Stoke defeat begins QPR’s long goodbye – full match report
Sunday, 21st Apr 2013 23:19 by Clive Whittingham
For QPR the end to Premier League life threatens to be a long, slow, drawn out affair. An abject 2-0 home defeat by Stoke on Saturday sapped strength and will, and there are still four games to play.
From Harry Redknapp, a resigned smile. Even he cannot keep the pretence up any longer.
For weeks the QPR manager has preached persistence while a chance of salvation remains but the performance of his team in the second half at Everton last week and then for a full dire 90 minutes against Stoke on Saturday betrayed the reality. Rangers are likely to have one more week of taking solace in mathematical possibilities – and they may not even have that pending the Aston Villa result on Monday – but it is now only a matter of time before the inevitable is confirmed.
A dreadful season of just four victories is threatening now to drag on through a torturous final month with a poor team of players simply marking time before their summer holidays and departures to new pastures. Redknapp, often economical with the truth, praised his players for their hard work and said he couldn’t have asked any more of them after this latest sorry defeat but surely even he cannot believe that. If he did then it’s scary to think how bad QPR would be if they didn’t try.
Redknapp’s job now is to find some form of motivation for the final four matches which mean almost nothing to his players. The price of tickets certainly isn’t declining with QPR’s performances and a loyal support base deserve more than they got on Saturday for continuing to fork over their hard earned each week. But more importantly there is a risk that this lethargy could bleed into next season. Losing becomes a habit – it breeds a malaise that can fester and a six week summer break and a dozen ins and outs in the transfer window won’t necessarily ensure everything is right as rain come the Championship season kick off in August.
QPR need to be setting an attitude and ethos for next season now. That may explain some of the five changes Redknapp made to his starting 11 on Saturday – recalls for midfielder Shaun Derry and goalkeeper Robert Green certainly smacked of an eye on who will still be available for selection next season. If that is the case then the QPR management, and what few optimists remain among the support base, were given the latest in what is certain to be a series of reality checks under the spring sunshine in W12. Stoke – one win from their previous 25 away matches, one win from their last 14 in all competitions, the league’s lowest scorers prior to kick off – won easily here. Really, really easily. On this evidence QPR could easily be the latest top flight team to find itself plummeting through the division below as well.
Things had started reasonably enough. Adel Taarabt, another of the recalled players, initially revelled in the space between Stoke’s rigid back four and midfield and caused numerous problems playing off Loic Remy. He fired fractionally wide of the target from long range in the opening minute and then curled a free kick wide after being wrestled to the floor by Steven N’Zonzi.
Referee Chris Foy was averaging just over two yellow cards a game prior to kick off – easily the division’s most lenient record – and Stoke made the most of his understanding with a series of cynical fouls around the edge of the own penalty area that went without punishment other than the award of a free kick. Rangers, hinting at a lack of preparation, worked their way through four different free kick takers in the first half with similarly mediocre results. Remy found the wall after Whelan had tripped Taarabt right on the whitewash at the edge of the penalty area and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic sprung to his right to make a routine save from right back Jose Bosingwa when Remy was also felled. Samba flicked a header from a wider set piece through the goal mouth and a foot wide of the post – that was as close as the R’s came all afternoon.
To add to the frustration, Taarabt seemed to do his shoulder some damage in one of his falls and sure enough had to be replaced after half time – a makeshift sling made out of his shirt revealed a concerning muffin-top stomach over his shorts.
The issue for Taarabt and others is that it’s all well and good playing like this now the season is effectively over and the failure confirmed, but it’s not exactly enhancing any CVs is it? I’m sure the Moroccan and several others see their future away from Loftus Road next season and certainly there is the potential for clubs like Everton, West Brom, West Ham and others to come and make a killing in W12 this summer with players like Nedum Onuoha, Junior Hoilett, Esteban Granero, Loic Remy, Taarabt and others available at good ages and prices and with the potential to excel in a more talented, more settled, better coached Premier League team. But QPR are about to be relegated for a reason. When Newcastle United went the same way three years ago the players who all thought they’d be on their way in the summer found their performances hadn’t impressed anybody sufficiently for them to want to match the money they were on at St James’ Park. Hoilett may well look like a potential steal this summer, but any suitor watching on from the South Africa Road stand on Saturday will have seen a player who can apparently no longer even control the ball with any modicum of success. One particular first touch in the second half landed the ball some 15 yards away at the feet of a Stoke player. QPR can take solace in the fact that Newcastle, forced to honour the contracts of their big earners, bounced straight back at the first attempt but there are currently three Blackburn, Wolves and Blackpool examples for every Newcastle and West Ham and this QPR side looks far more likely to tread that path as it stands today.
The defending for Stoke’s first goal, four minutes before half time, will have widened the eyes of Championship strikers rather than visiting scouts. In Chris Samba and Clint Hill QPR have two centre backs with vastly different pay packets and back stories with one very crucial thing in common – they’re both in atrocious form. A channel ball for Cameron Jerome to chase after should have posed few problems for the Congo international but he stood off his man and allowed him to cross while behind him in the penalty area Hill had contrived to lose track of the only other Stoke man up in the attack and former R’s favourite Peter Crouch could hardly miss from six yards out – although Green may feel he should have saved the reasonably weak shot. Crouch’s first goal in ten, only his second in 27, and really Rangers were only a sprinkle potpourri and a pink bow away from gift wrapping the thing for him.
