Down to ten but back on top, QPR batter Reading – full match report
Sunday, 7th Nov 2010 23:23 by Clive Whittingham
QPR climbed back to the top of the Championship on Saturday with a fine win against Reading despite being reduced to ten men before half time.
As much as things change they stay the same. Seeing the specially made football shirts sporting the Poppy motif this weekend took me back a year to our fine 4-2 win against Derby at Pride Park. It didn’t seem as if life could get much better for QPR and their supporters that night – the team was playing brilliant football and had scored four goals in three consecutive matches to climb up into the play-off spots. We now know that an implosion was just around the corner.
One of those impressive four goal salvos came at home against Reading three days before the Derby massacre, and Rangers destroyed the Royals that day despite having a man sent off in the first half through a questionable refereeing decision. There was more debate about the officiating, and Reading’s policy of sending three men to surround the referee every time the whistle is blown, at the Madejski Stadium in the return fixture when Damion Stewart was harshly sent off. I’m starting to wonder whether or not we should just start with ten men against Reading in future.
Different manager, different players, and a different scenario entirely on Saturday as QPR attempted to retake their position at the top of the league – but largely the same result. QPR, reduced to ten men in the first half again when Bradley Orr was sent off, comprehensively outplayed Reading for almost the entire game and were unfortunate to only win 3-1. The 4-1 thrashing here last season plunged Reading deeper into the relegation mire and moved manager Brendan Rodgers closer to the sack. Brian McDermott has since turned them into play off contenders but on Saturday they looked just as inept as they had done 12 months ago and even after the sending off there only ever looked like there would be one winner – the team wearing proper hoops.
In a break from this season’s precedent Neil Warnock made a couple of changes to his team to try and end a run of five draws in six games that had seen Rangers fall from the top of the league last weekend. Tommy Smith got the start he craved instead of Hogan Ephraim, joining Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt behind Rob Hulse. Faurlin and Derry played in the middle of midfield as usual but there was a reshuffle in defence with Bradley Orr recalled at right back, Kyle Walker moved over to the left instead of Clint Hill who was ill, Gorkss and Connolly at centre back. Paddy Kenny continued his ever present start to the season.
Reading came into the game after impressive wins against Burnley and Doncaster in which they scored eight goals. Simon Church, who scored the last of those late on to win last week’s match against Rovers in dramatic fashion, had to make do with a place on the bench as manager Brian McDermott started with Shane Long in attack with the ink still drying on his one year contract extension signed in the week. The impressive Jimmy Kebe was missing which meant a start for Hal Robson Kanu on the right, annual scourge of QPR Job McAnuff played out of position on the left.
The game could have begun with an ugly injury, in exactly the same way our match at Palace last season did when Damion Stewart fractured his skull. The kick off was lofted forward by Rangers towards Hulse who flew towards the ball and smashed heads with Matt Mills. Luckily neither player was seriously hurt and play restarted with a Reading free kick.
There was more of the same to come within three minutes as Reading striker Shane Long hit the deck after a clash with Gorkss on the edge of the QPR penalty box. The Irishman complained bitterly to the referee Steve Tanner about the use of an elbow as a shining black eye started to show and so began an afternoon of refereeing decisions by committee – whenever a foul was committed Brian Howard, Shane Long and Jem Karacan immediately joined the referee for a discussion over what should be done. This lamentable tactic is a feature of Reading’s play under Brian McDermott and should have been brought to a halt by Mr Tanner straight away – instead he allowed it to continue and fester like a bed sore throughout the game undermining his own position.
Rangers should have gone in front in the seventh minute. Alejandro Faurlin squirmed through weak tackles from Karacan and Howard on the edge of the box and launch an unstoppable left foot shot that beat Federici in goal but came back into play off the angle of post and bar. Rob Hulse followed up and should have tapped home his first ever QPR goal but fell over the ball and Mills was able to swoop in and clear ahead of Taarabt.
Adel Taarabt was at the heart of everything QPR did well in the first half and he crossed for Hulse to head goalwards and force a save from Federici after 20 minutes. Just before that Hulse had flicked the ball in behind the Reading defence and Mackie fired over from a difficult angle. When Taarabt then played a superb pass to Mackie in the area down the right his low cross whistled right through the six yard box with Tommy Smith just unable to stretch his leg out far enough and convert the chance from close range.
