September opened with a Monday night home game against Newcastle United, beamed live by Sky Sports. Interest focused on our new acquisitions, notably ex-Toon, Joey Barton; whose first game for the Hoops was destined to be against the team he had just left to join us ! Despite a great amount of huffing and puffing on our part, and enough chances to score a hatful, the game somehow ended up 0-0. Loftus Road was, nevertheless, rocking with a sense of excitement coursing through all R’s fans that maybe our season really had kicked off at last.
An amazing 3-0 victory away to Wolves on Saturday 17th September seemed to suggest it had ! Everything went right – from an easy journey up the motorway, to a scrumptious picnic of smoked salmon bagels downed with a pleasant red wine in the station car park, to the weather (a beautiful summery afternoon). But the game itself simply left us all purring ! We were dominant and assertive throughout and it was inevitable that we would run out winners. Goals came from Joey Barton (even if it was a scuffed shot scored more by luck than judgement !); a cracker from Ale Faurlin from 20-yards out and a late third from DJ Campbell (like Barton also opening his R’s account).
Our final game of September saw us hosting Aston Villa on a Sunday afternoon for the pleasure, once again, of Sky Sports TV viewers. I had a slight problem – the wedding lunch of my niece ! How was I to get out of hanging around making small-talk with people I don’t know ? With the help of my loyal hubbie, I sneaked my Hoops shirt, jeans and sneakers into the ladies’ room; and once dessert had been served, sneaked myself out of the party ! (But not before my sister-in-law caught me and gave me an ear-full of abuse so that I wouldn’t take her letting me go for granted !)
I arrived at Loftus Road half-way through the first-half, so missed Taarabt’s excellent shot on goal – which failed to breach Shay Given’s goal, hitting the post and going wide from about 25-yards out instead ! But I did witness Villa taking the lead after a most disputable penalty. The ball had seemingly gone out of play in our area when referee Oliver deemed Traore guilty of pulling Agbonlahor back; awarded Villa the penalty (which Bannan converted, giving Villa an unjustified lead – we had been the better team for most of the previous 58 minutes); and also booked Traore (more of that soon !). QPR went on the offensive, looking to cancel out Villa’s goal; and more controversy followed after Oliver denied us a penalty for a clear handball by Hutton who used the forbidden appendage to stop a goalward-bound header from Derry.
As the clock ticked down, even more controversy followed as Traore made a late challenge on Marc Albrighton which earned him a 2nd yellow card and so an early shower ! Down to ten men for the second time in as many months (remember Clint Hill’s red card against Bolton ?), a loss seemed inevitable; until substitute Heidar Helguson delivered a cross late on which hit first Stephen Warnock and then Richard Dunne before spinning into the goal for an own goal. Final score: 1-1. This valuable point meant that, at the end of September, our points haul was now 8 and we found ourselves sitting pretty in 8th spot in the table. We hadn’t yet managed a home win, but it seemed to be coming, as sure as autumn was round the corner and an away game at local rivals, Fulham, loomed.
The least said about the Fulham drubbing the better ! An Andy Johnson hat-trick was interspersed with goals from Danny Murphy (penalty), Clint Dempsey and Bobby Zamora. (That will teach me not to laugh at my Gooner husband and daughter after Arsenal got slaughtered 8-2 at Old Trafford !) The day had started promisingly enough with a delightful al fresco lunch at a pub by the Thames and then a pleasant walk, amidst all the other R’s fans who made the short journey from Loftus Road to Fulham’s ground. QPR fans have been wonderfully loyal this season, but the Club needed to learn that offering half the usual allocation of away tickets for sale was not a popular or sensible policy, particularly for our first London derby in the Premier League for fifteen years ! The Club had to offer a second tranche of tickets and the atmosphere in the full away end was electric.
