In front twice, QPR contrive to lose Reading cup tie – full match report
Thursday, 27th Sep 2012 20:02 by Clive Whittingham
QPR managed to lose a League Cup tie with Reading at Loftus Road on Wednesday night despite twice taking the lead. It seems that finding a way to lose games is a hard habit to kick.
Last season QPR spent the majority of the winter finding ways to lose matches that they should have won. Sometimes, like at Bolton, it could be attributed to bad luck or injustice; on other occasions, like Wolves and Norwich at home, rank stupidity and indiscipline were the reasons; and every now and again, like at Blackburn, Rangers had nothing to blame but their own incompetence. It seems that, despite 12 additions to the squad and a host of departures, this losing mentality persists.
QPR allowed themselves to be picked off on the counter attack by Swansea on the opening day of the season, performed abysmally at Norwich , missed a glut of chances against Chelsea , and conceded two goals in the only 60 seconds of the weekend fixture at Spurs that they dominated. It's a lethal trait this – difficult to shift, confidence sapping and usually typical of a team in serious trouble. Good teams find ways to win when playing badly, bad ones lose games they play well in.
In an attempt to find a way to win a game against Premier League opposition for the first time this season Mark Hughes selected a very strong starting 11 for this League Cup game with Reading. Top scorer Bobby Zamora was left out in favour of Djibril Cisse and new boy Stephane Mbia came in at centre back for Ryan Nelsen but otherwise this was almost certainly the team that would have started had it been a league fixture.
The defence in front of goalkeeper Julio Cesar picked itself owing to injuries with Clint Hill partnering Mbia in the middle, Kieron Dyer getting a rare start at right back after impressing at White Hart Lane at the weekend and Nedum Onuoha playing left back. Esteban Granero and Alejandro Faurlin were given another chance to build their burgeoning partnership at the heart of the midfield with omnipresent Ji Sung Park left side and Jamie Mackie right. Junior Hoilett started in support of Cisse.
Reading, without a win in the league themselves and currently a point and place worse off than Rangers at the bottom of the table, made seven changes from their weekend defeat at West Brom but by no means fielded a second string side. Former Fulham man Pavel Pogrebnyak led the attack with support from Jimmy Kebe on his return from injury. Kaspars Gorkss was given a warm reception prior to kick off on his first return to Loftus Road since Neil Warnock's badly judged decision to sell him last summer.
Despite only taking one point from the last two games QPR had been praised for their performances against supposedly superior opposition. They had good reason to come into this game in confident mood and when Alejandro Faurlin drew back his left foot in the fifth minute and picked out Kieron Dyer rushing forward from right back it looked like they'd done just that. Dyer drilled a half-shot half-cross sort of an effort across the face of goal and appealed in vain for a corner.
Reading on the other hand have been poor of late. They were comprehensively outplayed ten days ago by the same Spurs side that QPR had taken apart at the weekend and followed that up with a meek surrender at West Brom. Their manager Brian McDermott responded with a rudimentary game plan based around putting the ball into the right area of the pitch, working harder than the opposition, and being overly physical. Jay Tabb served notice on the quarter hour with a vicious, studs-up challenge on Alejandro Faurlin. The crack as he connected could be heard from the second tier of the South Africa Road stand and Faurlin was fuming when referee Roger East awarded only a throw in for a challenge that may well have been legal 25 years ago but is a free kick and yellow card every day of the week in the modern game. Playing Faurlin, only just back from a nine month absence with a knee injury, was a risk from Mark Hughes and despite his accomplished performance it's probably one he wished he hadn't taken given what was to come later in the game, and Reading's approach to the tie throughout.
QPR were the better side early on. An intelligent early kick from Cesar and similarly well executed header from Cisse on halfway set Park away and when he played Cisse back into the channel the Frenchman won a corner through decent persistence but goalkeeper Alex McCarthy punched it clear.
There was nothing McCarthy could do three minutes later though when debutant Mbia robbed Pogrebnyak of possession by reading a through ball better than the Russian, and then fed Park who allowed Hoilett to accelerate past two Reading defenders on his way into the penalty area before finishing crisply into the far bottom corner. A wonderful goal, his first for the club, and the perfect start for Rangers.
