Spurs’ mad minute stuns improving QPR – full match report
Monday, 24th Sep 2012 21:01 by Clive Whittingham
QPR were left wondering just how on earth they’d failed to win, never mind draw, after suffering a 2-1 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday afternoon.
This time last year QPR gleefully hammered the first nail into the lid on Andre Villas Boas' coffin, beating his expensively assembled but ill-disciplined Chelsea team at Loftus Road. It was a result from which his reign never recovered. On Sunday at White Hart Lane the Portuguese happily removed that nail and returned it to sender.
Villas Boas is best known in this country for an inability to clear his throat and a bizarre belief that crouching down at the side of the pitch offers him the best view of the action. Successful tactical changes and sound man management skills have been conspicuous by their absence since Chelsea paid the debt of a small African country to drag him away from Porto 18 months ago. How typical of QPR's luck that he suddenly discovered an adeptness at both this weekend.
Rangers were excellent here – making the most of a slick playing surface and a ragged Tottenham midfield that looked wholly uncomfortable in one of those new-fangled fluid formations. A more settled and rigid foursome of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Esteban Granero, Alehjandro Faurlin and Ji-Sung Park excelled in the space afforded to them and dominated the opening 45 minutes.
QPR led 1-0 at half time, but would have been three ahead had Villas Boas bowed to pressure from the other side of the English Channel, and no doubt his own boardroom, to drop 41-year-old American goalkeeper Brad Friedel for new £8m stopper Hugo Lloris. Friedel's mistakes over a run of 308 consecutive Premier League starts prior to Sunday can be counted on the fingers of one hand, but that hasn't stopped Didier Deschamps, Fabian Barthez and others slating the decision to stick with him ahead of Lloris for two league matches since his move from Lyon. With the might of the French Navy (three men in a bath on wheels) massing in the Thames and preparing to fire on White Hart Lane, Villas Boas stuck with his man and was rewarded with two fabulous first half saves to deny Clint Hill and Junior Hoilett goals QPR would have richly deserved.
At half time Villas Boas sprung into action. Gareth Bale was advanced from left back, Spurs' star man on the day Jan Vertonghen was given a wider remit, the midfield was straightened out into a more conventional shape and there was an immediate improvement. QPR were injury riddled in defence with goalkeeper Júlio César and centre half Ryan Nelsen taking to the field with illness; Anton Ferdinand, Fabio Da Silva and Armand Traore all out; and Jose Bosingwa lasting one half-pitch sprint with Aaron Lennon in the opening minute before withdrawing with a hamstring complaint. César and Nelsen were joined by Clint Hill, Kieron Dyer and Nedum Onuoha thereafter but rode an early second half storm and looked comfortable against a side yet to win at home this season.
And then they switched off, and rather than three points and a host of positive headlines all they had to take back with them to Shepherds Bush was a harsh lesson that for all the money spent and players added, QPR are still nowhere near good enough to lose concentration in a Premier League game for even a minute.
QPR shrugged off the early Bosingwa set back, that saw Dyer come in at right back and Onuoha switch to the left, and set about Spurs. After surviving a half hearted early penalty appeal from Sigurdsson, Clint Hill came close to opening the deadlock in the fifth minute. Spurs' scouts had probably reported back that QPR corners needed minimal attention given the Hoops' propensity to strike them hard and true at the defender on the near post so the home side could be forgiven for looking surprised when Granero planted a perfect delivery plum onto Hill's head in the six yard box, but Friedel began the day in flying form and produced a fine one handed save at full stretch. A second corner followed, this time headed wide by Nelsen on his first return to the club QPR bought him from in the summer.
After being cruelly denied a first career Premier League goal by the poor officiating of Bob Pollock at Bolton last season Hill must wonder what he has to do to score, but having been written off as a top flight defender by most in the wake of the opening day massacre by Swansea his performance at the other end of the field will have provided him with plenty of comfort.
