Queen’s Park Rangers finally reached the Premier League after beating Watford 2-0 at Vicarage Road. Late goals from Adel Taarabt and Tommy Smith ended a 15 year wait and gave their 2,000 plus travelling fans reason for a double celebration as they also clinched winning the inaugural npower Championship in the process. Top of the league since 20th November, it was only a matter of time before QPR were promoted as the chasing pack took it in turns to swap places in the top six every other week.
Some people were casting doubts on our ability to cross the finishing line and some fans of other Championship teams were praying that we would do a Devon Lock, but not this fan. I saw it as us of doing more of a Usain Bolt impression. Hit the ground running early on, streaking ahead and as we approached the finishing line, easing up on the final bend, waving to the fans and those trailing in our wake before kicking on in the home straight. It is said that the football season is a marathon and not a sprint. I reckon that we would have won the league if it was a marathon or a sprint. And every statistic under the sun would prove me right.
Back in July, some bookies had us down as favourites to get promoted, but having witnessed last season’s games I would have been over the moon with a play-off position and had us down for finishing 5th or 6th and even I thought that was wishful thinking. In my house, the 30th April will always be a special day as it’s the date that our daughter was born 8 years ago. This year, the 30th April started well when a birthday card from QPR arrived which was signed by Adel Taarabt, Tommy Smith and Akos Buzsaky. My daughter told me that it was the best birthday card she got this year. Thanks QPR, you even beat all comers when it comes to dishing out birthday cards.
On the drive from Ruislip to Vicarage Road, I was getting texts from a very nervous fellow fan as I had promised him my ticket. But it was all dependent on my brother being able to get out of babysitting duties for the afternoon as he had got me a place in a Corporate Hospitality box via one of his clients who was a Watford supporter. The look on my friend’s face was a picture when I eventually turned up and handed over the ticket. Someone owes me a pint I think !
As we pulled up at Watford’s ground at 1.30pm, the away end turnstiles were packed with Rangers fans and many Champions flags already on display. In fact one young lady seemed to be doing a roaring trade selling the flags. As we pulled away from the pavement, she decided to walk in front of our car and we almost ran her over and she gave us a charming stream of Anglo Saxon expletives ! We parked up in the hospital grounds next door and then made our way into the Rous Stand. We were in Box 7 which was slap bang next to the Director’s Box and our lot seemed a smart bunch it must be said with a couple of people wearing matching whistles including a very dapper Steve Gallen. I also spotted a group of about 15 R’s fans in the Corporate Hospitality seats directly in front of the Director’s Box. It was like being at home !!!
Dinner was served and as the table was cleared our hostess came in with the team sheets. Surprisingly there was no Clint Hill and he was replaced by Matt Connolly at left-back. More surprisingly Fitz Hall was starting as it was reported that he was struggling with yet another thigh strain in the days leading up to the game. The rest of the team was the same as the one that started against Hull City on Easter Monday with Kenny in goal, Orr at right-back, Gorkss partnering Hall in the middle of defence, Faurlin and Derry protecting the back-four , Taarabt, Smith and Routledge in advanced midfield roles with Helguson the pinpoint upfront. Petter Vaagan Moen was included on the bench along with Cerny, Ramage, Shittu, Buzsaky, Hulse and Agyemang.
The players looked very relaxed as they warmed up an hour before kick-off and Taarabt and Ephraim were having a right laugh and even went over to the Rous Lower and spoke to two blokes who I assumed were QPR fans. The two keepers were put through their paces in front of the travelling blue and white army as the away section slowly filled up. At 2.50pm the away end was rammed full with a healthy showing of inflatables, while the home section next to it had loads of room available which was a real shame as thousands more QPR fans wanted to come and Watford obviously need the extra cash you would of thought ?
The players took to the pitch as R’s fans one and all made the stadium feel like a home game as the decibel levels went through the roof (literally). It was at the point of the players shaking hands that my brother pointed out that Cerny was in goal and not Kenny. We all looked at the team sheets again and it definitely said that Kenny was in goal and Cerny on the bench. Oh well, lucky that we’ve got the Championship’s second best keeper waiting patiently in the wings then.