But, as I'll discuss at more length later when QPR did the same thing for a second time, Rangers do not respond well to a change in dynamic in the game, even if it is them changing it for the better. Within a minute Pogrebnyak bought a soft free kick from Dyer wide on the Reading left and our old boy Gorkss stole in at the near post to power the resulting set piece past Cesar and into the corner of the net. The Loft End was in unusually sporting mood, applauding Gorkss as he returned to the halfway line, but everybody knew that Rangers had been sucker punched. After goals for or against the key elements to the next five minutes of play are possession and composure. QPR have shown neither at any stage in these situations this season.
As they had done to their cost at Spurs on Sunday, Rangers responded to the set back by flooding forward in search of a second goal of their own. At White Hart Lane they lost the ball and found themselves behind in a game they'd dominated, here they won a free kick for a foul on Park and Cisse was unfortunate that his powerful header from Granero's inch perfect delivery was directed straight at McCarthy in the Reading goal. Either side of him and Rangers would have been in front again.
Two minutes later a flowing seven pass move ended with Jamie Mackie receiving the ball in the penalty box and after surviving a handball appeal when the ball bobbled up and struck him he drilled a shot through the goalmouth and away to safety.
Now, I'm going to have a little rant later, so remember this bit for then. In the twenty sixth minute Jimmy Kebe got the better of Mbia after the Cameroon international had been dragged out of the centre to the right wing. Mbia hauled him down deliberately and he was shown a yellow card. Fair enough, cynical thing to do after being beaten by a quick player, judged on its own a booking was exactly the right decision from Mr East. Like I say, bare this and the earlier Tabb incident in mind for later please.
Reading's first really decent spell in the game followed thereafter, exacerbated by Julio Cesar's inability to clear the halfway line with his kicks. QPR are clearly under instruction not to go long from the back, but this often results in them passing back to their new goalkeeper whose kicks are, more often than not, floated up to the halfway line where a physical team like Reading is able to seize possession in a good area of the field. At one stage Cesar journeyed out to the right back spot and dribbled past a Reading player rather than simply clear the ball away down the field. I sense this becoming an issue as more and more managers pick it up from scouting missions to Loftus Road.
Hill was forced to head behind when Cummings sent in a dangerous low cross behind the defence and then when Hoilett bottled a tackle (not the first or the last time) five minutes before half time Hal Robson-Kanu streaked away in a four v three situation but chose to pass to the one man to his left rather than the two to his right and wasted the chance. Jamie Mackie should probably have done more than poke Hoilett's subsequent cross wide of the post but in two minutes of time added on at the end of the half Rangers were indebted to Clint Hill for a fine tackle in the penalty area that denied a goal scoring opportunity.
Hill was the pick of the QPR players in the first half, happily joining in with Pogrebnyak's muscular approach to the game and beating him at it comprehensively. Within two minutes of the restart QPR's reigning Player of the Year had hurled himself in front of a Pogrebnyak volley and between him and Ale Faurlin they deflected it away to safety to reassert Hill’s dominance at the start of the second half.
Hill's team mates then looked to do likewise. The problem of not committing enough men into the penalty box during attacks reared its head a short time later as Cisse played Granero into the right channel only for the Spaniard to look up and find a danger area populated entirely by yellow shirts. He was intelligent enough to then cut the ball right back to the edge of the area for Mackie to beat one man and fire a shot that McCarthy saved uncomfortably. Granero went from the sublime to the ridiculous by then falling over the ball as it rebounded out to him but Hoilett was on hand to collect possession and crash to earth under a meagre challenge from Mariappa that could have yielded a penalty from a harsher referee. The whole shemozzle was brought to an end by Faurlin who cracked a shot wide from the edge of the area.
Freed from the shackles of worry and fear that may have come with a league game both sides upped the tempo and pressed for a win. The game rattled from end to end with Pogrebnyak having a goal disallowed at one end for a foul by Hunt in the build up – although it looked harsh – and McCarthy producing a nervous save from a shot by Park at the end of a flowing QPR move. If Reading felt aggrieved about the disallowed goal, they were grateful to referee East a moment later when Kebe slid in late on Onuoha as he cleared down the line and was booked for the sort of tackle you've seen players dismissed for before.