At the Loft end Reading did have half chances, but lacked a sufficient cutting edge to test Kenny. A harsh decision from Mr Tanner to penalise Connolly for a non-existent foul on Tabb led to a Reading free kick and subsequent corner but Faurlin was on hand to snuff out the danger and set Rangers on the attack again. Another run at the heart of the QPR defence from Tabb called Gorkss into action and for a five minute period midway through the half the play was switching from one end of the field to the other at a breathless pace.
The lead that QPR’s approach play richly deserved arrived just before the half hour mark. Alejandro Faurlin, back to his very best and dictating the play, fed the ball wide to Adel Taarabt on the left side of the penalty area and from that point on it was pure Moroccan magic. Karacan and Griffin were both in attendance and quickly humiliated as Taarabt skipped into the area and when Brian Howard came across and executed a wild two footed lunge on the QPR man it was such an obvious penalty that even the three man Reading refereeing council didn’t bother to sit in judgement. Taarabt took the sot kick, chipping the ball delicately over Federici who committed himself left leaving the rest of the goal gaping. Seven penalties for QPR already this season, three of them scored by Taarabt and four by Helguson.
QPR should have doubled their lead within two minutes. A swift attack, during which Adel Taarabt was tripped and then stamped on by Matthew Mills ended with Tommy Smith crossing for Rob Hulse who should have buried his header from the edge of the six yard box but could only find the Reading fans behind the goal.
The drama didn’t end with the miss though. As soon as the ball went out of play Mills was booked for his clash with Taarabt and then having received that card charged off down the field to confront the Moroccan. Shaun Derry went with him and almost certainly saved him from a red card by restraining him and preventing him getting to Taarabt. This started a handbag swinging session with players from both sides involved, all under the watchful eye of the Howard, Karacan and Long refereeing sub-committee of course. The upshot of it all, despite Taarabt being fouled and stamped on in the build up and then Mills racing 40 yards to confront him and start the whole thing off again, was a yellow card for QPR’s Shaun Derry which was a ridiculous result that the referee seemed to pluck from thin air. How Mills stayed on the pitch I don’t know.
The main flashpoint of the half was still to come though. Just before half time Hal Robson Kanu ran at Bradley Orr at pace and was unceremoniously bundled to the ground by a poor tackle. Executing a challenge when facing the opponent head on was always going to be difficult, but I expected a yellow card and nothing else. Initially Tanner didn’t even seem as if he was going to give a free kick but having belatedly blown his whistle Howard, Karacan and Long quickly arrived on the scene with their usual advice for the official and Orr was sent off. Three times in three games against Reading QPR have had a man sent off now and as with Damion Stewart at the Madejski Stadium last season I felt the Reading players talked the official into it. Like I say, I thought a yellow card would suffice but I can see why he was sent off as it was an ugly tackle so I’ve no real complaints.
The loss of Orr, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for him with injury and now suspension robbing him of the chance to settle in after joining from Bristol City, left Neil Warnock facing some difficult decisions at half time. Luckily in Jamie Mackie he has a player who is willing to work hard and do a job for the team wherever he was asked to play and for the second half on Saturday that was as an emergency right wing back. Maybe Craig Levein was onto something after all because Mackie revelled in the role – defending superbly for a striker playing out of position and still finding the inner fitness and drive to push forward and pose a threat on the attack.
Jay Tabb volleyed over within a minute of the restart and then MacAnuff struck from distance and Kenny made a comfortable save. It looked like it may be a long half for the home fans to endure but QPR had been by far the better side with 11 men and they were in no mood to relinquish that superiority despite being down to ten.
Three minutes into the second half, with their first attack of the second period, Tommy Smith chased what looked like a lost cause and managed to hook in an improvised cross on the half volley from the byline – Rob Hulse met it powerfully at the near post but could only direct his header at Federici. That pair combined again five minutes later but Hulse’s awkward first touch just took the ball too far ahead of him and the keeper was able to gather.
Just before the hour mark Jem Karacan picked up a yellow card. Adel Taarabt controlled the ball tight to the touchline by the dugouts, completely tricked Karacan with an eye catching trick and was then unceremoniously kicked straight up the air by the Reading player. Now you tell me what is more worthy of a red card – Bradley Orr’s honest attempt to win the ball of Karacan’s petulant and deliberate attack on Taarabt born out of frustration at his own lack of ability?
