QPR lucky to claim first point from Norwich draw – full match report
Sunday, 26th Aug 2012 20:47 by Clive Whittingham
QPR posted their first point away from home since February with a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road against Norwich City on Saturday but, in many respects, they can count themselves extremely fortunate.
Fans of Queens Park Rangers have become accustomed in recent years to the post match press conferences being as, if not more, entertaining than the action on the field. Ian Holloway was one part comedian to two parts football manager for the majority of his time in West London and Neil Warnock was never short of a printable line or three – although the sincerity of them was always open for debate.
Pity the poor hacks who cover Rangers these days. Having gorged at the laden table of the Holloway and Warnock banquets they must now scrape together scraps from the pantry floor as Mark Hughes bats back one enquiry after another with a monotone one liner. Hughes never fails to give the impression that he’s taking part in an interview because league rules force him to, rather than because he wants to be there. His interviews, in general, are a double dose of Nightol compared to the shots of espresso his predecessors brewed up.
And yet despite his apparent determination to say absolutely nothing of any significance to anybody clutching a Dictaphone, Hughes could well have undermined his entire managerial career with two throwaway lines in the last 12 months.
His comments about the ambition of Fulham as he packed his bags and left Craven Cottage are well documented, and on the admittedly brief evidence of the 2012/13 season so far Mohamed Al Fayed was absolutely right to restrict Hughes’ transfer market demands. The Welshman has signed nine players so far at QPR but has seemingly done so without planning what system he’d like to pick them in.
After a 5-0 opening day annihilation at the hands of Swansea Hughes switched from a 4-1-4-1 system to a more conventional 4-4-2 for the trip to Norwich, who were convincingly battered themselves on day one by an increasingly impressive looking Fulham team that seems to be revelling in ramming Hughes’ words back down his throat.
Headline summer acquisitions Samba Diakite and Ji Sung Park played in the middle of midfield but were pinned deep into their own half for the majority of this game, found themselves overrun on numerous occasions and, in Diakite’s case, conceded possession in dangerous areas with alarming frequency. Those two must have been grateful that new Norwich boss Chris Hughton also switched to 4-4-2 this week after starting with five midfielders at Craven Cottage – Rangers were often outnumbered against four midfielders and would have been swamped by five.
In defence Armand Traore came in at left back, Fabio switched to right back and Nedum Onuoha was dropped. Clint Hill and Anton Ferdinand kept their place at centre half and produced two of the most brain dead performances it’s ever been my misfortune to clap eyes on – more on that later. Junior Hoilett played wide left and Jamie Mackie wide right with Adel Taarabt dropped to the bench. Bobby Zamora was recalled to the attack alongside Djibril Cissé. Robert Green, disastrous start to his QPR career prompting interest in other goalkeepers if you believe the press, kept his place between the sticks for want of a better option.
As well as the talk of ambition, a word that QPR now beat the living shit out of in every interview and press release, Hughes also made the mistake of promising that Rangers would never again find themselves embroiled in a relegation scrap as they were last season while he is in charge. That could also prove to be a particularly large rod for Hughes’ back if things don’t work out for him this season.
The first day of the football season is becoming known for its freak results and both the R’s and the Canaries were certainly on the end of a couple last week. Both, quite rightly, insist there’s no panic after one match of a 38 game season, but their first half performances here said otherwise. The opening 45 minutes at Carrow Road on Saturday was, technically, shambolic. Both teams abandoned everything they’d worked on through the summer to switch to 4-4-2 formations and just flew at each other for half a game with no pattern, thought, structure or competence. It was like watching two bare-knuckle boxers brawling in a makeshift ring under a railway arch somewhere. A Premier League fixture in name only. At half time they came up for air and to check the score – it was 1-1 but could have been 3-3 or any combination of results in between.