This effectively ended an already wretched game as a competition. Loic Remy, for whom the queue of suitors will surely stretch twice round Batman Close this summer, had hit an instinctive first time shot wide of the post before half time and then dropped his shoulder to create space and unload a strike after the break that a worse goalkeeper than Begovic could easily have conceded. Charlie Adam finally teased Foy’s yellow card from his pocket for a cynical trip on the Frenchman but what little effort his team mates had put in prior to Stoke’s goal drained away entirely in the second period and when Taarabt went off to be replaced by Jay Bothroyd Remy became as isolated and ineffective as everybody else. Nevertheless, to perform as well as he has and notch five goals in a team as poor as Queens Park Rangers will surely have been enough to convince Spurs, Arsenal and half a dozen others of his worth. Given his performance level compared to many of his team mates, few QPR fans would begrudge him a move.
Ordinarily such an obvious downing of tools would make it a question of how many, but Stoke are almost every bit as bad as QPR and so the game descended into something resembling a pre-season match between two teams from the nether regions of the Football League. When Peter Crouch unloaded from 25 yards and drew a nervous save from Robert Green – who’d earlier almost spilled a routine shot from Cameron Jerome into his own net in typical style – it stirred the supporters from an increasingly deep slumber. Quality was not so much thin on the ground as absent altogether. Even Andros Townsend’s youthful enthusiasm seems to be waning – although given that his main trick of cutting in from the right flank onto his left foot for a shot on goal has been seen and targeted by opponents his locker is looking rather bare.
A strike from the best part of 40 yards from Stephane Mbia that went bouncing off down the Uxbridge Road rather summed up the lazy, unprofessional and slapdash approach of the home team.
Redknapp replaced Townsend with Jamie Mackie before Bothroyd came on but other than a farcical situation where Samba’s goal-bound prod from a loose corner hit Mbia flush in his arse and flew wide the threat posed was minimal. At the other end the increasingly rotund Charlie Adam smacked one over the bar after being teed up in an embarrassing amount of space from a corner, and then side footed a volley over the bar when left unmarked at the back post in a remarkably similar position to the one he’d scored the winner from in the corresponding fixture between these two back in November. That QPR have contrived to lose twice to this Stoke team this season without scoring truly is a damning indictment.
Rangers were indebted to Tal Ben Haim – not great but one of the few home players to emerge with any credit having started the day at left back – for a fine sliding tackle to interrupt a Stoke counter attack but when a deep free kick was headed back off the post Clint Hill wasn’t anywhere near as switched on as his Israeli team mate and having allowed Crouch to stand goal side of him from the set piece he foolishly wrestled the Stoke man to the ground. Crouch certainly made a lot of the contact, but it was an obvious penalty and although Jay Bothroyd’s prolonged moan about the placing of the ball meant Jon Walters had to try a second time after lashing the first spot kick into the roof of the net, he kept his cool and found the bottom corner when it counted. That made it two with the best part of a quarter of an hour left to play.
Yet another free kick on the edge of the box – Nzonzi drew yellow for tripping Hoilett on this occasion – was hit first into the wall by Bothroyd and then into the stand by Remy. Robert Huth subsequently nodded a corner just wide of the post and had it gone to 3-0 Rangers could have had few complaints. Four minutes of stoppage time felt needlessly cruel.
For Redknapp, or whoever succeeds him, a busy summer surely lies ahead. This QPR team doesn’t even look capable of competing in the league below as things stand. There are few indications, on the field at least, that the nightmare is over just yet. Four more Premier League matches, including the visit of in form Arsenal to Loftus Road, look about as enticing as a dose of the clap but they could be the very least of QPR’s worries.
QPR: Green 5, Bosingwa 5, Samba 4, Hill 3, Ben Haim 6, Townsend 5 (Mackie 46, 5), Mbia 5, Derry 5, Hoilett 3, Taarabt 5 (Bothroyd 56, 5), Remy 6
Subs not used: Cesar, Onuoha, Diakite, Park, Granero
Bookings: Hill 76 (foul – penalty concession)
Stoke: Begovic 6, Shotton 6, Huth 6, Shawcross 6, Wilson 6 (Wilkinson 61,6), Whelan 6, Nzonzi 6, Adam 6 (Whitehead 69, 6), Walters 6, Crouch 7 (Cameron 90, -), Jerome 7
Subs not used: Sorensen, Kightly, Jones, Owen
Goals: Crouch 41 (assisted Jerome), Walters 76 (penalty, won Crouch)
Bookings: Adam 20 (foul), Nzonzi 77 (foul) QPR Star Man – N/A
Referee – Chris Foy (St Helens) 7 A reasonable performance, but I felt he was rather generous not to book several players in the first half when QPR were routinely finding their attacks cut short by cynical tackles on the edge of the box. Whelan in particular can count himself very fortunate not to have been booked for chopping down Taarabt right on the edge of the box as he headed for goal. Otherwise though few complaints, the penalty decision was correct.
Attendance – 17,391 (1,400 Stoke approx) Everybody deserves a medal for sitting through such utter rubbish. A Premier League game in name only.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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