QPR rediscover their soul a week too late for Hughes – full match report
Monday, 26th Nov 2012 00:48 by Clive Whittingham
Another defeat for QPR at Old Trafford on Saturday stretched their winless run to 13 matches, but a day after Mark Hughes was sacked the recall of the team’s old guard brought about many improvements in attitude and application.
The half and half ‘matchday scarf’ brigade found the QPR starting 11 amusing when it came through on the wires just after 2pm. There they sat, staring at their phones, on Manchester’s inadequate public metro system, and grappled with the names before them. “Shaun Derry, isn’t he about 50 now?” asked one while his friend admitted “I haven’t heard of half of these – where’s Jamie Mackie from?”
Manchester United are in the same league as QPR in name only. These two clubs could not be more different: United expect to win every game every week, QPR haven’t won a league match for six months; QPR have to fight and graft hard for everything they get where United can blow a game like this out of the water by playing reasonably well for ten minutes; United are about big name players competing for multiple trophies each season, whereas QPR are just about surviving.
Mark Hughes spent the majority of his playing career at Old Trafford, and though he showed an ability to get a smaller club performing above its true level through canny transfer market activity at Blackburn, he returned to spending big money on big name players at Manchester City and then walked out on Fulham after 12 months when they restricted his ability to do the same.
QPR have been awful for weeks now, and after each defeat has come an admission – sometimes indirectly, but at other times outright – from Hughes that he didn’t know why it was happening. The reason has been obvious whenever somebody like Jamie Mackie has made it onto the field for a rare outing; contrary to what Hughes thinks, QPR is not a place for too many big name players from Manchester United, Chelsea and Inter Milan. The mentality required to play for a club like QPR where every tiny victory has to be extracted like a wisdom tooth is totally different to the one required to play for the top clubs where winning often comes easily.
Hughes paid the price for his failure to understand this by losing his job on Friday morning after 11 months at Loftus Road during which time he made 16 new, mostly very expensive, signings. On Saturday afternoon QPR fielded a team at Old Trafford that contained just three outfield players he brought to the club, and seven he inherited. Of those seven, five were part of the QPR team that won the Championship. And while the United fans on their annual pilgrimage may not have heard of them, the difference in QPR with them in the team there for all to see.
At the back Clint Hill paired up with Ryan Nelsen and against an attack that included Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, then later Javier Hernandez. Nelsen may be old and slow, Hill may have little Premier League experience and also lack pace, but the pair won everything in the air and rarely looked troubled by their hosts for the first hour of this game. There was organisation and commitment there that simply hasn’t been present at all this season. At left back a Neil Warnock signing, Armand Traore, impressed, and on the other side one of Hughes’ acquisitions Stephane Mbia played extremely well out of position. Hughes will no doubt use Mbia’s suspension for the last three matches as an excuse, but it wasn’t just his return to the back four in front of Cesar that made a difference here, it was a totally different mindset from a week ago when the R’s were torn apart by Southampton.
The same could be said in midfield. Ji-Sung Park, Samba Diakite, Esteban Granero, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joey Barton and Junior Hoilett have all been acquired since QPR won promotion 18 months ago, all at great expense. They’ve all played in midfield for Rangers over the past few months to no discernible positive difference whatsoever. On Saturday Rangers returned to the Ale Faurlin and Shaun Derry partnership that won them the Championship and the difference was stark – Rangers maintained possession for long periods, moved the ball intelligently, and remained tight and organised to such an extent that one of the Premier League’s all time greatest players Paul Scholes was rendered largely ineffective. The away fans sang Derry’s name at full time.
Mark Bowen, in caretaker charge, picked Adel Taarabt on one side and Kieron Dyer on the other; one long serving player with the club at heart, the other a man with something to prove. You can’t buy these qualities in transfer windows. And up front there was Jamie Mackie, an energetic ball of magnificence grossly underused by the previous manager who never missed an opportunity to try and replace him, alongside Djibril Cisse, who may like to have a look at himself in the mirror at some point this week and compare his input against Southampton with the renewed vigour he approached this match.
If Bowen simply selected the team that Mark Hughes planned to pick anyway then it seems the sacked Welshman finally, finally twigged what the problem was a week too late. If, in fact, this was Bowen’s choice of starting 11 then it’s an even sadder indictment of Hughes’ personal and football management skills that even his own coaching staff could see what QPR needed while he continued to fanny about with the likes of Jose Bosingwa – who didn’t travel with the squad at all and wasn’t missed.