The early Sigurdsson appeal in the box came as he attempted to make something of a mishit volley from in form Jermain Defoe, and the diminutive front man caused problems again in the ninth minute by finding space on the edge of the penalty area before dragging a shot wide of the target.
QPR were much more assertive and sure of themselves than their hosts though. They had shape and purpose that troubled Spurs and the home team stayed level through a thirteenth minute scare thanks only to their goalkeeper once again. Granero was the architect of the chance once more, picking out Junior Hoilett in the penalty area and having allowed the ball to drift across his body the former Blackburn man executed a dipping volley towards the far corner of the net that Friedel did well to palm away stretching away to his left. Another corner followed – one of seven Rangers forced in the first half an hour of play – and this time the ball flashed right through the goal mouth and away to safety.
Presumably we’ll coach this quality set piece taking out of Granero in time.
A midfield pairing of the Spaniard and Alejandro Faurlin looks a little lightweight on paper – any prize from the middle shelf to the first pundit who questions whether they’ll fancy a Tuesday night in Sunderland which we do actually have on our fixture list this season – but as well as being exceptional ball players, they’re tough nuggety characters as well. Granero displayed a cynical adeptness at repeatedly, deliberately fouling opponents without drawing the referee’s attention in this game and got away with six before Phil Dowd finally booked him in the second half. After the third – a particularly blatant trip on Aaron Lennon as he threatened to streak away – Spurs assistant boss Steffen Freund leapt from the bench, marched to the edge of the technical to demand further action. If ever there was a bigger case of a pot and a kettle becoming embroiled in a racism row this was it and I’m sure in the cold light of Monday morning the German watched the game back with a wry smile on his face knowing that Granero is a canny exponent of an art form Freund was renowned for in his playing days.
When Faurlin fouled Dembele on the edge of the QPR area in the nineteenth minute Spurs finally had a chance to register a first shot on target but the decision by Bale to touch the ball off for Vertonghen merely allowed the wall to advance eight yards closer and block the shot away. Free kicks like that are only marginally less annoying than the new self indulgent craze of standing for an inordinate amount of time with your legs apart doing breathing exercises while staring at the ball before drilling a 45 yard shot low into a wall of defenders ten yards away – Bale had clearly been told to pack that in after spending most of Thursday night’s game with Lazio posing over every set piece but Frank Lampard has been doing it for a decade now and scored twice in three quarters of a million attempts. Yes, we can all see you, very impressive footballer with an enormous pay packet and a tiny dick, just take the bloody free kick would ya?
There had been audible laughter from the Tottenham fans when Kieron Dyer was forced into the action early, and the QPR fans around me were engaging in sweepstakes on how long he would last, but the man who has managed just 16 starts in the last five years (of which only one he saw through the full 90 minutes) was acquitting himself extremely well. At the midway point of the half he put in plenty of leg work down the right flank to win another corner which bizarrely, given Granero’s accuracy to this point, was taken by Shaun Wright-Phillips. He too is much maligned by QPR fans but played well in this game and delivered a fine set piece on this occasion which Nelsen should have done much better with at the back post – sadly he headed high over the bar from close range.
Spurs – supporters and players – were growing frustrated. You could smell it in the rain sodden air and hear it wafting up to the back of the away end. Despite playing against the slowest, deepest lying centre half pairing in Premier League history Jermain Defoe got himself flagged offside three times in the final 15 minutes of the half – all tight but correct decisions.
Crucially though, in the thirty third minute, there was no flag at the far end of the ground as Ale Faurlin returned the latest corner into the penalty area with an intelligent, perfectly weighted pass, and bearing in mind his Spurs connections and current form in front of goal Bobby Zamora was never going to need asking twice. His crisp finish into the far corner of the net was his third in four starts and was no more than QPR deserved.
Within two minutes Zamora had collected the ball and fed Hoilett – fouled in the process but advantage waved on – and the young Canadian drilled a low shot from distance that Friedel needed to get two hands to and turn aside. The big target man crashed to earth under challenge from Gallas a moment later but only half appealed for a penalty when he looked to have a reasonably strong case.
