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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Report on QPR vs Sheff Wed and Shittu Profiled & on Holloway ("his £1.6 million transfer...")

Independent - Jason Burt - QPR 1 Sheffield Wed 1: Rangers feed off Cook's scraps
Lively winger gives Gregory's side a lift as they fight to arrest fall

They came to laud past glories at Loftus Road - and hoped they could inspire them to present-day success. Or at least salvation. This was a fixture that coincided with the 40th anniversary of QPR winning the League Cup and, at half-time, the players were paraded, Rodney Marsh, Les Allen et al.

Lazarus scored the winning goal that Wembley day back in 1967 and QPR needed a comeback yesterday to earn a point. It keeps them out of the Championship relegation places, with the bottom three all winning, by the slenderest margin of goal difference.

It was also an encounter dominated by two young performers. With the managers of Reading, West Ham and Charlton Athletic in attendance, as well as scouts from a host of other Premiership clubs, the names of QPR's Lee Cook, 24, and Wednesday's Chris Brunt, 22, will be in many a notebook.

"I was there that day. My dad took me," said the QPR manager John Gregory when asked about the League Cup triumph. It shouldn't be forgotten that they were in the third tier of English football then and are desperately fighting to stay out of that division now.

There is more recent, dramatic history, of course. Crisis has become a by-word at a club often touched by farce and madness with claims of blackmail and alleged threats of violence. On-the-field events have been equally crazy. After all QPR finished fifth in the inaugural Premiership season in 1992-93 - although what is even more remarkable was that they were the highest-placed London side.

That season was also remarkable for Sheffield Wednesday who were a Premiership club which made four appearances at Wembley that year before their own calamitous fall. Manager Brian Laws has stabilised matters, and overseen a resurgence, but his comment, that his target was to finish in the top 10, also highlighted the scale of decline.

Wednesday appeared to have little chance yesterday as QPR threatened to overwhelm them. Cook, with his trickery and pace coming off the left-wing before switching flanks, caught the eye with an exhilarating display. He struck the crossbar with one alert shot from 25 yards, after taking a quick touch, that left goalkeeper Iain Turner rooted.

There was also a series of elusive runs which set up opportunities for Dexter Blackstock - who forced a fine save from Turner with a header - and Paul Furlong. Cook also won a number of free-kicks for clumsy challenges with debutante Inigo Idiakez twice forcing sharp parries.

"We should have been home and dry by half-time," Gregory said. And then Wednesday scored. It was a calamity of a goal with Frank Simek's throw-in missed by both central defenders and Michael Mancienne, on loan from Chelsea, caught leaden-footed. Brunt stole inside and stabbed the ball in for his 11th goal of the season.

Brunt then forced a superb save from on-loan goalkeeper Lee Camp before QPR surged back. Furlong combined with the substitute Marc Nygaard only for the latter to be tugged back. Martin Rowlands' right-footed penalty just beat Turner's dive. With QPR facing a difficult run-in, including a mid-week visit to Derby County, the club Gregory left amid acrimony, the task is steep. "It felt like a defeat," Gregory admitted. Thankfully, for him, it wasn't. Independent


RODNEY MARSH'S League Cup-winning class of 1967 failed to inspire QPR to the win that would have given them some breathing space in the battle against relegation.
With the bottom three clubs all winning, John Gregory's team remain just one place above the dreaded drop zone on goal difference.
Members of the Rangers Brom in the League Cup final 40 years ago, paraded on the pitch at half-time.
But those heroes - including Marsh, Les Allen and Mark Lazarus - couldn't quite give today's Hoops the edge.
Rangers dominated, but fe behind after 56 minutes to a goal from impressive midfielder Chris Brunt, whose admirers in the directors box included West Ham boss Alan Curbishley and Charlton's Alan Pardew. But a 72nd-minute penalty
from Martin Rowlands gave Rangers a deserved point.
"We should have been home and dry by half-time and then Gifted them the lead," said Gregory. "But the lads are well up for the fight and we are very confident when you look at the players' attitude, effort, enthusiasm and commitment to each other."
Wednesday scored when right back. Franck Simek"s thorw-in was flicked on by Marcus Tudgay and Brunt hooked home a half-volley from six yards - his 11th goal of the season.
QPR's lifeline arrived when Paul Furlong fed sub Marc Nygaard and he was knocked to the ground by Richard Wood and Tommy Spurr Rowlands tucked the penalty into the bottom corner.
Wednesday boss Brian Laws said: "They hit us with 40 aerial balls into our box and we had to deal with that so we'll take a point.
"It's one more towards our target of finishing as close to the play-off places as possible.
"We have stopped the rot, it's nowfour games without defeat - and the belief is back."
QPR ran the first half but Owls keeper Iain Turner saved from Dexter Blackstock, Lee Cook hit the bar with a delicate 25-yard chip and Furlong fired wide.
After the goals, Lee Camp came to QPR's rescue with a brilliant save to deny Brunt.
QPR: Camp 7 - Mancienne 6, Cullip 7, Stewart 6, Bignot 6 - Rowlands 7, Bolder 7, Idiakez 7 (Ainsworth, 68mins, 6), *COOK 8 - Furlong 7, Blackstock 6 (Nygaard, 61mins, 7)
SHEFFIELD WED: Turner 7 - Simek 7, Bullen 7, Wood 6, Spurr 6 - Tudgay 7, Whelan 7, Watson 6 (Lunt, 29mins, 6), *BRUNT 8 - MacLean 6 (Graham, 82mins), Burton 6. Ref: A Woolmer 7
The People

