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Smith strike lifts R's further
Smith strike lifts R's further
Saturday, 7th Apr 2007 22:06

QPR took a giant leap towards Championship survival on Saturday with a 1-0 win at Coventry.

The tough run of fixtures supposed to cost QPR their place in the Championship look like they could be the key to them staying in the league after all. Rangers recorded their third win in four games, and second consecutive victory on the road, at Coventry on Saturday to move five points clear of danger with five to play.

That means both Barnsley and Leeds will have to win two more games than QPR over the next month to relegate us - Rangers have given themselves a fantastic chance of staying up even though the fixture list still looks unkind. If we stay true to form we'll lose at home to Luton on Monday just to keep things desperate right down to the end of the season.

The remaining five games are all against sides with big things to play for so a win against the Hatters is still crucial but it's going to take a turn of form as dramatic as we've produced over the past month or so in the opposite direction to relegate us now. I wouldn't put it past us, but I wouldn't bet on it either.

Few would have predicted this after we dropped four points at home against Plymouth and Sheff Wed and moved back into the bottom three, even fewer would have predicted yesterday's turn of events when they saw the team Gregory sent out to do the job. No Cook, Idiakez, Rowlands or Ricketts in midfield, no Mancienne or Bignot in defence and rare starts for Smith, Timoska and the much maligned Stefan Moore didn't really bode well against a Coventry side with just one defeat in seven games following the appointment of Iain Dowie as manager.

Dowie had told his former club in the build up that they would pay for Coventry's lacklustre display at Birmingham last week, but in the end the only paying Rangers did on the day was the cash forked out for entry to the lifeless and soulless Ricoh Arena. I thought all the bare concrete, exposed wiring and air conditioning units, and random metal shutters all over the place last season was because it wasn't finished - apparently it's going to look like that all the time. Very disappointing place.

For all the absentees Gregory did manage to keep together the spine of the team that had played so well against Preston on Tuesday. Lee Camp was looking for a second consecutive clean sheet in goal, Stewart and Cullip started at centre half, Adam Bolder in the centre of midfield and the hard working Dexter Blackstock in attack. QPR have conceded just two goals in open play in their last four matches and that strong spine has been a key to the new found steel and resoluteness about Rangers. The signings of Cullip and Bolder look better with each passing day.

The flesh on those bones was made up of Kanyuka replacing Mancienne at right back, Timoska in for Bignot at left back. In midfield Smith partnered Bolder, Moore replaced Cook wide left and Ainsworth started wide right. Paul Furlong was recalled alongside Dexter Blackstock in attack. Timoska's inclusion, apart from basic squad rotation, seemed to me to have one eye on Coventry's physical style of play because for all Marcus Bignot's ability and attitude he's not the tallest full back.

Coventry gave a full debut to Khalilou Fadiga who broke from deep to join Adebola and Misfud in attack whenever he could. Andrew Whing came in for former Brentford man Jay Tabb.

There was a change in the referee as well. Uriah Rennie was listed for the game but took Wigan v Bolton instead, we got Pat Miller which was something of a relief as QPR's record with Rennie in charge is less than inspiring.

The home player catching the eye in a dire opening to the game was actually centre half Elliott Ward. He certainly hasn't fulfilled the potential he showed at West Ham yet but he had Furlong in his pocket for most of the afternoon on Saturday and for the first 20 minutes QPR just couldn't get hold of the ball. Every time it went into the Coventry half Ward calmly retrieved possession and sent it forward again. Stefan Moore was ambling around in the laid back manner that irritates the supporters so much and causing Timoska problems by not tracking back, Gareth Ainsworth was seeing little of the ball, Bolder and Smith were spending more of their time tackling than really passing and creating chances. All in all it was a lacklustre start from QPR.

