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Drought continues as QPR draw a blank at Palace - full match report
Drought continues as QPR draw a blank at Palace - full match report
Sunday, 30th Nov 2008 22:19

The wait for a QPR goal away from home goes on afer the R's drew 0-0 at Crystal Palace on Saturday. Heidar Helguson introduced himself to the Rangers fans with a glaring miss.

Assuming we do not score early against Sheffield Wednesday in ten days time, and frankly you would not bank on it, that will be 666 minutes since our last goal away from home. Who knows what will happen at that point?

It has been suggested on the message board that the devil himself will appear in the centre circle and this biblically important event will distract the opposition sufficiently for a QPR player to run off with the ball and finally score a goal on the road for the first time since Damion Stewart memorably won the League Cup game at Aston Villa in September.

It’s more likely than us actually scoring a goal away from home at the moment in fairness. Who would have thought as we all celebrated that goal at Villa Park that it would be our last for seven matches and counting? We have had three different managers in that time and still the wait goes on.

On Saturday at Crystal Palace Rangers actually managed to beat the defence, and the goalkeeper, and still miss the target – Heidar Helguson two minutes into his QPR debut was the unfortunate party on that occasion. During the last 662 minutes we have not actually looked like scoring that often, and have gone through entire matches at Swansea, Reading and Watford without a serious effort being registered on the goal, so I suppose it is a step in the right direction that we are now creating the odd chance to miss although it did not feel like a positive when the Icelandic striker calmly rolled his sitter into the advertising hoardings.

Helguson started life at Rangers on the bench as Paulo Sousa again approached the game with a diamond midfield formation that worked pretty well against Charlton during the week. Parejo was the attacking man at one end, Gavin Mahon came in for Tommasi as the holding player at the other, Leigertwood played left and Ephraim on the right. Lee Cook and Damiano Tommasi missed out altogether, presumably with injury, Emmanuel Ledesma was suspended and Martin Rowlands was only fit enough to make it back as far as the bench. Helguson, who finally signed on loan from Bolton during the week, had to wait his turn behind Blackstock and Agyemang who both impressed on Tuesday night. The back four remained the same with Fitz Hall still banned – Gorkss and Stewart were the centre halves between Ramage and Delaney and in front of Radek Cerny.

Neil Warnock’s team came into the match on the back of a 2-1 win at Norwich on Tuesday night and they had beaten Bristol City 4-2 on their last outing at Selhurst as well. He replaced striker Shefki Kuqi with winger Paul Ifill and included Leandre Griffit among his substitutes after injury.

Palace also had Ben Watson at the heart of their midfield and he was encouraged by the QPR fans to acknowledge their presence throughout the match ahead of his seemingly inevitable move to Loftus Road either in January or next summer. Watson fired a yard wide of the target and set up loaned striker Craig Beattie who shot straight at Radek Cerny in the opening ten minutes as Palace started the brighter of the two sides.

QPR started to get a bit of joy down their left side after these early Palace attacks. The home team had a very young and inexperienced right back in Nathaniel Clyne and Rangers seemed to be keen to test him out early on. First a nice passing move on the Palace side of the halfway line ended with Agyemang slipping a ball round the corner for Parejo who pathetically fell to ground trying to buy a free kick under no contact from Clyne – Rob Styles rightly told him to get to his feet and the QPR fans vented their fury at the Spaniard who rarely shows stomach for a fight and turned down a great crossing opportunity in favour of play acting on this occasion.

Those supporters, and I include myself amongst them, would have been forced to eat their words two minutes later when Agyemang got away down the left and crossed for Parejo to have an effort on goal but he snatched at the chance and could only flick it wide of the goal from eight yards out with the inside of his foot. Parejo is a midfielder who has scored goals at every level he has played at so far and I wonder if this timid effort, when he had more time to make a better fist of it, hints at a player very low on confidence. QPR fans are increasingly on his back, his performances seem to be getting worse by the week and he is in and out of the team and used in a variety of different positions – it’s easy to forget he is still only nineteen, but then again it is easy to make excuses for him and he was very poor in this game.

Ben Watson drilled another low shot wide of the post and Paul Ifill went mighty close with a low drive just after the half hour mark that seemed to get a little bit of Cerny and a little bit of the goal post on its way out of play – whether it was the keeper or the frame of the goal that denied the former Sheff Utd man it was certainly a let off for QPR but this was a rare scare in an otherwise dull first half. QPR only really looked threatening when Agyemang got on the ball although Leigertwood was doing his best to make things happen while Palace were consistently stunted by a dominant performance from Gorkss and Stewart at the back – the Latvian centre half was particularly impressive I thought.

QPR’s final attack of the half saw Agyemang pick up a ball wide on the left and then drive at young full back Clyne who looked wholly uncomfortable with the situation. Agyemang powered past his man but poked the ball just too far forwards in doing so and Speroni was able to spring off his line and collect the ball at the feet of the QPR man to defuse the danger – still it was good to see Agyemang confident enough to run at his man and force the issue and he played well throughout the game.

