|Suarez strikes to sink Cerny inspired Rangers — full match report
Sunday, 11th Dec 2011 23:38 by Clive Whittingham
Radek Cerny’s heroics between the sticks weren’t enough to win a point for QPR at Liverpool on Saturday as Luis Suarez capped a fantastic individual performance with the only goal of the game.
Ray Wilkins, in his first incarnation as midfield playmaker extraordinaire, once said after a 0-0 draw at Manchester United that QPR lacked sufficient belief in their own ability to compete at the very highest level despite possessing players like Les Ferdinand, Andy Sinton, Wilkins himself and others.
QPR have won on one occasion at Old Trafford, and once at Anfield, but on neither occasion was it a scrappy, backs-to-the-wall, hit and hope, fortunate victory. Rangers destroyed their hosts on both occasions – Man Utd famously on New Year’s Day 1992 4-1, Liverpool the season before 3-1. Rangers could do it when they put their minds to it, and that was the pervading feeling around the away end at Anfield on Saturday as Rangers once again, some 16 years since they were last here, went down with a bit of a whimper.
Ultimately a final scoreline of 1-0 flattered QPR who staged a late rally and push for an equaliser but were far too meek and timid for most of this match. Don Howe and Gerry Francis had a Czech goalkeeper anchoring the sides that secured two of the club’s most famous victories on this ground and at the other end of the famous ship canal in the early 1990s, and Neil Warnock had another former servant of Jan Stejskal’s old Sparta Prague club, Radek Cerny, to thank for keeping his side in this game. With QPR failing to assert themselves for the most part and Luis Suarez almost unplayable at times this could have been a hefty defeat were it not for Cerny. And yet that feeling that points were here for the taking against a team propped up by its talismanic Uruguayan striker persists.
A big part of the problem for the Super Hoops on Saturday was a lack of presence in attack. The latest in a series of surprise late pieces of team news saw in-form striker Heidar Helguson ruled out of the game with a thigh complaint after scoring six goals in his last seven games. That left Jay Bothroyd as the only option for the lone striker role, which certainly isn’t his forte, and meant Liverpool’s division leading defence was able to enjoy a relatively peaceful afternoon – Daniel Agger and Martin Sktrel at the heart of the home team’s back four needn’t have changed out of their club suits for the first hour of this.
Warnock did welcome DJ Campbell back to the bench after two months out but he wasn’t fit enough to start and provide much needed support to Bothroyd so Tommy Smith was given a rare chance to start wide on the left of midfield. Jamie Mackie went down the right with Joey Barton, born Everton fan but popular in this part of the city for his support of the Hillsborough Justice campaign, and Alejandro Faurlin in the centre of midfield. In defence the first choice back four of Luke Young, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon and Armand Traore began the game in front of third choice keeper Cerny with Paddy Kenny and Brian Murphy still out injured.
Liverpool’s impressive run of 11 league and cup games without a defeat ground to a halt in controversial circumstances at Fulham on Monday night when the home side snatched a late winner after Jay Spearing had received a questionable red card. His subsequent suspension, coming hot on the heels of a season ending injury for the club’s Player of the Year Lucas Leiva, left manager Kenny Dalglish short of options for his defensive midfield berth. He started Jordan Henderson alongside Charlie Adam in the middle of the park with Stewart Downing in an unorthodox right wing position and Maxi Rodriguez on the left. Dirk Kuyt, stuck on 49 Premiership goals since May, supported Suarez in attack. No place in the team for £35m target man Andy Carroll who spent the day on the touchline being gently berated for his comical appearance by 3,000 travelling Londoners in the corner of an almost silent Anfield stadium.
Neil Warnock spoke before the game about savouring the Anfield atmosphere and certainly as the famous You’ll Never Walk Alone anthem rolled down from the Kop (after the happy, clappy Premiership theme music that we all have to play for reasons unknown while every player, official and mascot shakes hands with one another for reasons unknown) you could see what he meant. However once the game kicked off the home fans sat quietly, and stayed like that for all but 30 seconds of the rest of the match – more interested in filming events on their mobile phones so they could return far and wide with grainy video footage of the day they went to Anfield and watched the whole match through a 2x4inch screen.
Sadly the Liverpool team didn’t seem to need any encouragement from the crowd to set about QPR with real purpose and invention, while a few bars of Gerry and the Pacemakers seemed to have have stunned the visiting team into an awestruck stupor. In the first 120 seconds of this encounter the hosts carved out three excellent chances to score – first Maxi had a shot from close range blocked away for a corner which Cerny managed to fist out to the edge of the box. Unable to clear their lines QPR then found themselves on the receiving end of another corner which Skrtel got on the end of but hit over. Then having picked up possession from the resulting goal kick Liverpool worked Suarez in behind the defence in the right channel and he cut it back to Maxi who saw another shot blocked and then laid down possibly injured on the edge of the box forcing QPR to interrupt their first attack of the game by kicking the ball out of play – having done so they then found that Maxi was alright after all. Who would have thought it?
