Despite His White Boots

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

Sunday, September 28, 2008

QPR 0 Derby 2

If you expected to be disappointed, does it count as disappointment ? One for the philosophers there, but let's just say this wasn't a big surprise. Teams with a real winning mentality don't ease off after a great result, they come out even stronger in the next game. Rangers have never been able to do that, and they didn't today.

All the forward players were below par, but Rangers still managed to come close three times, Blackstock was denied by a goal-saving challenge in the first half, then Ledesma's shot was bundled onto a post by a defender in the second half, and Blackstock struck the same post shortly after. But it was all too few and far between as pass after pass was misplaced. Even so, over-worked centre-halves Hall and Stewart might have salvaged a point, but with 10 minutes left Albrechtsen had way too much space to drill home a shot after a corner wasn't cleared, and Villa headed a second from another corner in the dying minutes. As the quiz question goes, we could beat Villa on Wednesday, but not today.

I don't have a lot to add on top of this interview with assistant Tim Flowers, which is accurate and to the point. At least we're back at it against Blackpool on Tuesday ; I expect to see Leigertwood back in for Parejo, and Ledesma could probably use a rest as well.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

The good news first, a great win for Rangers last night, Norwich are no mugs and to actually win the game after going down to 10 men on 25 minutes was a hell of a result. It's far more the mark of a team that actually achieves something to win a game like this 1-0 compared to battering lightweight opposition 4-1 at home as on Sunday.

Unfortunately, the club have stepped right in it with recent price increases. The timing is particularly bad, there were increases during the summer, but these had been taken on board and were overshadowed somewhat, if not completely, by the team's good start on the pitch. If you're not familiar with the story, last week Rangers suddenly announced that they were going back to categorising games as A, B and C, with £5-£10 increases for A games compared to the prices announced pre-season. The first of these "A" games is Derby County (hmm) on Saturday week. County have, quite rightly, dug their heels in about their fans being charged £40 to watch a Championship game and this has brought it all out into the open (it's not quite so bad for home fans because they have cheaper seating options and many, like me, have season tickets anyway).

The best seats in the ground are a ludicrous £50 for this game, and while there are only a handful of them, this allows the press to print half-truths like "the club have announced a hike in matchday tickets which will see pay-on-the-day fans charged £50 for a 'Category A' match. " (The Mail) [1]. In this case, don't blame the dog for biting you - that's what the Mail does, and the club have let it happen. It's a huge PR black eye for the relatively small extra income it will bring in and I hope that the club see sense and reverse this decision ASAP.

[1] To be fair, The Mirror did have the decency to point out that this was for "some seats".

Update 22/9 : One interesting footnote to this : Derby did something similar last year, albeit in the Premiership.

Resolution 23/9 : Derby's complaint was successful. QPR have responded by reducing prices is corresponding home areas (behind the other goal), but the other increases hold. Rather surprisingly, QPR have also announced that they've sold all the £50 tickets. I suspect there only were a few hundred at that price anyway, which really makes me wonder whether it was worth attracting the bad publicity in the first place.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

QPR 4 Southampton 1

This was quite a strange game. Despite not playing particularly well IMO, Rangers scored 4, had 2 more disallowed (albeit correctly), hit the post and forced a string of fine saves from the overworked Kelvin Davies in the visitors' goal. Southampton's passing and movement were excellent but they were very, very lightweight in defence even before going down to 10 men.

It took less than a minute for Rangers to take the lead. On winning a throw-in from the kickoff, Rangers sent more defenders forward than they have in these situations recently, which may (or may not) have contributed to the chaos in the Saints' defence. Everyone clustered at the near post, allowing Dexter Blackstock to nip around Lee Cook as the ball bounced over his head and slam in a close-range shot with no defenders in sight. When their debut centre-half Ollie Lancashire (I know, I'd never heard of half the team) was sent off for a reckless lunge at Damien Delaney, the result seemed a foregone conclusion.

However, Davies kept his side in the game with good saves from Blackstock and Delaney, and then a superb reaction stop from Blackstock's near post shot after a sweet Rangers passing move. And 10 minutes into the second half a smooth counter-attack was finished off by Adam Lallana to send the away fans into raptures and level the game up. Iain Dowie wasted no time in replacing the ineffective Dani Parejo and adding another striker in Patrick Agyemang. Within a couple of minutes, the other substitute Martin Rowlands sent over a free kick that again saw the defence go AWOL as Damien Stewart tapped home, although just about every report says he was clearly offside. This time the game really was over and Davies did well to restrict the Hoops to only two more, Blackstock following up after Agyemang's shot was saved, and then Agyemang himself driving home in injury time.

