|Play off push gathers pace as Rangers run riot at the seaside - full match report
Wednesday, 28th Jan 2009 13:26
QPR made it seven games without defeat with a second consecutive away win at Blackpool on Tuesday night. Heidar Helguson (two) and Hogan Ephraim scored in a convincing 3-0 victory.
When did Blackpool become such a dump? You might tell me it always has been but I remember holidays by the sea as a kid and I don’t remember it looking like it does now. I don’t remember Britain’s premier gay nightclub being next to the train station, I don’t remember so many places openly offering sexual gratification and I don’t remember there being quite so many brightly lit fried chicken bars offering extra grease as a side order. The place looks so horrifically run down these days, like it just stopped caring.
It does not help that the fixture computer keeps sending us here in January of course when the weather is unfailingly dire and the vast majority of places are closed waiting for the holiday season to start again. We arrived at just after 4pm on Tuesday and already the rain forecast for later in the evening was pouring down, mixed with a thick fog and icy spray whipped up off the Irish Sea.
Down on the sea front there were two people, my brother and I, and that was it for five miles in either direction. Most people probably have more sense than to stand on the beach on a day like that but it was like a scene from 28 Days Later. If it had not been for the tram, empty but for a driver, that took us up to Uncle Tom’s Cabin past The Boston, The Cliffs and the other hotels we used to stay in as boys I would not have taken much convincing at all that there had been a nuclear holocaust.
The Cabin is something of a tradition in our family. Many a Whittingham has had his first pint in there as a teenager on holiday. When we arrived it was deserted – boarded up, long since closed. A savage blow - not just because we’d paid £3.20 to get a tram out to it and now had to walk back along the unforgiving sea front. I never thought I’d see the day when Uncle Tom’s Cabin was closed.
Things change I suppose. Hell, ten days ago QPR were a team with the worst away record in the Championship having scored only five times and won just once all season. Now, two victories and five goals later, they are third in the overall form table and have their eyes firmly planted on the play off positions going into two mouth watering home games.
After the 2-0 win at Derby last Saturday there were few surprises with the team selection for this trip to the seaside. The headline news saw Lee Camp return between the sticks for the first time in the league this season – first choice Radek Cerny has been struggling with a hamstring injury and broke down in training at Oldham on Monday. Kaspars Gorkss made his first return to Blackpool as part of the back four alongside Stewart and in between Connolly and Delaney. In midfield new signing Liam Miller got the nod ahead of Ephraim to replace Martin Rowlands. Leigertwood and Mahon played alongside him in the centre with Cook and Routledge on the wings. Heidar Helguson was left to plough a lone furrow up front – by the looks of the pitch at kick off somebody had literally beaten him to that job earlier in the day.
Gorkss had said before the match that he was unsure of the reception he would receive from the home fans at Bloomfield Road following his protracted and controversial move to QPR in the summer. He need not have worried – after the coin toss resulted in a change of ends the Pool fans behind the goal sang Gorkss’ name and warmly applauded him.
The home side had Liverpool striker Krisztian Nemeth on the bench after he signed on loan on Monday. DJ Campbell started in attack after scoring two goals in his first two Blackpool games including one in an impressive weekend win against Birmingham City. He looked lively to begin with in this game as well – muscled out of a run through on goal by Damion Stewart after he had sprung the offside trap three minutes in and then within a couple of feet of connecting with a pull back from Gary Taylor Fletcher. Any kind of contact would probably have given Lee Camp his first problem of the evening. Camp was forced to save from Campbell at the third time of asking though, collecting his miscued effort comfortably after Martin had got the better of Matt Connolly and crossed.
QPR soon settled to their task though and really once a nervy first five or ten minutes was out of the way they did not relinquish control of the game for the rest of the night. Stewart and particularly Gorkss were terrific at the back, Mahon did a great job of protecting the back four, Leigertwood and Miller broke creatively and tidily from deep and in Cook, Routledge and Helguson the Londoners had too much ability in forward areas for their hosts to cope with.
Matthew Connolly incurred the wrath of the home supporters after ten minutes when he tried to delay the taking of a throw in while he had treatment for a gash to his head. Leigertwood and Mahon wasted time over a throw in while Connolly was patched up and referee Graham Laws was quick to bark out an order for them to get a move on. Connolly played the rest of the game with a Pudsey-Bear-like thick, white bandage wrapped around his head.
Rangers took the lead after a quarter of an hour with a goal that’s beauty lay in its simplicity. The patched up Connolly knocked a long ball forward from right back to Heidar Helguson who had worked his way into space between the Blackpool centre halves and brought the ball down. The striker then fed a nice pass out wide to Routledge and when he swung the ball into the near post Helguson had continued his run and was able to head powerfully past Blackpool goalkeeper Rachubka into the far corner of the net.