This is a rule that needs real focus on. If it’s a head injury the play is stopped immediately, if it’s not it’s at the referee’s discretion. This situation where the referee decides to play on but one of the team is then intimidated into kicking the ball off by a combination of opposing players pointing and fans booing is ball aching – especially when the team demanding the ball is kicked off has often just passed up the opportunity to do so themselves because they thought they might be able to launch an attack. QPR were probably right to punt the ball out on this occasion, no point in getting a superior opponent all riled up in the second minute after all, but had they known that they would barely cross the halfway line again for the rest of the half I wonder if they’d have been as keen?
Anyway once play resumed the onslaught recommenced – Stuart Downing has been much maligned this season, without a goal or an assist to his name since a big money summer move from Aston Villa, but he gave Armand Traore a good working over in the first half here and crossed in the ninth minute for Louis Suarez to head straight at Radek Cerny after being left unmarked in the centre of the goal six yards out.
Easy to criticise Traore for his lack of ability to deal with Downing but the protection he received from Tommy Smith ahead of him was almost non-existent on Saturday, and to be fair to Smith he has hardly played for the last three months and as I said last week in defence of Akos Buzsaky you cannot expect someone to slot straight into Premiership football after weeks on end spent sitting and watching. Suarez’s movement is superb, and completely instinctive, but it was a worry just how unmarked he was for this chance and a sign of what was to come later.
Within two minutes the Uruguayan was enjoying the freedom of the penalty area down the right again – Liverpool clearly seeing a weak spot down the QPR left and loading that area of the pitch with Downing, Adam, Kuyt and Suarez whenever possible. After the four of them combined nicely Suarez accelerated to the byline and hammered a low drive between Cerny and his near post, right through the goalmouth at speed, and out the other side with nobody able to get a touch. A lucky moment for the goalkeeper, but for the most part he made his own luck on Saturday and this was a rare dodgy moment.
And so it continued. Suarez, investigating possibilities down the QPR right this time, fed Maxi in with a glorious reverse ball but then showed his human side by toeing the ball horribly wide of the post from a presentable position after the Spaniard returned possession to him. Within four minutes he’d hit the deck in the penalty area in what is becoming trademark theatrical fashion, but Alejandro Faurlin’s challenge was rightly deemed legal by referee Lee Mason, and then jinked his way to the byline down the left again, cut the ball back again, and watched with resigned frustration as a penalty area populated only by blue and white hooped shirts gratefully received the ball. There is no such thing as a one man team, but Liverpool weren’t far off it on Saturday.
QPR crossed the halfway line for the first time in the best part of 20 minutes midway through the half and drew the game’s first yellow card when Jay Bothroyd was cynically hauled down by Daniel Agger. This was a rare piece of competent lone striker play from Bothroyd, but I’m not about to leap onboard the bandwagon that a disturbing amount of the travelling fans seemed keen to ride from the very first whistle at Anfield and start bashing the former Cardiff City man here.
To look at Bothroyd you’d think he is ideal lone striker material, but he’s just not. He’s neither brave enough, nor hard working enough – the two major faults I always held against him during his days at Cardiff in the Championship and the major criticism I levelled at him when we signed him. So you have a choice; you either play him as a lone striker anyway and shout at him in the hope that he will suddenly start working harder and being braver, or you play to his strengths.
In recent weeks we’ve done the latter, allowing him to play off Heidar Helguson, who is ideally suited to a one-man attack set up, and inject himself into the play when, and where, he feels he can be most effective – often in the channel between Helguson and Jamie Mackie on the right wing. Sadly on Saturday injuries dictated that we had to do the former, and an unbelievable amount of QPR fans around me took to the yelling at him with glee, like we’re somehow incapable of sitting through a match without coating off one of our players.
Anyway - yellow card collected, free kick wasted, ranting over and normal service resumed - Jordan Henderson hammered a shot miles over the bar and Radek Cerny made a superb save one on one with Maxi as the half hour mark came and went.
Rangers endured a halfhearted, and fairly pathetic, penalty shout from Glen Johnson seven minutes before half time with Armand Traore accused of offending against him but Lee Mason waved it all away and miraculously QPR went down the other end and managed a shot on goal. Not a particularly dangerous shot on goal it must be said, high into the Kop from a distance on the ludicrous side of ambitious by Shaun Wright-Phillips. He’s been unlucky not to open his QPR account so far - with dodgy offside calls, goal line clearances and the woodwork denying him against West Brom, Newcastle and Wolves – but he looks like a frustrated man in front of goal now, wildly thrashing at any half chance from any range.
