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Monday, March 03, 2008

QPR's Crushing of Stoke -- Reports and Comments

With QPR's 3-0 crushing of Stoke, QPR moved up the Championship Table to 44 points with 11 games remaining: 8 points clear of the relegation trio - and 8 points out of a playoff spot. The playoffs remain highly unlikely, short of an incredible run. But relegation remains highly unlikely short of a terrible, terrible collapse. And next season, hopefully, a serious promotion challenge.

The Times/Gary Jacob - QPR cook up a storm QPR 3 Stoke 0

Flavio Briatore thought that Queens Park Rangers was a restaurant when they were offered to him for sale, but his team have begun to serve up an appetising menu. There was nothing bit-part in the comprehensive dissection of Stoke City yesterday, denting their opponents’ ambitions of automatic promotion.

QPR’s performance was characterised by crisp, silky passing, intricate moves, intelligent counter-attacking and sharp finishing. Briatore’s dream of playing in the Champions League in the next four years may be outlandish, but they should be taken seriously as promotion contenders next season, on this evidence. They have beaten the top three teams in the Coca-Cola Championship since Luigi De Canio, the first-team coach, took over with his team next to bottom. “The players need that same mentality against the rest,” De Canio said.

Mikele Leigertwood’s first goal during a zestful opening period came moments after the midfield player had inadvertently deflected a free kick on to the underside of his team’s bar, the ball bouncing off Lee Camp, the goalkeeper, before being thumped off the line. Finding himself in space, Leigertwood’s first touch sat up nicely for him to drive from 30 yards into the corner of the net. He dispatched a loose ball for his second goal after Rowan Vine had been outmuscled in the area. “We showed we had the capacity and personality to seize the opponent on the back foot,” De Canio said.

Stoke’s chances of another comeback — they have overturned a deficit to win on more occasions than any other team in the division — evaporated when Andy Griffin was harshly sent off. Griffin was guilty of nothing but determination and aggression as he sprinted to meet a loose ball and one leg rode up to brush Hogan Ephraim. Andy D’Urso, the referee, may have been deceived by his positioning, because he galloped across to show the red card.

Ephraim and Patrick Agyemang combined shortly after the break for Akos Buzsaky to drill in a third. The nimble Martin Rowlands cajoled with clever passes, Buzsaky’s speed and crossing were a nuisance and Vine and Dexter Blackstock had chances to extend the lead.

For Stoke, Ricardo Fuller dribbled a shot to brush a post and Glenn Whelan curled a strike that Camp clawed wide. Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, was at a loss to explain his team’s poor performance. “If I knew why we played that way I would be up in the sky managing God’s only team,” he said.

Queens Park Rangers (4-4-2): L Camp – M Mancienne, F Hall (sub: D Stewart, 78min), M Connolly, D Delaney – A Buzsaky, M Rowlands (sub: G Ainsworth, 81), M Leigertwood, H Ephraim – P Agyemang, R Vine (sub: D Blackstock, 75). Substitutes not used: M Pickens, K Lee. Booked: Mancienne.

Stoke City (4-4-2): S Simonsen – A Griffin, R Shawcross, L Cort, D Pugh – L Lawrence (sub: L Buxton, 62), S Diao (sub: P Gallagher, 55), G Whelan, R Cresswell – M Sidibe (sub: A Wilkinson, 46), R Fuller. Substitutes not used: R Hoult, J Parkin. Booked: Cresswell. Sent off: Griffin. The Times

INDEPENDENT - Rangers 3 Stoke City 0: Leigertwood sinks Stoke to give QPR hope of resurgence

Stoke City missed the chance to go back on top of the Championship when they suffered their worst defeat of the season, against a rampant Queen's Park Rangers. The Loftus Road team have now beaten all of the top three in the division since Christmas, yet remain eight points from both the play-off positions and the relegation zone. "We need to acquire the mentality to face the teams lower in the same way as we face the top teams," Luigi De Canio, the QPR manager, said.

The Stoke City manager, Tony Pulis, refused to use the dismissal of Andy Griffin, the captain, as an excuse for his side's second defeat in a week, but said he went to see the referee, Andy D'Urso, and asked him to take another look at his decision. Griffin was shown a straight red card just before half-time for a tackle on Hogan Ephraim that barely seemed to warrant a free-kick.

