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QPR collapse in Sheffield again
QPR collapse in Sheffield again
Sunday, 9th Mar 2008 16:29

QPR succumbed to another 2-1 defeat in Sheffield after taking the lead on Saturday.

There was a real sense of déjà vu on Saturday as QPR lost 2-1 in Sheffield for the second time this season. As they had done at Sheff Utd in January Rangers played very well in the first half and took a deserved lead, but just as at Bramall Lane they played abysmally in the second period and gave up the advantage to lose with embarrassing ease.

Two substitutions and a goal before half time changed the game Wednesday’s way and once they went in front QPR showed nothing to suggest they were capable of changing the direction of the game back in their favour in the same way. In fact while Brian Laws was able to add life to his attack, legs to his midfield and confidence to his side at a time when they were being comprehensively outplayed, De Canio’s substitutions seemed to actually weaken QPR further with their biggest attacking threat, Rowan Vine, leaving the field with half an hour still to play.

On a windy day and a poor pitch, and sleet and rain driving in the player’s faces during the second half, this was an all too familiar story of QPR on the road in the north. They showed in the first half that the ability to win the game was there, but then after the 40th minute they didn’t have the heart, passion, fight, composure or confidence to see the game through and never looked like getting back into it once they’d fallen behind. This soft under belly of our side needs to be addressed or we’re going to keep blowing points in this way.

Luigi De Canio was forced to make a change to his side for the first time in three matches thanks to an injury to Fitz Hall. Damion Stewart came in for him with Zesh Rehman as back up on the bench – this was a savage blow for me because the back four was starting to look very impressive, and keep consecutive clean sheets, now it was settled and a change there was the last thing we needed. So Mancienne, Stewart, Connolly and Delany the back four in front of Camp. In midfield Mikele Leigertwood carried on alongside Rowlands in the middle but it was good to see Gavin Mahon back from injury and ready to make an impact from the bench. Rowan Vine started wide left with Buzsaky wide right. Up front Dexter Blackstock partnered Pat Agyemang with Ephraim dropping down to the bench.

Wednesday were without Adam Bolder under the terms of his recently extended loan deal, and former QPR flop Ben Sahar with a hamstring injury. They started with former Luton man Enoch Showumni up front with Marcus Tudgay, and newly crowned Football League Apprentice of the Year Lee Beevers at centre half. Tommy Spurr, who QPR tried very hard to sign during January, started at left back. Frenchman Frank Songo’o started on the wing with Jermaine Johnson suspended after falling victim to Andy D’Urso’s eccentric week at the office on Tuesday.

Showumni blasted into the away end from the edge of the area with Wednesday’s first attack but the opening stages, and most of the first half, were completely dominated by QPR. As we’d done against Stoke last week we sent the ball down the left flank with Rowan Vine as often as possible. Rowlands played some superb passes out to him and with Wednesday leaving Hinds one on one with him more often than not he had a field day out there. Hinds wasn’t even a particularly good player in League One with Scunthorpe so it was a real surprise to see Laws sign him in the Championship last summer – slightly less shocking to see Vine giving him a real hard time in the first half.

Vine snatched at a chance from a Buzsaky free kick and sent it into the stand, then the Hungarian tried a free kick shot from fully thirty yards that had power but lacked direction after beating the wall. A low cross from Songo’o that eluded Small and Tudgay in the penalty area was as good as it got for the home side.

With a quarter of an hour played Rangers took a deserved lead. Martin Rowlands fed the ball wide left to Rowan Vine and after he’d reached the byline and pulled the ball back across it was left to Damien Delaney to slide a low side footed effort across the face of goal and into the far corner for his first goal in a QPR shirt. That combination of Rowlands wide to Vine on the left was the key to an excellent opening to the game for Rangers.

Wednesday looked like a team in real trouble. With no cutting edge up front and Ronnie Wallwork looking just about as slow and ineffective as any player I’ve ever seen in this division it was left to Graham Kavanagh to effectively face Rowlands and Leigertwood by himself and he simply got swamped. Time after time they gave the ball away in the middle of the park, the home fans voicing their displeasure with greater volume with every wayward pass or shanked clearance. They looked absolutely terrible and QPR were well on top.

The killer second goal just wouldn’t come though. Blackstock fired narrowly wide with an excellent effort and Agyemang went even closer just after the half hour – rolling a low shot with the outside of his foot off the inside of the post and back into the arms of Grant after turning Beevers on the edge of the area. Moments later another rampaging run down the left from Vine ended with a shot from 20 yards that flew a foot or so over the bar with Grant beaten. Blackstock thumped a shot over the bar when placed to do better as QPR continued to press for the second goal.

