QPR ground out a precious win to maintain their 5 point lead at the top on a night that saw the return of a Rangers hero and the emergence of an unsung hero. Goals by Clint Hill and Heidar Helguson will take all the headlines, but all fans eyes were on QPR’s No.4 on his first start for the R’s since April 2006 in a 1-2 loss at the Madejski Stadium. Neil Warnock surprised everyone by making changes at the back with not just one but two replacements. Big Dan and Fitz Hall were in at the expense of Matt Connolly and Kaspars Gorkss from the team that started at Preston on Saturday.
Bradley Orr and Clint Hill made up the rest of the back-four in front of Paddy Kenny. Once again Helguson was the lone striker following his goal at Deepdale with Derry and Faurlin protecting the back-four and the trio of Routledge, Miller and Taarabt playing in advanced roles. Well that was the plan it seemed. Ipswich had three ex-R’s players in their ranks with Damien Delaney and Mark Kennedy starting and Tamas Priskin on the bench.
During the first half, we seemed to have a very fluid formation with Miller, Routledge, Taarabt and Helguson popping up in all positions except the ones we thought they were meant to be in. A pessimist would say that we had lost our shape. Ipswich evidently weren’t afraid of us from the word go, even though they deployed Jason Scotland upfront on his own, they were seeing a lot of the ball and were deciding they were going to keep it, it appeared.
In the first 30 minutes, Grant Leadbitter decided to try out his shooting boots on a few occasions with varying degrees of success. On 10 minutes, in absolute acres of space, he took a couple of touches and seeing as no one thought he was a danger, he let fly. To say that it was a poor shot is an understatement as the linesman appeared to be in more danger than Kenny. Then on 25 minutes, he repeated his trick, but this time it was nearer to the goal in that it was only 15 yards wide ! But on 30 minutes, it took a combination of Hall and Shittu to put in desperate dives to block the shot and deflect it for a corner. I don’t know who blocked it, or care for that matter, but it was superb defending all the same.
I’m not sure if any words were said, but that was the last time Ipswich’s No.6 found himself in space and with the ball at his feet. A couple of minutes later, Conor Wickham eluded his marker and sent a decent cross into the box and Gareth McAuley put his close range header just wide. The game had suddenly come alive at last, albeit at the wrong end of the pitch. But we weren’t to be outdone as Taarabt put in a corner to the far post where Big Dan came in around the back of the defence and smashed his header goalwards, but once again the defence was on top and it deflected for a corner. A very scrappy first half came to an end with both sides cancelling each other out more or less and although Ipswich were possibly the better side, Paddy Kenny had nothing much to do so to speak. Half time: 0-0.
We started the second half positively and on 49 minutes saw our first proper forage into the Ipswich box. Routledge collected a high ball and instantly trapped it before taking his marker on. He got into the box and squared the ball into the path of Miller who hit a powerful left footer, but the shot was again blocked by a defender for a corner. From the resulting corner, once again Taarabt found Big Dan lurking at the far post with intent. His header went across the face of the goal and possibly wide when Helguson appeared from nowhere and having to stoop low, his header went just over the bar. I’ve been critical of his headers from close range this season, but on this occasion he was very unlucky.
Ipswich had retreated into their own half by now, but on the hour, Lee Martin tried his luck from 25 yards and Kenny had to react quickly to stop the ball creeping in by his right-hand post. For the next 30 minutes it was one-way traffic to a degree as we looked for the breakthrough. Ipswich’s rearguard was thwarting everything we tried and chances were at a premium. The one time we looked dangerous was when Clint Hill sent a sublime pass through the back-four and found Big Dan (of all people) with a glimpse of goal and as he pulled the trigger with his left foot, yet again a defender blocked the shot for a corner. On 70 minutes Tamas Priskin (without ridiculously coloured footwear) replaced Jason Scotland as the lone striker.
There was no way we were going to lose now surely !!! Five minutes later, Akos Buzsaky replaced Miller and was immediately in the action. The Hungarian international found Faurlin who in turn found Taarabt in acres of space 15 yards from goal, but Adel rushed his shot although he did force Fulop into a save at his near post. Two minutes later, we eventually broke Ipswich’s resistance. Taarabt’s corner again went to the back post, but it appeared to hit a defender and then went back across goal where Clint Hill was in the right place at the right time to bury a header into the net. Despite a defender being on the line and attempting a clearance, the header was too powerful and Hill rightly ran over to Q Block to take the applause.
Shortly after the goal saw the best passage of play of the night as Faurlin and Taarabt played a one-two and Faurlin’s deft pass to Adel was worth the entrance fee on its own. Taarabt found Routledge at the far post with a cross and his first time shot was saved at his near post by the keeper then cleared. The ball then went straight back across the box and the ball ended up at Clint Hill’s feet by the bye-line. He tried to make space twice and on his second attempt got to the bye-line and sent an inch perfect cross onto the head of Heidar Helguson. The Iceman sent his header down into the turf and the bounce saw the ball nestle in the roof of the net for his second goal in two games. Even I jumped up and down like a little kid as it must be said that the nerves got to me for 75 minutes.
At the start of the season we tore the Tractor Boys apart in what my Ipswich mate describes as ‘the best away performance in years’. Tonight was the total opposite it must be said. This was a hard fought victory. Even though the likes of Taarabt, Routledge and Miller may of been shackled, it was the likes of Orr, Hall, Shittu and in particular Hill that saw us grind out a win and yet another clean sheet. This team’s never say die attitude amazes me. In years to come the record books will say a 2-0 win, but what it won’t say is what a crucial win this was. This was another defining moment along with Mackie’s goal at Derby or Routledge’s at Reading. The dream continues.
Team: Kenny 7, Orr 7, Hall 7, Shittu 8, Hill 9, Routledge 7, Taarabt 7, Faurlin 7, Derry 7, Miller 6, Helguson 7.
Subs: Cerny, Gorkss, Chimbonda, Connolly, Buzsaky, Vaagan Moen, Hulse.
Referee: Mr K Wright 7.
Attendance: 16,587 (including 1,785 Ipswich fans)
MOTM: Clint Hill. He’s an unsung hero for me. Scored one, made one, won headers all night and generally run his nuts off for the cause. On any other night Big Dan may have got it, but he blotted his copybook when he allowed a carthorse like Priskin to beat him in the box and have a shot at goal. Apart from that he was also immaculate. Welcome home Dan.