This is yet another game where I have to report that Rangers were again undone by woeful finishing. Even the gift of a penalty was not grabbed as Martin Rowlands, Mr Reliable, obviously felt the pressure of breaking Rangers appalling away record of having scored only two goals – the last being on Wednesday 17th September at Norwich.
Rangers certainly dominated proceedings in the first half but failed to take even one of a number of opportunities that they created for themselves. Good opportunity after good opportunity went begging and the Rs were made to pay for it in the second half, when Wednesday seemed to get the measure of our play and began to pressurise us more and more. Their goal was typical of a goal-poacher, as Leon Clarke slammed the ball in the net from about 6 yards out.
Rangers could have broken back into the top 6 tonight; instead, we are back down to 9th, on the same number of points as our protagonists tonight, although they have a worse goal difference to us! We have no hope of making the play-offs with our current away record which is, I repeat, appalling!
Rs manager, Paulo Sousa, welcomed back Fitz Hall and Mikele Leigertwood, after both completed their respective bans in the match against Wolves on Saturday. Martin Rowlands, who started against Wolves having missed the previous few games through injury, retained his place in the starting XI. But Dexter Blackstock, who had a late fitness test after withdrawing after 25 minutes on Saturday with a back injury, did not recover in time and was replaced by Leigertwood in the starting line-up. The bench retained a familiar look, with Lee Cook returning to the bench after coming on for Blackstock against Wolves, Tommasi, Di Carmine and Cole all featuring again. The only change there was that Fitz Hall replaced Gary Borrowdale.
Brian Laws, the Wednesday manager, was able to choose from the same squad which drew away to Southampton on Saturday. He also had the added bonus of having club captain, Steve Watson, fit again after missing both the Norwich and Southampton games from a hip injury, and Watson took his place on the Wednesday bench. Defender Frank Simek kept his place in the team in only his second match for the Owls since returning to first-team duty on the weekend, after having been out for a year with a serious ankle injury. Tommy Spurr returned to the starting line-up, after he shook off a dead-leg, replacing Lewis Buxton who was unwell. Wednesday, like QPR, have long-term injured players: Jermaine Johnson, Akpo Sodje and Richard Hinds.
Kick off: Sheffield Wednesday v Queens Park Rangers
After an opening flurry by Sheffield Wednesday, which resulted in an early corner for the Owls, the first half really belonged to QPR. But, as in previous away games, Rangers were not destined to find the back of the net.
On 4 minutes, Ephraim drew first blood for Rangers, testing Owls` keeper Grant with a shot after good work by Martin Rowlands following a clearance from Kaspars Gorkss. Then, on 7 minutes, Martin Rowlands himself tried his luck with a long-range shot that went wide of the post.
A couple of minutes later, Helguson had yet another golden opportunity (following those at Palace and against Wolves), to open his goal-scoring account with the Rs. Agyemang picked up a loose ball and squared for Helguson who had a simple tap-in. However, to everyone`s dismay and incredulity, the chance went begging as Grant somehow scrambled across his goal to deny Helguson. Quite honestly, Helguson must wonder what he has to do to score the Rs!
A penalty was awarded to QPR after 26 minutes after Helguson was brought down at the far post – he was impeded by Richard Wood as he went for a superb cross from Ramage. Rowlands stepped up and Lee Grant saved the penalty. He hit it well, the keeper dived and he somehow got his foot to the ball and it skied high into the air.
Ramage was busy in the first half trying to create attacks for Rangers – but it was a shame that nothing was coming from his efforts.
Wednesday`s first real chance came nearly 35 minutes into the game with substitute Wade Small. His chance was easily dealt with by the Rs defence, Gorkss in particular, and the resulting corner found its way straight to the hands of the dependable Radek Cerny. And just before half-time, Leon Clarke had a shot from 18 yards which Cerny again saved cleanly.
QPR were certainly the better of the two sides in the first half as they were making more chances – but maybe the failure to score since Rowlands` goal against Norwich back in September was playing on the minds of the team.
Half time: Sheffield Wednesday 0 – 0 Queens Park Rangers
Rangers came out purposefully at the start of the second half. Within the first five minutes, Patrick Agyemang produced a right-footed shot from the edge of the area which missed the left-side of the goal.