Then, the turning point in the game. Kieron Dyer's battles with fitness have been well documented and with full backs running out Mark Hughes decided to remove him from the fray on the hour in what was clearly a pre-planned move. Ryan Nelsen came on in his place and joined Mbia in the heart of the defence with Onuoha moving to right back and Clint Hill to the left. Now a total reorganisation of a defence midway through a match is never ideal, but on this occasion it cost QPR the win. Suddenly Pogrebnyak, free of the close attentions of Clint Hill, started to win his physical battles. Having been little more than a large frustrated lump of meat for the first hour he suddenly became a focal point for Reading who subsequently introduced the fresh, pacey legs of Garath McCleary for Kebe down the right to target Hill in his new left back spot just for good measure.
Park, hard working but totally ineffective and not really convincing anybody that he should be starting ahead of Hoilett and Adel Taarabt wide on the left, was also removed and replaced by Bobby Zamora during this slew of changes.
The game had barely settled back down when Rangers retook the lead. Hard work wide left by Granero set up Djibril Cisse, who struggled at times with both the lead striker role and the offside law and risked the wrath of the crowd by deciding not to play in Jamie Mackie who would have been one on one with McCarthy. Instead he took on the shot and the majority in Loftus Road was certainly glad that he did. The Frenchman's 25 yard master blaster flew into the corner of McCarthy's net like a shell and Cisse raced to the Loft in wild celebration, ripping his shirt off as he went. Of course he was booked for over celebrating – the single worst rule in the sport – and I'd like you to hold that in your mind as evidence item two for the rant which is still to come.
But there was trouble on the horizon. The substitutions had done more harm to QPR than to Reading despite the goal and within 30 seconds of the restart Rangers were indebted to Mbia for a tremendous last ditch tackle on Pogrebnyak as he threatened to surge through on goal from the edge of the area.
One thing this new QPR team doesn't deal well with is a change in the dynamic of the game. They come in with a game plan that is often very sound, but it doesn't take much to throw them off course. Something as simple as it getting close to half time can change the dynamic of a game, and when it happens QPR go to pieces. We all know what happened against Swansea when they took the lead against the run of play, but in a better all round performance against Chelsea the team looked nervous for no reason whatsoever in the three minutes before half time, and did so again at Spurs on Sunday despite dominating the entire first half. Later, conceding a goal against the run of play turned the team into a badly set jelly for the next two minutes during which time they conceded again and here against Reading they led twice in the match, but only for five minutes in total.
Having survived that initial scare Rangers should have been calming down, maintaining shape, holding possession, slowing the pace of the game. Instead, ludicrously, Cesar was to be found catching a cross and quickly throwing a Hail Mary ball wide out to the right wing in some foolhardy pursuit of a killer third goal. Rangers lost the ball, McCleary accelerated down the flank and crossed, Noel Hunt struck a powerful shot and only a brave block from Onuoha prevented the game from being levelled up again. As Hunt put his hands to his face in exaggerated disbelief Rangers then contrived to concede a free kick on the edge of the area for a foul by Granero on Jay Tabb. Calm. The. Fuck. Down.
Having conceded a free kick within shooting range Rangers were probably grateful for the absence of Ian Harte from the Reading line up, but it turns out his replacement Nicky Shorey is pretty useful with a dead ball kick himself. This one was perfectly flighted over the wall to the side of the goal Julio Cesar wasn't covering, and although the Brazilian keeper did get across he was somewhat deceived by a wicked kiss the ball took off the underside of the bar on its way into the net. A perfect free kick, almost unstoppable, and we were level again.
It's like Hughes comes up with a brilliant game plan to nullify the opposition and get QPR into the lead, but hasn't yet made it onto what happens when the situation changes. I thought after Spurs at the weekend that it wouldn't be the last time we saw two goals go in in as many minutes during a QPR game this season, and I didn't have to wait long to be proved right. Until we learn to respond to set backs or positive shifts in our favour in a calm and professional way then we're an in play betting gold mine – simply back another goal within five minutes of one going in.
