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We stood there laughing - QPR thump Stoke
We stood there laughing - QPR thump Stoke
Sunday, 2nd Mar 2008 18:16

QPR annihilated Stoke City in front of the Sky cameras at Loftus Road on Sunday.

When QPR were comprehensively beaten at Stoke back in November those who opposed the appointment of a foreign manager shot knowing glances at each other and reached for the mouthwash in preparation for a big, fat “I told you so”.

Rangers were caught out after three minutes by a long throw that it seemed nobody in our camp knew Stoke possessed, and were two down inside ten minutes. A brief second half revival after Rowan Vine’s goal soon gave way to another goal from another set piece. QPR had been bullied by a typical Championship side on a cold Tuesday night up north – just like the doubters said they would be when an Italian with no previous experience of this division was appointed.

On Sunday Luigi De Canio turned the tables, and exacted sweet revenge in a thumping three nil win against the same opponents in the return fixture. If you were asked for a “typical Championship manager” you’d probably hold Tony Pulis up as your example. He’s managed six different clubs in this league and the one below, sets his teams up to play a direct style of football and doesn’t see his team bullied on cold Tuesday nights very often. It was this Championship nouse that people said we’d lack under De Canio and certainly in the games at Stoke, Blackpool, Scunthorpe and Plymouth during the winter that looked like being the case.

But who needs nous? Who needs to know Stoke have a long throw or Scunthorpe have a small pitch or the wind blows down Blackpool’s ground from an open end behind the goal so it’s a good idea to kick that way second half if you can? Who needs all of that if you’ve got the quality, confidence and tactical nous of your own to simply outplay these teams? The first half on Sunday was a comprehensive drubbing of a team sitting 16 places above us in the table on Friday evening. QPR were faster in every department, they worked harder, they passed the ball a million times better than their opposition and they scored two beautiful goals. Stoke caused problems when they attacked, they hit the bar and the post before the break, but those attacks were few and far between while Rangers poured forwards in waves. To go with the high tempo, high octane, quick passing football came a little bit of Championship nouse of our own. Andy Griffin was picked out as the prime target for QPR and the players set about him like a pack of wolves from the kick off.

With Ephraim, Vine and Delaney all detailed to get forward down the left, and Rowlands and Leigertwood providing the passes out there he must have wondered what had hit him. A frighteningly bad 40 minutes was compounded by a ridiculous decision from the referee to send him off for winning the ball from Ephraim – the first time he’d done so all afternoon. Still, after being given such a torrid time he was probably glad of the chance for an early soak. Who says De Canio knows nothing about the Championship? Chalk one up in the continental football column after Sunday’s performance would you Rosemary.

Luigi De Canio changed his team around again after the dire game at Barnsley on Tuesday that we did well to wrestle a point from. Hogan Ephraim was recalled instead of Angelo Balanta and Rowan Vine returned up front with Agyemang at the expense of Dexter Blackstock. Gavin Mahon was still injured so Leigertwood partnered Rowlands in the middle with Buzsaky wide, at the back Mancienne, Hall, Connolly and Delaney continued together in front of Camp.

Stoke had Leon Cort and Ryan Shawcross at centre half despite signing Chris Riggott from Middlesbrough on Friday. Pulis partnered Sidibe and Fuller in attack with one time Rangers transfer target Paul Gallagher only making the bench. The big news from a QPR point of view was the suspension of Rory Delap whose long throws had caused us so many problems in the first game.

It was something of a surprise to see the game begin in front of an away end with the upper tier little over half full and the lower tier completely closed. Presumably the 8000 “loud, proud and loyal” Stoke fans who demanded we open up all parts of the ground to them in May were stuck on the M6.

The game started at a terrific pace with Stoke forcing two corners, one of which Lee Camp dropped but got away with, and Rowan Vine seeing his goal bound shot turned away by a combination of Cort and Shawcross.

Stoke thought they’d gone in front after just four minutes when a cross from Lawrence was headed onto the underside of his own bar by Leigertwood under pressure from Cresswell. Camp got a finger tip onto it initially but looked set for his third own goal of the season as it returned to play and brushed off his back on the line. Connolly hooked the ball away and then all eyes were fixed on the linesman to see if he’d give the goal. Thankfully for QPR he didn’t and from the subsequent breakaway downfield Rangers opened the scoring.

Leigertwood, the man who’d come so close to scoring an own goal, was at the heart of the move, spraying the ball wide to Buzsaky and then receiving possession back from the Hungarian 30 yards from goal. His first touch sat the ball up in front of him and in a carbon copy of his goal at Leicester City earlier in the year he let rip with a half volley that bent around Simonsen and into the bottom corner at a frightening speed. This was a tremendous goal, and after almost going 1-0 down the players celebrated extra hard with their strange dance routine catching the eye by the corner flag.

