Connolly Corker Earns Deserved Point
16-01-10 - 1500
MATT Connolly's second-half wonder-goal secured a point for Mick Harford's QPR against a stern Blackpool side.
Rangers showed excellent determination to twice come from behind against Ian Holloway's Tangerines and their resurgent form in the second period was a particular delight to the travelling support.
The visitors went behind in the early offing as Charlie Adam was able to volley home a point-point cross from Brett Ormerod.
However they emerged from a largely disappointing first half completely rejuvenated and were rewarded for their pressure as Adel Taarabt dispatched a hotly-contested spot-kick.
Holloway' side continued to press and found themselves back in front after Gary Taylor-Fletcher flicked home a tidy finish from Keith Southern's effort.
It was Rangers that saved the best for last as Connolly took the ball outside the area before firing an unstoppable volley beyond Paul Rachubka - his first career goal - as Rangers claimed a spirited point at Bloomfield Road.
Mick Harford made a bold statement in his team selection, electing to make four changes to the side that were dumped out the FA Cup during the week.
Carl Ikeme came in for Radek Cerny in goal, behind a rather confusing back four comprising of former Tangerine Kaspars Gorkss and Damion Stewart at centre-back along with Fitz Hall and Matt Connolly at full-back.
Wayne Routledge and the out of form Ákos Buzsáky started in their respective wide beths with skipper Mikele Leigertwood once again partnered by Alejandro Faurlín in the middle.
Adel Taarabt started just off solitary front-man Patrick Agyemang, with top scorer Jay Simpson dropping to the bench alongside Gary Borrowdale and Peter Ramage.
Holloway started with former Manchester United 'keeper Paul Rachubka in goal behind a changed back four of Neil Eardley, Alex Baptiste, Ian Evatt and Stephen Crainey - Joe Martin and Andy Butler dropping out.
The central three remained as Charlie Adam, Keith Southern and David Vaughan, with Brett Ormerod and Barry Bannan playing off lone-forward Gary Taylor-Fletcher - who laid on a goal against Rangers on the opening day.
Eardley - Baptiste - Evatt - Crainey
Ormerod - Vaughan - Southern - Bannan
Hall - Stewart - Gorkss - Connolly
Routledge - Leigertwood (c) - Faurlín - Buzsáky
Kick Off: Blackpool v Queens Park Rangers
The match started in tentative fashion with the Blackpool fans in full voice behind the goal in the North Stand - led by their talismanic drummer.
Rangers supporters by comparison were looking for matters on the field to spark them into life, but the atmosphere was seemingly as flat as the performance, with little encouragement in a demotivated side.
All of a sudden the visiting side sprung to life and Moroccan Adel Taarabt started to get some early joy running at the home rearguard. He had attempted to slip a couple of through balls to Agyemang that proved too heavy but in his attempt to go alone was well blocked by Alex Baptiste.
Blackpool's threat was clear with attackers doubling up on makeshift full back Fitz Hall. After Bannan had come inside to attack the full-back he found himself positioned centrally after a ricochet and fired a left-footed effort straight at debutante Carl Ikeme.
The warning signs were evident however and Rangers eventually succumbed to the hosts' early pressure, and it came from the familiar position down the left-flank.
Brett Ormerod and Bannan linked up nicely to round Hall before the former fired in a deep right-footed cross. Charlie Adam ghosted in on the far post to slam home a close range volley.
The marking was questionable, and questions may be raised over the positioning of the goalkeeper but nevertheless is was Holloway's Blackpool that had the early lead at Bloomfield Road.
GOAL: Blackpool 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
The match was proving heavy going for Rangers who were struggling to create any genuine chances of note, indeed Blackpool were proving dominant at this stage of the clash without ever truly testing Ikeme.
Misplaced passing was the main sticking point thus far, but for a few moments the Rangers of old returned with Buzsáky linking up nicely with Taarabt and Routledge to fashion an opportunity for the former Aston Vila man.
He had strayed offside as the ball drifted wide, but nevertheless there was a hint of what the R's were capable of as they looked to rekindle their former form.
