PAULO Sousa`s tactical gambit fails to pay off as Queens Park Rangers are held to stalemate by an unadventurous Watford side.
The R`s Portuguese manager once again stuck with the diamond formation, with Rangers creative outlets getting strangled in the middle of the park. One of Rangers only attacking threats, Lee Cook, was withdrawn at half time leaving Rangers without width and without a clue.
After a completely nondescript first half the R`s, improvement was expected in the second period – the withdrawal of Cook put pay to Rangers creative outlets and long ball football ensued. This played straight into the hands of a Watford side content with a point from the offset.
Dexter Blackstock was wasteful in front of goal following his introduction, putting two good headed chances over the bar and into the keeper`s arms respectively. While the visitors could have stolen the points as they struck a post courtesy of a Lee Williamson free kick.
A disappointing performance was played out in a tepid atmosphere, as Paulo Sousa is left to contemplate the viability of the diamond formation.
Sousa made wholesale changes from the side that drew away at Charlton Athletic on Boxing Day. Damien Delaney came in at left back at the expense of Matthew Connolly, while Damion Stewart replaced Kaspars Gorkss who dropped out the squad.
Former Watford trio Gavin Mahon, Heidar Helguson and Lee Cook all started for Rangers, with the latter subject to the jeers of the away crowd due to the acrimonious circumstances surrounding his departure. Hogan Ephraim and Patrick also came back in with Matteo Alberti, Mikele Leigertwood and Dexter Blackstock dropping to the bench.
The visitors brought back youngsters Ross Jenkins and Liam Bridcutt into the first team set-up after a woeful performance at home to Bristol City. Tamas Priskin returned up flanked by Tommy Smith and Jobi McAnuff, with Grzegorz Rasiak forced to be content with a place on the bench.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Watford
The hosts started in lacklustre fashion in W12 with the R`s main creative outlets stifled by the hard-working Watford midfield. The energetic duo of Ross Jenkins and Lee Williamson were well marshalled by young holding midfielder Liam Bridcutt on loan from Chelsea.
The only chance the R`s could fashion in the early stages was through captain Martin Rowlands. A rare lapse from the Watford rearguard gave the skipper some space on the left hand side of the area, he cut inside and fired a venomous drive straight at Scott Loach, but it was no easy save as the ball skipped up off the surface.
At the other end Radek Cerny`s ponderous goalkeeping continued, as he clearly has recovered his bout of the jitters after a poor display on Boxing Day. With both goals against Charlton placed squarely at his door, Radek was flapping at crosses and giving some weak punches, synonymous with the earlier moments of his Rangers career.
He had to be at his best however moments later as Tamas Priskin broke free down the left flank before delivering the ball to Lee Williamson. The Jamaican international`s first touch let him down and Cerny came out to smother the incident and get the ball clear.
Moments earlier the R`s defence had another shaky moment when Tommy Smith wriggled free down the left to fire a cross through a crowd of players in the box, another let off for the Rangers rearguard in a tough opening spell.
With the half hour mark approaching, Rangers were looking bereft of ideas, with Damien Delaney a culprit for giving the ball away – however he was in good company as Rangers players were seemingly unable to string a set of passes together.
They did however manage to fashion a good chance for Heidar Helguson, but the former Watford man fluffed his lines when it was easier to score. The Icelandic international peeled away as Martin Rowlands fired a free kick deep into the area. His run wasn`t picked up by the Watford defence, but his diving header embarrassingly failed to connect at the crucial point, much to the delight of the travelling fans.
Lee Cook was getting his traditional abuse from the Watford supporters that populated the School End; they chanted; You`re Just A Short Greedy Bas**rd – this a man that who returned his £250,000 signing on fee to the club he loved. But don`t let the facts get in the way of blind prejudice will you.
Jay Demerit was strong in defence and led by example late on in the first half to deny Martin Rowlands from close range. A knock down by Heidar Helguson from Cook`s cross fell kindly for the former Brentford midfielder, but the American international threw his body on the line to keep the game goalless.
Watford continued to show their attacking prowess on the counter attack as both Tommy Smith and Lee Williamson let fly from distance in the latter stages. Smith`s effort curled well wide of Cerny`s right hand upright while Williamson`s powerful effort went narrowly beyond the dive of the Czech stopper and the post as the ball fizzed wide.
With that referee Clive Penton drew a close to a drab first period. The atmosphere in W12 matched the performance, absolutely dire. You could hear a pin drop at times which is strange considering the attendance was one of highest this season.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Watford
Sousa reacted to the lack of creativity and attacking nouse by withdrawing one of Rangers biggest threats. Lee Cook was withdrawn in favour of Dexter Blackstock in what on the face of it appeared a bold move. However upon further inspection Helguson began to sit deeper in Cook`s role, offering Rangers little creativity, stifling an already negligible attacking threat.
With Rangers putting their eggs firmly in one basket the long ball game ensued in the second period. In fact the only place any football was played was in the R`s six yard box as defenders and goalkeeper seemed desperate to hand the initiative to the hassling and harrying Watford players by persistently messing around the ball in dangerous areas.
