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QPR cruise past free falling Tykes
QPR cruise past free falling Tykes
Sunday, 20th Jan 2008 14:12

QPR got back to winning ways with a comfortable home win against struggling Barnsley.

Plenty of people left Loftus Road on Saturday making the analogy about the referee stopping this one early if it had been a boxing match. Frankly I’m not sure any boxing referee worth his salt would have allowed this scrap to take place. A complete mismatch between teams with vastly different budgets and ambitions heading in opposite directions.

QPR moved within a point of Barnsley, without a win in eight matches now, with this victory and it’s hard to imagine the Tykes ever reaching their early season heights again. Rangers rarely moved out of second gear and still won by two clear goals. I got the impression there could have been much more to come had it been required, but Barnsley were so poor there was barely any need for the players to change out of their club suits.

The announcing of the teams took somewhat longer than normal with Barnsley boasting a plethora of tricky foreign names in their squad, while Billy Rice had to announce the full home debuts as permanent QPR players for six of the starters and two subs. As Barnsley’s foreign legion took to the field alongside our new look Rangers, which boasted nine English/Irish born players in the eleven, I had a wry smile at the fears expressed by those who just love to be miserable that Briatore/De Canio et al would result in a QPR team filled with foreign, mainly Italian, mercenaries.

There was a first appearance in a QPR shirt for Damien Delaney at left back. He joined from Hull City in the week for a little over half a million pounds and, I’ve got to be honest, it’s a signing that worries me having never seen him have a good game for Hull. On this evidence it could be a surprising masterstroke – Delaney gave a near perfect display of how to play left back both with and without the ball, it’s as well as I’ve ever seen the lad play. To his right Damion Stewart and Fitz Hall formed a formidable looking centre half partnership but neither made it through ninety minutes, Matthew Connolly started at right back ahead of Lee Camp in goal.

In midfield Mikele Leigertwood returned in the centre alongside Martin Rowlands. Gavin Mahon surprisingly dropped out of the matchday squad altogether to accommodate him. Vine played wide right and Buzsaky wide left with Blackstock and Agyemang up top.

Barnsley, strangely wearing a cream away kit when their red home shirts would have been much more appropriate, gave debuts to Diego Leon in midfield and Miguel Tininho at full back. Odejayi and Missotto, who have both struggled for goals in recent weeks, dropped out and Grant McCann was sold to Scunthorpe in the week.

The game actually started with two worrying looking injuries for the home side. Matthew Connolly required lengthy treatment after a blow to the head and with Kieran Lee asked to warm up things didn’t look good for the former Arsenal man but he managed to pick himself up and turn in a very impressive full back display from that point on. Within seconds though Martin Rowlands was limping around and it looked like he’d suffered a recurrence of that horrible calf injury he suffered with for 18 months prior to this season.

Luckily Rowlands, like Connolly, ran the injury off and more good news followed as Rangers opened the scoring with their first attack. Rowan Vine cut infield from the right flank and laid a ball into the edge of the penalty area. Dave Agyemang stepped over the ball and ran into the area to receive the return from Dexter Blackstock. Keeper Heinz Muller raced off his line but Agyemang showed calmness and composure to loft the ball over him and then great strength and persistence to beat Souza to the dropping ball and head it into the net.

QPR fans continue to talk about the need for an out and out goal scorer, and I’d agree that we’re probably a Lee Cook style left winger and a Robert Earnshaw type of striker away from a seriously competitive team in this league, but I feel Agyemang has suffered a little of the Georges Santos syndrome since moving from Preston. The Preston fans didn’t rate him and the Preston management didn’t pick him and therefore he must be crap. Playing in a better team, in a different system, in a part of the country where he’s happy to live Agyemang now has two goals from two starts and looked a real handful for Barnsley throughout. They spent all game trying to come up with a method of dealing with him without success. Devon White style cult hero status awaits if he continues this excellent start to his QPR career.

After that the first half took on the feeling of a pre-season match, or that horrible game we have to play on New Years Day every year. The largest crowd of the season at Loftus Road were almost completely silent through the first half, always a by-product of offers that fill the stands with young kids, and the team seemed quite happy to sit on their one goal lead and allow Barnsley to play the ball around in their own half. It needed a big tackle, a controversial incident or another goal to get the crowd back into it and liven the game up but that didn’t materialise and the next half hour or so was played out at a pedestrian pace – Fitz Hall’s header wide from a corner barely warrants a mention.

