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Same old, same old - Wolves deny QPR at the death
Same old, same old - Wolves deny QPR at the death
Sunday, 23rd Mar 2008 14:21

QPR threw away a lead for the 12th, 13th and 14th times this season to snatch a draw from the jaws of victory at Wolves on Saturday.

This one really did have everything. Six goals ranging from glorious long range strikes to goal mouth scrambles, two penalty kicks that were both debatable in their own right, controversy, a referee steadily losing the plot, last gasp equalisers and all played out in weather that could have been mistake for Majorca at the height of summer and Siberia in the depths of winter often within the same thirty seconds. A really good game to advertise the Championship, if not the standard of officiating, and a superb afternoon of entertainment for the neutral. From quiet beginnings it blossomed into a real cliff hanger.

After it was finally all over, just before the second reading of the classified football results thanks to Mr Oliver’s suspiciously home biased time keeping, QPR fans were left to reflect on another chance for three points gone begging. In the cold light of day at the end of this season we’ll look back on a campaign of missed opportunities.

In a league so bunched together and devoid of quality that Hull bloody City can be heading for the Premier League just imagine where we’d be if the seven defeats we’ve suffered having been in the lead, and now four draws as well, had been dealt with more professionally by our players. Not only have we failed to win from a winning position in eleven matches, but we’ve also conceded a frightening number of goals in the last minute of games. Andy Keogh’s low finish after a monumental scramble in the goal mouth was the seventh heartbreaking last second goal against us and the culmination of an unlikely plot from a Roy of the Rovers comic.

With back to back home wins last week Luigi De Canio sent the same eleven out there to do the job once again. That meant Camp in goal behind Mancienne, Connolly, Hall and Delaney. In midfield Rowlands and Leigertwood continued in the middle with Mahon still not quite fit enough for a start. Rowan Vine started on the wing despite missing a good portion of training during the week and Akos Buzsaky made up the four. Up front new Dad Dexter Blackstock partnered Patrick Agyemang.

Wolves started much the brighter of the two sides and missed three great chances to go ahead inside the first ten minutes. All their play went down the right flank with Andy Gray and his crosses caused Rangers all manner of problems in the first half. First Andy Keogh headed wide when he should have at least hit the target and then Sylvain Ebanks followed suit before Lee Camp almost presented the opening goal to Wolves on a silver platter. A low drive from the edge of the area seemed simple enough but Camp spilled it back into the danger zone and only the linesman’s flag denied Ebanks Blake a simple tap in on the rebound.

The home side were forced into a change after only seven minutes though. Rob Edwards collapsed in the Wolves half of the field miles away from the action and after lengthy treatment he was helped from the field and replaced by Jody Craddock.

Wolves still have a really good chance of making the play offs and have been playing much better lately. That, and the usual partisan home crowd, meant the first ten minutes were always going to be tough. A combination of good fortune and stubborn defending saw Rangers through this initial tricky period and then their game plan started to come into action. As we had done with Stoke at Loftus Road we engaged Wolves high up the pitch with Agyemang, Blacksytock, Buzsaky, Vine and Rowlands all chasing the ball around in the Wolves half trying to stop them building attacks.

It worked a treat, Wolves started to play sideways and backwards passes and whenever they did try and go forward they invariably gave the ball away or mishit passes straight out for a throw in. This is where the crowd at Wolves can work against their team and so it proved here – never have I known a crowd turn against their team so quickly or harshly. After just 15 minutes the moans, groans and booing could clearly be heard and as the discontent became louder the Wolves players looked more and more nervous and started to misplace more and more passes. What on earth the home fans expect to achieve with this mindless behaviour towards their own side only they know but it played right into QPR’s hands.

After a quarter of an hour Patrick Agyemang showed great strength and turn of pace to race onto a Buzsaky through ball in the penalty area. He looked offside to me but when the flag stayed down he set himself for a low drive which he sadly dragged all the way across the face of goal and out for a goal kick on the other side. As Wolves continued to make mistakes and Agyemang’s confidence grew he worked his way into the penalty area again a moment later at the end of a superb passing move from the R’s, this time he tried to square the ball to Blackstock when the shot looked a better option and the chance went begging. Rangers didn’t need a third invitation though.

More good hard work high up the pitch forced Wolves to concede the ball in their own half and as QPR passed through their hosts once again a ball from Vine found Buzsaky, under little pressure 20 yards out from goal, and from that moment on there was only ever going to be one outcome. With time to control and move the ball out of his feet Buzsaky composed himself and then lashed a low drive into the net past keeper Hennessey.

