QPR and West Brom shared the points at Loftus Road as a late Shane Long equaliser cancelled out Heidar Helguson’s first half header. Home fans were left frustrated and some showed themselves up by booing at the end of what was by and large a decent game. QPR may have had the majority of the possession, but their profligacy in front of goal came back to haunt them at the death and not for the first time this season either.
The game was preceded by the now ritual ceremony of a minute’s applause for the late Gary Speed. I also read in the programme that our trusty old chief steward Ron Bunyan had recently passed away. I’d like to think that he enjoyed our promotion last season even though he was seriously ill.
Neil Warnock made two changes to the starting line-up at Carrow Road with Clint Hill and Shaun Derry making way for Jay Bothroyd and our captain, Joey Barton. With Paddy Kenny still out injured, Cerny kept his place in goal with Young at right-back and Traore returning to left-back. The back-four was completed by Anton Ferdinand who was partnered by Gabbidon in the centre of defence. Barton took up his place beside Faurlin in the middle of the field with Wright-Phillips wide left and Jamie Mackie on the right of what looked like a four-man midfield. Bothroyd partnered Helguson up-front in what appeared to be a 4-4-2 formation that had done so well in the second half at Tottenham and the subsequent home game against Manchester City.
In those one and a half games, together they had managed three goals between them. It soon became apparent that we were not playing 4-4-2 as at times Bothroyd was playing deeper than our centre-backs !!! Whether that was the game plan or not, I don’t know, but it meant that Helguson was playing in isolation up-front at times and doing a very good job as well. The front two did combine superbly early on when a long ball onto Bothroyd’s head was laid off into Helguson’s path and from a wide angle. He chipped the ball over Foster in the Baggies goal, but the ball nestled onto the roof of the netting.
Then soon after, Mackie got down the wing and after beating two consecutive challenges, squared the ball to the edge of the ‘D’ where Faurlin was waiting with his trusty left peg. As he pulled the trigger, Wright-Phillips nipped in and hit a right-footed shot which flew low to the keeper’s right, but went about a yard wide with Foster not too troubled.
Some people may have thought it was all one-way traffic, but that was not the case as twice in succession West Brom fashioned two guilt edged chances when playing some lovely inter-changes on the edge of our box. On both occasions the final ball was played into space behind Luke Young. First Dorrans found our ex-loanee Jerome Thomas in acres of space and one-on-one with Cerny. Thomas chose to hit the ball early rather than take another touch and his shot, although on target, carried no pace or danger and Cerny made a routine easy save.
Shortly after, Thomas back-heeled the ball into James Morrison’s path and once again the shot was hit too early and Cerny made an identical save. We then took the lead on 20 minutes with Heidar Helguson scoring in the fourth consecutive home game and his sixth goal in seven starts this season. Apparently it’s the first time in nearly two decades that this has happened. Jamie Mackie went on one of his lung bursting runs down the right. He took on two defenders, but run into a brick wall. The ball fell nicely for Barton, looking up he picked out Helguson at the far post with a deft chip and Helguson powered his header into the top corner with Foster stranded on his line.
Then four minutes later, came what can only be described as the turning point to the game. Faurlin was found in midfield and looking up he saw Shaun Wright-Phillips making a late run behind the defence. The Baggies defence as one walked in line to play Wright-Phillips offside, but he collected the ball and cut inside and hit a thumping right-footed shot inside the far post for what was a great goal. But I definitely heard a whistle as Wright-Phillips hit his shot and looked over to see the referee’s assistant with his flag raised for offside. I got a text from a mate watching on the internet who said that it was definitely onside. Oh well, it wasn’t the only mistake that the officials would make.
During the first half, referee Mr Atkinson was being very lenient with some of the tackles that were flying about. First Graham Dorrans left a foot in as he slid in on Cerny and caught the keeper very late. Then Luke Young caught Thomas very late as he turned and fed the ball out wide. On both occasions a yellow card should’ve been produced. Then on 30 minutes, three consecutive late challenges by Baggies players resulted in Shane Long being the first name in the referee’s notebook as he scythed down Joey Barton with a crude and clumsy challenge. The referee could’ve issued three yellows for the same incident.
Then on 37 minutes, it was Jerome Thomas’s turn to feel lucky as his late challenge on Luke Young went unpunished, but he wasn’t so lucky five minutes later when he tripped Barton when the ball was 40/60 against in his favour. Like Luke Young earlier, he felt aggrieved for some reason and showed dissent. Had the referee followed the letter of the law Thomas would’ve been getting the bubble bath out in the changing rooms. I read recently that QPR have been the most fouled team so far this season in the Premier League. I think that we are still in the lead going on what happened in the first half.