Barnsley’s top scorer Brian Howard had a couple of pops from long range that flew into the Lower Loft but the only players on the visiting team that looked anything like were central midfielder Diego Leon and winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce. A theatrical looking fall from the latter gave Howard a free kick from 30 yards but he fired it well wide.

Leon is another newbie in English football, and didn’t even make it onto the back of the programme, but he looked confident and composed in possession in the Barnsley midfield. QPR know all about Campbell Ryce after suffering at his hands in his days with Orient and Southend and he was again the most impressive opponent on the day. It’s surely only a matter of time before a move to a bigger club at this level comes his way.

The game was about as dull and dire you’re ever likely to see. QPR went right off the boil after opening the scoring and seemed happy for Barnsley to have the ball rather than actively seeking possession and further goals for themselves. A low cross-shot from Buzsaky on the half hour that just eluded Vine in the penalty area was a rare moment of excitement – and a rare sight of Buzsaky with the ball at feet hurting Barnsley, he was wasted wide on the left overall and must be returned to that position behind the forwards as soon as possible.

Rangers sprang back to life just before half time. Matthew Connolly accelerated into the Barnsley half from right back, fed the ball to Vine and ran down the line on the overlap. That created the space for Vine to cut infield in typical style and his close control and speed carried him past two would be tacklers to the edge of the box. He played a one two with Agyemang and then returned a third pass to Big Dave putting him in behind the Barnsley defence. When Agyemang cut the ball back across the face of goal the second one two was complete and Vine couldn’t miss from two yards out. A magnificent footballing goal, exactly the kind of play we want to see from our Queens Park Rangers side.

Despite a comfortable two goal lead the message to Rangers from De Canio at half time clearly centred around the removal of a few fingers and a bit more effort to kill the game off once and for all because Rangers emerged for the second half with a lot more urgency about them. The crowd came back into the game after a magnificent Wegerle style run from Martin Rowlands that took him forty yards through the Barnsley half past five opponents and the keeper ended with him losing his footing and having a shot cleared from the line by Stephen Foster. Had he slid the ball past Muller and into the net instead it would have been the goal of the season so far and the crowd rose as one to acclaim a man who is right on top of his game at the moment.

Even discounting this awesome piece of skill Rowlands had another tremendous game in the middle of midfield. With the ball his passing and vision is second to none, without it he covers every blade of grass, tackles like a demon and leads the team around the pitch. He’s a superb captain for our team at the moment and the driving force behind recent improvements – De Canio can build a great QPR side around this man. With Leigertwood back to his best alongside him, there can be few better central midfield partnerships in the Championship at the moment.

Barnsley’s first serious threat of the game predictably came from Campbell-Ryce who raced in behind Hall after a rare slip by the big defender and fired towards goal from an acute angle. Lee Camp had rushed out to narrow the angle took the shot full in the face, diverting it out for a corner in the process. An important save, although he probably didn’t know very much about it.

Apart from that play was flowing exclusively down to the Loft End and after Blackstock had a penalty appeal rightly waved away following a clash on the edge of the area Rangers were unlucky not to go three up on two occasions either side of the hour mark.

First Matthew Connolly chipped Muller with a glorious twenty yard lob that dropped a foot or so wide of the post when it could so easily have landed in the net – how long is it since we had a right back capable of something like that? Then a quick throw out from Camp to Vine in the right back spot had QPR racing away on a counter attack that saw Vine feed Leigertwood with a wonderful pass and had he squared the ball Blackstock would have been left with a simple tap in but he took the shot on himself and Muller palmed it out for a corner with two hands.

Barnsley tried to bring themselves back into the game by introducing two strikers. Kayode Odejayi and Istvan Ferenczi were added to the attack by Simon Davey while former R Rohan Ricketts came into the midfield, but one of the players replaced was Leon which didn’t seem to make sense to me after his impressive display and the changes made little difference. Odejayi diverted a cross from Ricketts high and wide from four yards out when he should have scored but apart from that, and a long range shot from Campbell-Ryce that beat Camp but also missed the post as well, Barnsley never looked like scoring. Rowlands nearly got the goal he deserved when he drilled a 20 yard shot a fraction wide of the post after Buzsaky played a corner to the edge of the area.

Rangers were forced into a change of their own with 15 minutes still to play. Fitz Hall cleared a cross for a corner at full stretch but immediately felt his calf and tried to stretch out a pull or strain of some sorts. He was quickly replaced by Michael Mancienne who returned from his own injury lay off by going to right back with Connolly moving inside. It’s to be hoped Hall’s injury isn’t too serious, he jogged off the pitch and came out to applaud the crowd afterwards so that looks hopeful. Luckily we’re no longer struggling for centre halves.

