Stalemate In Battle Of The Hoops
RANGERS were held to a goalless draw by Championship front-runners Reading in an end to end affair in W12.
The hosts saw a lot of the play particularly in the second period, but like the Royals couldn`t convert the few chances they created into a goal scoring opportunity.
Heidar Helguson went close twice for the R`s with Damion Stewart at his best to deny Championship top scorer Kevin Doyle at the death.
In front of a near capacity crowd of 17,120 Rangers kept the highest scorers in the country to a minimum of effort and speculative strikes from distance.
In the end however neither side could find that killer instinct in front of goal as a pulsating affair ended in stalemate in W12.
The R`s named an unchanged side from the excellent away win at Blackpool. Liam Miller retained his spot alongside Mikele Leigertwood and Gavin Mahon in midfield, flanked by the impressive Wayne Routledge and Lee Cook.
The defensive unit lined up with Kaspars Gorkss and Damion Stewart in the middle with Matthew Connolly and Damien Delaney taking their full back berth. Heidar Helguson was left to run the forward line on his own.
Lee Camp retained his place between the sticks owing to an injury to Radek Cerny. But how injured is the Czech stopper? He was healthy enough to take part in a pre-match warm-up on the pitch, but not to be named among the substitutes, why should he be risked altogether if he is not named on the bench.
Reading named a strong side for the trip to W12 with Steve Coppell electing for the strike force of Kevin Doyle and Leroy Lita, flanked by effective wingers Jimmy Kebe and Stephen Hunt. James Harper was a surprise inclusion as captain as rumours of his future continue to lie away from the Madejski Stadium.
Alex Pearce partnered veteran Michael Duberry at the heart of the defence, with Ivar Ingamarsson still nursing an injury. Son of former QPR forward Leroy Roseinor, Liam, lined up at right back, with former Sheffield United player Chris Armstrong on the opposite flank.
Goalscoring keeper Adam Federici lined up in goal at the expense of the injured American Marcus Hahnneman.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Reading
Rangers were evidently buoyed by recent away results and set out to make this their third win in succession. Liam Miller and Mikele Leigertwood were making things tick in the middle, with the assuring head of Gavin Mahon expertly screening the back four.
The R`s were pouring forward in numbers to support lone forward Heidar Helguson, with Leigertwood in particular driving on. The former Crystal Palace and Sheffield United man was on hand to pick up a loose ball inside the area before driving a deflected effort just wide of the left-hand upright.
Rangers were testing the resilience of the former Premier League side and Steve Coppell`s best laid plans were unravelling before his eyes as a right footed cross from Damien Delaney nearly found its way to Helguson, the striker inches away from his third goal in two games.
Reading began to assert some impetus on proceedings and showing why they are approaching the summit of the division. They weren`t matching the R`s on the quality of football however in terms of grit and endeavour they more than matched the hosts with Coppell`s percentage football moments away from paying dividends.
They nearly had the lead Kevin Doyle`s shot deflected off Damion Stewart and fell kindly for record signing Kalifa Cisse. The midfielder lashed his foot at the effort which took a touch off a defender and tricked towards the target. A despairing dive from Lee Camp couldn`t stop the shot which clipped the post and went behind. The referee saw the incident differently to most in the ground and decided to give the corner.
Rangers were keeping hold of the ball well, but couldn`t call upon that killer instinct that they had shown in recent fixtures on their travels. They found themselves playing to the Royals` strengths with former Chelsea defender Michael Duberry able to power headers away at will.
A free kick in a promising area nearly changed that for the R`s and Lee Cook. Cookie was having a hard time of it down the left flank with Liam Roseinor coping well with the threat of the former Watford man. Stepping up 30-yards out Cook fired a rasping drive which bounced venomously infront of Federici who dealt with the incident well infront of the dormant travelling support.
Returning goalkeeper Lee Camp had drawn a rapturous applause from the home crowd before the start of the fixture in his first start in W12 this season. On the half hour mark he proved why he is a fans favourite as he denied former Rangers target Leroy Lita at his near post before the defence closed ranks to clear away. A save which was an epitome of why he is so highly revered among the Rangers faithful.
Rangers went in at the break on a high with their only issue seeming to be their lack of cutting edge in front of the target. They kept the country`s top scorers to a minimum of chances - making Kevin Doyle look more like Maurice Doyle at times as the Royals struggled to break down the Rangers rearguard.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Reading
The visitors emerged in the second period with renewed vigour and desire, their attack spearheaded by the lively Hunt and Lita, with Kevin Doyle beginning to discover his abilities. The Irishman`s through ball found strike partner Lita who raced onto the ball before forcing Camp into another save at his near post.