The first half had petered out a little bit near the end and we had slowed the tempo a bit. Bothroyd was playing too deep, leaving Helguson on his own for most of the time. Barton and Faurlin were working their socks off, but were let down slightly by the two wide men who were not involved enough for my liking. The two centre-backs were doing well even though Gabbidon appeared to pull up with an injury in the 5th minute and Ferdinand did the same in the 15th minute. Our last chance came in the dying seconds as Helguson got the ball and found Wright-Phillips at the far post with a cross, but the header went tamely wide although Foster had gone walkabout. My only criticism was that Bothroyd should’ve been on the end of the cross. Half-time: 1-0.
The second half started differently to the end of the first with QPR pressing in the opposition’s half and playing a high tempo game. Within four minutes came a chance that could’ve/should’ve sealed all three points. We were pressing West Brom in their own half. Barton closed Jonas Ollson down in the middle of the pitch and robbed the ball off him. Barton quickly fed Helguson out wide who in turn returned the ball to Barton who was now clean through on the edge of the box. As Foster raced from his line to close the angle, Barton hit the ball first time past the keeper, but the ball squirmed about a foot wide. Barton certainly deserved his first goal in hoops for his endeavour and work rate. He was also encouraging other players to push forward and press the opposition in their own half.
On the hour, a cross into the opposition’s box saw a mad scramble with Wright-Philips, Mackie then Helguson all have attempts on goal blocked by any part of the body by the West Brom back-four. Then on 68 minutes, we fashioned another great chance due to pressing high up the pitch. A hopeful ball was launched down the wing and as Foster came to retrieve the ball on the edge of the box, the keeper had to let the ball go as he was in danger of going outside the box. In his hesitancy, Traore managed to nip in front of Foster and head for goal. Traore took the ball to the bye-line, but hastily released the ball to Wright-Phillips who snapped at his shot rather than taking more time and the ball went tamely wide with the keeper still stranded and the defence all over the place.
Shortly before that chance, Roy Hodgson had brought on Peter Odemwingle for Jerome Thomas. West Brom had changed their plans and were going for the equaliser. They had fashioned a few moves that had resulted to nothing, but were getting more of the ball now and were pressing for a goal. Chris Brunt had had a trademark 25-yarder go whistling wide to give a warning to our back-four. We had also given away a couple of silly free kicks within Brunt’s range, but first he opted to cross it to the far post where Ollson decided to dive theatrically in the air with his arms waving like he was drowning. Then with the second free kick, Brunt allowed Dorrans to take it and the four-man wall blocked his shot.
On 73 minutes, Akos Buzsaky replaced the ineffectual and almost invisible Jay Bothroyd. The two subs were going to be involved in the equalising goal. First Buzsaky lost control again on the edge of the West Brom box and lost possession. Immediately, James Morrison flew past both Buzsaky and Faurlin and set Odemwingle away down the left flank. He carried the ball twenty yards then whipped in a curling cross that took a wicked deflection off Luke Young’s boot sending the ball beyond Gabbidon’s lunge and onto Shane Long’s trusty right boot. The ex-Reading striker scored a wonder goal at Loftus Road last season from about 30 yards so he wasn’t going to miss from 5 yards. As soon as the ball hit the net the away fans broke into a Joy Division song (see the title of this report) which I found quite amusing to be fair.
It was a crushing blow indeed, but if you look at the game as a whole both keepers had hardly anything to do, so as much as we may have taken the lion’s share of the possession, we didn’t make Ben Foster work too hard, so we can only blame ourselves for not going for the kill when the chances arrived. Also, I believe we have to play our part. In the previous two home games we made the ground a cauldron. I believe the atmosphere at both games certainly helped in putting the opposition on a back foot so to speak. Saturday’s crowd was only slightly less than the Chelsea and City games so the same amount of Rangers fans were in attendance. We have to be the 12th man.
As for the sporadic boos at the end, I’m dumbfounded. The team put their heart and soul into the game as did West Brom. Both teams tried to play decent football and at times managed to do that. We are not going to be able to reach the performance levels of the last two home games every single time. We have come a very long way since Neil Warnock took over. The TV lorries outside told me that some far off country was having our game shown on live transmission.
We are also playing a different level of football obviously, West Brom are no mugs and in Shane Long they have an outstanding player who I’ve admired for a long time. He will be plying his trade in Warsaw next summer. Shame he doesn’t play in hoops. Yes we could’ve won, perhaps should’ve, but I see it as another point towards our goal.
Team: Cerny 6, Young 6, Traore 7, Gabbidon 7, Ferdinand 6, Mackie 6, Faurlin 8, Barton 8, Wright-Phillips 6, Bothroyd 5 (Buzsaky 5), Helguson 9
MOTM: Helguson. Eight games ago he was in a lonely place, seemingly the forgotten man. He’s started the last seven games and scored six goals. He won every single ball in the air on Saturday and scored his trademark header.
Referee: Mr Atkinson. Too lenient in the first half by far, but in fairness he kept the game flowing.
Attendance: 17,290 (including 1,547 Joy Division fans)
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)