March opened with a home game against Everton on Saturday 3rd. A 1-1 draw stopped the rot (having lost 3 on the spin last month) but did not improve our league position. Everton took the lead after sloppy play from Adel Taarabt, just inside our half, had resulted in him easily losing the ball to Marouane Fellaini. The resultant attack led to a pile-driver from Royston Drenthe from all of 30 yards which nestled in the bottom left-hand corner of Kenny’s goal on 31 minutes. But their lead was destined to be short-lived as Bobby Zamora’s 36th minute header, from a Buzsaky free kick (after Taarabt had been fouled), drew the R’s level.
We had chances to win the match but, as so often in the past, we were unable to convert any – Zamora, Buzsaky and Taarabt all being guilty of missing good opportunities. But the overall performance was vastly improved on the previous couple of games – particularly as we finished the match with all 11 players still on the pitch !
Saturday 10th March was to see us all head north to Bolton – and the last match of what had been deemed our “winnable” run of matches. Amy and I went alone as our fellow travelling companions were unable to join us. Once more we were being televised by Sky at lunchtime – oh how I would have loved an afternoon kick-off – don’t TV stations consider how long it takes to drive from London to Bolton, for heaven’s sake ?!
QPR did not get off to a good start but, on 18 minutes, we all thought Clint Hill had put us ahead with a solid header from a Barton corner. The loud and raucous cheers from the away end was cut short as we watched in utter disbelief the ref indicating that there was, in his eyes, no goal to give. Now, TV clearly showed that the ball had crossed the line before Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan palmed the ball out of the net so clearly, the referee and his assistant had to be blind – just how they didn’t see the goal is beyond anybody’s understanding. But the goal wasn’t given and, typical of QPR’s luck, on 37 minutes, Darren Pratley put Bolton 1-0 up with a decisive header following a cross from Martin Petrov. As Hughes was later to remark, taking the lead in a Premier League match can make all the difference to the final outcome !
It was with great irony that Amy and I celebrated Djibril Cisse’s equaliser on 48 minutes. Back from his 3-match suspension, Cisse clearly in an offside position, latched onto a pass from Shaun Wright-Phillips. In true appalling refereeing fashion, there was no offside flag and Cisse’s goal stood: 1-1. Following our equaliser, we looked the slightly better, more confident side; and I remember a group effort, nearing the end of the game, as Cisse, Diakite and Mackie (a 79th minute substitute for Wright-Phillips) all had chances to give us the lead from inside the box with Mackie’s effort being deflected over the bar when it looked certain he had scored.
But then, on 86 minutes, Barton seemed to give up and allowed Ivan Klasnic the freedom to bomb forward to pick up a long through-ball from Ryo Miyaichi. He seemed to have the time to pick his spot and send the Bolton fans delirious. Final score: 2-1 to Bolton and the journey home seemed even longer and more arduous than ever before. Clearly, we were not the only disgruntled fans as rumours hit Twitter that the team had been accosted by a group of very angry R’s fans at Euston Station on their return to London later that evening. But perhaps the encounter inadvertently had the desired effect as the next game was to prove !
Wednesday 21st March was the first of a run of games which was to see the Super Hoops playing the Premier League “big guns”: Liverpool were back at Loftus Road for an 8pm kick-off for the first league match in over a decade. And it was soon clear why the Northerners were favourites to win this encounter. I think it was before the 5th minute had flashed up on the digital scoreboard that Liverpool had their first of many chances to take the lead in what ended up, somehow, a 1st half stalemate.
QPR came out for the 2nd half with purpose, Cisse almost giving us a dream start, but it was Liverpool who did score first – on 54 minutes – thanks to an amazing volley from substitute Sebastian Coates following a Steven Gerrard corner. Joey Barton had been abysmal throughout the game and, after Coates’ goal, he was substituted to a chorus of very loud boos – the QPR faithful had had enough of the shenanigans of Mr Barton who just didn’t seem to have the heart required of him for the fight with our Premier League life hanging so precariously in the balance.
