Cardiff 1 QPR 2. Match Report.

Last updated : 07 April 2003 By NigelBlues

A battle royale
Ainsworth v Padula
It was perhaps appropriate that we beaten by a FURLONG opener but despite a Peter Thorne leveller, a controversial but well executed 89th minute Richard Langley goal stunned Ninian Park.

It grabbed a priceless victory for QPR that and went a long way to sealing QPR's place in the end of season play-offs. The tragedy for Bluebirds everywhere is that, on another hugely disappointing afternoon got the Bluebirds, City's 4th home defeat of the season (and 2nd in 4 home games) also went a long way to sealing City's place in them too with automatic promotion dreams in tatters with time and games running out fast.

On a glorious sunny and balmy day in front of a season's best crowd of 15,245 (including 966 QPR fans), playing a big match against rivals, it was all there for Cardiff City - a day for our players to show their undoubted qualities and prove their promotion credentials.

Not for the first time this season, when it really mattered, City's display however showed that they weren't quite good enough and underlined why they have been consistently falling short. The fact that City have beaten only 1 of the current Top 6 at home (with champions elect Wigan still to visit) says it all.

QPR manager, Ian Holloway, boasted pre-match that his team were better than Cardiff and would be bigger and stronger. On the day, City were unable to ram his Wurzel words back down his gob. I remain unconvinced that QPR are better, I'm not sure they fully deserved their win either but Holloways' tactics however were spot on and his players didn't let down. Cardiff's fans cannot say the same about our tactics and players. QPR's players were indeed bigger and stronger but, more than that, seemed to have more collective belief, they fully deserved to have left South Wales with at least a point.

An enforced 15 day break due to international action gave City fans and players alike the opportunity to recharge the batteries and prepare to the final make-or-break month of the season, the team enjoying a 'training break' in La Manga, Spain but changes were still necessary with City's defence needing yet another shuffle.

In goals, Martyn Margetson stepped in for his second appearance of the season with Neil Alexander suffering a groin strain whilst away with Scotland, a move which hardly weakened us and, many will argue, made City better. Steve Jenkins remained right back with Rhys Weston suffering recent back and flu problems. Scott Young was absent too with injury. With the mercurial Danny Gabbidon not quite ready to return to first team action after 5 months absence and Lennie not having the faith to use youngster James Collins into action, Chris Barker played alongside Spencer Prior with Gary Croft playing on the left.

The Irish trio (Boland and Kav in the middle with Alan Mahon roving on the left) and Ainsworth comprised midfield with Thorne and Earnie in attack - Earnshaw playing despite rumours that he was showing symptoms of the flu virus sweeping through the reserve players at present.

The R's impressively won 3-1 at Blackpool last weekend and came to Cardiff in confident mood. They looked bigger and fielded an impressive line up playing 4-4-2 with Chris Day was in goal behind a back four of Kelly, Carlisle ("Britain's Brainiest Footballer" according to a tv programme), the colossus Shittu (a Millenium Mickey Droy) and Argentinian left back Padula. The midfield four was Langley, Bircham, Palmer and McLeod with a front two of Paul Furlong and Kevin Gallen.

Their chosen style was perhaps primitive but good enough to undo City. The midfield four sat not too far ahead of the back line and they played a Route One style smashing balls forward for Furlong and Gallen. It worked for them because City were unable to break them down going forward whilst our defence with Spencer Prior at his most awful worst always gave them chances and hope. It would not surprise me in the slightest that they did their homework and singled out Prior as a weak link.

If Saddam Hussein has 6 doppelgangers, is it possible that we don't have the real Spencer Prior. The real one played top level Premiership football for several years and has the leadership, experience and know how to improve our defence and stop us conceding stupid goals. We must have another one surely??

The game got off to fantastic start and there really should have been goals for both sides in the opening exchanges. QPR were off at a sprint, Prior missed a ball pumped over the top, it was worked wide where Gallen cut dangerously in from the right and squared to Richard Langley, fresh from a trick last week, but he skied his close range near post effort into the Grange End after just 2 minutes.

A couple of minutes later, Margetson rescued City twice. Firstly, a speculative Steve Palmer 25 yarder across goal was dipping inside his far post, Margetson needed all his agility to spring full length and push it away for an unproductive corner. Prior was dismal, it would be insulting to schoolboys to suggest his defending was schoolboy style. He let balls bounce and run on instead of routine headers or clearances away from goal and fell on his arse three ot four times for good measure too. From one such moment, Kevin Gallen nipped in on a simple ball smashed forward as Prior let it drop and was away, only smart work by Margetson charging to the very edge of his area saved City.

From his kick upfield, City almost opened their account as Peter Thorne intelligently threaded a ball through the Rangers rearguard and Earnie was racing clear only to be denied by Day charging out too and deflecting his shot for a corner which Thorne headed wide.

Thorne and Earnie linked well, Earnie not making an impression near goal but showing a great first touch today but they collectively found it hard going. It surprised me that the man mountain Shittu was marked Earnie, I don't understand why Earnie and Thorne never switched. Earnie however must have fancied getting past Shittu and was having joy in the air too, heading a corner over at the far post, one of a couple he did in the half.

