Manchester City and QPR played out possibly the most extraordinary football match ever seen as one team came back from the dead to clinch the league title in the last seconds while QPR stayed up. In the build-up to the game, everyone was saying that it was going to be a routine win for the champions elect, but Mark Hughes’ QPR side didn’t even read the script. In fact, they put the script through the shredder along with 45,000 home fans nerves. For QPR to come so close to upsetting the odds against the blue half of Manchester is a testament to Mark Hughes and his tactics. City came into the game as ridiculously odds-on favourites, unbeaten at home since 2010 and having scored in every home game this season. QPR on the other hand had kept two clean sheets away from home all season, the last coming in September.
Mark Hughes sprang a surprise in choosing Shaun Wright-Phillips in place of Adel Taarabt with Djibril Cisse also returning to the starting line-up at the expense of Akos Buzsaky. We lined up Kenny in goal with Onuoha, Ferdinand, Hill and Taiwo in defence. The midfield foursome was Mackie, Barton, Derry, and Wright-Phillips with Zamora and Cisse upfront in what appeared to be a 4-4-2 formation. But it soon became apparent that it was actually a 4-5-1 formation with Cisse the lone forward. Obviously Hughes had learnt from the situation at Stamford Bridge where Cisse was played as a left -winger. I thought that it was a brave decision and a very positive one.
The game kicked off with the home fans in full voice accompanied by a full contingent of QPR fans urging their team on for the last time this season. It was also noted that there was a Bayern Munich Supporters Club – Shepherds Bush Division flag on display on the upper tier. Nice. Both sets of fans had different aspirations of course, but the nerves seemed to be affecting the home fans more.
It took 15 minutes before City looked like a team who had swept all before them so far when Silva worked a yard of space at an angle by the bye-line and somehow got his shot on target, but Kenny made a decent save at his near post as the ball came through a ruck of players. As a result of the save, Kenny indicated to the bench that he had injured his hand in saving the shot. For the next 5 minutes or so, he was receiving treatment from the physio and seemed to be having his hand strapped up. At one point he had to concentrate as City attacked and he took up his position with only one glove on which got one wag shouting, ‘one glove, he only needs one glove’. Thankfully, the attack came to nothing and he could then continue his treatment.
We were matching the hosts in every department. Well every department within our half as the ball spent most of the first twenty minutes in our half. Then news came through that Bolton were losing which sparked more celebrations amongst our fans. Not me though as there was still a long way to go.
On 19 minutes, Barry challenged both Mackie and Barton in an aerial duel and the referee gave us a free kick as Barton ended up in a heap following the challenge. Hence the free kick. No yellow card though from the referee who had dished out the most yellow cards all season. Four minutes later, Barry fouled Cisse some thirty yards from goal with a studs-up challenge that caught Cisse’s foot as he won the ball, again, a free kick, but no yellow card. He plays for England like Scott Parker of course. Taiwo and Cisse lined up the free kick and the Nigerian left-back touched it to QPR’s French forward who hit a rasping shot that was moving to the right before Joe Hart managed to hold on to the ball.
Then news came through that some team had scored in another match which prompted some of our ‘supporters’ to taunt the locals with ‘Rooney, Rooney’ which I wasn’t happy about if I’m honest. Would they have sung Ashley Young’s name if he had scored the goal ? No, City fans to our right were incensed and responded with ‘who the fuck do you support ?’ and who could argue with that ? I was there to support QPR, no one else. I couldn’t care less about what was going on at other grounds, well not until the last 10 minutes. For the next 15 minutes City were again struggling to break us down as we stood resolute as a team which was understandable given the circumstances.
It was also noted that the man mountain that is Yaya Toure was struggling with his groin and had to receive treatment on numerous occasions. He was still on the pitch on 40 minutes as City took the lead though. Following a cross into our box, Hill cleared with a last gasp lunge and the ball went out wide to our left. The ball was kept alive by Zabaleta who found Silva, then crept into the box as Silva found Toure who in turn fed Zabaleta at an angle. Two defenders closed him down, but not in time and the Argentine got his shot on target, but the ball squirmed through Kenny’s gloves and sailed agonisingly in the air, onto the far post and just over the line as Kenny tried to retrieve the ball from behind the line. It was a cruel blow as we had defended so well and I’m sure that Kenny would have made a better fist of it if he hadn’t been injured earlier, so no criticism on his part even if the pun was intended.
