Wolves Seal Premier League Spot
Saturday April 18, 2009. 3:00pm
WOLVERHAMPTON Wanderers bounced back to the Premier League courtesy of a strike from talisman Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.
The former Manchester United forward was the benefactor as Andy Keogh capitalised on an error from Damion Stewart to slide the ball into the path of Ebanks-Blake to gleefully tap home from close range.
Despite Wolves` lofty billing infront of a boisterous home crowd, Rangers held their own with Heidar Helguson guilty of missing two clear cut chances and Rowan Vine seeing his deflected effort boucing back off the cross-bar.
Wolves edged the keenly contested affair officiated by replacement referee Jonathan Moss, and the excitement of the occasion was too much for him as he blew up two minutes early sparking a mass pitch-invasion.
The side from the Black Country can now contemplate Old Trafford and the Emirates Stadium while Rangers for the second year in succession are watching another side canter to the top flight and dream another dream for next season.
Rangers made one change from the side that Sheffield Wednesday on Easter Monday and it proved popular with the travelling Rangers supporters. Rowan Vine started up front alongside Heidar Helguson with Adel Taarabt dropping to the bench.
Damien Delaney missed out at left back with Matthew Connolly retaining his makeshift role while Gavin Mahon and Jordi López kept their respective places in the heart of midfield. Lee Cook and Wayne Routledge continued on the flanks in a bid to support a profligate front pairing.
Wolves` top scorer Sylvan Ebanks-Blake came back in alongside Andy Keogh following a hamstring complaint in a move which saw former Bournemouth striker Sam Vokes dropping to the bench. They would be supplied from wide areas from Matthew Jarvis and Dave Edwards.
Karl Henry and David Jones were the engine room of the Wolves midfield with the formidable back line including Jody Craddock and Christophe Berra with Stephen Ward and Kevin Foley in wide areas. Sitting behind them between the sticks was Welsh international stopper Wayne Hennessey.
Kick Off: Wolves v QPR
A frenetic atmosphere ensued in the build up to kick off with the home supporters making their presence known to a depleted Rangers following. A chorus of Hi Ho Wolverhampton seemed enough to take the roof off Molineux with the hosts in party mood as the game kicked off.
Their players responded in kind with floods of gold shirts pouring forward over the half-way line to get straight into the Rangers rearguard. Dave Edwards was the first to test Radek Cerny with his effort being tipped behind by the Czech stopper.
Former Gillingham youngster Matt Jarvis was the next to test the Rangers custodian with a powerful drive from 20-yards, but it would take more than that to beat Radek from such a distance.
Rangers finally hauled themselves from their half to counter-attack the hosts, and it would have paid dividends had their old habits not come back to haunt them. Heidar Helguson inevitably conspired to miss-hit the ball on the near post, before Vine and Routledge recovered the ball and fed Lee Cook - who in turn managed to scuff the ball wide of the left hand upright.
The trickery of Irish forward Andy Keogh was combining well with the raw power of Ebanks-Blake, the latter bustled his way into a positive position in the heart of the area before feeding Jarvis, but his shot flew well over the bar.
The noise level progressively dipped around the ground with Wolves fans growing evidently nervous at their team`s surprising lack of goalscoring prowess. Possession was at a minimum for Rangers who despite fighting hard were in danger of being overrun in certain areas of the field.
David Edwards nearly produced the most memorable moment of the fixture when he took the ball down on the edge of the area before hitting the ball with great venom on the up. The ball dipped viscously infront of Radek Cerny who held the ball ably low and to his right.
Rangers were having to defend manfully with Cerny coming out to claim bravely from a Keogh cross, before the Irishman played in his strike partner Ebanks-Blake who belied his goalscoring form to steer the ball over from close range.
Wolves were struggling to make a significant impact in the heart of the Rangers area, with the visitors more than happy to see the ball fly wide of the upright from distance. In fact the visitors time-wasting on occasions was almost as embarrassing as the fleet-footed Andy Keogh throwing himself prostrate before the referee on three occasions to no avail.
Peter Ramage was defending admirably against the sprightly Jarvis whose enterprising runs would have caused the best of defenders worry on the day. The former Newcastle man conceded a corner for which the hosts carved out their latest opportunity.
Jarvis stood over the set piece and fired it into the heart of the six-yard box - Radek Cerny came out flapping in familiar fashion something much akin to a fish out of water, with the ball curling agonisingly goalbound and cannoning back off the cross bar. Cerny appealed to the referee in hope more than expectation as he and the supporters realised his fault in the episode.
Mr Moss, who had replaced referee Kevin Wright, brought the first half to a close with Wolves looking more likely to break the deadlock. Once again however it was Rangers wasteful finishing and inability to retain possession that made them their own worst enemy in a first half of limited opening for the visitors.
