Festive Goalfest At The Valley
RANGERS were twice pegged back against Charlton Athletic in a Boxing Day blockbuster in South East London.
The R`s took the initiative courtesy of a stunning Lee Cook strike, only for Nick Bailey to equalise with a header after the break.
A spirited Charlton side continued to threaten with their crowd springing to life in the second period, but Dexter Blackstock netted a neat finish to hand the R`s the advantage once again. However a howler from Radek Cerny handed the Addicks a point.
Rangers had the ball in the back of the net in injury time only for referee Mr Taylor to rule it out for a dubious foul.
The R`s laid a late siege to the Addicks target with a succession of corners, however it was to no avail as both team took home a share of the spoils in an evenly fought contest.
Manager Paulo Sousa rang the changes for his side`s visit to the Valley with a view to the home game against Watford in two day`s time. Matteo Alberti came in for a shock debut following recovery from injury.
The youngster from Chievo hasn`t come close to the first team set up, but he replaced Hogan Ephraim on the right of the R`s midfield diamond, while Mikele Leigertwood came in for Gavin Mahon in the holding role.
Heidar Helguson and Patrick Agyemang dropped to the bench with the weekend`s goalscorer Dexter Blackstock coming in alongside Fiorentina loanee Samuel Di Carmine. Damion Stewart was left out of the 16 with Fitz Hall partnering Kaspars Gorkss at the heart of the Rangers rearguard.
Lee Cook also returned to the Valley for the first time since his unsuccessful loan spell at the back end of the last campaign.
Rangers had to contend with the tricky strike force of Andy Gray and Martyn Waghorn, flanked by the raw pace of Lloyd Sam and loanee Hameur Bouazza. Industrious midfielder Nick Bailey started in the centre of midfield with Rob Elliott preferred in goal to Nicky Weaver.
Former Rangers defender Martin Cranie started at left back, and the familiar voice of Pete Nutthall could be heard through the speakers, he was replaced as the Loftus Road announcer by Billy Rice following promotion to the Championship.
Charlton Athletic v Queens Park Rangers
Rangers began the game on the back foot as the home side looked to assert some positivity on proceedings, a message that caretaker boss Phil Parkinson has been keen to put across following the Addicks recent demise.
It was tough for Rangers to get hold of the ball in spells, but an early bright came through an unlikely source, debutante Matteo Alberti. The young midfielder, who signed on a free transfer in the summer from Chievo Verona, carved out a cross down the right, but former Addick Lee Cook nodded his looping header onto the roof of the net.
Rangers started to get hold of the game and another chance went begging moments later, this time the ball fell to Fitz Hall. A well worked corner saw Dexter Blackstock rise to nod the ball into the path of the former Crystal Palace defender, but he couldn`t convert from close range - the R`s away goal jitters looking set to continue.
Alberti`s combative stylings did not go unnoticed by the Rangers travelling army, who grew impressed by his flair and creativity, but also his ability to get stuck in early on. Unfortunately however a tough tackle earned him a booking from Mr Taylor, who without so much of a thought flashed a yellow card in Alberti`s direction.
Moments earlier Nick Bailey had gone straight through the back of Samuel Di Carmine, the referee was not so quick to react on that occasion, and Bailey managed to talk his way out of the book.
Matteo Alberti was at the centre of the R`s creative play down the right flank, as he drove forward with the ball. A ball over the top for the Italian youngster saw him felled with a high foot. A decision which was met with much protest by the crowd at the Valley.
Rangers took advantage of the well placed set-piece courtesy of Rangers fan Lee Cook. With Rowlands and Cook standing over the ball, Cookie decided to try his luck and he bent his left-footed effort beyond rookie keeper Rob Elliott and into the top right hand corner.
A pin-point finish to mark his first goal following his return to his boyhood club.
Charlton Athletic 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
Rangers were now turning on the style as the hosts grew demoralised. Dexter Blackstock once again fluffed his lines in front of goal after he reacted fastest to Samuel Di Carmine`s blocked effort. The crowd at the Valley were growing restless as they saw their side beaten to many challenges and void of any fight or desire.
