QPR’s third 1-0 league victory in a row ensured that they left West Yorkshire with all 3 points in another tightly contested Championship match at Elland Road. This was the R’s first victory over Leeds since a 3-1 win back in the 1995-96 season. The 1-0 score-line in this game suggests it was a narrow victory yet QPR were always in control of a game which again highlighted the quality amongst the R’s ranks in relation to the opposition.
This game was marked as the sternest of three difficult away trips in August, yet I thought we restrained the home side to very limited chances. Our two centre-backs were outstanding in completely stifling out the threat of Leeds trio Ross McCormack, Noel Hunt and Luke Varney.
I had ear-marked the visit to Leeds as soon as the fixtures had been announced as it was a ground I’d never been to. It was an early start too due to Sky selecting our game for a 12.15 kick-off for the second successive Saturday. Kings Cross provided its usual hustle and bustle of activity, although I was (naively perhaps) surprised at the number of Leeds fans travelling up on the train from London. Also on the same train were Phil Beard and members of the club’s press team.
The train rolled into Leeds station dead on time at 10.25am and I soon met up with a couple of friends. We seemed to be the only QPR fans in the Moons pub in the station and we were surrounded by an impressive amount of replica Leeds shirts ranging from the late 80’s to the present day. After the defeat in the League Cup during the week, I spoke about my concerns with the game and in particular a couple of players. Despite an improved second-half display, I felt that some of the older players were looking jaded and wondered whether it would affect them for this game.
After a quick bite to eat, we got down the ground just in time for kick-off. Elland Road is a large ground with one huge stand that is out of proportion to the rest of the other stands. My first thoughts were how run-down the place looked. It looked really dated and in need of some TLC. It was also the first time in a while that I’d sat on wooden seats too !
Rob Green was warming up in the goal-mouth in front of us; the team at a glance showed the exact line-up as the one which defeated Bolton seven days before.
From the opening stages, Leeds looked to get the ball forward as quickly as possible. The preferred method was to get it up to the Leeds front-two with balls often by-passing the midfield. There seemed to be vast amounts of space on the Elland Road surface which I thought both teams would exploit. For QPR, it was a similar story to the week before, tidy in possession but lacking an outlet on either flank to get at the opposition’s defence.
Leeds had the game’s first chance, an effort blasted well over the bar by Paul Green. On 8 minutes, QPR looked to have taken the lead. A nice passage of play involving some good work by Shaun Wright-Phillips and Andy Johnson saw the ball break to Gary O’Neil. His neat pass found Joey Barton who slotted the ball past Paddy Kenny. However, he was flagged offside. It was hard to tell from my vantage point; however, a flurry of tweets and text messages suggested that Barton was onside.
The first-half then fell into a pattern of midfield tussling and scarce half-chances for both teams. Danger man Ross McCormack was excellently marshalled by Nedum Onuoha with Richard Dunne holding the Rangers rear-guard in place when the home team did threaten to attack. Shaun Wright-Phillips had a header which lacked any power and trickled harmlessly past Kenny’s post. Leeds won a few corners in the first-half but the quality of the deliveries into the box were inadequate and were easily dealt with by the away side.
Both Rodolph Austin and Joey Barton’s passing radars were off kilter, both were guilty of wasting possession in promising situations for their respective teams. As each passing game happens in this division, the gaping hole in quality between the Championship and Premier League seems to become more obvious. The top division is an unforgiving place, where every moment of error is punished and then criticised by people watching all over the world. This game like the others I’ve seen, have been strewn with errors but the quality needed to take these opportunities have often been missing.
A quick pint at half-time was enjoyed after what was, in all honesty, a quiet first-half but very comfortable for Rangers. The crowd was very low for a ground of Leeds’s size, it was barely half-full and this was reflected in the noise from the home fans. It actually felt like the home side were slightly in awe of some of the higher profile names in the R’s side. What I did feel at the interval was that both sides lacked a player with any king of pace. The game was crying out for Junior Hoilett to come on to run at and attack the space on the left-hand side.
