QPR spring into life and stun Gunners – full match report
Monday, 2nd Apr 2012 13:02 by Colin Speller
QPR hit form in a sudden and dramatic fashion on Saturday as in form Arsenal were beaten 2-1 at Loftus Road. Colin Speller was there for LFW.
Last Saturday lunchtime before the Arsenal match a true student of the game of football was to be seen in the Crown and Sceptre pub – smiling, joking and having his picture taken. Neil Dejyothin, a member of the team behind the highly successful Football Manager game, official LFW photographer (not a salaried position), quiet and thoughtful observer of the game and closet Ninja was clearly enjoying himself. Even former QPR player and manager Ray Wilkins seemed genuinely delighted to have his picture taken with him; ‘My word!’ was his inevitable comment. In the various before- and after-match sessions in recent weeks, Neil has carefully deconstructed the play of QPR in general and Joy Barton in particular, his analysis culminating in a series of tweets to Joey in which he suggested, in essence, that he should try to play a less expansive game in an effort to recover his touch and form.
Another view of QPR and the team’s woes was provided in the course of last week on this site by former player Richard Langley and the take home message there was that the team appeared to lack a clear view of what it was setting out to do. Both the Dejyothin and Langley themes came together on Saturday afternoon in a measured, organised and ultimately successful QPR performance against Arsenal, the like of which we have not seen for a long time – probably since we rattled, competed with and lost narrowly to Manchester City.
Seventy five minutes into the Liverpool game earlier in the month and 2-0 down, a hopeless and disjointed QPR side seemed to be embracing relegation with barely a murmur of dissent. What followed in the rest of that game was nothing more than smash and grab. Liverpool had built a position of strength and confidence probably believing that the incompetence served up to them to that point was not likely to evolve into a threat. 15 minutes later they looked shell-shocked as QPR had grabbed all three points. Despite the confidence boost, the subsequent performance at Sunderland was a disgrace but here, thankfully, was the performance that should have followed the Liverpool game and one that for many reasons gives genuine hope for the remainder of the season.
What was really pleasing about it was that it was a true team performance. Every single player made a contribution and most of them gave performances that would have won the MoM award comfortably in many of the previous games. There were no histrionics, no fist-pumping, badge-thumping nonsense, just a quiet determination right across the park to take a very straightforward game plan and execute it. This endeavour was rewarded with a previously fluent Arsenal team stuttering, spluttering and providing opportunities to be opened up. But, despite the effort and application, QPR still had to ride their luck, recover from an equaliser against the run of play and weather a storm of Arsenal pressure either side of half time. This they did with aplomb. They scored two explosive goals and they thoroughly deserved their win.
And the icing on the cake? As we walked from the pub to the ground I remarked that if we were to survive then we needed Adel Taarabt to break his duck and score. This he did, in classic Adel style, and that alone makes me feel a whole lot better than I did this time last week.
With Cissé suspended after his lunacy at Sunderland, Joey Barton returned to the starting line-up in the middle of a five-man midfield alongside Diakite and Derry, with Taarabt left and Mackie right. Zamora took up the lone striker role. Onuoha went to right back, Taiwoo was on the left and Clint Hill partnered Ferdinand in the centre of the defence. Paddy Kenny was in goal.
Arsenal came into the game on the back of a seven-game winning streak and like the vast majority of the teams we face their line-up seemed quite formidable. Szczesny was in goal behind a back four of Sagna, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Gibbs. They also paraded a five-man midfield of Rosicky, Arteta, Walcott, Song and Ramsey with the goal-machine that is Van Persie up front.
The QPR line-up did not inspire immediate confidence. Dark mutterings in the pub were in the same vein as a text from Clive in Cannes which was of the ‘we’re doomed, Mainwaring’ school of optimism. But, as the game unfolded it was clear that unlike the previous two games there was a plan and a much tighter one at that. QPR seemed content to cede possession to Arsenal in their own half but then really engage as they crossed the halfway line. This was very much the ‘Dry Cleaners’ approach talked about in Richard Langley’s article, albeit that the closing and pressing was happening mostly in the final third of the field. Sticking with the Dad’s Army theme in a week where Corporal Jones’ most popular ‘Don’t panic’ catch-phrase has been much aired in relation to fuel supplies, it soon became clear here that his equally familiar ‘they don’t like it up ‘em, Sir’ applied to most of the Arsenal side.
