QPR 1 Burnley 1 - Warnock: Referee Had A Bad Day At The Office

Very early in this game, a chant came up from the 1,404 Burnley fans which very succinctly summed up the atmosphere around Loftus Road.
‘It’s just like being in church’ they sang. The Rangers supporters couldn’t really argue and they didn’t bother either, preferring to wait for their team to raise the interest levels.

It was far from gloomy, although the autumn drizzle didn’t help to lift spirits, but for a top-of-the-table side there was a lack of buzz around the ground. The next chant from Burnley’s travelling supporters of ‘top of the league, you’re having a laugh’ was harsher.

If there was little in the way of give-and-take in the stands, there was plenty on the pitch, with a number of personal battles across the turf, particularly between Michael Duff and Rob Hulse, making his first start for Rangers.

They kept in extreme proximity to each other for most of the first half and both complained of overly physical treatment from their opposing ‘shadow’.

The Burnley defender was unwilling to give an inch across the pitch, diving in to expertly steal the ball from Jamie Mackie as he readied himself to pull the trigger on 16 minutes.

Another personal battle was played out at other ends of the pitch as Adel Taarabt and Chris Eagles made competing bids for the ‘most embarrassing dive of the game’ award.

Eagles went one better by performing two laughable attempts to earn a spot-kick in the first 45 minutes, the second of which, under the merest hint of a challenge from Kaspars Gorkss, put the ex-Manchester United player deservedly in the book.

Not that Eagles wasn’t proving a handful in other ways and a combination of his driving runs and Chris Iwelumo’s strong aerial presence and hold-up play was putting Rangers’ record of not conceding at home in the league this season under jeopardy.

Eagles pulled a fizzing low shot from the edge of the area which stretched Paddy Kenny in the Rangers’ goal to the full.

He could only parry the ball out into his area allowing Jay Rodriguez a simple tap-in, but Kenny flung himself onto his shot for a remarkable double save to keep the ball out.

Having rode their luck, Rangers took full advantage through Adel Taarabt who up until that point had flattered to deceive and been fairly woeful in his final ball.

The first point of a pre-game team talk for any visiting manager to Loftus Road should be ‘do not give Taarabt space on the edge of the area’.

Perhaps his wasted flicked passes beforehand lulled Burnley into a false sense of security or more fairly, perhaps his run was just too good to challenge.

He must have twisted Graham Alexander’s blood by the number of times he switched direction before drilling the ball into the top right corner.

A beautiful goal, another collector’s item for the Moroccan and another indicator that he is a name you would leave off the team sheet with great caution.

He was high on confidence after that, embarrassing Eagles with a staggering number of step-overs and drag-backs which drew a petulant push.

An arcing cross was inches from meeting the forehead of Hulse as well and a calmly planted pass in the area should have found one of Alejandro Faurlin or Hulse but they chose to tackle each other instead.

Rangers were also collectively showing their willingness not to surrender a goal at home.

Matt Connolly strode from the area to block a long-range shot by Danny Fox while from the resulting corner, Shaun Derry whipped Eagles off the ground with a heavy but fair challenge.

The Burnley midfielder was brought off for Ross Wallace at the break after a half in which he could have been sent off.

That was after Rangers finally succumbed to a league goal at Loftus Road after 585 minutes of football though.

Paddy Kenny, who Norwich and Swansea both failed to put penalties past already this season, was called to provide the last line of defence once more.

After Iwelumo rose to head the ball down, Matt Connolly unfairly checked the run of Dean Marney and the referee rightly pointed to the spot.

Graham Alexander then ran up to place an unstoppable penalty into the top corner as the half closed.

Eagles’ replacement was lively after the break and Burnley began to dominate in the middle of the park, pushing forward and Rangers looked stretched on their relatively few counter-attacks.

Manager Neil Warnock showed his willingness to re-arrange his pack to find another goal with Rangers looking increasingly faltering in the final third, particularly in comparison with their blistering home form at the start of the season.

He brought off Hogan Ephraim for Patrick Agyemang on 61 minutes.

Ephraim seems to be the first-choice to come off in most games and by extension, must feel his place in the starting line-up is far from assured.

