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Rennie strikes back as R's lose at Stoke
Rennie strikes back as R's lose at Stoke
Tuesday, 27th Nov 2007 11:19

A terrible opening 20 minutes and a laughable refereeing performance set QPR up for a 3-1 defeat against Stoke City at The Britannia Stadium on Tuesday night.

"Football has a nasty habit of turning round and biting you when you least expect it" said Ray Stubbs during Five Live's 606 after the match. It was actually one of the only lines I heard of the whole programme as I drove back north because the first caller, Hassan, was a Man Utd fan who hadn't been to the match which caused me to switch off, and then when I turned back on again half an hour later some other arm chair moron was mouthing off about how "Fergie" could improve Anelka as a player if he bought him.

Listening to cocks like this isn't really my idea of entertainment so my radio spent most of the journey home from Stoke off, but I did catch that line and it summed up what I'd just seen at The Britannia Stadium quite nicely.

For the last two games QPR have been excellent - passing the ball around, creating chances, entertaining the fans - it's been a joy to watch at times. Stoke have been awful recently, and had lost their last three home games before this one. A tiny crowd gathered in their horrible, soulless ground to watch this one as a result. It looked likely that Rangers would be good for at least a point and yet they were comprehensively beaten, the game effectively over inside twenty minutes during which time none of the positives of recent performances were in evidence. It was like the players were still on the bus for most of the first half while Stoke ran riot.

A goal in the opening five minutes from a long throw and a brilliant twenty yard free kick gave Stoke a two goal half time advantage but such was the quality of QPR's defending, especially from set pieces, that the deficit could have been two or three times that amount before we even started to play. Throw in a comical refereeing performance from the ever infuriating Uriah Rennie and this was not a good night to be a QPR fan.

De Canio made one change to his line up after the draw with Sheff Wed. Bob Malcolm was unsurprisingly dropped in favour of Sammy Timoska so that meant Camp in goal behind the Fin, Damion Stewart, Michael Mancienne and Chris Barker. In midfield Mikele Leigertwood and Akos Buzsaky started in the middle with Sinclair and Rowlands out wide. Up front Blackstock partnered Vine.

Stoke welcomed back Ricardo Fuller from suspension and Liam Lawrence from a hamstring injury and they set about their task with real purpose in the first half, obviously keen to make up for their poor recent run of results.

After an early injury to Cresswell's face Stoke set up for one of Rory Delap's famous long throws. Now it's always puzzled me quite what Delap does in open play for the teams he plays for. There was a poster of him in the matchday programme with the ball at his feet and the editor must have had to look long and hard through the archives to find that shot. However when you're able to fire the ball into the six yard box from a throw fully forty yards away you're certainly useful - especially when Tony Pulis is the manager.

I hoped QPR may have twigged onto this as Stoke's biggest threat and come up with a plan to combat it but apparently not. Inside the opening five minutes, the first time Delap had the chance to uncoil his arms and launch one into the area, QPR fell apart. The ball sailed across the face of the goal to the back post and everybody seemed to assume that it was going out for a goal kick apart from Ricardo Fuller who hooked it back into the six yard box, over Camp, to Cresswell who converted into the empty net from close range.

This was an astonishingly soft goal to concede and it summed up QPR's start to the match. The visiting players were second to every ball, out muscled and out fought in every tackle, Stoke just wanted it more. There was none of the slick passing we'd produced in the previous games and lots of people conceding possession in silly areas. Stoke looked up for the battle, QPR looked lethargic.

Delap slung in what seemed like a dozen more throw ins over the following ten minutes, each longer and more dangerous than the last and the defending underneath them really did look haphazard at best. There seemed to be no organisation back there, nobody had any idea how we were going to defend against this potent weapon consistently. We didn't put a man on either post, Lee Camp didn't command his area well, we seemed to be marking different people every time - it was a shambles in there. Whenever the ball did make it out of our penalty area Vine and Blackstock looked disinterested in doing anything with it and the midfield was completely bypassed.

Cort headed one of these throws over the bar, and flicked another one right across the face of goal with nobody able to get a touch. When some open play did finally occur, in what had seemed to this point to be little more than an NFL game, John Eustace cracked a twenty five yarder narrowly wide via a deflection.