QPR kicked off and were immediately on the attack with a half chance coming after about 30 seconds. Tommy Smith was down by the corner flag and he passed to Taarabt who whipped in a very deceptive cross that eluded the whole Watford back-four and as Helguson came in on the blind side at the far post, the ball bounced up and hit his arm/torso and ended up in the side netting. Four minutes later, Connolly did really well to keep in a very high lofted bouncy ball from Faurlin out on the touchline, He got to the bye-line and crossed to the far post where Helguson was lurking and as he beat his marker his close range header was pushed around the post by Scott Loach for our first corner. From the corner, Helguson won his header, but it went tamely wide. We certainly looked up for it.
But for the first 20 minutes or so, it was clearly evident that the pitch wasn’t up to scratch as simple passes saw the ball bobble and bounce and it was not conducive to either team trying to play decent football. I’m not sure if there’s a hosepipe ban in Watford, but 3 miles down the road in Rickmansworth there are three huge reservoirs full of water. The Vicarage Road pitch could have done with some, believe me. On 18 minutes, Helguson was fouled 25 yards from goal. Taarabt took the free kick and hit the ball straight down the keeper’s throat so to speak, but somehow Loach managed to spill the ball, but a Watford player managed to clear the loose ball before Helguson could pounce. About 2 minutes later, Taarabt got down to the bye-line and cut the ball back for the on-rushing Faurlin who was in the exact position from where he scored against Sheffield United recently. As the QPR fans in the Director’s Box rose as one, the ball took an awkward bobble and Faurlin’s shot ended up in Shepherds Bush.
Then on 22 minutes, Fitz Hall went down holding his thigh as usual and he was immediately replaced by Danny Shittu making it a trio of ex-Hornets in Hoops, Shittu was straight into the action, winning two towering headers against the Championship’s top scorer. But on 26 minutes, Shittu ended up on the floor after a challenge and the ball went wide to Deeney who put in a great cross to the near post where Graham had peeled off his marker and was all alone, but thankfully for us his header went a yard wide when it looked easier to score. On 30 minutes, Shaun Derry was very fortunate as the referee showed some leniency towards him. Derry had tripped Will Buckley 35 yards from goal and as the Watford player lay prone on the floor with the ball next to him, Derry appeared to kick him and it produced a game of handbags as Watford’s players showed their anger. The ref gave him a talking to which enraged the home fans.
A couple of minutes later and Derry had committed another foul and again the referee had a quiet word with him which had home fans getting out of their seats again as their frustrations rose. But they had been at the ref’s throat since as early as the 10 minute when Taarabt put the ball in the net having been clearly flagged for offside and about 3 seconds after the ref’s whistle had sounded. And then about 10 minutes later, Graham was flagged offside when clean through and he managed to find the back of the net. Having had a perfect view from the half-way line, Andy Gray’s favourite assistant called it correctly as Graham was a yard offside when the ball was played.
We also had a near call when a run from Taarabt saw him beat the right-back and cross into the 6-yard box and Helguson buried the ball, but the lino had raised his flag. It was difficult to judge as there was a line of players who all looked level with each other, but there were hardly any complaints from our players which tells a story. Half-time: 0-0, a bit scrappy, but we at least were trying to play football on a terrible surface.
No changes by either team at half-time and we were on the attack immediately just like in the 1st half. From a corner, Taarabt found Faurlin on the edge of the box and he hit a left footed shot through a ruck of players, but Loach pulled off a top drawer save to keep the scores level. A couple of minutes later Routledge, who I thought had disappeared, had a decent effort at goal from 20 yards, but it sailed just wide. On the hour mark, I rose from my seat screaming ‘go on Shaun smash it’ as he was found 25 yards out and in space. He took a touch and as he took aim the QPR fans all around us stood as one, but his shot went tamely wide. One Watford fan told me to sit down, but little did he know that I had Derry at 22/1 for the first goal. One day I’m going to win big time surely ?