I was glad to read Iain Dowie's comments when I got home, saying that we didn't play as well as we could, which was absolutely correct, and also praising Blackstock who has been a huge plus this season with the way he's taken to a lone striker role. The defence, which was quite sloppy at times today, will be tested more fully at Norwich and Coventry in the last two games.

Finally if you missed it in the week, Rangers signed free agent Damiano Tomassi on a season-long deal. If the name is familiar, Tomassi is the player who, when at Roma, only accepted minimum wage when trying to prove his fitness after a bad knee injury. A sort of anti Michael Owen. I loved the comment on the BBC Sport forum saying how good it was that Tomassi could communicate with the Italian players and Dani Parejo on the field. Clearly an advocate of Homer Simpson's theory that Italian and Spanish are the same language. Ahh, it's all foreign, what difference ?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Just When It Was Starting To Get Interesting

As usual, just as everyone was getting into the swing of it, everything stops for 10 days so England can play Andorra. Again. Still, a good time to chew over the action so far, especially in that the start of the season is so important, at least in terms of perception.

Say Team A wins their first three games, does averagely well over the bulk of the season, and loses the last three games. Team B does the opposite, 3 losses, average, 3 wins. Even though they finish level, fans and media will all go away thinking that team A had the better season. And in a sense, they did. Because Team A will have spent three months in the top 6 before settling down to mid-table, whereas Team B spend three months in the bottom 6 before clawing their way up.

QPR have matched the criteria laid down in the last post for a "good start". I am quite a bit more confident now than I was pre-season, not just because of results, but a few pointers gleaned from events so far. Mainly, the management team have adapted the system to the players available and made quick and effective changes to solve the problems that have arisen, notably after the hammering at Sheffield United. It's clearer than it's ever been (IMO) that truly no one has an automatic right to play, but players seem to be respecting this and responding in the right way. Captain Martin Rowlands will be back in the side soon enough, but as a substitute on Saturday, he was noticeably the first to congratulate Dexter Blackstock on his goal. Dexter's playing well as the lone striker and has already picked up 3 goals ; and while the defence still looks a little light numerically, as Dowie points out, if you have enough centre-halves (which we do) then you can change the system if need be. I'm not bothered that no one was brought in yesterday ; if the right players aren't available, wait until they are. Rangers will strengthen in January IMO if they're in contention. Seeing as this start is better than I anticipated, and yet promotion odds have drifted to 5-2, I have had a nibble. Dare to dream and so on.

By contrast, Barnet have stumbled out of the blocks horribly, losing the first 3 games and then taking a battering at Chester who had also lost their first 3. Any manager is only X games from the sack, with X being a variable according to past credit, character of board, etc. Time isn't on Paul Fairclough's side but he's done so well there I really hope he can turn it round soon enough. Rotherham are gobbling up their points deficit tout suite and Luton are suggesting that they might just do enough over 46 games.

Elsewhere, yet another fake apology that incenses me 100 times more than the actual thing being apologised for. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley at least has half an idea how to keep it real on the streets, even if his identikit Newcastle fan outfit almost looks too good to be true, right down to the receding hairline. You won't see Ashley carefully draping a scarf over a 2 grand suit like Al Fayed and men of his ilk. During the game at Arsenal on Saturday, cameras caught the Toon Army General downing a pint in the classic style (and by all accounts this was the most free-flowing move Newcastle put together all afternoon). Now, as I've been saying lately the rules should be the same for everyone ; and the police don't make the laws and are obliged to have a word because of course you're not supposed to drink in the stands. So they have a word. Newcastle's official response ? Let's consider the options :

- Oh FFS he downed a pint, what's the fine, here's double for charity
- Sorry, someone gave me a pint and in the heat of the moment I forgot
- Pathetic insulting cover-up ?

You guessed it. Salient extract : "Newcastle issued a statement which said: "Mike was offered a drink which he thought was non-alcoholic so he took it in good faith." ". Oh for GOD'S SAKE. He thought it was ginger beer ? That's why he went "Hey, look at me everyone, watch me make light work of this fizzy pop".

Further extract : "Arsenal confirmed they do not sell non-alcoholic beer in the stadium.". I hereby confirm that the world is full of pathetic scumbag lawyers who would tell you black is white for ninepence to insult and lower the intelligence of everyone around them unfortunate enough to be within earshot.

Finally there's only one transfer that caught my eye yesterday. You can keep your Berbatovs and Robinhos because West Brom have signed Ryan Donk from AZ Alkmaar. His position ? Well there would be something badly wrong with the Universe if a player called Ryan Donk wasn't a centre half, don't you think ?