QPR’s summer of optimism blown apart for super soaraway Swans – full match report
Sunday, 19th Aug 2012 22:54 by Clive Whittingham
A summer of hope and optimism was immediately forgotten as QPR opened the 2012/13 season with an embarrassingly inept display and 5-0 defeat against Swansea City at Loftus Road.
The players, management, owners and supporters of Queens Park Rangers have learnt nothing this weekend: they’ve merely revised what they already knew.
Whatever you do – new stadium, state of the art training ground, multi million pound investments, big name players, the entire population of South Korea descending on the South Africa Road stand with cameras – this club will always be QPR, and will therefore always be prone to inexplicable moments of lunacy. “Are you surprised,” I was asked after the match. “Yes,” I replied. But on reflection, no, I’m not.
Suddenly the 10/1 odds on Mark Hughes being the first Premiership manager to leave his job looks a long price. You’d forgive him for giving up today, as most of his players did in the second half on Saturday. He and Tony Fernandes have been in the garage for nearly nine months now, lovingly tending to a clapped out old banger by stripping the entire engine out piece by piece, spending big money on the best replacement parts and carefully putting it all back together again. Saturday was the day they put the key in the ignition for the first time. And the fucking thing still doesn’t work.
The number of failings on the QPR side of things here would run into three figures if listed in their entirety. A good portion of them must be laid at the feet of Hughes, who grossly underestimated Swansea and overestimated what hand he held going into the match. Going into it in any depth would be a failed attempt at vengeance for a tortuous Saturday afternoon at Loftus Road.
Better, instead, to cling to the three positives that came out of this richly deserved mauling: it’s better to find out we’re beset with problems now than in the middle of September; the puncturing of the ludicrous expectations some supporters have of this team (which has stretched as far as some suggesting we may be an outside bet for the top four) nice and early is no bad thing; and the attitude that every point is vital and the team and support needs to be at its best and proudest to achieve them may now return.
It turned out that Hughes’ team selection was deeply flawed for the opponents faced. Hindsight always has been a wonderful thing – few objected to the starting 11 when they heard it in the Crown and Sceptre before kick off.
Djibril Cisse started up front alone and was woefully ineffective. The Frenchman simply isn’t a lone striker and he was left hopelessly isolated throughout this game, often 30 yards away from the nearest QPR player when Rangers had possession. Adel Taarabt was nominally named as his supporting act but was also detailed to drop back into the middle of midfield when possession was lost which increased the isolation of Cisse when QPR had the ball, and proved a liability that Nathan Dyer was only too willing to exploit when they didn’t.
Ji Sung Park made his QPR debut, and Samba Diakite his first start since completing a permanent move from Nancy in the middle of midfield behind Taarabt but neither are as well versed as Shaun Derry in covering for the Moroccan when he’s in the mood to try and win the game by himself, and both allowed Danny Graham’s supporting cast of Wayne Routledge and Michu to run riot behind them completely unchecked.
Junior Hoilett made his first competitive QPR appearance on one side, and looked the most likely to do something to stop the Welsh procession across the wide open spaces of Loftus Road, while Jamie Mackie manned the opposite flank and was completely anonymous.
The back four – shot to absolute shit rags by full time – was made up of Nedum Onuoha, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill and Fabio Da Silva in front of beleaguered goalkeeper Robert Green.
QPR have been able to cope with the oft-discussed Swansea footballing revolution better than most teams since it began under Roberto Martinez. The R’s had won the last two meetings at Loftus Road, scoring seven without reply, and had never lost to the Welsh side at home in 20 matches. Even in the midst of last season’s torturous relegation battle Rangers had taken four points from the eventually eleventh placed Swans.
They should therefore have known that rule number one when facing this trend setting outfit, now managed by one of Barcelona’s all time greats Michael Laudrup, is that you don’t fall behind on the scoreboard. Swansea are happy to absorb pressure, and keep possession without going anywhere for a long period of time, as they wait for time and space to open up for them to exploit. That’s so much easier and more effective when you hold a lead that forces the opposition to come forward more.
QPR held their nerve in this stare out situation in April, eventually taking the lead before half time and going on to win handsomely. Here they committed the cardinal sin, thanks largely to goalkeeper Robert Green.
When Clint Hill executed a firm tackle on Nathan Dyer on the edge of the penalty box after eight minutes and the ball rolled loose the match seemed set for its first shot across the bows and little more than that. I would say that the low 25 yard drive from Spanish debutant Michu shouldn’t have unduly troubled an England international goalkeeper of Robert Green’s experience, but that would be praising the strike beyond its true worth. In actual fact I’d have backed myself to save it. Green inexplicably allowed it to dribble between his hands and into the bottom corner.