Wade Elliott threatened on the break for Burnley, driving from his own half and nearing the Rangers area before he drew a late challenge from Gorkss which saw the Latvian go into the book.

Neither side could create as clear openings as they had in the first half, though Jamie Mackie, who had a quiet game by his standards, did come close to planting a beautiful cross onto the head of Agyemang.

Soon Leon Clarke, who has been a stranger to the QPR team for much of the season, was on for Hulse who had failed to get a firm grip on the game.

Iwelumo could have taken all three points for Burnley, racing across the Rangers area and working the space for himself before blasting acres over the bar.

Jay Rodriguez as well came within inches of diverting the ball past Kenny with an outstretched toe.

In response Rangers laid siege to Burnley’s goal in the final ten minutes and deep into the five minutes of injury time, with Tommy Smith also joining the fray in place of Mackie.

Smith scuffed a shot from the edge of the box when he should have worked Lee Grant but he was very close to making amends with a sensational curled effort from distance.

After the match, Warnock, who is very wary to criticise referees nowadays, said today’s official, Iain Williamson, had a ‘bad day at the office’. He did fail to control a bad-tempered encounter though I’m not sure QPR’s manager is right in his assessment of Burnley’s penalty.

Though the Rangers crowd did struggle to reach a state of any excitement, one supporter showed that they haven’t lost their sense of humour, despite the team now surrendering a six-point lead to trail Cardiff, who now lead by two.

Few supporters left before the end but one particularly wealthy benefactor, Bernie Ecclestone had seen enough with quarter of an hour to go. As he stopped for a spot of schmoozing on his way out, he was met with cries of ‘Sit down Bernie’. Not quite biting the hand that feeds you, but…

It was a result no-one could be too despondent about but as with previous home games against Milwall and Norwich, it seems that Rangers are hard to beat right now but lacking in inspiration themselves. The manager said his team now need to lose a game so that they can start winning again.

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Match Report - QPR 0 Norwich City 0

Despite a number of players getting themselves back into first-team contention, fitness-wise, over the international break, QPR manager Neil Warnock went with an unchanged side for the visit of third-placed Norwich - a game that few would have marked down as a promotion battle at the start of the season but which has taken on such a context in the proceeding months.

It was the usual suspects looking likely to break the deadlock for Rangers in a tight and nervy first half, in which the R's goal, still to be breached at home in the league this season, lived a charmed life. Adel Taarabt and Jamie Mackie were the brightest players in the opposition's half; Shaun Derry was tirelessly chasing down opponents in the middle and Kaspars Gorkss and Matt Connolly were ably dealing with the dual threat of the imposing Grant Holt and the nimble Simeon Jackson, but there was still something missing from the R's first half performance - the key ingredient to allow a sell-out crowd to lift the roof off.

Holt showed he would be a handful with less than ten minutes gone, forcing a point-blank range save from Paddy Kenny, though it was tame enough to not overly worry the R's keeper. Mackie showed his composure in the box to control and turn back a loose ball to Gorkss following a Taarabt corner just minutes later, but the defender's well-struck shot skimmed past the far post after taking a deflection. In truth, that would represent the best chance for the R's in the first half.

No match report on QPR is complete without a reference to Adel Taarabt's, how shall we diplomatically put it, 'tendency to keep the ball for extended periods of the game'? So often a major asset to the team, there remained moments in this opening half when the simpler option of a laid-off pass went begging and Mackie made his feelings clear when his team-mate decided to try and beat Norwich single-handedly rather than play him down the wing.

After a bright start for the home side, the visitors grew in confidence, patiently building from midfield or on other occasions, moving the ball quickly to Holt or Jackson who could both confidently hold it up until team-mates arrived. Rangers themselves were all too often trying to quickly play a cross-field pass which the two Norwich centre-backs, Elliott Ward and Leon Barnett could calmly mop up.

Having amazingly not conceded a goal at home so far this season, Rangers didn't look too likely to do so here until Clint Hill got a bit too personal with Holt in the area. Climbing over the striker like his life depended on it, it was far from surprising to see the ref point to the spot. Kenny took his time to move into the goal, waiting by his post to have a long swig from his water bottle. Up stepped Wes Hoolahan... only to lamely drag the ball wide of the goal. Kenny looked like he would have reached it had the midfielder been able to get in on target - this was one battle of wills firmly won by the Rangers goalkeeper. You started to wonder just how long the R's could keep their goal at Loftus Road unbreached.