Brian Laws had seen enough – if this was a boxing bout he may have thrown the trainer’s towel into the ring at this stage. With five minutes of the first half still to play he elected to make two substitutions – removing Showumni and Wallwork and replacing them with Burton and McAllister. As I said in the pre-match preview Showumni is essentially a pub footballer and it’s absolutely ridiculous that somebody with so little ability is not only playing at this level but playing ahead of Deon Burton. Wednesday always look at their most dangerous when Burton and Tudgay play together. I was almost embarrassed for Wallwork just watching him – if ever there was a League Two player out of his depth there he is. My God he was dreadful.

When at Scunthorpe Laws was regularly slated by the home fans for his appalling use of substitutions which regularly came far too late to change anything and often mystified everybody when they did happen. With that in mind I was very happy as half time approached because with Showumni lumbering around up front and Wallwork blowing through his arse in the centre circle Wednesday were no more going to score than fly to the moon on their team coach and I thought Laws would leave it until late in the second half to change it. For once he didn’t, and it swung the game completely in the home team’s favour.

Suddenly they started enjoying possession in the QPR half for the first time in the game. They started reaching the second balls for the first time, and they looked like they’d upped it a few gears as half time approach. Burton and Tudgay looked lively in attack together, and with McAllister’s energy in midfield their ball retention improved immeasurably. Getting to the break in front in the face of this renewed surge from the home side was crucial to QPR’s hopes of winning the game and true to form we didn’t quite manage it.

In the first minute of stoppage time a ball over the top of the defence from Songo’o found Kavanagh completely unmarked arriving late and onside – the veteran midfielder calmly guided a header over Camp and into the net. As I’ve been saying for some time it’s imperative that we get a settled back four together and it was no surprise really that with Hall dropping out injured our run of three games without conceding came to an end with a poor defensive goal – nobody tracked Kavanagh from midfield and the offside trap failed hopelessly.

Momentum had certainly swung Wednesday’s way with the substitutions and the equaliser before half time and within five minutes of the restart they were in front. A long clearance down the field from Lee Grant, who now had the wind at his back, was flicked on by Burton into the penalty area. With Tudgay closing in Lee Camp patted the ball down instead of catching it and that allowed McAllister to toe the ball away from him and then hit the deck as Camp ankle tapped him in the area. A certain penalty, and one that was coolly dispatched into the corner of the net by Burton – Camp dived the wrong way after Burton stalled his run up.

Rangers’ best chances of the second half both fell to Dexter Blackstock. First Vine crossed from the left and Blackstock met it first time at the near post only to see his side footed effort fly straight at Lee Grant. Later another cross from the left, this time by Delaney, was headed goalwards by the QPR striker but Grant was equal to it with a sprawling save off to his left.

At the other end Wednesday were well on top throughout the second half. Graham Kavanagh came close to making it 3-1 with a wonderful curling shot from the corner of the penalty box but Lee Camp kept it out with a finger tip save out of the top corner at full stretch. Kavanagh was totally crowded out of the game in the first 40 minutes but once McAllister came on to share the work load he developed into the best player on the pitch in the second half. He curled a free kick narrowly wide as well before Tudgay tried to lob his old Derby County team mate Lee Camp from over 40 yards, the ball flew just too high.

With just over an hour played De Canio sent on Ephraim for Vine, a substitution that baffled everybody sitting round me, and certainly didn’t go down too well with the departing player who kicked up a fuss on the touchline and in the dug out as he left the pitch. No excuse for such public displays of dissent towards the management but I can understand his frustration – we were at our best in this match when Vine had the ball wide on the left, when we stopped getting the ball to him we stopped looking threatening and to take him off seemed like a strange decision to me.

Gavin Mahon was also sent on for Mikele Leigertwood and in a second half of few bright spots he was at least a positive – looking much stronger and more assured in the middle of the park than Leigertwood. Hopefully Mahon will get back to fitness and back in the team regularly because it’s just that kind of player we need to stop these crazy collapses happening.

The teams exchanged bookings around the 75 minute mark as Damion Stewart chopped down McAllister and Tudgay incurred the wrath of the referee for kicking the ball away.

In the final ten minutes, when it should have been QPR pushing forwards and chasing an equaliser, play took place almost exclusively at the far end of the ground as first Songo’o had a shot blocked, then Spurr headed wide from a corner and finally Small sent a rasping low drive wide of the far post. QPR didn’t look like they thought an equaliser was possible, or that they wanted one very much.