My cards are already on the table with our new goalkeeper so I’ll merely waft a hand back in their direction at this point. Robert Green is a goalkeeper I’ve never rated, and never really understood that attraction of to clubs, but he can’t be all that bad considering the way he’s revered by the supporters of Norwich and West Ham who know him best and have seen him most often. What I don’t understand is why he looks so bloody terrified at the moment. He was first choice in a promoted West Ham team last season, he was playing well, they wanted to keep him, he’s signed a lucrative deal at a Premiership club that tells everybody every day of the week that it has ambition. What’s the problem here? Is everything all right at home? Since he’s arrived here he’s done nothing but concede ludicrously awful goals – one on the tour of Asia, two in Germany last week, and now one here. He looks depressed frankly. He carries himself with the confidence and self worth of an underappreciated poet with a gay porn addiction. He looks like a man who expects to concede goals, and retrieves balls from the back of his net with an air of “told you so.” He’s like the Sunday league player pressed into goalkeeper service against his wishes because of a no show.
Whatever the solution – anti-depressants, a shrink, a compilation tape of his best moments, a night on the piss, a high class prostitute on Tony Fernandes’ expense account, getting slapped about a bit by Samba Diakite – we need to find it, and find it very quickly. At the moment we may as well be playing without a goalkeeper at all.
Teams that fall behind against Swansea find themselves in a real quandary. An equaliser is required, but you chase it too hard at your peril. Zebras need water, but crocodiles live in the river.
Rangers initially went about their work reasonably well, and there was plenty of reason to believe that the opening goal had been a blip to be attributed entirely to the goalkeeper at the end of a subsequent 3-1 victory. Within two minutes Jamie Mackie found himself free in the penalty area in an identical position to the one he scored from against Liverpool last season but a combination of Michel Vorm and a defender on the line scrambled the ball away.
Three minutes later Adel Taarabt sprayed a trademark pass full of vision and purpose to the left flank for Junior Hoilett to seize, bring inside and curl a foot wide of the far post with Vorm beaten.
On the quarter hour Taarabt saw a shot of his own blocked out to Diakite who also struck an effort against a Swansea defender. The second rebound fell to Fabio who curled his shot over. Seven minutes later Fabio lofted a cleared corner back into the danger zone and with Swansea belatedly trying to clear their penalty box Diakite ran in behind them, onside, and guided a header over Vorm but wide of the open goal when he should have scored.
Diakite had another low shot straight at Vorm just before the half hour and moments later Ji Sung Park’s persistence set up a chance for Hoilett who also warmed the hands of Swansea’s Dutch goalkeeper.
So far, no need to panic. QPR were creating chances, despite regularly working crossing positions to find only one hooped shirt in the penalty area, and Swansea weren’t threatening unduly. Patience, shape, persistence – key watch words at this point. But the amber alert light remained on - when QPR came forward you hoped they might score, but when Swansea did likewise you assumed they would. Laudrup, on this evidence at least, has added an ambitious, attacking streak to last season’s pattern of, at times, aimless possession. They were magnificent here overall, particularly in the second half.
Seven minutes before half time a foul by Samba Diakite on former QPR winger Wayne Routledge gave another Swansea new boy Jonathan De Guzman a chance to striker a free kick on goal. The shot, from fully 25 yards, looked to be flying a foot wide but Robert Green scrambled across and palmed it wide anyway – again, betraying a lack of self belief and confidence with which he’d ordinarily have waved the ball wide. From the corner the goalkeeper inexplicably wandered out to the edge of his six yard box underneath the De Guzman cross leaving his goal totally unguarded for Chico Flores to aim at with a powerful header that crashed off the underside of the bar, landed in the six yard box and was eventually cleared.
De Guzman was booked by referee Lee Probert a short time later for a foul on Park but I can’t imagine the Canadian-born midfielder was too concerned by how things were going given how awfully QPR were defending.
Having allowed Swansea to take the lead, failed to equalise, and almost conceded a second the key now for QPR was to shut up the shop, keep hold of the ball, get to half time, regroup and make one or two changes. There has been much talk about the average age of Mark Hughes’ signings and the experience they bring, but the naivety of the Welshman’s side in the closing stages of the first period was more akin to a junior school second XI.
First Jamie Mackie stupidly raised a boot on Neil Taylor to present Swansea with an attacking set piece from which they won a corner a minute before the bell. There is much discussion these days about whether teams are operating a man or zonal-marking system from corners – it seems this season QPR will be running neither. Take your pick of Swansea players who could and should have doubled their side’s lead in the shemozzle that followed De Guzman’s latest delivery: Flores was unmarked but his powerful header was blocked, Michu was unmarked but his close range shot came back into play off the underside of the bar, Routledge was unmarked but he fired over.