Blackpool were seeking to double their lead on the break, and it nearly worked to perfection as Keith Southern struck narrowly wide from distance when well-placed.
The early goal had opened the game up considerably and Rangers were finding more space to exploit in behind the back four. Ian Evatt in particular was living on the edge by encouraging his fellow defenders - like him - to play a very high line against a pacey attack.
Taarabt was certainly in the mood as he began to play with the familiar freedom and creative flourish one would come to expect from the Tottenham loaneee.
He dazzled his counter-part defenders with some breathtaking skill down the left-hand byline with some endless step-overs, before firing a venomous drive that was deflected away across the other side of the pitch for an R's throw.
More excellent play by the Moroccan saw him race clear of his opposing defenders before linking with Agyemang. The striker - who had received abuse for his Preston connections - pulled a tantilising ball back across the six-yard box that narrowly eluded Routledge on the far post.
Blackpool were by no-means out of the clash in an end to end encounter as they forced several rushed clearances from a flustered Rangers back-line. Hall - presumably starting to nullify any aerial threat - was particularly struggling against the pace of Bannan.
The positive forward Taylor-Fletcher, who has mainly played second-fiddle to Ben Burgess in the striker's role, had an Neil Eardley cross whisle past his despairing dive as both sides went into the break with improvement in killer instinct at the forefront of their mind.
Rangers could point to some good play in isolation, but the individual errors that continues to blight their play were in evidence and there needed to be cut out if they were to get back on an even keel in this clash.
Half Time: Blackpool 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
Mick Harford wasted no time in attempting to rectify matters at half time, with Hogan Ephraim coming on for the ineffective Ákos Buzsáky for the start of the second period.
Buzsáky had turned in yet another first half that was quite a way away from his lofty expected standard. It was one game too many for Harford who withdrew the Hungarian in a bid to level proceedings.
The impetus was now lying with the visiting side as they pressed Blackpool in the early stages. Taarabt was once again the key tormentor in behind Agyemang and it was his effort that was unbelievably denied in the early offing.
Surging forward from midfield and with a couple of men for company, it appeared that Adel was crowded out on the edge of the area, but his near post effort was poorly fielded by Rachubka as it clipped the inside of the post.
The ground held its breath for what seemed an eternity as the ball rolled across the goal-line, clipped the right hand upright and was hacked away to safety - when it doesn't go for you, it really becomes evident.
The visitors were being urged forward by both their manager and travelling support as Ephraim and Taarabt continued to link up well behind the front-man, and approaching ten minutes after the break they had their reward.
Routledge played the ball to Ephraim outside the area and his shot struck the arm of Eardley in the penalty area. Mr Kettle had no hesitation from his position to point to the spot as the Pool players furiously protested.
Regular spot-kick taker Buzsáky had departed the field of play, so it was up to Adel Taarabt to draw the R's level. His composure was outstanding as he sent Rachubka the wrong way with a delightul clipped effort.
The players celebrated in front of the R's faithful and cajoled them on in a bid to assert their newly-found dominance on proceedings.
GOAL: Blackpool 1-1 Queens Park Rangers
In true Holloway fashion he wasn't going to lay down as Blackpool came fighting back, with Charlie Adam at the centre of all their endeavours.
The former Glasgow Rangers man sat deep behind Southern and Vaughan, was the architect for much of Blackpool's attacking threat.
Rejuvenated Rangers were now full of creative flow and this owed much to the half-time substitution made by manager Harford, with Ephraim proving essential to the R's attack.
His delightful foray inside nearly culminated in a chance for Rangers, but his right-footed effort drifted inches wide of Rachubka's right hand upright. The 'keeper once again lumbering in his technique to get down to the effort.
Ben Burgess took to the field at the expense of Bannan, with Ormerod drifting to the left-wing, and it was a change that appeared once again to turn the tide of the game.
Ormerod was getting great joy out of Fitz Hall, beating him on numerous occasions down the left-flank but the chances he continued to create were being snuffed out by a dogged rearguard.
As Peter Ramage lined up on the touch-line to replace the forlorn Hall the Tangerines struck with Ormerod the key man once again.
