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Super-sub Stead slays QPR - full match report
Super-sub Stead slays QPR - full match report
Sunday, 2nd Nov 2008 22:11

Gareth Ainsworth tasted defeat for the first time as QPR caretaker manager at Ipswich Town on Saturday as substitute Jon Stead bagged a match winning brace.

It’s funny how you look back after a defeat and realise the significance of things that didn’t seem that important at the time. QPR fans at Portman Road on Saturday may well have trooped away in the pouring rain wondering just how different things might have been had Lee Cook’s low, deflected shot flown into the bottom corner instead of wide of the post some 45 seconds before Ipswich broke the deadlock at the other end.

Personally I couldn’t help but hark back to a conversation I’d had with my brother in the waiting room at Ipswich station at half eleven on Saturday morning. We were waiting there for a friend on a later train and while he went to sleep, for the fifth time during the journey down from Sheffield, I picked up a copy of the Ipswich Evening Star from Friday night. There was an interview in there with Town striker Jon Stead that said, among other things, that the man on loan from Sheff Utd is actually 6ft 3ins tall. That surprised me, and my brother when he eventually came round, because we didn't think he was that tall but we didn’t think anything more of it. Five hours later Stead had headed two goals and QPR had lost.

Stead had to come off the bench to do that after Magilton started with Kevin Lisbie and Jonathan Walters in attack. In his interview Stead had said he would not pick him if he was the manager such was his poor form coming into the game, but he showed no lack of confidence after his second half introduction – he sniffed out a scrappy first, powered home an emphatic second and cracked an attempt for a third against the post in injury time.

Prior to Stead’s introduction the game had looked destined for a goalless draw. Ipswich, who brought David Norris into their midfield after a midweek draw at home to Charlton, had drawn six of their last ten going into the game and once again QPR just did not look like a team with a goal in them – if ever a game was going to finish nil nil it was this one. That was, until Stead’s introduction. Remind me not to say a player doesn’t score enough in the match preview again.

For the eighteenth consecutive time this season QPR changed their team from the last match – I know I’m sounding like a broken record but this constant chopping and changing of personnel really can’t be doing us much good. The changes from the Birmingham match saw a striker, Dexter Blackstock, withdrawn for an extra midfielder, Daniel Parejo. Emmanuel Ledesma dropped down to the bench to enable Buzsaky to start and with Leigertwood starting his scandalously extended ban Damien Delaney returned to the back four at left full back. Damian Tommasi kept his place in midfield along with Martin Rowlands and Sam Di Carmine was rewarded for his goal against Birmingham with a start alone up front.

The first real action of any note saw Ipswich’s in form midfielder Owen Garvan booked for a foul on Lee Cook in front of the dug outs. It was a fairly poor tackle but came very early in the game and on a wet pitch so the referee may have been minded to let him off with a warning – of course Trevor Kettle has never been renowned for leniency and the card came straight out. I did fear that this was to be the start of another eccentric afternoon of card waving but fortunately that never materialised and Kettle actually had the best game I think I’ve ever seen him have. In fairness to him the Garvan tackle may have been early in the game, but it was a poor one.

Ipswich had a weak hand ball penalty appeal from centre back Gareth McAuley waved away after ten minutes but QPR seemed to start the better of the two teams, popping the passes around nicely and pressing forward looking for the opening goal. Either side of the penalty appeal Lee Cook had two efforts on goal – the first one came in open play at the end of a flowing crossfield move that involved Buzsaky and Parejo before the ball broke loose to Cook and he drove a low shot straight at Wright from the corner of the penalty box. He went a lot closer just before the quarter hour when a free kick from wide on the right after a foul on Di Carmine beat Wright but hit the crossbar and bounced out to safety.

Rangers should have taken the lead midway through the first half when Parejo brilliantly picked out a late run into the box by Rowlands – the Spaniard’s cross was inch perfect but Wright flung himself across goal to push out Rowlands’ header with two hands. Perhaps the QPR man should have scored, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and praise the goalkeeper for a super save on this occasion. Wright was at it again ten minutes later when Parejo dipped a free kick over the wall and the former Arsenal keeper had to get down quickly to make a smothering save in the bottom corner. In the meantime Di Carmine had a tame shot from the edge of the area easily saved and Cerny also made a routine save from Norris.

QPR were certainly the better team for the first half an hour of the game but Ipswich came into the match more in the final 15 minutes. Radek Cerny was called upon to deal with two or three very good crosses into the six yard box, although he was punching again he had little option and he got good distances on the clearances. He had to make a smart save down to his right from Jonathan Walters but was indebted to Fitz Hall who produced a superb last ditch block to deny Garvan in the 38th minute when Ipswich broke at speed after a free kick from Buzsaky went straight into the wall.