The Independent/Jason Burt - The Watford way: Shittu and a tutu

There are two images that provoke a deep belly-laugh from Dan Shittu. For the first he is standing, all 6ft 3in and 161/2 st of him, looking more than a little uncomfortable, holding a tiny ballerina above his head, the hem of her tutu falling over his eyes. For the second he is barefoot, ready to walk over a long tray of hot coals.

Both instances have formed part of the central defender's football training in the past few seasons. Unorthodox, yes. But then again his managers have been Ian Holloway and Adrian Boothroyd, who do not believe in doing things by the book. Not the textbook, anyway. But what does Shittu believe was the point of such antics? "Keeping us on our toes," he says before joining in the laughter once he realises his involuntary joke.

Shittu, 26, goes on to explain his thoughts on the two men who have been such an inspiration in his career. "They are the same," he says. "They are good at motivating, they tell you exactly what they want and you have to do it."

Have to? "I like to look at people who inspire and motivate and they are definitely two people who do that," he adds.

They are also in opposition today. Holloway - universally known as "Olly" - is now the manager of Plymouth Argyle having given Shittu his chance to impress at Queen's Park Rangers. And the Championship club host Boothroyd's - and Shittu's - Watford in an FA Cup quarter-final this evening. It is an encounter that will provoke memories of the semi-final between the two clubs in 1984 when, again, Watford, were the favourites. The two have not met in the competition since.

"There is more pressure on us because we are expected to win," Shittu acknowledges. "If you lose to Manchester United then people are not too surprised. But we are playing Plymouth. We are at the bottom of the [Premiership] table so Plymouth will believe that they can win. Also it's not like we are putting out a reserve team. We are putting out a strong side. I would be lying if I said it would not affect us if we did lose."

Not that such thoughts have crossed his mind, despite the trials of this season. "That's the thing about Aidy," he says of Boothroyd. "He's very big on 'You can do whatever you want to do' in life." Hence the walking on coals which occurred earlier this season, Shittu's first at Watford after his £1.6 million transfer to Vicarage Road following Holloway's departure from QPR.

"Walking on the coals was amazing," Shittu recalls. "And every player did it. He [Booth-royd] did it. Even some of the directors did it. When you finished it you felt very confident, very happy with yourself."

To some, such episodes may appear nothing more than gimmicks, but given the limited resources that Boothroyd has had this season and the fact that his team lie 19th with just three victories, the crackle of positivity is impressive. "That's why, even now, when we are just off the bottom, we still believe," Shittu says. "We still believe we can win. That we can still do it [avoid relegation]. He's instilled that in us. We also believe we've been unlucky. It's not like we've been spanked 4-0 every game."

They call it the "Watford Way", and there is humour to it too. The players now run out of the dressing room to the theme tune of Mission Impossible. It is also a way that Shittu has bought into, as a player and a person. "I have never been to a club like this," he explains. "The way they work, the way you are conditioned.

"We are so far into the season but the only thing we ever think about is the next game. We still believe. That doesn't slip. It doesn't matter who we play, and that's the amazing thing about being here. They don't just work you in terms of football, they work you mentally as well. They are one big family."

And, for someone who is himself one of seven children, that appeals. Shittu was born in Lagos, Nigeria, but was brought up in Bow, east London. It was a tricky area to grow up in but his family is close, his upbringing clear and football, and college, also provided an outlet.

"The reason why I got into this game was watching Match of the Day when I was 17. I used to see players like Sol Campbell and I believed I could do it," Shittu, whose career started at Charlton Athletic before he went on loan to Blackpool and eventually joined QPR in 2002, says. "It's been a long road but I never stopped believing that I could play in the Premiership. And now I believe that this is where I should be and I am working hard every day to stay here."

That desire means that the FA Cup is far less of a priority. Even winning it would be scant consolation if Watford do go down. "Our number one priority at the start of the season was to stay in the Premiership and that's still our number one intention now," Shittu says. "To win it [the cup] and get relegated means we'd still be very upset."

But there will be laughter, too, today, no matter the result. Shittu is looking forward to seeing Holloway again. "He's a madman," he says. "Very funny. He just makes you laugh. Just a very bubbly character. He's maybe different from Aidy in that he says more, you always hear him. But, really, they are the same. And he took a chance on me. When people do things like that, I don't forget." Independent

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