After a quarter of an hour the overpowering of Stewart and Timoska by the Stoke front two continued as Fuller muscled his way into the area and cracked a searing drive off the base of Lee Camp's post with the keeper apparently beaten on his near side. Had it gone to two nil Rangers could have had no complaints.

Uriah Rennie's insistence on constantly awarding Stoke free kicks for the most meagre of 'fouls' wasn't helping and he really stepped into the spotlight five minutes after Fuller had nearly uprooted the post. Damion Stewart tangled with Fuller on the edge of the QPR penalty area and the pair hit the deck. Rennie immediately awarded the free kick to Stoke and waved for the trainers to come on and treat them, and Michael Mancienne who was struggling with an unrelated knock.

It quickly became clear that Mancienne was not going to be able to continue and he left the pitch and put his tracksuit on while Rennie presided over a couple of minutes of an amiable sort of chaos the likes of which only occurs in a match being controlled by an incompetent idiot. He first of all told Damion Stewart that he must leave the field after receiving treatment but then appeared to be waving him back on.

When Stewart didn't respond he then decided that Fuller should go and stand off the pitch as well. Meanwhile on the touchline the QPR coaching staff were getting into a furious row with another well known egotistcal idiot Andy Hall because they wanted to replace Mancienne with Malcolm but either Hall or Rennie were refusing to allow the change to take place - as the play was stopped, and had been for some time by now, it made no sense to not allow the substitution but then a lot of what Rennie did on the night made no sense at all.

So about three minutes after the whistle had first been blown Liam Lawrence stepped up to take the free kick with QPR ridiculously down to nine men and Stoke down to ten. The wall looked small, flimsy and badly positioned and sure enough Lawrence bypassed it with consummate ease and curled a fantastic shot right into the top corner of Lee Camp's net for 2-0.

The scene on the touchline was an ugly one. De Canio was absolutely fuming that he hadn't been allowed to make his change and between him, his translator and Joe Dunbar both Hall and Rennie were given some fearful and richly deserved abuse in pidgin English. It seemed at one stage as though De Canio would be the first manager of all time to be sent to the stand for foul and abusive language in a language he doesn't speak.

Most of the QPR fans there groaned as Malcolm came onto the field to replace Mancienne and De Canio stuck him out the way at right back rather than centre half after his awful debut on Saturday. However, the occasional misplaced pass and late lunging tackle apart, he was much more secure and solid against Stoke than he was against Sheff Wed - not that they tested him very much it has to be said. Stoke's main tactic seemed to be battering their way down the middle with Fuller and Sidibe rather than doing anything out on the flanks so Malcolm wasn't that exposed even when we went down to ten men. Timoska on the other hand really struggled with the physical battle.

Rennie followed this fiasco with the substitutions up with one God awful decision after another. Rangers were denied a blatant corner when Rennie got caught behind the play and simply guessed that it was a goal kick, ignoring the linesman who had pointed for a Rangers' ball. Akos Buzsaky was very harshly punished for a push by the corner flag and then instead of just getting on with things Rennie tried to manhandle the Hungarian as he ran past because he wanted a word with him. Buzsaky, probably surprised to have an over weight karate teacher wrestling with him when he was meant to be refereeing, pushed Rennie away and for one horrible moment it looked like the Sheffield official had taken offence at that and was going to send him off. An exasperated Martin Rowlands raced across to calm the situation with a plea to the referee and a bollocking for Buzsaky but the game was drifting out of Rennie's control.

Still it wasn't his fault we were losing, we just weren't at the races, Stoke were all over us and dominating in every department - the football may not have been pretty, but it was tremendously effective and it's hard to see what the Stoke fans have been moaning about just lately.

Rangers finally got something together in the opposition half immediately after going two behind. Martin Rowlands went down the right and crossed into the six yard box. Vine and Blackstock both got sucked under the ball but Sinclair arrived late at the back post unmarked and fired a fierce half volley towards goal from eight yards. We keep saying that we can't play against a blinding goalkeeper every week but just like Speroni and Grant before him Steve Simonsen produced an awesome reflex save as the ball rocketed towards the roof of the net. Normally when you hit a ball that hard from that close the keeper doesn't even see it but somehow the former Everton keeper repelled it and the two goal lead remained intact.

