QPR pulled off their own version of ‘The Great Escape’ on Wednesday night as they came back from two goals down with 13 minutes remaining to snatch the three points in injury time. Jamie Mackie played the role of Virgil Hilts at the death as he slotted the ball past a bemused Pepe Reina to set off scenes of pandemonium in the home Stands as well as the home bench as all the staff ran onto the pitch to celebrate a most improbable victory. How QPR did it is anyone’s guess as Liverpool should’ve been out of sight within the first 25 minutes of the game. In the build-up to the game, Jamie Mackie was saying how nights under the lights at Loftus Road were special occasions, but we never knew how special it would be.
Mark Hughes dropped Shaun Wright-Phillips to the bench and brought in Adel Taarabt while Luke Young returned to right-back to replace the injured Clint Hill. That meant a re-shuffle with Onuoha partnering Ferdinand in the middle of defence and Traore at left-back. Taarabt was accompanied by Barton, Derry and Diakite in a midfield foursome with Cisse and Zamora upfront in a 4-4-2 formation. Coincidently only four of the starting X1 played in the corresponding fixture at Anfield in December.
The game was a microcosm of Liverpool’s season so far where they have had more than the lion’s share of possession and chances, but could not put enough of them away to put the game to bed. That they did so was down to some superb goalkeeping from Paddy Kenny, some resolute defending and the biggest slice of lady luck ever seen at Loftus Road. Despite having the second best defence in the Premier League, Liverpool came into the game with a not too dissimilar run of poor form to QPR having lost their last three away games. They had only won one more league game than us in 2012. It was this form that gave me a glimmer of hope leading up to the kick-off. My hopes were nearly dashed in the first twenty odd minutes as the visitors time and time again sliced through our back-four like a hot knife through butter with some exquisite one-touch football. They were also helped by some wayward passing and at times even woeful passing by the hosts.
We kicked off and for once we didn’t resort to hoofing the third touch upfield and out of play, instead keeping possession. That lasted for about 20 seconds before the first bad pass of the evening occurred. Liverpool soon got into their stride playing some slick one-touch/one-twos and generally giving us the runaround. We were actually on the in the 4th minute when a Barton free kick was played straight to Charlie Adam who launched the ball upfield for Suarez to chase and hound Onuoha into slipping over and it looked all ends up a goal as the Uruguayan entered the box and got his shot on target, but Kenny made the first of many saves of the evening diving to his right.
For the next twenty minutes a similar pattern occurred whereby Liverpool players would go forward and string a few passes in and around our players who were doing great impressions of the cones used on the training ground, i.e. standing still. Added to that we kept giving the ball back to the opposition as soon as we got it, so much so that I counted eleven passes astray in the first twenty minutes by Barton and Diakite alone. When we did manage to go forward, every time Zamora went to control a pass he had Skrtel all over him like a rash stopping him from doing the simplest of passes yet he got no help from the ref whatsoever.
The ref certainly helped us out in the 8th minute though when a pass by Kelly from the back split our defence and found Downing bearing down on goal outside the box. Two defenders converged on him and just as he was entering the box, Onuoha clearly tugged his arm and the contact sent Downing tumbling slightly and his shot was blocked by a combination of Onuoha and Traore and out for a corner. Downing rightly appealed for a penalty, but the referee gave a corner. From the resulting corner, Suarez headed on Gerrard’s cross and Kuyt, who had peeled off his marker, was found unmarked at the back-post. The Dutchman turned and hit a low shot as Ferdinand closed him down and although he couldn’t stop the shot there was back-up on the line in Barton who cleared to safety.
On fifteen minutes, there was some respite from the one-sidedness when Zamora fed Cisse and he created a yard of space, but his shot, although containing power, went limply wide. Following Liverpool’s ninth corner in the first 23 minutes, we then seemed to up our game and were now getting to grips with the Liverpool midfield although at times we still left a little too much space for my liking. Diakite was seeing a lot of the ball and didn’t look out of place among the exalted opposition and was giving as good as he got. All that was missing was the killer final ball.
