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Fans turn on their own as Ipswich underline QPR shortcomings – full match report
Fans turn on their own as Ipswich underline QPR shortcomings – full match report
Sunday, 22nd Feb 2009 19:01

QPR’s unbeaten run in the league was brought to a shuddering halt by an impressive Ipswich side at Loftus Road on Saturday. Sections of the home crowd booed captain Gavin Mahon during the second half as the performance went from bad to worse.

Well if ever proof were needed that QPR simply aren’t ready for a play off push this season then this was it.

Expectations around Loftus Road heightened last summer by a ticket pricing policy worth of a Premiership side subsided over the winter as fans settled down to the season of consolidation and team building we had been promised took hold. However an unbeaten run, over hyped by the club as “the perfect ten” when in fact six of the games had been drawn, seems to have sent those expectations soaring and when things started to go wrong against Ipswich on Saturday the QPR players and fans let themselves down in equal measure.

Lacking a cutting edge of with an overcrowded midfield QPR looked laboured and ineffective against a keen and hard working Ipswich side. In the stands large parts of the crowd spent the second half abusing both Paulo Sousa and captain Gavin Mahon for their parts in the heavy defeat. It was another one of those days when you almost felt ashamed to sit amongst some elements of our support – some of whom even booed goalkeeper Lee Camp before the game had even kicked off. It is almost as if we want to lose to give us something to moan about.

A combination of knocks and lack of fitness meant that QPR actually had arguably three of their best players on the bench at the start of play. Heidar Helguson and Dexter Blackstock were benched again with Sam Di Carmine starting up front just a fortnight after he left the field at Nottingham Forest in a leg brace. A training ground injury relegated Stewart to the bench with Fitz Hall coming into the back four along with Connolly, Gorkss and Delaney. Lee Camp continued in goal. The controversial element of the selection was Sousa’s continuation with a five man midfield for a home game – Leigertwood, Mahon and Miller played in the middle with Routledge wide right and Cook wide left.

Ipswich came into this game with stories continuing to circulate about the future of manager Jim Magilton but the beleaguered boss came with a positive team selection, Jon Stead and Pablo Counago started together in attack with the creative influences of Norris and Civelli behind them in midfield, and was rewarded with a splendid, committed display from his players.

QPR took the lead inside three minutes when a long ball into the box from Damien Delaney was only partially cleared by Alex Bruce. That gave Wayne Routledge his first chance of the afternoon to torment Ben Thatcher and after turning the former Man City full back inside and out by the corner flag Routledge delivered the perfect near post cross for Sam Di Carmine to finish crisply into the bottom corner. I thought it was strange that at the set up Di Carmine, the only striker we had on the pitch, was being marked by Jon Stead and that turned out to be a mistake as Di Carmine lost Stead two or three times in the build up before scoring.

Rangers then forced a couple of corners that first Cook and then Routledge wasted, finding Wright in goal and the first defender at the near post respectively, but it was the best possible start for the home team and confidence really should have been flowing through the team. At this point the long unbeaten run looked set to continue

Not so, Ipswich came roaring back with an equaliser inside ten minutes. The warning signs had been there – Fitz Hall hacked unconvincingly over his own bar after eight minutes and then Gorkss headed needlessly behind for a corner after poor communication with Camp, Leigertwood headed the resulting set piece narrowly over his own bar. From the second corner the equaliser came and was about as soft and sloppy as you could possibly get.

McAuley came in at the back post and saw a goal bound effort blocked by Miller. As Ipswich appealed for handball Damien Delaney lost out in the air on the edge of the box but there still seemed to be little danger when Norris collected the ball thirty yards from goal with few options ahead of him. The former Plymouth man decided to try a hopeful effort on goal which he mishit along the ground – the ball hit Counago and fell perfectly into the path of Jon Stead who had out accelerated Connolly on a late run into the box and he was able to bundle the ball past Camp and wheel away to celebrate as it trickled into the net. Things almost got a whole lot worse straight from the kick off as three QPR players lazily took the easy way out and passed backwards which ended with Lee Camp clearing against Stead – luckily the ball went out for a goal kick.

On the quarter hour Norris skinned Mahon and shot straight at Camp then Counago almost put Town in front when left unmarked from a corner but he headed narrowly over with Camp beaten. Ipswich, not a team I would associate with danger from set pieces, played some terrific corners into the box throughout this match while QPR’s by comparison were abysmal. In Damion Stewart, Kaspars Gorkss and Fitz Hall we have some big blokes to send up from the back, all of whom have shown goal scoring prowess from set pieces in the past, but our corners are so bloody awful they only have four goals between them all season and two of those came in the first game of the season.

QPR were second best in almost every department by the half hour mark although they did break forward through Routledge once which allowed Leigertwood a sight of goal and he dragged his shot wide.

