QPR edged another point closer to the finishing line that is promotion on a night of frustration all round. A goalless draw in front of the Sky cameras wasn’t what 16,000 QPR fans had come to witness so the bunting and party poppers will have to be put away for now as party poopers Derby County did everything in their power to stop us from playing football whether by foul means or fair. On a more positive note, Paddy Kenny and his back-four set a new club record by recording their 24th clean sheet. In the second half it was Kenny alone who kept the score goalless with another world class save. One well known statistic from this fixture is that the home team never wins. We haven’t beaten Derby at home since our last promotion season from this division in 82/83, coincidently that promotion season was the last time we lost at Derby, weird !
Before the game I commented to a mate outside how muted the atmosphere felt considering how the season had panned out so far and apart from the first 25 minutes, I thought the atmosphere went very flat. This was possibly because of what was played out in front of us as one team tried to win a game of football while the other side had one aim and that was not to lose at all costs. Add to that a performance from an official who wasn’t up to much and the frustration for the fans spread to the players as time and time again we were thwarted by some robust challenges that went unpunished. How the game finished eleven-a-side is a mystery to me. And when you look at the stats they show that we had one yellow card for dissent when it appeared from where I sat that every decision was contested by Derby’s No. 7, 8 & 10, yet not one was carded for dissent ?
Rangers were unchanged from the starting X1 that won at Barnsley last Tuesday with the Championship’s newly elected best keeper being protected by the regular back-four of Orr, Hill, Gorkss and Connolly. They were accompanied by the best two holding midfielders in the league, despite what PFA members reckon that are Derry and Faurlin with Smith, Routledge and Taarabt playing just behind Helguson upfront. It was noticed almost immediately that Kenny was playing with the knock he received at Barnsley when Bradley Orr took the first few goal kicks although Kenny took up the task halfway through the 1st half.
Derby appeared to be playing a 4-3-3 formation, but as soon as we got over the half way line it reverted to 10-0-0 with 3 players deployed to deal with both Taarabt and Routledge whenever they received the ball. My mate commented that, ‘it was going to be a long night’ and he was right. We started off in the ascendency with our first chance coming in the 5th minute with Helguson heading over following a corner taken by Taarabt which was headed on by Gorkss to the far post, but the Icelandic player couldn’t connect properly. Then as the clock reached double figures, Routledge had a clear sight of goal when Faurlin played the ball over the back-four from the edge of the box for Tommy Smith, but he produced an air shot which fell kindly to Routledge, but as Brad Jones narrowed the angle, the winger hit his shot wide of the left-hand post. To make the agony even worse, Helguson strained every muscle to reach the ball at the far post, but the ball was about 3 inches too high.
Then 3 minutes later, Derby’s captain set the tone for the rest of the game with a challenge that if it was carried out by a high profile player like Wayne Rooney, it would receive press attention for weeks. Taarabt had the ball right in front of the dugouts with the usual three players marking him. Derby’s captain then decided to lunge in with both feet in a scissors action that appeared to catch both Adel’s feet and he crumpled in a heap. While he lay on the turf, the ponytailed, bleach blonde captain then kicked the ball in Adel’s face. Then it was handbags all round with Hill and Routledge getting involved in shoving Derby players as their captain pleaded his innocence. The result was the first yellow card of the game and still the Derby captain gave the ref some advice, or dissent as its known. Within a minute, Wayne Routledge went in the book for something he said. Now can someone please tell me how these two incidents are punished in the same way ? What’s more dangerous, kicking someone or speaking out ? It also became apparent at this point that both Derby’s captain and the No.10 Jamie Ward were assisting the referee as they seemed to be making the decisions for him. Anyway back to the football…
On 15 minutes following another foul on Taarabt, who then put the ball to the far post and Tommy Smith got his header in, but should’ve done better as it sailed harmlessly over the bar. A couple of minutes later, Taarabt produced something from nothing when he crafted some space 25 yards out and as everyone rose from their seats, he produced an outrageous chip from the edge of the box with the outside of his right boot that was going just under the bar before Brad Jones jack-knifed and palmed the ball over for a corner. Both Taarabt and Jones were deserving of the standing ovation that followed with Paddy Kenny applauding as well.
It was then noticeable that Derby had got the measure of us and were very successful in pressuring us as soon as we reached the half-way line with the back-four looking comfortable with our front-line and in Ward they had a very tricky, skilful and hard working midfielder. They then created two chances of their own when James Bailey tried his luck from the corner of the 18-yard line, but his shot went past the far post with Kenny unfazed although it was a worry for some of the nervous types behind the goal. The second chance was even better as Theo Robinson managed to nip the ball past Hill and burst into the box, but with the whole goal to aim at, he had a rush of blood and blazed high and wide when he should’ve done better.
