Spot of luck for Rangers in Swansea stalemate – full match report
Thursday, 21st Oct 2010 01:14 by Clive Whittingham
It was a real case of déjà vous for QPR on Tuesday night as they survived a penalty being awarded against them to draw 0-0 with a promotion rival.
I couldn’t help but smile after the final whistle at the Liberty Stadium on Tuesday when Neil Warnock gave a fist salute and thanked the away fans for travelling to support his team. Two years ago, almost to the day, QPR drew 0-0 on this ground and sat one point away from fourth position. Iain Dowie was the manager that night, and he too punched the air and acknowledged the away fans after the game - clearly happy with his point. Warnock received applause in return, Dowie was abused by the fans on the night and then sacked by Flavio Briatore two days later. Such is football.
There are good nil nil draws and there are bad ones, and the margin between the two is often a fine one. On the face of it the result here under Dowie was not something to be proud of coming, as it did, against a side newly promoted to the league who played for more than an hour without a goalkeeper during which time QPR failed to register a shot on target. It seemed to sum up all the bad points about Iain Dowie’s management in one 90 minute spell – overly cautious, overly negative, overly pessimistic. What sort of got lost in the subsequent furore was that had you offered us that result before the game, before the circumstances took hold, we would have gladly taken it and stayed at the free salad bar in the nearby Harvester.
On Tuesday night this week QPR more than played their part in an absorbing and, at times, brutal encounter against a Swans side several levels above anything else we’ve played this season. A draw was a fair result, and something to be grateful for when you bear in mind the home side won and subsequently missed a first half penalty. But should we happen to lose for the first time this season in the bottom v top clash at Bristol City on Friday night will we come to regret the decision to spend the majority of the second half on Tuesday night sitting off Swansea and inviting them onto us rather than going for the win ourselves?
Like I say, fine margins.
QPR’s performance on the night was improved no end by the presence of Alejandro Faurlin at the heart of the midfield. A long way from his best and breathing through his ears and arse by the end of the match, he still showed a passing game and defensive knowhow in front of the back four that Akos Buzsaky had only adequately replaced in his absence, and was completely lacking on Saturday when the hapless Mikele Leigertwood was called upon. Warnock chose to leave Leigertwood out of his squad altogether for this game, the returning Gavin Mahon took his spot on the bench.
Faurlin joined Shaun Derry at the base of the midfield with Heidar Helguson leading the line and Mackie, Ephraim and Taarabt linking up in between. The now usual back five of Kenny, Walker, Connolly, Gorkss and Hill took to the field boasting five clean sheets in six matches since they came together following the injuries to Bradley Orr and Fitz Hall.
Swansea came into the game boasting some impressive numbers of their own – five wins and a draw from six home matches so far with only one goal conceded in that time. Their manager Brendan Rodgers added David Cotterill to his starting line up with Mark Gower hamstrung and included former QPR loanee Scott Sinclair on the left wing – he had nine goals in all competitions to his name before the start of play.
The early part of the game was dominated by forwards with excellent ball skills. Stephen Dobbie, seemingly reinvigorated by a loan spell with Blackpool last year, found himself crowded out of a chance after jinking his way into the QPR penalty area after four minutes and then fired miles off target after turning back inside and committing Kaspars Gorkss to a tackle on the edge of the area. At the other end Adel Taarabt really looked in the mood with a series of fine passes and mesmerising dribbles that drew Swansea fouls and frustration in equal measure.
QPR’s best chance of the half came early on from a corner won by Kyle Waker. Eight minutes in Adel Taarabt whipped a delivery into the near post and although Swansea, through Tate, successfully cleared the pressure was immediately re-exerted by Faurlin who headed the ball back into the penalty area. Gorkss, still up from the corner, won the ball in the air and nodded it down to Ephraim who smashed the ball in towards the near post area. Dorus De Vries flung out a foot to make an instinctive block but the ball flew straight to Mackie on the edge of the six yard box and he could only volley high into the side netting when well placed in front of a gaping goal.
The game became rather bad tempered thereafter. Kapsars Gorkss picked up the first yellow card for cracking a shot in on goal after the whistle had been blown – harsh, but in fairness to referee Simon Hooper he had let Alejandro Faurlin off with the same thing a minute or so earlier and warned both the Argentinean and Taarabt the captain. QPR were clearly motivated by a desire to prevent Swansea taking quick free kicks, which they did religiously, while players were out of position. Gary Monk quickly levelled the card count for a crude tackle from behind on Adel Taarabt just as he was in full flight approaching the Swansea penalty area.