After that though, the Hoops struggled to muster anything of their own in terms of a convincing goal threat - a situation not improved by Buzsaky limping off to be replaced by Mikele Leigertwood who, perhaps understandably considering the amount of time he has spent on the bench this season, looked off the pace of the game.

He improved after the break, without ever looking likely to play the type of killer pass that the game sorely needed. Not to say that it was ever dull, just that both sides were so well-organised and so tight at the back, that a consecutive goalless draw at Loftus Road was a safe bet. At least the Rs' fans would have little chance of facing the disgusting treatment they got when Milwall's 'supporters' celebrated their 0-0 draw just before the international break.

The options to score were slowly disappearing and being firmly reduced to either 'a moment of magic' or one of madness. Or just sheer blind luck. When the excellent Kyle Walker, a very smart loan addition from Spurs, smashed the ball goalwards, the wild deflection off the crown of Jamie Mackie was inches from resting in the top corner.

At the other end, Gorkss was playing out his own football cliche, that of the brave, bandaged centre-back. With his head heavily strapped, he was first to every long ball, most crosses and any attempt to have a shot in the area. A faultless display which is a big explanation for Rangers' resolute defending this season. Holt should have done better though as the game neared its conclusion, shooting well over the bar when afforded time and space on the edge of the area.

Gorkss could have capped his day with a goal and when Rangers are searching for a winner, he can often be relied on to get a head, foot or any body part to a loose ball and force it over the line. A bout of head tennis in the area was nearly won by the Latvian. His header back across goal was in turn headed off the line by (I'm 95% sure) Andrew Crofts.

A largely anonymous Hogan Ephraim made way for Patrick Agyemang. A tired-looking Taarabt was swapped for Tommy Smith. Neither could greatly influence the game though the latter did really well to chest the ball, bring it down and shoot on the turn to force a good save from John Ruddy deep into injury-time.

A minor blip then, two nil-nil draws at home on the trot. And just the four points clear at the top. Whatever next. In the history of QPR, that's still very far from a bad position to be in. The chance to equal their best-ever start is gone but with two away games over the next six days, the players have the chance to quickly find the net again.

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QPR's Squad Size Could Be The Difference

Just what does it take to get promoted out of the Premiership? That is a question which QPR may find an answer to between now and next May, cast as they are as promotion certainties or at least favourites far and wide. Sufficient resources, in terms of wage bill, transfers paid and the infrastructure around the club, from the stadium to the commercial set-up, can not be ignored in judging a team's readiness to make the step up the league ladder. Two of last season's promoted sides - Newcastle and Blackpool - show the truth and error behind that statement though.

A smattering of top-class players, at least at the Championship level, certainly helps and this is an area where Rangers tick the right boxes. Adel Taarabt, though I spend most of my time moaning about him, is a serious candidate for the best player in the division; Jamie Mackie has been a revelation, a player soaring with confidence which came across even in his brief cameo for Scotland against Spain on Tuesday (why wasn't he on earlier in the game?) Akos Buzsaky on his day, though you never know when that will be, can outshine most Championship players.

Maybe though sometimes quantity trumps quality. If you have enough decent-to-good players, players with experience and with the professionalism to do what is required of them, without ever being the stars, you could have the seeds for a promotion-winning squad. Though Rangers haven't wowed the world with the type of big-name signings that were hinted at when money first flooded into this club, they have brought in players far more frequently than many of their rivals. In fact, Neil Warnock has built close to a new starting XI, with a number of his summer signings unable to even get a game whether it be through injury or through the improved form of others.

Today though he could suffer from a bizarre medical condition that only football managers seem to get - 'the nice headache to have'. Rather than a energy-sapping, nerve-wracking migraine built of worry, doubt and fear, this is just a gently gnawing pain as the boss surveys the many players on his squad sheet and realises that he just can't keep everyone happy. It's the 'type of problem you won't to have'.

