December opened with a home fixture against West Brom on Saturday 3rd. How did we contrive to not win that match ? We led from yet another Heidar Helguson strike on 20 minutes, but couldn’t turn our superiority into goals. How could Shaun Wright-Phillips’s superb effort have been ruled offside (which TV later showed should not have been disallowed) ? Barton was guilty of a glaring miss when he only had Ben Foster to beat and Wright-Phillips, Mackie and even Helguson all failed to bury other chances that fell their way.
It was inevitable what was going to happen next and, as sure as Christmas was 22 days away, West Brom levelled on 81 minutes through Shane Long. Warnock went berserk on the touchline: yelling and gesticulating at Buzsaky and tearing in to Faurlin on the final whistle, blaming them for letting James Morrison get past them. Personally, I didn’t feel such a public rebuke was helpful; and, with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps it was the “beginning of the end” for Warnock.
We now faced the daunting prospect of Liverpool away on Saturday 10th December. With my trusty travellers, and usual bagel picnic in tow, we left early for a visit to Anfield – my first in a couple of decades ! How the area has changed with the humbling memorial to the Hillsborough victims a must-see, standing at the Hillsborough wall, amidst the throng come to show their respect, I certainly did not feel that I was at a football ground.
Warnock had gone public in his pre-match interviews with how fortunate and privileged we were to be playing at such an esteemed ground. QPR were honoured to be at Anfield – and, after losing 1-0 to a Luis Suarez goal on 47 minutes, he went on to repeat how great it was that we had “only lost 1-0”. Personally, I didn’t see it that way at all. We came out in the first-half giving Liverpool far too much respect and allowed them to dominate us. That we went in at half-time level at 0-0 was probably more down to Liverpool’s poor finishing and great goalkeeping from Radek Cerny (still in the team for the currently injured Paddy Kenny) than anything else !
When Charlie Adam drove in a cross, just as the 2nd half opened, Cerny couldn’t do anything to keep Suarez’s pinpoint header out; but that goal seemed to galvanize Rangers. And after that we went on the attack looking for an equaliser and, in truth, we looked the more likely of the two teams to score. But the game petered out with no more goals and I was left wondering what might have been if we had not gone in to the game seemingly in awe of our surroundings and the opposition we faced.
By Sunday 18th December, I was back in Montreal to visit Amy, whose placement was coming to an end at last ! We were going to have a family holiday, experiencing a Canadian Christmas, before arriving home for the “big” Lerman match at the end of the month. More of that shortly ! Once more, Amy and I plonked ourselves on my hotel bed, having woken up at 6.45am local time, to watch our beloved R’s take on the heavy-duty guns of Manchester United in front of the Sky Sports TV cameras. It seems we were more awake than QPR because the game had barely started when, to our shock and horror, Wayne Rooney darted in to score on 52 seconds (Amy may correct me – was it 53 seconds ?!) after a good move with Valencia opening up our defence easier than a tin of breakfast beans ! And if it hadn’t been for Cerny, a mere two minutes later, we could have been two-down ! Amy and I hadn’t had any breakfast (it was far too early for that) – but I brewed us a very strong pot of coffee – we were going to need it !
We did have chances to level the score, through Barton, Helguson and the industrious, but ineffective Bothroyd; but were unable to convert and it was really no surprise when, on 56 minutes, United doubled their lead and effectively ended the contest. Barton was far too easily dispossessed by Michael Carrick around the half-way line and Carrick jogged effortlessly and unchallenged towards goal. His shot from the edge of the box headed straight into our goal, although, in fairness, the impressive Cerny did get a hand to it. United had a chance to make it three (but Rooney missed) and Rangers had a chance to halve the deficit through DJ Campbell, who contrived to sky Taarabt’s cross over the bar from 6 yards out. But the game ended 2-0 to United and we were beginning to tumble down the league.
So, on Wednesday 21st December, I sat in front of my computer in the vain hope that another home match, this time against Sunderland, would see us revert to winning ways. Oh no ! How wrong could I be ? I watched in despair as we struggled against a resilient and resurgent Sunderland team. We went 2-0 down courtesy of goals from Nicklas Bendtner, who beat his marker on 16 minutes to fire home a bullet header; and Stephane Sessegnon on 53 minutes. I looked on horrified at the way we seemed to lose concentration and give the ball away so cheaply, as we had quite regularly in recent matches. This time it was Gabbidon who was the culprit when, on 53 minutes, he miscued his header straight into Sessegnon’s path and it was inevitable that the Sunderland player would score.