By that stage, Stoke were already two down, with both goals coming from impressive strikes by Mikele Leigertwood. The first came in the 12th minute when the midfielder fired a crisp left-footed volley into the net from 30-yards. Just moments earlier, Leigertwood had nearly given Stoke the lead when Liam Lawrence's cross deflected off his thigh and against the underside of his own crossbar.

Stoke missed the long throws of the suspended Rory Delap, but that was not the only reason they longed for the Republic of Ireland international. His replacement was Salif Diao, a man once labelled "the new Patrick Viera". Unfortunately for Stoke it was still very much the old Salif Diao on display, as QPR dominated in midfield.

The second goal came in the 21st minute from the kind of fluid passage of play that QPR produced all afternoon. Leigertwood finished a move he started when he lashed a rising right-footed volley into the net from a Rowan Vine knock down. Stoke were three down 10 minutes after the restart courtesy of an emphatic QPR counter-attack. Vine, Ephraim and Patrick Agyemang combined to set-up the unmarked Akos Buzsaky, whose low drive was as decisive as the play that preceded it. QPR have now beaten the top two in the division by a three-goal margin in recent weeks. "It was a good afternoon," De Canio said. It is the kind of day of which Loftus Road hopes to see plenty more in the coming seasons.

Goals: Leigertwood (12) 1-0; Leigertwood (21) 2-0; Buzsaky (55) 3-0.
Queen's Park Rangers (4-4-2): Camp; Mancienne, Hall (Stewart, 79), Connolly, Delaney; Buzsaky, Leigertwood, Rowlands (Ainsworth, 81), Ephraim; Agyemang, Vine (Blackstock, 75). Substitutes not used: Pickens (gk), Lee.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen, Griffin, Cort, Shawcross, Pugh; Lawrence (Buxton, 62), Diao (Gallagher, 55), Whelan, Cresswell; Fuller, Sidibe (Wilkinson, 46). Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Parkin.
Referee: A D'Urso (Essex)
Booked: QPR Mancienne. Stoke Cresswell.
Sent-off: Stoke Griffin.
Man of the match: Leigertwood.
Attendance: 13,398. Independent

GUARDIAN/Simon Burnton - Leigertwood jams the brakes on Stoke

Stoke's recent form fuelled a surge to the top of the table and won Tony Pulis February's manager of the month award but still this result cannot have come as a complete surprise. It was, after all, the third time in four matches that they had been 2-0 down at half-time.
In fact this was the second time in six days Stoke had allowed an opposing midfielder to score twice in quick succession. For Richard Chaplow at Preston last Tuesday read Mikele Leigertwood here, though little else about the two games was alike. In Lancashire Stoke spurned a succession of chances but here they were outplayed even before they were reduced to 10 men shortly before half-time.

Still Pulis had cause for complaint. Moments before QPR's first goal the ball had been bouncing on their own goalline, the sending-off was harsh to the point of absurdity and the third goal should have been disallowed for offside. "We've had a great season so far, things have gone really well," said Pulis. "The last two games things just haven't gone our way but that's football. I didn't think we were at our best today, irrespective of the sending-off but, if I knew why, I wouldn't be managing Stoke City, I'd be up in the sky managing God's own team."
Rangers are now eight points from the play-offs and the same distance from the relegation places. This thrillingly impressive display will certainly have worried those above them much more than it encouraged those below.

For all that, they will look back at the 12th minute with a degree of relief. It started with a Liam Lawrence free-kick that flicked off Leigertwood's thigh, on to the bar, hit the goalkeeper Lee Camp and bounced on the line before being cleared upfield. Before it ended the midfielder had collected a pass 30 yards from goal and sent the ball into the bottom corner.

Nine minutes later, and with the other foot, he doubled the home side's lead after Rowan Vine had guided Akos Buzsaky's cross into his path. No team in the league has come from behind to win more often than Stoke, for whom adversity is frequently shrugged off like a half-hearted tackle, but their chances of recovery went once their captain, Andy Griffin, was sent off shortly before half-time after beating Hogan Ephraim to a loose ball.