Having said that, the first significant chance was Arsenal’s after Clint Hill, with QPR unusually defending the School End in the first half, tackled a little too robustly not far outside the box. Van Persie struck the free kick towards goal; Kenny gathered confidently. QPR were, though giving as good as they got in the various exchanges and I remember thinking after about ten minutes – rather nervously, it has to be said – how much better it all seemed. Indeed, after 13 minutes QPR had their first serious chance. Barton went head to boot with Arteta and a free kick was awarded. Taarabt – who was on set-piece duty throughout and provided real quality – sent in a peach of a curling cross, Zamora rose and headed over when he should have really hit the target.
The game then settled down with Arsenal knocking the ball about, QPR pressing and harrying and trying to get forward when they collected the ball. In the 20th minute there was a shot from Zamora well gathered by Szczesny, then in the twenty second minute QPR took the lead.
An Arsenal attack broke down with an aimless ball forward that was collected by Clint Hill. He passed from midway in his own half towards space into which he thought Diakite would run. Diakite held his run and the ball carried on for much longer than might have been expected towards Taarabt, who was in a classic ‘inside forward’ position with Vermaelen in close attendance. The latter tried to nick the ball but our hero was too quick, nipping in to gather it, turn sharply, shimmy and then roar towards goal with Vermaelen in his wake. Koscielny came across to try to cover but Taarabt hit a powerful curling shot around Szczesny’s outstretched hand and into the corner of the net. At last, a Premiership goal in his 100th QPR game and after all those shots this season. Cue pandemonium and a goal celebration that got him booked, presumably for embracing someone in the crowd.
In the aftermath of the goal, Arsenal seemed to go up a gear and there was a flurry of passing and movement. It was testimony to the work rate of the QPR team that little came of this until the 37th minute. QPR were just moving into the Arsenal half with apparent options, but Diakite seemed to hesitate a little and gave the ball away to Song. He moved it to Rosicky who passed in turn to Van Persie who was moving across the edge of the QPR box with defenders in attendance. Despite the close marking and apparently in the process of losing his balance he poked the ball through to an unmarked Walcott just inside the area leaving him one on one with Kenny in the middle of the goal. His shot struck Kenny’s left hand post before rebounding into his path leaving him an open goal into which to strike the ball.
This was poor reward for QPR and on the various tv highlights I have seen it prompted wailing about our inability to keep a clean sheet. Having said that, I do think we need to accept that top Premiership sides, even when struggling, will carve out something from individual brilliance. The mood around HQ did not seem to flag, though, although between the goal and half time Arsenal really seemed to turn it up, albeit still doing their best work in areas where QPR were unharmed by it. Their best effort was from Ramsey who shot across Kenny, who seemed to have it covered and, indeed, pulled his hands away to allow it to go pass the post without conceding a corner.
Half time came and went with the cognoscenti in the Ellerslie Road stand toilet queue (which in most other situations would be a Human Rights issue) generally of the view that it was the best half we’d seen all season.
The second half started with QPR finding yet another way to get the ball into touch from the kick-off and Arsenal still pulling lots of strings with passing and movement in the middle third of the field. Within three minutes they could have been ahead as a long cross was met by Gibbs, with Mackie in close attendance, but he steered his header wide of the far post with Kenny apparently flat footed. Then in the 58th minute, there was a game-changing moment. Song picked the ball up in his own half and, for once, slipped a simple long pass to Van Persie who got the jump on Clint Hill and was suddenly bearing down on goal. He looked offside but the tv replays confirmed that he wasn’t and with QPR hearts in mouths he struck a firm shot to Kenny’s left only for Paddy to throw himself and claw it high round the post. ‘He scores when he wants’ goes the song, but not on this occasion. It was a brilliant save by Kenny but it was also at a decent height for him. We’ve conceded a lot of goals this season from low shots across the keeper and I can’t help feeling that had RVP kept it low it could have been 2-1 and a long way back. On such fine margins do games and seasons turn.
The next excitement came from Taarabt who tussled with Arteta on the left-hand touchline near the halfway line with both facing the QPR end. Adel did a quick drag-back leaving Arteta on the deck and flailing his arms as if he should have had a free kick. Taarabt then strode forward and launched a fierce shot from range and whilst it looked like a wasted effort the power and some spin imparted mostly by him falling as he hit it caused it to swerve. Szczesny took it cleanly but not without concern.