As for Agyemang`s chance, Ephraim set Helguson up within another two minutes. He had a superb shot, on target, but Grant saved again! And, to compound Rangers` problems, Wednesday were frustrating us by playing the offside trap, which first Helguson and then Agyemang got caught in within a minute of each other!
On 55 minutes, Sousa made his first change, bringing on Rs favourite Lee Cook for the luckless Ephraim, who had had a very quiet and pretty ineffectual game for the Rs tonight. A couple of good crosses, but nothing more, was all he could muster. Cook signalled his intentions from the word go, running straight at the Wednesday defence. But with options available to him on both his left and right, he decided to go for glory himself but managed only to shoot wide!
Wood then made a vital interception as Agyemang bore down on the Wednesday goal. As a result of the clearance, QPR won first one and then a second corner, but neither resulted in any clear-cut opportunities.
Sheffield Wednesday were beginning to win more and more possession as the half wore on, but were still not able to penetrate the solid QPR defence. They won a free kick just outside the penalty area, in a dangerous position, but it was again well cleared by Rangers, after the ball was played short and then pumped into the area. Lee Cook conceded a throw-on and Wednesday continued to try to put pressure on the Rs` defence. This was the most consistent pressure the Owls had managed to put on the Rs all game, so far.
As the ball bobbled around in the 6-yard area, the Owls` fans were howling for hand ball on a couple of occasions, trying to sway the referee to their side, but the referee waved away the appeals and Wednesday`s attacks fizzled out.
Laws sensed that Rangers could be vulnerable and sent on Bartosz Slusarski, a striker, to replace the hapless Francis Jeffers on 72 minutes, who was not really fit enough for this game and hadn`t looked sharp enough for the Owls in the previous 70 minutes.
But immediately after the substitution, it was Rangers who were on the attack again through Agyemang, after good work from both Martin Rowlands and Lee Cook; but Grant was equal to his shot. Radek Cerny at the other end, was also in fine form and, a few moments later, he saved first from Sean McAllister and then from Marcus Tudgay.
Watson crossed the ball back into the box only for Gorkss to head the ball upwards. When it came down there was a mad scramble in the area with Wade Small having snapshot which Cerny did well to save. But the Rs stopper could do nothing with the rebound from that save – and Leon Clarke finally broke the Rs` resistance on 75 minutes, belting the ball past Cerny from close range.
Goal: Sheffield Wednesday 1 – 0 Queens Park Rangers
You sensed, as Laws had when he made his final substitution, that this had been coming. Wednesday continued to press after they scored, not giving Rangers a chance to salvage something from this game, which they certainly deserved to on their first-half performance. Our inability to score away from home looked like it was going to come back to haunt us yet again.
Sousa took Gavin Mahon off for Samuel Di Carmine, bringing on a third striker and changing the shape of the team to 4-3-3 in an effort to give us more chance of grabbing a goal in the final 10 minutes.
Di Carmine put Lee Cook in, but he could only put his shot, from 18 yards out, wide. Rangers then had two quick free kicks in succession 83 minutes, when first Agyemang was fouled by O`Connor, and then Rowlands was upended by Mark Beevers. Cook took both kicks and, with the second, floated the ball into the 6 yard box: but no Rangers player could get hold of the ball and, what seemed a golden opportunity, passed QPR by.
In the final five minutes, Delaney was taken off and replaced by Fitz Hall – who was brought on as a striker! But in the final seconds of the game, it was another tall Rangers` defender, Kaspars Gorkss who tried his luck – he belted a volley straight at Grant!
Wednesday were reduced to ten men in the final moments of the game when Wade Small went off injured, Laws having already used his three substitutes. But it was not enough to give any advantage to Rangers. And, on 94 minutes, referee Nigel Miller blew his whistle for another goalless performance from the Rs on their travels.
QPR did not play as well in the second half as they did in the first. Yet again, despite creating several chances, including a golden chance with a penalty that Rowlands could not convert, Rangers were unable to convert any of those chances into goals and we were left to rue those that had gone begging in the first half as we succumbed to a second half defeat yet again this season. Coventry – Ipswich – Birmingham to name but three! Need I go on?!
