QPR came so close to ending Manchester City’s unbeaten league start in a five-goal thriller at a packed Loftus Road. The mega rich team with an abundance of international footballers were given a stern test by QPR with a promising display that bodes well for the future. When the fixtures were revealed back in June, many R’s fans, myself included, would’ve looked at the last three fixtures with trepidation and a squeaky bum no doubt. Fifteen thousand Rangers fans left the ground on Saturday with broad smiles as we showed that there may not be a level playing field when it comes to finances and personnel, but we have just sent out a message that tells the rest of the Premier League that we are not here to make up the numbers.
Neil Warnock chose to go with a 4-4-2 formation that did so well in the second half last weekend at White Hart Lane. Armand Traore returned at left-back with Luke Young at right-back and Danny Gabbidon returning to the starting line-up partnering Anton Ferdinand in the middle of defence. The four-man midfield saw Faurlin and Barton in the centre with Jamie Mackie wide right and Wright-Phillips wide left. Upfront were Heidar Helguson and Jay Bothroyd. Paddy Kenny was between the sticks as ever.
City kicked off facing the Loft and immediately set about us with their precision possession football leading up to Gareth Barry taking a pot shot from 20 yards that went well wide. There was only a minute gone and we hadn’t touched the ball yet. The squeaky bum back in June may have known something after all ! Two minutes later we needn’t of worried as Luke Young found Bothroyd with a high ball that was controlled and fed into Helguson’s path who hit an instant volley that whistled about a foot wide.
On 15 minutes, Helguson repeated the trick, but this time Joe Hart was equal to it and made a comfortable save. We were playing a high tempo game and defending in the City half and not letting their midfield dominate or keep possession for too long. Not too dissimilar to the tactics in our last home game. We were closing them down so quick that many a time the final ball was hurried and went harmlessly out for a goal kick or throw-in. In other words City were struggling.
Our midfield-four were excelling and were even putting some decent moves together. Just after the 20 minute mark, Wright-Phillips was fed by Faurlin and went on a run at City’s captain, Richards and although his shot was blocked, the ball went for a corner. From the corner taken by Barton, Helguson out-jumped City’s captain at the back post and sent the ball back across the face of the goal. With Lescott struggling to comprehend where the ball or Anton Ferdinand were the ball went narrowly wide of the goal.
When we are on TV at HQ, it’s a great tool to have a television screen in the Lower Loft to watch any replays and Saturday was no exception. I think the girls in the burger bar have got used to some bloke in shorts running to the screen every five minutes screaming expletives at a flat screen TV with comments like: “Anton !!! Gamble you *&%” as I did when I saw the replay. Five minutes later, I was at it again as Bothroyd appeared to go down a bit easily under pressure from City’s left-back Kolarov and I was proven correct as it looked like he just slipped on the wet surface. No need to look at TV’s as the ball was sent in by Joey Barton and Bothroyd out-jumped City’s captain again and using his head, planted the ball firmly in the City net with the England No.1 rooted to the spot. It was the first time that City had gone behind in the league this season and was well deserved for our all-action play. We were still hassling City players in their own half and forcing them into error strewn football.
But we were also playing our own game and taking it to the league leaders. On 33 minutes, Wright-Phillips went on another run and although his shot was blocked, he got up from the deck and fed Jamie Mackie in the box with a slide rule pass. Mackie took a touch and hit a screaming right-foot shot that somehow Joe Hart saved then even more miraculously saved the follow up, a close range header from Helguson. Although Helguson was offside when Mackie’s shot came in, Joe Hart wasn’t to know and you have to admit that both saves were top drawer.
City were at sixes and sevens and every time they tried a breakaway it would end with a bad pass in the final third or we would gain possession with a well timed tackle. But on 39 minutes, we played no part in what was an enforced error as City tried a breakaway and as Milner found Dzeko on halfway, he inexplicably found Helguson with an inch perfect pass in the right wing position. Not looking a gift horse in the mouth and all that, Helguson sent an inch perfect cross into the danger area where Bothroyd out-jumped his marker and sent his header back across goal and wide. Or so it seemed. With me screaming, “at least put it on target !” I ran to the TV screen to be proven wrong as we all now know with Bothroyd unlucky not to have doubled the lead. It would’ve been deserved as well up to that point.
Then in what so often happens in David v Goliath type games, Goliath went and scored against the run of play and just before half-time as well. Milner ran over the half-way line and sent a ball down the left channel that bisected Luke Young and Anton Ferdinand and found Dzeko running into the space behind the back-four. Dzeko only had one thing on his mind and headed for goal, cutting inside Ferdinand who went to ground too early and hitting a right-foot shot inside Kenny’s right-hand post. A real sickener and totally undeserved ! A minute later and things almost got even worse as Anton Ferdinand tackled Barry as he was found in the box and as the ball ran loose on the edge of the box Aguerro hit an instant right-footed shot that beat Paddy Kenny in goal, but grazed the outside of the post. Half-time: 1-1.