I was disgusted and headed to bed. I was still very jet-lagged; Amy was working at the University (her final day at work); and QPR were so appalling that I actually switched the computer and phone off and went to sleep instead. I woke up to texts from not just Amy, but my friends at Loftus Road telling me that the final score was 2-3. What had I missed ?! On 63 minutes, a Traore/Faurlin move resulted in Helguson turning the ball into the net off his marker. Then, just 4 minutes later, Traore and Faurlin combined again, feeding Helguson who nodded back for Mackie to equalise. I missed all that and I missed an 89th minute Kieran Richardson corner for the Black Cats which Wes Brown nodded into the back of our net to send us tumbling to a third defeat on the trot.
December was looking very bleak and I had no sense of optimism as we headed to Wales and a clash with fellow-promotion rivals Swansea, at the Liberty Stadium, on Tuesday 27th December – another Sky Sports TV clash. It was 10am in Ottawa (we had taken a trip to the capital of Canada – we wanted to see some of this vast country other than Montreal) and we were out sight-seeing so relied on texts from friends at home in front of their televisions and at the Liberty Stadium. After 14 minutes, I received a text announcing that Danny Graham (he who we had hoped to buy in the summer, but who Tango and Cash refused us the cash for) had put Swansea 1-0 up despite serious questions of Graham handling the ball before slotting it past Kenny.
As my family and I wandered around the Governor -General of Canada’s residence (he’s the Queen’s representative in Canada), Amy and I kept checking our phones for news and it was quite fitting that we were walking up a street called “Mackie Street” when we finally received the news we had been waiting for – Jamie Mackie had equalised for QPR on 58 minutes ! We danced a snowy jig (the snow was quite deep even in the city) and prayed for a QPR winner – but it was not to be and the Boxing Day clash ended with us picking up our first point since the beginning of the month: 1-1 final score.
And now for the big family clash ! Half of us are Rangers – but the other half is Arsenal. And we had specially arranged that Canadian Christmas would end on Friday 30th December so that we would all be in London for the first Arsenal-QPR league clash since 1996. Amy and I had been to the Emirates as guests of “the other half” – but Saturday 31st December 2011 saw us splitting up and going our separate ways as we headed, along with our usual travelling pals plus a few additions as it was a London derby, to the away end. It’s a smart ground – comfortable seats, good facilities, although a little tucked away in one corner so that it is quite difficult to see everywhere clearly.
Rangers fans were once more in fine form, out-singing a typically silent and stuffy Arsenal crowd, as the teams took to the field. Once more, Warnock had waxed lyrical about how privileged and honoured QPR were to be playing at somewhere so grand and mighty as Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium – once more I felt a tremor of fear ! What was Warnock playing at ? Surely he should be speaking up QPR not Arsenal ?
In fairness, we more than held our own for a large portion of the match. We started well and created chances although, as usual, Bothroyd was unable to convert whilst Wright-Phillips seemed destined to never score as a good effort from him was well saved by Szczesny. Thanks to the profligacy of Robin van Persie, the league’s top scorer, any chances that Arsenal created came to nothing and we went in to the half-time break a very respectable 0-0.
The 2nd half started in much the same way, with both sides missing good opportunities to open the scoring. But it was a typical mistake, brought about by once more giving the ball away too cheaply, that led to the only goal of the game. On 60 minutes, Wright-Phillips’ misplaced pass found Aaron Ramsey whose pass easily beat Matthew Connolly and fell to Van Persie. This time the Dutchman made no mistake, 1-0 to Arsenal ! And that is how the game ended, despite the odd chance for QPR to equalise, notably through Adel Taarabt, and Arsenal to increase their lead.
It was a very unhappy group of Rangers fans that bundled in to the back of my old man’s car – we didn’t give the “other halves” a chance to tease and torment us. QPR’s woeful passing, which was now regularly ending up with the opposition and usually leading to devastating consequences, was enough torment for us !
We finished December having picked up only two points and were now 17th in the table on 17 points. Things were not looking good although we had a series of games coming up in the New Year that should surely turn our season around ?
Sandy Lerman aka @sandyhoops (also known, on vitalQPR, as sandyl)