Despite the humiliation, our support never faltered and our singing never diminished. Few QPR fans left early although the same cannot be said of Adel Taarabt ! On being substituted he apparently sneaked out the ground and was to be found at a bus stop waiting for a bus home ! Our trek back to the station was long and arduous as we ran the gauntlet of taunts from Fulham fans in 7th heaven. I consoled myself with the thought that we now had two home games which would surely help erase this particular, very unpleasant, memory. And so, it was back to Loftus Road, on Saturday 15th October, to face Blackburn Rovers. We went into the game still in 11th place and Blackburn 19th
Over 16,000 watched as Heidar Helguson scored for Rangers within the first 20 minutes of the game. But before you could even say: “Blackburn will be relegated this season”, Chris Samba headed Rovers level. Despite Rangers having chances throughout the game to win comfortably, that score, of 1-1, was destined to remain unchanged.
So Rangers’ fans now turned their attention to the game that really mattered – the much anticipated home league encounter with Chelsea. I was back in Montreal with our Amy – I promised her that we would watch the game together. I was in text contact with many friends who were at Loftus Road on that memorable Sunday, 23rd October. From them, and through our internet connection, I was aware of the heightened sense of excitement – the adrenalin that was flowing through our fans as the teams took to the pitch in front of the Sky cameras once again.
We bayed for blood and were not disappointed ! We harassed the Chelsea players from the Stands whilst our boys harassed them on the pitch, leading to a foul by David Luiz on Heidar Helguson in the penalty area in the opening 10 minutes. Up stepped Helguson and, from our vantage point on my hotel bed, Amy and I clung to each other in trepidation. Amy muttering: “Come on Heidar !” over and over again. As the ball hit the back of Cech’s net, we went absolutely crazy, yelling, screaming and falling on top of each other in hysterical delight – all videoed by my husband who then put the cameo on You Tube (where it has amassed a healthy 2,235 views to date !)
I was certain the hotel security would come bursting in, guns drawn, expecting to see a murder taking place with all our noise ! Our hysteria intensified when, on the half-hour, Bosingwa fouled Shaun Wright-Phillips who was clean through on goal, which earned the defender a straight red card. Ten men ! How simply delicious ! And then things went from beautiful to sublime when Drogba fouled Taarabt in a quite disgusting and deliberate two-footed challenge which also earned him a straight red card. I actually fell off the bed laughing so much because I couldn’t think of anything more wonderful than seeing Drogba being sent off at our place !
Problem was, Chelsea, now with nine men, came out for the 2nd half like a wounded lion and proved to be very, very dangerous. We screeched in fear as both Lampard and Anelka spurned good chances to bring Chelsea level; and then hooted, cheered and pumped the air in triumph as referee Chris Foy brought proceedings to a close. Villas Boas criticised Foy (I can’t understand why. I though Foy had a superb game personally ! )
We now had our third London derby in as many weeks, and second TV showing, as we made the short journey to White Hart Lane and an encounter with Harry Redknapp’s emerging Tottenham Hotspurs on Sunday 30th October. I was back in London for this match. I took my nephew with me to watch a game that was dominated by Redknapp’s team and made me think of ‘Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde’ – which was the “real” QPR ? The team that battled so bravely against Chelsea the week before, or the team that appeared in the 1st half at White Hart Lane, was over-run, caved in and succumbed to two 1st half goals from Gareth Bale and Rafael Van der Vaart; and was lucky that Adebayor couldn’t hit a barn door ?!
Luckily, Warnock’s half-time talk must have worked, together with a couple of tactical substitutions (Mackie and Bothroyd on for Derry and Taarabt) because we came out with all-guns-blazing and just after 60 minutes we halved the deficit. Jay Bothroyd headed home following a Barton corner and, 5 minutes later, Ale Faurlin almost equalised, but Brad Friedel, in the Spurs goal, got his hand to Faurlin’s 20-yard effort. If only !
Isn’t that a favourite saying of all football fans ? If only Faurlin had scored, who knows how the game would have finished. But, instead of us walking away with at least a share of the spoils, we walked away with our heads held high, but no points.
Bale scored a sublime third for Spurs (and a 2nd for him) shortly after Faurlin’s shot was saved and, despite us having a couple of effort s cleared off the Spurs’ goal-line later on, the match ended with Spurs winning 3-1. Still, we ended October with 12 points and sitting in 12th position in the Premier League and having picked up our first home win of the season – not bad for a month’s work !
Sandy Lerman aka @sandyhoops (also known, on VitalQPR, as sandydl)