Blackpool rallied briefly, Camp made a smart save to deny Vaughan and Campbell poked a loose ball straight at the keeper after a rare moment of indecision in the QPR defence, but the R’s were well on top and should have made it two nil just after the half hour when the lively front three combined to create a glorious chance and then make a complete hash of it.
Wayne Routledge collected the ball in the QPR right back slot and with few options on for a pass decided to chance his arm with a solo run. Now David Vaughan and Ian Harte certainly are not the quickest players but the way Routledge was able to skin the former and then simply punt the ball in behind the latter and beat him in a foot race after giving him a five yard start was quite startling. Suddenly from a defensive position Routledge was on the edge of the Blackpool penalty box with Helguson and Cook up in support and only Ian Evatt and Rob Edwards between him and the goal. He squared it along the edge of the penalty area to Cook who really should have tried a shot but he tried to tee up Helguson and the sheer lack of numbers Blackpool had back to defend meant that he was offside. A good chance well created but wasted.
Gavin Mahon attempted to show Cook the error of his ways by taking on a shot from the edge of the box himself on the next attack but he drilled it wide and onto the building site behind the goal – hope springs eternal that there may actually be a proper stand with a roof and everything for us to sit in at Bloomfield Road next season rather than the ramshackle uncovered heap we are currently accommodated in at this ground. The 200 or so Rangers fans perched on the wooden boards of the away end, that bobbed and swayed like the Fleetwood Ferry on a rough sea, were accompanied by Sporting Director Gianni Paladini who seemed to be enjoying the football rather more than the weather and the facilities.
Paul Rachubka must have had his heart in his mouth right at the end of the half when an in swinging free kick from Lee Cook evaded everybody and skipped up off the turf into the keeper’s chest. He fumbled, but with no QPR player nearby he was able to clutch it at the second attempt.
There were two changes in personnel at half time; one in the Blackpool side and one in the team of match officials. Graham Laws, who had enjoyed a quiet and incident free first half, was withdrawn and replaced, I presume, by fourth official Iain Siddall. Tony Parkes sent on Middlesbrough loanee Graeme Owens for his home debut instead of Joe Martin obviously with the intention of getting at Connolly a bit more. The QPR right back coped easily though, Owens’ first involvement saw him take Connolly to the byline and then fall over the ball when trying a flick and a trick. That rather summed up Blackpool’s performance on the night.
At the other end Mikele Leigertwood, impressive and dominant in the QPR midfield once again, tried to craft a lobbed effort from 20 yards but sent the ball wide of the angle of post and bar with Rachubka showing little interest in it.
The first QPR substitution of the match was made by Paulo Sousa ten minutes into the half when he replaced Liam Miller with Hogan Ephraim. Miller is obviously lacking match fitness following a move from Sunderland where he was well out of favour but in his hour or so on the pitch he had shown some nice, tidy touches. There were no spectacular raking balls across the pitch, dribbles past three opponents or pile driving long range shots – just a simple get it and give it game that rarely conceded possession and kept QPR ticking over in the middle of the park. Not bad for a beginning but I’m not doing any hand stands just yet.
The new referee’s first key moment in the game came just before the hour mark and it sealed the game in QPR’s favour. A corner from the left was swung into the box by Lee Cook and after it dropped into the penalty area Helguson tried to toe it back out to Cook. As he did it Evatt came in with a clumsy late lunge and Siddall pointed straight to the spot. At the time it was not immediately clear to us in the away end why the decision had been given, and there seemed to be few appeals, but looking at the replays it does look like a typically clumsy tackle from Evatt. In the absence of Rowlands Heidar Helguson stepped up and calmly sent the keeper the wrong way for his fifth goal of the campaign and second of the night.
Blackpool responded to this further set back by replacing midfielder O’Donovan with striker Nemeth but the only affect this had was to open them up to QPR attacks still further and really only the players will know how Rangers didn’t double their lead or more in the second half. Immediately after the substitution Routledge gave Harte another roasting down the right flank and then drove for goal before producing a tame shot that Rachubka saved easily when he should really have been tested more. He did exactly the same thing again 30 seconds later but again shot straight at the keeper.
Routledge struggles to make an impact in the Premiership but he’s one of the best wingers around at this level and Harte was unable to live with him at all. Parkes replaced Harte with Stephen Crainey after this latest incident but he faired little better against the little right winger and actually had to leave the field injured ten minutes from time leaving the home side with ten men on the field.
