Entertaining Stalemate At The Bush!
7th March 09 at 3.00 pm
In what I thought was quite an entertaining game between Rangers and Sheffield United, Rangers came closest to taking all three points today but, once again, poor finishing coupled with good goalkeeping denied the Rs a much needed morale-boosting home win.
The second half was more entertaining than the first but even in the first half Rangers had chances to put play-off hopefuls United on the back foot, but to no avail. Blackstock and Alberti were the guiltiest culprits this afternoon, after spurning gilt-edged chances.
Sheffield United had a few chances of their own, but did not seem anything like the team that had stormed so emphatically to 12 away games without loss. In fairness, they were facing Radek Cerny who had one of his best games in goal for the Rs this season: notably keeping out good chances from both Danny Webber and Craig Beattie in the second half.
United will have left Loftus Road this evening grateful that Rangers finishing once again let them down, although the draw did mean they stretched their unbeaten away record to 13 games. They drop one place, on goal-difference, to 5th after the draw while QPR stay 11th on 49 points, seven points behind the 6th-placed team.
Jordi Lopez retained his place in midfield after making his home debut midweek against Norwich. Routledge, Miller and Leigertwood again started alongside Lopez; while the defence retained its familiar look with Cerny in goal behind Connolly, Delaney, Gorkss and Stewart.
Up front, Heidar Helguson was dropped from the matchday squad but Sousa retained a 4-4-2 formation opting to start with Samuel Di Carmine and Dexter Blackstock. The bench consisted once again of Gavin Mahon and Fitz Hall, with Hogan Ephraim, Angelo Balanta and Matteo Alberti occupying the final three berths.
David Cotterill and Leigh Bromby made way for Greg Halford and Danny Webber, who were recalled to United`s starting line-up after having been rested during midweek, when the Blades went to Coventry. Kyle Naughton reverted to right-back with Stephen Quinn and Kyle Montgomery occupying their more orthodox midfield positions. Halford and Webber joined captain Brian Howard in supporting lone-striker Darius Henderson.
Kick off: Queens Park Rangers v Sheffield United
Rangers dominated the opening exchanges, with Wayne Routledge blasting over Kenny`s bar within the first few minutes of play after good hold-up work by Dexter Blackstock.
Meanwhile, Sheffield United were trying to make in-roads into the QPR penalty area and Danny Webber had the first of their chances with a flicked header from Naughton`s cross, but he failed to find the target.
After about eight minutes, Blackstock had a chance to open the scoring for the Rs, after Leigertwood`s long ball caught out Matthew Kilgallon, and Blackstock picked up the ball and bore down on goal leaving Kilgallon behind. Unfortunately, however, Kilgallon recovered to distract Blackstock and his effort lacked sufficient power to beat Blades` keeper, Paddy Kenny.
It was only about four minutes later that Blackstock created something out of nothing. A superb pass from midfielder Liam Miller found Dexter in the penalty area but with his back to goal. He turned and, as he did so, he struck the ball sweetly towards goal. Definitely on target, Kenny had to make a reflex save, but he was equal to it and palmed the ball away for a Rangers` corner.
Despite further Rangers` pressure, there was nothing much to write about for the next twenty minutes or so. After which it was United`s turn to try to turn the screws, as Damion Stewart had a moment of madness on Darius Henderson, which resulted not only in a Blades` free kick but also a booking (the only booking of the game) for the big man. Matt Connolly back-headed the free-kick and Cerny palmed it onto the cross bar - thankfully, Chris Morgan fired the rebound into the side-netting.
Nearing half-time, Blackstock picked up a flick-on from Sammy Di Carmine. He shot past Morgan to face keeper Kenny coming off his line to narrow the angle. Blackstock lifted the ball over the diving keeper but instead of it nestling in the back of the net for a precious goal to the Rs, the ball flew wide of the mark. And in stoppage time, Jordi Lopez, who had been the most effective of the midfield players throughout the first half, in my opinion, had a great chance from a free-kick from 35 yards, but Kenny was again equal to his shot.
Half time: Queens Park Rangers 0 - 0 Sheffield United
It was Sheffield United who got off to the better start in the second half. On 48 minutes, Halford placed a perfect ball to Webber, who laid off for Montgomery to shoot from 20 yards. This time it was the Rs` goalie, Radek Cerny, who pulled off a great save, palming the ball away to safety. Soon after, Cerny was again called into action, this time using his legs to divert a Webber effort, after good work from Halford.