From here on there was only going to be one winner. Reading looked fitter, hungrier and more confident; QPR looked leggy, tired and unable to cope with the physical side of the game. Granero curled a weak free kick wide of the target after Zamora was fouled on the edge of the area but that was mere respite from five minutes of constant Reading pressure.
The visitor's third goal was a ridiculous farce. From a position where Noel Hunt was stuck in the corner surrounded by QPR players with his back to the goal and no options for a pass the ball ended up in the QPR net thanks to two back heels, the second of which from Pogrebnyak steered the ball in at the far post from an unmarked position. Sunday league standard stuff.
Sensing blood the Royal poured forwards. Hunt climbed between Nelsen and Mbia to head a cross an inch wide from six yards out, then drew a save from Cesar after trying to catch him out with an early shot to the near post from a tight angle.
Reading boss Brian McDermott said afterwards this game showed what his team is about, and I wholeheartedly agree with him. Noel Hunt made out like he'd been killed and laid motionless on the floor down at the School End forcing a stoppage in play – when referee East told him he would have to roll two yards off the pitch if he wanted treatment and the game was to continue he decided he was alright and sprinted back into position. Then Jem Karacan did likewise down in front of the dug out, rolling around clutching his face in apparent agony until he realised that he'd have to leave the field if treated at which point he too ran back into position. Hal Robson-Kanu was booked by East for screaming in his face that a QPR player should be yellow carded for the Karacan incident and the Royals’ bench massed on the side of the pitch demanding the same.
This is the Reading we've come to know and loathe in recent times. What you need is a strong referee to cope with it, but sadly the authorities have sent anything but to this fixture in recent times with Gavin Ward and others all making an absolute hash of it. On Wednesday night we had Roger East – a Premier League referee as of a month ago – and if you'd now like to recall the earlier incidents I flagged up I'm going to have a little bit of a moan for myself.
The two fundamental jobs of the match referee are to uphold the rules of the game and to ensure the safety of the players. Unfortunately Mr East seems rather too pre-occupied with the former at the expense of the latter. Recall Jay Tabb's challenge on Ale Faurlin in the first half for which East didn't even award a free kick, only for Stephane Mbia to then receive a for a shirt pulling offence on Jimmy Kebe. Now as I wrote earlier I'm not for one moment suggesting that Mbia shouldn't have been booked, but what is more dangerous to the safety of the player here? What is the more serious crime? Tabb, a player we're all familiar with, meant to leave his mark on Faurlin – putting the reducer out early doors as Ron Atkinson may have said – and yet the only punishment he received for it was the concession of a throw in. Djibril Cisse was later yellow carded for removing his shirt after blasting a fantastic goal in from 25 yards, and while yes that is in the rules and he's a pillock for doing it I'd again like to know why something that endangers the safety of the players gets a lesser punishment than something that endangers nobody at all?
Reading taking the lead and resorting to their cynical, referee influencing, clock running ways was all too much for East to cope with culminating in an incident five minutes from time that could have had far graver consequences than it did. Nine months ago Ale Faurlin ruptured his knee ligaments in a cup match at MK Dons after landing awkwardly while competing for a header. Here, down in front of the dug outs, he rose into the air again to challenge his man and found himself elbowed straight in the side of the head by Noel Hunt who'd been allowed to rampage around the place doing pretty much whatever the hell he liked by East all evening. The Argentinean crashed down on a straight outstretched, straight left leg and collapsed to the ground screaming. This was a nasty, pre-meditated challenge. Faurlin eventually left the field of play appearing to be badly hurt.
Mr East didn't even award a free kick. In fact he oversaw a ludicrous restart to the game where QPR, the team in possession at the time and sinned against in the incident, kicked the ball back to McCarthy in the Reading goal. Not only that but because he chose this method of restart he then forbid QPR from making a substitution to replace Faurlin and so McCarthy restarted the game with the home team reduced to ten men. It was a piece of refereeing so incompetent, so ludicrous, that even Pogrebnyak in the Reading attack was left shaking his head and ordering his team mates to put the ball into touch so Rangers could at least make a change.