United were, as you would expect, better than QPR. It needed a fabulous last ditch tackle from Shaun Derry to deny Paul Scholes a walk in after a quarter of an hour when Robin Van Persie bundled the ball into his path deep in the penalty area. Ten minutes later Van Persie found the side netting after Welbeck had cut the ball back from the byline on the left, fooling half of Old Trafford into thinking he’d scored. Then on the half hour Scholes combined with Rooney and then found Ashley Young in space on the right of the penalty area and he missed into the side netting on the other side tricking the other half of the ground into thinking the Reds had taken the lead.
The traffic was far from one way though, and QPR had ambitions beyond simply parking the bus. They looked dangerous on the counter attack, with Taarabt, Mackie and Cisse all full of running and capable of causing problems. When out of possession they defended well, with Mackie often deployed to drop back and man mark Scholes when he was in deep lying positions to stop him dictating the play. Compare Mackie’s performance here, both in attack when QPR had the ball and nullifying Scholes when Rangers didn’t, with Bobby Zamora’s half arsed attempts at doing the same when the R’s lost 6-1 at Chelsea at the end of last season.
Consequently Scholes became frustrated, and resorted to chopping into QPR players in typically nasty and illegal style. One particular foul on Ale Faurlin – late, from behind, two footed, executed in a scissor motion – was especially nasty and didn’t even draw a yellow card from referee Lee Probert. Now Probert showed last week at Fulham, when he sent off Brede Hangeland and cost the home team the match, that he is not afraid to make a big decision over a bad tackle. And yet here Scholes was allowed to commit four bad fouls in the first half before he was even spoken to, and one in the second before he was booked. At that point United substituted him, when really they shouldn’t have been given that option by the referee.
I could write a list a mile long of things that annoy me in the modern game and this weird attitude everybody has to Paul Scholes and his tackling would certainly be on there. There is absolutely no way on earth that Samba Diakite would have still been on the field at half time had he made the four tackles Scholes got away with in the first half here. Referees usually so swift with the red card since the Aaron Ramsey and Eduardo incidents suddenly go all shy and reticent when it comes to Scholes, while commentators who leap in and talk about endangering the careers of fellow professionals when anybody puts in nasty tackle will sit there and laugh about how “Scholes never has been able to tackle has he?” before going off on a five minute eulogy about what a magnificent footballer he is. He clearly is brilliant, and the way he was treated by the national team borders on criminal in football terms, but why does this mean he’s allowed to go around hacking into people for the rest of his career with no comeback?
Anyway, rant over, Julio Cesar was called into action twice in the final ten minutes of the half. The first was his fault, as he launched a ridiculously ambitious airborne throw out to Adel Taarabt who was tight to the touchline and had two men around him so inevitably lost possession in a bad area. United broke quickly and set up Rooney in the area whose low shot was saved by Cesar with his legs.
Five minutes later Rooney connected much more cleanly with a low drive that the Brazilian keeper parried away and actually set up a promising counter attack that was cultivated by Mbia – calm, confident and effective in possession all afternoon – and finished by Jamie Mackie heading home a fabulous cross from Cisse at the Stretford End only to be denied by the linesman’s flag. He was inches offside, but it showed that Rangers weren’t simply there to make up the numbers.
Although Shaun Derry’s recall could be seen as long overdue, especially given the way he performed here, perhaps it was apt that it came at Old Trafford. Derry, now 34 years old, spoke of his devastation when Ashley Young, four yards offside, dived pathetically to win a penalty from him in this fixture last season – an incident which also saw Derry sent off just a quarter of an hour into the game. A week after that match Young also took a theatrical tumble at the same end of the ground to con his former club Aston Villa out of a spot kick. When Manchester City snatched victory from the jaws of defeat against Rangers in May, Young’s name was on the lips of many QPR fans in the away end. There was even a song written about it.
Alex Ferguson said after those incidents that he’d “had a word” with Young about his tendency to dive in the penalty area. Cynics at the time suggested that ‘word’ probably didn’t stretch much further than “make it less obvious please” and three minutes before half time they were proved exactly right. A low cross into the near post found Young – booed throughout by the QPR fans – with Clint Hill at his back and, in typical style, the England winger tumbled to the ground under almost no contact at all.
