BILLY SHARP netted a hatrick as Sheffield United blew the R`s away at Bramall Lane. Rangers were second best in all the departments that mattered, as they failed in both their defensive duties, and never looked like troubling Blades stopper Paddy Kenny.
Sharp had the Blades two up before the 15 minute mark, with a well guided diving header, before placing a well guided shot past Cerny into the bottom corner. He had his third in the second half as the Rangers rearguard wilted once more, with Cerny unable to take the cross, and the defence once again failing to clear their lines.
A much needed reality check for Rangers, as for all of their possession and comfort on the ball, the side crumbled when put under any severe pressure, as the Blades proved they truly were a cut above.
Iain Dowie made a couple of changes from the League Cup win over Swindon Town at the County Ground. Radek Cerny came back into the starting line-up at the expense of Lee Camp, whilst Fitz Hall resumed his partnership Kaspars Gorkss at the back.
Dowie opted not to bring back duo Peter Ramage and Gavin Mahon who returned to the bench, as Matthew Connolly and Daniel Parejo retained their place in the side.
The Blades chose Darius Henderson and Billy Sharp from a plethora of forwards to spearhead the attack. They were supplemented by new signings Sun Jihai and Greg Halford, as Sheffield United looked to get off to a positive start at Bramall Lane following the opening day defeat against Birmingham City at St. Andrews.
Kick Off: Sheffield United v Queens Park Rangers
United started brightly, as there were comfortable on the ball, knocking the ball out to both flanks probing for an opening in the Rangers backline. In particular the movement of Sharp and the aerial guile of Henderson was proving an early test for the R`s.
It was a test they ultimately failed as the Blades took the early advantage. Darius Henderson who was already proving a handful for Gorkss and Hall, beat his defender in the air, and with Matthew Connolly leaving live-wire forward Billy Sharp unmarked in the area, he had the most simplest of takes to nod home from close range, past the despairing dive of Radek Cerny.
Sheffield United 1-0 Queens Park Rangers
By now the game was merely in its infancy with five minutes gone, but United were displaying their promotion credentials with some tidy football and excellent ball retention, and Rangers could offer little in reply.
Daniel Parejo was pushed deeper in order to get hold of the ball, and his block from a Greg Halford drive provided Rangers with a moment of respite in a thunderous opening at Bramall Lane, which by now was truly rocking.
The Blades once again complimented their dominant start with another goal, as Sharp was helping himself with Rangers wasteful in possession and clueless at the back. The experiences Gary Speed took the ball from Mikele Leigertwood in the middle before sending an excellent through ball in for the aforementioned Sharp. Billy Sharp ran in behind a hesitant Kaspars Gorkss, to comfortably slot past Cerny, as Rangers were truly second best in all departments.
Sheffield United 2-0 Queens Park Rangers
Rangers were at the mercy of their counterparts as the home crowd willed on a third, as Rangers seemed bereft of confidence and ideas both upfront but more alarmingly at the back. Following the second strike there was a meeting of minds between the defenders to try and sort out the glaring issue that Rangers were having in defence.
Moments later Greg Halford somehow escaped a red card when he went in with a viscious two footed challenge on R`s left back Damien Delaney. It was something that the Irishman took exception to, but the referee let Halford off with a yellow, whilst Damien Delaney was somehow given similar punishment for what the referee must have deemed as a vicious two handed shove – shame on him!
Sun Jihai signed from Manchester City in the summer proved he was more than a match for Rangers in the early stages, when his defending snuffed out any Rangers attacking threat down the left, however he never forgot his attacking duties, as he sent in a delightful right footed cross for Darius Henderson. The former Watford striker looped his header straight into the arms of a greatful Radek Cerny, a cross that deserved so much more for the Blades.
Rangers started to retain the ball alot better in the middle of the park with Parejo at the forefront of the R`s attack. He and Mikele Leigertwood were the engine room of the outfit from W12, and started to create some chances of their own. Former Blade Leigertwood attempted a right footed drive from distance, however it blazed high and wide into the stand to the dismay of the travelling fans.
Chris Morgan was forced to make way with a head injury he had picked up earlier in the game, he had left the field on a couple of occasions and following consultations with the club doctor he was led down the tunnel to be replaced by former Aston Villa defender Ugo Ehiogu.
