Sunday, November 9, 2014

Manchester City 2 at QPR 2 - November 8, 2014

I'm back home after a whirlwind trip to London, where I saw four events in three days. First among these was an EPL game at Loftus Road, featuring defending champs Man City against Queens Park Rangers, newly returned to the top division. If you recall, Man City won the title in 2012 with a stunning comeback over QPR on the final day of the season. QPR was relegated for the 2012-13 season but returned to the Premier League with a playoff win earlier this year.

The game was the late one on Saturday, starting at 5:30 local time. I had hoped to see Huddersfield at Fulham in a League Championship match at 3:00 but weather and logistics made this impossible. The two venues are just over three miles apart, but with traffic restrictions both before and after the game, there was no guarantee that I would make it to Loftus Road in time for kickoff, unless I left Craven Cottage early. I was reluctant to do that and with the afternoon characterized by a series of squalls, decided to get to Loftus Road early instead, giving me time to enjoy the pregame atmosphere.

The nearest tube station is White City on the Central Line; from there it is about five minutes to the stadium. Note that you will have to enter at the turnstile specified on your ticket. English soccer grounds are very constricted, partly to separate home and visiting fans, and so you cannot tour the entire facility. All I can say is that QPR is very small and one of the best places to see a game. My seat was in the Ellerslie Stand and I had to enter via turnstile 1, which is on the far side of the stadium, necessitating a further five minutes in the rain. Outside, you can find programs available for £3 and burgers and other food options for around the same price, though I would recommend the chicken balti pie on the inside for £4.

My ticket was just two rows from the pitch, which affords views such as the one above. Truly incredible to be so close for such a thrilling game. People say soccer is boring but if you saw this one, you would know that such generalizations are not true. QPR lay 19th in the table with just 7 points from 10 matches while Man City was a disappointing 3rd in their title defense at 6-2-2.

You would expect a one-sided game, but QPR came out very strong and netted just 10 minutes in, only for Charlie Austin to be ruled offside, quieting the riotous celebration. On the ensuing free kick, Man City keeper and England international Joe Hart (above) touched the ball twice, delivering it directly to Austin, who scored again, and the fans again went wild prematurely, as this time the goal was disallowed due to a little-known rule that states that a free kick taken in the penalty area must be retaken if the ball does not leave the penalty area after the first touch. Fans were grumbling about that for the next few minutes, but midway through the half Austin finally converted a goal that stood, taking a perfectly timed pass from Eduardo Vargas and beat Hart to the far corner.

Man City were bowed but not broken. Ten minutes later, Eliaquim Mangala lofted a long ball over the QPR defense where Sergio Aguerro took control on the break. He looked to be offside, but the linesman's flag stayed down. As Aguerro dribbled, the ball bounced up onto his arm, a clear case of handball. Yet again the linesman, who had a better view than the referee, declined to make the call. Aguerro made a couple of beautiful moves, leaving QPR defender Steven Caulker sprawling before beating keeper Robert Green. It was a beautiful goal, but it shouldn't have counted and the fans around me exploded in an apocalyptic rage. Several ran down the aisle to the first row to scream at the linesman, where they had to be restrained by security. For the rest of the match, the offending official was insulted every time he ran by my section. Surprisingly, the fans were not cursing outrageously, instead choosing words such as "shocking", "useless", and "wanker". As you probably know, soccer fans sing throughout the game, and one of the more popular refrains on the night was "You're a shit ref". I usually defend the officials, but in this case, they blundered badly.

The second half was a bit tamer, but still a pulsating 45 minutes. Both teams had a number of chances, but it was QPR who capitalized first, when an Austin cross appeared to be headed in by Bobby Zamora. It turned out that it was deflected in off Man City defender Martín Demichelis for an own goal, but it didn't matter on the scoreboard as QPR were just 15 minutes from an upset. Watching the highlights, I spotted myself in the crowd. Really, that's me in the red circle below.

Anyway, Man City turned on the pressure, leading fans around me to declare that they could not take 10 more minutes of their club trying to preserve the lead. They wouldn't have to as questionable refereeing again took center stage. Austin was called for handball just past midfield, although the ball appeared to be hit more on his shoulder and chest. Off the ensuing free kick, Yaya Touré found Aguerro deep with a wonderful through ball and after chesting it down, Aguerro dribbled to leave Green on the grass and put the ball into the net to tie the game again. The last five minutes were anticlimactic and the game ended tied at 2.

Disappointment for the home side but I think that few fans will forget this evening; one of the most exciting sporting events I've ever witnessed live. I'm so tired of hearing fans state how much better it is to watch at home; in truth there is nothing better than being there for something this thrilling. Loftus Road is the smallest ground in the Premier League with capacity at 18,439 and to sit so close for such a match made the entire trip to London worthwhile. If you are ever there during the interminable season, check to see if QPR is home and make your way to Loftus Road for a fantastic football experience.



1 comment:

  1. I feel like I am at the fixture. Great reporting