QPR swung first. After Anton Ferdinand had headed away early Norwich pressure under heavy contact from Grant Holt, home goalkeeper John Ruddy was forced to palm a deep cross from Cissé behind for the game’s first corner as Jamie Mackie loitered with intent. As usual said corner was delivered low to the near post and cleared by the first defender. Another corner was forced by Diakite, with similar results, and Mackie ended a typically direct run with a weak shot at the goalkeeper.
Norwich dropped new signing Michael Turner, gave debuts to Javier Garrido at left back and former Spurs man Sebastien Bassong and recalled Leon Barnett to a new look back four after their day one demolition and it was good to see QPR go about testing that out positively in the early stages.
But at the other end there was no coherence about the way QPR defended as a team. The midfield was totally separate from the back four, and Norwich were able to play freely in the gap between the two with debutant Robert Snodgrass enjoying particular freedom. Time and again the QPR defenders were left one on one with Norwich attackers and as the time ticked over into double figures a three pass move on the edge of the area with Snodgrass at its heart carved Rangers apart and allowed Pilkington to shift the ball past Fabio and cross over Green for Jackson to head into the open net from close range. He was one of three Norwich players unmarked in the six yard box.
Rangers endured some difficult moments with referee Mark Clattenburg last season – he sent off Djibril Cissé and Adel Taarabt in home matches against Wolves and Spurs respectively – but the County Durham official has been in the middle for some of the finest moments in the club’s recent history including two promotions and a play off semi final victory. The R’s were grateful for his keen eyes in the eighteenth minute here when he rightly penalised Bassong for a clumsy challenge from behind on Cissé in the penalty area, and for him then ignoring Bobby Zamora’s obvious encroachment into the box before the resulting spot kick was taken by the man who won it. Ruddy tipped the ball onto the inside of the post and Zamora, who’d been pointing frantically to Cissé and team mates prior to the original shot being taken, stole in to net the rebound. Tough luck on the home side, perhaps just the confidence boosting break QPR were looking for.
Clattenburg was also at the centre of the first half’s other main topic of discussion – the ongoing battle between Clint Hill and Grant Holt.
Now QPR should know Grant Holt better than most by now. This was their fifth meeting with the striker in little more than two and a half years having won promotion alongside the Canaries a season ago. Let’s piece together what Rangers should have learnt in that time: Grant Holt is not particularly quick, and not particularly skilful, but he is very good in the air and very strong. Most importantly what Hill and co should have picked up on is the former Rochdale man’s main modus operandi: approaching high balls played forward from defence with his back to the goal and a defender nice and tight behind him so he can turn the ball around the corner and then collapse pathetically to the ground and win a free kick. Holt will do this six, seven, eight times in a match and sometimes more and he’s been doing it six, seven, eight times in a match to QPR on five occasions for the last two and a half years. Five occasions. Five.
Why then, for the love of all that’s good and holy in the world, are QPR not only caught out by it every single time, but apparently absolutely stunned whenever it happens? Why is it still such a fucking big surprise to QPR defenders when he does this? It’s like they’ve given Holt one of the mind wiping lights from Men In Black so he can take away everything the defender knows about him at every break in the play. It’s a bloody miracle. A horrible, frustrating, annoying miracle.
Hill – one on one and tight - was caught out by Holt’s turn and collapse routine in the seventh minute. Then again – one on one and tight- in the twenty third minute on the corner of the penalty area when he was rightly booked. Then again in the twenty eighth minute – one on one and tight - and then once more ten minutes from half time – one on one and tight - when Holt didn’t receive a free kick and instead ran to the sideline to deliver a volley of abuse to the linesman without punishment or come back from Clattenburg.
When Holt was finally penalised for holding Hill down under a cross the QPR man sarcastically celebrated with a double fist salute and was given a final warning by Clattenburg as a result. Hughes removed Hill at half time and replaced him with Nedum Onuoha, who had a reasonably good game at centre back, but the manager was fortunate not to lose Hill before the break to a red card because the situation was clearly heading in that direction and the change should have happened sooner.