Ten minutes before half time Ipswich really should have taken the lead after a terrible mistake by Gavin Mahon. Under no pressure in midfield and with time to bring a loose ball down and turn away into an attacking position Mahon inexplicably sent a looping header back into his own penalty area behind Gorkss and Hall and straight to the unmarked Pablo Counago. Lee Camp was out quickly to deny the Spaniard a sight of goal but he touched it back to Stead who really should have done much better than fire wide of the open goal under no pressure from the edge of the penalty box. This was just the start of a nightmare hour of football for Mahon that culminated in him being booed by his own fans.

On the stroke of half time David Norris bravely flung himself in front of Mikele Leigertwood in the penalty area to deny him a half volley on goal from ten yards out. The whistle sounded a short time later leaving QPR to reflect on a half that, but for the first five minutes, they had been distinctly second best in throughout.

Straight after half time Rangers had a reasonable shout for a penalty waved away by Stuart Attwell. A cross from the right by Miller looked all set for the back of the net with Leigertwood racing onto it ahead of Norris until the Ipswich man put an arm in Leigertwood’s back and pushed him past the ball. This was a more than decent claim but Attwell bases ninety per cent of his decisions on guesswork and when he is in a position to see something he looks completely frozen by fear and tends to give nothing.

Sousa’s first change of the match saw Sam Di Carmine replaced by Heidar Helguson in attack. Di Carmine had done a reasonable job with limited service and can perhaps count himself unlucky – Rangers seemed to be crying out for an extra body in attack rather than a like for like switch. Helguson’s first action in the game saw him head over the bar after Cook and Miller worked a short corner and crossed to the back post. Still, QPR had started the half much better than they had finished the first and were marginally the better side in the first fifteen minutes – Magilton acted by replacing Civelli with Walters

Ipswich took the lead on the hour thanks to a grave mistake in midfield from Mahon. The former Watford man has made a career out of receiving the ball and giving it simply but for reasons only known to himself on this occasion, with very few defenders behind him, he decided to try and dribble the ball out of defence and take the Ipswich players on. Pablo Counago inevitably robbed him of the ball and from that moment on Rangers were always stretched at the back. The Spaniard took the ball to the edge of the area and really should have played in Stead who was totally unmarked but instead went alone and hammered an unstoppable shot past Camp and into the net. Mahon stood alone, head in hands.

The second QPR sub saw Dexter Blackstock come on for Damien Delaney who had been poor. There were murmurings from the crowd though who perhaps thought that Mahon was lucky to remain on the pitch, especially as just before the sub was made he launched a wild lunge on Norris after an abysmal first touch and should really have been booked. Magilton replaced Stead, who had put in a superb shift up front, with former QPR loanee Kevin Lisbie who had recovered from a back strain in time to play.

The game was finished as a contest shortly after the Delaney substitution when Ipswich took advantage of the space created by it. A lovely long ball from Alan Quinn in behind Gorkss found Walters racing in from the Ipswich right wing and he needed no second invitation to drill a decisive third goal beyond Lee Camp. A fine looking goal but I question whether it would have happened had QPR left their left back on and taken one of their eight million midfielders off instead.

The situation, as far as the crowd was concerned, was exacerbated when Sousa used his final substitution to take off Liam Miller rather than Mahon – even the skipper himself looked surprised and seemed to set off for the touchline before the board went up only to be told to remain out there. Large parts of the ground started signing “you don’t know what you’re doing” to the manager who responded with raised eyebrows to his assistants but nothing else. Mahon’s next two or three touches were greeted with boos by the more mindless elements of our support, God only knows what they thought that might achieve, and the atmosphere was once again turning ugly at Loftus Road. Mahon had a terrible game, his worst for the club, but he probably knew that himself. What booing him achieved, especially when we had no substitutions left to take him off, is beyond me. Mindless, brainless, cretinous behaviour from some QPR fans. A disgrace.

While all this was going on Alex Bruce blocked a Mikele Leigertwood shot with his arm for a clear penalty but Attwell, staring straight at it, froze again and neither gave the decision nor waved it away. Then Balanta collected the ball deep in the penalty area amid a goal mouth scramble but just could not turn and get a shot away. Leigertwood also had two long range shots – the first deflected straight into the arms of Richard Wright, the other zipped a foot too high with many parts of the ground expecting the top corner of the net to ripple.

Ipswich sent on Garvan for Counago as they looked to shut up the shop and Ben Thatcher picked up the first booking of the match after wasting time over a throw in and then heaving the ball onto the School End roof to run the clock down after the whistle had gone. A stupid booking, and he knew exactly what he was doing.