City were struggling to bring their wide men into the game and when they did, some of the crossing, from Ainsworth in particular, let them down. One exception was an excellent cross to Thorne on 13 minutes which was cleverly headed down near the penalty spot but just went wide with Day scrambling. Mahon on the other side was full of tricks and causing problems but the longer the game went on, the more he faded out of things.

Defensive nerves were fraught again as Prior lost another ball over the top, Lennie so normally cool and impassive, ran to the touchline holding 5 fingers towards Prior, the number of basic errors he had committed already. When Gallen far too easily got away from him and then loop the ball over Margetson rushing out, City were only saved by the linesman's flag disallowing the goal. Kav was now incensed with Prior and squared up to him, shoving him in the chest, all was not well. When a key central player is playing so poor, it unhinges the whole team and you could see it.

City finally settled and applied some pressure with, ironically, Prior coming close as he met a Boland cross but looped his effort over from 10 yards. Thorne had a far post goalbound header blocked, screams for a penalty were denied as the ball hit Shittu's arm but did appear to be ball to hand rather than deliberate and Earnie nodded over again. Kav had a lot of corners and free-kicks but his set pieces were too close to the keeper or snuffed, his edge of area free kick too tame.

QPR had more chances too in generally end to end action. Furlong heading wide, another header gave Margetson an easy stop and he was tested by a stinging McLeod 25 yard drive.

It was an entertaining game but hard for the committed supporter to enjoy with tension so high and nerves very raw. The first half was even, both teams swapped chances, City had most pressure but QPR had created the better openings overall.

The biggest difference between the two sides was that QPR were handling Earnie and Thorne reasonably well with no nonsense defending and just being strong. City's defence however were struggling, getting out-muscled, Prior having a confidence crisis and dragging others down with him, noticeably Barker but Jenkins and Croft weren't inspiring either. Our defending was nonsense and it would cost us dearly.

Half-time: CITY 0 QPR 0

The second half had a near dramatic opening as City tried to step up a gear and put more bodies into the QPR area, one cross and scramble saw the ball bounce up and Day's fingertips just divert a high bouncing ball onto the top of the crossbar.

The referee, Paul Armstrong, from Berks (very appropriate as someone pointed out) was not helping the game, particularly if you were a Cardiff City fan. For large portions of the match, it looked like no contact was allowed by Cardiff City players and although the free-kick count was just about even, City's free kick always seemed for legitimate fouls and shoves on them with QPR defending whilst City were penalised time after time for innocuous challenges, one such example seemed to be when Shittu climbed all over Earnie but somehow won a free-kick.

City created more chances, Earnie was blocked, another Thorne header was tipped wide, a Kav 30 yard free-kick disappointingly floated straight to Day, Ainsworth now making an impression and firing up the crowd testing the keeper with a 25 yarder.

Ainsworth against the Argie Padula was one of the key battles on the pitch and a mini match in itself, there was no quarter given by either player. Ainsworth won a fantastic, clean but hard challenge on halfway that left Padula sprawled in agony. After treatment, Padula got up, ran back to Ainsworth and charged into him. Ainsworth got his own back by skinning Padula and cutting into the area but his low cross was too close to Day who blocked, next time he did it, he was denied by a superb Padula tackle.

At the other end, Gallen was causing problems as he again beat Prior too easily but scuffed his shot harmlessly across goal but Margetson produced a fantastic stop shortly afterwards as the defence got in another mess with a ball across the box and Gallen's instinctive powerful rising volley was matched by the keeper's save to beat the ball away.

On 63 minutes disaster struck. Chris Barker fouled Furlong 30 yards out on the left, one of the referee's decisions against City that you couldn't argue with. QPR loaded the area around the penalty spot, City's marking looked woeful and not enough and as Padula's free-kick was swung over, their collective naivety showed as Rangers players took off in different directions, Prior stood motionless and FURLONG peeled off him with ease to meet the ball, nod a free header across goal and inside the far post just beating Margetson's fingertips.

It is hard to single out a player for criticism that it's harder to avoid it with Prior. I shudder at how many goals and how many points Prior's inept defending has cost us over the season. The goals conceded like this one are exactly the reason why Sam paid £700,000 to bring him to this club. He may be Mr Nice Guy and care immensely but he simply has not been good enough full stop.

City looked lost and a change had to be made. Bringing on Gavin Gordon was undoubtedly the right thing to do but the crowd were bewildered when Gareth Ainsworth, the one player supplying crosses was removed, loud boos echoed around Ninian Park, nobody more disbelieving than Ainsworth himself.

City were throwing themselves forward though and starting to lay siege on the QPR goal. Kav and Earnie had good efforts blocked then Thorney made Day save well meeting a Kav corner 15 yards out and shooting towards the left post.

