Missed chances and basic errors, a familiar QPR tale – full match report
Sunday, 11th Nov 2012 22:06 by Clive Whittingham
QPR’s plight worsened on Saturday when they were beaten 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium by a very limited and basic Stoke City side. The R’s are now 11 games into the Premier League season without a win to their name.
The gentle, persistent, unmistakeable sound of nails being tapped into coffin lids. Voices from inside the boxes plead for patience, stability and more time. At the graveside a ridiculously large amount of people gather and make light of the situation through song: “We’re Queens Park Rangers, we lose every week” they sing, and laugh, and shell out another £100 on train tickets, match tickets, and the copious amounts of alcohol required to even be able to look at this footballing ship wreck any more.
Taken in isolation, there was some flotsam to cling to from the latest defeat at Stoke City. QPR were the better side for long periods, created more chances than their hosts, played the more attractive football, and pre-match fears of Stoke running riot with a clutch of goals from set pieces failed to materialise. Had Rangers won two or three matches already this season then the players, manager and supporters could come away feeling hard done by, unlucky, and with plenty to build on.
But QPR haven’t won two or three games already this season. They’ve won none of their first 11. They’re bottom of the league with four points and only one team in the Premier League era has survived having taken four points from the first ten matches – that was Blackburn Rovers in 1996/97 who eventually finished fourteenth, but only did so after manager Ray Harford resigned after the tenth game. For all the small improvements and straws to clutch at, Rangers will not face two worse teams this season than Reading and Stoke and from those two matches they’ve taken just a single point.
Given Tony Fernandes’ unswerving faith in his manager, it seems the only way Mark Hughes will be prised out of his current situation is by him resigning and given the salary he was no doubt able to negotiate for himself 11 months ago when he “interviewed QPR” for the job I very much doubt he’s going to do that.
To his credit on Saturday he did finally find a way to get the best QPR players on the field at the same time. Ale Faurlin was given a long overdue recall along with Esteban Granero, Samba Diakite and Junior Hoilett with Adel Taarabt supporting lone striker Djibril Cissé . It’s the line up many Rangers fans, including myself, have been crying out for and while Hughes’ steadfast insistence that the players must conform to outdated 4-4-2 or 4-1-4-1 formations meant Granero was actually marooned wide in midfield for much of the game it was a relief to see them all out there and it is something I hope we stick with.
Sadly though it’s taken Hughes 13 league and cup games to reach the same team selection conclusion as everybody in the stand and the run of results in the meantime has sapped confidence from the players that do want to play for the club and succeed, and the will to even pretend to look like they’re trying from the other mercenaries. Two missed sitters from Taarabt undermined a man of the match display and betrayed his despairing mood, but his sins were easier to forgive than those of, say, Jose Bosingwa who broke out into a serious sprint only once all afternoon and that was to flee from the pitch at full time without acknowledging the away support. The Portuguese full back – who was joined in defence by Ryan Nelsen, Anton Ferdinand and Armand Traore ahead of goalkeeper Julio Cesar - will be receiving a low mark at the end of this report but, frankly, he barely deserves one at all.
The talk before the game had been about Rangers’ vulnerability when defending dead ball situations, given the sheer amount of gilt edged chances Sean Morrison had missed from corners and free kicks for Reading the week before. Coach Mark Bowen said during the week it was up to players to take individual responsibility in a man marking system and he didn’t have to wait long to find out if they would indeed do that against a notoriously direct Stoke side. Tony Pulis’ men forced the first corner inside a minute and while it was initially rather alarming to see giant former R Peter Crouch apparently being marked by Armand Traore rather than one of the centre backs QPR were able to deal with the delivery comfortably.
Traore then showed his attacking side with a run down the left and cross that Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic was able to pluck out of the air after Cissé had miscued a first time volley. In the resulting counter attack Charlie Adam had a shot deflected wide for a second corner of the afternoon that Rangers again dealt with comfortably.
Perhaps the R’s were belatedly getting the hang of this. Hope of a first win of the season soared after 20 minutes when – and this is nothing short of miraculous – QPR actually managed to keep the ball from their own throw in for more than two touches. Not only that but they worked a shooting opportunity which Ale Faurlin stuck over the bar. Imagine that, keeping the ball from one of your own throw ins. Revelatory stuff. Another thing ticked off my ‘things to see before I die’ list.
Stoke have only scored three goals in four home matches this season, and all of them have been notched by Crouch. It’s not difficult to see why when you sit and watch their approach to the sport in the flesh, and the paucity of quality players around him. At the midway point of the half he expertly won a long ball forward and nodded it down perfectly for Jon Walters but the former Ipswich man – making a sixty third consecutive Premier League start for Stoke – volleyed hopelessly over the bar when he should not only have hit the target but opened the scoring.
Within two minutes Rangers had worked Granero into the Stoke area in the right channel and although the angle was tight the home side still needed Begovic to rush from his goal and smother the opportunity at Granero’s feet with help from Etherington back tracking.
