Super sub Djibril Cisse scored an 89th minute winner at Fortress Loftus Road to give QPR an outside chance of retaining Premier League status. A fraught and tense afternoon of football looked like it was going to end in frustration, what with scores coming in from other grounds, but this side has shown the patience of a saint in recent home games and did so again. The Frenchman pounced with a minute of normal time remaining to register his fifth goal in seven games. The two games in which he didn’t score, he received a red card causing him to miss half of the games that he’s been available for. Both red cards have angered fans and manager alike, but all that was forgotten as his goal just may be the goal that keeps QPR in the Premier League.
Mark Hughes made one change with Cisse dropping to the bench enabling the return of Adel Taarabt following his one match suspension. The QPR manager preferred a 4-5-1 formation against a side so one dimensional the manager Tony Pulis wears blinkers with a patch over one eye. So it was the usual defence of Onuoha, Hill, Ferdinand and Taiwo protecting Kenny in goal. The five-man midfield saw Buzsaky keep his place with Diakite still laid low with a virus. He was alongside the returning Moroccan, Taarabt plus Barton and Derry with Zamora again alone upfront.
A curious selection seeing as we had to win the game. We did have the bonus of having Fitz Hall on the bench I suppose which reminds me that you know it’s the end of the season when Hall is fit to play. That’s fit as in fitness and not in the quality of the player.
Rangers kicked off and as per usual the second pass went to Derry who lumped it in the air down the line. Tony Pulis and his Stoke players immediately felt at home. We would have to play it on the deck if we wished to beat a team who spend more time in the air than your average RAF pilot.
On two minutes, Jamie Mackie did just that and having controlled the ball, sped down the right wing and sent in a dangerous low cross to the near post, but with no QPR player within ten yards, it was left to Marc Wilson to clear the ball. The home fans roared their approval despite the obvious tension around the ground. The tension levels nearly went off the scale a couple of minutes later when Stoke should’ve scored. Upson sent an inch perfect diagonal ball to Crouch out wide right. The former QPR player won his aerial battle and nodded the ball into the danger area. Taiwo seemed to lose his bearings and Cameron Jerome, but the Stoke forward somehow blazed a yard wide from about 10 yards out when it looked easier to score.
On five minutes, the visitors showed their game plan when having been awarded a goal-kick, the keeper Sorensen took over a minute from the time the ball went out to the time he eventually launched his goal-kick into space. We had another 85 minutes of this so it was going to be a very long afternoon, unless we scored of course, or the referee Andre Marriner intervened. We were to hold our breath on both counts.
Another pattern that was emerging was that Taarabt was up for it and Jamie Mackie was having a personal battle with possibly the most aptly named Stoke player, one Robert Huth. It’s not just a surname it’s a Tony Pulis philosophy. On 11 minutes, Adel Taarabt was wiped out from behind by Marc Wilson as the Moroccan turned on a sixpence and left the Stoke defender nonplussed. The first rendition of, ‘Taarabt’s Too Good For You’ went around the ground. It was a typical Stoke challenge and a typical yellow card offence. It was also a typical Premier League referee in charge so nothing was even said to the Stoke player.
Taarabt lined up the 30-yard free kick and bent the ball around a threadbare wall and on target. Thomas Sorensen flew across his goal to his right to palm the ball away and as Stoke’s defence stood still, Barton was first to the loose ball, but couldn’t get his leg around the ball properly and his left-foot shot went into the side-netting. With Zamora screaming for the pass, unmarked in the six-yard box, it was a missed opportunity, but to be fair to Barton he was very unlucky as the ball was sliding away from him all the time.
A couple of minutes later, the ball went out for a throw-in by the Paddocks. Rory Delap looked like he was suffering from an injury as he took about 20 seconds to walk the 30 yards to take up his position on the touchline. Then he took about 10 seconds to wipe the ball with his shirt before launching the ball into our box towards Peter Crouch. The defence managed to scramble the ball to the edge of the box to Shawcross who returned the ball with venom into the Upper Loft seating. And to think that this lot were in Europe this season ?
Within a minute, Delap did his walking in slow motion and taking forever to take a throw-in routine again. The crowd in the Paddocks were going ballistic at the referee who was looking at Derry marking Crouch for some reason. When the ball came in we looked in a lot of danger as the ball arrowed towards Fuller at the far post, but just as it seemed likely that Stoke would score, Barton flung himself full-stretch at the ball and just got a touch to guide the ball beyond the Stoke forward and away from danger for a throw-in.
It epitomised the effort that was going on and what was required if our stay in the Premier League was going to be extended for another week let alone another season. Taarabt was seeing a lot of the ball in the final third, but he was also prepared to track back whenever the visitors got into out half. The midfield was seeing a lot of the ball as a unit, but spent more time going sideways as the visitors got men behind the ball and did everything legally and illegally to stop us going forward, ably assisted by a referee who looked like he was looking forward to his summer holidays.
When the ball did find its way to Zamora, he had a combination of Shawcross and Upson to deal with and was getting no change from either. But on the half-hour, he managed to hold off his markers and fed Barton who was running in from the left of midfield. Receiving the ball some 20 yards from goal, he took a touch and sent a curling shot that had the backpedalling Sorensen looking relieved as the ball went narrowly over the bar.