As the game ticked down to half time QPR were again indebted to Cerny for rushing out to deny Suarez in unorthodox but effective style after Downing had toasted Traore down the left once more. Suarez collected the rebound from Cerny but chose to hack wildly into the main stand from a tight angle with Kuyt waiting unmarked at the back post for a tap in. In three minutes of added time Liverpool threatened through Downing again – the former Middlesbrough man cut in from the right, played a one-two with Suarez and shot for the bottom corner but found Cerny equal to the task again.
If QPR, as seemed clear, had set up to try and squeeze out a point from this game than that was half the job done but it felt like only a matter of time until the home side struck. The really annoying thing was that towards the end of the first half Anton Ferdinand went off the field to receive treatment and, faced with the prospect of playing with ten men, QPR suddenly looked calm and composed on the ball and more disciplined with their shape. In fact they put eight passes together and Faurlin had a shot on goal from range. Perhaps it would have helped if we’d had a man sent off, to help focus the minds, because there wasn’t much evidence of shape or game plan apart when we had 11 on the field.
A matter of time is exactly what it was – two more minutes in fact. Suarez won a corner from Ferdinand and when that was then headed back out to the taker Charlie Adam the Scot cut inside, crossed into the centre of the goal and Suarez was totally free and unmarked once more – this time even Cerny couldn’t save Rangers.
Things didn’t get a lot better for Neil Warnock who then lost Anton Ferdinand to a hamstring injury after he was badly fouled bringing the ball out from defence by Charlie Adam. Once he’d been helped from the field and replaced by Bradley Orr (Luke Young filled in at centre half) Lee Mason awarded a drop ball when he should have been preparing his yellow card. An incredible decision. Not important in the grand scheme of things but so obviously wrong it was hard to believe your own eyes when it happened.
Mason didn’t improve much – awarding a corner to Liverpool just after the hour when you could see from the far end of the ground that it was a goal kick, and then as good as admitting he was wrong by awarding QPR a free kick for a non-existent penalty box offence almost before Adam had even delivered the ball. Not the finest quarter of an hour of refereeing we’ll see this season.
Between the two incidents Suarez twisted, turned and jinked his way into the area before cutting it back to Downing who drew an outrageous save from Cerny who changed direction splendidly and turned the ball onto the post when a goal seemed inevitable. Moments later, the Czech raced from his line to save brilliantly from Maxi in another one on one situation after Suarez had teed him up. Cerny was growing into this game to such an extent that he was now gratuitously dropping his shoulder and dummying past strikers when receiving pass backs. He was the man of the match by an absolute country mile.
Glen Johnson cut in from his wing and fired high into the silent Liverpool fans as the home side dominance continued. Rarely has a game been so one sided for an hour and only been 1-0. Something had to change, or a big score would be racked up later in the game as legs grew tired and the will to keep up this monotonous resistance weakened.
Neil Warnock thought so too. First he sent on DJ Campbell for Tommy Smith who’d been anonymous in attack and dangerously weak in defence. This gave Bothroyd much needed support up front and enabled him to play much more of his own game – within minutes he’d turned well on the edge of the box and fed the ball wide to the hard working but largely ineffective Jamie Mackie whose cross would have been headed home by DJ Campbell had Agger not got in with a clearing header first. Then he won a free kick in the channel where he so loves to work and an excellent delivery from Barton was hooked over the bar by Gabbidon when he may have done better. Later another excellent set piece from wide, this time a corner from the opposite side, was hung up high into the six yard box by Barton and Reina was lucky to get away with a flap under heavy pressure under his own cross bar.
Further improvements followed when Clint Hill came on for Mackie. An ageing left back on for an attacking winger may seem a strange change to make at 1-0 down away from home but it was the right call from Warnock and probably should have been made earlier. Traore had been given the runaround by Downing for most of the afternoon but posed one of Rangers’ only threats going forward – putting Hill to left back reduced the impact of Downing while freeing Traore up to attack from the wing which he did very well for the remaining time in the match. Suddenly Rangers looked balanced and threatening and they bossed the game for the remaining 20 minutes.
Liverpool sent on Craig Bellamy for Maxi Rodriguez with predictable results. He immediately fouled Armand Traore and delivered a volley of abuse to referee Lee Mason, then he curled a free kick into the side netting with half the crowd believing he’d scored after Young fouled Suarez, and finally he was yellow carded much to his own disbelief for basically being Craig Bellamy. A ten minute cameo to basically sum up the man.