Approaching the hour mark and QPR weren`t asserting their trademark football as effectively as they had in the opening half. Full back Damien Delaney attempted to take the game by the scruff of the neck as he tried his luck from distance.
The Irish international looked a different player in his left back berth today, giving Jimmy Kebe little to no opportunity in defensive areas and marauding forward with the ball in support of winger Lee Cook. He latched onto a loose ball on the edge of the area, sending a powerful left-footed drive just over Federici`s cross bar.
The game was becoming an end to end affair with the visitors having the better of the openings, Damion Stewart doing notably well to deny an expert cross from Chris Armstrong. But ignore Rangers at your peril as Heidar Helguson just failed to connect with a tantalising cross from Lee Cook.
Routledge used his raw pace to beat the aforementioned Armstrong and was inches away from finding a QPR player, only for the outstretched arms of Federici to gratefully cling onto the ball in mid-air.
Rangers were beginning to flourish in attacking areas and the crowd responded in kind, getting behind the team as they searched for an illusive winner. The same unfortunately could hardly be said for the away end which say awkwardly quiet at times despite their team busting a gut to get a result.
The Reading players were getting men behind the ball and defending to a man with two or three players seemingly surrounding every incident to block off any potential threat. Cook was visibly struggling when players of the ilk of Cisse, Roseinor and Kebe were closing him down at every opportunity.
The only chances that the R`s could muster were either from fleeting efforts to crosses, or speculative drives from distance. Indeed Heidar Helguson came out of the area in search of a chance and curled the ball a couple of yards wide of the right hand upright.
A defining moment in the fixture then came as mayhem ensued in the Rangers penalty area, and it looked for all the money that the Super Hoops were destined to concede to a fortuitous goal. Chances for Cisse and Doyle were blocked in the area, before the ball bounced towards the corner - Matthew Connolly was on hand to steer the ball clear from the goaline.
A catalogue of fortuitous goals that have settled this fixture of the years. When you consider the ball hitting Andy Hughes` standing leg back in 2002, accompanied with Nicky Shorey`s over-hit cross shot beating Chris Day, Reading have a history of beating the R`s in fortuitous circumstances, not on this occasion as Connolly cleared the mayhem in the six yard box.
Stephen Hunt inexplicably fluffed his lines after Lee Camp had dropped the ball at his feet. Camp came out for the ball and somehow let it slip between his fingers, but the Irishman place the ball wide of the mark to save the returning stoppers` blushes.
Rangers fans sensed a change of formation from Paulo Sousa when Hogan Ephraim prepared himself on the touchline with just under 15 minutes remaining - however Gavin Mahon was withdrawn with Mikele Leigertwood slotting into the holding role. An ambitious move from the Portuguese boss who wanted three points from an evenly-fought fixture.
Loftus Road was buzzing as Hogan Ephraim got into his stride in the middle where he has impressed in recent games. His creativity surpassed the majority of players on the field as he linked up with Cook and Delaney down the left on a couple of occasions to create half chances.
Reading nearly stole the game from under the nose of the Rangers fans in the final five minutes when Kevin Doyle sent a drive goalbound, but the impenetrable Rangers rearguard were unprepared to wilt in face of pressure, with Damion Stewart throwing his body at the Irishman`s effort.
Heidar Helguson and Lee Cook made way for Dexter Blackstock and Samuel Di Carmine in a final throw of the dice for Paulo Sousa`s men, but a victory was not to be as the side shared the spoils in a keenly fought contest at Loftus Road.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Reading
Queens Park Rangers: Lee Camp, Matthew Connolly, Damion Stewart, Kaspars Gorkss, Damien Delaney, Gavin Mahon (Hogan Ephraim 77), Wayne Routledge, Mikele Leigertwood, Liam Miller, Lee Cook (Samuel Di Carmine 89), Heidar Helguson (Dexter Blackstock 84).
Reading: Adam Federici, Chris Armstrong, Kalifa Cisse, Leroy Lita, Kevin Doyle, Stephen Hunt, Jimmy Kebe (Brynjar Gunnarsson 90), James Harper, Liam Roseinor, Alex Pearce, Michael Duberry.
