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Patient QPR break down Scunthorpe's Iron resistance
Patient QPR break down Scunthorpe's Iron resistance
Sunday, 16th Mar 2008 16:03

QPR scored three goals at home for the fifth time in eight games as they pushed Scunthorpe United closer to relegation with a comfortable win.

It’s horrible playing against your home town team. Yesterday was about as worked up as I’ve been at a match for some time, fearing the shame of returning to North Lincolnshire with anything other than a win against our lowly visitors. For a long time it looked like Scunthorpe would take at least a point from Loftus Road – they were a long way from being the worst team to visit W12 this season, tidy in possession and stubborn at the back until QPR finally picked them apart 12 minutes from time. If they’d got into half time one goal up, which they would have done but for a questionable penalty award late in the first period, then this could have been a very different story.

In the end though QPR’s class told. Patrick Agyemang’s goal was the culmination of a magnificent move and for all the hard work and impressive touches of Cork, McCann and Sparrow in the Scunthorpe midfield they never looked capable of producing anything similar to that. The scoreline flattered Rangers, but it was hard to argue that they didn’t deserve to win. Still, there was little or no pleasure in this for those of us who park at Scunthorpe’s Glanford Park ground when we go to Tesco – relaxation coming only in the final few seconds of the game.

De Canio kept faith with the same team that had taken a 3-0 win against Blackpool and ended up clinging to 3-2 for dear life. That meant Camp in goal behind Mancienne, Hall, Connolly and Delaney in defence. Across the middle Vine and Buzsaky started wide with Rowlands in the middle and Leigertwood still preferred to Mahon. Up front Blackstock and Agyemang partnered each other – without a goal in nine starts between them.

Scunthorpe were without leading scorer Martin Paterson with a groin injury so Geoff Horsfield led the line with support from deep from Matt Sparrow and Paul Hayes. Captain Andy Crosby was passed fit to start at the heart of the defence while former QPR stalwart Ian Baraclough made his 601st career appearance at left back as manager Nigel Adkins again preferred him to Marcus Williams.

The first chance of the match fell to Dexter Blackstock who met Patrick Agyemang’s excellent cross with his knee but could only direct the ball into the arms of Joe Murphy in the Scunthorpe goal. Blackstock went on to have another frustrating afternoon – he worked very hard, harder than he has for some time, but looked low on confidence and his touch was very poor at time. An early goal from this chance could have given him a much needed boost but it wasn’t to.

In fact it was Scunthorpe who drew first blood, opening the scoring in the eighth minute. Geoff Horsfield received the ball on the edge of the box with his back to goal and won a free kick when Fitz Hall wrapped his arms around him.

Now you may think Horsfield was backing in, or that it wasn’t a foul either way, but the fact remains that the referee gave it – and he gave it the next time Hall did it, and the time after that, and the time after that and yet Hall kept doing the same thing. Every time Horsfield received the ball with his back to goal Hall wrapped his arms around him and conceded a free kick. Hall threw his arms in the air, thumped the ground in frustration, argued with the referee, but most of all looked surprised every time the decision went against him despite the referee making it perfectly clear that he was going to give a free kick every single time. Did Hall not consider not putting his arms round him once just to see what would happen? Apparently not. Thankfully this first example was the only time Scunthorpe profited from one of the resulting set pieces.

Jim Goodwin lined up a right foot shot and Grant McCann a left footer which seemed to put Lee Camp in two minds and with the wall hardly covering itself in glory the Rangers keeper ended up rooted to the spot as McCann’s low shot flew into the bottom corner. A very poor goal from the defence and keeper’s point of view.

Rangers thought they’d equalised within 90 seconds. Martin Rowlands cracked a low shot in on goal that deflected and skipped up off the greasy surface. Murphy parried the ball back into the danger zone when he should have held the ball and Patrick Agyemang slammed it back into the net but the flag shot up as soon as the ball came back off the keeper and the goal was ruled out. The keeper was in better form five minutes later with a magnificent one handed tip away as Agyemang attempted to force Buzsaky’s cross in from close range.