The second goal was every bit as impressive and well worked as the first with Leigertwood again at the heart of it. Eight minutes after opening the scoring he won the ball back on halfway and after a neat chip over his opponent he fed the ball wide right to Buzsaky and headed for the penalty area. With only Vine in the penalty box to aim for and two Stoke men around him tight to the touchline the odds were against Buzsaky but he produced a gorgeous cross to the back post, Vine did well to win it in between Griffin and Cort and as his knock down dropped into open space around the penalty spot Mikele Leigertwood homed into view and finished the move he’d started with a searing half volley into the roof of the net.

After several poor performances culminating in a dire display at Barnsley on Tuesday it was fantastic to see Leigertwood back to his pre-Christmas form, dictating play and looking dangerous and effective both in attack and defence.

Rangers were running hot, attacking down the left side at every opportunity. Ephraim and Delaney both enjoyed several runs into the penalty area down that flank and Rowlands and Leigertwood had efforts on goal from the edge of the box that failed to trouble Simonsen unduly.

Stoke appealed for a penalty ten minutes before the break when hesitation from Hall let Fuller in down the left side. He and Connolly met head on in the penalty area with the ball appearing to strike the upper part of Connolly’s arm. The referee waved away the half hearted appeals and replays suggested he’d made the right decision.

You couldn’t say the same of him in the last three minutes of the half as two incidents took place to seal the victory for QPR. First Andy Griffin, given a torrid time by Ephraim during the first half, allowed a ball to run away from him slightly just inside the Stoke half. As Ephraim came across to try and nick it Griffin dived in to rescue possession and seemed to whip the ball away pretty cleanly. Andy D’Urso thought differently from his view behind the play and without consultation with the linesman he raced across and immediately produced a red card. Lengthy protests and arguments followed with the referee insisting that the tackle was two footed and the Stoke players adamant that it was one. Personally I’m not even sure it was even much of a foul.

Even with ten men Stoke almost halved the deficit in stoppage time as Ricardo Fuller shielded the ball from Hall inside the penalty area and then rolled a shot gently against the base of the far post with Camp beaten. With the Burnley capitulation still fresh in the minds the dressing room may have been tense at half time had that shot rolled into the corner as it could so easily have done. Instead Rangers were 2-0 up and playing against ten men - the game looked all but won as the boys trooped off for a well earned break. I’m struggling to recall a QPR performance of such high tempo and work rate – Stoke didn’t get a moment of peace and looked laboured and sluggish in comparison. The hard work of Vine, Ephraim, Rowlands, Leigertwood, Sgyuemang and Buzsaky was something to behold – all six of them deserve a pat on the back for that.

After half time the assault down the left flank continued with Agyemang and Ephraim combining to set up Vine from 12 yards, Shawcross got across and blocked just as Vine was opening his body up to try and find the corner of the net.

Rangers made the game safe with a third goal before the hour mark. It actually all started with a Stoke attack – Ricardo Fuller got the ball down and started to run at the QPR defence, a run that was brought to an abrupt halt by a poor and very deliberate foul from Martin Rowlands 25 yards from goal. How Rowly escaped with booking I’ll never know because in many ways his challenge was worse than the one Griffin was sent off for but Stoke didn’t complain too loudly and went about setting up their free kick.

Liam Lawrence scored a blinding goal against Rangers at the Britannia Stadium before Christmas from a similar position but his shot this time lacked power, height and direction and crashed low into the base of the wall. After a brief scramble and tangle of legs Patrick Agyemang came away with the ball and with Stoke over committed the break was on. Agyemang fed Vine who passed to Ephraim as the move flowed into the Stoke half of the field. With Vine overlapping left Ephraim elected to cut inside and find Agyemang just inside the area, he shifted the ball right one more to Buzsaky who buried a low right footed drive into the corner of the net. Replays suggested Agyemang was offside when he played his part in the move but the majority inside Loftus Road didn’t care and when Ephraim and Vine were denied a fourth goal by some desperate Stoke blocks straight from the kick off the ground was rocking.

The pace, speed and incisiveness at which QPR counter attacked was something to behold and when Ephraim and Vine are on top of their games this is a real asset to us. The pair of them had their best games for sometime. Lee Camp had to be at his best to save one handed in the bottom corner from Glenn Whelen, and he bounced back up to deny Fuller a simple tap in from Cresswell’s follow up cross as well, but as with all Stoke attacks QPR quickly jumped back on the front foot and set off down the other end. Within seconds Simonsen had to be at his best to deny Ephraim and Vine in quick succession.