With four minutes to go Wayne Routledge had his shirt pulled on the edge of the box by Norris but Cook hit a shot straight into the top of the wall – a real waste. He then curled the resulting corner straight into the side netting which summed the night up for Cook and his team mates. To compound the frustration Dexter Blackstock’s powerful header on eighty nine minutes flew straight at Wright and then Ipswich were awarded a free kick on the edge of their own box when Routledge appeared to have been hauled back by McAuley who then took the ball with the tackle. Why Ipswich got a free kick from all of that only Attwell would be able to tell you.

A poor day at the office then, and after such a good start as well – very frustrating. Obviously everybody has come away from the game talking about Gavin Mahon and he won’t need telling that he was absolutely terrible, costing us one goal and going very close to costing us a second. I do think that to some extent though Mahon is a victim of circumstance and Paulo Sousa has to shoulder a lot of the blame for this.

When there was a discussion on the message board recently about who should replace the injured Rowlands as captain I said the problem with making Mahon the skipper is that I would rarely pick him for home matches. Away from home our 4-5-1 formation with Mahon holding and Miller and Leigertwood breaking from midfield is the ideal system and has picked up some great results on the road recently. At home it is far too negative. The three in midfield get in each other’s way and swamp an area where a home team should be looking to create space to move the ball around in. It also prevents us getting people in the penalty area for crosses and yet again yesterday whenever Cook or Routledge had the ball in a wide area they looked up to see Di Carmine and perhaps one other ahead of them being marked by up to eight Ipswich shirts.

One up front does not necessarily mean the team is negative – when we had Furlong up front scoring goals people like Gallen and Cureton played off him – but you have to get support to that man at the top and with the three players we have in the middle of the midfield that is rarely going to happen because Mahon, Leigertwood and Miller have never been players that like to get up and support a striker.

Therefore the system is too negative for home games and Sousa’s persistence with it despite draws against ten man Coventry, Reading, Watford and Burnley came back to haunt us on Saturday. As did his stubborn refusal to remove Mahon from the action, presumably because he though the crowd would destroy him as he went off. That should not be a consideration – even Mahon himself knew he should be going off and started trotting towards the touchline when the Miller sub was made. Taking Miller off instead killed the meagre creativity we did have and taking Delaney off instead created space down the Ipswich right through which Walters was able to move and score a third goal. Sousa is still a very inexperienced manager and it really showed on Saturday.

I have been saying for a long time that we are not ready or good enough for the play offs and hopefully this footballing lesson at the hands of a team tenth at the start of play will finally put an end to the “oooh Bristol City have won, oooh Swansea have lost, oooh we’ve got two games in hand” stuff. We’re not good enough for the top six and unless we improve one hundred per cent overnight that could be cruelly exposed again on Wednesday at Cardiff. Can’t wait.

Have Your Say >>> Interactive Player Ratings

QPR: Camp 5, Connolly 4, Gorkss 5, Hall 4, Delaney 4 (Blackstock 67, 5) Routledge 6, Mahon 2, Leigertwood 6, Miller 5 (Balanta 73, 5) Cook 5, Di Carmine 6 (Helguson 55, 4)
Subs Not Used: Stewart, Alberti
Goals: Di Carmine 3 (assisted Routledge)

Ipswich: R Wright 7, D Wright 7, McAuley 8, Bruce 7, Thatcher 5, Miller 7, Norris 8, Civelli 6 (Walters 61, 7), Quinn 7, Stead 8 (Lisbie 69, 6), Counago 8 (Garvan 82, 6)
Subs Not Used: Supple, Balkestein
Booked: Thatcher (time wasting)
Goals: Stead 14 (assisted Norris), Counago 61 (unassisted), Walters 70 (assisted Quinn)

QPR Star Man – Wayne Routledge 6 Set up the goal and looked the most threatening but winning man of the match with a rating of six tells you everything you need to know. Best of a bad bunch.

Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire) 6 Not bad, certainly a lot better than last time, but not good at the same time. I still cannot believe how many decisions he makes based on complete guesswork. Countless times corners, goal kicks and throw ins took an age to decide as Attwell was poorly positioned and then had to look at his linesmen and ultimately take a wild guess. QPR were unlucky not to have two penalties and Gavin Mahon was lucky to escape without a booking. Looks terrified when faced with a decision and the amount of complete guess work involved in his decision making explains the horrendous mistakes he has been making this season.

Attendance: 13,904 (1600 Ipswich approx) Disgraceful behaviour by some QPR fans – I’d love to know what they thought booing Gavin Mahon achieved, have a go at Sousa for his team selection and substitutions by all means but booing a player will only ever have a negative impact. A smaller than usual following from Ipswich but they seemed to be having a noisy and boisterous time down in the School End.

Photo: Action Images

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