Scunthorpe looked very handy going forward. With Hall remorselessly fouling Horsfield every time he went near the ball the Iron had plenty of set piece opportunities and Camp had to be at his best to deny McCann when he tried again from long range around the 20th minute – shortly before this Horsfield headed over from a corner when he should have at least got it on target. The 4-5-1 formation adopted by the visitors – with Cork, Hayes and Sparrow all joining Horsfield from deep when he brought the ball down, was very good to watch and effective for them. I was particularly impressed with Sparrow and Cork who both looked like good players a this level.

Rangers were being frustrated by the visitors, and by the referee who was whistling constantly and penalising many offences that could easily have been allowed to play on. His performance was a massive departure from the excellent way Keith Hill refereed the Blackpool game on Tuesday and broke up the flow of the play. It was starting to look like one of those typical QPR at home against a poor team days and things could have got a lot worse had Jim Goodwin hit his drive a yard further to the left – ultimately though his powerful shot from just inside the penalty area flew into the side netting.

The best chance of the match to this point fell to QPR’s marauding left back Damien Delaney. Rarely can I remember a full back attacking as much as Delaney does and when you have a defender joining the attacks it creates all sorts of problems for opponents because nobody is detailed to pick them up. Delaney scored last week at Sheff Wed and had a chance from a similar position inside the penalty area around the half hour when Buzsaky and Vine combined to set the Irishman up. Sadly for the home fans his low effort with the outside of his left foot flew across the face of goal and out for a goal kick.

It looked like Scunthorpe would be going into the break in front but two minutes before half time referee Mick Thorpe took centre stage again. Michael Mancienne won the ball back from Horsfield ten yards inside the Scunthorpe half and Thorpe waved play on as the Iron appealed for a free kick – it could easily have been given as a foul. Martin Rowlands collected the ball and drove towards the area before laying one through to Rowan Vine in the area. Izzy Iriekpen came across and stuck his shoulder into Vine before toeing the ball out for a corner. Vine went flying and the referee pointed straight to the penalty spot. It certainly didn’t look like much of a foul to me, certainly no worse than the one on Horsfield seconds earlier that had started the move – the replays made it look like more of a foul than it did at the time.

This struck me as a home crowd decision. The fans had been on Thorpe’s back screaming for decisions for some time before this and it looked like that pressure had got to him with this award. Skipper Andy Crosby and keeper Joe Murphy were both booked for their part in the proceeding protests. The decision was particularly hard on Ireikpen who was Scunthorpe’s best defender by some distance and kept Vine well under control for the majority of the match.

Martin Rowlands stepped up to take the kick and after waiting an eternity, and re-spotting the ball after Horsfield had moaned to the referee, he sent Murphy the wrong way with a jinking run up and tucked the ball away. Noticeable that after the Charlton miss Rowlands appears to have changed sides with his penalties – although perhaps Murphy’s early dive off to his right made his mind up for him. After conceding game changing goals to Burnley and Sheff Wed on the stroke of half time in recent weeks it was nice to see us get one of our own here.

Scunthorpe looked sharper than their hosts at the start of the second half just as they had done in the first. It was no surprise to see the first attack of the half come from another free kick conceded by Hall on Horsfield - only poor finishing from the Scunthorpe man prevented them retaking the lead when Rangers fell asleep and failed to pick him up wide in the penalty area as McCann slid a short ball into his feet. As QPR came into the game more Patrick Agyemang volleyed wide from just inside the area with some QPR fans celebrating what looked like a goal from their angle.

Just after the hour mark tempers flared in the penalty area as the players waited for Buzsaky to deliver a QPR corner. Both linesmen waded in, including one who ran all the way down to the School End from the other half of the pitch for no discernible reason whatsoever. It all seemed to be a lot of fuss over nothing but Fitz Hall was pulled out of the crowd and booked by Mick Thorpe for his part in the melee. Matthew Connolly also went into the book for a foul on Paul Hayes.