QPR did start to come into the game more as the half wore on. Buzsaky got on the ball a little bit more but too often when we reached the edge of the box somebody was too selfish, or not selfish enough, and the final ball or shot was always the wrong option. Vine and Sinclair in particular are two players who like to hang onto the ball, take people on and shoot when there is often a better passing option available and the pair of them got involved in some fairly heated exchanges after failing to set the other one up.

Overall a dire first twenty minutes from QPR followed by frustration for the rest of the half which was being abysmally refereed and dominated by Stoke. Right on the break Fuller skipped into the area again but fired wildly over when well placed to do better. Sadly for me, who has long championed the inclusion of Sam Timoska, the Fin was particularly culpable in the centre of the defence as Fuller and Sidibe battered, bullied and dominated the QPR players. Two nil at half time, and it could have been worse than that.

Clearly in the dressing room one or two things were sorted out and said, because QPR were much the better team in the second half. The QPR players closed their opponents down much more effectively after the break, clearly after a half time telling off, but Dexter Blackstock took things a bit too far with a lunging tackle on Shawcross down towards the Boothen End. The Stoke fans bayed for blood as they do so often in these circumstances and sure enough Rennie bounded across and produced the red card.

I'd like to see it again. I like to see players stay on the pitch and thought a booking would have sufficed here. Both managers agree with me although I've seen some over the top statements like "it was a real leg breaker" on the message boards since I got home so who knows? I don't think it was over the top or malicious and probably a booking would have done but maybe I'll see a replay and change my mind. Shawcross was soon back on as good as new so it can't have been that bad.

Strangely though this seemed to be the catalyst for QPR to start playing some decent football again leaving the travelling 400 or so to reflect on how we might have done had we kept eleven men on the pitch, or if we'd actually turned up at all for the first half.

Leigertwood got hold of the midfield at last after an anonymous first half, Martin Rowlands turned in a man of the match performance with an all action display, and QPR penned Stoke back in their own half with some excellent football and sustained attacking play.

Buzsaky sent a free kick an inch wide of the post with the keeper beaten and Simonsen then had to beat away a low long range drive from Rowlands as the R's started to take control. Scott Sinclair joined Vine in attack in a compact Rangers formation and with Stoke unable to string anything together the attacks came in waves as Rangers started to keep the ball better and play some good football

The natives were restless, Stoke seemed to have put the cue on the rack and Rangers were playing very well. The goal they deserved came courtesy of Rowan Vine just after the hour. He collected the ball from Rowlands on the right corner of the penalty and area and cutting inside before firing a beautiful twenty yard shot into the far bottom corner wit his left foot. This was a really super goal from Vine and will hopefully be the start of a goal scoring run from him because his strike rate hasn't been as good as it should have been since he arrived despite excellent all round play.

Vine could have brought the teams level within five minutes. More poor play and dallying on the ball from the home side enabled him to rob Shawcross of the ball and after shrugging off the stricken defender's attempts to bring him down he progressed into the penalty area with Sinclair up in support but saw a low shot blocked away to safety. The Stoke fans actually started booing their side at this point, furious at the lack of effort they seemed to be putting in against ten men.

But there were always likely to be gaps left, and QPR's makeshift backline never really looked comfortable all night - Stewart apart. A poor back header from Timoska allowed Fuller to nick the ball round Camp but he fired over when he should have scored. Camp did at one stage look to be considering a rugby tackle on Fuller which would have given Mr Rennie another chance to flash his red card but thankfully the keeper though better of it. That was all academic though 13 minutes from time when Leon Cort sealed the victory.

A massive problem on the night was Rangers' defending of set pieces. They seemed to switch off whenever the ball went out of play and allow themselves to get caught two on one from short corners and free kicks. One such move down the Stoke left resulted in a killer cross that Cort guided beyond the despairing dive of Lee Camp and into the bottom corner. Three one, and you could hear the sighs of relief all around the ground - Rangers had given them a fright but ultimately a lack of numbers and terrible start to the match cost them.