The mood on the concourse at half time was pretty positive – QPR had been marginally the better side and should really have taken the lead through Rowlands. Ipswich hadn’t looked particularly good and points looked to be there for the taking if we could keep up the level of performance and find a cutting edge. We couldn’t and didn’t. In increasingly torrential ran Ipswich started the second half much the stronger of the two teams and it stayed like that right through to full time – QPR simply didn’t turn up after the break and Ipswich deserved their win by the time the game came to a close.

The warning signs had been there at the end of the first half, and Ipswich continued to attack with more purpose at the start of the second period. Two set pieces from the impressive Owen Garven caused problems to start with. A 12 yard header by Jon Walters from a corner bounced straight into the arms of Cerny – either side of him and he would have problems. Then centre half Gareth McAuley headed fractionally wide from a free kick when he should have scored, in the end it wouldn’t have counted as the flag had been raised.

QPR made their first change of the match just before the hour mark. Sam Di Carmine made a clumsy tackle on Alan Quinn on the halfway line and seemed to be very wound up and angry as players squared up around the incident. Kettle showed the Italian a yellow card and he was immediately substituted by Ainsworth before the free kick could be taken though it wasn’t clear whether he was going off anyway or was taken off to save him being sent off. Di Carmine had held the ball up well and laid it off quite nicely but lacked support from midfield and posed no goal threat at all, Blackstock did likewise when he came on only less effectively. He was very poor.

The change made little difference to the flow of play and Ipswich really should have gone in front when Kevin Lisbie nipped in between Delaney and Tommasi to pinch the ball and race through on the goal. The former Charlton man never looked confident despite having time to pick his spot and Cerny read his intentions well and made a smart save one on one. This mistake, and an all round poor performance, did little to suggest Damien Delaney will retain his place in the side when Mikele Leigertwood returns from his ban. Lisbie was taken off at the next break of play, and while the home crowd at Portman Road was its usual silent self there were some audible boos and jeers for the striker as he left the field – Jon Stead came on for him and that changed the game. Magilton also sent on Spanish striker Pablo Counago for Alan Quinn.

Shumolikoski, busy and lively in the middle of the Ipswich midfield, had a long range shot well saved by Cerny and Ipswich’s continued dominance sparked Ainsworth into further action. The QPR caretaker sent on Ledesma for the ineffective Buzsaky. Rangers seemed to be at cross purposes to me – set up in a formation that hinted at playing for a point, making attacking substitutions as if they wanted to win, but keeping just the one isolated man up front. Around the hour mark a chance to load the penalty area for a long throw from Fitz Hall was passed on - the centre half ended up aiming for just two men in the penalty area while Delaney, Stewart and Connolly stayed back on the halfway line. Where every single decision made by Ainsworth on Tuesday night made sense and worked well, the same could not be said on Saturday – Blackstock and Ledesma both replaced players struggling to make an impact, and then made less of one themselves.

Still with 20 minutes to play QPR had their best spell of pressure in the second half. Lee Cook had a shot blocked and then Daniel Parejo’s corner dipped under the cross bar and presented Wright with all sorts of problems. The keeper got a good strong hand on the ball to prevent Parejo scoring direct from the set piece. From the next corner Lee Cook let fly from 20 yards but saw his low shot deflect off team mate Dexter Blackstock, past Richard Wright, but past the far post as well.

Things were about to turn sour for Rangers though. From the resulting goal kick Ipswich won a free kick on the half way line and Richard Naylor pumped a long ball into the penalty area. Fitz Hall came rushing out to the edge of the area to try and win the first header but when Walters beat him to it QPR were always going to be in trouble with space and unmarked men left behind Hall in the penalty area. Counago got a toe to the ball before Stead mishit a volley towards goal, Cerny did well to save it but Stead was the only one following up and from a prostrate position on the sodden turf the former Blackburn man was able to nod home into the empty net. He’d been on the pitch for no more than five minutes.

This was a real shame for QPR who had just started to come into the second half as an attacking force but, in truth, it was nothing less than Ipswich deserved overall.

If the first goal was soft defensively that was nothing compared to the second two minutes later. Garvan took a corner from the Ipswich left and Stead was left completely unmarked at the back post to power a header past Cerny who had absolutely no chance of making a save. QPR belying their reputation as a tight and miserable outfit at the back with defending of an amateur standard there.

Heads clearly went down in the QPR ranks at this stage and with Ipswich full of confidence and a quarter of an hour still to play it was starting to look like we may fall victim to a heavy defeat. Counago spared QPR blushes when he tentatively snapped at a chance close in after Hall had missed Stead’s cross and poked the ball over the bar. In the last ten minutes he had two further chances – the first was a one on one opportunity after Stead put him through but he shot straight at Cerny, the second was another poacher’s chance in the six yard box but he was flat footed and the ball bobbled wide. In three minutes of added on time Stead went agonisingly close to a hat trick, smacking a long range free kick against Cerny’s post after assuming set piece responsibilities from Garvan and Norris. Needless to say that when the rebound fell to Counago he thrashed it wildly into the stand.