For the remaining fifteen minutes we actually started to look like a decent team and even went so far as forcing a couple of corners, but as usual they came to absolutely nothing. On 30 minutes, Djibril Cisse received a pass from Diakite and went across the field gliding past two defenders and then suddenly unleashed a ferocious right-foot 25-yard shot that had Reina diving full stretch and although the Ellerslie Road fans thought it was a superb goal, the ball in fact went a whisker wide and hit the side netting. A couple of minutes later, Barton found himself in a similar position and in acres of space, but his resulting shot ended up going about 15 yards wide which summed his evening up I’m afraid as everything he tried to do he did wrong.
Just on half-time, Diakite tried his luck, but his 30-yard effort was always rising and cleared the bar by about a yard. Then as the ref was about to blow for half-time, Charlie Adam was found in space and as he looked favourite to score, Traore came from nowhere and executed a perfect sliding tackle putting the ball out for throw-in. It was the last of the action for both as they received some treatment for knocks received in the tackle. Half-time: 0-0. How it was goal-less was a mystery, but as the game wore on we seemed to grow in confidence and were getting to grips with Liverpool having given them too much respect at the start.
The second-half saw Taiwo replace the injured Traore at left-back and Henderson did likewise, replacing Adam in midfield for Liverpool. Within 30 seconds of the re-start Cisse was found out left and as he cut inside he managed to get his shot on target for a comfortable save for Reina, his first of the game I believe. I thought we started the second-half a lot better than the first and all the players were snapping at Liverpool’s heels and not giving them the space they allowed in the first-half. Our marking seemed to be a lot tighter at the back as well.
Then just as my hopes were rising, Liverpool opened the scoring with an incredible feat of skill. Liverpool won a corner and although the cross was nodded out by Ferdinand, it fell to Downing at the far post who instantly hit a left-foot shot to the far post. Once again we had a man on the line at a corner, this time Zamora, and although the ball was cleared, the ball bounced up at head height and some 15 yards from goal, the Uruguayan Sebastian Coates executed a scissors kick some six feet off the ground for a sensational goal that went like a rocket just under the bar. Although Kenny seemed to flinch and get out of the way of the ball, you couldn’t fault him on a superb performance and even if he got a hand to the ball it would have taken him into the goal with the ball anyway.
Three minutes later and it was nearly two-nil. Barton gave the ball away needlessly on half-way and Liverpool worked the ball quickly upfield to Downing in the box, but Kenny came to the rescue with a great save to his left. From the corner we broke and Diakite went on a run through midfield and fed Young on the overlap. He cut inside and passed to Barton out wide right. Looking up, he saw Zamora lurking at the back-post with Cisse on the edge of the box in support. As we anticipated a ball into the danger area, the ball spooned up and over the bar and almost landed in the Upper Loft. QPR’s captain looked at the turf as if to blame a bobble caused by the turf, but I’m sorry to report he was wrong. He didn’t apologise to team mates and just ran back to midfield as if nothing had happened.
Then two minutes later and the captain’s number was up as he was replaced by Jamie Mackie and the home fans roared their approval. As Barton walked off, he clapped the fans and then he was booed off by a large section of supporters. The change seemed to galvanise both the fans and in turn this fed to the players as once again they upped their game. But before you could blink, Liverpool had doubled their lead. On 72 minutes, Suarez turned his marker inside out on the edge of the box and hit a left-foot shot across the face of goal and onto Kenny’s left-hand post. As our defence once again did their impressions of training cones, Downing picked up the rebound and waltzed past two rank excuses for tackles and forced Kenny into a superb save, but Kuyt was quickest to the rebound again and forced the ball over the line. Game over it seemed. And who was to argue ?
Then on 74 minutes something happened for the first time all night. The referee awarded a free kick for a foul by Skrtel on Zamora. Maybe he was feeling sorry for us, not that Liverpool were two goals ahead. From the free kick, Taiwo had me flinching and closing my eyes as his deflected pile-driver went hurtling towards my chiselled good looks, sitting in the back row of the Lower Loft. Thankfully, as I was informed later, the bloke beside me put his hand out and took the brunt of it, wouldn’t want to ruin my modelling career now ! As we were talking about the big wet mark left on the wall behind us from the shot, we scored apparently. I then watched the replay on the jumbo screen and saw Adel flight a ball past the first defender and into the danger area for Shaun Derry ‘My Lord’ to rise above both Carragher and Henderson to plant his header into the net. Game on.