Having kept his cards in his pocket, Taarabt excepted, Mike Dean then produced three in quick succession. Vermaelen got cross with Mackie for an aerial challenge and they ended up head to head to debate the matter. Fortunately for both they kept their heads still and, as a result, just got yellows. And then Joey Barton, who throughout the game had delivered Neil’s advice to the letter, elected to carry a ball down the right wing when he had few other options and was hauled back by Song, who was booked.
Five minutes later, QPR were in front. Onouha picked the ball up on the right and moved it to Barton who chipped it towards the penalty area where Mackie was waiting with Vermaelen in close attendance. Barton had contrived to impart Shane Warne-like spin on the ball and it caused Vermaelen all sorts of issues. Indeed, he proceeded to deliver a sort of incompetence hat-trick. First, he tried to intercept the ball then, as the spin caused it to evade him, he seemed to flap a hand at it then, as both the ball and Mackie began to move away from him, he had a half-hearted attempt to haul him down. I’m not sure whether to give him credit in relation to the last point – he may have been bright enough to realise he was in ‘second yellow’ territory and, thus, let him go. With Vermaelen sprawling behind him Mackie bore into the penalty box from the right and cut the ball back to an unmarked and completely alone Diakite who side-footed it powerfully into the goal to Szczesny’s left with the goalkeeper rooted to the spot. It was a belter of a goal, celebrated wildly by players, management and fans alike.
So, 2-1 and the onus was very much back on Arsenal to show their mettle. Their response was a flurry of attacking in which Rosicky shot and it was saved by Kenny, then from a corner arising from a brilliant challenge by Taiwoo a rather indifferent Kenny punch out was clawed from the sky by Koscielny who then blazed over. In the midst of all this, Wenger rang the changes – Gervinho came on for Ramsey then after 80 minutes Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for Arteta and Chamakh came on for Gibbs.
For QPR, Diakite hit a blockbuster from about 35 yards out – sadly well wide and then in the 85th minute a sharp interchange of passing created the chance to put the game to bed when Barton slipped in Mackie from the right again, this time without Vermaelen hanging round his legs, and once again Mackie cut the ball back to Barton who was further to the right than Diakite had been. Nevertheless, he produced a stinging shot across the goal that Szczesny did well to tip over.
Without the comfort of a third goal, QPR were still vulnerable. At this point they went ultra cautious, keeping the ball in the corner with 5 minutes to go. They nearly paid the price when the ball came towards their goal again and Ferdinand clattered into the back of Chamakh just outside the box. He was booked but with the consequent free kick Van Persie merely hit the wall, which in truth was only about six yards away by the time he struck the ball.
With the advertised four minutes of injury time underway, Hughes withdrew the excellent Zamora who had craftily stationed himself by the Ellerslie so he could take the maximum amount of time leaving the field. His replacement was Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Barton was booked for dragging back Oxlade-Chamberlain and then Diakite, all maturity and composure until this point, scythed down the same player in the right-hand corner to get his customary booking and leave Arsenal with a free kick as injury time ticked down. Cometh the hour of need, cometh the moron as in the aftermath of the tackle someone in the Ellerslie thought it was a good idea to throw a coin at a linesman. This prompted Dean to hold things up by bringing the linesman onto the pitch whilst he presumably discussed the matter with the fourth official over the radio link. I really don’t know why people do this sort of thing, it could cost the club a fine and it could have broken the concentration of the defence. In the end, the free kick was cleared away and after over five minutes of injury time Dean’s whistle prompted the end of the game and wild celebrations amongst fans, players and staff. Learning that Bolton and Wigan had won was a mild dampener on proceedings but, as the cliché goes, you can only deal with what is put in front of you and QPR had dealt with Arsenal very well. Six points from Liverpool and Arsenal – who’d have thunk it?
As I said at the outset, this was very much a team effort. I cannot think of one player who did not do his job. Almost all of them had their wobbly moment or two, but they applied themselves to the task with concentration and vigour. They all deserve a special mention so they are going to get just that.