No, they’re not fouls. Yes, Holt is buying free kicks. Yes, he is cheating to get other players sent off. Yes, it’s an objectionable and horrible way to go about things. But for the love of God and for the sake of my blood pressure can we please wise the fuck up? We’ll be waiting until long after Holt has retired for referees to start penalising him so take responsibility and start marking him in a different way. How about a man in front of him and behind? Or how about standing off him a bit so he has nothing to flop over? He’s effective, he’s doing his job well, he’s been a great success for Norwich and they love him. Stop blaming Holt, stop hoping for the referee to do something, start finding a way of dealing with this professionally.
I love the old story about wrestler Shirley Crabtree turning to a vocal critic in the audience while smashing an opponent’s head into the canvas and shouting “do you want to come and have a go at this?” and while I’m sure marking Grant Holt is a herculean task, and there’s no way I could do it any better, I’m also sure I can see with my own two eyes that the way we go about it every single time is absolutely bloody brain dead.
Just for good measure, ten minutes from time, Anton Ferdinand decided he fancied a nice big thick slice of the crass stupidity and after going too tight to Holt he was turned and then booked when the striker collapsed to the floor again under no contact whatsoever. Words fail me.
Anthony Pilkington scored a fine goal in Norwich’s win at Loftus Road last season and he should have done more than head wide when the free kick from Hill’s twenty third minute indiscretion was delivered to the far post.
Two minutes later a purposeful run by Snodgrass carried him through weak challenges from Traore and Hoilett but his low cross into the six yard box was cleared away. Rangers immediately conceded possession as the midfield, with Diakite looking leggy and off the pace, creaked under the weight of Norwich pressure and this time Pilkington hit a low shot that Green needed two attempts to gather. Pilkington lashed the free kick from Hill’s twenty eighth minute foul high over the bar.
Four minutes before half time Green produced a fine one handed save from Snodgrass’ speculative long range effort after he’d again found an acre of real estate in front of Ferdinand and Hill but behind Park with Diakite nowhere to be seen. That will do Green’s confidence the power of good after a nervous start to life at QPR and it was excellent to hear vocal support for the keeper from the travelling QPR fans. That’s just what he needs.
Half time, one one, and in so many ways an absolute shambles.
The teams exchanged very presentable chances at the start of the second half. First Jackson skipped into the area but blasted high into the side netting when he should have at least found the target. Then at the other end Zamora’s dink in behind the Norwich defence gave Cissé a chance on goal but he just couldn’t reach the ball with an attempted scissor kick when any contact would have surely brought about a goal. The Frenchman looked a mile offside, but there was no flag and that must go down as a gilt edged chance.
That hinted at a repeat of the ragged pattern of the first half with both teams, desperate for points, throwing wild haymakers at each other but in fairness the second period settled down considerably after that and at times it even looked like both teams were putting some tactical thought into what they were doing.
The QPR defence was improved by Onuoha’s introduction but still didn’t look altogether trustworthy. Jackson was able to find space on the edge of the area in the fifty first minute but blasted over and then two minutes after that the moment that Rob Green has probably been losing sleep over all week after his opening day calamity against Swansea arrived.
Norwich knocked a high ball from right to left towards Jackson on the corner of the penalty area. Green came from his line towards the impact zone and with Onuoha running the other way directly towards him with his eyes on the ball the travelling faithful held their breath and awaited what seemed like an inevitable train wreck.
It looked like Onuoha’s ball to head, and I don’t think Green should have been rushing out to get involved in the situation at all, but credit to him for making a firm decision and giving a decisive call for the ball. Onuoha did as he was commanded and left it. Green, half a yard outside the area, half caught and half parried the ball away from Jackson. He was fortunate that the linesman on the far side was thinking about other things. QPR had got away with another one.
There was better defending on show three minutes later when a deep cross to the back post looked for all the world like it was going to be thumped in by Holt but little Fabio Da Silva climbed well and expertly headed the ball out of danger.
