QPR are ruining football. Loaded with the billions of Messrs Mittal, Ecclestone and Briatore, they are set to take football by storm over the next decade, buying the very best talent available to them and sweeping up every honour in sight. On Saturday at Wembley Arena they collected the best players on the Masters circuit and even they were only good enough to beat West Ham in the Final on penalties.
OK, maybe that’s not quite true, but they did win the London Masters, overcoming Chelsea along the way. It was a frustrating tournament for the Blues, who suffered squad depletion issues before they even kicked off and once they got playing struggled to find consistency. The team was supposedly headlined by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, but in the week building up to the competition he was forced to withdraw due to other commitments. He was replaced by another Chelsea goalscoring hero, the somewhat more diminutive Mark Stein, now a physio at Barnet.
The squad still had marquee name power in Tore Andre Flo, most recently of Milton Keynes Dons, and the last minute addition of Bjarne Goldbaek from Fulham ensured a cult hero in the ranks. The rest, as per usual, was a mish-mash of names you’ll know, but never really remember. Captain David Lee was joined by goalkeeper Roger Freestone, Gareth Hall, Darren Barnard and Ken Monkou. Clive Wilson was due to swap from Tottenham, but squad issues at Spurs meant he was to stay in white.
After watching four teams play before they were to even take to the hallowed blue pitch, they got underway against Fulham, who joined them in Group A along with QPR. It didn’t start well, with Robbie Herrera putting the Cottagers ahead early with a placed finish. They led after the eight first half minutes, but were pegged back early in the second half with a lovely delicate finish from the still-predatory Stein. Despite holding the better of the game from there, Fulham’s counter-attacking worked better, and Barry Hayles first beat Freestone for power and then found time and space to seal a 3-1 lead.
But, such is the nature of Masters football, the match wasn’t over, and Lee reduced the arrears with a fizzing low drive past Lee Harrison. With the final seconds ticking by, a Blues bombardment saw Flo flick home an equaliser to keep Chelsea’s tournament chances alive, whilst ensuring Fulham’s ended, having already lost 3-0 to that lot from Loftus Road.
So Group A would end with a must-win against QPR, for whom a draw would be good enough. They knew it, and played within themselves, keeping the ball and looking to waste time rather than force the issue. Gareth Hall was dictating play for Chelsea, and Flo caused one of the night’s more memorable moments when some dazzling footwork saw Andy Tillson fall over to allow a clear shot. Tony Roberts ruined the moment and saved well, but was beaten minutes later by Barnard’s first of the evening.
The goal put Chelsea through as it stood, but the second half was yet to come, and it would see the Blues bow out. Tilson recovered from his earlier tumble to have the last laugh, beating Freestone and leaving Chelsea with some last-gasp desperation. Lee and Stein had efforts cleared from the goalmouth in the last five seconds, but the right team went through to the Final.
Group B was largely predictable. Arsenal played some nice football but ultimately ended up with no trophy at the end of it, drawing 3-3 with Tottenham before losing 3-1 to West Ham. The Hammers had already beaten Tottenham, once again flattering to deceive, being beaten 4-2 in the group opener. In the West vs East London Final, Chelsea youth product Ian Pearce gave the Claret and Blues a second half lead, and it looked for all the world as if they were to retain the title they won last year, but as is their way, they flew so high, almost reaching the sky, but their dreams faded and died. Tony Thorpe scored late in the last minute to force penalties, which after Roberts had saved from Kevin Horlock allowed Michael Meaker to score the winner and book QPR’s place in the national finals in September, along with Middlesbrough and Wolves. For Chelsea, they’ll just have to try again next year.
QPR 3 (Sinton, Meaker 2) Fulham 0
Chelsea 3 (Stein, Lee, Flo) Fulham 3 (Herrera, Hayles 2)
Chelsea 1 (Barnard) QPR 1 (Tillson)
Tottenham 2 (Caskey, Wilson) West Ham 4 (Brown, Rowland, Horlock, Pearce)
Arsenal 3 (Carter, Thomas 2) Tottenham 3 (Austin, Sedgley, Wilson)
Arsenal 1 (Parlour) West Ham 3 (Rowland, Sinclair, Hughes)
QPR 1 (Thorpe) West Ham 1 (Pearce)
(QPR won 3-2 on penalties)
For more information on the 2009 Masters Cup, visit http://www.mastersfootball.com/