I’d like to start this report by saying what a useless specimen of a referee, Mr Kevin Friend is. Apparently he’s a Premier League standard official, could’ve fooled everyone inside Loftus Road on Saturday afternoon. Try as he might, he didn’t ruin what turned out to be a great afternoon of football as the two best teams in the Championship went head-to-head. First versus second, England v Wales in what promised to be a cracking game and so it was.
We were back to full strength with Derry and Smith returning in place of Hall and Clarke from the team that dismantled Preston last weekend. Connolly was back in the centre of defence alongside that rock that is Gorkss with Hill and Walker at full-back. Derry partnered Faurlin in the middle with Hulse upfront, backed up by Taarabt, Smith and Mackie.
The first 10 minutes were very open and a bit end-to-end as both teams showed why they were in the top two. Chris Burke was getting the better of Hill down our left and Bothroyd was winning his fair share of headers to enable Bellamy to run at our back-four with his pace. On 3 minutes, Burke cut in from the right wing and ran at goal, but Kenny saved his cross-cum-shot across the face of the goal. A couple of minutes later, Mackie created a chance out of nothing when he picked up a loose ball 20 yards out, took a touch to create some space and hit a decent shot goalwards which had ex-QPR loanee Tom Heaton, scrambling across his goal as the ball went just wide of the post. We seemed to be playing too deep and were allowing Cardiff to put us under pressure at will with Olofinjani seeing a lot of the ball in their midfield as he battled against Derry.
Cardiff’s ploy seemed to be to stop us playing in the opposition half and using a high pressure game as they closed us down all over the pitch. As a result, they took the lead on 13 minutes when Walker, under pressure, passed it square to Connolly, who having a player breathing down his neck, in turn squared it to Gorkss. Gorkss took a touch and as he was closed down by England international Jay Bothroyd, he slipped over leaving the Cardiff player to waltz past him and head for goal. With Bellamy in support on his right, he had the choice of passing or shooting himself. He chose to pass it and put Bellamy clean through on goal. Kenny came out to narrow the angle, but Bellamy having feigned once, then a second time, put the ball past Kenny who managed to get a hand to the ball.
Three minutes later, Hulse was rugby tackled by Mark Hudson on the half-way line as he turned the defender inside out and headed goalwards. The referee chose not to even speak to the defender, although he did in fact give the foul. From the resulting free kick, Taarabt floated the ball to the far post where Gorkss headed across the face of the goal, but try as he might, Hulse just failed to connect with the ball. Two minutes later, Gorkss did better when he got on the end of a cross from Smith to equalise. Tommy Smith was down by the corner flag by the School End/Paddock, and turned the left-back onto his right foot and floated a lovely left foot cross into the danger area. Gorkss managed to run across the line of defenders and get in front of Olofinjani to glance a header into the bottom right hand corner of the net giving Heaton no chance in the process.
On 25 minutes, Taarabt came to life and received the ball 20 yards out, he left Olofinjani standing and hit a left foot shot across the face of the goal that ended up about a yard wide. Ten minutes later, it was Cardiff’s turn as Bothroyd, out wide right, beat Gorkss as he entered the box at an angle, but Kenny pulled off a great save blocking the shot at the near post. Two minutes later, Bothroyd left Gorkss in a heap as he used his arm/elbow and caught the defender in the face with his flailing limb. The ref said nothing having awarded the free kick. Cardiff were very dangerous 1st half, with Burke having loads of joy down our left and with both Bothroyd and Bellamy on their game, we had to up the ante 2nd half.
One thing that was in our favour was that Cardiff’s front two were now having running slanging matches with the referee. It all started when Bellamy and Walker went up in an aerial duel. The challenge was innocuous to say the least with Walker appearing to land hard on the turf and looked to be winded. The referee deemed it necessary to have words with the Welsh international for some strange reason. It was at this point I said to my mate that the referee had lost the game. Bellamy and Mr Friend kept the slanging match up until the end of the 1st half. Half time: 1-1
We started the 2nd half a lot brighter than the first, with us now playing a high tempo/high pressure game with Hill getting tighter to Burke and Derry/Faurlin getting in the faces of Drinkwater and Olofinjani respectively. We were also keeping possession a lot more. So much so, that Dave Jones brought Jason Koumas on for Drinkwater on 57 minutes. Before Koumas had touched the ball, he was yellow carded !!! He went into a challenge on Walker right on the touchline by the Ellerslie Road Stand. Yes it was a foul, but it did not merit a card of any colour, but like I said, he’d lost the game in the 1st half.