The hosts had young stopper Elliott to thank for keeping them in the fixture as he pulled off a save from point blank range to deny Rangers. Martin Rowlands corner was headed clear only as far as Mikele Leigertwood. His pass found Samuel Di Carmine who spun and shot in the box only to draw a commendable stop from the Addicks custodian as the ball rolled clear.
As the first half wore on Rangers were finding the going tough with Charlton beginning to assert some pressure of their own. Lloyd Sam was at the forefront of most of the Addicks attacks and he teased Matthew Connolly at times with Martin Rowlands having to track back to help the returning defender.
On the other flank there was also much promise with Hameur Bouazza starting to get the point at his feet and running at Peter Ramage. However the sheer lack of end product for the Algerian would have been a cause for concern for Addicks boss Phil Parkinson.
Charlton continued to keep hold of the ball for the remainder of the first period as Rangers grew sloppy in possession. As has become the custom in recent weeks, the R`s had the lead but seemed to set about undoing their hard work through some casual passing and static movement.
Only one further clear cut chance for the R`s first half and it fell once again to forward Dexter Blackstock. Lee Cook was made an enterprising run down the left before whipping a venomous cross from the left. Dexter rose unmarked just inside the area only to nod the ball straight at Elliott.
That brought to an end a lacklustre first period at the Valley with Christmas hangovers seemingly being nursed on the pitch just as much as in the stands. A distinct lack of atmosphere in SE7 was met with a poor first half of football, with fans hoping for more in the second half. However, just as they were down at Plymouth, the R`s found themselves a goal to the good, which gave them something to defend.
Half Time: Charlton Athletic 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
There was a renewed vigour among the Rangers fans and players as the R`s appeared for the second half. Even the goalkeeping heroics of Rob Elliott drew the applause of the R`s fans as he took his place for the second half.
The first real chance fell to the visitors with Mikele Leigertwood not needing a second invitation to shoot as he fired a dipping volley straight into the grateful arms of the aforementioned stopper.
The hosts began to reassert the pressure that they held towards the end of the first half, and in the bitter cold of South East London they found themselves level owing to some curious goalkeeping from Radek Cerny.
Radek was clearly struggling with the sun beating down on that area of the pitch, but still there was no call for a cap. Moments later the nippy winger Lloyd Sam broke away down the right to send his cross into the heart of the area - former Barnet and Southend United midfielder Nick Bailey capitalised on some naïve goalkeeping by the Czech stopper to beat him to the ball and send his header into the corner.
Charlton Athletic 1-1 Queens Park Rangers
The noise around the Valley was significantly upped once the ball had hit the back of the net, with many of the home fans finding their voices. Rangers fans were left deflated behind the goal, after once again failing to convert a succession of chances and getting punished.
Charlton were beginning to control proceedings and wave after wave of attack ensued on the R`s goal. Needlessly wasteful in possession, Rangers were contributing to their own downfall - Mikele Leigertwood couldn`t seem to find a black shirt for the majority of the second period despite doing well to win the ball on numerous occasions.
One of the players who began to grow weary was debutante Alberti, he was withdrawn to an excellent ovation from the Rangers fans, and replaced by Hogan Ephraim - the former West Ham United man looking to impress following his omission from the side.
Immediately he got to grips with the fixture linking up with Peter Ramage down the right flank, something that significantly improved Ramage`s game playing alongside a familiar player. Moments afterwards Argentinean loanee Emmanuel Ledesma came on for Lee Cook with Sousa seemingly wary of both the treatment he was getting and the game in two days time against another former side Watford.
A stern tackle on Ephraim should have handed the R`s a throw in, but inexplicably the linesman gave a throw in. A truly baffling decision, but luckily for Rangers it shaped the goal that was to come.
Leigertwood reacted fast to the throw to thread a ball through to Dexter Blackstock on the right hand side of the area. The former Southampton man took a touch before shaping himself to roll the ball beyond Elliott - A calm and composed finish to belie the R`s top goalscorer`s recent goalscoring woes.
Charlton Athletic 1-2 Queens Park Rangers
The confidence began to grow in the Rangers side, as perhaps finally they could celebrate a third win on the road in the calendar year of 2008.