Half Time: Wolves 0-0 QPR
The hosts took to the field in the second half knowing that one goal could be enough to see them to the promise land of the Premier League, something that they hadn`t tasted since Dave Jones` reign five years ago.
Ainsworth sent his same team out in the hope that they could spoil the party at Molineux and persuade any potential new manager as to their ability, with managerless Rangers struggling on to the end of the campaign.
Wolves came out the blocks flying as they kicked towards the Stan Cullis End, and it was the persistence of dangerman Andy Keogh that provided the clear cut opening that would see Wolverhampton Wanderers take the lead.
The Irishman persisted in his attempts to chase down Damion Stewart down the by-line. The big Jamaican was out-foxed in his intention to shadow the ball out of play and Keogh laid the ball across for an un-marked Sylvan Ebanks-Blake who made no mistake placing home past a forlorn Cerny to send the Molineux crowd into raptures.
GOAL: Wolves 1-0 QPR
The lack of noise in the first period was soon confounded as a blistering atmosphere took hold and gave the Wolves players the timely boost of confidence they needed. Coasting towards the end of another campaign once again with nothing to play for, Rangers supporters sat understandably still.
It was a bitter blow for supporters who had travelled to the Black Country more in hope than expectation. They saw their season in a nutshell unfold before their eyes with individual errors and wasteful finishing combining to produce Rangers downfall on the day.
In somewhat surprising fashion the hosts began to get comfortable in their own half, sitting deep and allowing Rangers to come onto them. Mick McCarthy sensed this was a dangerous tactic and his gesturing from the touchline displayed a touch of displeasure to say the very least.
Wayne Routledge was beginning to get into his stride down the right with the opposition rearguard allowing the former Aston Villa winger space. He broke free from young Irishman Ward to send a seamless cross to the feet of Rowan Vine.
Vine took one touch on the edge of the area before firing a deflected effort goalbound and time for that moment appeared to stand still. Wayne Hennessey was rooted to his line as the ball looped tantalisingly goal-bound and agonisingly back off the cross-bar.
Rangers were extremely unfortunate not to have the goal that their second half effort had commanded with the home crowd growing nervous and the volume significantly dipped once more. The visitors had a foothold on the game and went close again a few moments later.
Gavin Mahon, who had stamped his authority on the side with a good display from the heart of midfield, skipped past a poorly timed challenge before playing the perfect through ball through to Heidar Helguson.
The Icelandic international had evaded the offside flag for what seemed the first time in the fixture to dangle a half-hearted leg at a clear cut opportunity with Wayne Hennessey smothering the ball at the second attempt. In truth it epitomised the display of the forward who was thoroughly ineffective and anonymous throughout.
Inexplicably however it was Rowan Vine and Lee Cook that made way with Adel Taarabt and Hogan Ephraim coming on in their stead. Marlon Harewood had been introduced for the hosts in place of popular striker Ebanks-Blake. The former Manchester United man was given a rapturous reception as he left the field as the 27,000 strong crowd rose to their feet to applaud his contribution.
It seemed that Rangers and Stewart had not learned their lessons from the earlier goal as the Jamaican international saw Dave Edwards skip in behind and lay the ball back for Harewood in a carbon-copy. However the former West Ham and Nottingham Forest forward conspired to miss, placing straight at Radek Cerny.
It served as a timely reminder for Rangers that as against Doncaster Rovers, when Stewart has an off-day it is glaringly noticeable as his confidence was visibly shot after his earlier error.
The game ebbed and flowed one way then the next as both sides traded blows in a bid to gain the upper hand. Keogh tested Cerny from distance before full back Matthew Connolly nearly produced an outstanding effort of his own.
The former Arsenal man went on a bucaneering run from left-full back before letting fly from 25-yards, the swerving drive was well parried by Hennessey and unsurprisingly Helguson was caught offside in his strive to reach the rebound.
Defending became desperate at times in a bid to stop the hosts extending their lead with Edwards being brought down on the edge of the area and Mr Moss in no doubt as to the free kick. Edwards dusted himself off to fire an effort straight down the throat of Cerny.
A last throw of the dice saw last year`s goalscorer Mikele Leigertwood take to the field with five minutes remaining, as he replaced former Real Madrid and Barcelona midfielder Jordi López.
The referee signalled four minutes of added on time much to the confusion of the home faithful and the delight of the followers who sensed something was still in this game for Queens Park Rangers. For some bizarre reason Mr Moss blew his whistle half-way into the allocated time and Molineux went wild.
Jubilant scenes were in evidence at the ground with excitable supporters invading the pitch to celebrate with their heroes. Rangers fans were promised scenes like these at the start of the campaign, but for the second year in succession they are forced to watch on as the Championship front-runners achieve Premier League status.