Referees rightly try to stop players catching opponents with their studs but it is puzzling that the ball is now being given the same protection. Richard Cresswell was booked for dissent though, if Andy D'Urso had taken the name of everyone in attendance who disagreed with the decision, he would still be there this morning.

"At Preston there was a tackle on Leon Cort that was worse than that. He needed six stitches in his shin," said Pulis. "We got a corner." His opposite number, Luigi De Canio, considered the decision irrelevant. "I don't think it had a huge bearing on the outcome of the game," he said. "We scored twice when they were 11 and only once when they were 10."

In first-half stoppage time Ricardo Fuller offered Stoke some hope when he shot against the post but 10 minutes after the interval any doubt was dismissed. Glenn Whelan's shot, from almost exactly the same position from which Leigertwood opened the scoring, provoked the save of the day from Camp and QPR hared downfield where Patrick Agyemang, standing just offside, teed up Buzsaky, whose low shot beat Steve Simonsen.

Rangers beat the league's new leaders, Bristol City, by the same scoreline exactly a month earlier and thrashed the third-placed team, Watford, 4-2 away in December but they have also dropped points this season to each of the bottom three. "My side really needs to face teams at the bottom of the table in the same manner as they face teams at the top," said De Canio. As Stoke are discovering, in this division inconsistency is probably the hardest opponent to beat.

Man of the match Mikele Leigertwood

Scored the first two goals - both brilliantly taken - as Rangers destroyed their opponents with a display of precise, high-pace passing.

Best moment Scoring his second with an explosive right-foot half-volley after leaving his marker 30 yards back. Guardian

The Telegraph/Huw Turbervill QPR clean up as Stoke City stumble

Stoke manager Tony Pulis will have nightmares about this match for months. Although Queens Park Rangers played the brand of football that has come to be expected under Luigi de Canio, absolutely nothing went right for the unlucky visitors yesterday as they squandered the chance to return to the top.

They would have suspected it was not going to be their day by the 12th minute. Mikele Leigertwood came perilously close to scoring an own goal, only to race up to the other end and hit a fine opener. The midfielder then struck again and before Stoke could battle back, their captain Andy Griffin was harshly sent off by Andy D'Urso. The humiliation was complete when Akos Buzsaky drilled in soon after the break.

After five straight wins, Stoke have now lost twice in succession while QPR have the play-offs in sight again, although they need a rapid run-in reminiscent of one of owner Flavio Briatore's racing cars.

It could have been so different for Stoke. Liam Lawrence's free-kick came off Leigertwood's thigh on to the underside of the crossbar and bounced on to, but not over, the line.

QPR then punished Stoke on the break, Buzsaky teeing up for Leigertwood to shoot low into the corner on the half-volley for his third goal of the season.

Buzsaky was the first arrival of De Canio's reign, and he is proving influential. He also created the second, delivering a tremendous cross. Rowan Vine, known as 'king of the assists', was under pressure from two defenders, but he headed back and Leigertwood finished emphatically.

Stoke were killed off by D'Urso's decision. Griffin slid in and Hogan Ephraim rode the challenge; there was minimal contact. Stoke were incensed and will appeal.

When Ricardo Fuller's shot hit a post in first-half injury time, Pulis must have despaired.

QPR's win was confirmed soon after the break. Ephraim's run found Patrick Agyemang and he beat the offside trap to send in Buzsaky, who scored.

Pulis was restrained but firm in debating his captain's dismissal. "He's not put the other player in any danger whatsoever," he said. "To have to get to the ball, he had to lunge for it. I said to the referee if the kid was there and had the ball at his feet and Griffin came sliding in, it's touch and go, but the ball is free. I've asked the referee to look at it and he says he will.

"We've come back more than other teams in the league, but that's killed us. That said, we were unlucky to lose at Preston [earlier in the week] but were not at our best today. We'll bounce back, though."

De Canio was not entirely satisfied. "We must maintain that standard against every team, not just those at the top," he said. Telegraph

DAILY MAIL/Ivan Speack - Mikele hammers stumbling Stoke
The unwriiten law decreeing that whichever team finds itself on top of the Championship must then suffer a nervous breakdown applied to Stoke City on a barmy afternoon. A second away defeat in five days was compounded by a refereeing decision by Andy D'Urso which would have been laughable had it not denied Stoke the opportunity to mount a comeback.

