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Smells like team spirit - Bristol City 2 QPR 2
Smells like team spirit - Bristol City 2 QPR 2
Sunday, 12th Aug 2007 22:37

QPR got their 2007/08 season up and running with an exciting 2-2 draw at Bristol City on Saturday. After dominating the last half hour Rangers fell behind against the run of play in the last minute but came back to force a second equaliser in injury time.

Last minute equalisers are funny things. Not only do you go extra specially mental in celebration, I’m missing a large piece of my shin today which I believe is still attached to one of the away end’s ridiculous back-less seats for example, but it makes a point feel like a win.

It’s important on day one to avoid defeat, especially away from home, and Rangers successfully managed to do that but once the euphoria of Damion Stewart’s 93rd minute strike had died down the realisation that this really should have been a full three point haul started to set in.

Rangers dominated almost the entire second half, hitting the under side of the bar and the inside of the post. Bristol City’s keepers, Basso in the first half and Henderson in the second, both produced fantastic saves to deny Martin Rowlands, and an excellent shout for a QPR penalty was waved away by the referee in first half injury time.

City for their part scored twice, like QPR, but apart from that took until the 94th minute to draw a serious save from Lee Camp. Lee Trundle was totally anonymous, but for one cross shot to the back post that stayed out via the post, marked from the game by Michael Mancienne, and QPR really should have won the game.

Things didn’t start well for the visitors when star attraction Ben Sahar was ruled out prior to kick off after an emergency appendix operation. Daniel Nardiello had to partner Dexter Blackstock in attack but there were further headaches towards the back of the side. Timoska and Barker were suspended, Cullip and Bignot only fit enough for the bench, and so Zesh Rehman started in defence with Stewart, Mancienne and Curtis in front of Camp. In midfield Stefan Moore beat new boy Hogan Ephraim to the wide right role with Rowlands wide left and Bailey and Bolder in the middle.

Bristol City were missing summer signing Ivan Sproule through suspension and last season’s player of the year Jamie McCombe through injury but did give a debut to Michael McIndoe and Lee Trundle and unsurprisingly it was City that made the brighter start in front of a near capacity crowd.

Michael McIndoe got in behind Rehman inside the first minute and sent a low cross into the area which Mancienne sliced towards his own goal but Camp was right behind it and caught the ball comfortably. A cross from the other flank a moment later found Showumni who headed goalwards but it again flew straight into Lee Camp’s arms without him having to move.

Showumni had strangely exaggerated about his career record of one goal against QPR in a newspaper interview during the week saying: “"I played against them with Luton and scored a few goals so hopefully on Saturday I'll get to play and can score a few more against them."

One of City’s debutants Marvin Elliott made ground from midfield twice in the opening ten minutes, firing a low shot and a powerful header wide of the target in the process.

The visitors came right back into the game from the quarter hour mark onwards and were the first team to really force a quality save from one of the keepers.

In the 22nd minute Blackstock was upended by Carey 25 yards out from goal. The free kick, and poor positioning of the wall, looked ideally placed for a low curling effort round the wall and into the corner to the keeper’s left but at the last minute McIndoe moved across and covered the gap. That made Rowlands’ mind up for him and he went up and over the wall towards the keeper’s top right corner, forcing Basso into a splendid one handed save to deny him.

Rowlands’ frustrations only increased two minutes later when Bristol City were awarded a throw in which was clearly a QPR ball, the midfielder was booked by referee Keith Stroud for his protests.

Stefan Moore and Zesh Rehman both delivered good balls into the City penalty area but narrowly eluded Nardiello and Blackstock on both occasions. When Nardiello did get the ball to his feet on the edge of the area he sent a delicate lob comfortably over the cross bar when a pass wide to Moore may have been the better option.

The R’s were getting on top in the game as it moved past the half hour mark but poor play from John Curtis let City in for the opening goal against the run of play. Curtis, not for the first time in the half, conceded possession in his own half but there seemed to be little danger when Lee Johnson let a tame shot go from the edge of the area. However Lee Camp allowed the shot to squirm out of his grasp and bobble into the bottom corner. Camp’s reaction said it all, he knew he should have kept it out.

The goal came from a give away from Curtis who had a bit of a nightmare in first half but Rangers got back on terms right from the restart. Bolder lofted a pass through to Dexter Blackstock who continued to dominate Vasco as he had done all half, shrugging him aside easily and beating Basso to the bouncing ball to lob home in front of the jubilant QPR fans.

Blackstock could hardly believe his luck and after checking with the linesman commenced his celebrations.Basso however took a bad knock in the incident and was down for a good three or four minutes receiving treatment, a break in play that allowed some lobotomised gibbons in the home end to make their way over to the visiting section and offer the hand of friendship over the fence – nothing more than that of course, I’ve learned my mistake after my travel guide was described as “insulting and offensive” to the people of Bristol.

