There’s an old adage that patience is a virtue, but waiting 5,573 days proves that QPR fans have the patience of a saint. When the teams walked out on the pitch on Saturday it had been that long since we staged a football match at Loftus Road in English football’s top tier. That last game took place on Saturday 27th April 1996, in front of our biggest crowd of the season. We thumped West Ham 3-0, but it was too little too late as with both Coventry and Southampton winning that day it meant that we were relegated after 13 seasons in the top flight. Both Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers went down with us that year and it’s noticeable that they are now established Premiership sides, whereas we will be everyone’s favourites to go back down.
Warnock gave debuts to four new signings in Jay Bothroyd, Dudley Campbell, Danny Gabbidon and Kieron Dyer. With Paddy Kenny in goal it was up to Hill and Dyer at fullback to protect our goal with Gabbidon and Hall at centre back. In midfield we had Derry and Faurlin in their customary defensive midfield places with Taarabt, Smith and Campbell in advanced positions backing up Bothroyd upfront. Well that’s how it started it seemed.
Bolton kicked off and immediately launched the ball upfield for Hill to head clear and as Gabbidon went to clear the next ball Chris Eagles committed the first foul of the game with less than 20 seconds gone. Start as you mean to go on then ! In the second minute, Taarabt collected a pass out wide left and pinged a ball to the far post where Paul Robinson appeared to be fouling Jay Bothroyd as they waited for the cross to come down. Referee Martin Atkinson saw nothing wrong and played on as Bothroyd eventually got the better of his marker and nodded down for Campbell to toe-poke over the line, but the referee’s assistant had clearly flagged for offside as Campbell touched the ball over the line.
A minute later, Kieron Dyer collapsed in a heap following a slip on the turf and after 5 minutes of treatment he was stretchered off to be replaced by Bradley Orr. On 12 minutes, Campbell, running behind the back four, found himself by the goal line at an angle and his fierce cross was cleared, but only as far as Bothroyd who launched a left-footed volley from 10 yards that somehow was headed over by a defender with the Bolton keeper beaten.
On 20 minutes, Taarabt slid a pass into Campbell’s path inside the box. Getting to the bye-line, he was halted by a defender’s presence and DJ then laid on the ball for Tommy Smith who then hit a low shot from an acute angle, but Jaaskelainen made an easy save. For the next 25 minutes we huffed and puffed, but Bolton seemed to have the measure of our midfield by now with Reo-Coker and Muamba closing down our players at every opportunity. When they couldn’t get the better of our players they used foul means with the foul count increasing as the half came to a close with astonishingly only one yellow card being branded by the ref for a foul by Reo-Coker on Taarabt (who else ?).
The most baffling incident was a foul by Kevin Davies on Paddy Kenny who had left his foot in as the keeper cleared the ball upfield. The referee rightly awarded the free kick, but didn’t even speak to the Bolton forward which was strange as it was a worse foul than Reo-Coker’s that resulted in a yellow card earlier. As the 45 minutes were up, the fourth official indicated that a further 5 minutes would be played, no doubt due to Dyer’s lengthy treatment.
Two minutes later and Bolton took the lead with their first effort on target, and what a goal it was. Bolton attacked down our left-hand side and as the ball was slid into England international Gary Cahill 20 yards out, he looked up and hit a peach of a shot into the top left-hand corner from the angle of the penalty area. Had it been by the likes of Rooney or Gerrard, we’d be seeing it 24 hours a day, but as Cahill plays for Bolton we won’t. No doubt if he ever leaves Bolton for a so called big club, a toe-poked goal will be classed as brilliant. A minute later and following a corner by Taarabt, Bothroyd met the near post cross in front of his marker, but his header was about a foot wide. Half-time: 0-1. Although we had started brightly, we had faded somehow and Bolton were showing their experience as an established top flight club.
The second half started and we kicked off and lumped the ball upfield. Within a minute, Bolton had attacked down our right and Klasnic was fed infield and looking up, he hit a right-footed shot which Paddy Kenny did well to save at full stretch down to his left. Five minutes later and Clint Hill was yellow carded as he was shown up for his well known lack of pace by Eagles and he clumsily took him out. Two minutes later and the signs were looking ominous as following some lovely interplay by Bolton, Fitz Hall fouled Ivan Klasnic. From the free kick, Davies rose above his marker, but his header went just wide. Taarabt for once lost his marker on 56 minutes and swivelling round, looked up and hit a 25 yard curling shot that went about a foot wide with the keeper flailing. It was the last time that we had Bolton worried as they now turned the screw and were playing all the decent football.
Our midfield was being overrun and the defence were struggling as Bolton time and again attacked at will. It was now our turn to up the foul count. On 67 minutes, following a blatant trip on Davies by Faurlin (again no yellow card ?) on the corner of the box, Bolton lined up the free kick. The ball was tapped forward and our wall stood still. Then a Bolton player took another touch and it was only after a shot came in that our wall rushed to close the ball down. The ball ricocheted across the box and it went across the six-yard line Gabbidon somehow helped it on its way into the unguarded net.
Three minutes later it was game, set and match as again we were exposed at the back by the pace and passing of Bolton. Davies won his umpteenth header in the box and laid the ball into the path of Klasnic who had all the time in the world for the ball to come down before drilling a shot goalwards that took a huge deflection before hitting the back of the net with Kenny wrong footed. Some home fans then decided to blame our owners, which was odd as they hadn’t said a word up until then.
On 72 minutes, Warnock took off both Taarabt and Smith to be replaced by Buzsaky and Helguson. But it was Bolton who got the next goal as our midfield and defence went missing as Muamba strolled through our back line and after receiving a pass from Klasnic, he buried his shot into the net. It was now noticeable that most of our Directors had got up and left along with droves of fans in all the Stands. The fourth official indicated that 3 minutes extra would be played and as the whistle was about to go for full time, Clint Hill, who was already on a yellow, appeared to get involved with Petrov and leant his head into the player’s chest. I’m not sure it was that heavy a contact to make Petrov end up on the deck as if David Haye had swung a right-hander, but the referee decided to give him a straight red for violent conduct.
Full-time 0-4 and we were taught a valuable lesson by seasoned campaigners who bossed the game from about the 30th minute onwards. It may sound like sour grapes regarding the comments about the fouling etc, but that’s up to the referee to sort out. Bolton are not to blame and we resorted to similar tactics 2nd half. This was our biggest home defeat on the opening day since 1976 when we lost to Everton by the same score.
Team: Kenny 6, Dyer n/a (Orr 6), Hall 3, Gabbidon 3, Hill 3, Taarabt 5 (Buzsaky 6), Smith 6 (Helguson 5), Derry 7, Faurlin 5, Bothroyd 5, Campbell 4.
Referee: Martin Atkinson 6 (some strange decisions, or lack of including Davies’s constant fouling yet Cahill and Reo-Coker got yellows for less dangerous fouls. No choice but a red for Hill though)
Attendance: 15,195 (including 771 Bolton fans – fair play to them at our ludicrous prices)
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)