Kenny pulled off some routine saves and a stunning one from Van Persie. He cleared one difficult corner effectively and one less so, but he looked sound. Onuoha was very solid at right back – far more solid than he seems to be in the centre. Ferdinand started by distributing the ball badly on two occasions, something he has been doing regularly in recent weeks, but then settled down and was very effective. Clint Hill had a stormer and was to be seen geeing up those around him. Taiwoo had his best game in the hoops with some fine tracking and tackling. Arsenal sensed blood with Taarabt and Taiwoo on the QPR left but despite loading that channel on occasions they got little change. In midfield Derry backed up Hill’s campaign for Championship stalwarts by chasing everything and tackling with venom. There was one wonderful sliding tackle to rob an Arsenal player as he romped forward. Mackie was all energy and presence and he showed strength and awareness in setting up Diakite’s goal, as well as more awareness in creating Barton’s chance. Taarabt had his best game for months. Ok, so he gave the ball away on occasions but he played to orders, tracking back when necessary and urging others to hold their position. And he makes things happen – the goal was all his own work and every time he got the ball you sensed something was going to unfold.
Samba Diakite was as far removed from the mad human scythe who was introduced to us in the Fulham game as it is possible to imagine. He played with an assuredness that was a joy to behold, carrying the ball forward whenever he could and opening things up. He took the goal brilliantly – there was so much opportunity to pick out someone in the upper tier – and his teammates celebrated in a way that suggested they are really rooting for him. His only two blots were the booking and the fact that it was him losing the ball that ultimately led to the Arsenal goal, albeit that there was a lot to be done from when it left him to the point Walcott scored.
Zamora’s best work is done below the radar and for that reason he doesn’t always get the best reviews in the stands. I think QPR have at last worked out that if he receives the ball anywhere from his chest downwards he can hold it up very well. And hold it up he did. Having said that, if Diakite glides like an ocean-going yacht and Taraabt darts around like a windsurfer, Zamora looks like a super-tanker. Languid is the word that springs to mind. But, his lone ploughing through the often open sea of the Arsenal half was very effective and he gave their defenders something to think about all game.
So, what about the man himself? It is a huge compliment to say that Barton was low profile throughout – a crucial cog in a well-oiled machine. He kept away from the set pieces, where frankly he has been poor. He simply passed and moved and moved and tracked and tackled and passed and moved, working as part of a highly mobile midfield that did its job very well indeed. He didn’t keep bollocking Taarabt and he didn’t give the ball away.
His programme notes were an articulate plea for the crowd’s support following on from the reaction to him being tugged against Liverpool and benched against Sunderland. Whilst there has been much written about all that, the most sobering thing for him must have been the turnaround against Liverpool and its coincidence with him leaving the field. And whilst he could grumble about being dropped against Sunderland – and point to the result of the game – in reality he would know that Hughes had little option given the events of the previous Wednesday. For months now we’ve all been pleading with him to do his job and stop playing Billy Big Bollocks on Twitter. He has derided those challenging him using anything from arrogance to insults, yet the coincidence of a self-imposed Twitter silence and Saturday’s performance just underlines the sense that was being talked. We don’t expect miracles and we are not looking for game-changing interventions. Leave the flamboyance to Taarabt and Diakite, just get them the ball, cover their backs, work hard and be seen to be part of the team and in a few years time you too could be standing in a Shepherd’s Bush pub with people slapping your back and buying you drinks. (I’m sure that outcome isn’t the height of ambition for Joey right now but I think the point is clear).
What of the opposition? It is a curious thing that for weeks and weeks there has been a quiet confidence amongst the LFW team that we would get something from this game. If anyone had said ‘six points from those three games’ the arguments would have all been about whether we were set to lose to Sunderland or Liverpool, not Arsenal. There is something susceptible about them in defence and whilst they can pass you to death in the middle third of the pitch they can often fail to open teams right up. But, they’ve won seven in a row and we can only dream of such consistency. They may have had an off day here, but I truly believe that it was induced by the execution of the right game plan by QPR. Even their ‘get out of jail’ card of Van Persie didn’t get his customary goal. They must be very worried about the thought of losing him.
Six points from three games seemed very, very unlikely given the run of fixtures and, frankly, absurd at the three-quarter point of the Liverpool game. As it is, and contrary to the general view that safety will be achieved with a record low points total, this excellent outcome has, sadly, only proved to be ‘par’ at least in terms of points tally. The alternative, though, can be seen in the form of Wolverhampton, now six points adrift of the second-bottom team and almost certainly down. The task for QPR is still daunting but if we can’t draw confidence from this game we will never do the necessary to survive.
