Charlie Austin scored a dramatic winner two minutes into time added on to secure QPR’s first win in four games. Austin rose highest in the area to plant a thumping header into the corner of the net following a superb cross on the run from Danny Simpson. To say it was harsh on Doncaster would be the understatement of the year even though 2014 is only a day old.
On Sunday, Harry Redknapp claimed (somewhat hilariously) that we had given Watford a football lesson in the first forty five minutes. No one could argue that we were given a football lesson in the first-half by lowly Doncaster, so much so, that we were jeered off the pitch at the break.
Redknapp made two changes to the starting line-up at Vicarage Road with Gary O’Neil and the aforementioned Charlie Austin coming in for Tom Carroll and Matt Phillips respectively. Doncaster on the other hand came into the game on the back of a six match winless run since beating us at the Keepmoat Stadium some 33 days ago.
Rovers also made two changes from the goal-less draw with Millwall on Sunday with Federico Macheda and Theo Robinson coming in for Woods and Peterson upfront in a twin strike force. Remind me who were the home/away team here please?
The game was played in absolutely atrocious conditions akin to those at Blackpool just before Christmas with swirling winds and torrential rain making it difficult to play good football at times so fair play to both sides for actually playing football the way it was intended and not going route one.
However, Rovers showed us at times how to keep possession with Richie Wellens giving our five-man midfield another lesson in the art of the midfielder by being a ball-winning player who also got up to support the twin strike force and who also gave our management team food for thought surely on how best to play to your strengths.
As early as the third minute it was evident that Paul Dickov had done his homework when a through-ball beyond Dunne was chased down by Robinson and had it not been for the electric pace of Onuoha, who intercepted the through-ball, we may have been a goal behind early on. I commented to a friend that Robinson will cause Dunne problems today and so it was to be.
Following the early scare, the ball was up the other end and Barton got a teasing cross into the danger area and Austin met it with a downward header, forcing Ross Turnbull into making a save down to his right. Then as the clock on the scoreboard ticked over into double figures, Simpson got down the right-wing and found Kranjcar in field who looked up and hit a low, right-footed shot that only missed the far post by about two inches.
It was in the build-up to this chance that Junior Hoilett went down holding his leg for what seemed to be his fortnightly hamstring pull. Alas, he was replaced two minutes later with Matt Phillips, coming on in a ‘like for like’ swap. Within seconds of the change, Gary O’Neil went into the referee’s book for what can only be described as a late and clumsy challenge on Dean Furman. On a dry day it could’ve been a red so fair play to Graham Scott for using some common sense.
For the next thirty odd minutes, Doncaster caused us lots of problems with the movement and link-up play of Macheda and Robinson who were ably supported by some really dangerous balls crossed into the box from both wings.
O’Neil was caught in possession on 25 minutes, leaving us exposed and as Cotterill found Macheda on the edge of the box, he played in Wellens at an angle and his shot looked like a goal all the way. But it then swerved away thankfully with Robinson trying his best to get a touch at the far post.
On 43 minutes we were taught a lesson again when this time Benayoun was caught in possession deep in our half. Macheda advanced on goal and fed his strike partner Robinson in the exact same spot that Wellens had missed from earlier. The No. 22 buried the ball beyond Green’s dive inside the far post for his fifth goal since joining in August and his first since November. No prizes for guessing who that was against!
The goal had been coming and our five-man midfield were again struggling against four as time and time again they seemed to be getting in each other’s way. In particular both Benayoun and O’Neil were struggling while Kranjcar seemed to be under instructions to wander around aimlessly and do what he wanted. All our shots, with the exception of Kranjcar’s early effort, never looked likely to break our scoring drought. Half-time: 0-1. We were roundly jeered off the pitch and although I didn’t join in it wasn’t surprising.
The sight of Andy Johnson emerging from the tunnel before his team mates caused the biggest cheer of the day so far as Redknapp replaced the totally ineffective Benayoun and we reverted to 4-4-2.
Five minutes into the second-half, Rovers had what looked like a good shout for a penalty turned down by the referee with the result seeing both O’Neil and Wellens receiving lengthy treatment for an injury. The ball was crossed into our box and as the ball was headed up in the air, Wellens appeared to be impeded by O’Neil who executed a scissors kick at head height on the Rovers midfielder.
During this break in play, Redknapp was seen giving instructions to both full-backs and Matt Phillips and from what I could see it looked like he wanted balls into the box from wide areas. Maybe Harry had noticed that we had just won just two headers in the box from corners and saw this as a weakness in the Rovers defence. These instructions seemed to sink in with great effect as within ten minutes of the re-start, Rangers equalised following a cross into the box from the left-wing by Assou-Ekotto.
A defender first took an air kick and the ball dropped to Austin in the six-yard box. Cotterill threw his body in front of the shot and the ball fell kindly to Phillips who swept home from four yards to huge sighs of relief all round.
For the rest of the half we got the ball in wide areas and put in some decent crosses which caused the Rovers back-four some problems at times, but the goal didn’t seem it would ever arrive. That’s not to say that Doncaster were idle in our half of the pitch though.
On 73 minutes, Green had to be on his toes to deal with a swerving 25-yard shot from Mark Duffy by first palming the ball out, then grabbing the loose ball before Robinson could get to the rebound. The guy behind me said: “Why can’t our central midfielders get shots on target like that in these windy conditions?” I concurred.
Two minutes later, Kranjcar was found in a similar position by Barton and the Croatian found the target but Turnbull made sure that he didn’t repeat his error at the Keepmoat. Then it was Nedum Onuoha’s turn to try his luck when he collected a loose ball just outside the box and hit a shot, but it was too straight for Turnbull and he made an easy save. As Doncaster wound the clock down by time wasting (and who can blame them?) we seemed to be running out of ideas.
With seven minutes remaining, Kranjcar again tried his luck from distance, but again Turnbull was up to it. Then Redknapp replaced Kranjcar with Traore who immediately went wide-left. One of Traore’s first touches was within a minute when he was found in the box by a Simpson cross, floated to the back post, but the left-midfielder’s header went just wide.
The fourth official indicated that there would be four minutes added on and a huge roar went up to encourage the team for one last effort.
Two minutes later, our collective prayers were answered. A swirling high ball was trapped superbly by Phillips who ran at the Rovers defence and then fed Simpson who was overlapping down the Ellerslie Road wing. Looking up, he planted a ball into the box and onto Charlie Austin’s head who replicated his effort at Blackpool a few weeks ago with a thumping header to break Doncaster’s resolve and hearts.
Austin heads for goal
It was enough to send us up to third with Derby losing at home while Burnley and Leicester both won. A happy start to the New Year, but it could’ve been oh so different in the first-half.
Second-half we kept plugging away and those instructions from Harry paid off as we put in more crosses during the second-half than we had in the past four games in total.
Team: Green 7, Simpson 7, Dunne 6, Onuoha 6, Assou-Ekotto 6, Barton 6, O’Neil 6, Kranjcar 5, Benayoun 3, Hoilett (n/a), Austin 7,
Subs: Phillips 7, Traore 6, Johnson 6.
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Hill, Carroll, Henry.
MOM: Simpson. He has frustrated me recently with his lack of willingness to overlap and support our right-winger. Yesterday he was bombing down the wing all game and put in some lovely crosses, none more so than the winner.
Referee: Graham Scott 7. It is rare to see a ref using the advantage rule and common sense so often. Even with the penalty claim, he indicated with his hands that it was merely a coming together.
Attendance: 15,807 (including 443 Rovers fans)
Photo provided by Sandra Sayce and is used with permission