It was crucial for QPR to get to half time without conceding, but the problem was they looked like a team that was all too aware of that. They invited Spurs onto them in the closing moments when there had been no indication that the home team had the initiative to do so of their own accord prior to that and it needed a fine header at the back post from Hill to divert a deep Bale cross away from Sigurdsson before Dembele fired high and wide after collecting the loose ball. Spurs were booed off at half time.
Villas Boas made his changes early: introducing Caulker, withdrawing Sigurdsson, moving Vertonghen left, advancing Bale, straightening the midfield, sending up Dempsey in support of Defoe. Hill was immediately penalised for climbing as QPR surveyed the new situation but Bale’s free kick was cleared behind and the corner was hacked away.
Rangers served notice that there was to be no sitting back and holding on from them when Zamora, who led the line superbly, nodded down for Hoilett to strike and appeal that a hand had been used illegally to deny him.
Júlio César is allowed to handle the ball of course, though you would never have known it six minutes after the break when Dempsey tried to beat the Brazilian international with a speculative strike from range and was only just about denied as QPR’s former Inter Milan goalkeeper bundled the ball off to his right with a nervous save made more with his torso than anything else. Smelling blood, Bale smashed the loose ball back in towards the near post and once more found the goalkeeper in eccentric but effective mood as he executed an unorthodox punch away. From the resulting corner the ball bounced agonisingly around in the six yard box with César patting it away with a gloved paw at one stage but never really looking comfortable. Maybe he is a typical QPR goalkeeper after all.
When he was finally beaten, on the hour, he could do little about it. Caulker’s header back across the face of goal from Bale’s corner looked plum for Defoe on the edge of the six yard box, and Ale Faurlin clearly thought so to as he turned his back and subsequently found the ball bouncing into the net having struck him on the shoulder.
It was rotten luck that QPR, and Faurlin in particular, scarcely deserved, but the important thing having suffered the set back was to recover from it and rebuild. Instead Rangers committed too many men to the first attack from the kick off and paid the ultimate price on the counter. Granero was caught in possession, belatedly diving and looking for a free kick that he might have received had he been less honest initially and hit the deck when he first felt content but was never going to having tried to make the best of a bad situation, and from that point on Rangers were in trouble. The cause wasn’t helped by Onuoha crashing to ground as he chased Vertonghen back – the QPR bench protested furiously that this should have been a free kick – and they were always short as the Dutchman fed Bale in the area. Although his shot was brilliantly saved one on one by Granero he could only divert it up and onto the cross bar from where, as if QPR hadn’t had enough bad luck, it fell perfectly for Defoe to control and slam into an open goal.
Within a minute a game that looked an away win for all money had been turned completely on its head. A tragedy, but there was a degree of naivety on QPR’s part in the way it came about.
Stunned, Rangers survived near post shots from Bale and Dempsey that César saved well but they could and should have equalised with 20 minutes left for play. Junior Hoilett, pugnacious and physical throughout, worried Caulker into a mistake under a long ball. The loose possession was gathered by Zamora who immediately fed it back to Hoilett who appeared to have a clear strike on goal for a good couple of seconds on the left foot he’d troubled Friedel with in the first half but for some reason waited an age for it to roll across onto his right side and lost the opportunity. From that point on the belief just didn’t seem to be there any more, and when Zamora signalled to the bench that he could no longer continue and needed to be replaced by Djibril Cissé he took the cutting edge of the QPR attack with him. Zamora is fast becoming Rangers’ most important player.
Mark Hughes also sent on Jamie Mackie for Shaun Wright-Phillips and Tottenham started to drop back as they had done fatally in games with West Brom and Norwich on this ground already this season. But it was the home side threatening more often now despite that and Hill was required to head off his own line when Dempsey beat César with a header – the goalkeeper once more rooted to his line as a cross came over.
Cissé looked all set to power home at the back post when Park stood up a cross for him but Caulker got a crucial flicked header in at the last moment but every QPR attack brought a more dangerous looking Spurs counter and César was again forced to save from Bale after Lennon had rode a blatant attempt to hack him down from Faurlin. When Dyer did likewise to Bale two minutes from the end he was booked by Dowd.