After surviving the first ten minutes Rangers had really come into the game and by the time this goal was scored it was certainly with the run of play and no more than the visitors deserved. Job one at Molineux – surviving the early onslaught and turning their fans against the Wolves players was complete. Sadly De Canio was then forced to make a change. Martin Rowlands, who has been struggling with back and hamstring injuries for some time now, had to leave the field and Gavin Mahon came on to replace him. Rowlands had been a key part of the high octane, high pressure game plan and his loss was a big one – it certainly wasn’t lost on the sizeable travelling support from West London that with Mahon and Leigertwood together in the middle of midfield Rangers have conceded seven goals in a game and a half against Cardiff and Burnley. We sat back and feared the worst.

The half seemed to be drifting towards half time. Matt Jarvis fired into the side netting with the goal gaping after Hall’s clearance rebounded to him off Delaney but that was the only serious threat posed to either goal in the final 15 minutes of the half.

Of course QPR have previous for not being able to defend leads into half time and so it proved again with Wolves bagging an equaliser out of nothing. The move began with Connolly climbing all over Ebanks Blake about fifty yards out from goal as the pair contested a long ball. The referee allowed this to play on and then Ebanks Blake gave Connolly a massive shove himself which again was allowed to play on. The ball was then spread wide to Michael Gray and when he crossed Connolly had yet to make it back and Gavin Mahon, trying to cover for the young centre half, wasn’t close enough to Keogh and he sent a composed header past Camp and into the far bottom corner. The whistle sounded seconds later and QPR trooped off for half time, once again we hadn’t been professional enough to see a lead through to the break – Sheffield Wednesday away was the chief topic of conversation on the concourse at half time.

With that game at Hillsborough fresh in the mind I was expecting the second half to only go one way but I was in for a shock. After glorious sunshine during the first half the second period kicked off in heavy snow and a biting wind. Barely two minutes after the restart a cross from Buzsaky to the back post was cleared from danger by Neil Collins after he’d taken the ball down on his shoulder. Only two QPR players appealed, and certainly nobody in the away end did, but Clive Oliver pointed straight at the penalty spot.

With Rowlands off injured Dexter Blackstock took the responsibility and with his current form and level of performance it’s fair to say that most in the away end were holding their breath/soiling their pants as he first had to retrieve the ball from the halfway line, then had to wait for the lengthy Wolves protests to finish, then had to place the ball and mark his eight step run up out, then had to re-spot the ball and mark his run up out again and then finally come forward to take it. We needn’t have worried, he calmly sent Hennessey the wrong way and rolled the ball left footed into the right hand side of the goal as we were looking.

It needs a brave referee to give a penalty at Molineux and in the end it was possibly the worst thing that could have happened to us. With the home fans making their feelings towards the match officials plain the proceeding forty minutes was like playing against twelve men. Mr Oliver gave the impression of somebody who was absolutely desperate for Wolves not to lose. Free kicks were awarded for minimal or no contact whatsoever, offences against QPR players went unpunished, every marginal 50/50 call went Wolves way. Every two minutes there was a whistle and a left hand pointing towards the QPR goal to signal yet another free kick – at one stage I was actually concerned that he’d had a stroke and lost the use of his right arm such was the dearth of decisions going our way.

That might not have mattered had Blackstock doubled his tally for the afternoon two minutes after scoring the penalty. On the edge of the area he controlled a bouncing ball on his thigh, turned, and launched a dipping volley from fully 20 yards that had Hennessey beaten all ends up but just didn’t dip enough and cleared the cross bar by a matter of inches. There is a quality player in there somewhere, Dexter has just kept it very well hidden this season.

Wolves looked set for an immediate equaliser when Andy Keogh raced in behind the QPR defence but Matt Connolly kept pace with him, bided his time and then executed a superb tackle as he was about to pull the trigger before clearing the ball. Mancienne was booked for a foul in back play after the ball went dead. Connolly had been excellent once again up to this point but sadly was then replaced, presumably because of an injury, and onto the field came Zesh Rehman. No comment from me at this stage.