Stoke were understandably frustrated with the referee who certainly seemed to be giving QPR the better of the decisions. Michael Mancienne was booked for a foul on Richard Cresswell but Vine and Rowlands were both lucky to escape and a lot of the decisions certainly seemed to go our way.

With time ticking on Damion Stewart was introduced for Fitz Hall – it looked to be just a precaution with Hall still working his way back to fitness after injury and the games coming thick and fast at the moment. Dexter Blackstock also got a run out as Vine took a well deserved rest, he was certainly right back on his game this week after a poor display against Sheff Utd. Blackstock almost announced his arrival with a fourth goal as the ball sat up ahead of him 15 yards out but his powerful half volley was excellently saved by Steve Simonsen.

Overall then this was a terrific display, probably one of the best of the season so far. In the first half QPR played the game at a frightening pace - every Stoke player in possession was immediately hustled and harried and when we had the ball there was a lot of one and two touch football, spreading the ball to the flanks and playing around Stoke’s side. For a team that led the league at the start of the weekend Stoke looked poor – laboured, slow and lumbering. They had no answer to the pace of QPR’s play and both Vine and Ephraim had an absolute field day down the left flank while Riowlands and Leigertwood were dominant in the centre.

Obviously the sending off was a poor decision but I dare say Andy Griffin was quite relieved to get himself off to the early bath – he’d been absolutely ripped to pieces by Ephraim up to that point and looked a dishevelled figure as he trooped off the pitch after a lengthy protest. Kudos to De Canio for setting us up with Vine, Delaney and Ephraim all running at Griffin – it showed him up and worked an absolute treat for us.

The midfield four had their best game for sometime, particularly Leigertwood who was a clear man of the match in my opinion. That’s how he was playing before Christmas and it was so good to see him back on form after a series of very poor displays recently. Same goes for Vine who was a constant thorn in the visitor’s side.

That naivety and lack of Championship nous that De Canio and his team showed at Stoke in the first game appears to be all but gone. A difficult point ground out on a cold and windy Tuesday night in the north last week followed up with a performance more in the manner that our Italian coaches and board members admire. With two away games to come next week against sides below us in the table these three points are important ones, but the performance is what will please everybody at the club more. Rangers were superb, full value for their points. Let’s hope they can keep it going at Coventry on Wednesday.

QPR: Camp 7, Mancienne 7, Connolly 7, Hall 7 (Stewart 79, -), Delaney 8, Buzsaky 8, Leigertwood 9, Rowlands 8 (Ainsworth 81, -), Ephraim 8, Agyemang 7, Vine 8 (Blackstock 75, 7)
Subs Not Used: Pickens, Lee
Booked: Mancienne (foul)
Goals: Leigertwood 12 (assisted Buzsaky) 21 (assisted Vine), Buzsaky 56 (assisted Agyemang)

Stoke: Simonsen 7, Griffin 3, Cort 5, Shawcross 5, Pugh 5, Lawrence 5 (Buxton 62, 6), Diao 6 (Gallagher 55, 5), Whelan 6, Cresswell 5, Sidibe 5 (Wilkinson 46, 5), Fuller 7
Subs Not Used: Hoult, Parkin
Sent Off: Griffin (two footed tackle)
Booked: Cresswell (dissent)

QPR Star Man – Mikele Leigertwood 9 - Back to his very best after a recent dip in form. Two great goals and more importantly an all action display at the heart of midfield. He didn’t give the ball away as he has done in recent games, he drove forward from midfield more than he has done, and all in all he was superb. Hopefully he’ll now return to his early season form. Honourable mentions to so many others – but particularly Rowlands, Ephraim and Vine who were all brilliant as well.

Referee: Andy D'Urso (Essex) 4 - Fantastic from a QPR point of view but two big decisions went against Stoke incorrectly here. Griffin should never have been sent off and Agyemang was well offside for the third goal. Add to that the letting off of Rowlands and Vine without bookings for tackles that really warranted them in the first half and it would be fair to say we’ve had the rub of the green from the official this week.

Attendance: 13,398 (1000 Stoke fans approx) The home fans sounded as loud as I’ve heard them for sometime, although it was disappointing to hear the atmosphere fade away towards the end of the game when the match was clearly won – this should be the cue for a party not relaxation! Stoke fans make me laugh, all that nonsense they gave us last season about needing three sides of the grounds to cope with their travelling support and how they always travel in magnificent numbers – couldn’t even fill half the away end.

Photo: Action Images

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