Jamie Mackie replaced Barton and the substitution was to prove sublime – but not before Liverpool had taken a 2-0 lead on 72 minutes as Dirk Kuyt was first to a loose ball, after a fine Kenny save, and poked home for the visitors. The head screamed that the game was done and dusted and we were sure to be relegated – the heart thumped loudly and wildly when, on 77 minutes, Taarabt took a superb corner and Shaun Derry rose first and highest at the far corner to head home and halve the deficit. We weren’t done and, on 86 minutes, Taiwo crossed from the left wing and, this time, it was Djibril Cisse who headed home: 2-2. Amy was not with me to witness the unbelievable grandstand finish.
On 91 minutes, the Liverpool defence, unaware of the lurking Jamie Mackie, misjudged a clearance. That misjudgement cost Liverpool dearly as Mackie stole in from behind the Liverpool defence and, keeping his head as I was losing mine willing him on towards the goal, Mackie calmly (well, he seemed calm !) knocked the ball past Reina and into the Loft End goal. Loftus Road exploded – if we had a roof we would of roared it off ! We all hugged and kissed and cuddled strangers who suddenly became our best friends ! Kenny Dalglish looked his usual sour self – only more so ! And I went home believing that maybe, just maybe, some of that old Championship-winning spirit had risen to the surface and we might, just might, win the fight for survival !
That is, until we went to Sunderland on Saturday 24th March and lost 1-3 in a most disheartening fashion ! Then my doubts resurfaced ! It was the manner of the defeat which upset my equilibrium and new-found confidence. We rolled over and it seemed to be the old, bad habits, of giving away the ball too easily and the defence doing statue impersonations as first Nicklas Bendtner had an easy opportunity, on 41 minutes; then Djibril Cisse got himself sent off (on 55 minutes) again – this time for a diabolical two-footed challenge on Fraizer Campbell; then goals from James McClean and Stephane Sessegnon, on 70 and 76 minutes, effectively ended the contest.
Taye Taiwo pulled a goal back for us on 79 minutes; but the damage had been done in a poor defensive display earlier in the game, compounded by having to play the majority of the 2nd half with only ten men – what on earth happened to our discipline this season ?
And so, we traipsed back to London to face Arsenal at home on Saturday 31st March – the re-match between the Gooner-loving half of my family and Amy and I ! Would we be disappointed, as we had back in December ? I am nothing if not an eternal optimist (!) but, truthfully, we were very nervous – Amy and I, that is, not QPR ! It was actually a confident Rangers side that took to the field – even Joey Barton seemed more keyed up for the game (perhaps coming off Twitter had really re-focused his mind ?) I am not sure whether I can say I enjoyed the game – but I certainly enjoyed the result ! 2-1 to QPR thanks to a superb solo effort from Adel Taarabt (on 22 minutes – his first of the season) who tore through the Arsenal defence, making a muppet of Thomas Vermaelen, before slotting home from just inside the box; and a wonder strike from Samba Diakite (on 66 minutes) after Jamie Mackie, who also made Vermaelen look less than ordinary, pulled the ball back for our Malian midfielder to side-foot the ball into the top right-hand corner of Szczesny’s net.
Our hysteria was matched only by our nervous silence when Theo Walcott pulled a goal back for Arsenal on 37 minutes but, in truth (yes, ok I am biased !) QPR were the better side over the 90 minutes and fully deserved to run out 2-1 winners. Where was Robin van Persie ? In Clint Hill’s back pocket !!! (I am still reminding my Gooner half of the family of that fact and it is now July !)
And so, March 2012 came to an end with Rangers still in the relegation zone – 18th – on 28 points with a goal difference of -19 (the same as Blackburn in 17th who were also on 28 points, but better than Wigan who were on 28 points, but with a goal difference of -26). It really was squeaky-bum time as we headed into April.
Sandy Lerman aka @sandyhoops (also known on vitalQPR as sandyl)