Just Back on the Island...
by, 09-08-2010 at 02:26 PM (359 Views)
Well having returned from our opening game of the season and feeling absolutely ecstatic (to put it lightly!) I can honestly say that I feel far more confident about not only the squad – but the general mood around the club as well, with a large portion of that confidence coming from the terrific support that each and every fan gave to those 11 players out on the pitch yesterday.
I don’t think I have seen Loftus Road in such a buoyant mood for what seems an eternity, and boy did those players respond!
For anyone interested, here is my take on today’s game.
It was a pretty early start for us yesterday morning, with it being Cowes week (week of boating/drinking) over on the Isle of Wight; we were forced into catching an early ferry as the prices soured for a sailing at any reasonable hour in the morning.
After arriving in London, we eventually made it round to the ground at around 2 o’clock and watched on as the players ran out onto the pitch for the first time this season. I hadn’t personally got to make it to any pre-season games over the last couple of weeks, so it was my first look at our new summer signings.
As the squad was read out, Kenny/Hill/Orr/Derry and Mackie all received good receptions. There was a notable difference with Taarabt though, with the majority of people going that little bit extra with the cheering to welcome him back. He responded with a clap towards us.
Our starting line-up saw us hand debuts to six players. Kenny started in goal, with Hill starting at left back and Hall partnering Gorkss in the centre of defence and Orr at right back.
Then we had Derry alongside Faurlin in midfield, with Hogan and Mackie on either flank and Taarabt playing just off Helguson upfront.
In all honesty, there were some surprises in the starting line-up that surprised me. Most notably the absence of Akos Buzsaky, who we have since learned picked up an injury. I’ll make no secret that I have questioned the signings of Hill and particularly Derry. I strongly disagreed with the selection of Fitz Hall at the expense of Connolly, although it was no shock what with Warnock’s decision to appoint him as club captain. As for Helguson, again he is one player that I simply just do not rate.
But I approached the game with an open mind, and still felt quietly confident we might sneak a result.
Naturally with it being the first game of the season, the fans in attendance were in more of an upbeat kind of mood and it made for a decent atmosphere in the early stages of the game. Barnsley probably just shaded it in terms of possession in the opening few minutes, and in honesty we did struggle to get possession back off of them. With the rain coming down quite heavily, a number of fans in our area of the ground started to chant “We’re not getting wet” towards the fans located in the Lower Loft – some of which were moving up the rows of seats to avoid the rain. One merry fan located in the Lower Loft stood up in response and sang “I am getting wet, I am getting wet!” which bought a few laughs and before he sat back down.
Back to the game, and it was us that had the first effort on goal. I believe it was Mackie that was brought down on the right hand side of the field. Orr swung the ball into the box, and after a few players jumped to head it clear it eventually fell to Faurlin around 25 yards out, unfortunately he couldn’t quite manage a clean connection on the ball and saw his effort spurn over the bar.
It gave the home support a bit more encouragement and we had another effort on goal shortly after. This time Mackie had appeared on the left hand side, and after trying to get to the by-line the ball was eventually seen out by the defender with a corner kick being awarded in our favour. Taarabt ran over to take the corner up by the School End and received a fair reception from the home supporters located in that area of the ground. After whipping the ball in at the back post, it was headed back across the face of goal by Gorkss, and Helguson rose above the Barnsley defence but could only manage to direct his header over the bar from little more than 5 yards out. Again, it was the kind of chance that a striker should be converting more often than not and he really should have scored here.
Adel had been almost a spectator in these early stages, and we were struggling to get him on the ball. The first real chance that he had to get some time on the ball he produced another piece of magic as only he can. After picking the ball up in the middle of the pitch from around 30 yards out, he allowed it to run through his legs and left the defender trailing in his wake. He cut in on his right side, and saw his curling shot flying towards the goal… Luke Steele made a cracking stop though and managed to just push the ball round the post and clear of danger.
It bought a generous chant of “Taarabt is a Ranger” from the corner of the Upper Loft, which didn’t quite catch on as you would hope.