Then it was QPR’s turn to feel aggrieved with the officials as first Bassong fouled Mackie without receiving a yellow card when he probably warranted one, then from the restart Bradley Johnson hacked into Samba Diakite without receiving a yellow card when he definitely warranted one. Norwich ended the game without a yellow card at all, which I found curious given the way Ferdinand and Hill were cheated into Clattenburg’s notebook.
The referee then penalised Traore and Park for a foul on Snodgrass when they appeared to have won the ball cleanly and Bassong should have done more than head the resulting free kick wide at the far post.
That was to be the last action for Traore who moments later pulled up with his weekly hamstring injury. And so commenced monumentally stupid piece of play number two from QPR.
Around the same time Bobby Zamora suffered a badly cut head and was whisked off down the tunnel for stitches. Traore’s injury effectively reduced the R’s to nine men so it was imperative that, first of all, he sat down on the floor and got the game stopped and, secondly, Hughes got his replacement Jose Bosingwa onto the pitch as soon as possible for his QPR debut.
In the end, despite the ball going out of play for a throw in, neither happened. Traore stayed standing, hobbling around, and Hughes and his vast team of coaching staff dragged “go on and play right back” out into a two minute monologue over on the touchline. Norwich didn’t need asking twice, they took the throw and then very purposefully and deliberately held possession of the ball, loaded their right flank with an extra man, and made sure it stayed in play. We had now allowed an ice hockey power play-like situation to develop through our own rank stupidity.
Eventually the home team worked it wide to the left for Garrido to cross and Snodgrass, unmarked because Traore wasn’t fit enough to track him, headed over from six yards when it seemed easier to score.
Had he found the net it would have been no more than Hughes and QPR deserved. I can quite understand the decision to do without Zamora for five minutes because I thought he was just about QPR’s top man on the day – not winning a lot in the air but providing a hold up and lay game sadly lacking last week and regularly dropping back into the midfield area to link the play and try and get QPR moving - but to allow the play to restart with not only him off the field but Traore stricken as well was, in football terms, criminal.
A lot of the hard work being done by Zamora was subsequently negated by Djibril Cissé’s new found love of standing in an offside position. He was rightly penalised three times in six minutes as the clock wound down and the effect was to increase the Norwich pressure and pen QPR back into their own half. I don’t remember this being a problem for Cissé before and hope it’s not going to become a regular occurrence.
Pilkington blasted over the bar and then when Rangers switched off and allowed a two on one situation at a short corner Martin headed a deep cross onto the face of the cross bar.
Chris Hughton, probably wondering what more his side could have done to win the game, rotated his attack and introduced Steve Morrison and Chris Martin for Holt and Jackson. Mark Hughes, rightly recognising Rangers were fortunate to be level, sent on Shaun Derry for Samba Diakite to hold what they had. The game subsequently petered out into a draw.
I’m fully anticipating responses telling me I’m being far too negative and perhaps I am. Let me say now that I still fully expect this group of players to achieve a midtable finish this season, I’m not worried or that surprised by the performances so far and I think that, like all Mark Hughes teams, this one will probably start coming good after eight to ten awful games and then be absolutely fine. There may be yet more arrivals this week, we’re only two matches into a 38 game season, there’s no real panic at LFW Towers at all.
However. However, I actually found more to alarm me about QPR in the first 45 minutes here than I did in last weekend’s collapse against Swansea. There a goalkeeping error left a team still getting to know each other chasing a game in heat against a side known for possession football and incisive counter attacks. Here, against what looked like poor opposition to me, QPR were fortunate to come away with anything from a slugfest devoid of technique or thought.