The away followers were singing and dancing in the stand, as at last the R`s had given them something to sing about. A workmanlike performance was looking as if it could pay dividends with the Addicks dealt another timely blow in their fight to stay safe.
An off the ball incident sparked fury among both sets of players, when the recently introduced Emmanuel Ledesma was on the end of a kick from Jose Semedo, for which the referee had an excellent view.
The referee strode purposefully towards the incident and pulled out a yellow card for the Portuguese midfielder. Surely with an incident of this calibre it is violent conduct and either worth nothing assuming the referee hasn`t seen it, or a red card - a yellow card is probably the last thing an incident of this nature deserved.
Once again though QPR proved that they are their own worst enemy as they continued to relinquish possession of the football and ultimately relinquish possession of the three points.
It was Radek Cerny at fault once again as Rangers through away all their hard work over the course of the fixture. The Czech stopper flapped at a cross to present the ball to Nick Bailey, and the combative central midfielder lifted the ball into the back of the net to hand him a brace and Charlton a point.
Charlton Athletic 2-2 Queens Park Rangers
Rangers pushed forward in the later stages in search of all three points with wave after wave of corner being met with some frantic last gasp defending. The Addicks were no doubt still reeling from Nathan Ellington`s equaliser for Derby in the dying stages at the Valley not so long ago - and panic stations ensued as the pressure was piled on.
Indeed Rangers had the ball in the back of the net in the third of four minutes added on only for referee Taylor to spot a dubious infringement. Substitute Heidar Helguson worked his way into the box into a similar position to that of Blackstock`s goal, his effort rolled ominously towards the target and came back off the post.
Dexter Blackstock completely fluffed his lines on the rebound, completely missing the ball - he went back to the ball but Emmanuel Ledesma steamed in to cannon the shot in off the cross bar. Mr Taylor deemed that Blackstock was holding the defender away from Ledesma, a dubious decision to save Charlton and make Blackstock`s miss appear all the more embarrassing.
In the melee that ensued on the bench, Charlton boss Phil Parkinson was given his marching orders as a jumpy fourth official called the referee over for what seemed the 20th time to alert him to something the former Colchester United and Hull City boss had said.
On reflection a share of the spoils was probably a fair result as Charlton seemed buoyed by their new found confidence, and Rangers will certainly take a point after a workmanlike display that could have been made easier had they taken their early chances.
Full Time: Charlton Athletic 2-2 Queens Park Rangers
Charlton Athletic: Rob Elliot, Nick Bailey, Mark Hudson, Andy Gray, Lloyd Sam, Jose Semedo (Matt Holland 90), Jonathan Fortune, Martin Cranie, Hameur Bouazza (Grant Basey 80), Martyn Waghorn (Deon Burton 71), Jay McEveley.
QPR: Radek Cerny, Peter Ramage, Fitz Hall, Kaspars Gorkss, Matthew Connolly, Mikele Leigertwood, Matteo Alberti (Hogan Ephraim 59), Martin Rowlands, Lee Cook (Emmanuel Ledesma 67), Dexter Blackstock, Samuel Di Carmine (Heidar Helguson 81).
His calm head at the back proved to be crucial at times, and while others were losing their head and punting the ball clear and long, Kaspars always sought the intelligent pass to either full back or the holding midfielder.
His balls into the channel were also useful early on, but perhaps are better deployed with someone like Patrick Agyemang in the side as neither striker truly worked the channels today. Nevertheless an immense display today as he has made himself undroppable in recent weeks.
Radek Cerny - 5/10
The sun appeared to be hindering Cerny`s goalkeeping somewhat, but it took until a goal was put past him for the Czech stopper to realise. He did come out and claim a couple of crosses to relieve pressure, but the mistakes were far too costly.
Peter Ramage - 5/10
However today he was given a tough time by the pacey Hameur Bouazza, and luckily at periods in the first half Matteo Alberti was on hand to stop the Algerian. He was beaten for pace at times and couldn`t stop the cross, something of which he is usually adept.
Fitz Hall - 7/10
The communication between the two was excellent, they in fact were the pair that were thought to be the first choice partnership at the start of the season and on this display Sousa may well come back to it in the future.
