Shot Shy Rangers Draw A Blank
Saturday March 14, 2009
QUEENS Park Rangers once again displayed their desperate need for a forward as they once again failed to make their chances count against Southampton.
Four successive goalless games have seen the R`s drop out of the playoff picture, with Paulo Sousa the only man believing that a top six finish is still a possibility.
Frustration mounted as the visitors held possession in the Southampton half for large spells of the game, but lacked that cutting edge to scythe open a determined home rearguard.
Chances were at a minimum with Kelvin Davis` only true test coming in the dying stages as loan signing Adel Taarabt produced a rare moment of creative class coming from the bench.
Saints however had the best chances of the game with strikers twice fluffing their lines when well placed, that proved when you`re at the bottom the luck doesn`t go for you.
Rangers are left to contemplate life in the second-tier again next season as truly this was the final straw in a fleeting chase for a top six place.
Paulo Sousa opted to adapt his line-up from the debacle at Doncaster by shifting back to a solitary striker and five in midfield. He kept faith with the same back four with Damien Delaney still sidelined, as Peter Ramage and Matthew Connolly took the full back berths and Kaspars Gorkss and Damion Stewart the preferred central defensive partnership.
Jordi López came in at the expense of Gavin Mahon, with Liam Miller replacing Matteo Alberti on the left. Hogan Ephraim was the final addition to the heart of midfield with Samuel Di Carmine rested from the squad. Wayne Routledge was a familiar figure on the right while former Saint Dexter Blackstock was left to fend for himself in a lone strikers role.
Tottenham Hotspur loanee Adel Taarabt took a place on the bench, as did youngster Antonio German - in a surprising selection from Paulo Sousa. The pair joined another former Saint Fitz Hall on the bench along with the aforementioned Alberti and Mahon.
Adam Lallana returned to the Saints starting line-up after impressing in the stalemate against Derby as a half time substitute. He partnered Simon Gillet and Andrew Surman in the middle, as they sat behind the three-pronged attack of David McGoldrick, Marek Saganowski and Jason Euell.
Chris Perry had been a rock at the centre of the Southampton defence with both he and Jan-Paul Saeijs sitting at the heart of the rearguard alongside Lloyd James and Rudi Skácel in the full back berths. Goalkeeper was a key role as R`s fans hero Kelvin Davis started against the side against whom he has made two howlers in two years at St Mary`s.
Kick Off: Southampton v Queens Park Rangers
Rangers were looking to shake off some poor performances of late as the game got off to a brisk start on the south coast. They were nearly undone in the simplest of circumstances in the opening few minutes when Damion Stewart almost added to a recent catalogue of errors.
The big Jamaican reacted slowest when the ball was played over the top for compatriot Jason Euell, his slip allowed Euell to take the ball beyond him and life over onrushing stopper Radek Cerny. Fortunately for Rangers his effort was misguided and trickled past the right hand upright.
An early warning sign for Rangers who clearly had the jitters in the early exchanges at St Mary`s. The looked a little disorientated with Liam Miller occupying the unfamiliar role on the left flank, and Wayne Routledge struggling to assert some early impetus on the right.
It was Miller`s effort however that nearly brought the R`s a goal in somewhat fortuitous circumstances, when Chris Perry`s deflection had stopper Davis in all kinds of bother. Unfortunately for Rangers the deflected effort didn`t hit the target.
The subsequent effort saw the Saints defend manfully once more as Dexter Blackstock fed the ball for Mikele Leigertwood only for Jan-Paul Saeijs to make the all-important block.
Leigertwood was once again involved moments later as he and Rangers surged forward in search of an opening goal. The midfielder, who seems to have survived the cull in Paulo Sousa`s tactical shifts, broke forward after good interplay involving Ramage and Routledge down the right but saw his tame effort gleefully taken by Davis.
Then a moment which epitomised the R`s luck of late as another guilt edge chance went array courtesy of normally reliable winger Wayne Routledge. A deep corner from holding midfielder Jordi López found Kaspars Gorkss on the far post, his knock back found the former Aston Villa and Tottenham Hotspur winger in front of the target. Somehow he conspired he head over the bar when well placed inside the six-yard box.
Southampton struck back with the supporters starting to make their voices heard. Their midfield engine room was proving a tough test for the Rangers trio with youngsters Simon Gillett and Andrew Surman seeing their efforts saved by Radek Cerny and fly wide of the left hand upright respectively.
The hosts were growing in stature as the atmosphere continued to build, the 2,490 travelling army from west London were certainly making their voices heard as the visitors attempted to assert a foothold on an evenly contested clash.
The Saints midfield was proving a tough test for Rangers so Sousa opted to switch Miller back inside with Hogan Ephraim occupying the role on the left. Instantaneously it had an impact as he managed to break free from Lloyd James in the heart of the area before a deflected effort was well held by stopper Davis.
In truth Ephraim like many others failed to truly test the former Ipswich and Sunderland stopper, as he chose to try and test him at his near post rather then going across the goalkeeper and giving him something to think about.
Radek Cerny was called into action in the dying stages of the opening period, when Jason Euell showed the crowd why he is still a highly rated forward at this level - his effort on the turn found the Czech keeper in good form.