As last year, when QPR were in the ascendancy, Laws made sublime substitutions and these seemed to change the game in Wednesday`s favour. They had started the second half better than they ended the first half which Laws recognized and he made his final change at an opportune moment. That`s great management!
Final whistle: Sheffield Wednesday 1 – 0 Queens Park Rangers
Radek Cerny – 6.5/10
Another solid performance. Was unlucky with their goal because really he had been quiet for the best part of 60-65 minutes! But if you have a poacher in your team, what can you expect from 6 yards out?!
Damien Delaney – 5/10
I barely heard Delaney’s name mentioned – and certainly not in attack. If the diamond formation is to work, then surely both full backs need to be attacking (not at the same time, of course!) which Delaney didn’t seem to do much of tonight!
Damion Stewart – 6/10
Another solid performance and, for the better part of the game, he along with his partner Kaspars Gorkss, kept the Sheffield Wednedsay strikers quiet. He did make a few mistakes, having been rattled by their goal, and panicked a little in the box; but it was generally another good performance from the big man.
Kaspars Gorkss – 6/10
Again he had another good, solid performance. He even tried his luck at scoring for us right at the death – shame he didn’t!
Peter Ramage – 6/10
He seemed to make more of an effort tonight, when going forward, to be more accurate with his crosses. Most of them were decent enough, especially the one that led to the foul on Helguson and ‘that’ penalty! He was beaten a few times back in defence, but otherwise had a pretty solid game.
Mikele Leigertwood – 5/10
I am not sure that this left-side of the diamond is Leigertwood’s best position. He was quite quiet tonight – we need him to work with Delaney to get things happening down the left-hand side – but they didn’t really team up well, in my opinion.
Gavin Mahon – 5/10
Solid and effective – he does what he is supposed to do. He’s not in the side for his creativity so it was not surprising that he was sacrificed for the chance to bring on Di Carmine after Wednesday scored.
Hogan Ephraim – 5/10
Ephraim didn’t really get involved much this evening and was correctly substituted early on in the second half.
Martin Rowlands – 5/10
Although he had opportunities, notably in the first half, he wasted the best of them when he failed to score the penalty that we were awarded.
Patrick Agyemang – 5/10
He is strong and fast, but I wish he would start scoring from those opportunities he creates for himself! He really needs to shoot more accurately, in my opinion!
Heidar Helguson – 6/10
He did everything he was asked to do tonight – except score. But you have to feel for him because, in the early stages of the first half, he had a simple tap in which somehow Grant was able to save. Just like Hennessy’s leg miraculously saved his great shot against Wolves on Saturday! The goals will come – I am sure of it!
Lee Cook – 7/10
Replaced Hogan Ephraim Was very effective when he came on and had some good opportunities to put Rangers ‘on the map’ – but he seems incapable of shooting accurately, which is a weakness in his game that he must improve if we are to ever find a way to score away from home! Still, he was creative and I am sure gave Sousa every reason to want to keep him in the team from the start on Saturday – let’s see if Sousa does!
Samuel Di Carmine
Replaced Gavin Mahon He only had ten minutes which was not much time to make his mark.
Replaced Damien Delaney He didn’t have enough time to be rated, but it was an interesting move to bring him on as a striker to add his height to the forward line.
Paulo Sousa: 4/10
Cannot give our manager anything more this evening. The system he is bringing in is clearly a good one but does not allow for players to miss golden opportunities such as a penalty. He will be disappointed that we had so much of the possession but again failed to find the net – perhaps a completely different system, maybe 10 strikers and one goalie, would help?!!!
Brian Laws: 8/10
Although Laws was forced into the first two of his substitutions, the third was a super piece of management, replacing an unfit Jeffers with Slusarksi, just helped Wednesday find the edge that they were looking for. Clearly, his half-time talk worked better than Sousa’s because, other than the first five to ten minutes of the second period, it was all Wednesday.
Mr N Miller – 6/10
Miller didn’t ingratiate himself to the Sheffield Wednesday fans, seemingly giving everything to Rangers. But even so, it took until the 94th minute, when Owls’ keeper Grant was wasting time, for Miller to brandish the one and only yellow card of the game. He tried to let the game flow when he could but did seem to blow up a little too often, which is why I haven’t given him a 7!