The Holy Grail Is In Touching Distance!
Mon 4 April '11 @ 7.45 pm
Attendance: 14, 535
I woke up this morning with a huge grin - a grin that had been in place since about 9.50pm yesterday evening. Turning on Sky Sports News and hearing the presenter report that QPR had merely 3 more wins to wrap up automatic promotion brought it all back to me. Last night QPR began the first of the last eight games of the 2010/11 campaign with a roar. Not content simply to win, we turned on a truly magnificent performance in front of the Sky Sports cameras. We oozed confidence, passed the ball with aplomb and wasted so many 2nd-half chances, which would have made the score far less flattering for a very blunted Blades side that look doomed to drop into League One.
So I decided to write this match report slightly differently in response to the excitement I am feeling! I hope you don`t mind but enjoy reading it nonetheless! I confess to being nervous ahead of our first league fixture in 16 days. I was concerned that we would not be able to pick up from where we had left off after picking ourselves up after only our 4th defeat of the season last month at Millwall. Nerves were playing havoc with my stomach so I opted for an omelette and mashed potato instead of my usual double fried egg and chips for my pre-match meal at the Café round the corner from the ground! But I still had the trusty Mars Bar for half-time!
Supper over, Amy and I headed to the ground and into the Platinum Bar - we were too late to make it to the Springbok (!) - to grab a team sheet. First thing I looked for was the reinstatement of talisman, Adel Taarabt. Yup, back in the team. But what I didn`t know was that he really shouldn`t have been playing. He has been suffering from a mysterious stomach problem and didn`t train last week, other than Thursday, and wasn`t actually slated to play as a result! (He is apparently off for a scan this morning.) The rest of the First Team had a very familiar look, with Fitz Hall once again partnering Kaspars Gorkss in central defence (Danny Shittu warming the bench along with Pascal Chimbonda). The one and only Paddy Kenny (no Judas, Blades` fans!) donned the goalie gloves as usual. Bradley Orr and Clint Hill took their usual full back positions; Faurlin and Derry resumed their impressive central midfield roles, with Wayne Routledge and Tommy Smith completing the triangle behind loan striker Heidar Helguson. Hogan Ephraim, Taarabt`s able deputy at Doncaster, found himself back on the bench, along with recovered-from-injury Patrick Agyemang and Ishmael Miller, and the White Pele himself, Mr Akos Buzsaky.
The teams presented themselves on the pitch in front of a Directors` Box that included Bernie Ecclestone and a cold-looking Flavio Briatore. After the usual pre-match handshakes, battle commenced, with Rangers establishing their supremacy relatively quickly after the tentative opening exchanges. Tommy Smith gave the first hint that the International Break had done nothing to dent our confidence or enthusiasm, as he picked up the ball from about 25 yards out, ran headlong towards goal but dragged his shot wide of Simonsen`s left-hand post.
Taarabt was getting more creative and soon sent a low cross towards Faurlin but his curling shot flew agonisingly over the bar. But that was nothing to the chance that, moments later, fell to Clint Hill, seemingly inches away from the goal line. From a Taarabt corner, Smith returned the ball to Taarabt on the right-hand edge of the box. Taarabt sent a low ball skimming into the area towards the goal line and all Hill had to do was gently tap it into the net - easy! Yes? No! It seemed to me that Hill miskicked and the ball trickled wide of the left-hand post instead of ending up in the back of the net. I was beginning to wonder if we were going to be able to score despite our increasing supremacy and the growing number of chances! At that point, I sent a text to Jezza saying that very thing. But Superhoop50, unable to attend but watching from home, had texted me predicting that a goal was imminent!
I had predicted a goal on 35 minutes - I was wrong (as usual!) On 29 minutes, Wayne Routledge finally put me at ease, as he ended a sweet move with a very well taken strike. Faurlin started the moved, passing the ball out wide to Heidar Helguson. From the by-line to the right of the goal, Helguson sent an inch-perfect cross to Routledge who was lurking just outside the six-yard area, clear of any United defenders. With the inside of his right foot, Routledge struck the ball sweetly and watched it roll past the outstretched left arm of the diving Simonsen. In a clear defiance of Wayne Rooney`s antics on Saturday, our own Wayne blew a kiss at the Sky cameras, a fact picked up later by the television company as they reported on us "kissing the Championship goodbye!"
