Queens Park Rangers 2 Leeds United 2
It will have dawned on Gary Waddock by now that, despite the elation he felt on Tuesday night, he is still yet to record a win as manager of Queens Park Rangers. However, for now, he is justified in basking in the sunshine generated by a double comeback against Leeds United that bodes well for the rest of the season.
The early minutes were one way traffic as Rangers, employing Nick Ward as a forward roving a few yards behind lone frontman Adam Czerkas, cut through Leeds three times. Waddock was delighted with the way things were going:
We started off the game really well and obviously Leeds changed their formation which is a compliment to us, I think.
As the Yorkshiremen switched from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1, with Shaun Derry and Eirik Bakke dropping back to deal with Ward and incursions from wide midfielders Gareth Ainsworth and Nick Cook, Rangers found it much harder to break through. The initiative was handed to Leeds in the sixteenth minute when a poor goal-kick and some overly fancy defensive play almost let in former Fulham striker Geoff Horsfield. Waddock, a professed believer in a passing game, had his heart in his mouth:
I think we need to learn what areas of the field to do it in because I think during parts of that game we were committing suicide, really, on the edge of our own 18 yard box, putting ourselves under pressure. The players are experienced enough to know that they can go and express themselves in the middle third or the final third of the field, not in their own defending third, so we'll get there eventually. It won't come overnight.
This scare was the trigger for Leeds to take control of the match, though with sterling work across a back four missing both the departed Danny Shittu and new Fulham loanee Zesh Rehman, who saluted the fans before kick-off, the visitors were only able to create two clear chances before half-time. The first came on 31 minutes when Horsfield flicked on and Steve Stone saw two goalmouth efforts blocked at point-blank range by 'keeper Paul Jones. Then, three minutes later, Eddie Lewis, another ex-Fulham man, danced down the left and his cutback put the goal at the mercy of Gary Kelly who lashed over from 12 yards.
The hour mark came and went with the Rs still preventing Leeds from making much use of abundant possession when last season's playoff runners-up finally forced a goal. Mauro Milanese could have made more of Horsfield's robust challenge, but instead the ball was worked back to Stone whose cross was headed against the bar by England's Northern Irish nemesis David Healy. Leeds captain Paul Butler was first to the rebound and helped it back to Lewis who volleyed across and into the top corner from 8 yards. For Waddock it was still progress of sorts:
It's funny because when we conceded the goal I was watching it from behind the dugout and I knocked on it and said to our sports scientist guy, "Look at the time!" because it was 64 minutes tonight and it was 60 on Saturday against Burnley so come [next] Saturday hopefully we can keep a clean sheet for a bit longer and go on to win the game.
Rangers withstood Leeds's attempts to kill the fixture off and began to turn the tide with a quarter of an hour left as the previously under-employed Leeds keeper Tony Warner, on loan from, where else?, Fulham, suffered a lapse in concentration and spilled a Nick Cook cross. 17 year old target man Ray Jones, on for Czerkas, slipped as he tried to reach the fumble. The Superhoops brought on a second young striker in Shabazz Baidoo and within a couple of minutes another centre from the impressive Cook, who gave Leeds problems all night, led to the equaliser as Stephen Crainey capped a miserable evening shadowing Ainsworth by shoving him in the back for a penalty. Warner wandered away, apparently scouring his byline for smudges in the pitch markings before the referee brought him back to earth with a yellow card and Martin Rowlands despatched the kick smartly, low to the 'keeper's right. Waddock was relieved:
The players had a bit of belief. Especially after the game at Burnley, when we conceded the first goal our heads dropped and stuff like that so it was nice to bounce back tonight.
However, sixty seconds later the hard work was undone. Kelly put in a deep cross from the right, Stone helped it over a defender and Horsfield took a touch before steering it past the advancing Jones for 2-1.
We've just got ourselves back in the game and then within a minute or so Leeds go and score and we've done that a number of times in games last season as well. I was trying to get information on to the players to be solid for five or ten minutes and then - bang! - they scored.
But instead of folding, the jolt only brought out the best in Waddock's young side as Baidoo stretched the visitors' tired defence all over the place. Leeds could have clinched it themselves on the counter, but an ever better chance fell to Jones on his less favoured right foot. Sadly, he could only fire over. Another Jones effort was saved before Rangers finally grabbed a point in stoppage time. Cook's cross was too long, but Ainsworth refused to give it up and was allowed time to regain his footing before steering a pass along the byline for Baidoo to smash the ball in for QPR's second from inches in front of the near post.
Even then Jones had two more chances to win it, but one effort was weak and the other just wide. Waddock felt the fight back was no accident:
The last fifteen minutes or so our fitness levels showed. We worked really hard during pre-season and we were rewarded tonight with a point and maybe it should have been three... We're two games into a season. We've played Burnley away where we haven't won for, what, thirteen years? And we're playing against a side tonight, Leeds, who will be there or thereabouts and we've picked up a point. So, if people want to write us off, that's fine, but we know what we want to achieve within the football club and on tonight's performance and character and display and belief I think we'll be ok.
On Tuesday's evidence we're inclined to agree with him.