Rangers kicked off and again were immediately in City’s faces so to speak. Wright-Phillips went on a run at the defence and although he was grounded, he managed to feed Barton 20 yards out and turning onto his left peg he hit a rising shot that Hart did so well to save. There were only 20 seconds on the clock !!! But for the next 20 minutes it was the City exhibition show, or should I say the David Silva Show. City had woken up, or maybe had got an earful of abuse at half-time, who knows ?
They were putting in a shift now and were linking up so well it looked inevitable that a second goal would come. But when it did it came with a big helping hand from ourselves. Barton beat two players in the left channel, played a one-two with Bothroyd and although the odds were against him, he won the ball and set Traore free down the wing. With Helguson and Bothroyd waiting for a high cross, and let’s face it they’d won every header so far, Traore opted for Mackie who was lurking on the edge of the box. Unfortunately for us, the ball went behind Mackie and straight to Milner. Just like Helguson, he wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth and set Dzeko free down the wing. With no one closing him down, he picked out Silva in the box with a ball to feet. Within an instant Silva had turned Gabbidon inside out and smashed a left-foot shot inside Kenny’s near post. Even the best defenders in the world would’ve struggled as so many have this season against the League’s best player.
Then in the 59th minute, City went for the jugular as they were beginning to link up play between Dzeko and Silva. Twice in succession Kenny was scrambling down to his right as first Dzeko then Aguero had shots that went about an inch wide of the post. While up the other end City’s defence were at last getting to grips with our front two with a succession of blocks as we tried to get back in the game. On one occasion even Helguson helped City out by blocking a Bothroyd thunderbolt.
But the front two combined for the equaliser in dramatic fashion on 68 minutes. Wright-Phillips ran at City’s defence and put the ball behind the right-back for Traore to run on to. Unlike the last time he was in that position, QPR’s left-back hit a dangerous cross/shot that was deflected by a flailing defender’s boot into the path of Bothroyd ten yards out and as the ball flew goalwards, it hit Helguson on the back of the head and into the goal. City to a man appealed for offside and who can blame them ? But my reliable Lower Loft TV showed that Savic was playing Helguson on-side when Bothroyd headed goalwards. Fair play to City, they then got on with it as they had done all game.
And within five minutes they took the lead for the second time. Gareth Barry went over the half-way line and fed Kolarov down the left. Again we didn’t close them down quick enough and the left-back was allowed to send a very high cross into the danger area where man mountain Yaya Toure was left to power a header into the net from 6 yards for what turned out to be the winning goal.
For the next 15 minutes, try as they might, we couldn’t get that elusive third goal for a point that our performance deserved. The nearest we came was on 82 minutes as Helguson once again rose high to meet Barton’s lofted free kick, but the frame of the goal came to Hart’s rescue again and the ball was cleared. In that time there was the ubiquitous yellow cards for both sides ‘bad boys’. Barton got his for a stupid lunge at David Silva who to be fair, didn’t make much of it. Balotelli, who had come on as a sub only 3 minutes earlier and got his for a ridiculous dive in the box. Although at the time from my viewpoint in the Lower Loft it looked a stonewall penalty to me. Once again I was proven wrong as I ran to the Lower Loft gantry.
As the referee blew for full-time, a weird feeling came over me. Of course it’s always disappointing to lose and in 38 years I’ve been disappointed many a time ! But I had just witnessed what can only be described as a brilliant game of football by two teams who showed commitment and honesty in abundance and no little skill either.
The fact that we came so close to getting a deserved point and who knows perhaps all three. When you consider that they had won 5-1 and 6-1 away at top four teams this season, it shows just how far this squad has come since the opening game of the season. After the game a City friend text me to say that she would’ve taken a point in the first 40 minutes as we were so far superior, speaks volumes in any book. City may have taken, nay stolen the points, but we quite rightly will take the plaudits.
I think that we will struggle to see a better game at home this season, but we won’t struggle when it comes to staying in this league come May. So thank you to every single player on Saturday and a bigger thank you to Tony Fernandes. It was also nice to see a team full of expensive players not surrounding the referee at every decision. On 36 minutes I saw Toure and Aguero speaking to the ref and Richards and Lescott pulled them both away and they just got on with the rest of the game. Some clubs in the top 4 should take note !!!
Team: Kenny 6, Young 5, Ferdinand 6, Gabbidon 5, Traore 7 (Hill n/a), Wright-Phillips 7, Faurlin 8, Barton 7, Mackie 8 (Smith 6), Bothroyd 7 (Puncheon 5), Helguson 8
MOTM: Jamie Mackie. He seems to be back to his best, covers so much ground and made Kolarov look ordinary 1st half. Only Hart stopped him from scoring his first goal of the season.
Referee: M. Atkinson 7. In the 1st half I thought that he was a bit lenient on City, what with the foul count, but overall he kept a lid on things, not that he needed to as both teams were honest for the whole game. Balotelli not included of course !!!
Attendance: 18,076 (including 3,026 ‘Citeh’ fans)
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)