Suddenly, I knew everything was going to be ok. We hadn`t switched off during the 16-day enforced break and were now playing like the champions we have been threatening to be this whole season! And although we went into the break only 1-0 up, despite Bradley Orr`s smashing effort to increase our lead late on in the half, (he picked up possession in front of me down the right, cut in past his marker and then curled a stunning 30-yard effort inches over the left-hand post), I knew there was going to be only one winner last night!
And when, early on in the 2nd half, Alejandro Faurlin, who really had been magnificent all evening, smashed a beauty from outside the area, following a good delivery from Taarabt at a corner kick; everything was now truly wonderful! We had had the odd scare, like when we seemed to commit suicide in our own area just before the first-half ended, which could have (but didn`t) result in a penalty to the Blades; or, at the start of the 2nd half, when Daniel Bogdanovic contrived to blast Nyron Nosworthy`s cross high over our bar from a mere 10-yards out with the goal at his mercy.
But we went back on the attack and won yet another corner. Taarabt`s delivery cleared the first post (so many of this corners this season do not even make it that far!) and a hapless Blades` defender could only knock the ball away to Faurlin who was standing, alone and unmarked, at the edge of the area. Faurlin took the ball on his left foot and let rip with a low, hard and accurate shot which flew past Simonsen and into the right-hand side of the net in front of the Loft. A melee followed on the pitch - Faurlin was somewhere underneath all those hysterical bodies - as it did around me in the stands. Somewhere, underneath all those hysterical bodies, was me!
After that, it was one-way traffic. We watched in awe and amazement as Rangers carved chance after chance. We laughed at how often the United players were teased and tormented, clashing into each other, passing us the ball in confusion and really showing just why they are perilously close to being relegated this season. It was inevitable, as we danced through the rest of the half, that we would get a third - it was more a question of whether that would be it though!
And what a third goal it was. A superb move started in our own half by the dominant Faurlin. Showing that he can use both feet to excellent effect, he knocked the ball out to the right-wing with his right foot to the waiting Tommy Smith - in so much space it was almost embarrassing. Smith cut in and pulled the ball back to the approaching Helguson who intelligently knocked the ball straight on to the feet of Routledge. He took the ball on the right-hand side of the penalty area and dribbled it a little further into the area before unleashing a right-footed shot across the face of the goal and into the back of the net at the far post. This time his kiss was to everyone in the stadium!
Routeldge was denied his hat-trick by a great save from the Blades` keeper, Steve Simonsen. From a long kick from Paddy Kenny who, despite the statistics saying otherwise, really didn`t have a save to make all night, Helguson jumped highest in the area to head the ball down to Routledge. He was totally unmarked about 8 yards out of goal and struck the ball cleanly with his right foot towards the left-hand corner of the goal. Somehow, Simonsen dropped down and got his fingers to the ball to push it away towards a grateful United defender to clear.
Taarabt went off for Patrick Agyemang and he had a great chance to pick up our 4th of the night. Also about 8 or 9 yards out, with no one around him (the Blades defence really was shocking), Agyemang drew back his right foot and let fly - straight over the top of the cross bar! He was leaning back slightly on his left foot but it really was a poor miss and the striker knew it - when the screen showed the replay, he stood watching and covered his face with his hands in disgust, with a wry smile!
Ishmael Miller joined the fray for Tommy Smith and even he had a good chance, but put his effort into the left-hand side netting from a tight angle. Buzsaky joined the party late on as well but without enough time to make much of an impact - and what a party it was! Someone had started singing Marc Bircham`s old song - you know, the one about his blue hair - and after that, songs about players past and present were sung with joyful (if not tuneful) abandon.
Somehow the referee found 4 minutes of extra time - but nobody minded. We all knew we`d done the job. 9 points ahead of 2nd placed Norwich and, more importantly, a massive 13 points ahead of 3rd placed Cardiff with a goal difference that reads like a dream of +40. The TV pundits were simply oozing and drooling and admitting that, in 3 more wins time, we`ll have achieved the dream - a guaranteed automatic promotion back to the Premier League. And you know what, the way we played last night, I really do believe that those 3 wins will come one after the other, starting at Scunthorpe on Saturday.