Absolute bedlam all around the stadium as you could imagine, apart from the away end of course. Then it was City fans turn to taunt us as news came through that Bolton were now 2-1 up at half-time and regaled us with ‘Martin Petrov’, the ex-City player now plying his trade at the Reebok. You reap what you sow and all that. Literally seconds before the end of the half, Toure could take no more and was replaced by De Jong. A very defensive change I must say looking at the City bench. Mancini must’ve been confident that we weren’t going to score twice in the second-half and who can blame him going on our away record. Half-time: 0-1. We had played well albeit in a very defensive formation, but every player was working their socks off trying to contain City.
The players returned to the pitch to the sounds of ‘Moving Away From the Pulsebeat’ by the Buzzcocks and for some reason were on the pitch for about two minutes before the referee got the game underway again. The second-half kicked off and within a minute, City had nearly doubled the lead. A near-post cross came in and Aguero met it, but luckily the ball ended up hitting the side netting following Kenny’s finger-tip save.
To be fair it was looking ominous at this point. We needn’t have worried so much as within 3 minutes of the re-start we had stunned 45,000 home fans with an equalising goal. Nothing looked on as Taiwo cleared a header onto City’s half in the direction of Wright-Phillips out wide left. The ex-City player managed to flick the ball on as he was caught very late by Zabaleta for which the referee saw, but allowed the advantage. I was livid as no advantage looked on as Lescott went up for a free header, but then managed to make a mistake not becoming of an alleged international footballer. Somehow he managed to head the ball back into the path of Cisse who was onto the ball in a flash and as the ball sat up nicely, executed the perfect volley to beat Joe Hart and send 2,700 QPR fans behind the goal absolutely wild.
It was noted at this point that the referee didn’t even speak to Zabaleta for his challenge on Wright-Phillips despite seeing it clearly and even indicated that he had seen it. And who says that the big clubs get all the decisions eh ? A minute later, City were in our half again as Tevez got his shot on target, but I think the nerves got the better of him and Kenny was not too troubled. City fans were looking like Death Row prisoners at this point whereas we looked like we had won the lottery. But not for long though. Just when it seemed that we had a captain who actually let his feet do the talking for once, he returned to his default mode and lets both his elbows and feet do the talking. They spoke the words ‘I am a thug’. To be honest, from our end we had no idea what had gone on when suddenly the assistant referee to our right started flagging for some incident and indicated a free kick to City on the edge of our box.
Following discussions, the referee gave our captain a red card. What happened next can only be described as a disgrace. I saw a melee in the distance where one player ended up on the floor having been kicked it seemed, then a head was aimed at another player. Meanwhile, both benches ran onto the pitch to try and calm it down. Except for Mario Balotelli who looked like he was itching for a fight to see who was the top bad boy in the Premier League. In the fracas, I saw Mancini run and hit Balotelli, unbelievable !!!
In the meantime Hughes immediately replaced Cisse with Traore to shore up the midfield. But City nearly took the lead again as a scramble in our box saw a City player, looking offside I must add, scuff a point-blank shot that looked like it was rolling over the line before Kenny got back to retrieve the ball with City fans and players claiming that it had crossed the line. The natives were now getting nervous and desperate. If you thought that was exciting that was nothing compared to what happened next though. Our ten men then went and took the lead. We were on the back-foot and Taiwo intercepted a pass and found Traore out wide left. With one less player, it seemed that a natural thing for the left-side player to do, was to play possession football to waste a few minutes.
Unlucky for City then that QPR’s No.13 had other ideas and went on a run down the wing from just inside his own half. Gazelle like, he sprinted down the line and past Vincent Kompany who was left trailing in his wake. Looking up, he could see Zamora near-post, but marked while at the far post the unmarked Jamie Mackie was screaming for the ball. The ball was delivered perfectly, over Zamora’s head and onto the waiting Scottish international’s head for his 7th goal of the season to send every single QPR fan on the planet into absolute apoplexy. I ended up being knocked over as fans rushed down the front to acclaim an outstanding goal and considering the circumstances possibly the most amazing goal this season and yes I was at the Liverpool game.