With the vast majority of his squad afforded a two-week break because of international fixtures, Warnock has seen a trickle of players returning to fitness so that he now has a few of those difficult decisions to make across the pitch. With Bradley Orr returning to fitness, does he stick with loanee Kyle Walker at right-back? Does Alejandro Faurlin walk straight back into the R's midfield or did Buzsaky impress enough in a central role to warrant a further start? Should signings Leon Clarke or Rob Hulse get a look-in at the top-end of the pitch or is a front-line of Heidar Helguson, with Mackie and Taarabt at close quarters too potent to mess with?

The truth is that the manager is unlikely to make vast changes to his side. But with the fixtures now arriving in rapid succession, with trips to Swansea and Bristol City to come before next weekend, the changes could arrive soon and the real marker of QPR's promotion credentials could be how deep the well runneth - can players itching to break into the team or just coming back from injury quickly re-integrate themselves into the team when required and make up for the niggles and injury problems which will surely arise?

There are far too many questions here for one day and you can't expect me to answer them. Rangers are unlikely to give much of a pointer to how capable their whole squad is today either. But they will soon have to and over the next two months, the readiness of the club to step up a division will be called into question. Come back later today for a match report on the Hoops' sell-out game against third-placed Norwich and don't forget, two more wins and QPR will equal their best-ever start to a season. As Crazy Earl says in vastly different circumstances in Full Metal Jacket, 'these are great days we're living, bros.'

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Incredible? Five Minutes on QPR's Season So Far

Just over a month of not posting on here and I’ve regrettably missed so much of QPR’s incredible start to the season.

Is incredible over-stretching the point? In the context of how this club performed last season on the pitch, the utter shambles of so much of the board’s actions off the pitch and the general feeling of inertia and discontent around the place, I don’t think it is.

In every department of their team, Rangers are performing way above expectations and what seemed possible last season. At the back, just two goals conceded so far with a settled goalkeeper as well compared to a team which shipped goals for fun and consistently put itself on the back foot throughout last season. In the midfield, a healthy amount of competition so that a player like Akos Buzsaky has sat on the bench for most of this season so that even when star players like Alejandro Faurlin are injured, as is currently the case, there is enough back-up in the squad to weather any resulting deficiencies. And in attack, a number of players scoring for fun, including Jamie Mackie who came to the club to a noticeable lack of enthusiasm from most quarters but who has shown himself to be one of the most exciting players to pull on the Hoops shirt in the last few seasons.

From all the excellent performances which I have completely failed to report on, the 2-2 draw at Derby County was perhaps the most enjoyable and most out-of-character, in comparison with last season once again. Knocked for six by two breakaway goals, Rangers showed such depths of character to keep knocking away at Derby and to finally be rewarded with two of the most thrilling goals I’ve seen them score in a long time.

Were they both pretty goals – far from it, though the technique Mackie showed to score the equaliser was unquestionable? What they did show though was an immense desire to get at the opposition, to almost literally batter them out of the way until the required result was achieved. When Patrick Agyemang, a player who refused to celebrate a goal last season such was his dismay at the direction the club was heading in, is busting a gut to run from the halfway line and score, you know a corner could well have been turned.

The reaction on the bench was the equal of the hard work on the pitch, a draw celebrated like a Cup win and another indication that whatever you would knock Neil Warnock for, it wouldn't be a lack of enthusiasm for football. The best managers give the impression that very little matters for them outside of the game, with the obvious exception of their families (and perhaps not even them). I’d put Warnock in that category and that is a quality which could drive this club to success.

Enough harping on about the Derby game then, which could be well forgotten amid the flurry of wins since, but in looking back at the season so far, it is still oddly the stand-out game for me. Rangers have played some eye-catching football at Loftus Road this season where they are still to let in a league goal, but in showing that they had a Plan B, that if need be they would resort to getting balls and bodies into the opposition’s box, I believe they showed some of the qualities needed to get promoted from this league.

That is still a long way off. Tonight another game, the visit of 'no-one likes us' Milwall, that might require them to win ugly, to be patient and be willing to fight for every minute of the match. What could have been a faintly depressing or just mediocre night could be another memorable mark in QPR’s upward rise. They remain the team to watch in the Championship right now and I hope, as ever, to not miss quite so many of their games on this site as well.

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