Diakite really grew up in the remaining minutes as time and again he broke up Liverpool attacks and set about hitting them on the break. One such time he got the ball just outside his own box and went on a mazy run covering the length of the pitch and ended up, totally exhausted I might add, being bundled off the ball by Q Block. The crowd responded and with Mackie doing his Duracell Battery impersonation as well, Liverpool were wobbling.
On 86 minutes the unthinkable happened. Taarabt seemed to be tightly marked and up against a solid wall, but somehow found Zamora in the box by the bye-line with a superb pass. Zamora held the ball up sufficiently for Taiwo to join in on the overlap and as Zamora laid it off, the script was written that Cisse would be found in the box with a sublime cross and bury the ball into the net for the most unlikely comeback since Pride Park last season. And so it was. Absolute mayhem in the home Stands while the away end seemed to be emptying very quickly.
I was now praying that we didn’t go and spoil all the hard work like we did against Sunderland and just stick eleven players behind the ball. My mate next to me was screaming for us to go for the jugular and get the winner. With about 50 seconds on the clock of the three minutes added on, Kenny took his time dealing with a back header and then finally launched the ball upfield. With me bemoaning our stupidity of just lumping the ball and not keeping it instead, our night of fantasy football entered the realms of surrealism.
The high ball was met by Skrtel and headed back from whence it came. Luke Young decided he was going to instigate a bout of head tennis and returned the ball. Skrtel and Enrique seemed to get in each other’s way at first then Enrique tried to rectify his hesitancy by clearing the ball, but produced an air shot. This just left the ball to fall to Jamie Mackie, in a similar position to that when he scored so late at Pride Park as I mentioned earlier, and he held his cool and plonked the ball between the keeper’s legs for the sweetest nutmeg you or I will ever see. I know that I can talk for England (and write you say !), but I was totally gobsmacked and just stood there frozen to the spot and speechless.
The other 15,000 or so were making enough noise already without me adding to the decibel levels. To see the whole team, including those on the bench, going mental will live in the memory for years. I’ve been privileged to have followed our club for nigh on 40 years and was at Port Vale and the Newcastle game, but Wednesday night surpassed those two easily. That we found it in us to get the three goals in such a short space of time when all night we were outplayed for large parts of the game tells me that the spirit in the club nurtured by Warnock two seasons ago is alive and kicking.
That we only conceded two goals is down to Kenny as I’ve said, but at times all players put their limbs on the line and thwarted Liverpool time and time again. To see Liverpool shell-shocked and walking straight off the pitch at the end was worth the entrance fee alone. It was only our eighth ever victory over Liverpool, but this will surely live in the memory more than any other.
Its only one win I know, but I do believe that with our front two and the emergence of Diakite, we have the ammunition to cause some teams problems. We need to take this winning spirit into the remaining games if we want to be playing Liverpool next season. Also, I thought that the crowd were superb, our captain might disagree, but his lack of contrition for his woeful performance during the game tells me that he actually thinks that he is above criticism.
As for his comments since the game concerning form and class shows him to be more arrogant than first thought. Remember this is the ‘captain’ who publicly slated Adel earlier in the season yet he believes he is above any form of abuse himself. Someone posted on LFW that OPTA stats have Barton down as having the least successful pass rate in the Prem, so there you have it Joey. Like I said the other day, forget the tweets for a while and concentrate on being the footballer you were two seasons ago, the ball is in your court.
Team: Kenny 7, Young 7, Ferdinand 6, Onuoha 6, Traore 6 (Taiwo 7), Derry 6 (Mackie 7), Barton 2, Taarabt 6, Diakite 8, Cisse 7 (Buzsaky n/a), Zamora 6
MOTM: Diakite. For someone so young, he proved that he can live in the Premier League against experienced international footballers. Showed what the midfield is all about.
Referee: H. Webb 8. Good to see common sense rearing its head from an official. Not one card was dished out and for every decision there was a full description to let the fans know what he was giving the free kick for. I know that I was cheesed off with his treatment of Zamora, but it was a little gripe on a near perfect performance.
Attendance: 18,033 (including 3,068 away fans)
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)