Damien Delaney launched the ball into the heart of the Watford penalty area to which Damion Stewart flicked on expertly. Patrick Agyemang reacted fasted to spin and send a bicycle kick goalbound, Scott Loach denied the forward and the Watford defence was alive to stop Stewart from prodding home the rebound.
Watford were once again looking to play on the counter attack, with Jobi McAnuff drawing mistakes from Peter Ramage, who was reeling from his yellow card in the first period. Bridcutt continued to orchestrate proceedings from his holding role with a cool head to belie his years. He and his fellow team-mates snuffed out any potential creative threat and realised that if you put our players under pressure they produce very little.
Rangers continued to plug away with the aerial football as with half an hour remaining Damion Stewart nodded the ball back across the target where Dexter Blackstock was lurking, only for the R`s hitman to see the ball skim off the top of his head.
What became more startling in the Rangers display was the distinct lack of movement and ideas coming from attacking areas. Helguson`s movement was sporadic among many as the majority were clearly waiting for things to happen. The ball was being passed to players in isolated areas and the distributor would show a lack of support to the man on the ball and run away.
The next chance fell to the R`s and one of many could have slammed the ball home, but unfortunately the Rangers forward line drew another blank. Ramage`s cross saw Agyemang, Blackstock and finally Helguson all blocked from point blank range.
Dexter was at the heart of Rangers next goalscoring opportunity as he missed what has to go down as another guilt-edge chance. Martin Rowlands corner from the right flank found Blackstock unmarked in the heart of the area, but his free header was sent over the bar as the crowd grew frustrated in W12.
One of the Hornets better threats was Lee Williamson, outlined before the game by Vital QPR as the one to watch. The former Rotherham United man forced Gavin Mahon into a committed block, before sending an excellent free-kick crashing back off the post, which hit Cerny and bounced away.
The game was balanced on a knife-edge and the game ebbed and flowed, irrespective of the lack of football on display. The pressure nearly got to Adrian Mariappa as he flashed his clearance inches over the bar.
Frustration mounted in Loftus Road as the crowd sensed that this was Rangers chance to keep place with the playoff pack slipping away. With several teams above them on course for negative results the R`s needed some spark or inspiration to nick the points in W12.
Rangers needed an attacking outlet, something to give them some spark in attacking areas. With Emmanuel Ledesma and Matteo Alberti on the bench there were a couple of options to change the game. However perplexing enough Sousa opted to bring off Gavin Mahon for Mikele Leigertwood – a decision that made Rangers intentions perfectly clear.
The closest they came to it was Martin Rowlands 30 yard blockbuster which flew over the bar. If that effort had been on target it would have proved unstoppable, with the sheer ferocity of the effort epitomising the frustrations around the ground.
The referee signalled four minutes of added on time, which had been indicative of the visitors time-wasting tactics throughout, clearly content with a point from the offset. Most notably was Scott Loach who was warned by the official Mr Penton on numerous occasions – eve Jay Demerit told the young stopper to get a move on.
Hogan Ephraim`s effort from distance was the final nail in the coffin in a dull and drab affair in W12. As Sousa had Matthew Connolly ready to come in the final seconds, but thankfully his blushes were spared by the referee`s whistle.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 0-0 Watford
QPR: Radek Cerny, Peter Ramage, Fitz Hall, Damion Stewart, Damien Delaney, Gavin Mahon (Mikele Leigertwood 84), Hogan Ephraim, Martin Rowlands, Lee Cook (Dexter Blackstock 46), Heidar Helguson, Patrick Agyemang.
Watford: Scott Loach, Jay Demerit, Liam Bridcutt (Leigh Bromby 89), Tamas Priskin (Grzegorz Rasiak 61), Jobi McAnuff, Lloyd Doyley, Lee Williamson, Jon Harley, Tommy Smith, Adrian Mariappa, Ross Jenkins.
Radek Cerny – 4/10
Not a good display from Radek as his confidence appears to be dipping once again. Whenever he came out for crosses he resembled a fish out of water, as his positional play way dire and his punching proved poor.
The Rangers goalkeeping situation is made even more laughable by the fact that Cerny was brought in as competition for Camp, and he remains uncontested between the sticks as it stands. Here`s to hoping there are more options in January.
Peter Ramage – 5/10
Once again Peter failed to impress at right back as McAnuff had it all over the former Newcastle United man. He didn`t do the normal defensive duties effectively enough as was fortunate not to be given his marching orders.
His original booking was senseless as he pulled back his man, and after bringing down McAnuff in the second period – once again cluelessly, R`s fans had their hearts in their mouths as to what the official would do next. A couple of useful passes down the flank but by and large a poor display.
Damion Stewart – 7/10
By and large one of the better performers on the pitch. He got to grips with Priskin then Rasiak in the air, and was on hand to mop up some of Watford`s half chances. His threat in the opposition penalty area was required in order to force the issue.
Talk of him on his way to Tottenham may well be pie in the sky talk as expected with a display today not that of a Premier League defender, but a good solid Championship defender.