Swansea led 1-0 at half time but could quite easily have been three up. QPR’s defence had all the shape, form and organisation of a sloppy beer shit.
The second half was an absolute shuttle disaster. It could have been different had Junior Hoilett been awarded a penalty by referee Probert in the first minute of play after falling to ground under pressure from Angel Rangel on the other end of a one two with Taarabt but the tumble was theatrical, the contact minimal and the decision to wave it away probably correct. Five minutes later the contest was over.
The patience that is so key to chasing games against teams like Swansea was totally absent in the second period. QPR tried to force passes that weren’t on, and committed men forward from midfield into dumb positions at stupid times. Wayne Routledge had a field day on his return to Loftus Road, Nathan Dyer finally silenced the heckles he always receives on this ground and Michu was absolutely outstanding, crowning one of the all time great Premier League debuts with a stylish second goal curled into Rob Green’s top corner first time after a powerful surge by Routledge down the left.
Diakite and Fabio were both yellow carded by Probert for hacking down Dyer as QPR began to unravel.
The R’s have had their fingers burnt buying and loaning players from Manchester United before. Players like Daniel Nardiello and John Curtis enjoyed careers far above their true levels for years based on the false idea that if Alex Ferguson has signed you at some point you must have something about you, and Federico Macheda’s loan spell at Loftus Road last season was an embarrassment to him. Ferguson gets some things wrong, and some of his players can look better than they actually are simply by playing in a wonderful, all conquering team surrounded by world class players.
Fabio is not surrounded by world class players this year, and he left himself hopelessly exposed here with a gambler-chasing-losses style of play that often saw him tearing off after his own mistakes leaving acres of space in behind him. When he gave the ball away in the sixty third minute miles out of position on the halfway line it was all the encouragement Routledge needed to tee up a third goal with a pass that Clint Hill should have intercepted and Nathan Dyer should never have reached had Adel Taarabt tracked him back professionally. Hill didn’t, Taarabt didn’t, and Dyer didn’t need asking twice to finish past Rob Green who showed a vague sort of interest in a one on one situation he clearly believed was beyond his capabilities before it even developed. It was no more than Dyer, Routledge and Swansea deserved – they were running riot at this stage.
QPR had, unforgivably, given up.
I wondered what Mark Hughes might do at this point. We were in the ridiculous situation, usually associated with teams reduced to nine men, of not committing enough men to the attack when we had the ball and yet also finding ourselves outnumbered through midfield and at the back when we didn’t. I’d have taken off Cisse, Mackie and Taarabt for Zamora, Johnson and Derry to secure the midfield and add numbers and a hold up and lay game to the attack. One suggestion of many possibilities.
In the end Hughes did nothing. He sent on Shaun Wright-Phillips for Clint Hill simultaneously weakening both the defence and the attack, then replaced Cisse with Johnson 13 minutes from time which merely served to plunge another small attacker who cannot play alone up front into an isolated lone striker role. He then sent on Derry for Diakite with four minutes left which, quite apart from the time left in the game which made the change irrelevant, again failed to deal with the issues we were having in that part of the field. I wondered if Julian Fellowes had considered casting Hughes as an extra in his Titanic drama for ITV – he could have milled around in the background shuffling the deckchairs about.
Swansea’s substitutions were rather more effective. Laudrup sent on Kemy Agustien for Jonathan De Guzman in the seventieth minute and with his first touch of the game he played a ball in behind the QPR defence for Dyer to run onto and finish for 4-0. It was a similar goal to once scored at that end of the ground by Wayne Routledge against Coventry for QPR. On that occasion the Loft erupted into ecstatic scenes, after this one the vast majority behind the goal decided they’d seen enough and went home.
Jamie Mackie shot into the side netting and Junior Hoillet high over the bar during some brief respite but that really is all it was.
Laudrup, not content, sent on contract rebel Scott Sinclair for Nathan Dyer with 13 minutes to go. The Swansea fans booed him on, ahead of an apparent impending move to Manchester City Reserves, but they were on their feet and back on his side within three minutes as he whipped a fifth goal into the bottom corner. Again QPR were masters of their own downfall with Nedum Onuoha playing a suicidal high pass from the right back area into the heart of the Swansea attack on the edge of the QPR penalty area. The experts talk about the best players having a picture in their mind before they hit a shot or play a pass – Onuoha is clearly more of a Tracey Emin than Pablo Picasso in the visualisation department.
We were now in a position where, with ten minutes to go, Swansea could have had as many as they liked. If they’d needed them – in an end-of-season, goal-difference, do-or-die situation – I’d have backed them for eight. Maybe nine.