With Traore posing problems down one side and extra presence in attack QPR forced a series of corners and free kicks but the ball never quite fell to the right man at the right time. Shaun Wright-Phillips blazed his second shot of the game high and wide over the bar and then went a good deal closer at the wrong end when he thrust out a foot and diverted a Bellamy pass onto the frame of his own goal.
With a minute to go, Alejandro Faurlin hit the deck in the box with what appeared to be a shameful attempt to con the referee into awarding a penalty. Certainly Martin Skrtel felt so, the defender leaned over Faurlin as he lay on the ground and delivered a barrage of abuse into his ear but video replays later suggested he may actually have been kicked in the chest after all. Bradley Orr was denied by Enrique with a clearing header at the far post after more good work from Traore.
Liverpool sent on Jonjo Shelvey for Stuart Downing as an exercise in clock running and were hanging on somewhat during three minutes of added time, which was ridiculous when you consider what had gone before.
At the end of the day Liverpool had one mediocre midfielder in the middle of their team (Jordan Henderson) who cost more than our entire team. We should not be expecting anything from this fixture and that’s exactly what we’ve ended up with.
But the final ten minutes of the match, where the tactical changes made by Neil Warnock balanced our team and plugged some of the holes in the dam, just left those lingering doubts. What if we’d played like that from the start? What if we had shown the same ambition from the kick off? Liverpool, Suarez apart, really weren’t all that brilliant.
Ultimately I think our fate was almost completely sealed before the match began when Heidar Helguson was ruled out. Against statistically the best defence in the league we desperately needed his presence and physicality for Bothroyd to feed off. Having Bothroyd himself trying to do the job was never going to go quite as well, especially without another striker to come in and fill in for him in the supporting role. It’s a shame DJ Campbell was only fit for 20 minutes because Bothroyd was a different man when he had some support around him.
Norwich and Swansea both won points here this season in almost identical situations – smash and grab raids aided by an audacious goalkeeping display. Had Helguson played or Campbell been available for longer than we may have done the same.
If this season doesn’t turn out as we all hope then there is already a growing list of games where we blew chances for points. Obviously West Brom, Aston Villa, Blackburn and Newcastle at home will be up there, but all things considered this one should probably be added as well. Joey Barton seemed to think so too, storming off down the tunnel at the final whistle and signalling to his team mates to do the same.
Still, only Man Utd next week.
Liverpool: Reina 6, Johnson 7, Skrtel 7, Agger 7, Enrique 7, Maxi 7 (Bellamy 78, 6), Adam 7, Henderson 6, Downing 8 (Shelvey 86, -), Suarez 9, Kuyt 7
Subs Not Used: Doni, Carroll, Coates, Carragher, Kelly
Booked: Agger (foul), Bellamy (dissent)
Goals: Suarez 47 (assisted Adam)
QPR: Cerny 9, Young 6, Gabbidon 7, Ferdinand 7 (Orr 50, 6), Traore 7, Mackie 6 (Hill 78, 6), Barton 6, Faurlin 7, Wright-Phillips 6, Smith 5 (Campbell 66, 6), Bothroyd 6
Subs Not Used: Putnins, Derry, Buzsaky, Connolly
QPR Star Man – Radek Cerny 9 A superb display of goalkeeping right up there with his 90 minute resistance to Man Utd’s onslaught in the League Cup a couple of years back. The save from Downing in the second half was world class and he did not deserve to finish on the losing side.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire) 7 Not a lot to argue with here – the replays back Faurlin’s case for a late penalty but at the time it looked like he was attempting to con the officials and they only get one look at it so hard to argue with them now when I agreed at the time. Points off for his mad ten minutes in the second half that included the crazy Ferdinand incident where we lost a centre back for two to three weeks after a nasty tackle by Charlie Adam and didn’t even get a free kick for it.
Attendance: 45, 016 (3,000 QPR approx) I was astonished at how awful the atmosphere was – easily the worst we’ve experienced at any ground anywhere this season. A full house, in a famous old stadium, and it was almost completely silent. The home stands seemed to be rammed all around us with football tourists too busy taking pictures and mobile phone videos to make any noise whatsoever. The QPR fans were in good voice in parts, and not in others – the chants about Johnjo Shelvey looking like ET drew smiles from the player himself, and Andy Carroll’s camel toe from everybody. There’s still quite a grumpy feeling about the away support at the moment though. As happened at Norwich we had rows going on around us about people standing up, and arguments breaking out about the abuse of certain players and overall negativity of some people. It’s all a bit bad tempered at the moment.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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