February 1st saw us heading to the Midlands for an evening match at Villa Park. The evening didn’t get off to a good start for me when I discovered that our seats were right at the back of the upper stand – I don’t do heights and this was high ! Thankfully, a kind steward (yes, there are some if you look hard enough !) moved us to lower seats and I was therefore able to enjoy the opening exchanges comfortably !
And what a start QPR made ! The game marked the debuts of new signings Djibril Cisse, Nedum Onuoha and Taye Taiwo: some of Hughes’ new signings of the January window, which also included Samba Diakite and Bobby Zamora – another busy transfer window for the R’s ! The game also saw a first start for Rob Hulse – I had forgotten that he was still with us ! And what a start Cisse made to his QPR career – scoring a superb effort on 12 minutes as he sent the ball flying in to the left-hand corner of Given’s goal to give us a dream start – and followed this up with a most spectacular back-flip ! We’ve never had a player who could do that before – how cool !
Then, on 29 minutes, Stephen Warnock scored…for us ! An own goal meant that the score within the first half-an-hour was: Aston Villa 0 – QPR 2. Hooray, we all thought, the “new manager feel-good” syndrome has arrived at QPR. Er, no ! We were all screaming from the stands that we were getting mullered down the right. It was therefore no surprise when Darren Bent scored on half-time, after a move down the right-wing left our defenders flat-footed and Bent easily able to convert Alan Hutton’s centre – but at least we went into the break leading.
Time and again we had trouble down that right-hand side, Robbie Keane finding it easy to leave our defence horribly exposed; and with Villa dominating the 2nd half it was inevitable that we would concede – which we duly did on 79 minutes through Charles N’Zogbia. We did have a few chances of our own, interspersed with Villa’s, but it was Villa who went closest to taking all three points when, on 83 minutes, a Bent shot was cleared off the line. But we clung on to go home with a point from a 2-2 draw.
Saturday 4th February (my Amy’s birthday, by the way) saw us at home to fellow strugglers Wolves. After thrashing them 3-0 earlier in the season, we all headed for Loftus Road confident that this would follow a similar pattern and we would beat them comfortably to start to put some distance between us and those around us in the bottom section of the league. Oh how wrong we were ! Thanks to the rashness of Djibril Cisse, who had forgotten he was playing football and tried a wrestling-type stranglehold on the throat of Wolves’ player Roger Johnson, which earned him a straight red card (and an automatic 3-match ban), we had to play for about an hour with 10 men – no easy task !
So it was probably inevitable that, despite leading 1-0 through a Bobby Zamora debut goal on 16 minutes (which finished off a move that included Taarabt, Cisse, Wright-Phillips and Zamora himself), we were destined to lose the game in the end: 1-2. Wolves’ numerical advantage counted and Matt Jarvis equalised for Wolves just after the re-start of the 2nd half. They then pressed us and we watched as wave after wave of opposition attack headed threateningly towards Kenny’s goal. Inevitably – I use that term too often don’t I ?! – Kevin Doyle broke QPR fans’ hearts as he neatly turned in the box to fire an unstoppable shot into our goal and so win the game – one of those “6-pointers” – for Wolves.
QPR then travelled to Blackburn in another one of those so-called “winnable” games. Or rather – “must win” games for our loss to Wolves had cemented us in 16th place on the same points as Wolves (21) and only 3 above Blackburn who were then in 19th place. This was another one of those away games that I couldn’t get to as I was taking advantage of the school half-term to take a well-earned break abroad. I was sitting in Heathrow Airport, unable to get online to watch the game, reliant on texts from Amy to update me on our progress. Our plane was delayed and so I was able to get the full 90 minutes – I rather wished I hadn’t ! We lost 2-3 despite a valiant effort by Jamie Mackie to almost single-handedly save our bacon after coming on as a 66th minute substitute.
The damage was done in a poor 1st half when our defence seemed to go missing on a regular basis and we conceded goals from Yakubu (on 15 minutes) and Nzonzi (on 23 minutes) and then Nedum Onuoha put through his own net 3 minutes into extra time in the 1st half. QPR didn’t carve out a chance till after Nzonzi’s second goal – that is how poor we were in that 1st half – although we did prove more capable in the 2nd half, creating a few chances, one of which was converted by the energetic Mackie on 71 minutes, scoring from a mere 6-yards out.
Wright-Phillips almost scored just before the 90 minutes was up – how many times have we said “almost scored” ? – before Mackie buried a shot from the edge of the box into the top left-hand corner of Robinson’s net on 91 minutes. But it was too little too late. This defeat kept us in 16th, but now there were two other teams on 21 points, whilst 19th-placed Bolton were on 20 points and Wigan, at the bottom, on a mere 19 points – there was no daylight between the bottom five !
So, on Saturday 25th February, we were all at Loftus Road in great expectation of a victory against local rivals Fulham to help give us some breathing space. It was not meant to be as another “winnable” game went begging – we lost 0-1 to a strike by Pavel Pogrebnyak in the 7th minute. This game will be bettered remembered for the debut of Mali midfielder Samba Diakite and his dismissal for a second yellow card on 33 minutes ensuring that, once again, the R’s were reduced to 10 men for the better part of an hour. We did play some decent football, especially in the 2nd half, and had good opportunities to level the match – but all to no avail.
Everyone in the ground had seen that Diakite was trying to make an impression – by leaving his stud-marks on opposition legs ! Referee Dowd had tried to give Diakite the benefit of the doubt – but I was particularly unimpressed with our so-called captain, Mr Barton, who did nothing to control his new team-mate. Diakite’s dismissal was inevitable to all but Mark Hughes – who did not do anything either and admitted, later, that he probably should have ! But their inaction, coupled with Diakite’s recklessness, meant that QPR finished February on 21 points and sitting in 17th place, only 1 point and 1 place above the dreaded relegation zone. Things were beginning to look very bleak indeed.
Sandy Lerman aka @sandyhoops (also known on vitalQPR as sandyl)