The referee added four minutes on at the end and Spurs engaged in clock running – very slowly sending on Tom Huddlestone for Clint Dempsey and Andros Townsend for Aaron Lennon. Granero shot wide and Dowd, who’d been mercifully unfussy up to this point, suddenly decided he wanted to be pernickety about the placing of a late free kick on halfway as the clock continued to run.
Ultimately the R’s were grateful to their new goalkeeper for a world class one handed save from Defoe as he ran through on goal and shot with what turned out to be the last kick of the game.
It was hard to criticise anything QPR did on Sunday, and as the majority in the away end stayed to the end and applauded the team from the field it's clear the majority agree with me there. For 96 minutes this was an excellent away performance, and during the one minute it wasn't Tottenham scored twice.
I felt a little of the belief in what we were doing drained away after Defoe had scored, but Junior Hoilett could and should have equalised. I wondered if we could have responded to Tottenham's half time changes by introducing Samba Diakite to stiffen up the midfield, but who would you have taken off and would it have made any difference? I feel QPR could do better immediately after both scoring and conceding goals – the changed dynamic of the game in both situations seems to unsettle and unnerve them and this will not be the last time we see two goals in a minute either for or against while that is the case. But really, like Mark Hughes, I'm scratching my head a bit today and wondering how on earth we lost the game.
The problem Hughes has now is injuries are mounting, and by and large only affecting one area of the team which makes it increasingly difficult to cope. Chelsea and Spurs are free passes for a QPR manager, who isn't expected to win either, but the same cannot be said of the forthcoming games with Reading, West Ham and West Brom from which positive results are needed to avoid another winter of discontent settling in early.
Plaudits but no points can only continue for so long.
Spurs: Friedel 8, Walker 6, Gallas 6, Vertonghen 8, Bale 7, Dembele 6, Sandro 6, Sigurdsson 5 (Caulker 46, 6), Dempsey 7 (Huddlestone 88, -), Lennon 7 (Townsend 90, -), Defoe 7
Subs: Lloris, Dawson, Falque, Mason
Goals: Faurlin (OG 60), Defoe (61)
QPR: César 8, Bosingwa – (Dyer 3, 8), Hill 7, Nelsen 7, Onuoha 7, Wright-Phillips 7 (Mackie 77, 6), Granero 7, Faurlin 7, Park 7, Hoilett 7, Zamora 8 (Cissé 73, 6)
Subs: Green, Diakite, Derry , Ehmer
Goals: Zamora 34 (assisted Faurlin)
Booked: Granero 54 (repetitive fouling), Dyer 87 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Kieron Dyer 8 A couple of candidates for the top man award – I thought Hoilett looked really good throughout and a definite threat, but took a mark off and therefore the award because of his dalliance over a late equalising opportunity. Obviously César played very well in goal as well, but he seems unduly rooted to his line at times, possibly not quite up to speed with the English style of play where balls are whizzing through the six yard box all the time, and there were some panicky moments as a result. In the end I went for Dyer, rightly maligned since arriving at QPR but impressive here, especially considering he was thrust into the action unexpectedly after just three minutes and faced a left side that included Gareth Bale.
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire) 7 QPR were very unhappy about two fouls in the lead up to Defoe’s goal and while I think they had a case with both, they’re the sort you rarely seen given. I thought Dowd allowed the game to flow, made allowances for the conditions when handing out cards, and overall handled the game reasonably well. I thought the penalty appeals from both sides were rightly ignored. A shame that in injury time he decided to be picky about the placing of a free kick having shown plenty of common sense before that.
Attendance: 36,052 (2,200 QPR) White Hart Lane is a fantastic stadium, certainly one of my favourites. The away end was in magnificent voice until the sucker punch of two Spurs goals in a minute, and after that the previously silent home crowd sprang into life. Twas ever thus. Good atmosphere in one of the league’s best arenas overall.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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