Ipswich looked tidy enough, poor in the first half and far better in the second, they probably lack the firepower to pose a serious threat to the league leaders this season but may be able to challenge for the play offs if one of their strikers finds some form – the Tractor Boys will be hoping this could be the start of a good run for Stead. I was impressed with Garvan in midfield, and Wright at left back although that could just be because I've forgotten what a good left back looks like. It was reassuring to know that there is still a proper left back out there that can play the game and pass and overlap down the line and things like that - he was very good to watch after months of watching centre halves shoe-horned into the position at QPR.

For QPR another away game without a goal, five and a half in the league now, and you really don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out where the problem is at the moment. It’s the problem every supporter said we had during the summer, it’s the problem Iain Dowie told Flavio Briatore we have, it’s blindingly bloody obvious – we have nothing up front.

Everybody rejoiced on Tuesday when Sam Di Carmine whacked one in from 25 yards against Birmingham but as I said in that match report even Sammy Koejoe scored a couple of blinding goals for us, and he couldn’t even play the game. Di Carmine is a kid who may or may not make it at this level of professional football – nothing more and nothing less at the moment. He has a lot to learn and is certainly not ready to be relied upon as a loan striker in this league, even McAuley and Naylor were too much for the boy in this match and they are a mediocre partnership at best. Di Carmine held the ball up well, gave it sensibly and won a number of free kicks but he posed absolutely no goal threat whatsoever - neither did Blackstock when he came on for the last half hour, but he couldn’t even manage the nice touches, hold up play or free kicks.

It’s not all down to the strikers of course, although they the principal problem. The support from midfield was virtually non-existent on Saturday. It’s not really Rowlands’ or Tommasi’s strength or job to get into the penalty area to support a striker but it is Parejo’s and he doesn’t do it well enough. The Spaniard’s passing is superb, and the quality of his set pieces was excellent at the weekend, but he’s often 30 or 40 yards further down the field when Di Carmine or Blackstock get the ball and that leaves the striker isolated and without a chance of posing a threat. The one midfielder we have at the club capable of supporting a striker from deep, and posing a goal threat in his own right, is Akos Buzsaky and he was once again stuck out of position wide on the right to accommodate Parejo and was poor.

It’s always going to be tough when you concede two poor goals from set pieces but even when the defence has been on top of its game, and it has been for most of the season, we haven’t been winning on the road because we just can’t score. If you can’t hit the net you’re giving yourself a problem and it’s now been more than eight hours since we last did that away from home – and we’ve rarely looked like doing it in that time, it’s not like we’re missing a lot of chances. Every team in the league has scored more away goals than us this season, only two have scored less overall.

Next week we face Cardiff City at Loftus Road, a team yet to lose away from home but one that lost both its first choice strikers to hamstring injuries on Saturday. Briatore must realise that the answer to our goal scoring problems is not currently at the club and rectify that with a loan in the short term and permanent signings in January. In the meantime it’s left to Gareth Ainsworth to try and mastermind a result against a team above us in the table, that is unless we persuade a manager suitably desperate for a job to come and work in this circus permanently.

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Ipswich: R Wright 7, Volz 7, McAuley 6, Naylor 7, David Wright 8, Norris 8, Shumulikoski 7, Garvan 8, Quinn 5 (Counago 59, 6), Walters 7, Lisbie 4 (Stead 68, 8)
Subs Not Used: Supple, Bruce, Miller
Booked: Garvan (foul)
Goals: Stead 73 (assisted Counago), 75 (assisted Garvan)

QPR: Cerny 7, Delaney 4, Stewart 7, Hall 6, Connolly 6, Parejo 6, Rowlands 6, Tommasi 7, Cook 6, Di Carmine 5 (Blackstock 57, 4), Buzsaky 4 (Ledesma 68, 4)
Subs Not Used: Cole, Mahon, Gorkss
Booked: Di Carmine (foul)

QPR Star Man – Radek Cerny 7 Again hard to pick a star man after a lacklustre performance, I thought Tommasi looked good and Stewart was pretty solid but I’ve gone for Cerny because he made two or three important saves before Ipswich took the lead, was unlucky with the goal, and was almost faultless under crosses which was his big problem when he first arrived.

Referee: Trevor Kettle (Rutland) 7 Mr Kettle’s highest ever mark on this site, and a rare quiet and uneventful game from this normally wild match official. Both yellow cards were justified and all he really did wrong was buy a couple of dives from Parejo and Di Carmine. For once he kept his cards in his pocket and was hardly noticeable which is excellent and made a refreshing change. Big improvement, credit where it’s due.

Attendance: 20,966 (1500 QPR fans approx) As usual nothing whatsoever all afternoon by way of atmosphere or chanting from the Ipswich fans, they did get up briefly to applaud both goals and ventured a “you might as well go home” suggestion after 85 minutes but that was it. I really can't understand how a group of supporters that travel in such large and noisy numbers to away games can be so silent at home. Unusually subdued in the away end as well, ten minutes of signing to start with and then almost silence throughout. Very poor atmosphere all round.

Photo: Action Images

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