. I wonder if now is the time for us to see a little bit more of Tommy Smith, rather than perhaps Hogan Ephraim, and I know almost certainly that we’d worry teams a lot more and pose them a lot more threat if we were able to send Rob Hulse on instead of Patrick Agyemang. His continued absence is a genuine worry.
The result? A good one if we can take three or more points from Swansea and Bristol City later this week, two points dropped if we don’t. A draw, and a clean sheet, against the third best team in the league can never be a bad outcome.
QPR: Kenny 7, Walker 8, Connolly 8, Gorkss 8, Hill 7, Derry 6, Buzsaky 7 (Leigertwood 27, 4), Mackie 6, Taarabt 6 (Smith 76), Ephraim 5 (Agyemang 69, 5), Helguson 6
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Orr, Clarke, Faurlin
Booked: Derry (dissent), Mackie (foul)
Norwich: Ruddy 7, R Martin 7, Barnett 6, Ward 7, Drury 6 (Steven Smith 58, 6), Crofts 7, Hoolahan 5 (C Martin 69, 6), Smith 6, Lappin 6, Holt 7, Jackson 5
Subs Not Used: Rudd, Fox, Johnson, McNamee, Berthel Askou
Booked: Ward (foul), Barnett (impeding throw in), Lappin (foul)
QPR Star Men – Kyle Walker/Kaspars Gorkss 8 Once again it was pretty much a straight fight between Walker and Gorkss for the award and both are right on top of their games at the moment. Both players were a threat in attack as much as defence, with Gorkss hitting the post and having a header cleared off the line while Walker marauded forward and tormented Norwich with his pace, and neither missed a trick in their day jobs at the back as well. Impossible to choose between them.
Referee: Andy Penn (W Midlands) 5 The penalty awarded to Norwich looked a penalty to me, although he gave it peering through a crowd of players while a linesman looking straight at the incident said nothing. Helguson was denied a penalty in identical circumstances in the second half and it was this different application of the rules for Holt and Helguson that undermined his entire performance. Holt was allowed to back in, fling his arms about, rough opponents up and make his presence felt. Helguson, except for one incident in the second half where Taarabt cleared the bar with the resulting free kick, was penalised for exactly the same sort of play. Can’t say I’ll be sorry if we don’t see this guy again for a while.
Attendance: 18,059 (3100 Norwich) The biggest crowd at Loftus Road this season brought the most stunted atmosphere in the home ranks. There was a “come on then, entertain me” attitude in the air that hasn’t been present for a good few months and is not welcome. QPR were out sung by the large following from Norwich for almost the entire match. We need new fans and big crowds, but it is a little galling to celebrate an opponent missing a penalty only to find the people to your immediate right, left and back (never seen before in those seats) are sitting silently or clapping politely and unsure of what has just gone on.
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Photo: Action Images
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