That was quickly forgotten though as Rangers doubled their lead a minute later. Faurlin started the move, collecting the ball with his back to goal on the halfway line, flicking it over his head and bamboozling the Reading marker in the process before producing a beautiful volleyed pass to Hulse on the edge of the area. He laid it off to Taarabt who played a neat ball in behind their defence to Jamie Mackie who really should have scored himself but instead squared the ball to Hulse who was beaten to the ball in the six yard box by Mills. The chance seemed to have gone but Faurlin followed up from midfield and blasted a low shot into the net via a combination of Federici and Ian Harte who couldn’t keep the ball out. The goal was just rewards for QPR’s positive approach to playing with ten men, and Faurlin’s excellent all round display after an off week against Burnley.
Two should have become three four minutes later as Andy Griffin struggled under a lousy ball played towards him by the unusually quiet McAnuff. The full back lost out to Jamie Mackie who surged into the area, rounded Adam Federici and was only denied a simple tap in by Griffin who desperately scrambled back to clear the ball behind for a corner that was awarded as a goal kick.
Reading had been poor and looked well beaten but got themselves right back into the game with a goal from nothing 23 minutes from time. Shane Long collected the ball from a messy throw in routine 25 yards out from goal and having worked some space away from Matthew Connolly sent an unstoppable drive screaming into the top corner to halve the deficit. That was the first goal QPR have conceded from open play at home in the league this season and it was a fabulous strike. Suddenly it was all back into the melting pot again.
Not for long though. Within three minutes the ten men had scored again. Adel Taarabt was felled on the edge of the penalty area and took the free kick himself. His free kick delivery has been consistently poor for several weeks now but he was right back on form with this one, curling the ball over the wall and down towards the unguarded bottom corner of Federici’s net with absolute perfection. The Australian goalkeeper, to his credit, got across and made a fine save but he could do nothing about the rebound that was turned into the net by Tommy Smith for his first ever QPR goal. No more than he, or Rangers, deserved.
McDermott had introduced young Welsh striker Simon Church by this stage and with ten goals for and none against in the last 20 minutes of games this season the Royals had reason to believe points were still there to be claimed. Church however produced a complete air shot from one McAnuff cross, and then blasted another presentable chance miles over the bar from close range after bringing the ball down in the penalty area.
QPR’s substitutes had rather more effect. Warnock sent on Leon Clarke and Patrick Agyemang to replace the tiring Rob Hulse and Adel Taarabt and Agyemang in particular had a great cameo. Expect t-shirts to be in the club shop any day now commemorating the moment Dave took on and beat three players with skill as he did here. He suddenly looks quite confident and effective coming from the bench which is a complete turn-around from what he has been for the past 18 months.
The closest Reading came to a second goal in the closing stages was when Brian Howard pulled the ball down in the area three minutes from time and then under pressure from several defenders produced an improvised stab towards goal that Paddy Kenny got down well to and turned around the post.
Five minutes were added on at the end of the game as despite there being no injuries Mr Tanner had warned Paddy Kenny for time wasting on several occasions even though it seemed to be the Reading fans keeping hold of the ball causing some of the problems. By this stage though it was clear that QPR were home and dry and the game could have gone on for as long as the referee liked.
In fact it was QPR who looked like extending their lead when first Leon Clarke burst into the area only to be denied by a fine tackle from Griffin, then Tommy Smith headed weakly at the keeper. Rangers fans thought the final whistle had been blown when the referee held up a throw in to allow Hogan Ephraim to come on but there was barely enough time to restart before the game was brought to a close – Ephraim did get a single touch of the ball though.
I thought this was a terrific display by Rangers. There was none of the aimless long ball hitting that we produced against Burnley last weekend and some of the football we played was worthy of a higher level – certainly the build up to the second goal was worth the admission fee by itself. I thought the team changes were exactly right and it gave us a freshness that we’ve missed for the last couple of weeks. The decision to move Walker across to the other side was a masterstroke as teams have been setting up to combat his runs down the right in recent games and any plans Reading had to do the same were immediately scuppered by his switch of sides.