Take nothing away from Barnsley at this stage though, they were playing some pretty decent football themselves, and were extremely unlucky not to go ahead just moments later. After a long ball up field managed to find Gray on the edge of the box, he teed the ball for the oncoming midfielder, and he hammered the ball goal wards from around 30 yards out which clipped the crossbar and went out for a goal kick. I think Kenny was well beaten on this occasion, but it was a thunderous drive and you would have no complaints had it found its way into the back of the net.
I don’t know if I may be slightly over exaggerating by saying this, but shortly after I felt for the first time that Taarabt was “accepted” by the home support at Loftus Road. He had been reasonably quiet thus far, and after receiving the ball around 30 yards out from goal with an open defence to run at – you couldn’t help but expect the step overs and fancy tricks to come out. But instead, he expertly spotted a sneaky run in between the static Barnsley defence by Mackie and sent a pearl of a ball into the box with the outside of his boot. Mackie managed to just get a connection on the ball, but saw it eventually run out for a goal kick. There were quite a few mutterings of admiration for the ball played by Taarabt, and soon after the chant of “Adel is a Ranger” followed – but this time it was full blooded and a large number of supporters joined in.
To my shock, despite him being up the other end of the pitch, Adel turned to the supporters were the noise was coming from and applauded in their direction as the game was being played! This seemed to just fire up the home supporters even more, and the noise became louder and louder.
Next up Taarabt displayed the more artistic side to his game and won us a penalty. Clint Hill managed to win back possession at left back, and played the ball through to Ephraim on the left hand side. He spotted Adel’s run into space and dinked the ball over the oncoming defenders head and into the path of Taarabt, who now had a one on one with the one remaining defender at the back. After clipping the ball from left to right, he shaped to shoot and as the defender went to block the imminent shot, he dragged the ball back to his left side and advanced through on goal… The onrushing defenders now flew in for the ball and Taarabt was sent crashing to the floor – PENALTY.
I was quick to note Adel’s reaction, it goes without saying that he wanted to take the penalty. But after Helguson took the ball from his hands there was no tantrum or request to be substituted, he simply walked back and waited for the penalty to be taken. I noticed Derry was the first player over to encourage him on the skill he displayed in winning the penalty, and Adel clapped hands with him and watched on from the edge of the box… as Helguson sent the keeper the wrong way and gently tucked the ball into the bottom right hand side of the goal. Helguson jogged off towards South Africa Road in celebration and was joined by a number of players – Adel included. A stark contrast to the attitude he displayed last season.
As the game kicked off again the chant was “Adel’s too good for you!” which now felt as if it was bellowing around the whole ground. Adel was clearly relishing his new found attention from the home support, and again responded by applauding in the direction of the Upper Loft which only served to intensify the noise even further.
We did have one scary moment just before the end of the first half. Barnsley had been awarded a free kick on the near side, and after floating the ball into the box it looked to be a routine save for Kenny who rose above everyone else… but the ball somehow slipped through his hands and fell to a Barnsley player who reacted quickly and attacked the loose ball goal wards… I think it was Bradley Orr that managed to flick it onto the crossbar and it was eventually scrapped out for a corner kick by Faurlin. It was a very close shave, and Kenny who was now lying on the floor in some discomfort was a very lucky man here. Any other day I think we would have been punished.
The referee then blew time on the first half and we went in at the interval 1-0 up. On reflection of the first half, I would say we were deservedly in the lead although there were a couple of close calls.
Barnsley started the second half very much on the front foot, and had their next effort on goal just a couple of minutes into the half. After finding acres of space on the right hand side, the ball was eventually drilled into the box and flicked back to Hammell who was around 5 yards out. With the ball around chest height in the air, he couldn’t quite manage a clean connection but saw his effort come back off the post and onto Orr’s leg for a corner kick. From the replay it looked as if Kenny did have this one covered anyway, but it was close.
Fitz Hall then came to the rescue shortly after. After hitting us on the counter, Hammell managed to get past Orr and advance through into the penalty area. It appeared that he had just Kenny to beat, but Fitz Hall came storming in from nowhere and his lunging challenge saw the ball rebound back off of Hammell for a goal kick. I’m not a big admirer of Hall, but it was a fantastic piece of defending that he needed to get right… Fortunately his reading/timing of the challenge was impeccable.