Then shortly after, Zamora robbed Wilson of possession some 35 yards out. As Zamora went past his marker with the ball, he was clipped enough by Wilson to make him lose his balance, but the referee played the advantage and having got to the bye-line, he sent a cross onto the head of Barton some 10 yards out. QPR’s captain managed to find the target, but having had to stretch to reach the ball in the first place, his header flew straight into the hands of Sorensen. It was the best passage of play so far in a tense and nervous atmosphere, in particular for the home fans, especially as news had come through that Bolton had taken the lead at the Reebok. Even Stoke fans thought it would be appropriate to reminder us by singing, ‘One-nil Bolton, One-nil Bolton’ followed by, ‘Going Down, Going Down , Going Down’. Thanks for reminding us !
Going back to the Barton headed chance, it was noticeable that the referee again failed to speak to Marc Wilson for what was a yellow card offence for the foul on Zamora. It was also his second yellow card offence. Not even a word from the ref though. Then, what can only be described as the most bizarre incident that I’ve seen all season occurred. A Stoke sub was stripped off and ready to come on. The fourth official held up the board to indicate who Dean Whitehead was replacing. Looking at Delap’s body language it could’ve been him as he trudged to the dugouts. Our PA announcer even mentioned the changes when STOP, Dean Whitehead walked back to the dugouts and put on an orange bib that the Stoke coach had thrown to him. The fourth official then put down his electronic numbers board and took up his place in the technical area again.
A lot of fans in the Paddocks saw this as another form of time wasting and gave Whitehead a piece of their mind. Amazingly Whitehead then returned some comments and the stewards had to remove a fan from his seat and take him out. I didn’t notice if he ever came back or not ? The referee didn’t even talk to Tony Pulis or any of the Stoke party.
As the fourth official indicated that two extra minutes would be played, Taarabt came up against a brick wall so to speak in the form of the Stoke defence, but he managed to slide in Mackie with a precision pass beyond the back-four. The whole ground rose to its feet as Mackie slid in, but Sorensen managed to smother the ball a split second before Mackie made contact with the ball. Half-time: 0-0.
It wasn’t the greatest 45 we’ve ever seen, but you couldn’t fault the players for effort. It was evident though that we may of needed an extra body upfront to assist Zamora as we were struggling when it came to the final third. We were also struggling to break down Stoke’s dogged resistance and smothering tactics.
Stoke kicked off and almost immediately gave possession to Rangers following the traditional punt upfield. Within seconds, the ball was fed to Mackie who ran down the line and was abruptly halted by a typical Huth challenge. The referee for the first time in the game actually indicated that it was in fact a foul. Huth was incandescent, but seeing as it was about the tenth dubious challenge on Mackie he had no argument.
With Djibril Cisse warming up along the touchline, he got a great reception with a chorus of ‘Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Cisse, Cisse’. Within 5 minutes of the re-start, the fans wishes were rewarded when Cisse replaced Buzsaky and the decision was spot on. It was weird that we had to wait 5 minutes of the second-half before it occurred though. Cisse was immediately in the thick of the action when having received a pass from Taiwo, he ran at speed and let fly from 25 yards that Shawcross did well to block. The crowd roared their approval despite everyone’s nails being bitten to the quick.
Just after the hour, Zamora was fouled from behind some 20 yards from the goal to the right of the goal. The perpetrator, Shawcross, wasn’t even spoken to for the foul. The ref did have words with the Stoke wall though as they seemed to be collectively deaf as the ref tried to move the wall back the required distance from the ball. Bobby Zamora then went to the ref’s assistance by marking a line on the grass with his studs so the Stoke players knew exactly where the ref wanted them to stand which brought large cheers from the home fans.
Taiwo and Taarabt lined up the free kick and it was the Nigerian left-back who took it, but his powerful shot was blocked by the wall as was his follow-up effort. Then news came through that Bolton were now two goals up against West Brom. The young lad who sits in front of me looked like he was going to cry as he told us the bad news. I really felt for him,
Then with 15 minutes remaining came the best passage of play all afternoon and it was instigated by who else ? Adel Taarabt. He fed Taiwo with a sublime pass down the wing. The left-back powered forward and looking up found Cisse with an inch perfect cross for the Frenchman. As the Lower Loft rose to celebrate a great goal, Sorensen managed to save the header one handed, but the danger wasn’t over for Stoke just yet. Zamora first picked up the loose ball, but couldn’t manage to turn enough to create space for a shot. Then he passed to Mackie who was in the same predicament as Zamora so he fed Barton who did manage to find enough space some 20 yards out, but his left-foot shot was rising and cleared the bar by about a foot.
The young lad in front then screamed, ‘West Brom have scored’ and you could see the hope had returned to his eyes. I on the other hand, was resigned to playing Wolves next season. Stoke then made a substitution with Kenwyne Jones coming on for what looked like an injured Ricardo Fuller as he took about 45 seconds to walk from the Ellerslie Road side of the pitch to the dugouts. Silly me, it was time wasting, again !!!