As the game entered three minutes of added on time it descended into a complete farce. Sheffield Wednesday were running the clock down in the corner and won a free kick when Songo’o hit the deck. This seemed to rile a few of the QPR players, it certainly wasn’t the first time in the game that Songo’o had done a dying swan act and just six minutes earlier he’d collapsed to the floor and earned Damien Delaney a booking which was perhaps the source of all the ill-feeling in the closing stages. From the free kick Ephraim went steaming in with a ridiculous challenge on the Frenchman that included a forearm smash into his chin. Once the resulting melee had died down he was sent off. By this stage Martin Rowlands was flying into the crowd of players and Lee Camp had to fish him out, Stewart, Delaney and Connolly were there as well and ultimately the referee made the sensible decision to bring the game to a close. Songo’o was ushered off the pitch by his team mates but several QPR players seemed keen to have another word and the disagreements and scuffles continued as they bundled en masse into the tunnel.

It was just a tad frustrating to see our players fighting and picking up suspensions in injury time with the game lost when lack of fight, passion and heart over the previous hour was the reason we were losing the game in the first place. Ephraim had lost his rag with the officials at Coventry a couple of times on Wednesday and had some embarrassing hand waving, feet stamping hissy fits. He totally lost it with Songo’o here and now starts a deserved three game ban. He’s young and he’ll learn but he needs to show some more maturity or he’ll keep letting himself and the team down like this. I’ve read on the official website that he doesn’t think it was a red card – Hogan I’d encourage you to have a look at the video in the cold light of day!

Same old same old then. Another defeat against a team below us in the table, another defeat after taking the lead, another poor performance in bad weather. We really are a team of southern softies at the moment. Once again I find myself asking how a team can go from playing so well to so terribly badly so quickly? Obviously Wednesday’s double sub before half time and subsequent equaliser swung momentum their way but if we’d come out for the second half as we had the first, getting the ball down and getting it wide to Vine, I’m sure we had enough to win this game. Certainly in the first half we were the better team by some distance and although the subs brought Wednesday, and Kavanagh in particular, back into the game we still had it within ourselves to win this game.

Not for the first time just lately I find myself questioning the heart and stomach of our players. When the going gets tough we collapse time after time after time. Of our 14 defeats this season we’ve been leading the match in seven of them – this softness needs to be addressed, the team seems to lack genuine leaders to me. Hopefully Mahon can come back into the side and help with that, he certainly looked better than Leigertwood when he came on at Hillsborough but didn’t make a massive difference in the same way the home team’s subs did. Our changes actually made us more ineffective while theirs changed the game.

We only need two wins and a draw to get to the 52 point mark and we really should be able to manage that. With Blackpool and Scunthorpe at home over the next seven days we should really be just about there by this time next week – although Pool’s form is very good at the moment and we have won only one of our last 12 Tuesday night fixtures so that’s far from a foregone conclusion.

Sheff Wed: Grant 7, Hinds 5, Beevers 7, Wood 7, Spurr 5, Kavanagh 8, Small 6 (O'Brien 90, -), Wallwork 3 (McAllister 40, 6), Songo'o 7, Tudgay 7, Showumni 4 (Burton 40, 8)
Subs Not Used: Burch, Boden
Booked: Tudgay (foul)
Goals: Kavanagh 45 (assisted Songo’o), Burton 52 pen (assisted McAllister)

QPR: Camp 5, Delaney 6, Stewart 6, Mancienne 6, Connolly 6, Rowlands 6, Leigertwood 5 (Mahon 66, 7), Buzsaky 5 (Balanta 75, 6), Blackstock 6, Agyemang 5, Vine 7 (Ephraim 63, 4)
Subs Not Used: Pickens, Rehman
Sent Off: Ephraim (90) (violent conduct)
Booked: Stewart (foul), Delaney (foul)
Goals: Delaney 15 (assisted Vine)

QPR Star Man – Rowan Vine 7 - I’m giving it to Rowan because he looked our most dangerous player when he was on, he caused Wednesday more problems than anybody else, we looked at our best when we were working the ball wide to him, and he set up the goal. Quite why we stopped giving him the ball in that wide area I don’t know, why on earth he was taken off is a mystery.

Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire) 7 - Seemed to referee the game very well to me, both the penalty decision and the red card were the correct decisions. Thought he could have handled the stoppage time situation a little better, he allowed it to degenerate into a farce by the corner flag and needed to take better control which could easily have been done by warning Songo’o over his play acting earlier in the game. No excuse for what Ephraim did though and he deserves his three match ban.

Attendance: 18,555 (1000 QPR fans approx) Rangers fans were in excellent voice in the first half, as noisy as we’ve been for some time, but that died completely in the second half. The home fans were silent in the first half but picked up a bit in the second half before settling back into a nervous silence for the final ten minutes. Understandable really considering their league position.

Photo: Action Images

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