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Friday, 9th Feb 2007 19:28

QPR suffered their biggest defeat of the season in possibly their most important match - crashing to a 5-0 defeat at Southend in front of the Sky cameras.

The positives - I decided to stay at home and watch tonight's game on the television. Only the second game I've missed this season. Had I been there there's a fair chance I would have ended up on the pitch teaching our goalkeeper how to kick or explaining the concept of marking a man to Zesh Rehman. This would have resulted in a ban from all football and I'd at least like to maintain my freedom to go and watch a team with some ability every now and again.

Right now negatives.

The last time QPR were relegated from this division they managed to concede five goals in a game on three occasions. Now that may have something to do with the fact they weren't trying, and so far this season the effort and enthusiasm of a young, willing but at times limited bunch of players have at least kept the defeats close. Until tonight, when at 2-0 our players visibly gave up, shipped another three goals and then slunk off onto their swanky coach while the QPR fans that made the trip were left to brave the freezing conditions and driving sleet trying to fight their way back to London by car and train.

Frankly my first action in the dressing room after the match have been to usher them out into the car park in full kit and tell them training starts at 8am tomorrow - let them make their own way home so they can see what the people had to go through to watch that tonight. But then that pillock Gordon Taylor would have had some more air time saying how out of order I'd been which is why I edit the website and nothing more.

The team that humiliated themselves so comprehensively was the same one that had shown great improvement last week. Cullip again played at the heart of a three man defence with Mancienne and Stewart either side. Timoska and Ainsworth played wide in the midfield with Bolder and Lomas in the middle. Up front Cook, Rowlands and Blackstock interchanged and moved around in a half hearted attempt to unnerve a rock steady Southend defence.

That defence was actually a bit of a makeshift job with Stephen Hammell out and regular centre half Adam Barrett filling in for him at left back. In the centre Peter Clarke provided the class and the brains, Efe Sodje the brute force. Up front Lee Bradbury continued alongside Freddy Eastwood despite the transfer window capture of Richie Foran from Motherwell.

The home side, brimming with confidence after just one defeat in their last seven, set about dismantling a disorganised looking QPR side right from the first whistle. They could easily have been in front inside twenty seconds when Campbell Ryce proved too much for Timoska and Eastwood hammered over the bar. Peter Clarke was presented with a free header from the first corner of the game but failed to find the target. Rangers seemed to still be in the dressing room.

The simple fact was the home side wanted it a lot more than QPR and there was no better example of their hunger and desire then the ninth minute opener which admittedly came from a QPR error but only happened because Bradbury was willing to chase the ball down. Steve Lomas was hussled and harried into a lazy, bobbling back pass which Royce tried to clear first time under pressure from Bradbury. The ball struck Bradbury's boot and rolled into the corner of the net.

This one has been coming for a number of weeks - Royce's kicking has been patchy at best and his insistence on taking everything first time without a touch is, as I said on the message board after Paul Robinson's England clanger, lazy and unprofessional. Faced with two similar pass backs in the second half Flahaven the Southend goalkeeper sidefooted one back to the man that had passed him it after taking a touch and then later hacked one over the roof of the stand. Mr Royce take note. Kicking a ball first time increases the chances of an error like this ten fold.

Royce and John Gregory spent the next eighty minutes yelling at anybody who dared to pass the ball back to him again. I'm sorry Simon but kicking is part of your job, a job we're paying you handsomely to do. If you make a mistake you make a mistake, you don't then run and hide from any pass backs for the rest of the match.

Two minutes after the opening goal and it really should have been two when Royce came racing from his goal line to inexplicably punch an eminently catchable cross from Campbell Ryce. The ball fell to Mark Gower but his shot was cleared from the goal line by Timoska.

Mercifully Royce managed to produce a couple of pieces of competent goalkeeping as the half progressed - he made a one handed save from Maher's free kick which drifted towards the bottom corner with Peter Clarke failing to make contact. He also held Lee Bradbury's low drive with Eastwood ready to pounce but other than that this was certainly a night to forget for Simon Royce on his old stomping ground.

