Performance typical of season

IN many ways this game encapsulated the Blues season so far.They went into the clash full of optimism but were left feeling somewhat deflated against an average QPR side, who had managed just one win in six outings yet were grateful for a point.

By Derek Davis

IN many ways this game encapsulated the Blues season so far.

They went into the clash full of optimism but were left feeling somewhat deflated against an average QPR side, who had managed just one win in six outings yet were grateful for a point.

Manager Joe Royle was deprived of yet another player through injury, with Dean Bowditch ruled out with an Achilles problem so one of the bright hopes of the future was given his chance, as 17-year-old Billy Clarke made his full debut.

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Royle was soon seething about an injustice as Paul Furlong trod on Lewis Prices' head when he looked more than capable of hurdling clear of the keeper but was given just a yellow card.

It was either accidental, therefore no punishment needed, or deliberate violent conduct, therefore a red card.

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Either way, the 38-year-old went on to score for Rangers as he took advantage of rank bad defending. It was no better for the first goal when, once again, the Blues defensive frailties, and not just the back four, were exposed. On the plus side, Darren Currie was terrorising Rangers with his set pieces and Jason De Vos took advantage with the first equaliser, while youngster Danny Haynes snatched a late point.

Changes were made at half-time as the team was reshuffled once more and, despite plugging away, they had survived a couple of minor scares before grabbing a last-gasp leveller through a novice supplied by a veteran.

And, like the season in general, opinion was divided on whether it was a good point after twice being behind or two dropped points against an average side, the likes of which Town should be beating - even given their circumstances.

There would, no doubt, have been a few hundred extra on the gate if the disillusioned Town fans had known the young Irishman Clarke was going to make his first start for the senior side and his freshness and energy almost provided the Blues with an opener.

The Academy star, who will be 18 tomorrow, robbed Marcus Bignot from the Rangers kick-off and surged towards goal but lacked support and ideas and ran into a blind alley.

The Londoners swiftly recovered and they threatened a goal, with Richard Langley's free-kick but the ball rippling the side netting was not a problem. It was Furlong following up, and trampled over the sprawling Lewis Price as he did so.

The normally placid De Vos was clearly furious, believing it to be deliberate, but Furlong protested his innocence and apologised.

Paradoxically, the 38-year-old has already been sent off twice this season, and the booking he received was his fifth of the season and so will prompt a one-match ban, but an hour or so before the Town game he and manager Ian Holloway took time out to visit a cancer victim, who was a guest at the ground, to wish the dying man well.

The incident raised the noise levels and tempo but it was Rangers who benefited and took advantage of some woeful closing down and marking.

Stefan Moore picked the ball up near the half-way line and was allowed to move forward 25 yards before playing the ball wide for tricky winger Gareth Ainsworth.

The former Port Vale man beat Fabian Wilnis and delivered the ball in for Moore, who had continued his run and the ex-Aston Villa striker headed firmly down past Price.

Town responded by winning a series of corners and free-kicks that Darren Currie delivered with dangerous intent.

Bignot deflect a close range Jimmy Juan effort over the bar, then Rangers scrambled another out of play, while Ainsworth cleared off the line from a powerful De Vos header. Former Heybridge Swifts keeper Simon Royce made a good save at the base of a post to deny Currie from a curling free-kick .

The combination finally clicked, when Currie sent in another quality flag kick and the Canadian skipper headed in determinedly at the near post from five yards.

But as much as the Rangers defence were struggling at set plays, the Blues rearguard were also being found wanting.

Three minutes before the break, Ainsworth got better of Wilnis again to cross and Furlong bundled ball over the line, shrugging off the challenge of Sito in the process, with Naylor a bystander.

Nicky Forster had a decent chance when Currie picked him out with a 30-yard pass but the striker scuffed his shot wide.

Changes were needed and made at half-time, although Clarke will feel unlucky that he was sacrificed to make way Ian Westlake, who went into midfield, with Matt Richards dropping to left-back, Wilnis shuffling into central defence and Naylor going up front.

But right until the last minute, Town never convinced that they could score from open play, with Currie looking the most likely source of a goal with the Rangers defence looking wobbly.

Price made decent saves to deny Langley and Furlong although, for the most part, Rangers looked content to sit back.

They were made to pay in time added on when substitutes Jim Magilton and Danny Haynes combined in quality fashion.

The 36-year-old Irishman lofted a peach of an angled ball into the goal area and Haynes sprinted in from the right before meeting it perfectly with his head 12 yards out for a late equaliser.

A point that was better than nothing but, like the season in general, not really enough set the heart racing.

You can either look at it as just one win in 11 or just two defeats in eight.

But the stark truth is that at the midway point of the season the Blues lie eighth from bottom rather than in the top eight and have slipped below Norwich on goal difference.

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