Strikers Required As R's Slump Again
Tuesday 3rd March 2009 @ 8:00pm
QUEENS Park Rangers were wasteful in front of goal as Norwich City performed a smash and grab raid in W12.
Spurned opportunities from Kaspars Gorkss and more notably Heidar Helguson hammered the final nail in Rangers fleeting playoff hopes as despite being thoroughly dominant they were defeated at home by relegation fodder Norwich.
The Canaries buoyed on by their strong following support turned the table on QPR who had performed a very similar act at Carrow Road earlier in the campaign, and a calamity of errors led to Darel Russell slotting home from close range in the second period.
The rain teemed down in W12 with debutante Jordi López penalised for bringing down Lee Croft only for the rookie official Mr Scott to make a brave decision indeed in consulting his linesman and disallowing a first half penalty.
Nevertheless it will be the Canaries who grabbed three much needed points to keep their season alive, with Rangers players unfairly booed off in disappointment but unfortunately not one player stayed behind to clap the supporters.
Paulo Sousa tinkered once again with his squad with a slight change in formation from the defeat at Barnsley on Saturday. Former Barcelona and Real Madrid man Jordi López came in for his debut in a defensive midfield role, with Matteo Alberti dropping to the bench.
Rangers opted to play without wingers with Wayne Routledge tucking inside into a free role behind Heidar Helguson and Dexter Blackstock with Mikele Leigertwood and Liam Miller retaining their places. A consistent defence of Damion Stewart and Kaspars Gorkss were flanked by Matthew Connolly and Damien Delaney with Radek Cerny retaining the keeper`s jersey.
Bryan Gunn`s Norwich City named a familiar side for the trip to Loftus Road with a slight tactical shift in a crucial tie for the Canaries. David Marshall was named in goal as expected and veteran Gary Doherty played alongside Jason Shackell at the heart of the defence with John Otsemoboor and Jonathan Grounds in their respective full back berths.
Across the midfield Sammy Clingan and Darrell Russell played in the central positions with Lee Croft and Chelsea loanee Ryan Bertrand playing wide. Rangers nemesis Carl Cort was deployed as a lone striker with former QPR man Jamie Cureton dropping curiously out of the squad. Wes Hoolahan sat in behind the former Newcastle United man in a free role.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Norwich City
The inclement weather conditions made for bleak viewing in the skies but R`s fans waited with baited breath to see which QPR side would turn up for this defining clash against Norwich City. A Jekyll and Hyde team, the R`s put in a masterful performance against Cardiff City before capitulating against Barnsley and Ipswich Town in recent games.
They started far the brighter of the two sides with Heidar Helguson handed a golden opportunity in the early stages of the game. Good interplay saw Dexter Blackstock feed his fellow forward via an innovative pass off the knee, Helguson spurned the chance tapping wide with his instep past the left hand upright.
The game flashed to the other end and served as a quick reminder as to why the R`s fans fear the name Carl Cort. Middlesbrough loanee Jonathan Grounds, who has been free scoring by his standards of late, put in a teasing cross from the left which was met by the sizeable forward but straight into the grateful arms of stopper Radek Cerny.
A free kick provided the hosts with a chance to break the deadlock. Despite the distance the testing conditions would prove a difficulty for even the highest standard of goalkeeper. New signing Jordi López stood over the kick with Mikele Leigertwood, and the new man fired an effort from 30-yards that fizzed inches past the left hand upright.
Dexter Blackstock then tried his luck from distance only for Norwich favourite Jason Shackell to block the effort wide of the target. Shackell appeared comfortable with the early pressure that Rangers were exerting and looked at home with his former club having left for Wolverhampton Wanderers during the summer.
Rangers continued to turn the screw on their struggling opponents with influential players such as López and winger Wayne Routledge providing attacks from several angles. Even Damien Delaney was providing ample threat from the left-wing despite his evident lack of support creating a gulf of space in the area.
However the R`s were always looking likely to concede with Radek Cerny having a customary wobble by dropping a ball at the feet of Carl Cort, before the defence having to react fast to hack hastily clear of the target.
Controversy very nearly ensued as somehow referee Mr Scott handed the Canaries a penalty for debutante López`s alleged foul on Lee Croft. López was quickest to react from a Hoolahan through ball to the former Manchester City man to execute a well timed tackle for a corner.
Referee Scott pointed to the spot without hesitation to the frustration and confusion of the home faithful. His linesman was prepared to line up for the penalty, but to his credit the referee consulted with his assistant and together they made the correct decision. Crisis averted in an excellent display of bottle from the rookie official.
The hosts cranked up the pressure even further and had an appeal to the linesman on the other side denied when fans appealed that the ball had crossed David Marshall`s line. The influential López sent in an out-swinging corner on the right, which was met by pint-size winger Wayne Routledge and looped towards the target.
His former Tottenham team-mate Gary Doherty met the ball on the goal-line somehow able to stop the ball going over the line, before stopper David Marshall smothered the ball on his line. This time however the linesman was on the side of the visitors and rightfully gave no goal.
Rangers were looking good value for money, relatively speaking, and were attempting to play the game in the right way in spite of some difficult conditions. The evident lack of a left winger seemed an unnecessary hindrance as Wayne Routledge`s creativity seemed to be stifled in the middle of the park.
Nevertheless Norwich went into the break with a point in their sights and Queens Park Rangers were once again left to contemplate missed chances and attacking woe as they had to pick themselves up and get ready for what would no doubt be a difficult second period in heavy conditions.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Norwich City
The second half began as the first had ended with Norwich looking to play on the break with what was in essence one attacker. Their defensive unit had extended to their midfield with the visitors getting men behind the ball at every opportunity when they conceded possession.