QPR went back on the attack immediately with Rehman and Moore, the gruesome twosome in many QPR fans’ eyes, combining down the right for Rehman to send in a cross hard and low from the byline which Basso, back on his feet now after treatment, pinched bravely off Blackstock’s toe.

Despite Gregory making a point of telling his players to focus and see the job through after the goal it seemed as if QPR were quite happy to just cruise through to the break after equalising. The cue was on the wrack for the final seven or eight minutes with the likes of Curtis and Bailey conceding sloppy possession in their own half time and again. Luckily Bristol City didn’t have the quality to capitalise with Lee Trundle still firmly in Mancienne’s pocket.

Rangers almost mastered their own downfall though when Rehman’s wild clearance smacked Mancienne in the face and rebounded just over the bar with Camp well beaten.

The last action of the half saw loud shouts for a QPR penalty waved away. Martin Rowlands sent a devilish corner right into the heart of the six yard box and with Nardiello preparing to pounce Vasko seemed to scoop the ball round from down by his side down to his feet followed by a clearance. Nardiello was livid with the referee who was looking right at the incident and carried on his protests after the half time whistle which resulted in a booking as the teams left the field. John Gregory also confronted the officials on the pitch at the break but it was of course to no avail.

City made two changes at half time with Bosso unable to retake the field between the sticks and he was replaced by summer signing Stephen Henderson. Liam Fontaine also made an appearance in the second half in place of another summer signing Tamas Vasco. The giant Hungarian centre half had failed miserably to cope with Blackstock in the first half, losing out to him in the air far more than he really should have done considering his height and really struggled with Blackstock’s physical approach. It was no surprise to see Johnson withdraw him at the first possible opportunity.

Fontaine introduced himself to Blackstock with a hefty smash right into his back as he lept for a long ball forward. Fontaine completely cleaned Blackstock out and left him prostrate on the turf. Referee Keith Stroud awarded a free kick but failed to award a card and frankly, after booking two players for arguing against his crap decisions in the first half, that irritated me a little. I mean what do we want to cut out of our game more, players having a bit of a moan over a throw in decision or players being pole-axed with deliberate clean outs from behind?

As with the first half City looked bright in the opening stages and could easily have taken the lead in the 50th minute when Trundle finally escaped the clutches of Mancienne and delivered a wicked lobbed cross shot to the back post which somehow stayed out through a combination of Camp and post with Wilson failing to force the ball home when he should have scored.

Within two minutes the woodwork had played a part at the other end as well. Martin Rowlands cut in from the left flank and fired a fierce low drive which seemed to take a nick of a defender and the keeper on the way through to the base of the post.

An early candidate for most obviously wrong decision from a match official, when the linesman inexplicably said the ball hadn’t gone out for a throw in as it drifted into the visiting side’s dugout, preceded the removal of Nardiello and the introduction of West Ham loanee Hogan Ephraim. He took a few minutes to get into the game and looked a little lightweight to start with but he then produced a magnificent piece of ball control to pull a long punt downfield out of the sky and beat his full back in one swift motion tight to the touchline.

From this point on it really was one way traffic. Rowlands switched flanks to the right after producing the pass of the match with a glorious 50 yard cross field effort to Moore, and he really enjoyed himself against the left side of the City defence. Just after the hour mark he wandered in from the right wing, cut inside McAllister and curled a left footer over Henderson and off the underside of the bar.

Henderson was helpless to do anything about that, but he made a mess of the resulting corner and Rehman almost forced the ball home but it was blocked away.

Blackstock was replaced by Nygaard as time ticked on but it did nothing to halt the tide of QPR pressure flowing down to the far end of the ground. Denied by the post, the bar and Bosso in the first half Rowlands set off for goal again with 15 minutes to go, skinning three players on the way to the edge of the six yard box but Henderson produced an awesome one handed save down at his feet just as a goal seemed inevitable.

Ephraim was also causing City all manner of problems and both he and Nygaard had efforts well off target in the closing ten minutes. It looked likely by this stage that QPR were going to have to settle for a point but then in injury time even that looked to have been snatched away from them.

A rare foray forward almost produced another goal for the home side but Showumni was denied by a brave block from Damion Stewart. Gary Johnson then substituted Lee Trundle to a chorus of jeers and “what a waste of money” from the away end. Except for one cross early in the second half Trundle had contributed next to nothing. As he wandered off to the touchline Mancienne and Rehman exchanged a high five as if to say, job done, and that did worry me somewhat because Scott Murray is certainly nobody’s mug and so it proved.

As the fourth official readied the board Murray picked the ball up, thirty yards from goal, surrounded by QPR players and from nothing produced a world class strike that fizzed into the top corner of the net. Ashton Gate erupted, the QPR fans could barely believe it, an awesome goal to seemingly win the game, Camp wouldn’t have reached it with a step ladder.