Martin Rowlands was taken off for a well earned breather after being absolutely cleaned out in front of the referee - nothing was given of course - and Rowan Vine also went off with Bolder and Nygaard taking to the field. With Mancienne already nursing an injury in the dressing room the R's then lost Buzsaky to injury in added time and that doesn't bode well ahead of a massive match at Blackpool on Saturday. Rory Delap was booked for the tackle that led to the injury, scant consolation for QPR.

Overall then a very frustrating night. Stoke started the game magnificently and really looked to assert themselves on the contest. Sadly QPR just weren't interested, they didn't ever once look like riding out the early storm and in the end we lucky to only be two down in the first 20 minutes.

Sammy Timoska said himself on QPR World that he struggles at centre half against the more physical forwards and while I don't think that's as big a problem as he makes out it was an issue tonight as Fuller and Sidibe crawled all over out back four. Damion Stewart was fairly impressive again but all in all we weren't too clever back there, particularly from set pieces.

It's got to be a worry that Stoke score within five minutes from a potent weapon everybody in the division knows about. Dealp's throw ins are their main attacking ploy - and yet we made no provision to defend against them. They're just as dangerous as corners if not more so and should be treated as such.

The midfield was completely bypassed for the first half hour, Leigertwood particularly out of it, but they came into their own after half time strangely after Blackstock had been sent off. That red card finished the game, but it would have been interesting to see how the second half would have panned out 11 v 11. A similar cold Tuesday in Stockport when we drew after being three down was mentioned at half time and on the evidence of the second half, and the way the Stoke fans reacted to their players when the going got a bit tough, we may have been able to pull that off again if we'd kept a full compliment out there.

Sadly it wasn't to be and that leaves us now staring down the barrel of three massive relegation six pointers. Blackpool and Scunthorpe away sandwich a home game with Crystal Palace. Now's the time, we can beat all three of these teams. Cut out the basic errors when defending set pieces and start playing in the first minute rather than the twenty first and there's nothing to stop us taking seven or even nine points here.

It's important that we do, because for all the plaudits for the way we're playing we're still deep in trouble and we can't afford to just throw points away and give teams two goal starts in matches.

Stoke: Simonsen 7, Wright 7 (Wilkinson 82, -), Cort 7, Shawcross 8, Pugh 7, Lawrence 7, Eustace 6, Delap 7, Cresswell 7, Sidibe 7 (Parkin 77, 6), Fuller 8 (Phillips 86, -)
Subs Not Used: Hoult, Zakuani
Booked: Delap (foul)
Goals: Cresswell 5 (assisted Fuller), Lawrence 19 (unassisted), Cort 77 (assisted Lawrence).

QPR: Camp 5, Mancienne 5 (Malcolm 20, 5), Stewart 7, Timoska 4, Barker 6, Rowlands 7 (Bolder 81 -), Leigertwood 6, Buzsaky 6, Sinclair 7, Vine 6 (Nygaard 79, 6), Blackstock 5.
Subs Not Used: Cole, Ainsworth.
Sent Off: Blackstock (47) (foul)
Goals: Vine 63 (assisted Rowlands)

QPR Star Man - Martin Rowlands 7 - Ran his blood to water in the second half, covering an astonishing amount of ground to work hard for the team and cover for the lost man. Wasn't at his best on Saturday but really did his bit tonight and put his body on the line.

Referee: Uriah Rennie (S Yorkshire) 2 He's just useless. There was a point in the second half where three times in quick succession players just flung themselves down on the ground because they know he loves blowing his whistle so much he'll just award anything for anything. I'm sure he makes it up as he goes along half the time. Some terrible decisions, many of which seemed to be complete guesswork. That's without mentioning the sending off which I'd like to see again.

Attendance: 11,147 (400 QPR fans approx) All the atmosphere of a reserve team match with thousands upon thousands of empty seats in The Britannia Stadium. The Stoke fans managed one chorus of Delilah but were mostly quiet - the QPR fans that did bother to sing decided the best way to pass the time would be to trot out one moronic load of crap after another about us having loads of money. Not only does it make us look like the Championship equivalent of brain dead Chelsea fans it also makes us look bloody stupid when we're losing 3-1 at Stoke City. The quality of chants and songs at QPR at the moment is at an all time low.

Photo: Action Images

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