Kaspars Gorkss - 8/10
He is quickly establishing himself in Paulo Sousa`s plans, and since he was introduced into the line-up not long ago, he hasn`t looked back. He had a chance to clinch the game in the dying stages of the match, but as a defender he chose to square the ball rather than go for goal. That would have surely rounded off an excellent, accomplished display.
Paulo Sousa will certainly have a selection headache in the central defensive area as the Watford game comes round in two days time.
Matthew Connolly - 6/10
However both goals came from the left full back area of the field, with Lloyd Sam supplying the vast majority of creativity for the Addicks. Martin Rowlands` creativity was somewhat stifled as they had to double up on the tricky winger.
One thing to note however, I don`t feel that Damien Delaney would have done much better in that role today, as Connolly in my opinion is more technically gifted and able to deal with pacey players more clinically.
Mikele Leigertwood - 5/10
Mikele would be able to trap the ball out of the skies, or use his strength to win possession and then not be able to place a pass a few yards. He was incredibly wastful on the ball, but his major contribution was an assist so I suppose you cannot be overly critical.
The pass to find Blackstock was sublime, and you just wonder what a player Legs could be if all the pieces were to fit together on a consistent basis.
Matteo Alberti - 7/10
Of all the foreign imports in the summer Alberi was the least fancied going into the season, despite being the best of the bunch during pre-season. While the hype surrounded Ledesma and Parejo, Alberti had to bide his time in the reserves, and injury put pay to him playing for a few months.
Today he showed R`s fans his capabilities both going forward and defensively, as he was industrious and combative on the right. Helping both Peter Ramage at the back, and playing an effective role in the midfield diamond.
Martin Rowlands - 6/10
He was tough in the tackle as always and attempted to snuff out attacks in their infancy wherever possible. Rowlands was at the forefront of the R`s late surge and one can only think how many Rangers could have got had Rowlands remained on form throughout the game consistently.
Lee Cook - 7/10
However it did not stop there as Cook was one of Rangers most potent threats, weaving in and out of defenders in his free role, supplying numerous chances for Dexter Blackstock. He continues to improve week on week as he looks to recapture the form he showed a couple of seasons ago.
Dexter Blackstock - 7/10
A guilt edge chance in the first half went amiss, but he helped supply a couple of chances with his head for other people. In the second half we saw the classy side of Dexter as he slotted under Elliott - but he will be kicking himself as he fluffed his lines at the end of the game as Helguson`s shot came back off the post.
Samuel Di Carmine - 7/10
He had to be taken off in the end for fear he wouldn`t be fit or able to play in a couple of days time, but the signs are good for Sammy as he continues to impress as a squad player.
SUB: Hogan Ephraim - 6/10
Hogan came on and was given a raw deal by the referee on a couple of occasions. He drove forward on the wing and helped to contribute to that late barrage at the end.
He impressed in short spells and proved that he is fit and ready for Watford on Sunday. He and Alberti will be vying for their places on the right flank as the R`s now have plenty of options in that position.
SUB: Emmanuel Ledesma - 6/10
Ledesma came on for Cook in a like for like substitution at the point of the diamond and appeared to enjoy the freedom that the position brings.
I wasn`t at all excited at the prospect of Ledesma taking to the field ahead of Patrick Agyemang, as I feel we needed some pace in behind. However Ledesma`s effort in the role was much more than was anticipated and proved to me that he still can be a real option in the midfield.
SUB: Heidar Helguson
He very nearly won the R`s the game at the death when his shot tricked goal-bound and came back of the post in agonising fashion - a case of if only for the Icelandic forward who will no doubt look to be involved against his former club on Sunday.
There was no changes to his tactics however as the diamond proved to be a success in some instances. I think he has already learned the strengths of most of the players as is shown by giving Cook and Ledesma the free role. A decent performance and a useful point, but for individual errors could have been all three.
It`s feared however that a point at home when a win was a possibility may not be enough for the Addicks. However a good point is a good point and something to build on for Charlton Athletic.
He was one of the poorer refs this season, but however poor he proved to be, there have been worse this season, which speaks worlds for the state of modern referees.