Hooray – I can report an away goal!!
In dreadful playing conditions, this afternoon, down on the south-west coast, QPR finally scored an away goal – well, finally, that is, since Wednesday September 17th 2008! That is an away goal for the first time in EIGHT away games – not something we Rs fans have been particularly proud or happy about!!
Heidar Helguson finally found his way onto the score sheet, with a goal from close range after 16 minutes. And Martin Rowlands thought he had doubled our lead, in the final minutes of the first half, only to see the Assistant Referee raise his flag for offside, thus ruling out a second Rangers` goal.
In the end, the team could not quite hold out for all three points, as Plymouth somehow managed to find the fight to bring themselves back into a game which, for great periods, they really were very much out of. Although the final statistics suggest the match was an even contest, Plymouth only really looked threatening in the opening ten minutes of the first period and, later, in the last twenty minutes, with the introduction of Craig Noone for the Pilgrims.
But only good things should be taken from this match, as Rangers begin to rebuild their confidence away from home, and learn that the goal does not have a magic or invisible wall preventing us from putting the ball into the back of the net!
We are sitting pretty in 9th spot, three points off the magical 6th-placed team and, importantly, only one point behind our next opponents – Preston North End – who visit us at Loftus Road next Saturday afternoon. That`s not bad for an afternoon`s work, as far as I am concerned!!
Emmanuel Ledesma, who missed the midweek game at Hillsborough due to a knock, was still struggling come Friday and therefore did not feature again for the Rs this afternoon. Although Matthew Connolly had a late fitness test on his back problem, he was not risked by Rs boss, Paulo Sousa, who opted to stick to the defensive pairing, of Stewart and Gorkss, which has worked so effectively these past three games. And up front Sousa retained the pairing of Patrick Agyemang and loanee Heidar Helguson. Blackstock, who passed a late fitness test, was given a berth on the bench at the expense of Samuel Di Carmine. Hogan Ephraim dropped down to the bench in a straight swap for Cook, who started his first game for the Rs since 15th November. Otherwise, it was “same again” in both defence and midfield, although Rowlands and Leigertwood switch sides of the so-called ‘diamond’. The bench had a familiar look with Jake Cole, Damiano Tommasi and Fitz Hall filling the remaining places for the Rs.
Paul Sturrock was able to choose his team for today from the same squad as the one available to him midweek, when Plymouth lost 1-0 at home to promotion-favourites, Birmingham City. Centre-back Krisztian Timar recovered in time from a grazed forehead, which he received in the midweek game, and again started in the centre of the Plymouth defence. Joining him in defence was QPR old-boy, Chris Barker. Another player who started against Birmingham and who kept his place for the match against the Rs, was former Rs midfielder, Simon Walton. Winger Jamie Mackie and striker Rory Fallon, who had also been recalled to the Pilgrims` side on Tuesday, retained their places in the starting XI. Long-term injuries, captain Karl Duguid (calf) and striker Emile Mpenza (hamstring), were the only definite absentees.
Kick off: Plymouth v Queens Park Rangers
The weather was never going to help today`s proceedings, the rain having fallen incessantly overnight. The pitch cut up during the course of the game, which made it difficult for both teams. Additionally, Plymouth came into this game on the back of three losses, although they were, by all accounts unlucky to have lost at home to Birmingham on Tuesday night. Yet it was Plymouth who started the more brightly and Rangers were under pressure in the opening moments.
Within the first couple of minutes, the Pilgrims felt they had scored after an early corner. Cerny got a hand to the corner but the ball dribbled towards the line, where it was hacked away by a defender before it could cross the line. The Plymouth fans howled for a goal, and the Plymouth players turned away to celebrate; but the linesman, who was directly in line with the goal line, did not indicate a goal and referee Friend waved play on.
Rangers began to find their feet after a nervy seven or eight minutes. But again it was Plymouth who should have scored, after nine minutes. Thankfully, Simon Walton headed poorly over the bar when he really should have done better against his old team.
Rangers first real chance came through Lee Cook but he shot poorly from 25 yards out. This was a rare chance in the opening ten minutes, or so, and it was, in fact, the Rangers defence, rather than their attack, which was the busiest part of the team. But things were beginning to change, as Rangers settled down and started playing some neat football.
On 15 minutes, Agyemang slipped in the penalty box and lost a rare opportunity to put pressure on the Pilgrim`s defence. The Plymouth defenders were able to clear the danger easily as a result. But, in the next Rangers` attack, the unbelievable happened!! That very moment that all Rangers` fans have been waiting for since September 17th 2008. Yes – an away goal!!