Rangers were struggling to put anything together. Bolder and Lomas failed to exert any of the influence on the midfield that they enjoyed last week and indeed we waited more than twenty minutes for Lomas to pass to a team mate from a none throw in situation. When the ball did make it up towards Dexter Blackstock he was battered by Efe Sodje. The big Nigerian defender cleaned Blackstock out in the first two minutes, leaving him a with a huge lump on his head, but referee Mr Walton saw nothing wrong with this and allowed play to continue for thirty seconds before Blackstock was allowed any treatment.

Sodje kicked, pushed, pulled and wrestled with Blackstock constantly for the first half hour, coming out well on top in the battle, but then had the nerve to moan and gesticulate when Blackstock went in for a loose ball with keeper Flahaven - a challenge the keeper himself said was fine and was happy to play on with.

Sodje has learned his trade over many years in leagues from the Conference up and with the referee sending out an early message that he could do what he liked with Blackstock and get away with it he was quids in all night and turned in a good, old fashioned centre half display. If it hadn't been us he was playing against it would have been entertaining to watch, but it was, and Blackstock will be sore in the morning.

Despite being out muscled by the Southend defence, outfought by their midfield and out classed by their attack Rangers were denied a great chance to go in at the break level when Mr Walton denied them a blatant penalty. Lee Cook was too quick for Clarke in the area, nicking the ball away from him and spinning into danger, and the former Blackpool man sent him crashing to earth with a mistimed tackle. The referee had a great view of it but awarded nothing - another stone wall penalty turned down. We must be a due a stack of spot kicks before May. Not the first time this referee has failed to award a blatant penalty to QPR either, he gave a free kick on the edge of the area in the Leeds home game last season when the foul was miles inside. Maybe I shouldn't have said he looks like Brain from Animaniacs - or maybe he's just a useless tosser.

In truth QPR were lucky to be only down by a goal at half time and if they'd scored that penalty it would have flattered them but they came out for the second half with renewed hope and the first incident of the half saw Dexter Blackstock finally give Sodje some treatment back with a dig in his ribs. Sodje collapsed to the deck, but that was probably in shock at Blackstock fighting back after 45 minutes of taking some serious physical stick in good nature, and he was soon on his feet again. Despite this brief display of defiance and doggedness at the start of the second half the pattern of play was soon restored and Danny Cullip came within an inch of turning Freddy Eastwood's drive past his own keeper for number two shortly after the restart.

Between the fiftieth and sixtieth minutes Rangers had their ten minutes of pressure that all teams manage at one stage of a game no matter how one sided the contest may be. They forced a series of corners and after a Lee Cook delivery was knocked down by Damion Stewart they were unlucky not to convert the subsequent goal mouth scramble. Lee Cook forced Flahavan into a save down in the bottom corner and a great run down the right and cross from Ainsworth caused panic in the six yard box with Clarke heading out of his own keeper's hands and away when the incident had own goal written all over it.

Rangers' improved performance was largely due to Campbell Ryce's decreased influence on the game. He'd been flying in the first half but Timoska seemed to have got him under control at the start of the second. Sadly while chasing the little winger down the line the Fin pulled up with what looked like a groin injury. He was replaced by Zesh Rehman, with Ainsworth moving to the left, and then the fun really began.

It took just ninety seconds for Southend to pick Rehman apart. A soft free kick was conceded by Stewart for a foul on Bradbury just inside the QPR half. Maher took it quickly and after a terrific first touch Mark Gower buried the ball into the bottom corner with his second. A quick look at the replay showed Rehman actually goal side and inside of Gower before the free kick was taken but as the former Barnet winger set off Rehman stood still with his arm in the air, just as he had done at Barnsley a week ago, and, just like at Barnsley a week ago, his man hammered the ball in with glee.