Derry took his sending off here last season remarkably well, walking straight down the tunnel without a word of complaint in a display of dignity all too rare in our sport. But having spent a career trawling the lower leagues, being conned out of an appearance at Old Trafford rankled with him and Young’s latest pathetic attempts brought down the red mist. Hill and Derry immediately squared up to Young as play broke down field and referee Probert was forced to intervene. I suspect the conversation between Derry, Hill, Cesar – who were all incensed – and the referee featured plenty of reference to the incident last season and although I felt Probert – as he did with Scholes – chickened out of showing a yellow card to a United player who sorely deserved one, he did do well to calm the situation without a raft of bookings.
Earlier in the first half Mbia, on the attack, had dived over Rafael attempting to win a free kick when he realised his only other option was to cross a ball into an empty penalty area and then in the second half Adel Taarabt hit the ground clutching his face attempting to get the game stopped with United on the attack. Both incidents brought the tourists on three sides of the ground to their feet in anger, but while Young continues to play for United their complaints about other teams play acting are simply bits of rock being chucked around their own greenhouse.
United are famed for their stoppage time goals but it was actually Rangers who went closest to making the extra minute at the end of the half count when the excellent Mbia robbed Rooney, played a long distance one-two with Faurlin, moved the ball onto Cisse who found Taarabt and after beating two men the Moroccan curled a low shot towards the bottom corner but Lindegaard the United keeper was equal to it.
Once I’d stemmed the blood pouring out of my ears after a torturous half time musical tribute to Alex Ferguson it was mercifully time for the second half to begin. Our suffering had not been in vain, within seven minutes of the restart QPR took the lead.
It was said after defeat at Spurs earlier this season that there are few bigger frustrations at QPR than the constant injury problems of Kieron Dyer. He’d played barely an hour of football in a year before that game but was man of the match at White Hart Lane, and has then inevitably been injured ever since. In giving an intelligent overall performance here he showed just what an asset he could be if he could ever get fit, and he crowned his day with a fine assist. First the former Ipswich and Newcastle man worked a short corner routine with Adel Taarabt which enabled him to press on deep into the United penalty box unchallenged, and then when Lindegaard parried a low cross-shot Jamie Mackie was on hand to stab into the empty net. Nobody deserved a goal more.
And it could easily have been two. In the next attack Adel Taarabt was hacked down on the edge of the box by Scholes (I know, try to contain your shock) who did finally, finally see yellow for the challenge. Taarabt took the free kick himself and curled it no more than a foot over the bar. Moments later when a United attack broke down Rangers countered quickly with Taarabt and then Cisse marauding forward, and finally Dyer running onto a pass in the penalty area and choosing to cross through the six yard box when a low shot may have yielded greater reward. Rangers were playing superbly at this point and United responded by throwing on Anderson for Young and Hernandez for Scholes.
The more telling substitution, sadly, came from QPR. On the hour they were forced to replace their porcelain full back Armand Traore and sent on Anton Ferdinand in his stead. Within eight minutes the R’s were 3-1 down. Ferdinand has been one of the worst culprits among the under performers this year – dreadful performances, appalling body language, expanding arse – and although he can rightly say that he’s never been any kind of left back, there was no excuse whatsoever for him allowing Danny Welbeck to peel off him at a corner and head down unchallenged into the six yard box where Jonny Evans was able to convert from close range just after the hour mark.
Julio Cesar - whose command of the area and kicking remains a concern – didn’t cover himself in glory there either, remaining rooted to the goal line. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Harry Redknapp recalled Robert Green pretty early into his reign. I’m certainly not saying it’s what I would do, or that Cesar has done a lot wrong, but he’s not playing as well as he can at the moment and Redknapp may see the opportunity to have a goalkeeper flushed with confidence by a show of faith from a new manager and a recall as a reasonable idea.
Rangers were rattled. The organisation so prevalent for the first hour had gone, and they were getting dragged deeper into their own box as United moved through the gears. Darren Fletcher, making a rare Premier League start as he continues to battle back from a debilitating stomach illness, let fly from range but couldn’t keep the shot down. Then the Scot attacked another Rooney corner between Ferdinand and Hill and powered a header home having also been left unmarked. Rangers’ defending from set pieces remains of a park standard.