The analysis from Richard Langley last week proved to be spot on. With a clear system and the application thereof, QPR beat a technically superior side. Expect the same approach to the game at Old Trafford next week. A result there and we really will be hoping, although Swansea the next Wednesday is probably a more realistic target for more points.
QPR: Kenny 8, Onuoha 8, Hill 8, Ferdinand 8, Taiwoo 8, Taarabt 9 , Derry 8, Diakite 9, Barton 8, Mackie 8, Zamora 8 (Wright-Phillips 90 -)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Young, Gabbidon, Buszacky, Bothroyd
Booked: Taarabt (goal celebration), Mackie (squabbling with Vermaelen), Ferdinand (foul), Barton (foul), Diakite (foul)
Arsenal: Szczesny 7, Sagna 7, Vermaelen 5, Koscielny 7, Gibbs 7 (Chamakh 80 6), Rosicky 7, Arteta 7 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 80 7), Walcott 7, Ramsey 7 (Gervinho 69 6), Song 7, Van Persie 7
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Santos, Djourou, Benayoun
Booked: Vermaelen (squaring up to Mackie), Song (foul)
QPR Star Man: Samba Diakite 9 My word – what a task. They were all brilliant and it was a very difficult choice. It goes to Samba because I really believe he came of age in this game after getting progressively better since his awful start against Fulham. He took the goal brilliantly as well. But, please don’t write in. It could have equally well been Taarabt, Hill, etc. They’ve all got good marks because it was a good team performance.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral) 7 Did not do a lot wrong and kept the game flowing reasonably well. Ignored some of the histrionics from Arsenal players who felt they were being roughed up a bit. The cards he dealt were all valid.
Attendance: 18,003 (3,000 Arsenal approx away) HQ at its rocking best as a committed performance attracted noisy support throughout.
Tweet @loftforwords, @ColinSpeller Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.
You need to login in order to post your comments
Blogs 30 bloggers
Matches of Yesteryear - Northampton v U's 24/4/99 by wessex_exile
Well, here we are going through the exhilarating highs and despairing lows of what it is to follow the U’s rollercoaster journey this season – one wonders what Saturday will bring, apart from yet another storm (Dennis this time). Vale Park is a tough enough place to go at the best of times, so will howling winds and lashing rain be the great leveller for the U’s? We shall see, but in the meantime, how about we go back to a time when our perennial concentration around this time of the season always seemed to be at the wrong end of the table, maybe put things a little bit into perspective…
Matches of Yesteryear - Bees v U's 11/3/03 (eventually) by wessex_exile
It was noted that Saturday’s stunning defeat of promotion rivals Plymouth Argyle was the first time we had beaten them since our League Cup victory back in 2003. Well our record against tomorrow night’s opponents Grimsby can challenge that – if you’re wondering ‘not another Tuesday night trip to Blundell Park’, the last time we played at Grimsby on a Saturday was also back in 2003…and the last time we won there? Over 40 years ago believe it or not, on 22nd September 1979, winning 2-1 thanks to two goals from Trevor Lee, with the U’s managed by none other than Bobby Roberts on that day.
Matches of Yesteryear - Southend v U's 17/2/04 by wessex_exile
“…Parky couldn’t quite keep the momentum from September going in the league, and we finished 11th at the end of the season. However, for the entertainment of the faithful, he was just about to embark with the U’s on two successful runs in both the FA Cup and the LDV Vans Trophy, the latter just about to start the following Tuesday (14th October) at Cheltenham”.
Matches of Yesteryear - U's v Blackpool 11/10/03 by wessex_exile
Ahead of our upcoming match at the Abbey Stadium tomorrow, we again go back to the Parky era, and for this match his first full season in charge at Layer Rd. It’s funny, when I first started following the U’s in the 70s, matches against local rivals Cambridge United always seemed to be a really big thing, up there with Southend in many ways – they just don’t seem to have quite the significance these days?
Matches of Yesteryear - U's v Wivenhoe 23/2/91 by wessex_exile
And so the unbeaten run goes on. Ahead of yet another vital match against a promotion contender on Tuesday night, we pay our first visit to a yet to be featured competition, going back nearly thirty years in the process. Last time in the Matches of Yesteryear series we explored our furthest distance for a ‘local derby’ match at Wycombe, this time we reflect on what must surely have been the shortest distance ever between the U’s and opponents for a competitive match?
Queens Park Rangers Polls