Heidar Helguson is more noted for his heading, hold up play and harassment of defenders in possession but he gave a little glimpse of another side of his game from the resulting free kick. Faurlin’s initial effort was blocked by the wall but Helguson was able to keep it in play tight to the touchline and after a long range one two with Derry he unleashed a powerful drive from the thick end of 25 yards out that forced De Vries into a save at full stretch with his left hand.
Alan Tate was next in the book for a foul on Helguson on the edge of the area – Taarabt blasted the resulting free kick into the wall. Tate had committed numerous offences before that, and was perhaps a little lucky to remain on the field when just before half time he barged Kyle Walker to the ground when competing for a header that he was never likely to win, although that looked like little more than a free kick. Darren Pratley was booked for a crude hack at Clint Hill, Ali Faurlin was lucky to escape one for a foul on Nathan Dyer, and so this went on. The big loser in it all seemed to be Hogan Ephraim who had his worst game of the season so far and has never really been one to revel in a physical confrontation.
It was a bad tempered game, not helped by the Swansea crowd’s insistence on leaping up as one and literally screaming at the referee whenever even the most meagre foul was committed by a QPR player or Shaun Derry’s method of following the referee around and chivvying him about what he should or shouldn’t do. I actually thought, with little Football League experience behind him, referee Simon Hooper did a thoroughly decent job of managing a set of poorly behaved players and over excitable fans.
Paddy Kenny’s first real save of the game came just after the half hour. Kyle Walker has been a revelation in QPR colours since joining from Spurs, impressing in attack as much as he has in defence, but he left his team badly exposed when one of his marauding runs forward was brought to an abrupt halt on the halfway line by Orlandi. The Spaniard immediately set Stephen Dobbie away into the space vacated by Walker and although he was forced wide by the presence of Connolly he still got a shot away that Kenny repelled with his knees at the near post.
The key incident of the half came five minutes before half time as Swansea launched a swift counter attack with Darren Pratley running away down the left wing. QPR seemed to have escaped from the move without too many problems when Pratley, lacking the pace of a Dyer or Sinclair, was caught and then faced up by Shaun Derry on the corner of the penalty box but having worked back so well the visitors then self destructed when Clint Hill arrived late on the scene, barged into Pratley and sent him sprawling across the ground for a penalty. Soft? Perhaps. Pratley was named by Angel Rangel as the man with the “best physique” in the Swansea squad in his programme interview before this game and yet he hit the deck here as if he was made of tissue paper. But it was a penalty all the same, a foolish challenge from Hill, and the only controversy about it was that the linesman who signalled for the foul clearly held out his flag for a free kick before then seemingly changing his mind after a couple of seconds and drawing it back across his chest for a penalty.
Ultimately it didn’t matter. David Cotterill, showing all the subtlety of a house brick in picking which side he was going to send the ball, saw his spot kick comfortably saved by Paddy Kenny diving down to his right. Kenny had dived left for Wes Hoolahan’s miss in the Norwich game on Saturday and perhaps that was in Cotterill’s mind as he placed the ball – he certainly made his intentions so obvious even the QPR fans behind the goal on the front row picked which side he was going before he kicked it. Cotterill was withdrawn at half time and replaced by Joe Allen – although it wasn’t clear whether that change would have been made regardless of the penalty miss. Allen was a brilliant addition to the game – providing a previously absent element of pace, skill and vision to the Swansea midfield allied with an admirable work rate.
Swansea registered the first effort on goal of the second half. Within a minute of the restart Stephen Dobbie, who showed quick feet and close control throughout the game, turned and fired an ambitious 30 yarder a foot or two over the bar with Kenny happy to wave it on its way.
QPR went reasonably close to breaking the deadlock five minutes later when Heidar Helguson pulled a towering clearance out of the air with a first touch so immaculate it was as if he’d caught it on a bed of feathers and then fed Faurlin who in turn worked Walker into the penalty area and he then smashed the ball right across the face of goal when it wasn’t really clear if he was going for a shot or a cross.
QPR’s tactics from this point on though struck me as being slightly odd. Rangers clearly and obviously set up for the second half looking to hold and control Swansea, rather than attack and hurt them. Gone was the pressing of Swansea defenders in their own half from the first half, instead Rangers seemed happy for their hosts to have the ball on their own patch and only really came to face them around the halfway line. This invited a prolonged period of Swansea possession, but such were the numbers in defence and the form of Matt Connolly and others at the back they didn’t really hurt us with it. The game had become a little fraught and violent at the end of the first half with both teams flying at each other, I wondered if Warnock had decided we were better off taking a calmer and more controlled approach. Perhaps the likes of Helguson, Ephraim and Mackie were feeling the effects of the fixture list when asked to make the effort they had done in the first half but I did feel our best chance of getting a win from the game was pressing Swansea high up the pitch as they knocked the ball around and built from the back.