On 54 minutes, Paulo Sousa made his first change of the afternoon, replacing Liam Miller in midfield with Matteo Alberti, which almost had an immediate result - for the Blades! Webber again came close, but Cerny came off his line smartly to smother Webber`s shot.
But then it was Rangers turn. Alberti broke from the Ranger`s box and found Delaney on the left. Delaney, in turn, found Leigertwood, who switched the ball onto his right foot and sent a curling cross to the far post. Blackstock rose well but his flicked header went just wide.
A few minutes later, Blackstock had an even better chance. First, Lopez tried a shot but he miscued it and the ball hit Samuel Di Carmine only to loop back across the box. Blackstock was lurking a mere 3 yards or so from the Blades` goal-line, but somehow he managed to head wide from such close range. I, like so many others in the South Africa stand and elsewhere in the ground, rose to cheer what I had thought was a certain goal - only to sit down again feeling deflated and disappointed!
Then, Blackstock turned provider for Matteo Alberti who had somehow found himself in loads of space. Alberti, however, managed to screw the ball high over Kenny`s cross bar to the frustration not just of the fans but his manager and all those in the Directors` Box, too!
United went on the attack themselves straight after that latest miss. Cerny turned Naughton`s shot round the post following a Blades` free kick. Blackwell had by then replaced Howard with a second striker, Jamie Ward, followed by Craig Beattie, who came on for Danny Webber as the United manager changed his formation to try to get the win he so desired.
But the change only served to spur Rangers on. Following neat build-up play which involved Leigertwood, Routledge and Delaney, Di Carmine played a one-two with Alberti before cutting into the box and letting fly a left-footed shot - straight at Paddy Kenny.
Sousa then brought youngster Angelo Balanta on for Sammy Di Carmine, who had worked his socks off during the game and was unlucky to be substituted, (again in my opinion!)
On 80 minutes, Sheffield United were on the attack again. Halford`s long throw was only half-cleared by the Rangers` defence and Chris Morgan scissor-kicked the ball inside the area. It seemed that all Beattie had to do was tap the ball into the net, but Cerny dived across his goal and saved at Beattie`s feet. Just after that, Sousa took Leigertwood off (Blackstock becoming captain in his absence) for Hogan Ephraim while Blackwell made his final substitution, swapping O`Toole for Henderson.
There was still time for Lopez to try his hand again from a long-range free-kick but Kenny was equal to that. While, late on, Beattie`s cross which was aimed at Jamie Ward was easily claimed by Radek Cerny. And that, really, was that!
The referee blew for full time and, inexplicably, I heard a few boos ring round the ground. I was stunned! This was a fine, battling performance from Rangers which was only let down by woeful finishing in front of goal. We created the better, and greater number of, chances and, personally, I thought we made United look very, very ordinary. Having seen us demolished at the start of the season in the away fixture, I was delighted to remark to my friends how much I thought today showed just how far we had improved since the beginning of the season. Others may disagree with me - that is their right - but I did not think today`s performance from the Rs merited anything other than a hearty round of claps as the players left the pitch having put in a really good display. And, no, I was not wearing rose-coloured glasses - Boxer will attest to that after we had a very enjoyable half-hour or so, along with Toboboly and Number 8 in the Springbok before kick-off! Clonmany and Superhoop50 - where were you?!
Final whistle: Queens Park Rangers 0 - 0 Sheffield United
Attendance: 13, 718
Queens Park Rangers: Radek Cerny, Damien Delaney, Damion Stewart, Mikele Leigertwood (Hogan Ephraim 81), Wayne Routledge, Dexter Blackstock, Kaspar Gorkss, Matthew Connolly, Liam Miller (Matteo Alberti 54), Jordi Lopez, Samuel Di Carmine (Angelo Balanta 76).
Sheffield United: Patrick Kenny, Greg Halford, Gary Naysmith, Chris Morgan, Matthew Kilgallon, Darius Henderson (John O'Toole 81), Daniel Webber (Criad Beattie 69), Nick Montgomery, Brian Howard (Jamie Ward 59), Stephen Quinn, Kyle Naughton.