Mikele Leigertwood looked like he was going to add to his portfolio of spectacular goals when he brought the ball down with his chest on the edge of the area after 70 minutes – unlike against Stoke at home recently he fired the half volley wide of the target.

With just 12 minutes remaining Scunthorpe’s stubborn resistance was finally broken with a move of genuine guile and class carving them apart down the middle. Martin Rowlands seemed to be going nowhere as he crossed the half way line in the wrong direction with the ball at his feet under pressure from Sparrow but just when a ball to the right back spot looked likely he instead played a lovely thirty yard ball straight down the middle of the pitch to Buzsaky. The Hungarian turned, laid it into the feet of Agyemang on the edge of the box, received the ball back on the other side of Goodwin and then played it back through to Agyemang who was now facing the goal and made no mistake with a finish into the top corner after taking a touch to set himself. In the aftermath of the goal Mikele Leigertwood was booked although it wasn't immediately apparant why.

This was a really classy goal and a product of Akos Buzsaky coming into the middle of the park to receive the ball – this is where he is most dangerous and, with Dexter Blackstock again offering little to the team, is where he should be playing. He’ll hurt teams like Scunthorpe all day long from the middle of the park, but struggles to get in the game wide right.

Obviously I’m wrong though because no sooner had Scunthorpe restarted he game than Buzsaky was taken off for Gavin Mahon. It would surely have made more sense to remove Blackstock and move Buzsaky or Vine in alongside Agyemang and the change left three central midfielders crowding the middle of the park while a massive gap on the QPR right appeared as Leigertwood, Mahon and Rowlands argued over just who was meant to be playing there.

The visitors made some changes of their own at this point – sending on former Millwall man Ben May and midfielder Kevan Hurst to boost their attack. Now with two big lads up top the tactics clearly changed from working the ball on the floor with Sparrow, Cork and McCann to getting the ball up to the top with May and Horsfield as quickly as possible. This didn’t cause QPR nearly as many problems as the passing and running from deep had done with Fitz Hall and Matt Connolly easily able to deal with long balls down he pitch.

Scunthorpe threw everybody forward after falling behind and only three blocks in quick succession from Connolly and Hall prevented first Horsfield and then Sparrow forcing an equaliser at the Loft End. Connolly was magnificent at centre half all afternoon – both defending Scunthorpe attacks and starting QPR moves off with excellent distribution out from the back. He gets better and better with every game.

In stoppage time, with Scunthorpe pushing for the equaliser, Rangers added a third. Gavin Mahon mishit a cross from the left, sending it low across the face of the area when he intended to swing it to the back post. Blackstock missed it on the edge of the penalty area but then Ian Baraclough showed his age with an attempted sliding interception that looked more like an old man falling over in the pension queue at the post office than an effective move on the football pitch – as a result Rowan Vine had all the time he needed to control the ball, cut into the area off the right flank, and chip the ball over Murphy and into the far corner. A lovely finish, Vine’s second goal of the week, but it came after he’d switched sides away from Iriekpen who he’d failed to beat once in the entire match.

This was certainly a long way from being our best performance of the season but we did enough to win and played some decent football at times. The move for Agyemang’s goal was brilliant and had the scoreline stayed at 2-1, which would have been a fairer reflection of the game, then that would have been a great way to win the game.

There were plenty of positives for QPR fans to take from this – both full backs were excellent, Delaney going forward at every opportunity and Mancienne looking calm and composed with the ball and without. Scunthorpe focussed the majority of their play down the middle with Horsfield, Cork and Sparrow though so perhaps our full backs stood out because they were left untroubled when Scunthorpe attacked and unchecked when we went forward.