In fairness to Warnock though Rangers were rarely troubled in their own area and around the hour mark Taarabt started to come to life again. The Moroccan had been back to something like his best in the first half, tormenting Swansea with an attractive mixture of jinking runs and imaginative passing, but his own game had suffered from the newly conservative team approach after half time. Nevertheless he dragged a shot wide from the edge of the area via a deflection after picking the ball up on halfway and skilfully outdoing Joe Allen on an arcing run into the danger zone.
Then his inch perfect through ball sent Jamie Mackie through one on one with De Vries for a chance I would personally have stuck several thousand pounds on him converting – one touch too many enabled the Dutch goalkeeper to save at his feet. In hindsight, perhaps giving away the boots in which he scored eight goals in six games for Rangers earlier this season in an official website competition wasn’t the best idea our marketing people have ever had – Mackie hasn’t scored since.
In the pre-match build up I’d spoken about the clash between QPR right back Kyle Walker and Swansea left winger Scott Sinclair – two talented young players who really should be facing each other in the Premiership. Forced to ply their trade a division lower thanks to the reprehensible policy of hoarding young talent so nobody else can have it rather than because you ever intend to use it yourself used by both Chelsea and Spurs the two of them spent the whole night testing each other in a variety of ways. Swansea, I noticed, combat the potential doubling up of markers on Sinclair, as we have seen repeatedly done against Adel Taarabt, by always ensuring there is a man in close support on an overlap when he receives the ball – rarely did Sinclair receive a ball to his feet on his own. QPR did well to be wise to this and actually kept Sinclair quiet by both defending against him well, and posing him problems going the other way with Walker’s attacking instincts to the fore. It was an intriguing battle all evening and one which Sinclair almost got the better of 20 minutes from time when, having come in field to hunt for a different sort of opportunity, he embarked on a jinking run across the face of the penalty area that ended with a shot from the edge of the box that flew just too high.
Alejandro Faurlin became the latest player booked around the hour mark when he attempted to hack down Nathan Dyer during a counter attack. The Swansea player kept his feet and set off down field on a mission that eventually fizzled out into nothing but the referee kept the incident in mind and returned to book Faurlin at the first opportunity.
Brendan Rodgers sent on West Ham loanee Frank Nouble for Stephen Dobbie midway through the second half. While Nouble certainly looked a physically impressive specimen his first touch when compared to Dobbie’s was embarrassing and it was almost insulting to Gorkss and Connolly to ask them to mark him. The Upton Park academy of football clearly isn’t what it once was – a lousy diving header that sent the ball 50 feet wide of the target was about as good as it got for Swansea’s answer to Devon White.
Swansea’s best chance of the half came from a low Orlandi corner that, luckily for them, evaded Nouble in the six yard box, wasn’t properly cleared by QPR, and then fell to Pratley who stabbed it goalwards only to see it cleared from the line by Hogan Ephraim at the back post. Ephraim didn’t have a good game on Tuesday, but he’s done that twice now in recent matches to win us an extra three points from Palace and Swansea that would have been surrendered had he not been stationed there.
QPR were very lucky not to be reduced to ten men ten minutes from time and having done so much good on the night I’m afraid to say it was Taarabt letting himself down in this instance. It all started to bubble up right in front of the dugouts, with Taarabt about to be substituted for Tommy Smith. The ball went out for a throw in that the referee decreed should be taken by Swansea – Taarabt disagreed with this and picked the ball up which in turn caused a flash point with Joe Allen who tried to wrestle it back from his grasp. Taarabt did release the ball, but also lashed out. Luckily this was more Audley Harrison than David Haye and missed Allen’s face with distance to spare – had it connected Taarabt would have been sent off and I said at the time that we’d be well served to get the change made before the throw in was taken because you could just see what was coming next.
Grump, sulky and feeling wronged Taarabt stomped around for 30 seconds like a spoilt two year old before, wouldn’t you just know it, Allen collected the ball right on the touchline in front of him. Like a council house on Merseyside housing a pit bull and a three year old – disaster was inevitable. Taarabt needlessly launched himself into an eye watering lunge that left Allen writhing in agony on the ground and the Swansea players and bench piling in to surround the referee and QPR player. It took a long time for the fuss to die down, and Keith Curle and Shaun Derry certainly did more than their fair share of work in keeping a crowd of Swansea players out of the referee’s face and away from Taarabt. As he had done all evening Mr Hooper refereed sensibly – calming the situation and then doing everything in his power to keep 22 men on the pitch. Taarabt was booked (as was Angel Rangel who voiced his complaints too vehemently) and immediately replaced by Smith. To be honest, I thought he should have been sent off.