To add insult to considerable injury East then awarded Reading a penalty in five minutes added time at the end of the game. Pogrebnyak tayed on his feet through what looked to be an initial foul by Mbia in the area, then hit the deck as the ball rolled out of play for a goal kick under no contact whatsoever. East, ten yards behind the play and looking through a crowd of players, awarded the spot kick immediately and only a fine save from Cesar to deny Pogrebnyak ensured some semblance of justice.
The match official had completely lost grip on proceedings and his senses by now and having refused to award Bobby Zamora a free kick when Gorkss climbed over his back, he then penalised the QPR striker from a throw in for an offence that I've simply marked in the match notes with a question mark.
It took the linesman on the Ellerslie Road side of the field to take things into his own hands and award Rangers a free kick in the last second of the game and although they packed the box and found Djibril Cisse with the delivery the Frenchman's volley was blocked away to safety and Reading saw out the victory. Had it gone in and forced extra time I've a feeling, looking at the respective fitness levels and body language of the teams, that it would simply have delayed Reading 's progression for half an hour.
Prior to this match the team selections had dominated the debate and chatter; just how seriously should teams take the League Cup? QPR supporters fell into two camps: those who value the cup competitions, see the League Cup as a rare chance of silverware, or just wanted to see our new look team given some more time on the field together to aid its development and therefore favoured a strong starting line up; and those who view games like this as a pesky distraction and unwanted opportunity to pick up injuries and campaigned for a second string side.
In hindsight the issue that was overlooked in the debate was that fielding a strong team no more guaranteed a victory than fielding a weakened one did a defeat. My comment in support of playing the strongest possible team because going into the West Ham game on Monday with a home defeat to Reading under our belts couldn't possibly be seen as a good thing ignored the potentially damaging effects of playing a first choice 11 and losing anyway.
QPR were beaten here by the worst team in the Premier League, who made plenty of changes to their starting eleven and executed a simple, physical, percentages based game plan that a top flight side should be able to cope with in their sleep. And by picking the best team available Hughes removed any possible excuse he might have had for the outcome.
The final whistle brought with it plenty of eye rolling, and an amber warning light. Monday night's game with West Ham looks fascinating and frightening.
QPR: Cesar 6, Dyer 6 (Nelsen 64, 5), Mbia 6, Hill 7, Onuoha 5, Mackie 5, Granero 6, Faurlin 7 (Diakite 87, -), Park 5 (Zamora 67, 6), Hoilett 6, Cisse 6
Subs not used: Green, Derry, Wright Phillips, Ehmer
Goals: Hoilett 14 (unassisted), Cisse 71 (unassisted)
Bookings: Mbia 26 (foul), Cisse 71 (over celebrating)
Reading: McCarthy 7, Cummings 6, Gorkss 7, Mariappa 6 (Morrison 79, -), Shorey 7, Kebe 6 (McCleary 69, 6), Karacan 6, Tabb 6, Robson Kanu 6, Pogrebniak 6, Hunt 7
Subs not used: Taylor, Gunter, McAnuff, Le Fondre, Church
Goals: Gorkss 15 (assisted Shorey), Shorey 76 (unassisted – free kick), Pogrebnyak 81 (assisted Hunt)
Bookings: Kebe 60 (foul), Robson Kanu 84 (dissent)
QPR Star Man – Alejandro Faurlin 7 Cut through the hurly burley of a physical encounter with a typically assured display, dictating the tempo of QPR and guiding them around the field with his passing game. Achieved this despite physical attention from Tabb and others that frequently crossed the line into an area the referee should have dealt with but didn’t. Mercifully seems to have avoided serious injury despite Hunt’s late hatchet job.
Referee – Roger East (Wiltshire) 3 With about 20 minutes of this game left I think Mr East was on about a six. He’ been too lenient, allowing bad fouls to go unpunished while issueing mandatory yellow cards for nothing offences. But he’d been equal for both teams and hadn’t got any big decisions wrong. The way he lost the plot in the closing stages of the game was alarming and each dreadful decision quickly led to another to the point where nobody was safe, or very sure what was coming next. Complete loss of control.
Attendance 11,562 (1,400 Reading approx) Actually a decent crowd considering the competition – more than we got for some Championship games back in the darker days. Reading packed the lower tier behind the goal and that made for a reasonable atmosphere, helped by the wide-open end-to-end nature of the match.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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