Neil Warnock’s newly assembled QPR side were held to a goal-less draw by unbeaten Newcastle in front of the Sky TV cameras. With five players making their debuts and a sixth coming on as second half substitute, it was the hosts who looked the more comfortable in every position on the field. That QPR didn’t come away with all the three points was down to equal measures of bad luck and poor finishing, in particular during a first half in which Shaun Wright-Phillips, Adel Taarabt and Joey Barton tore into Newcastle and set up chance after chance, but QPR’s lone forward Jay Bothroyd, failed to convert any of the chances put in front of him. One time he was inches from connecting with a cross across the face of the goal, but he should have done better with a point blank header and a volley from six yards.
All the pre-match hype was about a certain ex-Newcastle player, but the bigger picture saw three of the back four making their QPR debuts along with the aforementioned Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips in midfield. With Paddy Kenny in goal, this week he was being protected by Danny Gabbidon and his former West Ham team mate Anton Ferdinand. Former Arsenal left-back Armand Traore also made his debut along with right-back Luke Young. Derry and Faurlin kept their places as the ball winning midfielders with Adel Taarabt in a forward roaming position supporting Jay Bothroyd as the lone striker.
There was also the sight of another new signing warming up on the touchline, or should I say a returning hero. He may have been shown the door about three years ago and replaced by a younger and brighter looking recruit, but Jude the Cat was back alongside Spark. Jude looked like the cat who had got the cream and a lot slimmer than I remember. As the players came out onto the pitch the noise levels were turned up a notch and it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Home fans had already devised songs for some of the new players and were in full voice along with the visitors as the game started.
As previously mentioned, with three defenders making their debuts, I was slightly nervous at the start, but I needn’t of been. QPR seemed to roll back the years as we had players who reminded me so much of the side that did so successfully well in the first ever Premier League season nigh on 20 years ago. For David Bardsley read Luke Young, for Clive Wilson read Armand Traore, for Alan McDonald read Anton Ferdinand and for Andy Sinton read Shaun Wright-Phillips etc etc. Now if ONLY we had a Les Ferdinand ! It was noticeable that a certain Stan the Man was in attendance and the last player to score for us at Loftus Road in the top tier of English football, Kevin Gallen. Either player would have gobbled up at least one of the chances spurned. Les Ferdinand would’ve scored a hat-trick.
But that’s not to take away from what was an outstanding performance from what is on paper a new team. Of our side, the last time we hosted the Geordies 16 months ago (when they were on their way to winning the Championship quite comfortably), only two of our starting line-up remained from that game. While only four players remain from our record breaking side from last season and only five players remained from our last game two weeks ago ! Not that you would’ve noticed as the midfield got straight to work from the off and saw all five players playing at a level not seen in QPR colours since Ray Wilkins, Simon Barker and Ian Holloway were wearing the hoops.
Twenty minutes into the game, I turned to my mate and said: ‘We’ve arrived at last. It may have taken 20 years, but we’ve got our Rangers back.’ A bold statement maybe, I’m well aware its only one game and it’s a long season, but I’m confident that this side has a fighting chance of upsetting a few sides this season. I didn’t think that on leaving the ground after our last home league game.
QPR started very brightly and took the game to Newcastle from the off. Taarabt and Wright-Phillips looked like they had played together for years and although Derry and Faurlin had obviously played together they’ve yet to play this well so far this season. I’m guessing that the new recruits have either inspired them or they have had to step up a gear, but whichever it is, no one’s complaining. Taarabt also had his best game so far this season which I’m putting down to increased fitness levels. It was Taarabt who had our first shot on goal in the early stages, but it hardly bothered the Toon keeper Krul. A few minutes later, Traore was fed on the left-wing by a superb Faurlin pass and as he turned inside his marker and looking up, he picked out the head of the smallest player on the pitch, but Wright-Phillips’s header sailed over the bar.