Last week Alejandro Faurlin had one of his worst games for the club, this week he had one of his best. He controlled the midfield with and without the ball, ably shadowed by Derry who was excellent, and thoroughly deserved is goal. Tommy Smith has been itching for a chance for weeks and he certainly took that with both hands by scoring one and contributing plenty to a superb all round team display.
Reading simply weren’t good enough. They spent too much time harassing the referee rather than getting on with the game and were second best to Rangers before and after the sending off. Griffin, Khizanishvili and Karacan all looked particularly immobile and cumbersome when faced with the energy, pace and skills of people like Taarabt, Mackie and Smith. They created next to nothing in the whole first half and their goal, when it did come, was completely out of the blue and a fine strike. I think we’ve seen five or six sides better than the Royals already this season and I wouldn’t back them for a play off place on this evidence.
The last word though must be saved for Taarabt. Two weeks ago, after a dreadful performance at Bristol City, a section of the online QPR community said he should be dropped. At the time I wrote:
He did more harm than good out there, showing greed and selfishness at the wrong time and winding his team mates up with his poor decision making. But as I’ve said before this is why he plays for QPR in the Championship and not for Spurs in the Premiership – if he was as brilliant as we know he can be every game then he’d be consistently excellent and would consequently not be playing for us. It’s precisely these kind of performances that keep him at QPR so in my opinion I’m afraid we just have to put up with him when he’s like this as a necessary evil to keep him at the club.
On Saturday he was brilliant. He tore Reading a new arse and was both entertaining and effective. On Tuesday night at Portsmouth he may pick up where he left off and rip them apart, or he may go back to being a selfish idiot. You never know what you’re going to get with him but it’s performances like this one that make him the first name on the team sheet for me because there isn’t a team in this league that can live with him when he plays like this.
But he certainly wasn’t alone in making sure the unbeaten record stretched out to 15 games ahead of a difficult week of road fixtures.
QPR: Kenny 7, Orr 6, Connolly 7, Gorkss 7, Walker 7, Derry 8, Faurlin 9, Mackie 8, Taarabt 9 (Clarke 80, 7), Smith 8 (Ephraim 90, -), Hulse 6 (Agyemang 81, 7)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Leigertwood, Rowlands, Parker
Sent Off: Orr (serious foul play)
Booked: Derry (ungentlemanly conduct), Clarke (handball)
Goals: Taarabt 27 (penalty won by Taarabt), Faurlin 61 (assisted Mackie), Smith 71 (assisted Taarabt)
Reading: Federici 7, Griffin 6, Khizanishvili 6, Mills 6, Harte 6, McAnuff 5, Tabb 6 (Antonio 81, 6), Karacan 6 (Church 62, 5), Howard 6, Robson-Kanu 7 (Hunt 72, 6), Long 7
Subs Not Used: McCarthy, Cummings, Pearce, Armstrong.
Booked: Mills (foul), Karacan (foul), Antonio (foul)
Goals: Long 68 (unassisted)
QPR Star Man – Adel Taarabt 9 A performance right out of the very top drawer. Taarabt had a hand in all three goals – winning and scoring the penalty himself, feeding Mackie who in turn set up Faurlin for the second, and then almost scoring directly from the free kick himself before Smith converted the rebound. He was a constant menace to Reading, and was tremendously effective and dangerous whenever he got the ball. This is what he is capable of.
Referee: Steve Tanner (Somerset) 5 A curate’s egg of a performance really. The Orr sending off was a judgement call and having seen six replays of it since I cannot decide whether he was right or wrong – he gets one look at it, at normal speed, so it’s hard to hold anything against him if several slow motion replays don’t make it any clearer. In general I felt he allowed Reading to influence his decisions, and his failure to stop the Howard/Long/Karacan axis of dissent early on ruined his own credibility because every time he made a decision there were those three Reading players with him telling him what he should do. Matthew Mills should have been sent off without a shadow of a doubt.
Attendance: 15,692 (2,461 Reading) An atmosphere that reminded me very much of a game with Birmingham the season before last when Mikele Leigertwood was sent off in the first half and the lads still went out and won the game with a gutsy performance. The home crowd was so much more supportive and into it than they had been against Burnley last week and the atmosphere in the season half was excellent.
Photo: Action Images
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