Unlikely as that might have been with a vibrant QPR playing as if they were the league leaders and Stoke the mid-table stumblers, it should not excuse the disgraceful sending-off of right-back Andy Griffin. He performed a textbook sliding tackle on Hogan Ephraim, while it was 2-0, but was dismissed.

Manager Tony Pulis confirmed Stoke will appeal against the dismissal, although with Murphy's Law — the one saying that things will go wrong if you give them a chance to go wrong — weighing down on his side at the moment, a three-match ban might be increased to four by the bumbling FA.

Every time Stoke attacked, the home side then broke away at lightning pace. Rangers' first and third goals arrived in that manner, while Stoke drew no reward for twice striking the woodwork.

At least Pulis was honest enough to admit his team deserved nothing from a lacklustre performance which leaves them two points behind Bristol City, who must themselves now deal with the fright of leading the chase to the Barclays Premier League.

He said: "We weren't at our best, irrespective of the sending-off. If I could put my finger on why that was, I wouldn't be managing Stoke City, I'd be up in the sky managing God's own team.

"We've had a great season so far. The last two games it just hasn't transpired to go our way but that's football. I hope there will be a lot more twists to come this season, but for other teams."

For the third time in four games, Stoke found themselves two goals behind within 21 minutes. Promotion campaigns are not usually built on such shaky foundations, especially when an opposition player — on this occasion QPR midfielder Mikele Leigertwood — enjoys a day of days.

An 12th-minute Stoke free-kick was met unintentionally by Leigertwood's right knee. The ball flew on to the bar and struck the arm of Rangers' keeper Lee Camp before dropping on to the line and bouncing out.

Happily, his next contribution moments later was fully intentioned, a swiping left-foot drive from 30 yards that arrowed into the bottom corner. Nine minutes later, he had his second goal. An Akos Buzsaky cross was nodded down under intense pressure by Rowan Vine into the path of Leigertwood, who hammered the ball in.

Having scored with left and then right foot, he chased the perfect hattrick by launching himself at a Michael Mancienne cross six minutes before the interval. Given that he was on the edge of the penalty area at the time, there was no faulting his ambition.

If Stoke's own ambition wasn't curtailed by Griffin's dismissal, the game was up when Ricardo Fuller's cleverly dragged shot struck a post in first-half injury-time. When another swift Rangers breakaway led by Ephraim in the 56th minute saw Patrick Agyemang slip the ball into the path of Buzsaky, who drilled a low shot past Steve Simonsen, their miserable day was complete. Daily Mail


Mikele Leigertwood's first-half double helped QPR to a convincing 3-0 victory over Stoke that denied the promotion-chasing Potters a return to the Coca-Cola Championship summit.

The utility player, who joined Rangers from Sheffield United last August, struck in the 12th and 21st minutes to double his tally for the season.

And Stoke were dealt another blow shortly before the break when skipper Andy Griffin was controversially shown a straight red card for a challenge on Hogan Ephraim.

The Potters' misery was compounded 11 minutes after the restart when Akos Buzsaky fired home to seal their second defeat in as many games.

Tony Pulis' men had arrived in the capital knowing that victory would lift them above Bristol City and back to the top of the table.

However, they struggled to impose themselves on a vibrant Rangers outfit.

Pulis revealed after the game he hopes Andy D'Urso will rescind Griffin's red card.

He said: "I've asked the referee to look at the sending-off again and I'm hoping he'll realise he's made a mistake.

"If Ephraim had the ball at his feet, it would be touch and go. But Ephraim was nowhere near it - the ball was out and free.

"The player was not put in any danger by that challenge. Andy D'Urso didn't have the best view of it and has agreed to have a look at the video."

But Pulis refused to blame D'Urso's decision for the result, adding: "The sending-off knocked the stuffing out of us, but it wasn't a good performance.

"Results-wise it has not been a good week. Things haven't been going for us but the lads are big enough to put that right."

QPR coach Luigi De Canio said: "I'd say that was a good afternoon's work.