We were the next up to have an effort on goal, and it was Jamie Mackie that really should have scored it. After nipping along the left hand side, Hogan played Hill in on the left hand side and his perfectly weighted cross found Mackie in the penalty area… but his header was week and easily handled by Steele in the Barnsley goal.
Hogan was again involved in the next attack, and after managing to beat one player he advanced now on the left hand side of the box. He spotted Faurlin and laid the ball into his path, before zipping in behind the defender… In naturally classy fashion Faurlin cushioned the ball right into the open space and Hogan drilled it in low across the face of goal… It looked as if Steele had caught the ball, but as was the case last season it somehow escaped the clutches of his hand and Mackie was in the right place at the right time to poke the ball home into the open net. He wheeled off in celebration towards the South Africa Road stand and Loftus Road went crazy!
At 2-0 up, you did feel that we were in the ascendency and we were holding possession brilliantly. After another lung busting run by Mackie on the right hand side, we were awarded a free kick down by the touch line. Taarabt came down to take the free kick and got a great reception by the fans located along the Ellerslie Road. He blasted in a textbook free kick which caused havoc in the defence, and only an outstretched leg from a defender saw it narrowly miss the back of the net and out for a corner kick. Adel walked over towards the corner flag by the R block, and “Adel is a Ranger!” boomed out from this area of the ground. He looked up towards us with a huge smile on his face, and again did what was becoming a “Luigi De Canioesque” wave in our direction. The more they sang, the more he waved.
His following corner was good, and I believe it was Hill that got a connection on the ball but it sailed over the bar.
Adel was now completely running the show, and after jinxing past the left back he saw his swerving cross fly right into the mouth of the goal and laid on a plate for Helguson… He just couldn’t quite get his footing right and it nutmegged him before going out for a throw in. It was an undefendable cross though, and was another sign of a more unselfish/effective side of Taarabt.
Next up Taarabt had possession on the left hand side, and after doing a few step overs and feints one way then the other, the defender flew in to tackle him and he cheekily prodded the ball through his legs to Faurlin in the centre of the pitch. He in turn picked out Orr who had made a run on the right hand side and his cross was seen out by the increasingly aggressive McEveley. “Adel’s too good for you!” was again blasting out from what felt like the whole ground now, and he put his hand over his face as he came to take the corner in front of us… It appeared as if he was almost blushing with all the attention being lavished upon him.
Next up we added a third. After being picked out by Derry around the half way line, Mackie darted towards goal with Hogan, Helguson and Taarabt all in support. He seemed intent on adding to his goal tally though, and attempted to take it round the defender and shoot at goal… The defender managed to get a foot on the ball though, and then bizarrely kicked it at one of his own defenders! He took an eternity to clear the ball from danger Helguson ran in to nip the ball off his toes – in doing so the defender lunged in and brought Helguson down for another penalty.
This time Adel resumed responsibility, and confidently tucked the ball into the bottom right hand side of the goal before going and celebrating with the fans located in the Lower Loft. His goal was fully deserved, and I was delighted to see him cap a stunning performance.
At 3-0 the game was now out of sight, and Warnock decided to freshen things up with Derry being replaced for Leigertwood. Shortly after Helguson was substituted for German, and Parker was introduced for Taarabt who received a standing ovation.
Soon after these substitutions were made, we added a fourth goal.
Hogan had switched flanks with Mackie, and was currently occupying the right hand side. With the ball at his feet, he simply stood while waiting for an option. Sensing Faurlin located behind him, he pinged the ball back to him and again shot off into the open space. Faurlin again read the situation expertly, and played a sumptuous pass exactly where Hogan wanted it. After taking a touch to look up, Hogan again smashed the ball across the face of goal and Fitz Hall was on hand to rattle it into the net and leave Steele absolutely helpless.
With the QPR fans now in a barmy mood, chants of “We are top of the league” soon started, and the party atmosphere continued until the final whistle.
The players were clearly keen on putting the icing on the cake as well, and proceeded to play one touch football amongst themselves to the delight of the home support. One funny moment came when we were cheering every touch being made, and after the ball was eventually taken off of us and scrapped into the air - booing started as we waited for it to drop. The Barnsley defender watched it come down unopposed and tried to roll it back to the keeper off the back of his head. His header was mis-placed though, and the “Whooooooaaaaaa” started from the QPR fans as Steele raced off his goal-line to keep the ball in play… After diving he could only manage to get a palm on it as it rolled out for a corner kick which we celebrated like a goal had gone in. Much to Bradley Orr’s amusement! Steele shouted ferociously at the defender who in turn gave a fair amount of stick back his way.