The second-half started with a very early chance for Charlie Austin. He ran onto a ball down the right-hand side. With no one in support, he opted to try and fire the ball through the legs of Paddy Kenny but the former R’s custodian blocked his low shot. Kenny didn’t seem to get any real abuse from the travelling R’s support, just the usual chants/banter that he got before he joined the club. The lean Paddy Kenny that greeted us weekly during the promotion season was replaced with the more familiar “well built” frame !
Leeds once again had some half-chances and Rob Green was called into action and saved well from a shot by Leeds sub Dominic Poleon, whose introduction was greeted well by the home crowd.
QPR had started to look a little more dangerous in the second-half following the introduction of Junior Hoilett, who had replaced Gary O’Neil. On the other flank, Wright-Phillips’s hard work and willingness to run into space was beginning to tire the full-back on this side. It was good to see Hoilett back and hopefully he will still be an R’s player and won’t be leaving the club in the next 24 hours or so.
With the game entering the last 15 minutes, Charlie Austin had a chance that Kenny easily dealt with from an Ale Faurlin corner. However, the Leeds keeper was beaten shortly after. A Joey Barton free kick was floated into the penalty area. Paddy Kenny parried the ball as it was scrambled towards him but the ball broke loose. Clint Hill was in the right place at the right time and the R’s skipper blasted the ball into the roof of the net from all of two yards out. Bedlam followed in the away stand as hundreds of fellow R’s fans celebrated wildly.
From this point, I expected the home team to rally but it never really happened. The hard-working Andy Johnson was replaced by Jermaine Jenas as Harry Redknapp opted to snuff out any threats. Again, Leeds had some half-chances. The original sewer rat himself, El-Hadji Diouf, came on to a chorus of boos from the R’s faithful, for his first appearance against QPR since the infamous incident in which he verbally abused the broken-legged Jamie Mackie up at Blackburn in early 2011.
Five minutes of stoppage time was added on and Leeds best chance of the game fell to Rodolph Austin in the final minute of this added period. The Leeds skipper let fly more in desperation; his dipping 30-yard shot flicked off the corner of the crossbar. An equalising goal so late on would have rescued an invaluable point for the home team but it wasn’t to be.
The final whistle blew and brought to an end an excellent first month for the R’s, 13 out of a possible 15 points is a superb return and probably about 7 or 8 points more than I thought we’d pick up. The victory was more comfortable than I thought, with the team not really getting out of third gear. I agree with Redknapp’s post-match comments that there is still room for improvement. What has impressed me so much this month is the tenacity and willingness shown by the players to work for one another. It’s a great platform to build from and hopefully we can add a touch of flair into the team which I think will make us an even more dangerous team.
I pondered long and hard on the train journey home on who my man of the match would be. The obvious candidates included the two centre-backs. Both Dunne and in particular Onuoha were outstanding at the back and were instrumental in us keeping a consecutive third clean sheet. Danny Simpson continues to impress me with his work-rate and energy. However, on this occasion I thought that Shaun Wright-Phillips was my man of the match.
He worked tirelessly through-out and seemed to get better as the game went on. He linked well with Simpson and I noticed that he seemed to grow in confidence and he looked as though he was enjoying himself too which will help his confidence.
I was critical of his performance in the cup defeat to Swindon so it was nice to see him improve and put in a commanding display. The shadow of new signing Matty Phillips is hanging over him too, maybe he senses this. It’s the sense of competition that will be great for QPR after the way some players appeared to be chosen regardless of form during the previous 18 months.
Ratings: Green 7, Simpson 7, Dunne 8, Onuoha 8, Hill 7, Wright-Phillips 8, Barton 6, Henry 7, O’Neil 6, Johnson 7, Austin 7
Subs: Hoilett 7, Faurlin 6, Jenas 5
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Suk-Young, Zamora, Sharif
Attendance: 23,341 (including 673 + 4 R’s fans)
My pre-season prediction of needing to win 4 of the first 6 games to aspire hopes of a promotion campaign has been met with a game to spare. Already in 4 weeks we have won as many league games as we did in the whole of last season ! A cracking start and with 4 of our next 5 league games at home, we have an ideal chance to impose ourselves on this division and make ourselves a formidable force.