The words of Ian Woosnam when his caddie stuck too many clubs in the bag and cost him a shot at the Open Championship sprung to mind as Gregory and Richard Hill dissected Rehman's part in events down on the touchline: "Jeez I give you one fucking job to do and you can't do it."

Gower was replaced soon after his goal by Richie Foran while Gregory sent Ray Jones on for Danny Cullip in the seventy eighth minute and reverted to a 4-4-2 formation as his 3-4-3 collapsed around his ears. Within sixty seconds Southend had added another. Sodje steaming in past a static Rehman (again) to head home from a corner.

The home side were flying by this stage and QPR had completely surrendered. Martin Rowlands did at least decide to join us after 80 minutes of being completely anonymous but his two long range shots in the final ten minutes were both saved comfortably by Flahavan. At the other end goals seemed likely every time Southend crossed the halfway line and to be honest I wish I'd been a neutral watching this because the Shrimpers were fantastic to watch at times. Freddy Eastwood skipped into the area past three players but the chance was lost when he tried to square it for Foran instead of shooting himself. In the first half Eastwood had blasted over from a similar position and endured an earful from Bradbury for not squaring it so maybe that was praying on his mind.

They didn't have to wait long for a fourth goal though. Their most impressive player on the night Kevin Maher shrugged off a half hearted challenge from Cook and with no central midfielders, central defenders or interested goalkeepers in sight calmly clipped the ball into the corner of the net from twenty yards out. It was like shelling peas.

Now full of confidence Maher struck a fifth goal deep into stoppage time, direct from a free kick which the wall showed no interest in blocking after Lomas had fouled Bradbury. It could have been six but for the linesman raising his flag when McCormack powerfully headed home a flicked through ball from Eastwood.

To rub salt into already gaping wounds our picky, niggly and irritating match official Mr Walton decided that in injury time, with Southend already home and dried, he would start booking QPR players and Blackstock, Rowlands and Bolder all saw yellow for mistimed tackles. Ainsworth was earlier booked for a stupid elbow lead aerial challenge with Bradbury.

Tonight QPR were like a weary old woman peering through spectacles at a photo of herself in her teenage years. All attractive and full of life, now a frail and withered person waiting for death. Southend blended youth and experience, seasoned league players with non-league rough diamonds, attitude and commitment, players with something to prove and players to guide them on their way - they played a fast high tempo game, brimming with confidence, under the watchful eye of a bright young manager who's brought them out of a low patch and into a happier time.

Three years ago that was what we were like. And now we lumber around like passing to a team mate five yards away is a hassle. QPR embarrassed themselves tonight and now go to Leeds with everything to prove and no confidence to do it with.

Southend: Flahavan 7, Hunt 7, Clarke 8, Sodje 9 (Francis 87, -), Barrett 8, Campbell-Ryce 8, McCormack 8, Maher 9, Gower 8 (Foran 77, 7), Eastwood 7 (Harrold 87, -), Bradbury 8.
Subs Not Used: Collis, Hooper.
Goals: Bradbury 9, Gower 70, Sodje 79, Maher 90, 90.

QPR: Royce 2, Mancienne 5, Cullip 4 (Ray Jones 77, 4), Stewart 4, Ainsworth 4, Lomas 3, Bolder 4, Timoska 5 (Rehman 68, 2), Rowlands 3, Blackstock 5, Cook 4.
Subs Not Used: Cole, Nygaard, Smith.
Booked: Ainsworth, Rowlands, Bolder, Blackstock.

QPR Star Man - N/A

Ref: P Walton (Northamptonshire) 4 - A terrible, terrible referee. Consistently awful. Nothing to do with the result tonight of course, would maybe have been 5-1 if he'd awarded the penalty when he should have done, but the defeat was all Rangers' doing. Still, another terrible performance from him - allowed Sodje to get away with whatever he liked, decided that injury time at 4-0 was the time to start booking players - just a total moron.

Attendance: 10,217

Photo: Action Images

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