Despite His White Boots

Football, football, football and, if the mood takes me, more football.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

QPR 0 Sheffield Wednesday 0

A good performance and an entertaining game, both deserving much better than 0-0. It wasn't for the want of trying though ; both sides struck the woodwork twice, and none of them were those ones where it flicks the top of the bar when the keeper had it covered - all four were six inches away from a goal. The first came when Akpo Sodje's header rattled Lee Camp's crossbar, and Wednesday missed another good chance soon after in a typically slow start from QPR.

In time though, Mikele Leigertwood and the top-class Akos Buzsaky took control of the midfield and with Rowan Vine dropping deep cleverly to link up the play, Rangers started to, whisper these three little words : Play. Some. Football. Scott Sinclair brought the crowd to their feet twice, first of all Lee Grant put just enough on Sinclair's one-on-one shot to keep it out, then after a glorious Buzsaky pass, the Chelsea loanee breezed past ex-Ranger Frankie Simek and slammed a shot off the far post. Wednesday hacked it clear but from the resulting corner Leigertwood's header lobbed up and bounced off the bar in absolute slow motion.

Both sides kept it positive after the break, Burton O'Brien's curler struck the post yet again with Camp beaten, while at the other end Grant saved well from Vine and Sinclair. Whoever Derby have in goal (Bywater ?), he must be hella good for them to let both Grant and Camp go. Rangers pressed for the winner but three free-kicks in promising positions were floated harmlessly over the bar and it finished goalless.

0-0 at home isn't usually cause for much optimism but take it from me [1] Rangers were excellent going forward today. It's hard to remember when we had so much quality up front, albeit that three of the players are on loan (Buzsaky is apparently a done deal, Vine no one's really sure and we know Sinclair is going back to Chelsea next month). Defensively we weren't so hot, mainly because the other new loanee Bob Malcolm looked like a right lemon. Still, no harm done, I'm pretty sure this will be a quick "Thanks but no thanks Bob" [2] and we'll keep looking. It's such a shame Cranie broke his leg because if he was still here we'd be a good side right now.

All in all, best not to get carried away but there's real cause for optimism at Loftus Road, and there was a healthy crowd today to boot.

Needless to say this contrasts with the national mood, which I have already commented on elsewhere. One thing I want to add in here is just how complacent everyone seemed to be before this game. I know the media have an agenda to make a game like that sound easy beforehand, so they can really stick the boot in if it goes tits up, but even so. Crouch was talking about winning the whole tournament on Tuesday. The papers were going on about how not one Croatian player would make the England team (I'd have had the defence en bloc for a start). I saw most of it in the gym ; one geezer propping up the bar was going "Fahkinell, we should be beatin this lot five-nil they're shit". I really had to bite my tongue. What game was he watching ? Oh well, it's not my problem. I could hardly care less.

And finally today, a big shout out to the hypocrites' hypocrite, Alex Ferguson. After being sent to the stands at half-time at Bolton, he said "I told the referee what I thought - some referees don't like it. They don't like the truth". Good stuff from someone who won't even talk to his own club's in-house TV station because they upset him with a question. You almost have to admire the sheer nerve of the man.

[1] And if you want a second opinion (who would blame you), Wednesday manager Brian Laws said after the game "[QPR] will be nowhere near the bottom at the end of the season".

[2] "Bob" in exactly the same tone of voice as Rowan Atkinson said "Bob" in that Blackadder episode. If you know the one I mean, it works, honest :-)

Update : ZOMG I nearly forgot. In the programme, Rowan Vine's answer to "what would you like to be if you weren't a footballer ?" was pro poker player !

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Barnet 2 Gillingham 1

A game of two halves at Underhill, both on and off the pitch. That's a top cliche double blast to start us off with. I wedged myself into the Main Stand for the first half, which was fairly uneventful apart from Gillingham's goal. A defensive mix up from a right-wing throw-in allowed the visitors to send a free cross into the danger area, and a damn good one it was too, allowing David Graham to nod home from 6 yards. After that, the guys around me were just so annoying, you know the type, every clearance under pressure that doesn't turn into a pinpoint 50-yard crossfield pass is "Oh, what are we DOING". When the villain on my left (he had position on me too) started bemoaning how unlucky England were in the rugby World Cup I had had enough. I mean, any true football fan laughs at England losing the rugby World Cup. Unlucky Josh. Try again in 2011 Jeremy.

So anyway, I decamped to the "South Stand" behind the goal for the second half, where I had much more leg/arm room and a great view of Barnet pressing down the slope. It soon became clear that the visiting centre halves and keeper Simon Royce didn't fancy it uphill into the wind. Moments after Graham allowed Lee Harrison to make a great save when he really should have scored, Royce flapped at Josh (oh, erm) Wright's free kick and Ishmael Yakubu nodded in from about 2 feet. Two minutes later the classy Kenny Gillet curved in another wicked cross that was gleefully headed in by Liam Hatch.

And surprisingly that was more or less that. Gillingham never threatened, even when the supernit ref sent Ashley Carew off with 10 minutes left. It was a poor show from the visitors, and unfortunately, like pretty much everyone who has been shown the Loftus Road door in the last couple of years, Royce, Steve Lomas and Aaron Brown showed nothing to suggest that they were harshly treated at Championship level. Onwards and upwards for the Bees though, with the return of Yakubu and Gillet in defence and Hatch banging in the goals, my 12-1 promotion bet is looking unusually inspired. You can still get on at 13-2 on Betfair and that's not a bad price.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

QPR 2 Hull 0

A comfortable win and a moderate game, lit up by two super goals. Akos Buzsaky made his Rangers debut in place of the perhaps unfortunate Adam Bolder, while it was good to see the legendary Jay-Jay Okocha turning out for the visitors, even if he is past his best. By the way, if you're wondering what JJ is doing at Hull of all places, apparently "God told him to do it". I suspect this was more likely a Hull backroom staffer employing a glass and a spooky voice, still whatever works.

The first 25 minutes were a puntfest, with Hull exerting slightly more pressure. Suddenly though Martin Rowlands pinged a crossfield pass to Hogan Ephraim on the left wing. Ephraim was allowed to cut inside to the edge of the box, from where he laced a fine drive low into the corner. If this goal was too good for the game, the second was even better. Mikele "Legs" [1] Leigertwood shrugged off a challenge coming in from the left wing and curled a beauty over the flailing Boaz Myhill. Leigertwood came in with a high price-tag and some very doubtful comments from supporters of his previous clubs, but he's playing very well in midfield and is a big factor in Rangers' improvement.

The other major contributor is Martin Cranie in defence, as Rangers held on fairly comfortably to prolong their unexpected recent defensive record to just one conceded in five games. In fact, unexpected could be rephrased as inconceivable by anyone who saw the shambles against Southampton or the 5-1 whacking at West Brom. Fortunately Cranie is here for at least another two months ; the loan periods of Ephraim and Rowan Vine are due to expire soon and it will be interesting to see what happens with them. Vine was very much Mick Harford's man (and vice versa), while Ephraim's situation is such that (I believe) we have to sign him for the rest of the season or not at all. Hopefully they can stay on ; one look at the Rangers bench today (Bolder, Ainsworth, Nardiello and Timoska) is enough to know that we have a squad now compared to just (or not even) a team. Onwards and upwards ; out of the bottom three now and hopefully we won't be back there for the rest of the season.

[1] "Legsofwood" as he was known at Sheffield United, but I think just "Legs" quite suits him and I'm campaigning for this label to stick.