On the hour, Taarabt and Faurlin combined down our left and when the ball went into the box, Hulse got a yard on his marker, but his header from 10 yards went tamely wide. Five minutes later following more link-up play by Taarabt and Faurlin, the ball landed at Hulse’s feet 20 yards out. He held off his marker with his back to goal and laid the ball into the path of Scottish international Jamie Mackie. Mackie hit the ball first time, curling the ball around the defender and as the ball headed for the top right hand corner, Heaton somehow palmed it over for a corner.
As Adel went over to Q Block to take the resultant corner, he was given a standing ovation by the fans in the Ellerslie Road and Loft. Unfortunately the corner was cleared, but the ball found its way back to Adel 20 seconds later. At a tight angle and with nowhere to go or another player to pass to as Cardiff were defending in numbers, the ‘Moroccan Magician’ quickly moved the ball from right to left foot and within the blink of an eye, smashed a left foot shot into the roof of the net. He then ran to the East Paddock to receive a standing ovation from the other side of the ground. It was exactly what our 2nd half display deserved if the truth be known. But for the next 25 minutes, we had to defend in numbers and hit Cardiff on the break.
The nearest Cardiff came to an equaliser was on 70 minutes when a Burke shot from about 20 yards seemed to take a deflection off one of our players and somehow Kenny saved it using his face !!! It was either a brilliant save or a piece of luck. Then Koumas was found unmarked at the far post and his weak shot was blocked by Kenny at his near post just using his feet. We also escaped a penalty appeal when Bothroyd appeared to be tripped inside the box, but the ref waved play on. A minute later, Bellamy went down in the box also, although it did look like a dive, unlike the Bothroyd claim. As a result, Bellamy and Bothroyd decided to vent their frustration at Mr Friend. They should of been aiming it at Connolly and Gorkss who had them in their respective back pocckets 2nd half.
Warnock then decided to wind down the clock by bringing on three subs at one minute intervals starting with Clarke for Taarabt in the 89th minute, Agyemang for Mackie on 90 minutes and Hall for Smith one minute into the four minutes added on. All three were immediately involved when we nearly scored a third. Agyemang fed Clarke who burst into the box and as he was about to shoot, was fouled from behind for a stonewall penalty and red card. For some reason, the ref played on and when the ball was squared to Hall on the penalty spot, his shot was blocked on the line by Mark Hudson. As the final whistle blew, a huge cheer went up for what was a monumental effort 2nd half to prove that we are currently the best team in this division by a long chalk. I keep reading that this is a very competitive league and that everyone can beat anyone. Total rubbish of course as 19 teams have tried out 23 so far and all have failed. The next four games will complete all the opposition we will face this season and something tells me that we will still be top at Christmas. Hoop Hoop Hooray.
Team With Ratings:
Kenny: 7 – Three decent saves kept us in it at times.
Walker: 7 – Another assured performance.
Hill: 7 – Rocky 1st half against Burke but great 2nd half saw Burke substituted.
Gorkss: 8 – Despite his slip for the goal, he didn’t let it get to him. Superb.
Connolly: 7 – Withstood some extreme pressure 2nd half, but came out on top in his aerial battle.
Mackie: 7 – Covered a lot of ground as always, but when needed his defending was superb.
Faurlin: 7 – Did the simple stuff alongside Derry to allow Adel to amaze everyone with his tricks.
Derry: 8 – Showed Olofinjani that his 1st half performance was a blip as he had the youngster in his 2nd half.
Smith: 8 – Endless running from the veteran who gave their left-back a torrid time all afternoon. A superb cross for the equaliser.
Taarabt: 8 – This was one of his quiet days as such, but as everyone knows, when he does something right, it’s worth the entrance fee alone.
Hulse: 7 – Great performance as he held the ball up all afternoon allowing our flair players to get involved. Every ball launched to him seemed to instantly stick to his boot. He worked his socks off.
Referee: Keith Friend: 5 – He booked both Koumas and Clarke after their first fouls yet Hudson rugby tackled Hulse, then in the 2nd half scythed the same player down from behind and never got one yellow card, never mind two. Also booked Bellamy for dissent. What’s more dangerous, words or an elbow from Bothroyd ??? Could’ve awarded a penalty for both sides, but didn’t. CLUELESS !
Attendance: 17,316 (including 2,488 away fans)
(The above pic was taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)