Hogan Ephraim had a decent game as well, his best of the season so far, but he picked up a yellow card on the stroke of half time for a foul on Ben Watson. Ephraim’s tackle was a genuine attempt for the ball but was mistimed and possible deserved a card. However shortly before this Nick Carle had cynically chopped down Gavin Mahon after being turned and received only a warning for it – this is the sort of inconsistency from referees that frustrates players and fans. Carle did get booked immediately after half time for a late tackle that the referee initially waved advantage through but later returned to punish. Ephraim was walking a bit of a tightrope after this incident but his style of play is based so much around effort and energy it is hard to avoid the odd mistimed tackle and my heart was in my mouth a few times in the second half when he tripped people but thankfully Styles was in a forgiving mood.

Paulo Sousa made a change at half time, replacing the totally ineffective Parejo with new signing Heidar Helguson. Parejo gave the ball away, dived looking for free kicks, ambled about as if it was a Sunday afternoon stroll in the park and ultimately the only surprise was that he lasted as long as half time. He either needs to realise what is needed to play in this country effort and speed wise or get himself a plane ticket home for Christmas because at the moment he is a passenger.

Helguson had a chance to introduce himself to the QPR faithful in the perfect manner just three minutes after coming off the bench. Again it was Agyemang providing the pace and threat, muscling his way past Fonte and then racing towards the penalty area with Palace players trailing in his wake. Speroni raced from his goal line to face the QPR striker but rather than shoot for goal he unselfishly laid a ball off right to Helguson who inexplicably fired wide from the edge of the penalty area with the net open and inviting a goal. This was a terrible miss and QPR would not create a better chance all match, although Helguson did settle down and have a steady debut despite this.

The Icelandic international initially played in Parejo’s supporting position behind Agyemang and Blackstock but later moved up front alongside Dave when Martin Rowlands came on. Captain Rowlands then played the attacking midfield role but he had little influence on the game from there and continues to look uncomfortable when asked to play a more attacking role. I wondered if Sousa was tempted to swap him and Ephraim and shall be interested to see whether Rowlands is used to support the forwards again – in my opinion it is not a position that plays to his strengths or suits him very well.

After Helguson’s miss QPR quickly went on the attack again with Hogan Ephraim an increasing presence and threat in the match. A slick passing move five minutes after the break ended with Ephraim laying the ball out to Ramage who totally overhit his cross deep to the far side of the penalty area – Dexter Blackstock made it look a better ball than it was with a measured half volley that just cleared the cross bar and landed on the roof of the net with Speroni showing some concern. Ramage was pretty solid defensively but absolutely woeful in possession – giving the ball away mercilessly time after time to the point where even his throw ins were going straight to Palace players. He must be running out of time to find his feet and impress at QPR after his summer move now.

Dexter Blackstock and then his replacement Martin Rowlands both tried shots from the edge of the area around the hour mark – Speroni saved from the former and puffed his cheeks out in relief as the latter skewed a presentable chance wide of the mark.

QPR were well on top at this stage, and there only looked to be one winner. Warnock responded with a double substitution and change of tactic. On came the physical presence of Shefki Kuqi up front and the ever nasty and detestable Shaun Derry in midfield. Warnock took Nick Carle off to do this, the Australian had been Palace’s best and most impressive player to this point but his passing and cute attacking play was no longer required as the home side reverted completely to a route one approach. The thing that impresses me about Carle, who sits between the strikers and midfield, most is that he always available for a pass and has a nose for space meaning he always seems to have a lot of time on the ball. Anyway once he had gone off Derry was charged with kicking anything that moved in midfield and Kuqi’s job was to turn the long punts down field into chances for Beattie. It was a lamentable style of play but it worked very well and Palace had the better of the match for the final twenty five minutes or so.

Kuqi’s first chance of the match came from a cross by John Oster but although the big striker was only eight or so yards from goal the ball was played behind him and he had to adjust his body into all manner of seemingly impossible shapes to even get the effort on target and in the end Cerny was able to calmly pick his weak effort up in the six yard box. In a three nil defeat here under John Gregory Damion Stewart had endured a nightmare afternoon at the hands of Kuqi and had just about his worst game for the club but with Gorkss besides him instead of Zesh Rehman and in the form of his career at the moment Stewart coped much better with the giant Fin this time around.

Despite the best efforts of the QPR centre backs Warnock’s changes had swung the pattern of play in his team’s favour and Sean Scannell headed Clyne’s cross past the post when he should have at least hit the target with a quarter of an hour to go. Despite Palace’s new found directness it was becoming more and more apparent that the game was set to peter out into a goalless draw.

With less than ten minutes remaining the assistant referee caught the attention of referee Rob Styles and signalled that he was having a problem and would need to be replaced. That meant a lengthy stoppage while fourth official Kevin Wright first changed into his refereeing kit and then, ridiculously, pranced up and down the touchline a couple of times warming up. Now I have participated in enough PE lessons and coaching courses in my time to know that a thorough warm up is very important before any physical activity but for the love of God was there really any need for Wright to dance up and down the line while we all sat there freezing our bollocks off and wanting to go home for the sake of running up and down the line for all of ten minutes? It was an absolute bloody joke.

