Rangers bowed out of the Carling Cup tonight with a backs-to-the-wall performance at the Theatre of Dreams. This was to be no dream ending, although the players can hold their heads up knowing that they tried their hardest to make the dream come true.
Rangers lost 1-0 to a Carlos Tevez penalty conceded in the final quarter of the second half. But instead of their heads dropping, however, they went in search of the equaliser – but to no avail. Rangers didn`t really threaten United, until late on in the game; but in defence they were awesome.
Rangers can hold their heads high though. Tthe defence, with Cerny masterful in goal, held firm for almost all of the 90 minutes and they can come back to London knowing that Manchester United could not score against us from open play!
A special mention for the fantastic fans who travelled to Old Trafford. Your singing and constant support was easily heard through the radio throughout the game. You were our 12th man and I salute you!
Rangers made several changes to the line-up that started against Cardiff on Saturday. Parejo came into a 5-man midfield and Gavin Mahon started the match. Akos Buzsaky started instead of Ledesma, taking his place alongside Martin Rowlands and Lee Cook in midfield. Connolly again filled the left-back role with Ramage at right-back, and Hall and Stewart continued their burgeoning partnership in central defence.
Ainsworth opted for a 4-5-1 formation, with Blackstock the lone striker with his partner of late, Samuel Di Carmine, dropping to the bench. Delaney and Agyemang remained on the bench, along with Ledesma, who had started on Saturday, and Hogan Ephraim and Kaspars Gorkss were welcomed back to the bench.
Sir Alex Ferguson made several changes to his team, bringing in several young players who do not feature regularly for the Reds. Tomasz Kuszczak came in for Edwin Van Der Saar in goal. Rafael Da Silva, Gary Neville, Jonathan Evans and John O`Shea (who was an unused substitute against the Gunners) started in defence. Darron Gibson, Rodrigo Possebon, Oliveira Anderson and Luis Nani (also an unused substitute on Saturday) all started for the Reds. Carlos Tevez started up front: this was only his fifth game of the season. Ji-Sung Park completed the Red`s line-up.
Kick off: Manchester United v Queens Park Rangers
The pouring rain did not dampen the spirits of the QPR fans in the Theatre of Dreams. The sound from the Queens Park Rangers` fans, who had driven up to Manchester to carry the torch for those of us who couldn`t go, could be heard singing clearly through our radios and computers from even before the game began. They were silenced only by the referee`s whistle to signal the beginning of the minute`s silence to commemorate Armistice Day.
The match began with Manchester United taking possession of the ball and they did not give up that control for just about the entire first half! Rangers were fortunate that United were not shooting accurately, as their goal was peppered time and time again.
Within the first two minutes, Carlos Tevez was testing the Rangers` defence, but Matthew Connolly was equal to it. This set the tone for the rest of the half. A series of early corners tested the Rangers` resolve, but nothing came of them as first Buzsaky and then Parejo undertook defensive duties and cleared the ball out of danger`s way.
Rangers were sitting too deep and were unable to get hold of the ball. And, on the rare occasions when they did, it was easily recovered by United. Rangers won a few free kicks; however, they could make nothing of them and United would pick up the ball and commence yet another attack.
On 14 minutes, Ji-Sung Park took a shot which forced a good save from Radek Cerny. About ten minutes later, Cerny was called into action again. This time, young Oliveira Anderson had a shot which Cerny again dealt with expertly. This was followed by another chance from Carlos Tevez. And again Cerny saved!
Cerny was by far the busier of the two keepers. However, his defence helped him out time and again. Hall was called upon to block Tevez`s shot late in the middle of the first half; and a little later he was called upon to prevent Anderson from having a shot.
There then followed a few minutes of excitement – BBC Radio London lost transmission and I had no idea what was happening! (I prefer Radio London`s commentary to that of Radio 5 Live – as Radio London support QPR!!)
When the transmission re-started, I discovered that Akos Buzsaky had gone off thanks to a knee injury – I hope it`s not serious! Patrick Agyemang came on in his place on 33 minutes and the R`s shape changed to 4-4-2. This did not, however, help Rangers` chances as Manchester United continued to press, led from the front so admirably by Carlos Tevez.
Luis Nani crossed the ball into the area but Damion Stewart cleared for a corner, which Nani himself took. Jonathan Evans took a shot from the corner but, again, Cerny saved.
Shortly before the half ended, Tevez produced a left-footed shot from close range but it went wide of Cerny`s left-hand post. This was quickly followed by Rangers` only real chance of the half. Evans fouled Dexter Blackstock. Ramage took the free-kick but it was saved by Kuszczak.
There were, by now, only a few minutes left in the half and it was Manchester United who finished the half the stronger, not surprisingly. Connolly conceded a free kick with an unfair challenge on Ji-Sung Park; but the Reds couldn`t make anything of that free kick. There was little time for any more action and the referee blew for Phil Dowd.