Matt Connolly was also excellent in my opinion, and he needed to be with Hall struggling to cope with Horsfield. Rowlands was excellent as always and Buzsaky impressed when he got on the ball, which he didn’t do often enough – no coincidence that the goal came after he’d come infield looking for possession. Vine struggled to get the better of Iriekpen but took his goal nicely, as did Agyemang who looked a lot sharper and focussed than he has done in recent games – his hold up play and lay offs were spot on here after a couple of weeks of sloppiness. Sadly Dexter Blackstock continues to look a shadow of his former self alongside him, despite an improved work rate in this match, and his days at the club could be numbered if he doesn’t get a break, a goal or show an improvement soon.

The biggest positive of all though is reaching 51 points – one off the generally accepted 52 point survival mark and safe in all but name now. A great achievement considering we were the last team in the football league to get a win and were rooted to the bottom of the league before Christmas. I heard yesterday that only Man Utd have scored more goals than us in the football league since Christmas and with that kind of goal scoring prowess in your locker there’s no need to panic or lose confidence when conceding an early goal as we did here.

In fact the early goal against, as it had done against Southampton, seemed to relax and settle our layers down – the same could not be said for the Northern R’s squirming in our seats up in the F Block. We left it late to take the lead but the performance from QPR was consistently decent across the 90 minutes as opposed to the peaks and troughs that defined the Burnley, Sheff Wed and Blackpool games recently. The penalty award was crucial just before half time – the replays this morning certainly make it look like more a foul than it did at the time – and without that it could have been a different story but overall an accomplished and satisfying display and result.

The next two away games look tough but I’d back us to win at least two of our remaining three home games and I wouldn’t rule out another three point haul on the road before the season ends. Onwards and upwards for us then but for Scunthorpe the situation looks bleak. I can’t see them getting out of the trouble they’re in with the players they’ve got and with the two games against them this season taking years off my life and (more) inches off my hair line I can’t say I’ll be sorry to see a fixture list without their name on it next season.

QPR: Camp 6, Mancienne 8, Connolly 8, Hall 6, Delaney 8, Vine 7, Leigertwood 6, Rowlands 8 (Stewart 90, -), Buzsaky 7 (Mahon 81, -), Agyemang 7 (Lee 90, -) Blackstock 5
Subs Not Used: Pickens, Balanta
Booked: Connolly (foul), Hall (off the ball incident), Leigertwood (unsporting conduct)
Goals: Rowlands 43 pen (assisted Vine), Agyemang 79 (assisted Buzsaky), Vine 90 (assisted Mahon)

Scunthorpe: Murphy 7, Iriekpen 8, Crosby 6, Baraclough 5, Butler 6, Sparrow 8, McCann 7 (May 83, -), Goodwin 5, Cork 7, Hayes 5 (Hurst 87, -), Horsfield 7
Subs Not Used: Hobbs, Lillis, Horlock
Booked: Murphy (dissent), Crosby (dissent)
Goals: McCann 8 (assisted Horsfield)

QPR Star Man – Matthew Connolly 8 - Four or five candidates for this with Rowlands excellent in midfield and Mancienne and Delaney both playing very well. However with Mancienne needing to work on his forward play and crossing, Delaney’s positioning still leaving a bit to be desired and Rowlands getting man of the match every week I’ve decided to go for Connolly. Produced a goal saving block at the end to prevent it going to 2-2 and distributed the ball well from the back as well. He’s going from strength to strength in my opinion and looks like a great prospect for the future – did very well yesterday while Hall struggled with Horsfield.

Referee: Mike Thorpe (Suffolk) 3 - Compare this performance to the one we enjoyed from keith Hill on Tuesday and the difference is stark. Was the game on Saturday really so much more physical and dirty than the one against Blackpool? I don’t think so – and yet we ended up with twice as many yellow cards and 11 more free kicks awarded. Thorpe was picky, whistle happy and struggled to keep control of the game. The penalty looked very harsh on Scunthorpe but it came on the back of countless strange decisions in their favour during the first half. Very poor.

Attendance: 14,499 (600 Scunthorpe approx) - Decent atmosphere inside Loftus Road with few empty seats on view and QPR fans on all four sides. Creditable, if a little quiet, following from Scunthorpe in the upper School End.


Photo: Action Images

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