Warnock send on Griffit for Scannell with three minutes to go and Damien Delaney picked up the third yellow card of the match for chopping him down within sixty seconds. Griffit spun past Delaney fifty yards out from goal wide on the Palace right and rather than have the winger bearing down on the QPR goal Delaney took the option of wrestling him to the ground and picking up the inevitable booking that followed.

The antics during the change of officials meant five minutes of added time at the end of the game and both teams had chances to win the game in that period. First a nice through ball from Helguson had Hogan Ephraim racing into the penalty area with Fonte and when the Portguese centre half went to ground everybody in the stadium held their breath. Had Ephraim got a toe to the ball first it would have been a penalty so blatant even Rob Styles would have had to award it but Fonte timed his tackle well and the danger was averted.

Palace went straight down the other end and almost won the game themselves when Beattie was played into space in the area by Griffit and unloaded a low shot on goal hat Cerny saved but could not hold. With the ball loose in the six yard box a heartbreaking last minute winner for the home team looked on the cards but Cerny recovered sufficiently to lunge out a leg and clear the ball just as Kuqi arrived on the scene to hammer it into the net.

The final whistle followed a short time later and both teams were left to reflect on a lacklustre match and decent point well won.

The big issue for QPR is certainly the lack of goals away from home, and that remains so after this game. However I took more than this match than I did most of the other away matches in this run of eight without scoring. In nil nil draws at Swansea and Reading we did not create one decent chance to score, at least on Saturday there were chances to miss – none more so than Helguson’s disaster but he played well apart from that I thought.

This also was not just a backs to the wall defensive effort that we have been reduced to several times this season – we were the better team for long periods nd bossed the first half hour of the second half until Warnock introduced a more physical presence and went long, when that did happen Gorkss and Stewart came into their own with good performances and Cerny made a terrific save and clearance in stoppage time.

As Sousa quite rightly pointed out afterwards the players are being asked to take on new ideas, change their style of play and work with a new formation and system. That is made doubly difficult by the absence of Vine and Buzsaky, who would both be ideal for a role Parejo was abysmal in on Saturday, Cook and Rowlands, who you would think would play that left sided position better then Leigertwood although he did very well on Saturday, and Matt Connolly who is better than both Delaney and Ramage at full back despite being a centre half.

At the moment I am reasonably impressed with Sousa, however judgements should be reserved for months yet. The team started well under Iain Dowie before regressing to the performance we saw at Swansea, they played brilliantly for Ainsworth at Reading and against Birmingham but quickly reverted to type against Ipswich and Watford, and they have started well with Sousa. A fresh face, new ideas, a different voice – a change is as good as a rest, but players will quickly drop back into old habits and Sousa’s challenge is to inspire permanent improvements at QPR rather than temporary runs of form.

A whole week on the training ground will only help the new coach, but with table topping wolves up next and then a cold and uninviting Tuesday night trip to Sheffield Wednesday Rangers will have to improve still further if they are to keep up with this unlikely play off chase.

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Crystal Palace: Speroni 6, Clyne 7, Fonte 6, Hill 7, McCarthy 6, Carle 8 (Derry 63, 6), Watson 7, Oster 7, Scannell 7 (Griffit 87, -), Ifill 6 (Kuqi 63, 7), Beattie 6
Subs Not Used: Lawrence, Moses
Booked: Carle (foul)

QPR: Cerny 7, Ramage 5, Stewart 7, Gorkss 8, Delaney 6, Agyemang 7 (Di Carmine 90, -), Leigertwood 7, Mahon 6, Parejo 4 (Helguson 46, 6), Ephraim 7, Blackstock 6 (Rowlands 56, 6)
Subs Not Used: Cole, Borrowdale
Booked: Ephraim (foul), Delaney (foul)

QPR Star Man – Kaspars Gorkss 8 Harshly written off by QPR fans after a nervy start to life at the club the Latvian has now been the star man in two of his last three starts and could easily have been given the award on Tuesday as well. His aerial strength and heading ability is there for all to see but for me the most impressive thing about him is the way he carries the ball our of defence and distributes it, rarely giving the ball away. That will fit in very nicely with how Sousa wants the team to build attacks and could mean Fitz Hall, who doesn’t do this nearly as well, has trouble getting back in the team when his ban ends.

Referee: Rob Styles 6 Not bad at all by Styles’ standards but still one or two gripes about his performance. Firstly the booking of Ephraim for a mistimed genuine attempt for the ball came all of two minutes after Carle had been let off without a booking for a cynical and deliberate trip on halfway. This inconsistency with cards is a trait of this referee. There was also a comical moment in the second half where the ball went out for a throw in and in amongst all the guess work about which way it was to be given Styles actually put both hands in the air to signal a throw in both ways. The bald linesman gave some strange decisions I thought and the fourth official warming up before running the line was farcical.

Attendance: 16,411 (1731 QPR fans) Pretty low key atmosphere caused by a fairly poor match and diabolical weather. The QPR fans happily taunted their Palace counterparts about Ben Watson’s seemingly inevitable move across town while the home crowd was very quiet throughout, unlike last season where there was a good gang of singers to the left of the away end – they seemed to be absent this time.

Photo: Action Images

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