On 77 minutes, another change was effected, Andy Legg charged on for Gary Croft and created a stunning impact as City levelled within 90 seconds. Kav won a corner but left it to Leggy. The variance in style probably unsettled QPR as Kav's all afternoon swung corners towards goal or too close, Legg's swung away and was perfectly met by PETER THORNE by the penalty spot to steer a powerful header wide of Day and home. You beauty!

The roar and noise echoing around Ninian was epic. The fans believed City would turn it around and willed them forward with a bellowing roar so, for the first time it seemed, did the players. Kav powered a drive at goal but his deflected shot drifted just wide.
When the ball was launched forward on 80 minutes, it fell to Gavin Gordon by the penalty spot and his rising shot looked in all the way but was prevented by an astonishing Chris Day save that he had no right to make, he probably deserved the luck as it missed Earnie's boot by a fraction as he swung for the rebound.

Kav had another effort blocked as he was announced as man of the match. He played well, not outstanding, but there was no outstanding candidate on the day.

QPR rode the storm and nearly stunned City as Langley met a Padula cross with a superb overhead kick on the edge of the area but Margetson, who played really well throughout when required, was alert and took the ball by his near post. It was a warning of what was to come though.

88 minutes, City were swarming forward when Armstrong stunned everybody in the crowd (including I'm sure, many of the QPR fans) by awarding a foul against Peter Thorne on Palmer, there was a stunned reaction. It got even worse as Chris Day took the kick and belted it to the left, Padula went through Steve Jenkins back, a challenge inifinitely worse than the original foul just awarded, but Armstrong let it go. Padula checked back and swung a far post cross that LANGLEY met on the edge of the area and hit a brilliant drive first time past Margetson who had no chance whatsoever.

A stunning goal, poor defending yet again but it should never have got to that stage, City were victims of poor officiating but I hope nobody uses that as an excuse. On the day, we just weren't good enough. Langley and his team mates soured things as Langley removed his shirt and purposely goaded the Lower and Upper Grandstand at the Canton End, others joined in. City fans, sickened enough, were rightly very angry. Fortunately nobody attempted to get on the pitch even though everyone felt like it. The ref never even spoke to the player who should have been carded as a minimum for crowd incitement.

Injury time passed withough major incident and as final whistle blew, the ref was first down the tunnel, not even waiting for the players and going off to a chorus of insults and boos. When all settles down though, the reality is that this side have shown they are not good enough yet again.

Some will tell us that promotion is still within Ci's hands if they win their final 7 games but we are talking about a team who have only managed two successive wins on one occasion since beating QPR away in late November. Indeed, City have now slipped to 4th place. Advantage clearly lies with Crewe now 4 points ahead with a vastly superior goal difference and 6 games for them to play compared to 7 for us.

Cardiff's only way back into the automatic promotion shake up would appear to be collecting maximum points from their clashes away at Wycombe, Chesterfield and Peterborough then home to Colchester in the next fortnight. It is well within the capabilities of this team but whether they achieve it is another matter entirely. Any more mistakes or dropped points and it will surely be the play-off nightmare unless other teams around us, Crewe especially, collapse. The thought of the play-offs are just horrendous, City and fans will know it will be a failure if we're in them, QPR fans and players by contrast will enter them on a high and see it as a success.

Maybe being forced to be positve will benefit City as their cautious style is the reason we're where we are rather than away with Wigan and the sooner Danny Gabbidon is back in our defence (and a certain S. Prior is out of it), the better too. It's hard but until it becomes reality, let's still believe we can make auto-promotion. See you at Wycombe on Tuesday.

Report from FootyMad
A last minute goal by Richard Langley, scorer of a hat-trick last week at Blackpool, sealed victory for Queens Park Rangers to take them to just three points behind Cardiff in the Division Two table.

"It was a very inept display by our defence and there is no excuse as we never got to grips with their front two", said Bluebirds boss Lennie Lawrence. "It was a very disappointing performance by our back four and a poor winner to concede."Rangers had the ball in the net in the 22nd minute but Kevin Gallen's effort was ruled out for an infringement.

Both sides had chances in a frantic opening half and the biggest surprise was that it remained scoreless at the interval.

Rangers took the lead when Paul Furlong was left unmarked at the far post to head home a Gino Padula free-kick and it was not until Lawrence brought on veteran Andy Legg that Cardiff seemed to create some attacking opportunities.

One minute after taking the field he swung over a corner kick and Peter Thorne planted a firm header into the back of the visitors' net for the equaliser.

"At that time we were on top and perhaps were unlucky not to go into the lead." said Lawrence. "But once again on a big occasion we have failed to deliver.

"We forced them back when we equalised but didn't pass the ball well enough and could not sustain the pressure.

"QPR imposed themselves on us. We were out-muscled and failed to get to grips with their front runners."Rangers boss Ian Holloway was delighted with his side's success.

"It has been a good week for the club and although it will be a tall order to get that second automatic place, this win could certainly help us make the play offs.

"There is a long way to go but with 11 wins from our last 17 games we are definitely the form team in the Division."Cardiff are now heading for the lottery of the play-offs and after last season's heartbreak, few would bet on the Bluebirds reaching Division One by that route.

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