They should have had six despite playing at half speed. Four minutes from time a short corner was whipped into the near post where Danny Graham (unmarked, needless to say) could only apply a faint touch and send the ball wide of the far stick when firm contact would have brought him his first goal of the season.
Shaun Wright-Phillips, bless him, blasted over, as he does frequently. Probert, for his own amusement, added four minutes. Swansea, out of kindness, put the cue on the rack.
There’s a baby and bath water situation here that we must avoid. Last August on the opening day of the season Bolton won 4-0 on this ground and by May QPR had stayed up at their expense. The August before Blackpool won 4-0 at Wigan in their first ever Premier League game and by May the Latics were a top division team and Ian Holloway’s men weren’t. The opening day of the Premier League season is becoming known for its freak results that ultimately mean nothing in the shake up at the end of the campaign. This could be a positive if it gets issues with the team out in the open and solved early in the season, tempers the expectation of the supporters and serves as a wake up call for a club far too quick to congratulate itself at times.
However, there are some issues here that can be rectified quite easily and need to be very quickly dealt with.
Firstly, Djibril Cisse is not a lone striker and, for all his critics, Bobby Zamora should be deployed at the centre of the attack until we can work out a way to get supporting runners up around the forwards without the need for a hold up and lay game. Cisse should be starting, but alongside a centre forward.
Secondly, we are nowhere near good enough to play with a midfield that wide open. Last season’s success came with a tightly packed, deep lying central three that wasn’t particularly attacking, or easy on the eye, but was very effective in securing five consecutive home victories. Going away from that into this more expansive 4-1-4-1 set up left wide open spaces between the midfield and defence that Michu, Routledge and Dyer played merry hell with. If we think Swansea are the only team that will play against us with players like that in positions like those we’re in for some serious disappointment and further thrashings.
Thirdly, that defence isn’t good enough. Change it, coach it, add to it, take people out of it, move people around. I don’t care what they do with it but do something. Anything. Now.
There’s also an issue we can’t change or rectify quickly or easily. It’s standing between the sticks wearing gloves and strange, all black, ballet-shoe-like boots. The assessment by a wise scribe at Woking that QPR had swapped one mediocre Premiership goalkeeper for another on four times as much money by selling Paddy Kenny and buying Robert Green looks horribly accurate at this stage.
Judging by the highlights of Norwich’s defeat at Fulham on Saturday – amazingly by the same 5-0 score – next week’s meeting at Carrow Road could finish up with a rugby league score and a highlights reel like something from the cutting room floor of the Keystone Cops edit suite.
We’re back. It’s early days. Drink to forget.
QPR: Green 2, Onuoha 3, Ferdinand 3, Hill 3 (Wright-Phillips 64, 5), Fabio 3, Diakite 5 (Derry 86, -), Park 6, Taarabt 5, Mackie 4, Hoilett 6, Cisse 4 (Johnson 77, 5)
Subs: Murphy, Nelsen, Dyer, Zamora
Bookings: Diakite 55 (foul) Fabio 58 (foul)
Swansea: Vorm 6, Rangel 7, Chico 8, Williams 7, Taylor 6, Britton 7 , Dyer 8 (Sinclair 77, 7), Routledge 8, de Guzman 8 (Agustien 70, 7), Michu 9 (Gower 84, -), Graham 7
Subs: Tremmel, Tate, Moore, Richards
Goals: Michu 8 (unassisted), 53 (assisted Routledge), Dyer 63 (assisted Routledge), 71 (assisted Agustien), Sinclair 81 (assisted Michu)
Bookings: De Guzman 41 (foul), Rangel 62 (handball)
QPR Star Man – Junior Hoilett 6 The only QPR player who looked anything like a threat, the only one who got into any kind of supporting positions near Cisse, the only one who didn’t look like he was wearing lead boots to be honest. Still not great, the best of a bad bunch.
Referee: Lee Probert 7 Not my favourite referee as I often say, but little to officiate here in an uncompetitive game and probably got the big decision of the game – the penalty claim by Hoilett – correct.
Attendance: 18,072 (2,000 Swansea approx) Understandably subdued atmosphere at Loftus Road given the nature of the game. The minute’s applause for Alan McDonald before the game brought a tear to the eye and it’s a tragedy that Rangers couldn’t do more during the game to give him some sort of send off. The lack of take up on the applause at the fifth minute probably says a lot about how few supporters, relatively, use social networks and message boards to keep up with the club during the week. Disappointing to see that QPR gave both tiers to the visitors only for them to leave several hundred empty seats in the School End Lower.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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