There was one final talking point as the clocked ticked down towards the full time whistle, and despite it being injury time, Mackie was still full of legs... After picking the ball up in his own half he raced paced McEverley, despite the latter trying to heave him to the floor. Mackie continued with the ball into their half with McEverley practically riding him as he ran. He eventually got bustled to the floor and responded by throwing his arms up and pushing McEverley off of him. The Isle of Wight official decided to only show McEverley a yellow card, which I made sure I would have a word with him about had I caught him on the way home!! In fairness a yellow card was probably about right, despite him making no effort to win the ball at all.
As full time whistle blew, there were huge celebrations around Loftus Road at our resounding victory. Jamie Mackie was very quick to acknowledge the support that was nothing short of fantastic throughout the full 90 minutes, and celebrated wildly in front of us. Adel also came onto the pitch to thank the fans for the tremendous backing that he received.
At the end of the game, for the first time in a long while I left Loftus Road with nothing but a sweet taste in my mouth… and that was down to the great atmosphere that we generated as much as the superb performance on the pitch. The two went hand in hand, and it made for a cracking day out and much needed QPR fix!
Player Ratings –
Kenny – I will be brutally honest with this one, and say that he did look pretty nervy at times during the game. His shot stopping was pretty good, not that he was particularly tested. But his handling of high balls and crosses did leave a bit to be desired and we could have been punished for it. One thing that was very clear though was his organisation of the defence, which he bossed from start to finish. I personally think we have signed a very good goalkeeper, and will put it down to opening day jitters as much as anything else. I’m sure he will rectify those issues come his return to Bramall Lane.
Hill – Have to say he really did impress me. He isn’t (and never will be) anything special coming forward or on the ball. But one thing you can say with complete confidence is that he is solid as a rock at the back. Won near enough everything in the air, and a couple of occasions aside handled the attack of Barnsley superbly. Going by this performance alone, it appears we may have found a “proper” left back to make the position his own. It was an extremely encouraging debut for him.
Hall – I’ll repeat that I was absolutely stunned at Warnock’s decision to appoint him as captain. His performances in a QPR shirt since arriving at the club have on the whole been pretty disappointing, and his injury record speaks for itself. But we can only judge him on yesterday’s performance and I thought that it was near enough spotless. I have since heard that there was talk of a handball in the first half, I honestly can’t comment as I didn’t see what happened. He wrongly hoofed the ball up field when he could have passed it, but aside from that I didn’t think he put a foot wrong. Had he not slid in on Hammell in the area - no doubt we would have conceded, with the score being tied at 1-1. I hope the new found responsibility will see him maintain this level of performance (and stay injury free!). Impressive.
Gorkss – He really is Mr consistent. Every single game you know exactly what you are going to get from him, and yesterday was no difference. Not afraid to put his head in where it hurts, and I thought he complimented Hall well. Looked far more of a threat from corners and set pieces, and it was a very good start to the season for him.
Orr – I’ve always rated him as a player, and have to say I was delighted when we managed to sign him. I might be wrong, but I think he is maybe just a little bit behind on his match fitness as he wasn’t quite as energetic as I have seen him for Bristol City. But take nothing away from his performance; he was excellent on the right hand side. I can think of only a sole occasion where he got beat, and he did put some excellent crosses into the box. Looked very good on the overlap and always an option on the right hand side.
Derry – I’ll eat a gluttonous helping of humble pie on this one. I actually thought that aside from Taarabt, he was arguably our best player. I felt prior to this game that Warnock was almost signing one of his mates by offering him a deal here, and did question exactly what role he would play for us. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Having him sitting in front of the defence meant that Faurlin didn’t have to cover such an astronomical distance throughout the game as was the case last season, and really relieved him of the pressure of having to break up EVERYTHING in midfield. He worked brilliantly with him. I really think that Derry will be a vital member of the squad – especially away from home. His experience was there for all to see. He’s a great signing on a free transfer. Well done Neil Warnock!