On 80 minutes, Rangers made a double substitution with Wright-Phillips replacing Derry and Bothroyd likewise with Zamora who had been limping heavily for the previous 5 minutes and had indicated that he was injured to the bench. I commented to my mate, ‘great, we need a goal to save our season and we bring on Shaun and Jay, see you next season in the Championship’.
With 6 minutes remaining, we missed what might of been a huge opportunity to rescue our chances of survival. Taarabt took a corner by the Paddocks and Lower Loft. The previous two corners had gone to the near post, but this time it went to the far post and found the unmarked Anton Ferdinand. As the ball came to him late, he seemed to pause and then got his header away, but it sailed harmlessly wide when he should’ve at least hit the target. The lad in front was nearly in tears as it dawned on him the enormity of what had just happened. Looking at the league table on his iPhone, he could see that we were in the bottom three again with Bolton still winning.
With 3 minutes remaining, it was almost done and dusted as Peter Crouch met Whelan’s near-post corner with a bullet header, but thankfully the ball went a foot wide with Kenny rooted to the spot. From the corner, Kenny took a quick kick and found Taarabt out on the left wing. He in turn passed to Wright-Phillips who went on a jinking run beating two defenders and got a shot on target. Sorensen managed to get a hand to it and it seemed to fall for Mackie to score from the re-bound, but the ball span away at the last second. With me bemoaning the fact that almost every corner had resulted in either, Shawcross, Huth or Upson clearing, I wasn’t optimistic to say the least.
Then, as if in slow motion, the ball was delivered to the near post where for once Ferdinand was left unmarked. His glancing header went across the face of the goal to the far post where it was Cisse’s turn to be found unmarked. The Frenchman swept the ball over the line to score what could be the most important goal that a QPR player has scored all season. Cisse then executed a perfect double somersault as the ground went absolutely mental.
Meanwhile, Adel Taarabt was on the ground kissing the grass and praying to Mecca. Having seen this, I then carried out my recent ritual of kissing the bloke in front of me on the head. He’s actually gotten used to it by now. His son then went absolutely mental with delight as he told everyone around him that, ‘West Brom had just equalised’ and was proudly showing us the ‘up to date’ league table from the BBC website that showed that not only were we above Bolton, but Wigan also. Who would’ve thought it a minute ago ?
The fourth official then indicated that four long minutes extra would be played. The referee then decided that time wasting was actually against the laws of football, if you play for QPR only though. So far we had endured Stoke wasting time from the 5th minute onwards. We also saw both Peter Crouch and Fuller kick the ball away following a free kick when the score was 0-0. Suddenly he wanted Taiwo to run over to the touchline to take a throw-in.
With seconds remaining, the ball was hoofed into our box and Kenny flapped at the high ball, surrounded by about four players, the ball pinged about the area then Crouch managed to hook a volley over his shoulder and narrowly wide to huge sighs of relief all round. The whistle then sounded for the end of the game. Well I think it did as the crowds noise drowned out the whistle from where I was sat behind the goal in the Lower Loft.
The pitch was then engulfed by hordes of very relieved and emotional home fans. Myself ? I went to the Blue and White Bar to have a pint and look at the results on the TV screen. It was true, Bolton had drawn at home. The one downside was that Villa were now safe, but that’s just a little gripe on a momentous day. It’s not all over as we all know, but Djibril Cisse’s goal has given us a huge chance of staying up and that’s more than we expected some six weeks ago when we were losing to Liverpool with 13 minutes to go.
Since that night, we’ve won the five remaining home games, no mean feat when you are struggling. Those five wins are the first we’ve done so in the top tier since the beginning of the 87/88 season. Added to that, we ended the season with three clean sheets at home which gives me hope for the future. Whether the future lies in this league will be revealed next Sunday when 2,700 of us travel to the Etihad for the last game of the season. It’s just a shame we have run out of games now and that our future is uncertain on the pitch. But having read both, Tony Fernandes, Joey Barton and Mark Hughes’s comments in the programme, we are in a better shape than the last two times we got relegated.
A great win and a deserved win for we were the only team playing football and trying to actually win the game. I don’t recall Kenny making a save while Sorensen made three. We never gave up (well the players didn’t as I had given up when Anton headed the corner over) and live to fight another day. It was also our first and only double over a team this season.
See you all in Manchester next Sunday. Apparently we’re invited to a party. Hopefully we’ll end up being gatecrashers !!!
Team: Kenny 7, Onuoha 7, Hill 7, Ferdinand 8, Taiwo 6, Mackie 6, Taarabt 7, Barton 8, Derry 6 (Wright-Phillips 6), Buzsaky 5 (Cisse 8), Zamora 6 (Bothroyd 6)
MOTM: Barton, but only just. Anton Ferdinand was superb at the back all game and created the goal, but our captain led the team with quiet authority and came close on three occasions to scoring.
Referee: A. Marriner 7. He infuriated home fans with his lack of application of the laws regarding time wasting or Stoke’s strong arm tactics (literally), until we went a goal up of course. And the substitution that never was in the first-half was bizarre and I’m sure not allowed.
Attendance: 17,319 (including 902 Stoke fans)
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)