Lee Croft was most notably tracking back and helping John Otsemoboor to great effect as he nullified the threat of Wayne Routledge in three good tackles and some strong upper body work to shield the ball away from the former Aston Villa man.
Northern Ireland international Sammy Clingan and Darren Russell were the engine room of the Canaries midfield, engineering much of their attacking threat and leading the line in terms of defending, putting in some tough tackles and retaining possession to their best.
Conditions were deteriorating as the game descended into pinball at times with neither side wanting the ball at times, and possession persistently conceded by some sloppy touches and horror touches.
Rangers were attempting to do things the right way, building from the back as per usual and probing for their most creative outlets, López in particular was instrumental as he waited to pick the telling pass on every available occasion and his delivery to wide areas at times was sublime.
Heidar Helguson once again will rue his missed chances as set-piece after set-piece came in and the goalmouth was left gaping as he nodding past the left hand upright from Wayne Routledge`s cross from the left.
The crowd was at last brought to life as Mikele Leigertwood went on a marauding run before unleashing a shot out of nowhere which was well tipped over the bar by Marshall. The effort was that shot of adrenaline the R`s fans required to get going as they had finally found their voices, cheered on from the sidelines by Gareth Ainsworth.
Kaspars Gorkss was one player who was notably struggling to adapt to the inclement conditions in west London and his error led to a chance to Wes Hoolahan, but the Latvian ably recovered to snuff out the minor threat of his former Blackpool team-mate.
Damien Delaney was evidently trying his hardest in a tough role for what is essentially a central defender to play. He got forward to fire another useful cross in for Helguson who once again fluffed his lines to the frustration of the Rangers faithful - who bemoaned for the prices they were paying at least a forward who could finish could be on the wish list.
Rangers were made to pay for their and the Icelander`s missed opportunities as the visitors took the lead in bemusing circumstances. Delaney who before the game had said it was time for the talking to stop and action to happen, fired a pass at Kaspars Gorkss` neck, which evidently the Latvian struggled to control.
He was robbed by Hoolahan as he was flustered and flailing on the floor, the Irish international squared for Darel Russell who fired straight at Radek Cerny. Unfortunately for him and QPR he had an absolute howler as the ball scrambled through his body and into the right hand upright - cue delirium in the School End, could that error be the catalyst for the Norwich survival hopes?
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 0-1 Norwich City
Sousa threw on the previously planned substitute Hogan Ephraim at the expense of the unfit Liam Miller, who was largely anonymous throughout his time on the field once more. Soon after Helguson paid the price for his misses as loanee Samuel Di Carmine entered the field with memories of that Birmingham City strike in similar conditions no doubt resonating in his memory.
Rangers could have been on level terms had Kaspars Gorkss finished his free header next to the left hand post, as Ephraim turned supplier. The former West Ham United man created some space on the right flank to fire a well timed cross for the Latvian, only for the defender, previously billed as a goalscorer, to nod straight at a grateful David Marshall.
Things were beginning to grow desperate for Rangers as Matthew Connolly, who also remains without a Rangers goal, fired a well timed right footed strike from distance only for the ball to skip up perfectly for the former Celtic keeper to save.
It was one-way traffic as the visitors had evidently settled for what they had. The ball was fired into the heart of the area by López only for the crowd to appeal for a handball and Damion Stewart and Dexter Blackstock to get themselves in a muddle and have their joint effort cleared for a corner.
Kaspars Gorkss was taken off for Fitz Hall as Rangers threw on an extra forward in search of what would have been a deserved point. Hall sat in the front three alongside Di Carmine and the ineffectual Blackstock as Doherty and Shackell firmly owned the former Southampton man throughout the fixture.
Time ticked down and urgency turned to desperation as Damien Delaney fired two crosses woefully long and out of play. Rangers with plenty of attacking menace that wilted in front of the target when given the appropriate opportunities.
The following army from down from Norfolk were then able to raise their cheers as the official drew a close to proceedings in W12. A curious encounter that QPR certainly had the best part of but an old lesson in taking your chances came back to haunt the R`s once again.
Boos rather unfairly rang out at the end of the game despite a team suffering in confidence trying their all for the cause. The only disappointing thing from my perspective was the QPR players heading straight for the tunnel, not clapping the supporters that opted not to vent anger but show encouragement.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 0-1 Norwich City
Queens Park Rangers: Radek Cerny, Matthew Connolly, Damion Stewart, Kaspars Gorkss (Fitz Hall 87), Damien Delaney, Wayne Routledge, Liam Miller (Hogan Epraim 68), Mikele Leigertwood, Jordi López, Heidar Helguson (Samuel Di Carmine 84), Dexter Blackstock.
Norwich City: David Marshall, John Otsemoboor, Jason Shackell, Gary Doherty, Jonathan Grounds, Lee Croft, Sammy Clingan, Darrell Russell, Ryan Bertrand, Wes Hoolahan (Alan Gow 69), Carl Cort.
He always wanted possession of the football and never shirked away from his responsibilities as a midfielder. His performances should continue to flourish as he gets himself up to peak fitness and into Paulo Sousa`s first team plans on a regular basis.
Other than that the performance itself was of a decent standing with Rangers unable to take their chances, not the fault of anyone else but the players concerned. A goal would have given the R`s the confidence to kick on - it didn`t come and we have to move on.
Hoolahan in the free role was an interesting decision and equally as perplexing was the plan to play defender Bertrand on the left flank, but it worked perfectly for Gunn who will be hailed after an excellent result.
One of the better officials, along with Fred Graham I have seen this season, and it really makes you wonder what he is doing so wrong that Mr Attwell is doing so right. All credit to him.
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