Tevez was the best player on the pitch in the first half. Whilst the United players were generally doing well, it was Tevez who was actually injecting some pace into their play. You sensed that, if anything was going to happen, it would somehow have Tevez involved.
Manchester United certainly had the lion`s share both of possession and the chances, and Cerny had made a couple of good saves to keep Rangers in the game. The same should also be said of the defence which seemed almost effortlessly to deal so successfully with everything that United threw at them in the first 45 minutes.
Half time: Manchester United 0 – 0 Queens Park Rangers
At the start of the second half, Ainsworth made his second change of the game, bringing Emmanuel Ledesma on for the disappointing Daniel Parejo. Parejo had been totally ineffective in the first half, seemingly in awe of his surroundings, although he had made one or two timely tackles. It was a good decision by Ainsworth to substitute him, as Ledesma made an immediate impact on coming on, spraying the ball around but, at the same time, making some important defensive tackles.
Rangers tried to have more of a go in the second half. This meant that United could not continue creating all those chances they had in the first half, as they had to deal defensively with Rangers for the first time in the match. However, it did not stop them dominating.
Within a minute of the restart, Nani tried a shot but it went wide of Cerny`s post. Within a couple of minutes, Nani was again involved. This time, he was fouled by Lee Cook and Oliveira Anderson took the resulting free-kick – which Cerny saved. This was rapidly followed by a shot taken from 25 yards by Ji-Sung Park – and Cerny saved yet again!
On 56 minutes, my heart was in my mouth! Park took a shot from the right-hand side of the penalty area, about 18 yards about. It flew past Cerny and looked to be heading for the goal. Instead – it hit the outside of the post. Relief! But, for once this evening, Cerny was beaten!!
Three minutes later, Tevez drew a superb save from the outstanding Cerny. From 12 yards out, Tevez caused Cerny to tip the ball over his goal and United had yet another corner with which they could bombard our defence.
If Cerny had to punch the ball or parry it, he knew his defenders would be on hand to clear up. On 62 minutes, Anderson tried his luck again, which Cerny could only parry – but Connolly was there to clear the danger, even though Anderson was still sniffing around.
And Stewart and Hall were dominant in central defence. They were very successful in stifling anything United tried through the middle, forcing the Reds wide or into making long-range punts.
Then, on 72 minutes, Rangers had a chance of their own. Quick thinking by Ramage meant Ledesma could run past John O`Shea and get his cross in. Unfortunately, Blackstock could only put his header tamely into Kuszczak`s hands.
Ferguson must have realised that his team were just not going to break down the R`s resilience so, on 72 minutes, he made a change, taking Possebon off for youngster Danny Welbeck. And it was that substitution that was to turn the game.
On 75 minutes, Welbeck jinxed past Peter Ramage in the penalty area, and the defender put out a leg. Welbeck went down and Dowd, who had had a very quiet game, had no choice but to point to the spot.
Television highlights (Sky Sports News) showed that it was a penalty – but Ramage cannot be blamed. He was doing what he had been doing so successfully all night. He had been playing for 75 minutes in atrocious conditions, making terrific tackle after terrific tackle, whereas Danny Welbeck had only been on the pitch for about three minutes! It was unfortunate – but there was still hope! Cerny had been superb all night – perhaps he could now pull off a magnificent save?
It was not to be. Carlos Tevez, definitely United`s man-of-the-match stepped up confidently. He placed the ball on the spot – took a good run up and sent the ball to Cerny`s left as Cerny dived to his right.
Manchester United 1 – 0 Queens Park Rangers
At that stage, Ainsworth took Lee Cook off for Samuel Di Carmine. Cook had done very little all night. The one chance he did have, in the second half, he completely fluffed. His first touch let him down as he bore down on goal – it seemed as if he was overcome with excitement at the thought of reaching the United penalty area! He pushed the ball toos far in front of him and the golden opportunity was gone.
United went looking for a second; but Rangers upped the tempo and started to take the game to the Reds at last. On 81 minutes, Samuel Di Carmine thought he had scored the precious equaliser as he headed into the United goal. But the linesman was flagging and the goal was ruled out for offside (typically, Sky Sports News didn`t actually show that attempt in the 30-seconds of highlights I managed to catch!)
Cerny and his defence continued to defend heroically as Rangers went looking for their chance. It seemed to have come to young Emmanuel Ledesma. In the last four minutes he put two excellent corners into the penalty area, forcing United to clear, first from Da Silva and then from Evans.
Then, on 93 minutes, as the clock counted down, Ledesma had a chance from 18 yards out, in the centre of the penalty area. He took the shot right-footed and I held my breath . . . but the ball just missed the left-hand post and, after Kuszczak took the resulting goal kick, Phil Dowd blew the final whistle.
Rangers were out – but certainly not down! And, as the match summariser on Radio London opined, the manner of our defeat should actually give us a lot of confidence to go on to do great things in the Championship. Let us see on Saturday!