Emmanuel Ledesma was looking lively once again on the right flank despite Rangers attacking and defensive woes, and he carved out a wonderful chance for himself from shooting range, only to be denied by the immense Sun Jihai.
Michael Tonge conspired to miss from close range, when his initial effort was well blocked by the R`s defence, he had another chance with Cerny floored and the goal at his mercy he fluffed his lines as Cerny recovered in time to take the ball.
With that the half time whistle was blown as Rangers were at the mercy of Sheffield United after a half that uncovered some major flaws in the R`s defence and laid them bare for all to see, with Billy Sharp able to help himself to two well taken goals. An improvement was required in the second half if Rangers were to get anything from the game.
Half Time: Sheffield United 2-0 Queens Park Rangers
Iain Dowie opted to withdraw an effective player in Angelo Balanta for Samuel Di Carmine, who himself has had very little game time in a Rangers shirt. Balanta in truth had done very little wrong but Dowie opted for an out and out striker to salvage Rangers chances in this fixture.
However it wasn`t long before Rangers were on the back foot once more and ultimately it cost them this fixture. Yet more goalkeeping woes for Radek Cerny has he failed to collect yet another routine cross, and instead of clearing the ball the defence attempted to play football on the goaline, Billy Sharp was on hand as he steamed through to place the ball home into the bottom left to put the final nail in the Rangers coffin.
It truly was tentative defending with the backline completely uninspired by the poor handywork of the ex-Tottenham and Slavia Prague stopper. Substitute goalkeeper Lee Camp`s body language before the game suggested one of annoyance and frustration that he wasn`t involved in the line-up, he may well get his chance following this display by Cerny.
Sheffield United 3-0 Queens Park Rangers
Rangers to their credit continued to player expertly in the midfield with Connolly and Delaney getting forward to support the flanks, however Rangers were unable to make that incisive pass as the strike-force never looked like scoring, cut adrift from the rest of the field on most occasions.
Rangers in possession looked formidable, Rangers without the ball looked set to implode and Cerny had to be at his best to deny Sharp a fourth. Whilst an expert drive from Emmanuel Ledesma coming in from the right rebounded off the post, and Dexter Blackstock took an age to get the ball out of his feet with the goal at his mercy, and Ugo Ehiogu put in a goal-saving challenge to keep Rangers goalless.
Paddy Kenny was being tested at last with Dexter Blackstock going close, and Fitz Hall heading narrowly over the bar from the subsequent corner. Rangers were pressing their territorial advantage, but you never had the same feeling regarding their attack as you did the Blades, with every move seemingly capable of yielding another goal.
Samuel Di Carmine had his right foot taken away from him when he was about to pull the trigger just outside the area, and after protestations from Ledesma, Dani Parejo fired a right footed free kick around the wall, with Paddy Kenny alert to push the chance away.
Parejo was at it again moments later as yet another free-kick tested Kenny as the R`s seemed destined to remain goalless despite all their attacking endeavour. Lee Cook had a pop from distance, but the left footed drive lost pace towards its conclusion and was smothered by Kenny, who was now being tested, if not overly-challenged by the Rangers attack.
Former Blade Leigertwood attempted to take matters into his own hands as he drove in from the right flank, only to see his left footed shot end up like a carbon copy of his first half effort, it was drilled high and wide over the bar, as he technique was completely off on the day.
Rangers switched Ledesma over to the left with Alberti coming on for Cook in an attempt to grab a confidence boosting goal, however the move didn`t pay off and ultimately Rangers, not by any means outplayed, but well-beaten as the basics continue to haunt them.
For all their ball retention of the second period, and the excellent possession football being played, they offered very little at the back and up front, as the decisive finishing blow evaded them. You might say they lacked the cutting edge, that Blades` Billy Sharp was able to provide.
Final Whistle: Sheffield United 3-0 Queens Park Rangers
Rangers: Radek Cerny, Damien Delaney, Fitz Hall, Mikele Leigertwood, Daniel Parejo, Dexter Blackstock, Kaspars Gorkss, Matthew Connolly, Lee Cook (Matteo Alberti 80), Angelo Balanta (Samuel Di Carmine 45) Emmanuel Ledesma.