Cook was getting similar joy raiding down the other flank but he too dragged a shot across the face of goal and out after breaking into the penalty box. The left winger did however pick up his fifth booking of the season midway through the second half when he stupidly tried to whip the ball out the goalkeeper’s hands as he released it for a drop kick. He did it cleanly enough, but that is a mandatory free kick and booking these days and he now misses the home game with Swansea next week. Routledge went into the book as well before the end in very harsh circumstances – he seemed to cleanly win the ball from Evatt on halfway and then sprayed a pass across the field looking for Cook but the referee awarded a free kick and booked him for kicking the ball away. Harsh, but it was the only thing either referee got wrong all night for me.
Sousa sent on Dexter Blackstock to worry the tiring Blackpool defence with a quarter of an hour to go, Heidar Helguson the man replaced. QPR’s top scorer came agonisingly close to a thirteenth goal of the season when his shot from the edge of the area was deflected over his own goalkeeper by Edwards but the ball hit the underside of the cross bar, bounced down on the line and stayed out. Blackstock also had reasonable claims for a second penalty waved away by the match official, it did not look like a spot kick to me in truth.
Blackpool went close twice in the final ten minutes briefly sparking fears that QPR’s profligacy in front of goal at the other end may cost them but when called upon for the first time in the second half Lee Camp was equal to a stinging drive from Fox and then Taylor Fletcher drilled a low shot across the face of goal and fractionally wide of the far post. Rangers, and Gorkss in particular, deserved their clean sheet though.
Four minutes of stoppage time was advertised and QPR got a richly deserved third midway through it. Lee Cook carried the ball across the halfway line and then played a lovely through ball with the outside of his left foot that cut the Blackpool defence out of the game completely. Hogan Ephraim arrived right on cue from the opposite flank and slid the ball across Rachubka and into the far corner of the net. He had a sighter from a similar angle five minutes before this but made no mistake when given the opportunity for a second time. It was no more than Rangers and Ephraim deserved and gave the score line a fairer look.
QPR suddenly look like a different team away from home. We seem to have hit upon a system that really works for us, especially when Ephraim is the man joining the lone striker from deep. With Routledge and Cook on either side we have genuine quality in wide areas which means we can stretch defences out across the pitch and pick holes far easier. Helguson is ideal for the lone striker role and the likes of Cook, Routledge, Miller, Ephraim and Leigertwood got up quickly to support him.
Whether the system will work as well in home games remains to be seen and we now have two very tough fixtures at Loftus Road which will really test how good we are – with due respect we won’t face two worse performances this season than the ones Derby and Blackpool put in against us and Reading and Swansea next week will be an entirely different ball game and a very stiff test. Still our team has a solid and settled look about it now and this very professional display was too much for Blackpool to cope with.
Have Your Say >>> Interactive Player Ratings
Blackpool: Rachubka 7, Barker 6, Evatt 5, Edwards 5, Harte 3 (Crainey 64, 4), O'Donovan 5 (Nemeth 59, 5), Fox 5, Vaughan 6, Martin 4 (Owens 46, 6), Campbell 6, Taylor-Fletcher 6
Subs Not Used: Gilks, Baptiste
QPR: Camp 7, Connolly 6 (Hall 88, -), Stewart 7, Gorkss 8, Delaney 6, Routledge 8, Cook 7, Leigertwood 7, Mahon 7, Miller 6 (Ephraim 54, 7), Helguson 7 (Blackstock 75, 7)
Subs Not Used: Bulmer, Di Carmine
Booked: Cook (foul), Routledge (kicking the ball away)
Goals: Helguson 17 (assisted Routledge), 58 (penalty) Ephraim 90 (assisted Cook)
QPR Star Man – Wayne Routledge 8 Neither Crainey nor Harte could live with him and he is making such a difference to us away from home. We carry so much more threat with him in the side, and even when we are under pressure ourselves you know his pace can carry the ball down the field and create a chance on the counter attack whereas before we would just hoof it away and try to clear the penalty box. Should have scored in the second half on a couple of occasions but a great assist for the first and a fine performance all the same.
Referee: First half - Graham Laws (Tyne & Wear) 8 Calmly went about his business in the first half. Very unfussy, allowed the game to flow, hard to think of an error.
Second half – Iain Siddall (Lancashire) 8 For somebody who is not on the referee list Siddall was very impressive. He got both the penalty decisions right I thought – awarding the one on Helguson but not the one on Blackstock. The only mistake he made was the booking of Routledge. Between them both referees did a good job.
Attendance: 6,656 (200 QPR fans approx) The Blackpool fan were in good voice at the start of both halves with the famous drummer probably audible at the end of the Central Pier. There were a few moans and groans by the end though as QPR took over and Blackpool misplaced passes with alarming frequency. A tiny following from QPR but it was a collection of proper die hards and those that did travel were in reasonable voice despite paying £27 to stand out in the lashing rain.
Photo: Action Images
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