On 16 minutes it was Heidar Helguson who broke the deadlock, following a great cross from the left from Mikele Legiertwood. Helguson lost his marker but his first chance, from close in, hit a post; but the shot rebounded to the striker who, this time, made no mistake (from about 3 yards out) and finally opened his account with the Rs. And, to boot, score our first away goal for three months!!
Goal: Plymouth 0 – 1 Queens Park Rangers
The “diamond” formation was beginning to sparkle and shine as Rangers took heart from the goal. The midfield plan of keeping it simple and short was paying dividends in such appalling conditions – thankfully, there were not too many long balls being played by the Rs today. The long balls seemed to come more from the Pilgrims!
In a slightly controversial moment, Gorkss was adjudged to have handled the ball but it was more ball to hand, than hand to ball. The resulting free kick was very disappointing from Plymouth`s point of view, and it was Agyemang who came away with the ball which he sent downfield to Leigertwood, who had temporarily replaced Agyemang in attack.
Both Agyemang and Rowlands then tried their luck. Agyemang`s thunderous effort was on target but Larrieu somehow managed to save it. He could only parry it, however, and Rowlands picked up the loose ball, but could make nothing of it with another of his blistering shots.
On the now rare occasions that Plymouth did attack, the Rangers defence were equal to everything: they were playing sensibly and solidly. But it was Rangers who were putting on the pressure and they had a couple of free kicks. Although these did not amount to anything, Rangers were able to keep possession and keep up the pressure on the Pilgrims.
Another good chance went begging as Agyemang showed a sudden turn of pace and left his marker for dead. Unfortunately, Helguson could not keep up with the pacy forward and Agyemang`s good cross into the area went to no-one in a blue and white hooped shirt.
Most of Rangers attacks were coming through the industrious Martin Rowlands and Rangers certainly seemed to be enjoying the majority of possession in this half. But striker Helguson was not having everything all his own way, as Krisztian Timar was winning most of the headers against the Icelander, who is usually so good in the air.
Just before half-time, Martin Rowlands had the ball in the back of the net, only for the Assistant Referee to raise his flag for an offside. The Assistant Referee felt there was a deflection to Rowly`s shot, and therefore that meant the goal could not stand as the player who the ball supposedly deflected off was in an offside position! Who was the mysterious Rangers player supposedly interfering with play?
Plymouth then went straight down the other end and should have equalised. Jamie Mackie was on his own but Radek Cerny pulled off a magnificent save, turning the ball round for a corner. The Pilgrims` corner amounted to nothing.
And just before half-time, the sun came out over the stadium, although it was too little too late to improve the playing conditions!
Half time: Plymouth 0 – 1 Queens Park Rangers
QPR could expect to weather a storm – from Plymouth rather than the elements – in the opening exchanges of the second half. But it was Rangers who started more positively and in the opening moments, Lee Cook found himself in a good position to send a ball in for Mikele Leigertwood. Unfortunately for the speedy winger the ball skidded past Leigertwood and our first chance amounted to nothing.
Rangers then had a free kick in the opening three minutes when Timar, who was sticking to Helguson like superglue, was adjudged to have fouled him. It amounted to nothing, despite Martin Rowland`s best efforts.
Plymouth had a few forays into the Ranger`s half. Another poor effort by Simon Walton, as he skyed his shot just after five minutes, saved Ranger`s blushes. Then Chris Barker tried a long throw which took the ball back into the R`s box. The ball was cleared by Delaney as far as Paterson, but his shot went far and wide of the mark.
Agyemang looked useful and dangerous today, although, as in previous matches, his finishing was letting him down. Early in the 2nd half he tried his luck again, but his shot again went wide of the left hand post. Walton then heavily fouled Agyemang – for which Walton rightly received a yellow card. Delaney took the free kick which Helguson met with his head; but he couldn`t direct his header towards a fellow Rs player and so another chance came to nothing once more.
Cook fed Agyemang on the 13th minute. Agymenag turned and beat his player, didn`t hit his shot particularly well, but the ball bobbled agonisingly past Larrieu`s goal – about a yard wide, to be precise!
The QPR defence kept pushing Plymouth back towards their own half so that, even when they won a throw-in, they had to take it from within their own half, minimising the pressure on the Rangers` goal. Free kicks amounted to nothing; headers, such as one Marcel Seip had on 61 minutes, were flying wide of the mark; and Cerny was equal to the early shots from distance that Plymouth tried, like James Paterson`s shot a minute later.
There followed a melee in the Rangers` box, as the ball bobbled around and players were sliding around trying to get hold of the ball – to clear or, if a Plymouth player, to try to bury. But Simon Walton got hold of the ball, took a swipe, and it spun off towards the corner flag!