Fitz Hall – 6/10
Hall played well alongside Stewart once again but was far too keen to play the ball across the back line rather than really looking for an attacking pass. Saying that he was dominant in the air and did well to thwart the sizeable duo of Priskin then Rasiak.
Hall didn`t do an awful lot wrong, and this is reflected in the scoreline, however some over-ambitious long balls proved wayward at times as Rangers struggled to break through the Watford barrier.
Damien Delaney – 5/10
Damien is continuing to show Paulo Sousa that he isn`t capable of keeping his place at left-back. You can be sure that Matthew Connolly will be reinstated as first choice in that position as the January transfer window draws closer.
Damien misplaced several key passes today which display the lack of confidence that the Irish international has at the moment. He hasn`t had a good game this season as he is attacking instinct has been reigned in at left back.
He was beaten all ends up by Tommy Smith and the former Derby man was able to get his crosses away at will without so much of a whimper from Delaney.
Gavin Mahon – 6/10
In fairness to Gavin he coped fairly well with Watford`s attacking threat and was one of the reasons why the visitors drew a blank, defensively he was competent and showed Watford fans what they were missing.
However going forward was a different matter as he was far too keen to use Hall, Stewart or Cerny rather than look for Rowlands – a cause of this may be the fact he likes to spray the ball wide, however there was no-one there!
Martin Rowlands – 6/10
Martin got the ball at this feet and looked to plough forward on a couple of occasions to his credit, however he was far too keen to look for the defensive ball rather than seek to cut the defence open like we know he can.
He wasn`t helped by the lack of movement from the forwards in fairness, but it`s give and take when he purposely wasn`t looking to find them. He was taught a lesson today by some excellent defensive play and battling midfielders.
Hogan Ephraim – 6/10
Hogan looked his best in second period with the ball at his feet running at the opposition defenders. However these moments were few and far between as he was left frustrated on the right flank. Hogan was fuming on occasions that balls weren`t finding him, but he never really sought to come inside and take the ball.
He didn`t given Ramage the support he required at full back, as it proved one of the many frailties of the diamond formation.
Lee Cook – 6/10
There better had been a good reason for withdrawing Cook at half time, because the second period kicking towards the Loft End was when we needed him most – and it certainly showed.
Delaney was left to put the ball into the box, and the delivery as expected was nothing in the calibre of the self-professed fan. He helped win the game nearly single-handedly against Preston, as he reverted to his role on the left.
His withdrawal was a real surprise to many fans including myself, and Sousa`s haste in taking him off proved costly come the end of the game.
Heidar Helguson – 6/10
Heidar played relatively well today, but his lack of movement proved a real worry for the R`s midfield as they tried to seek out the Icelandic international, but found only the Hornets defence.
Helguson missed a couple of big chances to help break the deadlock, a header in the first half and a close range miss in the second – both proved costly as the game wore on.
Patrick Agyemang – 7/10
Pat was full of running and exuberance throughout, and despite not having the ability of some of his team-mates his effort surpassed anyone of that on the pitch. His drive and enthusiasm was a rare plus point in a below par performance.
Pat really needs to find the target soon to make him a complete forward – the goals upon his introduction nearly a year ago is a marker of what he can achieve with a little more luck and composure.
SUB: Dexter Blackstock – 7/10
Replaced Lee Cook: 46
He was a catalyst for change when he came on – whether it was positive or negative I`ll let you decide. Rangers certainly created more aerial chances and their were more flick-on`s but I feel Dexter would have benefited from the creativity of Cook behind him.
Dexter missed two good chances to hand the R`s three points, and proved that the current Rangers attacking force is in desperate need of bolstering.
SUB: Mikele Leigertwood
Replaced Gavin Mahon: 84
In fairness to Mikele he was the wrong man to bring on if you`re looking for a goal. While it is a shade more attacking in retrospect he doesn`t give you the threat a Ledesma or an Alberti would be able to create.
He came on and helped sure things up, and I suppose for Sousa had the desired outcome, so in that respect he did well. However the fans will be looking for something more attacking as the season unfolds.
Paulo Sousa: 4/10 – Paulo had his worst game as manager yet in my opinion, as his inability to adapt cost the R`s two points on the day. He can bleat on about how unlucky we are, but he didn`t help matters by not playing to Rangers strengths.
He adapted so well against Preston North End, but today he put all his eggs in one basket and ultimately QPR paid the price. Here`s to hoping he can learn from this lesson.
Brendan Rodgers: 6/10 – Rodgers got the desired response from his players following a run of two games with defeats. He came for a point and got a point and he will be thoroughly pleased with his hard working players.
His players really put in a lot of effort today to restrict Rangers on the day, rather than being expansive themselves, which is disappointing for the fans that came to watch them, but nevertheless they will be pleased to come away with the point.
Mr C Penton: 5/10 – By and large Mr Penton did ok, but his persistence in using his whistle when it wasn`t required grated on many supporters today. He dished out a hatful of bookings when there wasn`t a tackle in the game, and his measurement of 10 yards was extremely sporadic!
Once again though we`ve certainly seen worse at this level, and his inconsistency typified the calibre of the officials at this level.
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