Full Time: Wolves 1-0 QPR
Wayne Hennessey, David Edwards, Jody Craddock, Karl Henry, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (Marlon Harewood 60), Andrew Keogh, Stephen Ward (Richard Stearman 78), David Jones (Sam Vokes 65), Christophe Berra, Matthew Jarvis, Kevin Foley.
Queens Park Rangers
Radek Cerny, Peter Ramage, Damion Stewart, Kaspars Gorkss, Matthew Connolly, Wayne Routledge, Gavin Mahon, Jordi López (Mikele Leigertwood 85), Lee Cook (Hogan Ephraim 63), Rowan Vine (Adel Taarabt 63), Heidar Helguson.
Coming forward the former Arsenal man fairly scythed through the opposition midfield at will to help create Rangers chances and carve out significant opportunity and threat. Should there be scouts watching the versatile defender Rangers may have bids coming their way in the coming months.
Radek Cerny - 5/10
Wolves soon realised Rangers` frailty lied in crosses over the goalkeepers` head. A couple of times in the first period Rangers were found wanting with Matthew Connolly commanding the area for his troubled goalkeeper.
Peter Ramage - 7/10
He has been criticised in recent times for his poor distribution but for his critics to note today he only had one poor cross, as he continues to pass with greater confidence and help build a lot of Rangers attacks.
Damion Stewart - 6/10
Overall he was dominant in the air over the former Manchester United man and stopped Andy Keogh by and large in making the desired impact on the game. But the errors alone will leave him thoroughly disappointed.
Kaspars Gorkss - 7/10
Kaspars was once again a commanding presence in the air and distributed sensibly to contribute to the Rangers attacks. With Stewart going to pieces in periods alongside him Kaspars was charged with holding a faltering defence together which he did with aplomb.
Matthew Connolly - 8/10
The former Arsenal man would burst forward in the second half and resemble a midfielder in his creativity as he first drew a good save from Hennessey before laying on chances for others. A solid defensive display combined with attacking flair.
Wayne Routledge - 7/10
The former Tottenham and Aston Villa winger was consistent in his wingwork, constantly retaining possession and making use of it as he distanced himself from the poor form of a few months ago. His cross for Vine in the second period was sublime as the returning forward his the cross-bar.
Gavin Mahon - 7/10
The former Watford and Brentford man complimented nicely with the attacking flair of Jordi López as the pair held firm when required and attacked with confidence on the break. He fed Routledge and Cook with some excellent passes to set up R`s attacks.
Jordi López - 7/10
The Spaniard is showing signs of becoming a shrewd signing for Rangers and with his contract up at the end of the current campaign, the Rangers hierarchy will have a difficult decision to make come the end of the season.
Lee Cook - 7/10
Some of his crossing was excellent once again as he wriggled away from challenges to engineer a delivery. He will look to the Plymouth game to impress in front of the Loftus Road crowd for the final time this campaign.
Rowan Vine - 7/10
His deflected effort came back off the bar to sum up what an unlucky day it was for Vine, something that his efforts didn`t deserve. He was visibly struggling towards the end in his bid to complete 90 minutes and was duly replaced shortly after the hour mark.
Heidar Helguson - 4/10
He won a limited amount of headers and was caught offside more often than onside as he stifled Rangers creativity going forward - most of these resulted in him strolling back casually from a missed opportunity. A guilt edge miss helped to contribute to the sheer disappointment in Heidar`s performance.
SUB: Adel Taarabt - 7/10
Adel came off the bench for the second time in his loan spell to impress with a vast array of skill and his individual display was a joy to behold at times as he took to the Wolves rearguard.
The major thing lacking from his cameo performance was teamwork. The young Moroccan has come under the spotlight in recent times for his inability to link up to his teammates and today was a prime example of this. He once worked his way all the way across the pitch before losing the ball or looking for a QPR shirt.
SUB: Hogan Ephraim - 6/10
Hogan deviated from his new found central midfield berth to take up a role on the left as he replaced Lee Cook. Hogan`s trickery was a useful asset but it soon became clear that a lack of a left-footed option down that side gave Rangers difficulties in breaking through.
Ephraim showed some useful trickery on the ball but could not penetrate a stubborn rearguard and was left too isolated at time on the left flank.
SUB: Mikele Leigertwood
Leigertwood came on for the final five minutes of the fixture in a bid to take hold of the game in an attempt to secure a point. Ultimately there wasn`t enough time left for Mikele to truly make an impact on the game.
The 1-0 scoreline may have been a fair reflection at a push but it could have been very different had Rangers taken some very good chances. He will undoubtedly be happy with a useful display against a good side.
McCarthy is undoubtedly the best manager in the Championship at present and continues to confound his critics and take yet another side to promotion and the top-tier. Rangers wouldn`t go far wrong in punting for a manager like Mick.
As I seem to say a lot lately, not the worst refereeing performance I have seen, but certainly by no means the best.