Southampton were then nearly punished towards the end of the period from a set piece that was cunning in its simplicity. Peter Ramage hurled in a long throw from the right, which found target-man Damion Stewart in the heart of the area, and in almost a carbon copy of the R`s opening goal at Loftus Road, Dexter Blackstock broke free on the far post.
It was evident however that the Saints had earned their lessons from the prior drubbing as Lloyd James was on hand to stop the chance.
That brought an end to the first half with Rangers once again ruing some missed opportunities, however the hosts could point to some key chances of their own as both sides went into the break dissatisfied.
Half Time: Southampton 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
Rangers started the second half in familiar frustrating fashion, as they held most of the ball but could make early chances pay. Peter Ramage was proving effective pushing forward from his full back berth and his one two with Wayne Routledge saw the winger jump out the pocket of Rudi Skácel and fire in an excellent cross.
It seemed however that the R`s reluctancy in front of goal would haunt them as Leigertwood offered up his chance to the onrushing López - whose effort was testing for Davis but never essentially looked like breaking the deadlock at St Mary`s.
Much like against Doncaster Leigertwood decided to pepper the target with efforts, the most potent of which flew inches wide of the left-hand upright. Leigertwood`s stature was beginning to grow in the game but nevertheless the killer instinct remained elusive.
It looked set to haunt them when Adam Lallana was allowed to coast through the R`s midfield without so much of a challenge, reminiscent of his goal at Loftus Road earlier on this season. This time round however he got his options all wrong when he decided to let fly with options all around him - his effort going woefully wide.
Lallana was providing a tough test for Rangers coming in for Morgan Schneiderlin, and it was he and Andrew Surman that were making the surging runs through the midfield and generally playing some nice football which belied their league position.
Rangers responded by withdrawing Liam Miller who seems incapable of completing a game for Rangers despite being given a lot more time to prove his fitness than Jordi López. His replacement drew the adulation of the R`s supporters as young prospect Antonio German took to the field with half an hour remaining.
A young, powerhouse forward, German had plied his trade in the youth sides, bagging some important goals on his way to a surprise selection today. Unsurprisingly however Sousa opted to remain with one up front, pushing a goalscoring forward out wide to forage on scraps with Hogan Ephraim moving inside.
Rangers still couldn`t assert that telling touch in front goal with infuriating one-twos in the heart of the area not coming to fruition with the hosts defending to a man to clear some tentative forward play.
Sousa took the opportunity to throw on Spurs loanee Adel Taarabt in the wide area, with Hogan Ephraim making way. This prompted a formation shift to 4-4-2, which didn`t sit comfortably with some of the players. Three or four R`s players enquiring with Sousa as to their role with young German unsure whether to sit in behind Blackstock or burst forward in support.
Taarabt immediately got hold of the ball and displayed touches of why he is so highly rated by the Tottenham supporters. Intricate trickery and creative flair at the forefront of the Moroccan`s credentials as he tried to unlock a stubborn rearguard.
Bradley Wright-Phillips took to the field to a mixed reaction from the crowd - sections of Rangers supporters opted to barrack the player throughout the game rather than get behind their side, with Southampton fans responding in turn to lift him for the test.
It was the trickery of the former Manchester City man that nearly unlocked the door for Southampton and but for woeful finishing they would have had the lead, and in turn the game. He linked up well with fellow substitute Jake Thomson to provide a guilt-edge chance for Andrew Surman on the far post.
Surman will be ruing his effort as a poor connection saw the ball bobble into the turf and straight up into the grateful arms of untested Radek Cerny. When you`re at the bottom your luck simply doesn`t go for you and this chance epitomised that assertion.
Rangers were in search of goal - so who should be brought on other than Gavin Mahon at the expense of the influential López. Not to be detrimental about the ability of Gavin Mahon, but it was hardly the attacking change that the fans desired with the hapless forward Dexter Blackstock seemingly not able to hit the target.
Flashes of skill from the inspiring Taarabt was all the R`s could muster in the late stages of the fixture as the Moroccan`s trickery found him in some positive areas. A left-footed effort on the bounce fell inches wide of Davis` right hand upright, before he unleashed a right-footed chance which Davis did exceptionally well to keep out with his fingertips.
Fleeting chances late on in the second period were all that Rangers could muster as they had clearly left their attacking play too late on the game to make any telling impact. With that referee Mike Jones brought down the curtain on the second period and indeed the season of the visitors.
Final Whistle: Southampton 0-0 Queens Park Rangers
Southampton: Kelvin Davis, Chris Perry, Marek Saganowski (Bradley Wright-Phillips 77), Jan-Paul Saeijs, Rudi Skacel, Andrew Surman, Jason Euell, David McGoldrick, Adam Lallana (Jake Thomson 74), Simon Gillett, Lloyd James.
Queens Park Rangers: Radek Cerny, Damion Stewart, Mikele Leigertwood, Wayne Routledge, Dexter Blackstock, Kaspars Gorkss, Peter Ramage, Matthew Connolly, Liam Miller (Antonio German 71), Jordi Lňpez (Gavin Mahon 87), Hogan Ephraim (Adel Taarabt 79).
It appears Radek was made a comeback from a succession of dodgy displays between the sticks. Several mistakes in the past have cost Rangers dear, but the former Tottenham man has proved his worth today to the Saints at bay.