I’ve seen four seasons at QPR in my time where I thought the manager did a brilliant job – 1992/93 with Gerry Francis, 2003/04 with Ian Holloway, 2006/07 with John Gregory and 2010/11 with Neil Warnock. On each of those occasions the team was built with a solid spine of players down the middle. Francis had Stejskal, McDonald, Wilkins and Ferdinand, Holloway had Day, Shittu, Bircham and Furlong, Gregory added Camp, Cullip and Bolder to Blackstock who was there already and Warnock had Kenny, Gorkss, Derry and Helguson.
What Hughes has done so far, stealing a phrase I’ve used before about other teams, is buy a load of trinkets without a tree to hang them from. What is the spine of this team? Zamora led the line reasonably well but there was no dominant force in the centre of midfield, the centre of the defence was battered by Holt and the goalkeeper isn’t inspiring anybody.
Not only is there no spine to the team at the moment, Hughes doesn’t appear to know his best side or even what shape he wants to play it in. The formation here was different to last week and will no doubt be different again at Manchester City next Saturday. The numerous players brought in don’t appear to have been added with any thought as to what the starting 11 is going to be, what shape it’s going to be in, or where they’re going to fit into it. They’ve been brought in because they’re experienced and Hughes, rightly, thinks we need some of that and because they’re talented players. Consequently we’re currently a collection of individuals rather than a team.
In my opinion at least 15 of the other teams in this league would have beaten QPR playing like that on Saturday and the only real positive to take from the day is we were only playing Norwich, who looked poor themselves, and we’ve got a point on the board. Almost everything else, and I anticipate a slagging for saying it, was negative.
Norwich: Ruddy 6, R Martin 6, Barnett 6, Bassong 6, Garrido 6, Snodgrass 7, Johnson 6, Howson 6, Pilkington 6, Holt 7 (Morison 87, -), Jackson 7 (C. Martin 87, -)
Subs: Rudd, Surman, Hoolahan, Tierney, R. Bennett
Goals: Jackson 11 (assisted Pilkington)
QPR: Green 6, Fabio 6, Ferdinand 5, Hill 4 (Onuoha 6), Traore 6 (Bosingwa 70, 6), Mackie 6, Diakite 5 (Derry 85, -), Park 6, Hoilett 6, Cissé 5, Zamora 6
Subs: Murphy, Johnson, Taarabt, Wright-Phillips
Goals: Zamora 19 (unassisted)
Bookings: Hill 24 (repetitive fouling), Ferdinand 82 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Bobby Zamora 6 Man of the match with a six should tell you a lot. I thought the goal just about nudged Zamora ahead of any meagre competition for the Star Man award. He worked hard, which isn’t usually the case with him when the going is tough and the team isn’t performing, and regularly came looking for work and possession deep in the midfield area. That’s not a good thing really, and certainly not where you want him, but it helped QPR push up the pitch when they were too deep and it was good to see him putting a shift in like that. Sadly won very little against Bassong in the air but was still the best of a mediocre bunch for me.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Co Durham) 5 Two big decisions in the game, and both of them wrong. The penalty award was correct, and although encroachment goes on all the time I think Zamora’s was pretty obvious from the spot kick and right in front of him as well so that should have been retaken. Then, in the second half, Green clearly handled outside the area and got away with it. Apart from that there’s the Holt situation where he was conned time and time again – although like I say it’s up to the QPR defenders to get wise to this now – and the two rash tackles in quick succession from Bassong and Johnson in the second half that didn’t draw yellows, but were far worse than what Ferdinand ended up being booked for. Much like both teams, fairly crap overall.
Attendance: 26,317 (1,800 QPR approx) Rangers fans have, rightly, moaned about the tiny ticket allocation given at Carrow Road in previous years and this year the club agreed to take the higher 2,300 tickets on offer in the side stand. Of course Norwich then put them on sale for a scandalous £45 each – we paid £33 here last season if memory serves me correctly – and surprise, surprise they didn’t sell out. No doubt we’ll be back down to 1,300 seats for our next trip here. Norwich know that £45 for this fixture is absolutely scandalous and they should be ashamed.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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