Faurlin – As mentioned above, having Derry sat in midfield alongside him really did allow him to focus on other areas of his game, and provide more of a threat going forward. The two passes he made in the build up to the second and fourth goals just oozed class. Still broke up play a on a fair number of occasions, and also had a very good start to the season.
Ephraim – He looked a different player yesterday. I’ve always felt that Hogan has always been quite nice on the eye, but he doesn’t seem to really offer much in the way of goals/service for other players. Despite being outshone by Taarabt on the day, Hogan was a constant thorn in Barnsley’s flesh. His pass to set Taarabt on the way for winning the penalty was well spotted, and despite being fortunate for his second “assist” the cross for Hall’s goal was fantastic. I enjoyed watching him have a more direct approach towards the opposition defenders, and for once he wasn’t scared to actually try and run at them. This could be a big season for him; it will be interesting to see how he performs.
Mackie – He is going to be a real crowd favourite. I know it has been mentioned on a number of occasions across various message boards, but this guy really does work his nuts off. Funnily enough the moment that stood out to me in yesterday’s game came when he lost possession on the right hand side and the opposition played the ball forward… He had already ran the length of the pitch to get into that position, but he sprinted all the way back to the edge of our own area before eventually sliding in and getting a foot on the ball to win back possession. Then he darted forwards again and called for the ball. I suppose in some ways he is in the Gareth Ainsworth mould, and you can see the never say die attitude written all over him. Capped a great debut with a goal, and enjoyed the win as much as anybody.
Taarabt – I really don’t know where to start with him. I was sick to death of how long his transfer seemed to take to go through… but he is ours now and I truly couldn’t be happier! The gift that he possesses has never been in question, but his attitude and use of other players most definitely HAS. Yesterday however was a completely different story, and he completely took their defence (and their whole team for that matter) to the cleaners. For all his tricks and flicks - I can think of only one occasion where Adel has literally dismantled the opposition by himself (Preston away last season) but I think his performance yesterday probably eclipsed even that. His use of other players was excellent, and even the most pessimistic fan couldn’t say that they weren’t left drooling over his performance yesterday… absolutely mind-blowing! Another thing that struck me was that the more the crowd cheered and sang his name, the better he played. Despite the amount of debate about just how good he is, one thing we can say beyond a shadow of a doubt is that on his day – he will annihilate any defender in the division and he proved that yesterday. Forget match winner, when he plays like this he can be a promotion winner. Please stick to just backing him completely even when the tricks don’t come off, because a happy Taarabt is a lethal Taarabt! Can’t praise him enough.
Helguson – The jury is still very much out on him, and despite scoring his penalty yesterday I still don’t think he is the answer to our problems. I have always felt he isn’t the most mobile of strikers, but I’ll give him his due he did work hard yesterday – and that showed with the penalty he won for the third goal. It shouldn’t be forgotten though that he missed a great chance with the header he put over the bar, and an absolute guilt-edged one from the Taarabt cross. He should have scored a hat-trick. My frustration with him is that I never feel confident he will put the ball into the back of the net, and I think there were signs of that yesterday. But as mentioned above, he worked hard and you can’t fault him for that.
Leigertwood – Didn’t really put a foot wrong with the 10 minutes he had on the pitch. Couple of nice passes, but no time to really make an impact.
Parker – Really wanted to see him get at the full back and use that lightening quick pace he has. He didn’t get an awful lot of time on the pitch, but looked sharp and nearly set up German for a goal.
German – Only really had one chance, where he did an air kick and missed the ball. Made no impression in the few minutes he was given.
On reflection on the game as a whole, despite scoring 4 goals I do still feel we need another striker to partner Adel upfront. We do actually have a superbly balanced side now, with the defence and midfield looking very strong indeed. The new signings all look to have gelled into the side very quickly, and I’ve been smiling about the game since I left Loftus Road yesterday… It was great!
A striker really would complete things though, but I think we do have reason to be very optimistic about the season ahead.
If they play anything like they did yesterday we won’t lose many games at all.
Just finally, I hope the support maintains that level of backing throughout the season – they really were something else, and no doubt we can make Loftus Road a fortress once again if we can keep that up. Well done QPR!
Thanks for reading,