Two points lost rather than one gained.

Last updated : 26 December 2003 By Richard Brown

Queens Park who?
One man who will be more disappointed than most with the outcome of this contest is Paul Heffernan. After all, how often is that a striker scores a hat-trick on the team’s home ground only for the game to end in a 3-3 draw?

However most will take heart from a spirited performance put on by today’s Notts side as not since last Boxing Day have I seen such an entertaining encounter at Meadow Lane or elsewhere.
Barnsley the visitors last December 26th, Queens Park Rangers this.

But by the time the match was over, I could think of just two things: Firstly, ‘How did we not win that?’ and secondly, ‘what are they doing up at the top end of the league?’ And the only word that I can possibly answer both of these questions with was: luck.

Lucky are QPR that they were spared the blushes of losing to yet another relegation candidate and lucky are they to be still knocking, albeit rather vaguely now, on the door of Division One.

Dearden continues to stick by his selection routine regarding the clubs up-and-coming youth-talent as (Willis) Francis and (Shane) McFaul remain on the fringes of the squad.

Meanwhile, Adam Murray was, for one-reason-or-another, left out of the squad whilst Nick Fenton was removed from the starting eleven to make way for Tony Barras as he partnered Ian Richardson at the heart of the back-four.

The game started as it meant to go on with both sides no-more than hoofing the ball into each others halves. QPR however were the side to claim first blood. Martin Rowlands being allowed to waltz through on the right side by Kevin Nicholson and, partly yet less significantly, Paul Riley before a sweet ball skidded off the surface to the feet of Steve Palmer after a neat dummy from Clarke Carlisle.

Palmer never even thought twice before spanking the ball past Mildenhall in just the third minute of the game.

For the time being, the confidence of the Magpies supporters began to sink like a lead balloon until just three minutes later when the Meadow Lane crowd of 7,702 was on its feet to hail Paul Heffernan as he tapped-in the equaliser after some terrific work from Clive Platt, who was one of an outstanding group of players amongst the Notts side today.

With the scores again level, the game turned into a rugby game with the beautiful games being played in the ugliest of fashions.

Platt : Coped well.
Within ten minutes of the game kicking-off, QPR were again in the lead as the Clarke Carlisle looked anything but a clumsy centre half as he picked up on one of many concentration lapses in the Notts defence this afternoon, slipping the ball across the face of goal only for a Notts defender, Ian Richardson, to be left feeling blue as he slid the ball through his own net.

Again the gauntlet was laid down and again Notts battled on despite yet another Rangers effort from the R’s striker Kevin Gallen – one which was saved comfortably by Steve Mildenhall.

As the game reached the half-hour mark, Paul Heffernan was on hand to claim his second, taking full advantage of a weird-and-wonderful attempt at something from cart horse, Danny Shittu. Leaving me thinking that if ever someone’s surname summed up their performance, then it was never more relevant than in the case of one Mr. Shittu. Although Heffernan wasn’t complaining as he slotted home his 8th goal of the season past an irate Chris Day.

The games first booking shortly followed as County’s Tony Barras was flashed the yellow card for a blatant hack at the ankles of Kevin Gallen.

Rangers would have been ahead once more had it not been for a remarkable save from Steve Mildenhall as he used every inch of his colossal frame to keep out a Kevin McLeod effort following a near-expensive slip from Notts skipper, Steve Jenkins.

NOTTS COUNTY 2-2 Queens Park Rangers

The beginning to the second half was nothing short of ludicrous as Heffernan, who was the cause of real concern for the Rangers defence, constantly sprung a wary Rangers offside trap, only for play to be wrongfully pulled back on none less than four occasions by a linesman who had about as much of a clue as he did hair.

Should you have asked a neutral which side looked more likely of pushing for promotion then the response you’d have been given was that of stripes were superior to hoops. Paul Bolland had a good enough chance of further staking this claim although he, not surprisingly, failed to keep his shot anywhere near to the goal.

Minutes later and Rangers ‘keeper, Chris Day, was on hand to make amends for his atrocious distribution as he twice, within a short period of time, kept out Notts. Firstly from an Ian Baraclough free-kick and secondly as he punched clear a Notts corner.

Marc Bircham soon became the latest addition to the referee’s little black book as he was cautioned.

On the 70th minute County were awarded a penalty which, let it be said, that on another day, may not have been given as Clarke Carlisle brought down County’s most eminent threat to the Hoops goal, Paul Heffernan.

From that moment on, the taker and subsequently the outcome were inevitable. Heffernan coolly converted the spot-kick, sending Chris Day the wrong way before sprinting off to celebrate his first-ever senior hat-trick as a fortunate Clarke Carlisle got off lightly with a yellow card which so easily could have been red.

Confidence grew around the stadium, well in three sections of it anyway, as the cry of ‘just like watching Juve’ echoed around throughout. A confidence which can be recognised as an arrogant one as the assumption of three points gift-wrapped for Notts County this Christmas became a mere illusion.

No sooner had the fourth official put up the board reading ‘3’ (minutes) had QPR stampeded up the field for Kevin Gallen to head home the equaliser sending the travelling West London supporters into ecstasy and the Notts fans’ heads into their hands.

NOTTS COUNTY 3-3 Queens Park Rangers

Kevin Gallen : Damn him!
On one hand, Notts may feel some satisfaction in not getting overcome by a side positioned second in the league prior to this fixture, whereas for others, this may just be one more nail in the coffin as Dearden’s job looks to be more and more ambiguous by the game. A cause which cannot be helped by the circulating rumours of Adam Murray deciding to ply his trade at Third Division, Kidderminster Harriers.

And with trips to Luton and Middlesbrough looming, surely the time is now to get it right. Isn’t it?