He beat Hall for the umpteenth time before his cross fell to Keith Southern on the edge of the area, his powerful first-time volley was heading wide before Gary Taylor-Fletcher delightfully flicked the ball beyond Ikeme - leaving the 'keeeper rooted and Rangers deflated.
GOAL: Blackpool 2-1 Queens Park Rangers
It was a real sickener for QPR who had worked hard to haul themselves level and continue to create opportunities in a strong second-half.
Harford responded by sending on the aformentioned Peter Ramage, and moments later youngster Antonio German at the expense of Fitz Hall and Alejandro Faurlín as Rangers sought a similar revival to midweek.
This prompted a shift to 4-4-2 with the youngster German partnering Agyemang in attack and Taarabt dropping in behind alongside Leigertwood - who started to put himself about more successfully in the second half.
German's impact was immediate as he appeared to frighten the Pool defenders with his mere presence. His resilience and exuberance in the line saw him hold the ball up well against Baptiste and allow Matt Connolly to stride forward.
What was to follow belies the defender's meagre form in front of goal, as he chested the ball down and volleyed impeccably over the stranded Rachubka and into the back of the net. This sent the hearty travelling crowd into raptures and displayed the R's new-found fighting spirit.
GOAL: Blackpool 2-2 Queens Park Rangers
A flurry of late exchanged gave either side hope that they could nick this closely-fought encounter with the supporters urging their respective sides to drive forward.
It was Rangers that appeared the more confident of the two sides in the four minutes added on time, with Blackpool mainly looking to pump the long ball into the box since Burgess' introduction - so much for Mr Holloway's self-professed 'continental football.'
Mr Kettle drew matters to a close in a keenly fought, entertaining second period that will have given much hope to the travelling fans, that their side could be on the verge of once again turning a positive corner.
Final Whistle: Blackpool 2-2 Queens Park Rangers
Paul Rachubka, Neil Eardley, Alex Baptiste, Ian Evatt, Stephen Crainey, Charlie Adam, David Vaughan (Jason Euell 89), Keith Southern, Brett Ormerod, Barry Bannan (Ben Burgess 62), Gary Taylor-Fletcher (Daniel Nardiello 89).
Queens Park Rangers
Carl Ikeme, Fitz Hall (Peter Ramage 77), Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly, Wayne Routledge, Mikele Leigertwood, Alejandro Faurlín (Antonio German 80), Ákos Buzsáky (Hogan Ephraim 46), Adel Taarabt, Patrick Agyemang.
His running and trickery even drew begrudging praise from the home support as he looked to carve out the Rangers attacking threat, predominantly on the counter-attack.
He put away his penalty with great comfort and expertise, sending the 'keeper the wrong way and hauling the R's level - an excellent display.
Carl Ikeme - 7/10
Nevertheless Ikeme began the fixture and looked competent throughout - in particular his communication and strength were positives to be taken from the performances.
The lapses in concentration that have cost Rangers several goals in recent weeks was quickly wiped as Ikeme told his defenders precisely what was happening and communicating effectively - a good debut.
Fitz Hall - 4/10
Hall was left for dead on numerous occasions as the hosts started to double up on him, looking even more effective when Routledge didn't track back at times.
At fault for the first goal and couldn't stop Ormerod from pulling the cross to the far post - mind you the marking was negligible on that occasion. Taken off too late as the second goal came from a similar area.
Kaspars Gorkss - 8/10
The defender looked confident and solid throughout both in the tackle and in the air - he pressed the opposing attackers and didn't give them room to breathe as the defence stepped up in the second half.
Gorkss is a sure fire starter next time out and some continue to stress that he is captain's material owing to his leadership skills along the back-line.
Damion Stewart - 7/10
The barrage of attacks on the Rangers goal saw Stewart in formidable form to clear his lines and win the aerial battle with the sizeable front-two.
Stewart will partner Gorkss next time out as the problem that seems to be evident is in the full-back region - while the centre of defence certainly holds great potential to rekindle former form.
Matt Connolly - 8/10
His defensive skills were not in doubt, and his distribution was proving positive, both going forward and in keeping possession to alleviate some of the pressure that Pool put on Rangers.