Final whistle: Manchester United 1 – 0 Queens Park Rangers
Manchester United: Tomasz Kuszczak, Rafael Da Silva, Gary Neville, Jonathan Evans, John O`Shea, Darron Gibson, Rodrigo Possebon, Oliveira Anderson, Luis Nani, Carlos Tevez, Ji-Sung Park.
QPR: Radek Cerny, Peter Ramage, Fitz Hall, Damion Stewart, Matthew Connolly, Akos Buzsaky, Martin Rowlands, Gavin Mahon, Lee Cook, Daniel Parejo, Dexter Blackstock
Radek Cerny – 9/10
I think I have summed up my thoughts on Cerny’s incredibly solid and outstanding performance tonight already! Suffice to say, it took a penalty to beat him tonight – nothing from open play got past that man!
Peter Ramage – 7/10
The defence worked tirelessly throughout and Peter Ramage certainly played his part. His experience in playing Premiership matches must have helped although tiredness must have played a part in his untimely lunge on Welbeck. At the end of the match, I believe he was apologising to the Rs fans and was inconsolable – he needn’t have been. He should be extremely proud of his performance and not blame himself for being beaten by youngster Danny Welbeck. Ramage will get his chance to get revenge on Welbeck, I’m certain! But I do have to knock off one point for that slip-up – sorry!
Fitz Hall – 8/10
Tackled superbly, headed expertly. Kept the centre of the pitch clear, and frustrating United all night long!
Damion Stewart – 8/10
Tackled superbly, headed expertly. Kept the centre of the pitch clear, and frustrating United all night long! Yes, I know it’s the same – but these two seem to be joined by the hip these days. Who remembers when we last had such a great partnership in central defence?! (Answers on a postcard!)
Matthew Connolly – 8/10
Another expert performance in his unfamiliar position of left-back. At last it seems we have someone who knows what to do when playing left-back! He, along with his fellow defenders, was outstanding.
Akos Buzsaky – 4/10
Didn’t have very much time to stamp his authority on the game as he was withdrawn with an injury, thought to be to his knee.
Martin Rowlands – 7/10
Tried to play a captain’s role but didn’t get much of a chance to be creative. However, he was always involved and putting himself about – making a nuisance of himself.
Gavin Mahon – 7/10
His age and experience certainly helped as he produced a good display in defensive midfield. he helped the defence on numerous occasions.
Lee Cook – 5/10
Another disappointing outing for Cook. He didn’t get many chances but the one golden opportunity he did have, in the second half, he messed up becaue of poor ball control.
Daniel Parejo – 4/10
Seemed to be frightened of the big stage and froze on the night. Although he made a few timely clearances, he did not get involved in the midfield and created nothing for us. Was correctly substituted at the beginning of the second half.
Dexter Blackstock – 5/10
Dexter worked his socks off – in defence! The odd chance he did have, when we attacked, he made very little of, such as when he headed Ledesma’s cross at Kuzsczak.
Patrick Agymenang – 6/10
Replaced Akos Buzsaky Big Dave used his size and pace to good effect tonight in trying to keep the ball from United and muscle them off the ball, to take pressure off the defence. He didn’t do anything in front of goal – but chances were limited anyway.
Emmanuel Ledesma – 7/10
Replaced Daniel Parejo Had a good second half. He put himself about and made a nuisance of himself as soon as he came. He did more in the first five minutes than Parejo did the whole of the first half! He could have been a hero in the dying seconds of the game, too – if only!!
Replaced Daniel Parejo He didn’t have much time to make a real impact. But he rose well to head home on 81 minutes – only to see his ‘goal’ ruled offside.
Gareth Ainsworth: 8/10 – I will use Radio London’s summation of Ainsworth to explain. They said, and I agree, that the players want to play for him. He put out a team with a job to do – and the team as one did exactly what was asked of them. And when he saw that someone was not doing that job – he substituted them. The timing of his substitutions, along with the personal involved, was top class (as on Saturday). When Buzz went off, Ainsworth could easily have brought Ledesma or Ephraim on. Instead, he decided to go 4-4-2 at that early stage and brought the strong and pacy Agyemang on. All credit to Ainsworth – he pitted his wits against one of the greatest manager’s in the world – and he very nearly pulled it off!
Alex Ferguson: 7/10 – He was in a no-win situation tonight. But he found his ‘get out of jail card’. Ferguson put out a young team which he believed could see Rangers off. It was not as easy as they all, perhaps, thought. So, credit to Ferguson, experience and knowledge of his players meant he knew exactly who to take off and when – and his substitutions made all the difference. Even when he brought Vidic on for Neville it was a shrewd move as the veteran was visibly tiring and we were attacking, looking for a late equaliser
Mr P Dowd: 7/10 – By the standards of refereeing we’ve been seeing over the last few matches, Phil Dowd had an outstanding game! He was quiet and didn’t flourish any cards (and with tackles flying in all over the place, another referee may have, particularly in those dreadful conditions). He gave free kicks as he saw them – maybe he let one or two fouls committed by Manchester United go, but that is just being picky. And he had no choice with the penalty. Can we have again please?!
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