Sousa made his first change when he took Lee Cook off to be replaced by Hogan Ephraim. Cook had had a decent game but Sousa clearly felt that a fresh pair of legs was required on this heavy pitch. Sturrock also took advantage of the pause in play to make his own substitution, bringing Noone on for Paterson. Straight after the restart, Helguson went down and had to go off for treatment, but he was soon back on the pitch.
The Plymouth fans were getting frustrated and showed it by booing every decision that was made. When Rowlands rightly passed the ball back to Larrieu, after the referee stopped the game to allow Helguson to receive attention, the Pilgrim fans started booing when Rowly`s ball missed their goalie and went off for a goal kick to Plymouth! But Plymouth really were not creating any chances of note at that time – so why boo Rowlands?!!
Leigertwood won our first corner of the 2nd period on about 70 minutes. The big guns went up for the corner, but the ball whistled past the likes of Gorkss and Stewart, and Agyemang could only watch his speculative shot fly over the crossbar.
Mackie had a chance to put a volley in from the edge of the 18-yard box, but he missed and, when the Pilgrims had another opportunity, shortly after, Rangers survived. Craig Noone, who was booed by a few of his own fans when he came on as a 2nd half substitute, was creating a few more chances for Plymouth and Rangers were having to defend more now. He took a shot himself but it was well blocked by Peter Ramage.
Steve MacLean was then sent on to replace Paul Gallagher. Gallagher wasn`t happy with that decision, and let his manager know; and nor were the Plymouth fans. At the same time, Sousa swapped Blackstock for Agyemang. And Rangers immediately won a free kick. But before it could be taken, Jamie Mackie was taken off and Nicolas Marin came on in his place. Nothing came of that free kick!s
Sensibly, and to protect Peter Ramage, who had just been booked, but who was, more importantly, finding it difficult to mark the tricky Craig Noone; Sousa then brought Fitz Hall on for Ramage. Everything was coming from Noone. Ramage had conceded a free kick by fouling Noone near the edge of the area and although the resulting free kick from Summerfield was well claimed by Cerny, it was unnecessary and unwanted pressure on the Rs` goal.
Noone then swung in a dangerous corner, but Damian Stewart cleared effectively. The pressure was mounting and mounting. Next Rangers had to clear from a corner taken by Luke Summerfield which Timar headed over from 6-yards out. Then Cerny was called upon to make a superb save from Rory Fallon.
But he could do nothing about Steve MacLean`s equaliser with 7 minutes to go. The ball came out to MacLean and he was able to bundle the ball into the top right corner of the goal, even though Cerny did get a hand to the ball.
Goal: Plymouth 1 -1 Queens Park Rangers
Straight after the restart, Plymouth tried their luck at finding the winner. They won another free kick, conceded by Damian Stewart, which Summerfield again drove into the box. But this time, it was Blackstock who cleared the danger. Then Dexter Blackstock himself had a chance at the other end, having been put in by Martin Rowlands, but the Assistant Referee decided he was offside! Go figure!
The Rangers` players started making a few mistakes, giving away needless free kicks, which put our defence under unnecessary pressure. Equally, however, Plymouth gave away a few free kicks but Rangers could make nothing of those rare chances in the final moments and the game petered out, after a late corner awarded to Plymouth, to finish as a 1-1 draw.
I felt deflated that we had not been able to hold out for all 3 points. We were definitely the better team over the 90 minutes and it was only in the final 15 minutes, or so, that Plymouth started creating any real chances of note, from about the time the Pilgrim Craig Noone was brought on. But, and this is a big and important but, we did score today and, if the referee had allowed Rowlands` shot at the end of the first half, instead of inexplicably disallowing what seemed a perfectly good goal, we may even had scored a 2nd! And that is great news!!
The conditions did not help and I cannot fault Sousa`s substitutions. It is always tricky timing a substitution so that it does not affect a team negatively. So we were unfortunate that Plymouth equalised just after Fitz Hall had correctly been brought on for Peter Ramage. Again, a tricky winger had exposed Ramage`s limitations and Sousa was rightly trying to do something about that.
Still, we broke our duck today. And, for the first time in about 4, or is it 5 (?!), years, we`ve at least come away from Home Park with something – and something is way better than nothing!!
