So wrote William Shakespeare in his play, ‘The Comedy of Errors’. Not sure if he had the game at the Reebok in mind when thinking of a title for his farce, but there are a lot of similarities. Why, football is even mentioned in the play at one stage when Dromio of Ephesus says to his namesake of Syracuse:
“Am I so round with you as you with me,
That like a football you do spurn me thus?
You spurn me hence, and he will spurn me hither:
If I last in this service, you must case me in leather”.
I’m none the wiser what that’s supposed to mean, but then I’m none the wiser on a lot of things, for starters, the team selection for Saturday’s trip to Bolton. In 40 years of watching football I’ve never seen a selection so devoid of creativity. With three holding midfielders and Shaun Wright-Phillips allegedly playing in the ‘hole’ behind the front two of Cisse and Zamora, I was perplexed. Who exactly was going to supply the forwards I hear you ask ? Not only that, there was no place for either Buzsaky or Mackie (or both ?!). Considering we’ve only won one game this year in the league and that Buzsaky gave a man-of-the-match performance in that Wigan game, I wondered what more does he need to do ? Then there’s a case for Mackie as well who has scored twice as many goals as the whole midfield put together that were starting at the Reebok.
So we had Kenny in goal who was protected by a centre-back pairing of Ferdinand and Hill with Traore left, and Onuoha right-back. In front of them were Diakite, Derry and Barton with Wright-Phillips in front of the three just behind the twin strike force. It seems the pages containing the letter ‘W’ for winger or wideman, have been deleted from our manager’s dictionary. All he needs is an umbrella and he’s Steve McClaren.
In the first two minutes my fears seemed to materialise as we conceded the first two corners of the game. Thankfully, Bolton are as bad at set-pieces as we are and we cleared the ball. Then after about 15 minute of being on the back foot, we suddenly realised that Bolton were just as bad as us. The table never lies and we decided to venture into their half. And how did we do this ? By thumping the ball upfield from the back, bypassing the midfield totally in the process and expecting Zamora and Cisse to weave some magic. Considering how basic our approach was, the front two did remarkably well. On one such occasion on 17 minutes, Cisse turned his marker and lofted the ball over the centre-backs to Zamora who was lurking in the inside-left channel. Waiting for the ball to drop, he hit a powerful left-foot volley that looked a goal all the way, but then hit the bar and ended up going out for a throw-in.
Within a minute we hit the bar again albeit in controversial circumstances. Having won a corner, Barton placed the ball, but was met with howls of abuse from the home end. On hearing this, the ref decided to run 30 yards or so to remonstrate with the QPR captain. So Barton picked the ball up and replaced it, but got even more abuse from the home end. So the referee had more words with him. From the resulting corner, Clint Hill was found with a perfect cross (for once) and his bullet header powered goalwards and from my seat in the front row it looked like the keeper palmed the ball onto the post before it went up and hit the bar. Wanting to see a TV replay, I ran to the concourse and saw plainly that it was a goal as everyone and their Auntie has seen for themselves. I went back to my seat and told everyone within earshot that it was a definite goal.
Within seconds you could hear mobile phones bleeping with the obvious texts and pictures being sent by people watching on TV land back home. This spurned a very original rendition of: ‘It Should Be One Nil, It Should Be One Nil, We’re Queen’s Park Rangers, It Should Be One Nil’ from the very disgruntled away fans section. I thought that we were being too polite. Shortly after the half-hour mark, my blood almost reached boiling point as we conceded the opening goal. ‘ A Comedy of Errors’ if ever there was one, but I wasn’t laughing. The first error was by the referee. When Hill challenged Pratley just outside our box, from our seat 25 yards away, you could clearly see Pratley pulling Hill’s shirt, in fact it nearly came clear off his back. The ref, as was his want all afternoon, guessed wrong again. Then when the free kick was taken, it was obvious that the ball played was not the planned route. In other words, it was a cock-up. The ball went first behind Davies who seemed to panic and passed to Petrov who fed Ream outwide.
This is where our first error occurred. Ferdinand, who had been marking Ngog, then decided to follow the ball and went to close down the Bolton wideman. He was too slow and allowed the ball to be delivered into the six-yard box. Meanwhile, our other three defenders seemed to be at sixes and sevens by both ball watching and leaving Pratley totally unmarked as he buried his header into the back of the net. It was the 19th consecutive game that we had conceded a goal. Only Blackburn have a worse record, but even they managed a clean sheet on Saturday.
Looking at our players following the goal, it was noticeable that the only players that seemed concerned were Hill and Derry who were encouraging all those around them. It was also noticed that the so-called captain just looked at the floor. Maybe he can only communicate with an electronic gadget in his hand ? Within a minute of conceding, we fashioned a guilt edged chance to equalise. Unfortunately the ball fell to Shaun Wright Phillips. Collecting the ball in a similar position to that when Zamora hit the bar, Wright-Phillips appeared to lean back and hit the ball nonchalantly rather than putting his laces through the ball as even an 11-year-old kid would know. The ball ended up going about six yards wide to derisions of laughter and relief from the home end.