On 15 minutes, Wright-Phillips skipped down the right and after evading a lunge, he got to the bye-line and picked out Bothroyd on the six-yard line. The whole Lower Loft stood as one as the ball sat up for Bothroyd to volley, but were forced to sit down just as quickly as his right-footed shot sailed wildly over the bar. Then almost immediately Wright-Phillips was at it again, running at his marker and getting an early strike at goal which whistled just wide and although it looked like a corner as the ball definitely changed direction, the referee awarded a goal kick. It was then Taarabt’s turn to shine as he mugged off two defenders and sprayed a ball into Wright-Phillips’s path out wide right. Once again Wright-Phillips got to the bye-line and put in a lovely cross across the face of the goal that just needed a touch, but try as he might, Bothroyd’s lunge at the ball was about an inch too short.
Six minutes later, Taarabt and Wright-Phillips were at it again and as Bothroyd held the ball up he laid it off into Faurlin’s path and his ferocious shot was blocked and went out for a corner. The crowd responded with the first rendition of ‘We’ve Got Our Rangers Back’. Then as the short corner was eventually played into the box, Bothroyd’s close header somehow went wide of the post by about the width of a fag paper. Just before half time, Taarabt and Wright-Phillips (who else) almost broke the deadlock. Taarabt fed Wright-Phillips and as Krul closed the angle down, Wright-Phillips lobbed the ball towards the empty net, but as I stood to celebrate a wonderful chip, some defender took up the role of a party pooper and headed the ball off the line.
As the referee signalled the end of the first half, it was obvious that we had to take our chances if we were going to win this game. As much as we had dominated the first half, Newcastle proved how dangerous they could be on 12 minutes when Leon Best turned Gabbidon inside out on the edge of the box and got his shot away that Kenny did very well to save down to his right-hand side. It was also noted on a couple of occasions that Gabbidon’s passing wasn’t up to Premier League standard and got out of jail with his team mates assistance. Half time: 0-0.
Five minutes after the start of the second half, Traore appeared to pull up with a thigh strain and was replaced by another ex-Gooner in Matt Connolly with Traore receiving rapturous applause from the home fans, and rightly so. Although the second half didn’t live up to the standards of the first, it was still a good performance all-round, but just like the first, it just needed one chance put away to take all the points as Newcastle offered even less going forward and even started wasting time on 55 minutes.
It got so bad that on 73 minutes referee Dowd indicated to Krul that he wouldn’t accept any more time wasting. He then repeated his threat to Krul on 76 minutes and again on 79 minutes. And still Krul’s name didn’t get entered into the usually card happy ref’s notebook !
Of the chances created in the second half, the best two fell to Shaun Derry of all players. Twice in succession Barton found him with perfect corners, but on both occasions he managed to get in front of a defender, but both headed attempts on goal went wide. On another occasion Wright-Phillips was found with a sublime slide rule pass by Barton and as in the first half, as he bore down on goal he chipped the on-rushing keeper, but a defender got back in time to put a block as Bothroyd lurked with intent on six yards. A goal kick was then mysteriously awarded.
DJ Campbell was introduced in place of Bothroyd on 89 minutes, but with the visitors playing a formation that reminded me of Paul Hart’s tenure at Loftus Road, we found it difficult to create any more chances. Although we cannot fault the players for effort they did appear to run out of ideas the more the game went on. Shaun Wright-Phillips was evidently knackered by 70 minutes having made his first start for nearly a year. And as much as the preferred formation worked so successfully last season, at times this season other sides will suss us out. My only gripe would be that we didn’t tinker with our formation and get some support for Bothroyd who worked his socks off all night. He was picked for England having played alongside the pacy Craig Bellamy so well as he plays the holding game superbly. I believe DJ’s pace combined with Bothroyd’s strength could’ve unlocked Newcastle’s defence. But that’s picking holes on what was a great advert for football. Well our performance was.
Team: Kenny 7, Young 7, Traore 7 (Connolly 6), Ferdinand 7, Gabbidon 5, Barton 7, Taarabt 7, Wright-Phillips 7 (Puncheon n/a), Derry 8, Faurlin 7, Bothroyd 6 (Campbell 6).
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Hall, Buzsaky, Smith.
MOTM: Derry – Mr Reliable was here, there and everywhere and showed that this Premier malarkey isn’t too difficult after all. All eyes were on our new recruits, but for me Derry shone like a star under the bright lights of W12. And considering he got a harsh booking in the first half, he didn’t pull out of any 50/50 challenges.
Attendance: 16,211 (including 1,279 Newcastle fans)