I also thought the substitutions should have been made earlier. Patrick Agyemang came on for Heidar Helguson at the same time but it was the introduction of Tommy Smith that really reinvigorated us. Smith was all over the field for his ten minute cameo – probing Swansea with a number of intelligent runs and crosses. I thought he’d teed up a winner for Mackie at the back post with a fine cross but Tate (absolutely magnificent in the second half after his earlier reprieve) headed it behind for a corner. Then he seemed to have carved out a presentable chance at the back post for Leon Clarke, on for Ephraim, only for the former Sheff Wed man to pass it 20 yards back towards the QPR goal and set up a Swansea counter attack.
Stoppage time came and went, notable only for the disappointing news of Cardiff’s late winner at Coventry seeping through to the away support.
Personally I thought this was a good result. Swansea are the best team we have played this season by some distance. They posed us a threat up front with Dobbie for an hour, had Sinclair coming in from one wing and Dyer from the other. Thankfully Gorkss and Connolly had excellent games again to keep them at bay – although Dyer’s insistence that every move had to start with a gratuitous Cruyff turn which usually ended with him mis-controlling the ball out for a throw in and the introduction of the hilariously useless Nouble in the second half certainly made their tasks easier.
I just felt we maybe could have done a bit more to worry Swansea in the second half. Tate seemed to be playing to his own rules before half time, but he was superb in the second and completely dominated our forward line. We looked a much more threatening side when Smith came on and I wonder if he had come in for the ineffective Ephraim after an hour whether we could have posed them a few more problems.
It’s hard to argue with a manager who has now equalled QPR’s best ever start to a season though, and if we can go to Bristol City on Friday and extend the gap back to five points between us and Cardiff we can count this very challenging week as a huge success.
Swansea: De Vries 7, Williams 7, Tate 8, Monk 7, Rangel 7, Cotterill 6 (Allen 46, 8), Pratley 7, Orlandi 7 (Beattie 85, -), Dyer 5, Sinclair 6, Dobbie 7 (Nouble 65, 4)
Subs Not Used: Taylor, Serran, Ma-Kalambay, Emnes
Booked: Monk (foul), Tate (foul), Pratley (foul), Rangel (dissent)
QPR: Kenny 8, Walker 7, Gorkss 7, Connolly 8, Hill 6, Derry 7, Faurlin 7, Ephraim 5 (Clarke 88, -), Taarabt 7 (Smith 80, 7),Helguson 6 (Agyemang 80, 6), Mackie 6
Subs Not Used: Orr, Cerny, Hall, Mahon
Booked: Gorkss (kicking ball away), Faurlin (foul), Taarabt (foul)
QPR Star Man – Matthew Connolly 8 Part of a superb back five at the moment, and a stand out figure on Tuesday for me. His reading of the game seems to be improving week by week and he was constantly in the right place at the right time on Tuesday calmly intercepting passes, heading through balls away, and more impressively looking to keep possession whenever he could rather than just lumping the ball down the field. A really classy performance.
Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire) 7 Not an easy game for an inexperienced official, but one I thought he handled well. Of the seven bookings only Gorkss could count himself unlucky as he genuinely didn’t seem to hear the whistle, although Faurlin had done the same thing a minute or so earlier and been warned and QPR were clearly wary of quick Swansea free kicks so maybe he knew what he was doing. The rest of the bookings were correct, as was the penalty decision although the linesman did his best to bollocks that one up with mixed signals. Taarabt and Tate could count themselves lucky to stay on the field but overall I liked his sensible, calm approach to what was a very physical game and it is to his credit that it finished 11 a side.
Attendance: 16,742 (472 away) The Swansea fans’ attempts to intimidate the referee may actually have backfired on them. For a new ground there’s plenty of atmosphere and hostility inside the Liberty Stadium, and the fans in the side stand were on their fate screaming and waving their arms around en masse whenever a QPR player committed a foul. This could easily have intimidated our inexperienced official but after a while, because they did it for every single foul regardless of seriousness or context, I think he was able to just ignore it. I thought there looked to be more than the 472 QPR fans announced, but they made the noise of much less with very little singing going on. Singing is of course the prerogative of the individual supporter though, some people just want to watch the game, and the abuse handed out to their fellow fans by a couple of QPR fans at the back of the stand at the start of the game was uncalled for an rightly lead to them being thrown out.
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