Radek Cerny 4/10
Never inspired confidence in his defence with a string of poor attempted catches from crosses which put the R`s under pressure, nothing he could do about goals one and two, but the third was primarily down to him, thoroughly disappointing and Lee Camp will be pulling his hair out if he`s not reinstated after this one.
Matthew Connolly 5/10
Looked alot more comfortable in the second half but in all fairness the game was over when he came to the fore. Attacked well down the right flank but voided his defensive duties in the first period to allow Sharp to head home unmarked, may call for Ramage to come back in.
Damien Delaney 6/10
Looked comfortable in the air and on the ground and supported Cook well in the second half. He was one of the unlucky ones in the back four, but was perhaps guilty of not cutting out the crosses before they came in and snuffing out attacks before they had a chance to develop.
Fitz Hall 6/10
Was given a tough time in the air by Henderson and the movement of Sharp had him allover the show at times. A disappointing display from an experienced defender, who should have taken control in an inexperienced back line at times. Could have done better with his chance.
Kaspars Gorkss 6/10
Performed a little better than the rest at the back, he competed well in the air, but was a little hesitant for the second goal. He looked very comfortable passing the ball, but was beaten in the air too much by Henderson for my liking.
Emmanuel Ledesma 7/10
He was part of an excellent attacking unit, which should have delivered goals for Rangers. He has a first touch to die for, and was linking up well with the heart of midfield to carve out half chances. His play-acting is a real worry, and unfortunately is something that is a real negative in his game.
Lee Cook 7/10
Did well going forward and won a few excellent tackles. He resumed his battle with Greg Halford which started away at Colchester a few years ago, and beat his counterpart all ends up again today. He found life against Sun Jihai quite tricky however and his crossing failed to pick out a striker throughout.
Mikele Leigertwood 6/10
Was strong throughout and occasionally looked to get forward and support the attack. His strength was a real asset in defensive areas but perhaps didn`t provide enough cover for the backline at times. He lost the ball for the second goal, as Speed beat him to the ball.
Daniel Parejo 8/10
He exhumed confidence throughout with some excellent passing and attacking play without neglecting his defensive duties. His trickery was a rare ray of light on an otherwise gloomy day, beating Halford on three separate occasions. Didn`t deserve to be on the losing side.
Angelo Balanta 6/10
Looked strong in possession and linked midfield and attack well, however effectively Blackstock was becoming increasingly isolated as Balanta came deep for the ball. Perplexing why Dowie chose to withdraw Balanta when a host of others were doing an inferior job.
Dexter Blackstock 6/10
Got about the pitch well but once again never looked like scoring. He dallied over an open goal and was tackled and found it tough against the experienced Ehiogu in the air. Rangers need strikers.
Samuel Di Carmine 6/10
Replaced Angelo Balanta:
He displayed some good technique in order to bring the wingers into play, and had a couple of opportunities, but once again couldn`t get the goal the R`s desired.
Replaced Lee Cook:
Only had ten minutes to impress, but he made some good runs down the right, once again though he couldn`t provide that killer ball Rangers required.
Iain Dowie 5/10 – Why he opted to start with Connolly instead of Ramage was mystifying to me and it cost the R`s dear. Gavin Mahon perhaps would have been better served rejoining the starting line-up as Rangers missed their midfield general. A poor game in which he will be thoroughly disappointed with the organisation of his defence.
Kevin Blackwell 7/10 – Had it spot on the way he pushed his players into the channels stretching the R`s at every turn. The combination of Henderson and Sharp was right for the day, as he certainly won the tactical battle with his counterpart.
Mr. Laws: 6/10 – Didn`t do a great deal wrong the referee, might have made a sterner decision with respect to Greg Halford, and Rangers had a few decent shouts for a penalty when the game was over as a contest. Overall I didn`t notice him that much which can only be a good thing.
Before the game I predicted a 2-2 draw, I was confident that for all of our defensive woes of late we would score, regardless of our weak attack. We didn’t notch despite te best efforts of our midfield, which performed head and shoulders above the rest of the side.