Coventry should have been in front in the sixth minute. Adebola and Misfud combined on the edge of the area to find Fadiga who'd slipped into the area unnoticed but Camp produced a superb one handed save to deny him from no more than eight yards out. From the corner Ward powered a header down towards goal but Timoska managed to divert it away inside the six yard box. A long range effort from Bolder that flew a yard or so wide was QPR's best chance of the first ten minutes or so.

In an atmosphere more suitable for an old people's home than a football match the chances soon dried up and the teams engaged in a dour, sleep inducing midfield battle. Gareth Ainsworth sent a cross through the six yard box with nobody able to get a toe on the ball. Before the half hour mark Jimmy Smith theatrically collapsed under a challenge from Marcus Hall inside the area but he was definitely looking for the decision and Pat Miller barely even acknowledged the protests.

Stewart and Cullip really got to grips with Adebola and Misfud after the early scare and it took until ten minutes before half time for the pair of them to get a look in again. When the chance came Lee Camp rushed out to dive at the feet of Maltese striker Misfud and then chased the loose ball out towards the touchline. With 2000 QPR hearts in mouths Camp launched himself into a sliding tackle out by the corner flag as Andrew Whing tried to swoop on the open goal chance. Camp won the ball cleanly, and even won a throw in for his side. He was deservedly serenaded by a decent sized travelling support once he'd returned to his goal mouth.

Camp should have been beaten sixty seconds later when Ward again towered above his marker to win a header from a Fadiga corner, but this time he headed wide of the target. Camp denied Misfud and Ward again before half time with good saves as Coventry started to exert some pressure. Kanyuka, Stewart, Cullip and Timoska make for a formidable back four though and whereas Adebola had annihilated Rangers at Loftus Road, when marked by Rehman, he struggled to get into the game this time. Camp had been forced into saves, but only one of them was really outstanding and Coventry looked like a team ready to put the cue on the wrack for the season.

The most notable difference after half time was the application of Stefan Moore. So off the pace and poor in the first half he started to show a bit of effort and enthusiasm in the second, chasing lost causes and closing his man down. Whether it was laziness or lack of match practise in the first half, something Gregory said to him at half time made a difference and he came out for another bite at the cherry and started to contribute to the team performance. He'll never be a left winger of course, but he can do a job out there if he puts his mind to it.

As they'd done at Leicester, Rangers relied on Camp and the centre halves in the first half before improving their attacking play after the break.

Bolder and Smith started to have more of an effect in the centre of the park immediately after half time and within ten minutes they'd combined to put QPR one nil up. Bolder started things off, bringing the ball into the penalty area and sitting two would be tacklers down with a drop of his shoulder. Paul Furlong should have converted the subsequent cross from six yards but Marshall denied him, Moore followed up but was also denied by a magnificent save. The ball looked like it would go out for a corner but Moore, laid flat on his front behind the dead ball line by this stage, stretched out and diverted the ball to Smith with his head and the loaned Chelsea midfielder hammered the ball past Marshall.

The goalkeeper was unlucky to concede after two wonderful saves, but Rangers didn't care - they celebrated deliriously on and off the pitch. Lee Camp risked being our third booking of the week for over celebrating as he went straight to the away end to rejoice with the supporters. Luckily the referee didn't see him.

Gregory responded by bringing on Marcus Bignot at left back in place of Timoska and he turned in a solid display in the final half an hour. Coventry brought on Kevin Kyle to add to their physical presence up front, and Leon McKenzie to try and create something, but Stewart and Cullip continued to stand firm. McKenzie wasted no time in upsetting the QPR fans by failing to kick the ball out when a QPR player was down injured, and then refusing to give the ball back to QPR once play had resumed. A pushing and shoving match ensued on the edge of the area with Danny Cullip particularly aggrieved at the unsporting behaviour of Iain Dowie's team.

The Sky Blues' best chance of the game came when McKenzie got to the dead ball line and dinked the perfect cross up, over Camp to the back post but Adebola headed yards wide when the goal was begging to be scored. Other than that there was a lot of huffing and puffing, and balls into the penalty area but very little to trouble Camp who had a much more relaxing 45 minutes than he'd experienced in the first.

