Team: Goodchild, Ford, Goode, Howell, Brown, Maguire, O’Brien, Coyne, Arthur, St.Aimie, Balanta
Subs Not Used: Crowther, Vanterpool, Bazzaq, trialist
Rangers came away with a fully deserved three points from a sunny Northamptonshire but left it late to secure the win that keeps their title hopes well and truly alive. With an hour gone, a 0-0 draw was looking a real possibility but to come back from conceding the first goal three quarters of the way through this vital game, showed real spirit and desire from the lads. Joe Gallen made one enforced change from the previous week with Josh Ford replacing the suspended Romone Rose. Ford slotted in at right back with Billy Coyne pushing forward into central midfield and Kieron St.Aimie starting up front.
With barely a minute gone, Northampton almost opened the scoring. A long range shot crashed down off the underside of the crossbar and as two strikers bore down on goal, Chris Goodchild did well to parry the follow up header on the line and Aaron Goode recovered to toe poke the ball way from danger. A let-off for Rangers and a reminder, if it were needed, that Northampton were not to be taken lightly. The R’s responded well though and Lee Brown was soon setting up a chance with a low cross which was cleared away for a corner that was nearly forced home at the far post. As the half progressed, QPR began to get on top with their direct football, pushing back the home side and forcing a number of corners. Long throw-ins from Coyne were proving effective too and St.Aimie was using his strength and good touch to link up well with the speedy Angelo Balanta.
Northampton were passing the ball a little better with their number 11 involved in most of their best play but they weren’t able to create any clear chances mostly because Aaron Goode and Andrew Howell were playing so well at the back. From one of Coyne’s long throws, the ball found its way to Maguire who prodded wide at the far post. St.Aimie had a powerful shot well saved then Balanta chased a long ball through the middle but the ball wouldn’t quite sit for him to get a clean strike on goal. As he chased through again, the Northampton number 5 appeared to bring him down in the area but the referee thought differently and awarded a goal kick.
Halfway through the half, Rangers were unlucky not to take the lead. O’Brien had a shot deflected just wide and from the resulting corner, a goal bound effort was blocked, chipped back in by Maguire and another effort was cleared off the line for another corner. Brown’s out swinger found Ford but he powered his header just over. It was starting to look like a goal would never arrive. More chances followed, St.Aimie surged forward, running 50 yards with the ball before setting Balanta clear but his run was checked. Another Coyne long throw resulted in a bout of head tennis in the box. St.Aimie showed great touch to control the ball on the firm surface and fired in a shot at the near post which was well saved. Chris Arthur got into the game with a strong run, cutting inside and beating two or three players before sending a right foot shot wide of the target. Then another Maguire corner was headed wide under pressure and just before half time, Balanta went clear again but the big number 5 ‘leant’ on him and the danger was averted. So at half time, the R’s were on top and creating plenty of chances though the Northampton number 5 was dominant at the back, especially in the air. Half Time: 0-0.
Similar to the 1st half, the home side started well and broke quickly down their left side but Howell was on hand to clear. Rangers replied and won a free kick out on the right but Maguire chose to cross rather than shoot and nobody could reach his curling effort. For the next 20 minutes or so, most of the pressure came from the R’s. Then on 65 minutes, disaster struck. Northampton won a free kick in the centre and chipped the ball into the box, Rangers failed to clear decisively and as the ball bobbled around, it fell invitingly for a Northampton player to strike firmly into the bottom corner from around 12 yards. Cobblers.
Before the restart, Joe Gallen made a change. James Folkes replaced Josh Ford and he went out to the right wing with Maguire slotting into central midfield and Coyne moving to right back. Moments later, QPR won another free kick and Maguire sized up his chance from 22 yards but his well struck effort rattled the underside of the crossbar and the ball was hacked clear. It was starting to look like, ‘one of those days’ and Clive had remarked that he couldn’t see us scoring, fortunately he was to be proved wrong. On 70 minutes, Rangers finally got the deserved breakthrough, courtesy of a penalty for a foul on Balanta as he burst into the area. There had already been one or two shouts for a penalty, encouraged I must say by the vociferous support by the corner flag and this time the referee obliged. Maguire kept his cool to bring Rangers back into the match, firmly placing his kick high to the keeper’s left.
The substitution had increased our attacking options and Folkes was using his pace to stretch the Northampton defence and threaten down the right side while Arthur was always available to run at his full back on the other wing. After more pressure down the right, Rangers were awarded yet another free kick outside the area. After his earlier effort, Maguire found his range this time with a magnificent free kick from all of 25 yards which curled into the top corner and high to the keepers left. I’m not sure if he was unsighted but he barely moved as the ball flew in. Cue much excitement from players and supporters alike. With 10 minutes still remaining, we might have been in for a nervous finale but if anything, the R’s looked even more dangerous on the counter attack as Northampton pushed forward looking for an equaliser. Balanta had a goal disallowed for a foul on the keeper. It was one of those challenges that is always given as a foul but is hard to see why ?
Arthur had a powerful shot well saved after an incisive passing move had swiftly switched the play from right to left. Brown made full use of the quadrant from the resulting corner. With 5 minutes to go, the home side got that one chance you just knew they would get. A tussle for possession just outside the R’s penalty area resulted in a dubious free kick and there was an anxious wait as the referee paced out the 10 yards. He then had a word with some players and then backed slowly away, all whilst their skilful number 11 with the sweet left foot was sizing up his options. Fortunately, his effort was blasted way over the bar, much to our relief.
Rangers were on the attack again, with Folkes beating his man but failed to find a team mate with his cross. Then another break down the right led to the goal which sealed the win. The now familiar long throw routine finally paid dividends as St.Aimie flicked on Coyne’s throw and Balanta nipped in to loop a close range header over the advancing keeper. Northampton’s defenders were appealing for offside but from our excellent vantage point, it clearly wasn’t and the linesman agreed ! It was a well deserved goal for Balanta as he had chased and harried all game, proving a handful for Town’s defence. 3-1 up and with only two minutes remaining. There was time for one more Northampton chance, a shot driven wide of the target. Folkes wasted a few seconds with some ‘old pro’ hold up play near the corner flag before the referee blew for full-time.
A tremendous result, when the pressure was on, the team delivered. Top performances from Howell and Goode at the back, plenty of graft from O’Brien and Coyne in central midfield. Balanta up front, topped off with the guile of St.Aimie and two cracking finishes from Maguire. Goodchild’s handling and kicking was good, Ford won his tackles, Brown won more headers today than I can recall and was always willing to support Arthur who beat his man when the space appeared late on just as Folkes was doing on the opposite flank. Well played everyone.
There was an amazing turnout from ‘Joe Gallen’s Blue and White Army’ which included jbee, Julia, Roger, Steve, Pat, Tom, Clive Kingham and Kim’s Mum etc. Mobile phones were in constant use, keeping others up to date with the scoring, including Alan Barnes and Robbie Bennett on the coach to Wearside. A few of us enjoyed a celebratory pint in the Telegraph pub on our way home. Let’s hope that there is cause for real celebrations next weekend.