The 2nd half had now become very scrappy with Watford seeing a lot of the ball, but our back-four, Shittu in particular, were superb as usual. The Rangers fans had also gone a bit quiet as the game became one of lots of effort, but little guile from either side. Taarabt was getting riled as well and was getting involved in back-chatting opposition players. It all started when a Watford player stood on his foot, not sure if it was accidental or deliberate, but Derry had to calm him down somewhat. On 75 minutes, Buzsaky replaced the ineffectual Routledge.
Two minutes later and all QPR fans were in dreamland as we took the lead at last, even if it was against the run of play. A long throw down the touchline saw Smith collect the ball and run past his marker and down to the bye-line. The next 3 seconds seemed to be in slow motion as he looked up and saw Taarabt at the near post. Smith crossed the ball and as the ball bounced up, Taarabt stuck out his right foot and side-footed the ball into the net to spark absolute pandemonium as R’s fans all over the ground went mental, including the Director’s Box !
For the last 13 minutes or so, we seemed to grow in confidence and went for the jugular as the Watford team seemed to tire. On 82 minutes following some great play, Taarabt danced into the box and hit a sublime left footed curler that missed the post by about a foot. Five minutes from the end, Helguson was fouled 25 yards out. Buzsaky hit his right footed shot over the wall and Loach was forced into an excellent save down by his right-hand post and pushed it out for yet another corner. As the 4th official indicated that an extra 5 minutes would be played, we broke again. Taarabt ran at Watford’s last defender with Helguson to his left and Buzsaky to his right. The player that critics say never passes then did just that and laid the ball on a plate for Helguson, but his left foot screamer was always rising and hit the stanchion behind the goal.
Yours truly couldn’t take any more of the tension and went back inside the box and as I poured myself a nice cold drink, I heard a roar behind me and thought the worse had happened. I sat down and took a huge swig of Chardonnay as Tony Cottee came on the TV screen to tell Sky viewers that ‘QPR are now champions’. I sat there and thought of the last 15 years of crap that we have had to suffer and it almost brought a tear of joy to my eye. I say almost as I then re-joined my brother outside and counted down the minutes until the final whistle went. Peter Ramage replaced Taarabt with seconds remaining which I thought was a lovely touch by Warnock.
Then QPR fans from all parts of the ground invaded the pitch and it was then at this point that I wished that I was in the Vicarage Road Stand where I should’ve been all along. But just being there was a privilege and something that I will never forget.
Team: Cerny 7, Orr 7, Connolly 7, Gorkss 7, Hall 6 (Shittu 8), Derry 7, Faurlin 7, Taarabt 8 (Ramage), Smith 8, Routledge 5 (Buzsaky 7), Helguson 7.
MOTM: Tommy Smith. He was having no luck for most of the 2nd half, but like Jamie Mackie, who he replaced in January, he never gives up. Created the first goal then scored the goal that clinched the Championship title. In generations to come, he will be remembered for his goal alone that won us the title. It was a close thing as usual as Shittu was immense and won every single header and what can you say about a 21-year-old bloke who has scored 19 goals in his first season as a QPR player following his loan spell ? But Tommy pips them both for me for his history making contribution alone.
Referee: N. Swarbrick 7. Very lenient at times, but it was even handed for both sides.
Attendance: 15, 538 (with officially 2.171 QPR fans, but there were about 3,000 all in)
“We’re Queen’s Park Rangers, We’re Premier League ! ”
If I could sum up my feelings this year I would nick the words from fellow R’s fan Steve McKenzie from Ruislip who was sat in front of the Director’s Box on Saturday. On spotting Neil Warnock’s wife he shouted, ‘Mrs Warnock, tell your husband I love him. In fact I love you Mrs Warnock and I also love your two beautiful children for what your husband has done for QPR. Thank you !’
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)