Gregory sent on Marc Nygaard for the tiring Paul Furlong, and Steve Lomas replaced Adam Bolder with an eye on Monday's match against Luton but QPR missed a golden chance to double their lead and seal the game 15 minutes from time. Gareth Ainsworth repeated Bolder's trick of sitting his marker down and bursting into the penalty area but, as he'd done against Preston on Tuesday, he made the wrong choice and played a poor, weak pass when a shot looked on. Marshall gathered easily with Nygaard waiting for a decent pull back across goal.

Robert Page was another introduction from Coventry in the second half which seemed a little strange - introducing a centre half when you're losing 1-0. His main contribution was a crude lunge on Blackstock which left the QPR striker to play the final 20 minutes basically on one leg with all the subs used. The ball was running beyond Blackstock and Page and out for a throw in but the Welshman decided to execute a two footed challenge from behind anyway and left Blackstock requiring lengthy treatment.

The referee took no action which rather summed up his second half performance.

Coventry forced a number of corners and free kicks as time wore on, but Cullip, Stewart and Kanyuka dominated their opponents and this was by no means the nervy, seat of your pants job that Tuesday night against Preston had been.

The final whistle was greeted with great celebration from the travelling fans and the players - particularly Cullip, Bignot, Camp and Ainsworth. Chairman Gianni Paladini even entered the field of play to congratulate every player as they headed for the dressing room.

There was an air of "we've done it" about it all that unnerves me somewhat. On a weekend when the club was told they were being wound up and wouldn't be playing football at any level next season I recall the Scarborough players, directors and fans standing on their pitch a few years ago with bottles of champagne in hand because they thought they'd done enough - Carlisle's goalkeeper scored in the fifth minute of injury time to send them out of the league. Now they're in Conference North and they'll be lucky to even be that come the start of next season.

We still need another win or two and we should not get carried away. Everybody needs to have their heads on for Monday and do a professional job against Luton. Victory there and maybe we can start to plan for a Championship season in August.

Coventry City: Marshall 7, Virgo 7, Hawkins 7 (Page, 63, 6), Ward 8, Hall 7; Whing 6 (McKenzie, 54, 7), Hughes 6, Doyle 6, Fadiga 7; Adebola 5, Mifsud 6 (Kyle, 69, 5).
Subs Not Used: Steele, Cameron.
Bookings: Doyle (foul), Virgo (foul)

QPR: Camp 8, Timoska 7 (Bignot 57, 7), Cullip 8, Stewart 8, Kanyuka 7, Smith 7, Bolder 8 (Lomas, 72, 7), Ainsworth 6, Moore 6, Furlong 6 (Nygaard, 63, 6), Blackstock 6.
Subs Not Used: Cole, Ricketts
Scorer: Smith (52)
Bookings: Stewart (foul), Moore (foul), Kanyuka (foul)

QPR Star Man: Danny Cullip 8 - Kept Coventry's potentially difficult strike force completely under control alongside the equally impressive Damion Stewart. Looks a really good signing at the moment and has played a big role in our recent upturn in fortunes. Great defensive display from Danny.

Referee: Pat Miller 6 - A relief not to see Uriah Rennie marching out of the tunnel at five to three and Mr Miller was fairly decent in the first half. In the second though he seemed to lose the game a little bit - starting with his lack of action when it kicked off after McKenzie had refused to kick the ball out with a player injured, and then refused to return it after the restart. Let Page get away with a terrible tackle on Blackstock, and Ainsworth with an equally bad one in injury time. Didn't book Hughes for a blatant and cynical shirt pulling offence, then booked Kanyuka for a similar foul soon after. Very poor second half performance bringing him down from a seven or eight to a five or six.

Attendance: 22, 850

Photo: Action Images

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