Irrespective of what was going on at the Britannia Stadium, at this moment in time we were safe. The only downside was that Ashley Young might end up with a champions medal, but in a dog eat dog world, our survival was more important at this point. Mancini went for broke on 68 minutes by bringing on Dzeko for the ineffective Barry. But our defence was standing their ground as the tension rose amongst the home faithful. Twice within a minute Tevez and Nasri tried their luck from 20 yards with both shots going about 5 yards wide.
Then as Mancini rolled his last throw of the dice by bringing Balotelli on for Tevez, news came through that Stoke had equalised. Hughes also replaced Zamora with Bothroyd who took up his position as forward-cum midfielder. And why not ? But he almost embarrassed Lescott for a second time as he chased a lost cause down by the corner flag. Lescott seemed a bit lackadaisical as he went to fetch a long punt upfield by Taiwo. Bothroyd first closed him down, then robbed the England defender and headed for goal, but with Kompany coming across, the danger was averted for City fans who could be seen to start drifting away. I used the word ‘fan’ rather than a supporter as a supporter does just that and God help England if Lescott goes to Euro 2012.
City were looking desperate at the other end as well with many shots going wide. Then on 83 minutes, Dzeko tried his luck and the ball was in more danger of hitting the corner flag than the net before going out for a throw-in. And as the clock said 90 minutes were up, Balotelli missed a sitter from a few yards out as he had a header saved by Kenny which was then scrambled behind the goal for yet another corner.
Two or three corners followed, then with two of the five minutes extra up, Dzeko was found unmarked from one such corner and he buried his close range header. Then suddenly, our bench were up and celebrating like madmen, which then had the away fans doing likewise as it was evident that this club, Queen’s Park Rangers, would return to this stadium and play in the Premier League next season. The relief was palpable it must be said.
Then City went and won the league with literally the last shot at goal and the scenes and atmosphere will live with me forever and every QPR fan who was there. Some of our fans even started applauding the goal which I’ve never ever seen in my lifetime and probably won’t ever again. In the melee that followed the goal, Aguero was booked for removing his shirt. Should’ve he gone in late or used his elbow then he would of been okay. Not that any City fan will care as the place went absolutely mental. To say the decibel readings went off the scale is an understatement and I’ve seen Motorhead live many times.
When it all calmed down about 15 minutes later, both sets of fans joined in a mutual appreciation as it dawned on everyone that our clubs have never hated each. I’m not sure if both sets of fans would’ve been so sporting had things gone the other way though, but who cares ? QPR fans even stayed until the end, watching the trophy being lifted and fireworks going off. I’ve been watching football for just over 40 years and I doubt that anything will match the drama of this game. I doubt that our team had played so heroically this season either, especially when down to ten men. Every player, bar our captain, worked their socks off and deserved better, but they got what they came for and that was Premier League survival.
Who were we to deny City the title once we were safe ? Yes, it would’ve been nice to have won, but City will give us the moral victory when they took the biggest victory of all and good luck to them. I just hope that they don’t end up arrogant like United and Chelsea. All the well paid so called talking heads on TV and Radio wrote us off weeks ago, stating that our run was harder than all the other teams around us. Well, you were wrong. I firmly believe that this season is a watershed in our football club. I believe in Mark Hughes and what he’s been trying to achieve. I also have faith in Tony Fernandes and the Board. I have no faith whatsoever in our club captain. Never have and I certainly never will now. It’s been emotional, see you all in August.
Team: Kenny 8, Onuoha 8, Taiwo 8, Ferdinand 8, Hill 8, Mackie 9, Barton 0, Derry 8, Wright-Phillips 8, Cisse 8 (Traore 8), Zamora 8 (Bothroyd 7)
MOTM: Mackie. He ran his socks off as usual and scored a goal that will live in the memory for years to come. So many of our fans had written him off, but he has shown that he is not out of his depth in this league.
Referee: M. Dean 7. He didn’t have much to do until our captain went mental, but I did find it hard that only our captain was carded until Aguero scored an historical goal and removed his shirt. Bad boy.
Attendance: 47,435 (including 2,700 ecstatic and brilliant R’s fans)
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)