I just hope that we have the receipt from his signing and a 12 month guarantee as we have surely been sold shoddy goods. The only conclusion that I can come to is that someone thought that they were buying his younger brother, or even his step-father. Either way, he has not repaid the faith that both Warnock and now Hughes have placed in him and should be dropped. As the half-time whistle was about to sound, we fashioned another chance, but Bogdan made a superb save to deny Onuoha from close range, diving low to stop a venomous shot from the full-back. Half-time: 0-1.
The second-half kicked off and within about 30 seconds we had a chance when Cisse turned his marker and got his shot on target, but it was a comfortable save from Bogdan diving low down. Two minutes later, the equaliser arrived and Cisse had got his second goal in three starts. Wright-Phillips was found in the centre some 30 yards from goal. Turning on a sixpence, he beat his marker and flicking the ball forward, it took a deflection off a defender and found Cisse some 20 yards from goal. As time seemed to stand still, we all stood up in the away end and looking to the lino on our left expecting a raised offside flag, Cise carried on and as Bogdan closed him down, he managed to flick the ball past the keeper and into the net to send 1,400 or so fans in the away end delirious.
Great start to the half and it was game on, or so I thought. For the next 35 minutes both teams huffed and puffed with no end product as both sides showed exactly why they are at the bottom of the table. We had plenty of possession and the midfield had upped their game, but when it really mattered, i.e. in the last third of the field, we were found wanting. As we were kicking towards the away end second-half, the crowd got right behind the team, but once again we were let down.
It was also very evident that our captain does not have a clue when it comes to taking corners. We had three corners in succession starting on 64 minutes. Barton took each one right in front of me. The first one reached the danger area, but Wheater managed to get to it first and cleared. The second one went straight into the keeper’s hands with no one even challenging him. The third one hit the first defender some 10 yards from the goal. Absolutely pathetic !!! Admittedly it was his corner that led to the ‘goal that never was’, but overall his delivery from set-plays is poor to say the least. But it’s not just Barton either. Buzsaky took two in succession in the 80th minute. The first one reached the six-yard box, but was cleared. The second one travelled ten yards and again hit the first defender. I do wonder what we practice at Harlington every day ?
As mentioned, Buzsaky made an appearance on 79 minutes replacing Derry, while Mackie replaced Wright-Phillips. About 40 seconds later, Taiwo then replaced Traore. I commented to Martin Percival that it was too little, too late as Bolton had also brought on Klasnic for Pratley. The decision to replace Bolton’s top scorer was actually made by the referee. Following his fourth foul in the second-half, two of which were certainly yellow card offences, the referee warned Pratley that that was his last chance.
Now considering that he had taken a ridiculous theatrical dive in our penalty area in the first-half for which the referee waved away his claims for a penalty then rightly booked him for a foul on Diakite on 22 minutes, it was very lenient of Mr Atkinson to say the least. But then Derry had deliberately tripped Eagles near the end and got away without even a word from the official. It was as deliberate as Wheater’s foul on Cisse in the first-half that merited a yellow card. All we fans ask for is consistency.
Within a minute of him coming on, Mackie had shown Wright-Phillips how to shoot on target when he collected a ball and decided that he would try his luck from 20 yards, but the shot didn’t trouble Bogdan too much. Two minutes before that Cisse had also tried his luck, but this time from close range to no avail. Had it gone in it would’ve been a great goal as he attempted a scissors kick with his back to goal, but the ball sailed harmlessly wide.
Our last chance to get a winner summed up our luck when we had four shots blocked by legs, chests and finally a head got in the way of efforts by firstly Buzsaky, then two attempts by Diakite and then finally Mackie. The final attempt clearly came off a Bolton player’s head and went for a corner. But then I’d forgotten that Atkinson was refereeing. Maybe he couldn’t see as two players were obscuring his view as Mr Pollock had claimed in the first-half.
We paid the price for our profligacy in front of goal on 86 minutes when Bolton fashioned the winning goal with a great assist from our captain. Bolton’s best player Ryo Miyaichi fed Klasnic and going past Baron who had even stopped running, he found himself in acres of space behind our defence and buried the ball in the bottom right-hand corner with a left-foot shot. No apology to his team mates from our captain though.
There was just enough time left to see Onuoha upended by a clumsy challenge by Reo-Coker inside the penalty area for a stonewall penalty, but the referee waved away the protests to the chagrin of all our players and fans alike. I expected nothing less from Mr Atkinson on what must go down as one of the most inept performances by a referee in a long time. To get one major decision wrong in a game is excusable, but to get literally every decision wrong tells me that the referee and his two assistants are not up to scratch. Neither are a fair few of our players I’m afraid !
Team: Kenny 6, Onuoha 6, Ferdinand 5, Hill 8, Traore 5 (Taiwo n/a), Derry 5 (Buzsaky n/a), Barton 4, Diakite 7, Wright-Phillips 2 (Mackie n/a), Zamora 7, Cisse 7.
Referee: M. Atkinson 2. One for turning up and one for being able to tell the time.
Attendance: 21,551 (including approx 1,400 R’s fans)
MOTM: Clint Hill: And not for the first time recently, but this warhorse showed on the 400th league start in his long career that reputations mean nothing in the top tier of English football.