Of course one thing Rangers could have done without was conceding needless free kicks around their own penalty box. Still, it was hard not to feel sorry for Samba Diakite on the half hour when he was penalised for what looked like a not very well disguised dive by Matt Etherington, making a first start for Stoke since August. Fortunately for Rangers on this occasion Cesar got a firm punch to Whelen’s cross and the follow up shot was blocked away by some desperate defence by Anton Ferdinand.
This wasn’t the first or the last time that I felt referee Martin Atkinson had lazily awarded a free kick because a player had gone over rather than bothering to question whether he’d actually been fouled or not and soon both teams had players hitting the deck under little or no contact at all. Within three minutes Cissé collected the ball on halfway, turned it round the corner into space down the right flank and set off in pursuit of it himself. Andy Wilkinson knew the Frenchman had him for pace and so flung himself to the floor as if Cissé had tripped him while attempting to get around him. He’d done nothing of the sort, the incident was laughable, and yet there was Atkinson again obliging the sinner with a free kick for his troubles. Never mind punishing divers retrospectively, let’s stop rewarding the cheats in the first instance.
Stoke’s best chance of the half came ten minutes before half time. Steven Nzonzi – leggy, physical, impressive – got in round the back of flat footed Faurlin and picked out Crouch with a well placed low cut back. Crouch side footed powerfully towards goal and his shot deflected no more than three inches wide with Cesar well beaten. Rangers cleared the resulting corner and launched a counter attack through Adel Taarabt and Ale Faurlin. The latter was fouled by Nzonzi and then, after a quick free kick had been taken, Taarabt was immediately chopped to the ground on the edge of the area by Walters. It’s this sort of cynicism that Stoke are renowned for and QPR have lacked to their cost since winning promotion 18 months ago. Nobody scores a goal on the counter attack if they’re laid on the ground picking grass out of their teeth. No yellow card from Atkinson for either Nzonzi or Walters needless to say and when Djibril Cissé drilled a tapped free kick low into the wall the home team could reflect on a job well done.
With time ticking on towards the break Anton Ferdinand was punished for climbing on Peter Crouch and Stoke worked a fancy free kick routine that eventually worked room for – I think – centre back Robert Huth to try his luck from range but the shot was blocked away. Stoke will flood danger areas with men when they think there’s something there for them though and while Rangers may have survived that first scare the pressure remained on as Crouch struck a volley that Traore blocked behind and Cesar flapped another corner away to safety.
Having survived a pair of Crouch efforts Rangers then created their own best chance of the half. Junior Hoilett – who not for the first time looked pacy, direct and dangerous for an hour before vanishing from the game altogether – robbed Cameron of possession in the Stoke half and set Cissé away. The Frenchman fed the ball back to Hoilett who then in turn picked out Taarabt, unmarked in the penalty area, for what looked certain to be the opening goal. For whatever reason, Taarabt then tried to chip Begovic rather than just striking the ball cleanly, and the chance sailed hopelessly over the bar. Taarabt was QPR best player on Saturday, but my word he made a pig’s ear of that one. Moments later he tried to make amends with a much firmer, low shot from the edge of the box but that one curled just wide of the post.
The Londoners had decent cause to be angry with referee Atkinson again before the break. Jon Walters picked up a gash to his forehead amidst another round of penalty box pinball and sat on the turf with blood pouring down his face. This was in clear view of the linesman on that side of the field who is in contact with the referee but nevertheless, despite the edict on head injuries, Atkinson was happy for the game to continue. Stoke were happy too, because despite their team mate being down they had the ball in a decent attacking position and so they pressed on, with Atkinson content for play to continue, and tried to score. When the play was subsequently broken up by Ryan Nelsen the referee then decided, with Stoke previously happy to play on remember and with QPR now in a position to try and exploit a team temporarily reduced to ten men, that the play should be stopped. To make the whole nonsense even more irritating Peter Crouch decided to punt the resulting drop ball out for a goal kick – which Cesar isn’t the best at – rather than knocking the ball back to the keeper in open play.
Now, I’m sorry, I know the rules about what to do when somebody is injured are a bit of a mess and complicated by various gentleman’s agreements, but where on earth does it say that you can continue to play on through an obvious head injury if the team mates of the injured player have the ball and want to try and score, but play must then immediately stop the second they lose possession?
I had a bit of an episode about this – kicking walls, trying to uproot seats and what not – and while that was going on Samba Diakite, a minute before half time and with Stoke going nowhere, foolishly lunged in on Charlie Adam and picked up a deserved yellow card. Mindless.
Nevertheless, QPR could be reasonably satisfied. They’d been posed few problems by the home team, created the best chance of the half themselves, and looked reasonably strong when defending the much feared set pieces.
What they did next was essentially make a small bonfire out of those positives, gather around in a small circle, and gleefully piss all over it.
A free kick was knocked long by Huth, Walters beat Ferdinand to the first header, Crouch turned the ball on around the penalty spot, Traore tried to chest it down and missed it completely, and Charlie Adam said ‘thanks very much’ and side footed home his goal for the club from an unmarked position at the far post. The QPR technical area was populated by Hughes and his three coaches shaking their heads, and well they might. You’ll never see a more basic goal than that in your life. Slapdash, sloppy, awful defending.
