I must admit that I love going to Loftus Road, but it smacked of over enthusiasm to arrive in Shepherds Bush before the pubs opened. The lush hanging around waiting for admission was denied entry to our hostelry of choice by a bouncer demanding to see a QPR season ticket. Thankfully, the next place that I tried hadn’t quite organized themselves, so I breezed in and found a table only to see each of my companions denied entry. Twice I ran to the door to plead them to let my friends join me. The lady was immediately admitted, the “old fella” took a bit more persuasion, but we were ultimately successful and the beer and the lunch were well worth the hassle. While supping our pints, our attention was drawn to Police riot vans parked on the Green which heralded a group of Watford fans being escorted to the ground. Quite why that was necessary, I have no idea. But it was rather incongruous to see a bunch of Watford youths giving it large to a group of their fellow fans who were enjoying another pint before strolling in the sunshine to the away entrance.
There were two changes from the team that beat Ipswich on Saturday as Hoban made way for Cassetti, who was returning from suspension, and Pudil replaced Faraoni meaning that Riera swapped wings. So the starting line-up was Almunia, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Angella, Pudil, McGugan, Tözsér, Abdi, Riera, Ranegie and Deeney.
We started the game very brightly with a McGugan shot from distance and a Deeney volley both of which flew over the bar. Then Ranegie got on the end of a cross from McGugan but a defender’s challenge ensured he shot over. Deeney latched onto a backheader from Dunne and Green had to be smart to push his shot wide. QPR’s first attempt was a soft shot from Austin that was straight at Almunia. Then Abdi intercepted the ball and passed to Deeney who broke forward, but the defence closed ranks before he could shoot, so he passed back to McGugan who shot way over.
McGugan played a lovely cross towards Ranegie, but he couldn’t get a touch on it. Another cross, this time from Angella, appeared to have reached Deeney, but Onuoha took it off his feet. Just before the half hour, Austin was tripped and tumbled in the box, appealing for a penalty, as the ball was cleared to Simpson who tried a shot from distance that was easily gathered by Almunia. Watford launched a counter attack but McGugan’s shot took a deflection and was easy for Green to deal with. Everyone in the away stand was screaming at Ekstrand to pass to Pudil, who had a free run, but he delayed which allowed the defence to get back to block Pudil’s shot. Watford had dominated the half, but QPR nearly made the breakthrough on the stroke of half time as Carroll curled a free-kick goalwards but, fortunately, Almunia was equal to it.
Half time entertainment was an interview with Phil Parkes, who I’ve always rather liked, made all the more entertaining as it was conducted while he tried to dodge being showered by the sprinklers. I was also intrigued to see advertisements for the QPR stadium tours that were available in English and Korean. Given the impossibility of sitting during the game, half time was also an opportunity to rest tired legs ready for the second half.
The only change at the start of the second period was the removal of Angella’s head bandage. It had been moving around his head during the first half, so he clearly decided he was better off without it. We had an early chance as Ranegie knocked Angella’s cross back to
Abdi but his shot hit the bloke in front of me in the upper tier. Ranegie then sent a cross towards Deeney but Barton headed it for a corner. The Frenchman was sporting a rather bizarre top knot so, while waiting for the corner to be taken, he was regaled with “Your hair’s embarrassing.” He turned to the crowd and asked whether we were referring to him or Onuoha, whose hair was immaculate. Tözsér took a quick free kick that was met with a powerful volley from Deeney that Green did really well to keep out. A minute later we were ahead as Deeney nodded an Ekstrand cross down to Ranegie who swept it past Green. There was a fairly mental celebration in the stand, which was in danger of tipping some of us into the lower tier. Watford continued to push as Angella battled to keep the ball in on the sideline, passed to Riera who found Abdi whose shot flew wide of the target. Ranegie was booked as Onuoha bounced off him. McGugan tried to
release Ranegie, but the Swede was flagged offside. Then Abdi was booked for a soft foul on Morrison. From the free kick, Barton shot over the bar. On the hour McGugan was replaced by Battocchio and was applauded off by Cassetti and Tözsér, which was a nice touch. Battocchio’s first contribution was a lovely pass to Pudil whose shot was caught by Green. From a corner, Morrison evaded a couple of tackles before shooting straight at Almunia. Austin connected with a Barton corner, but his header was blocked and the follow-up was punched clear by Almunia. At this stage I noted worriedly that we were sitting deep and inviting them to attack us, which would only become more risky as Zamora and Hoilett replaced Doyle and Simpson. The next chance for the home side fell to Austin whose terrific shot was well saved by Almunia. With quarter of an hour to go, QPR were level as Barton took a free-kick just outside the area which he hit through the ragged end of our wall
into the opposite corner. Watford tried to strike back immediately as a shot from Deeney was parried by Green, the ball reached Abdi whose shot was headed off the line by Onuoha. Austin then broke free of the defence but shot wide of the far post. Ranegie played a through ball to Deeney who shot just wide of the far post, but the flag was already up for offside. Austin broke into the Watford box, but Almunia dropped to save. Austin was then booked for a very late tackle on Riera. In the final minute of normal time, with Watford having failed to make the most of a couple of corners, QPR broke forward, there was a bit of goalmouth pinball, Watford failed to clear the ball and it fell to Austin who curled a shot past Almunia to win the game for the hosts.
I must admit that I left the ground furious that we’d sat back and let them get back into the game. My notes don’t back up that version of events, but it was certainly the case that we had prevented QPR getting a sniff of goal for over an hour and, while the winner came after we’d committed forward for a corner, they had a number of chances in the last 25 minutes. Still, on the plus side, we had played some lovely football and looked the better team on the day. It is just a shame that we don’t capitalize on our periods of dominance. If we did, it would have been us confirming a play-off place instead of languishing in mid-table.