Murray tore off towards the touchline where his ecstatic manager was doing his best David Pleat/Brian Kidd celebration impressions on the pitch. Like Rangers at the end of the first half, City put the cue on the wrack, assuming the job was done.

Back came QPR, Martin Rowlands won a free kick on the corner of the penalty area after a shirt pulling offence. He took the set piece himself, floating a cross up to the back post where Nygaard beat his marker hands down to head the ball back across the face of the goal. Suddenly it all opened up for the R’s with Damion Stewart and Stefan Bailey at the head of an orderly queue of unmarked players inside the six yard box. Stewart decided to go first, heading easily into the empty net to silence the home fans and send the travelling 2000 into delirium.

The difference in responses to injury time goal from the two managers was marked. Gregory just held up two fingers to indicate the time remaining and told his troops to get back in position. He was right as well because at the absolute death of the four added minutes the ball broke to Elliott in the penalty area but Lee Camp atoned for his earlier error with a sprawling save to his right. There was no time left for the corner, a breathless closing period brought to an end and the points shared.

The Rangers fans were kept in for an inordinate and unnecessary amount of time at the final whistle which gave them a chance to give the players a decent reception as they came back out for their warm down.

We’ve got the season up and running with a point well won. When you’re 2-1 down with seconds to go you’d always take a point if offered one but Rangers took the game over in the final half an hour, passing the ball around nicely, creating good chances and generally playing really well. They hit the post, the bar, forced the keeper into great saves, scored two goals. Bristol City shaded the first half but didn’t threaten or have as many chances as QPR and the R’s really should have won this. QPR fans can take lots of positives from this. Michael Mancienne looked a cut above at the back again while in midfield Bolder worked tirelessly and Bailey had a very decent game, tackling hard but fairly and not giving the ball away as much as he did last season. Up front Dexter proved to be a very good target man and gave the centre halves a torrid time. Ephraim and Nygaard both impressed from the bench.

Many eyes ere on Zesh Rehman and Stefan Moore, with Gregory pleading for the pair to be given a second chance this season. Rehman played reasonably well, delivering a couple of very nice crosses and defending solidly. He did however make a number of mistakes, including one right at the death where he tried to trap a high bomb inside his own six yard box and lost the ball – luckily the linesman’s flag saved him. It’s these mistakes he has to cut out.

With Moore the problem has always been effort and application but with Gregory and Harford waiting for you back in the dressing room you’d have to be a brave man not to give it your best every game. He still pulls out of challenges like he doesn’t want to get hurt but overall he played reasonably as well.

The big revelation of the day was Martin Rowlands. The outstanding player during pre-season and yet to pick up an injury since coming back, Rowlands finally looks set for a proper crack at this level after three stop start seasons since the promotion. He filled in all across the midfield on Saturday and not one Bristol City player could deal with him. It’s crucial he stays fit now – he’s trained every day in pre-season and featured in all the matches, there can be no excuses. If he can avoid injury he could have everybody forgetting all about Lee Cook very quickly.

Bristol City: Basso 7 (Henderson 46, 8), Orr 6, Carey 6, Vasko 4 (Fontaine 46 6), McAllister 6, Brian Wilson 7, Johnson 7, Elliott 8, McIndoe 7, Trundle 5 (Murray 79, 7), Showunmi 7
Subs Not Used: Jevons, Russell

Goals: Johnson 33, Murray 90.

QPR: Camp 6, Rehman 6, Stewart 7, Mancienne 8, Curtis 6, Rowlands 9, Bolder 8, Bailey 7, Moore 7, Nardiello 7 (Ephraim 59, 7), Blackstock 7 (Nygaard 69, 7)
Subs Not Used: Cole, Bignot, Cullip

Booked: Rowlands (dissent), Nardiello (dissent), Stewart (foul)
Goals: Blackstock 34 (assisted Bolder), Stewart 90 (assisted Nygaard)

QPR Star Man – Martin Rowlands 9 The outstanding player on the pitch and so unlucky not to get a hat trick at least. Two outstanding saves and two pieces of wood denied him and he would have been so unlucky to finish on the losing side. In the end he won and took the free kick that led to the second eqauliser –the very least Rowlands and his team mates deserved.

Referee: Kevin Stroud (Hampshire) 6 A little overfussy at times but did try to let the game flow and keep the cards in his pocket – there’s a time and a place though and after booking two players for dissent it seemed a little daft to allow Fontaine off with a brutal clean out on Blackstock, especially as he then went onto book Stewart for something similar. Should have awarded QPR a penalty in the first half.

Attendance: 18,228 (approx 1900 away fans)

 All pictures (c) Action Images

Photo: Action Images

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