QPR responded to the set back well. Taarabt took on a shot from long range that deflected off Whelen and threatened to deceive Begovic until the Bosnian goalkeeper thrust up two hands and palmed it over the bar. Then Hoilett set Taarabt free again but this time the Moroccan seemed to be in two minds about crossing or shooting and sent a deflected halfway house through the goal mouth with Cisse just out of reach. Hoilett retrieved the ball and teed up Bosingwa, but his lousy first touch ate up all the time he initially had and a poor shot was deflected wide.
On the hour Hoilett and Taarabt combined again around the edge of the box and this time the latter managed to dummy his way into space in the box by deceiving two defenders but inexplicably rolled wide when it seemed easier to hit the target – Faurlin was agonisingly out of reach and couldn’t convert the chance himself. Granero curled a subsequent free kick wide after a foul on Taarabt for which Nzonzi was booked and then, after Taarabt had cut in field and beaten two men, smacked a first time shot that seemed destined for the top corner before Begovic turned it aside with a splendid save. The loose ball was collected by Hoilett but his follow up shot was blocked by a crowd of defenders in the six yard box.
Mark Hughes subsequently sent on Bobby Zamora for Ale Faurlin – the QPR fans greeting his appearance with a chant of “Bobby Zamora, he don’t like football” after his recent Daily Mail interview – while Stoke sent on Michael Kightly for Matthew Etherington, Kenwyne Jones for Peter Crouch and finally Dean Whitehead for Charlie Adam.
The home team was a bit of a rabble by this stage; lacking confidence themselves after only one win this season and with all the attacking idea, invention and ambition of a house brick. But QPR were losing heart – their chances had been and gone. Traore was booked for deliberately blocking Kightly after he’d been skinned and then the former Wolves man drew a decent save from Cesar after Stoke had beaten a tiring offside trap.
Yellow cards started to flow as frustration grew – Whitehead for a foul on Diakite, Granero for dissent after Jones had flopped over embarrassingly for a man of his size and won another soft free kick – and the mood in the away end turned ugly when, for the second time in the game, Jose Bosingwa cut in from the right wing and launched a hopeless, lazy, 30-yard left foot shot into the car park.
QPR fans are a bit notorious for targeting scapegoats – Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ji-Sung Park have already served their time this season – but they’re not idiots and they know when a player isn’t pulling his weight. No surprise that Bosingwa is currently copping it – you can smell the lethargy coming off the man.
Four minutes of stoppage time passed without a hint of an equaliser. I’m not sure QPR would have scored if we were still there now.
Outside, after the usual lengthy wait in the large cage behind the away end, the QPR fans were shovelled onto three old double decker buses and carted back off to the train station – rather than the funny farm where they belong. “If you’re all off to Sunderland clap your hands,” cried one, and a dozen people applauded. Theirs is a sick form of madness that Mark Hughes must somehow find a way to inflict on the bunch of mercenaries he has put together.
“A lot of quality in the building,” is a catchphrase of this manager and he may be right. But this team collectively has a heart the size of a pea.
Stoke: Begovic 7, Cameron 5, Huth 6, Shawcross 6, Wilkinson 7, Whelen 5, Nzonzi 7, Adam 6 (Whitehead 77, 5), Etherington 6 (Kightly 71, 6), Crouch 6 (Jones 74, 5), Walters 5
Goals: Adam 52 (assisted Walters/Crouch)
Bookings: Nzonzi 65 (foul), Whitehead 90 (foul)
QPR: Cesar 6, Bosingwa 4, Ferdinand 6, Nelsen 6, Traore 5, Granero 6, Faurlin 5 (Zamora 77, 5), Diakite 5, Hoilett 6, Taarabt 7, Cissé 5
Subs not used: Green, Hill, Onuoha, Derry, Wright-Phillips, Mackie
Bookings: Diakite 45 (foul), Traore 83 (foul), Granero 90 (dissent)
QPR Star Man – Adel Taarabt 7 Missed the two best chances of the game for QPR, the first of which was a ridiculous chip when it should have just been a proper shot, but it was hard to hold it against him considering his work rate, attitude and application to the task compared with some of his team mates. Would have been run close by Hoilett had he not, once again, disappeared from the action in the final third of the game.
Referee – Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire) 6 No big decisions to make, and therefore no big decisions wrong, so hard to mark him too harshly. However, I thought this was a pretty mediocre, bog standard performance. He rewarded dives from both sides and made a real hash of the Walters head injury situation before half time.
Attendance – 27,529 (1,600 QPR approx) The Stoke fans seemed bored to me – quiet for the most part and stirred into life only by the goal in the second half. Given their results and style of play, that’s understandable. What isn’t understandable, considering QPR’s performance and results so far this season, is why 1,600 Rangers fans decided to go all the way to Stoke, fill the away end, and sing their hearts out for the majority of the game. The mood was tense in the away end during the second half, with a lot of arguments breaking out between QPR fans, but overall I’m amazed at the backing the team continues to receive.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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