"We were 2-0 up when the sending-off happened, so I don't think it had a huge bearing on the result.

"One of the best ways to score is to counter-attack, and I was pleased with the way we did this." Sporting Life

MIRROR - Pulis is fuming over ref justice
Furious Tony Pulis challenged blunder ref Andy D'Urso to overturn the red card that wrecked Stoke's hopes of climbing back to the Championship summit yesterday.

City skipper Andy Griffin was shown a straight red late in the first-half for a challenge on QPR winger Hogan Ephraim that appeared to be a dangerous two-footer to the Billericay-based official.
Except that it wasn't - Griffin had lunged to get to a loose ball first and it wasn't until Ephraim arrived a split-second afterwards that contact was made.
Potters boss Pulis lost no time in confronting D'Urso after the final whistle to make it plain he expected support over City's inevitable appeal against a three-match ban.
He said: "I asked him if he would look at it. Once he does I'm sure he will make an honest decision." D'Urso was not particularly near the incident either, a fact that will also feature prominently in Stoke's appeal.
Pulis added: "There is no way in a million years the referee could have seen it the way it was shown on television. He was on the other side of the pitch square with the ball.
"We brought replays in to confirm justice has been done. I just hope he looks at it and realises he has made a mistake. There was a tackle on Leon Cort in our last game at Preston that left him needing six stitches - and we got a corner for that. Things are just not going for us at the moment."
Stoke remain in second place two points behind unlikely leaders Bristol City but the Potters couldn't just blame the ref for their second defeat in six days as they had already allowed Mikele Leigertwood - one of the Championship's least-prolific midfielders - to net twice in the first 21 minutes.
The former Sheffield United man knew his luck was in when he deflected Liam Lawrence's free-kick on to his own bar in the 11th minute - and then struck at the right end seconds later with a low, left-footed drive from almost 30 yards.
Goal No.2 was also sweetly-struck - this time with his right - as Leigertwood lashed high past Steve Simonsen after Rowan Vine, under pressure from Griffin and Leon Cort, had nodded Akos Buzsaky's cross into his path.
The efforts took his goal tally for the season to four - and to five in the last five YEARS.
Then came the Griffin incident and the half ended with Ricardo Fuller rolling a shot gently against a post with home goalkeeper Lee Camp helpless. The Hoops wrapped up the points early on in the second period as Stoke's lack of numbers left them vulnerable on the break.
Lawrence saw a free-kick charged down and Rangers retaliated with a swift counterattack that saw Buzsaky drill past the exposed Simonsen with ease.

The win left QPR eight points above the drop zone and tantalisingly eight points shy of the play-off places. Manager Luigi de Canio challenged his players to keep up those high standards and rid themselves of their habit of playing well against the top teams but losing points to the strugglers.

He said: "It was a good afternoon's work but it makes me understand that the team really needs to acquire the mentality to play as well against the teams at the bottom of the table as they do against the teams at the top.

"Then we will be complete because you are defined by your performances week-in, week-out and you must never be satisfied with one single good thing." Mirror

QPR Official Site - De Canio's Comments - 'A SUPER SUNDAY'
Luigi De Canio dubbed it a 'Super Sunday,' as the R's thrashed Championship front-runners Stoke City at Loftus Road.
A brace from Mikele Leigertwood and a fine Akos Buzsaky goal clinched it for the hosts, after Stoke were reduced to ten men following Andy Griffin's dismissal.
"I'd say it was quite a good afternoon," he told www.qpr.co.uk.
"We've beaten all the top sides now in this division, but we need to find a level of consistency now.
"We need to acquire the mentality to play like that against the sides at the bottom, in mid-table like ourselves, and at the top."
De Canio praised Leigertwood's contribution, adding: "I'm pleased for Mikele.
"He's worked hard to get his way back in the side. He is a great professional. He's waited for his opportunity to play and he took it today - that is what I want from all of my players."
On the controversial sending-off of Griffin, De Canio added: "Dexter (Blackstock) suffered a similar fate at Stoke, which we thought was harsh at the time.
"We were 2-0 up today though, and I don't really think it affected the outcome of the game." QPR

Also: QPR Official Site Match Report

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