It’s a good job really because within five minutes Damion Stewart also had to be replaced with a much more serious looking injury. A corner into the area from Buzsaky saw a coming together in the six yard box that left Stewart in a crumpled heap. Rangers played on around him with the Barnsley players protesting at the presence of a stricken body in the goal mouth and should have scored when a fantastic low cross from Buzsaky found Blackstock at the near post but he inexplicably failed to make contact from five yards and the ball flew across the face of goal. I’d hazard a guess and say the linesman would have flagged Stewart offside had the goal been scored, you can hardly say he wasn’t interfering laying down at the keeper’s feet, but the miss summed up Blackstock’s afternoon. Another below par showing from him.

Physio Paul Hunter had a tough job getting Stewart to crawl five yards off the pitch and after lengthy treatment in front of the Loft a stretcher was called for and Stewart left the field in obvious discomfort. The ten day break will give our medical team a chance to get the two centre halves fit for the trip to Cardiff.

Kieran Lee went to right back in Stewart’s place with Mancienne moving to centre half to form an inexperienced partnership with Connolly. De Canio also introduced Ephraim for Blackstock with two minutes to go – a change that he was originally going to make just before Fitz Hall got injured and one that probably would have seen Rangers go on to score another goal or two had it been made half an hour previous. Blackstock’s withdrawal allowed Buzsaky to move into a more central position with Ephraim wide and that’s a much more threatening set up for me than the one that played the majority of this match.

Rangers won this game playing in second gear. Rowlands and Leigertwood were terrific in the middle of midfield and having two competent full backs who are comfortable with the ball coming forward as well as defending on both sides really made a big difference. Barnsley never looked like getting anything from the game.

It was perhaps a little disappointing to see Rangers rest on this comfort in the first half instead of really going for the jugular because the visitors looked ripe for a four or five goal thrashing and we could easily have given them it with more ambition. Having said that it was really nice to see a QPR team winning so comfortably at this level, playing nice football, scoring well worked goals and never looking in any danger. I can’t remember ever being so relaxed at a Rangers match before.

As for Barnsley, the future looks bleak. A terrific start to the season saw them occupying the play off places but I’m struggling to recall a team as poor as this other than Hull City visiting Loftus Road this season. Campbell Ryce and Leon apart they looked distinctly League One, and their foreign legion didn’t really look up for this kind of battle away from home. The fact that the current bottom three are so God awful could be the only thing to save them this season.

We have a free weekend coming up which gives us a chance to patch up Stewart and Hall, and then a tough looking pair of games at Cardiff and against Bristol City. Barnsley hardly tested our new look team at all but I’d expect them to be much more stretched by those two opponents and I fancy we’ll see just how far we have progressed in the next two games.

QPR: Camp 7, Connolly 7, Hall 7 (Mancienne 7), Stewart 7 (Lee -), Delaney 8, Vine 8, Rowlands 8+, Leigertwood 8, Buzsaky 6, Blackstock 5 (Ephraim -), Agyemang 8
Subs not used: Crowther, Balanta
Goals: Agyemang (assisted Blackstock), Vine (assisted Agyemang)

Barnsley: Muller 6, Hassell 6, Van Homoet 5, Foster 6, Tininho 6, Campbell-Ryce 8, Howard 6, Coulson 5 (Odejayi 55, 5), Devaney 5 (Ricketts 70, 6), Leon 7 (Ferenczi 54, 5), Souza 5.
Subs Not Used: Kozluk, Togwell

QPR Star Man – Martin Rowlands 8 - Ran off a worrying early injury to control the game from start to finish. Excellent passing, superb work rate, never missed a beat all match. Really unlucky not to score. In the form of his career at the moment.

Referee: Richard Beeby (Northamptonshire) 7 Turned down a QPR penalty which I think was the right decision, kept cards in his pocket and allowed the game to flow where possible. One complaint I would have is that whenever a corner award was disputed by one of the teams, he immediately nullified the protests by awarding a free kick to the defending side for some mysterious pushing infringement under the corner. It’s an old referee’s trick when you think you might have stuffed up by awarding the corner, but when you’re doing it for the third or fourth time in the same game it looks a little bit obvious!

Attendance: 16,197 (600 Barnsley fans approx) Biggest crowd of the season but almost completely silent in the first half. Both sets of supporters spent long periods of the game arguing with jobsworth stewards about sitting down in the F Block, R Block and back of the away end. Just piss off and leave the supporters alone will you?

Photo: Action Images

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