His goal however was out of this world and something scarcely seen from the boot of the defender - his looping shot dipping over Rachubka and into the net - a stunning goal.
Wayne Routledge - 7/10
He has achieved an extra mark for an excellent work ethic today - getting back to support Hall by and large in times of trouble - and closing down and tackling well.
The wide-man needs to keep playing his football and play his way back into form - some of his running away from the middle proved profitable also.
Mikele Leigertwood - 6/10
The ability to impress and infuriate in the same breath, Leigertwood used his strength and tackling to great effect one minute, before giving away senselessly the next.
He is a talented professional and arguably one of Rangers' more special talents on his day, but he needs to find a level of consistency he has yet to achieve this season.
Alejandro Damián Faurlín - 7/10
The answer is impeccably, without question. He is in fact one of few not to wear winter-wear in the build up, and put pay to the myth of fair-weather players in this performance alone.
He battled well and won nearly everything in the air from a standing jump - no mean feat considering he was up against the likes of former defender Southern. His passing was also a particular positive today.
Ákos Buzsáky - 4/10
A professional that is brimming with talent who in truth hasn't achieved the heights he promised last year - Buzsáky continues to frustrate on the flank and Harford hauled him off at half time.
Maybe a break from first team action will do him good as his replacement took the game by storm upon his introduction at the start of the second half.
Adel Taarabt - 8/10
He was the driving force behind Rangers' attacks as he strode forward looking for options - and used them more often than not.
His skill and trickery on the ball in one instance in the first half wowed the Bloomfield Road crowd seeing his eventual effort deflected away.
Patrick Agyemang - 6/10
When he had the ball at his feet, running - he looked a different player and frightened the defenders that attempted to mark tightly to nullify his threat.
Will need to step up to replace Simpson as Rangers' main man upfront, with the Arsenal loanee remaining firmly in the drivers seat for top R's goalscorer.
SUB: Hogan Ephraim - 8/10
Ephraim bounced back from a spell out on loan to prove what a big player he could still be as the season progresses.
Rangers were relatively dormant in the first half, but his understanding with the likes of Adel and Wayne saw Rangers suddenly spring into life.
While arguably less talented than a Cook or a Buzsáky - he does understand the style of play and those around him which was a considerable positive today - must start next time out.
SUB: Peter Ramage - 6/10
In truth the damage had already been done by the time Peter came on, but he certainly provided a more steady head at the back - and more pace… never thought I'd ever say that.
He defended adequately and stopped a couple of attacks, on the ground and in the air to stop Blackpool in the latter stages.
With Connolly doing well on the day it seems he will retain his place at the expense of Hall, Ramage or Borrowdale, owing to his great versatility across the back-line.
SUB: Antonio German - 7/10
Twice for my sins I have felt underwhelmed by the man I am now coining the 'Germinator' and twice I have been proven completely wrong, and I couldn't be happier to admit that.
There were more experienced options on the bench such as Angelo Balanta and Jay Simpson on the bench, but credit to Mick with going for the youngster who laid on the late equaliser.
If he continues to perform from the bench he may well see his career bounce back significantly after a set-back on loan at Aldershot - Well done Antonio!
He loses a few marks for attempting to second guess Holloway's team selection (but then we've all fallen foul of that in the past) and playing Fitz Hall - then not rectifying the situation quickly enough.
However his sublime change at half time will go down as the best of the season in a turn-around second half. Credit to him for having the guts to withdraw the underperforming Buzsáky.
If Rangers can consistently couple their second half display with some dogged defending Mick will be nailed on to keep the post until the end of the season at least, but consistency will be the key.
The Pool defenders struggled to contain Taarabt, but stopped the likes of Agyemang, Routledge and Buzsáky from making an impact with some tight marking and tough tackling.
Perhaps surprising that he went with Bannan and not Burgess up front and on another day a decision like that could have had very different implications.
Eardley's handball could be open to debate and question but what was not open to debate was the amount of times the officials reacted to the roar of a vocal home crowd.
There was a humorous instance where he was next to an incident and surprisingly gave Rangers a corner, only for his linesman a mile away to over-rule the ref - very bizarre and undermined the official's authority.