This was an accomplished midfield performance which was vastly improved on his debut at Blackpool. In fairness to the lad the best is yet to come, as he continues to plug away for his battle for full fitness. What we saw today was the nucleus of an excellent professional.
Lee Camp - 6/10
His decision to come for a set-piece was in question as he dropped the ball at the feet of Stephen Hunt, a rare uncharacteristic effort of a keeper that should keep his place for the fixture against Swansea City on Tuesday.
Matthew Connolly - 6/10
His abilities weren`t limited to defence as he came forward in support of Wayne Routledge on a couple of occasions, but those were unfortunately in isolation as Routledge was crowded out a couple of times suffering from a lack of support.
Damion Stewart - 7/10
He was thoroughly dominant in the aerial battle with neither Lita nor Doyle able to compete with his aerial prowess. He and Gorkss now seem inseparable with Fitz Hall having to wait in the wings for his chance.
Kaspars Gorkss - 7/10
He continues to struggle in front of goal and hasn`t quite lived up to his goalscoring reputation earned at Bloomfield Road, but nevertheless his defensive capabilities compensate for any loss in attacking areas. He distributed the ball intelligently and also looked to mix up his passing in the face of heavy pressure from hard-working forwards.
Damien Delaney - 7/10
There were hearts in mouths as he was up against the pace and trickery of Jimmy Kebe, a combination with which Damien doesn`t deal well, to be fair to him he had no problems in snuffing out the attacking threat down the left whatsoever.
Gavin Mahon - 6/10
Where he excelled however was being an extra head in defensive areas, twice denying Reading in key areas including one off the line in the second period. For this reason alone he was worth his selection.
Wayne Routledge - 7/10
Routledge gave Armstrong a torrid time at full back, and more often that not Stephen Hunt was required to double up on the nippy winger to stop him making the vital impact.
Mikele Leigertwood - 6/10
He was perhaps a little over complicated when it came to defending and distributing, having to work his way out of trouble on a couple of occasions after not picking the simple pass. He was fairly anonymous throughout the second period.
Liam Miller - 8/10
One of the shorter players on the park was never left wanting for aerial ability and strength on the ball, while showing a creative element that saw him impress with sides such as Celtic and Sunderland.
Lee Cook - 7/10
During the second period is where Lee usually shows his class running towards the Loftus Road end. He put in a couple of testing crosses which had Rangers decided to go with a second man up front could have paid dividends. He played well but was far too inconsistent.
Heidar Helguson - 6/10
Running the front line on his own is not Heidar`s main strength as he was winning the ball in the air but not actually flicking on to anyone of use or using his wide players. His one effort went a few yards wide in the second half.
SUB: Hogan Ephraim - 7/10
Hogan came on and showed that he is more than capable of mixing it with the top players in this division. He once again slotted into the middle of the park in a move that saw Mikele Leigertwood drop into the hole.
He showed a lot of class on the ball and looked to support Cook in wide areas while seeking to unlock a stubborn defence. If he had been given longer than 13 minutes today the moment may have come for him.
SUB: Dexter Blackstock
Dexter didn`t really have a great deal to do upon replacing Heidar Helguson as nothing really sticked up front for any real chances of note.
His introduction into the loan strikers role is something that he relished earlier on in the campaign, but at the moment he is behind Helguson in the pecking order owing to recent form.
SUB: Samuel Di Carmine
Sammy got one touch of the ball after replacing Cook late on in the game in a like for like substitution. Di Carmine lined up on the left wing, which I anticipate will not be a permanent position for the Fiorentina loanee, in a time-wasting measure by Paulo Sousa.
Di Carmine`s striking future in W12 is limited with the system only allowing for one forward he sits behind Helguson and Blackstock in the pecking order, with Angelo Balanta to come back from Wycombe.
Overall if his desire was to stifle the Reading machine then it worked immensely, but the lack of creativity will be a slight worry for the Rangers boss. Neither side in truth looked like scoring but the R`s could never consistently string a succession of attacks together to sustain pressure, merely half chances in isolation.
There was no plan B for Coppell`s men who continued to plug away down a dead end - as the Rangers defence excelled in keeping a third clean sheet in succession. Some call it dinosaur football, route one, percentage football - call it what you will, it wasn`t too pretty.
What he didn`t give in terms of cards he more than made up for with his whistle, blowing at every juncture, I was starting to get a headache just sitting in the stands. Not a bad performance in truth, but there is much to improve on for this official.