On the Cross verdict – QPR 1 Saints 0

Last updated : 15 January 2006 By Chris C

Saints fielded a fluid attacking line-up, with Theo Walcott and Nathan Dyer both starting and supporting lone striker Dexter Blackstock in attack. Djamel Belmadi was given a free role in midfield in a line-up designed to defeat a muscular QPR through pace and passing.

Unfortunately, with a lack of physical presence in the side, Saints rarely got a chance to get on the ball and play football. QPR were pressing hard on a narrow pitch and having some joy of their own in launching balls forward to their big men up front. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.

Saints struggled at the back with Claus Lundekvam and Darren Powell under pressure as the high balls rained in. With Chris Baird absent with a dead leg, David Prutton filled in at right back. He ran his heart out, putting in a series of hefty challenges, but inevitably struggled out of position.

In midfield Quashie sought to impose himself on the game, but with Oakley again quiet and with Dyer, Walcott and Blackstock lacking physical presence, Saints were up against it and struggled to retain possession. This meant that we lumped high balls up to an isolated Dexter Blackstock and quickly conceded possession.

Burley sought to resolve this by bringing on Fuller at half time for the ineffective Dyer and later on Kenwyne Jones, but even then we still struggled to retain possession and rarely tested their defence.

Paul Smith looked more like his usual self in goal, making a couple of excellent saves and had no chance with the penalty. His distribution will need some work in training, but too often there was no player available to play the ball out of defence.

Prutton, Powell, Lundekvam, Higginbotham
Quashie Oakley
Dyer (Fuller, 45), Belmadi, Walcott
Blackstock (Jones, 68)
Subs: Bialkowski, Mills, Cranie

On the Cross verdict

For all the talk of a new year revival, this was a fifth league defeat in six and it showed. Saints looked short of confidence and were out battled by a limited but certainly effective QPR.

The referee had a very average afternoon, managing to get the backs up of both the home and away support. QPR’s penalty was highly dubious, with Ainsworth going to ground all too easily from the lightest of shoves from Higginbotham. Even Saints’ penalty was debatable with Quashie making the most of the challenge just inside the box.

There was little else to cheer in the game, with QPR’s gameplan limiting Saints to few chances. The real heroes in the stadium were the away support, with the Upper Tier in particular in wonderful voice despite the dire spectacle in front of us.

The second half saw a near 30 minute standing rendition of ‘George Burley’s red and white army’ punctuated by the odd ‘When the Saints’. It visibly lifted the players, with Prutton and Walcott turning to applaud our support as Santos was stretchered off.

Unfortunately, it came to nothing and bar the penalty, we didn’t look like scoring. Despite no real change in personnel, Saints simply do not look the same side as earlier in the season. The lack of belief and confidence is starting to become a real concern and George Burley has a big job on his hands.

Many at the club are privately resigned to writing off this season and making a real push for promotion next year. The changing of the guard is already underway with several more departures and arrivals on the way in the next two weeks.

It can only be hoped that the fresh blood will provide the impetus to turn things around in 2006 as the club needs a lift with the departure of Theo Walcott to Arsenal all but confirmed. It was good to see the youngster acknowledge the crowd with a wave that looked like goodbye.

Man of the match: A difficult one this week, as no one really stood out for Saints. It has to go to the away support for a rousing second half performance that has cost On the Cross its voice the day after.

Lemon of the day: Can Le Tiss please run some penalty training. Captain invincible Quashie deserves credit for being brave enough to take them, but doesn’t look confident from the spot.

Cameo of the day: Despite being well shackled nearly all afternoon, Theo Walcott turned two defenders, cut inside another and raced to the by-line to ping a dangerous cross that led to our penalty. Will we see the like of this again?