Final whistle: Plymouth 1 – 1 Queens Park Rangers
Plymouth: Romain Larrieu, Chris Clark, Krisztian Timar, Marcel Seip, Chris Barker, Jamie Mackie (Nicolas Marin 78), Luke Summerfield, Simon Walton, James Paterson (Noone 69), Paul Gallagher (Steve MacLean, 77), Rory Fallon
QPR: Radek Cerny, Damien Delaney, Damion Stewart, Gavin Mahon, Mikele Leigertwood, Martin Rowlands, Patrick Agyemang (Dexter Blackstock, 77), Kaspars Gorkss, Peter Ramagen (Fitz Hall 81), Heidar Helguson, Lee Cook (Hogan Ephraim, 68)
Radek Cerny – 7/10
Although finally beaten from close range, bearing in mind the mud pile he was having to protect, Cerny had another solid game and was equal to everything that Plymouth throw at him (except their goal, unfortunately)!
Damien Delaney – 6/10
He seemed to have a better game today, than on Tuesday against Wednesday (sorry, had to get that in somewhere!) He tried to get forward more and even took a shot himself in the 2nd half, although it amounted to nothing.
Damion Stewart – 7/10
The big man again did everything right, making his clearances and his headers, and generally keeping Paul Gallagher, Plymouth’s biggest threat and leading goalscorer, very very quiet. He made mistakes but, hey, he is human after all!! Another solid performance.
Kaspars Gorkss – 7/10
Gorkss and Stewart – anyone else think they’ve locked up those central defensive positions? Gorkss really has put to bed that nightmare debut way back in August. He goes from strength to strength and clearly enjoys working with Stewpeas. Another solid performance as well.
Peter Ramage – 6/10
Did well until Craig Noone came on. He looked more lively going forward and was executing his defensive responsibilities well – until his weakness in being so easily teased and tormented by tricky players came back to haunt him after the 70th-minute substitution. Rightly substituted for his – and our own – protection.
Gavin Mahon – 6/10
Very quiet game – but solid. He is like that silly advert for Ronseal – he does what it says on the job description (to paraphrase that advert!) Mahon is Mr Boringly Reliable – but he is a very valuable defensive part of the ‘diamond’.
Mikele Leigertwood – 6/10
Again Leigertwood didn’t do quite enough for me. He did get forward at times, but didn’t really create much. Perhaps, when Ledesma is fully recovered from his niggle, we will see a change at this position?
Martin Rowlands – 8/10
Another sterling display by Captain Fantastic – I said it all in my remarks on him being my ‘star player’. I know he didn’t score – but it felt to me like he did – and I’m sticking with that feeling!!
Lee Cook – 7/10
Although replaced midway through the 2nd half, I think Cookie had a great game. He was industrious, he was quite creative and he wasn’t afraid of taking a shot or two himself – but he obviously hasn’t heeded my advice of finding out just where the goal actually is!
Patrick Agyemang – 7.5/10
Another great performance from the big man. Strong and pacy, but too pacy for his own players at one stage in the match! And still finishing woefully. He needs to get a very simple goal – something that bounces in off his knee or something – just to remind him that he doesn’t have to keep trying the difficult and impressive (which then go high and/or wide).
Heidar Helguson – 6.5/10
Yes, I know, that is probably a little controversial, seeing as how he did get our first away goal since September 17th. But he was well marked by Krisztian Timar and I think that left him a little subdued! But I cannot and will not take anything away from the guy – he’s finally off the mark for us!!
Hogan Ephraim – 5/10
Replaced Lee Cook Ephraim didn’t really make the difference that I think Sousa was looking for. Perhaps, with the pitch being so heavy, 20 minutes were not enough for him to weave his magic.
Dexter Blackstock – 5/10
Replaced Patrick Agyemang Agyemang needed a rest! He had run his heart out on a heavy pitch. Blackstock didn’t get much of a run out, but did make a vital clearance in defence, as well as being ruled offside after a good through ball from the industrious Martin Rowlands.
Replaced Peter Ramage It was unfortunate that our defence did not have time to settle down after the correct change, when MacLean snuck in to equalise. But Hall did what he could to ensure that, at the very least, Plymouth would get no more than that solitary goal.
Paulo Sousa: 6/10
I think he got it right today but was incredibly unlucky with the timing of the Fitz Hall substitutions. No blame there, though – Sousa was completely right to withdraw Ramage who was, by then, having a torrid time! He is clearly working very hard with the squad and, in time, I think he will turn out to be a very astute acquisition for our club! It is early days but the signs are very, very good for Paulo Sousa, in my opinion!!
Paul Sturrock: 6/10
Interestingly the Plymouth fans didn’t like his substitutions but they were astute, particularly that of Craig Noone, who really was the instrument of the Pilgrims’ fightback late in the second half.
Mr K Friend – 4/10
Probably not one of his more polished performances. He blew up for everything and relied on decidely questionable Assistants for quite important decisions – like the ball deflecting off a Rangers player who was supposedly in an offside position and therefore disallowing Martin Rowlands effort late on in the first half. Not really a ‘Friend’ to either side today!
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