Two goals in four minutes became three in seven when Alex Ferguson’s two substitutes combined – Anderson burst through the middle and fed Hernandez who took one touch to control and then thumped in a match sealing third.
This is what I mean about the difference in mentality required to play for QPR and the bigger clubs in the league – Rangers can play excellently for an hour and then concede three in ten minutes, United can be ordinary all afternoon and blow opponents away in double quick time. To play for Rangers in the highest league requires commitment and concentration for the entire duration of a game, whereas a lot of the players Hughes brought in have previously been used to getting away with clocking off mentally, or playing within themselves, but still winning matches.
Thereafter the hosts retreated back into their shells, knowing the job was done. Bowen sent on Hoilett for Taarabt and Granero for Faurlin, United introduced young Nick Powell for Danny Welbeck who hadn’t looked comfortable or effective in a wide midfield role. Cisse fed Mackie in the area for a shot that was blocked behind for a corner and when Clint Hill met Granero’s delivery he must have though a career-long wait for a Premier League goal was over until Rafael headed the ball off the line at the back post.
I said before the game that Mark Hughes had inherited a situation where he needed to add quality to a spirited team, and turned it into one where he needed to inject spirit into a quality side. The second is much harder to do, because quality players are available to buy whereas personal grudges and grievances between thick millionaires require time and careful man management to fix. A long, long overdue return to the players that worked so hard to get QPR into the Premier League in the first place brought about a predictable change in attitude which means that incoming Harry Redknapp does still have that bedrock of team spirit and unity within the club to build on should he so choose. Rangers didn’t need 16 new players when Mark Hughes arrived, and they certainly don’t need them now.
The only fear is, with four points from 13 matches, the change may have come too late.
Man Utd: Lindegaard 6, Rafael 6, Ferdinand 7, Evans 7, Evra 6, Young 6 (Anderson 59, 7), Scholes 6 (Hernandez 59, 7), Fletcher 6, Welbeck 5 (Powell 79, 7), Rooney 6, Van Persie 6
Subs not used: De Gea, Jones, Smallin, Cleverley
Goals: Evans 64 (assisted Rooney/Welbeck), Fletcher 68 (assisted Rooney), Hernandez 72 (assisted Anderson)
Bookings: Scholes 54 (repetitive fouling)
QPR: Cesar 6, Mbia 8, Nelsen 7, Hill 7, Traore 7 (Ferdinand 60, 4), Dyer 7, Derry 7, Faurlin 7 (Granero 84, -), Taarabt 6 (Hoilett 73, 6), Cisse 6, Mackie 8
Subs not used: Green, Diakite, Wright-Phillips, Ephraim
Goals: Mackie 52 (assisted Dyer)
Bookings: Mbia 58 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Jamie Mackie 8 Narrowly shading it from Mbia who I thought was really excellent at right back and now joins the list of people I’d like to see picked there ahead of Jose Bosingwa along with Kieron Dyer, Fabio, Nedum Onuoha, Luke Young, me, my gran (the one with Alzheimer’s), my other gran (the one who keeps having heart attacks), Davis Love III, former culture and media secretary Tessa Jowell, King Harald of Norway, Will Carling and many others. Mackie takes it not only for his goal but for typifying exactly the sort of effort, work rate and attitude that QPR have been badly lacking and will need to dig themselves out of this mess. But it’s easy to write him off as just a willing runner – Mackie was dangerous to United all afternoon around the box, and key in the tactic to nullify Scholes when Rangers didn’t have the ball.
Referee – Lee Probert 6 No key decisions to make and largely kept out of proceedings which I’m always happy to praise. However QPR players would have been carded had they dived for a penalty in the same manner as Ashley Young, or committed the four first half fouls that Paul Scholes executed, and it’s impossible to mark a referee treating the teams unequally too highly.
Attendance 75,603 – 1,500 QPR approx The travelling QPR fans applauded their team at full time where last week they’d booed and heckled them. The 3-1 scoreline may have been the same, but everything the team has lacked in recent weeks was there for all to see. QPR fans will tolerate defeats, but they won’t put up with a lack of commitment to their cause. The home fans were pathetic – making a noise worthy of a crowd less than half the size – but that’s not a new problem at this ground. The looks on their faces when Rangers retorted to some early banter with the by singing “we lost the league for you” and “2-1 and we fucked it up” was a highlight.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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