Wolves made some changes of their own – first introducing Freddy Eastwood for Michael Gray. The home fans booed and jeered the withdrawal of the former Sunderland man, and that’s understandable considering his excellent recent form and solid performance in this game, but the cat calls certainly weren’t directed at Eastwood and he didn’t have to wait long for his first chance. Mr Oliver ridiculously penalised Fitz Hall for a perfectly fair tackle on the edge of the area – Eastwood beat the wall with the free kick but Camp saved well down low to his left. Later they sent on Kevin Kyle, switched to a flat front four, and started to pummel QPR with long balls.

In the 67th minute Mr Oliver got what he’d been craving – a chance to give Wolves a penalty. A long ball down the QPR right was accidentally donkey kicked over his head by Michael Mancienne. That sent the ball flying into the space behind the QPR defence and set up a foot race between the loaned Chelsea full back and Matt Jarvis. The Wolves player got there first but collapsed theatrically under no contact at all before bringing the ball under control. The foul, if you can even call it that, was the thick end of four yards outside the area but Mr Oliver had waited nearly 20 minutes for his opportunity and couldn’t be sure another one would come along so scandalously, disgracefully, pointed to the penalty spot. It’s the worst refereeing decision not made by Rob Styles I’ve seen this season.

With lengthy protests taking place on the far side of the pitch Fitz Hall and Rowan Vine created an unsavoury scene around the penalty spot by trying to put Sylvain Ebanks Blake off his stride but when the time finally came for the kick to be taken the powerful forward remained calm and slammed his second penalty goal of the season against QPR straight down the middle and into the net.

From this point on there was only one team in the game. Keogh sent a low cross through the six yard box with nobody able to get a touch in the 70th minute. Then when he repeated the trick two minutes later it still didn’t yield a goal despite Olofinjana advancing from midfield to meet it with a powerful drive from all of three yards out – Lee Camp produced a world class save to deny him. Earlier another superb save from Camp denied Michael Gray as he dived full length to his right to save a long range shot, Olofinjana slid the rebound wide at full stretch, but there was another heart in mouth moment for the keeper as well when he spilled another simple low drive into the path of Ebanks Blake and was lucky to recover as the striker delayed his shot. This was a real Jekyll and Hyde performance from Camp with blinding saves and simple ball handling errors in equal measure. I’m giving him a six in the ratings – a mixture of the nine and three out of ten performance he put on.

Somehow, despite all this Wolves pressure, Rangers retook the lead with barely ten minutes of normal time remaining. Gareth Ainsworth had been introduced by this stage, in place of Buzsaky, and it was his cross from the right that caused all the problems. Craddock headed the ball up into the air and that was all the invitation Leigertwood needed to stride past Keogh, chest the ball down and hammer a low volley into the corner of the net from the edge of the area. This is becoming a trademark goal for Leigertwood – his fifth of the season.

Wolves threw everything at QPR thereafter, and the visitors were dropping deeper and deeper with each passing minute.

The penalty decision, the countless free kicks, the blind eye turned to fouls on QPR players – none of it had been good enough to get Wolves back into the game and so Mr Oliver turned to the only weapon he had left. Time. Five minutes of it to be precise. With four substitutions and no sign of either physio in the second half the mood in the away end was ugly as the board went up, and that only worsened as the five minutes came and went with no sign of the full time whistle, especially as the ridiculously large George Elokobi had hammered what looked like Wolves’ last chance into the stand. In the sixth minute of added time, Wolves got the equaliser.

There appeared to be little danger when Ebanks Blake received the ball inside the area to the right of the target with his back to goal but Zesh Rehman allowed him to not only turn and get a shot away. Lee Camp saved brilliantly but with Rehman now flat on the grass Blake was completely unchallenged for the rebound which he smashed off the inside of the post. The ball trickled out into the six yard box where Olofinjana seemed certain to get the goal his performance deserved only to be denied by a desperate tackle from Hall on the line. Camp had a chance to claim but batted it back into the danger area but it seemed that QPR had survived as they cleared the ball as far as the edge of the area and Eastwood who was denied a shot by Leigertwood. However the former Southend man kept his composure and fed the ball wide to Keogh. For the third time in as many seconds Rehman was caught flat footed and that meant Keogh had enough time to slide the ball into the far corner.

The Rangers players, to a man, collapsed on the ground, devastated that they’d once again failed to hang onto a lead through stoppage time. The Wolves fans celebrated like they’d won the FA Cup, unaware it seemed that a draw was about as much use to them as a chocolate fire guard. You won’t be surprised to know that Rangers barely had time to kick off before Mr Oliver decided, at two minutes to five, that a game supposedly of 90 minutes had run its course. In a week when abuse of referees has been the talking point, he’d done his profession few favours with a scandalous display of officiating.