What had started so brightly had become a slightly dull affair as we appeared to be running out of ideas on how to break down a very well organised Derby side who ran their socks off and what they lacked in finesse certainly made up for in fitness. Were we to find a Plan B in the second half ? Half time: 0-0.
If you thought that the end of the first half was dull, that was nothing compared to the second half. Chances for both sides were at a premium although Derby crafted the best chance of the game when their outstanding player Jamie Ward got down the left wing, put the ball inside Bradley Orr and somehow sped past him on the outside before putting the ball on a plate for Stephen Pearson to hit a rising shot from 12 yards. Kenny managed to palm it over the bar when it had ‘goal’ written all over it. Like in the first half, the whole ground gave a standing ovation with Derby’s keeper Brad Jones applauding this time. The game became stop-start as every time we got near the goal there was either a foul or Derby’s hard working midfield won the ball back and we had to start again.
Try as we might, we never created any decent chances and were running out of ideas with Helguson being starved of any service whatsoever. Derby accrued three more bookings though as they decided to stop us by hook or by crook. And for the whole of the second half, every decision was contested by Derby players yet no one was actually booked for dissent. On one such occasion, Daniel Ayala had blatantly taken out Tommy Smith in front of the Ellerslie Road Stand as we attacked the Loft End. You would never see a more obvious yellow card yet Jamie Ward decided to run to the referee’s assistant who had flagged for the offence and screamed in his face as he stood nose to nose with the official. When he had stopped castigating the lino, he then turned his attention to Tommy Smith and was accusing him of diving ! The referee did nothing for that, but rightly booked Ayala. Following the free kick, we lost the ball then gained it back immediately and as Routledge burst into the box and reached the bye-line, Ward then produced the most ridiculous dive you will ever see and won a free kick as Derby’s captain had appealed for the decision like he had been doing all night.
Then on 75 minutes as Gorkss was shepherding the ball out for a goal kick, John Brayford decided to push Gorkss even though the ball was already out. Through sheer luck he wasn’t seriously injured as he crashed into a TV camera and for a while it looked worse as Gorkss lay prone on the floor. Once again, the referee decided, or Derby’s captain decided, that the offence was equal to Routledge speaking out of turn and Derby collected their 4th and last yellow card of the evening. That they didn’t get any more cards is a mystery as in the dying seconds, Rob Hulse, who had replaced Helguson on 85 minutes, turned on the edge of the box and was taken out cynically by the heavily bandaged-up Steve Davies. To compound the offence, Davies then took to screaming in the ref’s face in an obvious show of dissent. The referee did nothing. If I were Wayne Routledge I’d be writing a complaint to the Football League and the Referee’s Association asking for his yellow card to be overturned on the basis of double standards.
Along with the introduction of Hulse, Agyemang had replaced Taarabt on 71 minutes and as he took an ovation, Derby’s captain held out his hand and they shook hands with Derby’s captain obviously happy in a job well done in stopping our playmaker. On 83 minutes, Ishmael Miller also came on in place of Routledge, but between the three forwards they never once looked like getting a sniff as Derby’s back-ten stood firm although thankfully no home fans jeered Hulse like at Scunthorpe the other week.
I know that it sounds like a negative report, but that’s how it was. On a positive note, we now go into the last four games of a great season with a 9 point lead over third placed Norwich with only one win required to get us over that finishing line. I’m fully aware that Norwich play on Thursday, but I believe our destiny is in our own hands. A good analogy would be that it’s the Olympic Marathon, a season’s never a sprint, we’ve arrived in the stadium, are on the final bend and the chasing pack haven’t even entered the stadium yet. Going on some comments on fans forums, quite a few are getting nervy, but I truly believe that we will get our just rewards this weekend with two games within three days starting with the top of the table clash at Cardiff on Saturday.
We are not under pressure they are, with Norwich breathing down their necks and an in-form Reading coming up on the outside lane. I said months ago that the script couldn’t be better written with our penultimate away game at Cardiff on St. George’s Day. As William Shakespeare has it in Henry V, Act 111, ‘Once more unto the breach’. And to paraphrase the great bard, we move onto Cardiff and ‘Cry God for Neil, Rangers and St. George’. Coincidently, it’s Shakespeare’s birthday on Saturday, weird (It’s also the anniversary of his death, even weirder !)
Team: Kenny 8, Orr 7, Hill 7, Gorkss 7, Connolly 7, Faurlin 6, Derry 7, Routledge 6 (Miller 5), Taarabt 6 (Agyemang 5), Smith 7, Helguson 5 (Hulse 5).
MOTM: Paddy Kenny, just for keeping the score at 0-0. His best save this season and his 24th clean sheet. He showed why he’s regarded so highly by his peers.
Referee: Mr Deadman 3 (Braindead would be more appropriate).
Attendance: 16,745 (including 537 away fans – allegedly again like the Sheffield United game)
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)