So a thrilling draw, another point snatched from the jaws of three by QPR, but a result we’d have gladly accepted before the game kicked off. With the referee realising his mistake for QPR’s penalty, Vine clearly blowing through his arse in the final ten minutes (plus six added) and Rehman regressed to his previous poor form which was disappointing after several good displays.

In the end, despite the refereeing, we should have been able to see this out. In the final ten minutes of the game Wolves were often allowed to carry the ball right to the edge of the QPR penalty area before anybody tried to get out and face them. Conceding forty yards of space inside your own half is no way to defend. Shortly before the third equaliser Rowan Vine had a chance to take the ball into the corner but instead passed inside and gave the ball away. It’s these kinds of things that kill us time and again in this situation – we need to work over the summer on maintaining our shape when under pressure, rather than regressing into a single bank of ten players inside our own area. We also need to work on ball retention which goes from excellent to appalling whenever we score a goal. Can anybody explain to me why we pass the ball so beautifully until we score, then decide the best thing to do is to just give the ball straight back to our opponents? Surely if the passing is working and getting us into the lead we should just continue with it?

If we’re looking for a new signing for next season to help with both those things how about asking Wolves to name their price for Olofinjana? He was the best player on the pitch for my money, the complete midfielder in this league, and was so unlucky not to get on the score sheet himself. He’s got little chance of playing Premier League football with Wolves on this evidence - expect this to be a Championship fixture again next season.

Wolves: Hennessey 5, Foley 6 (Kyle 87, -), Collins 6, Rob Edwards - (Craddock 6, 7), Elokobi 7, Jarvis 7, Olofinjana 8, Henry 7, Gray 7 (Eastwood 59, 7), Keogh 8, Ebanks-Blake 8
Subs Not Used: Stack, Gibson
Booked: Collins, Jarvis
Goals: Keogh 45 (assisted Gray), Ebanks-Blake 67 pen (assisted Jarvis), Keogh 90 +6 (assisted Eastwood)

QPR: Camp 6, Mancienne 6, Connolly 7 (Rehman 59, 5), Hall 7, Delaney 6, Buzsaky 7 (Ainsworth 75, 7), Leigertwood 7, Rowlands 7 (Mahon 31, 7), Vine 6, Blackstock 7, Agyemang 6
Subs Not Used: Pickens, Balanta
Booked: Mancienne, Delaney, Blackstock
Goals: Buzsaky 28 (assisted Vine), Blackstock 49 pen (unassisted), Leigertwood 79 (unassisted)

QPR Star Man – Matt Connolly 7 - Fouled and fouled against in the lead up to the first goal but was excellent apart from that, denying Keogh a certain goal with a fine run and tackle in the second half. We didn't look nearly as secure after he went off. Quite a hard choice this one despite a hard working display from the team and I may well come back and change my mind later!

Attendance: 24,290 (1800 QPR approx) - A good following from QPR but hard to get an atmosphere going with them spread out down the full length of the pitch in a wide open stand. The home crowd were deafening at times, and stony silent at others. Their apparent keenness to get on their players’ backs is counter productive and makes their team nervous – why on earth they see the need to barrack their own team after fifteen minutes with the score at 0-0 I don’t know, especially when most of the abuse was for passing the ball backwards and keeping it. Would they prefer it just to be hoofed forward all the time? Mind you, Stan Cullis was the manager here once so maybe they would.

Referee: Clive Oliver (Northumberland) 2 - Where on earth to start. Firstly, that’s the last time I give a referee a decent write up in the pre match report. Secondly – there was a clear foul on Connolly in the build up to the Wolves goal, just because he’d committed a foul seconds earlier doesn’t mean you should then ignore offences against him. Thirdly if that was handball for QPR’s penalty then I’m a China man. Fourthly having made that mistake you then have to be professional enough to referee the rest of the game impartially, not look for an opportunity to even things up whenever you can. Fifthly the challenge on Jarvis wasn’t even a foul. Sixthly it was outside the penalty area. Seventhly there were four substitutions in the second half and no injuries so where did five minutes come from? Eighthly having advertised five why did we play six? The second half was a scandalous display of officiating from somebody I normally rate as a very good referee.

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