Unlikely hero ends QPR’s away day blues – full match report
Thursday, 3rd Jan 2013 23:25 by Clive Whittingham
QPR have won an away game for the first time in 23 matches and 14 months. The location for the victory, and the identity of the goal scorer, are the stuff of fairy tales.
At one point Shaun Wright-Phillips almost looked like a participant in a scientific study to see whether a football player could compete in his chosen sport for 73 minutes and not do a single thing correctly.
When a pass was on he held onto the ball then when no team mate was close he quickly disposed of it; when space opened up he turned back into traffic but when confronted with three Chelsea players he ploughed headlong into them. On three occasions QPR laid on tempting, well-weighted passes into the space behind Chelsea full back Azpilicueta only to find their diminutive winger had decided not to run. On the one occasion he did run he was flagged offside.
In the second half Adel Taarabt moved in from the touchline with the ball at his feet and found Wright-Phillips running towards him; their eyes met, Taarabt issued an instruction, Wright-Phillips tackled him and Chelsea collected possession. It was the first, and only, successful tackle on the imperious Moroccan all evening. Tarrabt wore the look of the concerned parent of an errant child; “What to do with young Shaun?” A seventieth minute poll of fans in the away end on potential players to make way in the name of fresh legs made Wright-Phillips the clear winner. The mood shifted through frustration, anger, exasperation and, eventually, amusement. It became funny.
But QPR, and Taarabt, persevered. Twelve minutes from time the best player on the pitch received a partially cleared corner on the edge of the box, caressed it perfectly to his right and held his breath. Wright-Phillips struck it low and true; it was never going anywhere else from the moment it left his boot. He looked like he could scarcely believe it himself. Later one wit suggested he might have actually been trying to return the ball to the corner taker. An old romantic line about a thousand poets working for a thousand years sprang to mind, and another about dogs having days.
Behind the goal, delirium. Just shy of 3,000 QPR fans enjoying a simultaneous orgasm; a reward for keeping faith. Prior to kick off there had been apathy and discontent, people had rightly baulked at a scandalous £60 ticket fee and judged it a game too far after 23 away matches without success. Some who’d actually succumbed to the extortion lost heart after a shambolic Sunday performance against Liverpool and moved tickets on or stayed at home. It was hard to blame them, failure seemed inevitable - the bookmakers said a 7-0 home win was more likely than a 1-0 away success secured by a Wright-Phillips goal.
Luckily, Rafael Benitez felt it a foregone conclusion as well. He left out Eden Hazard and, more damagingly, Juan Mata without whom the Blues are yet to win this season in seven attempts. The rotund Spaniard - regularly to be found prowling touchlines urging teams to be tighter, deeper and narrower as supporters fork over their £60 hoping to see vibrant attacking football – has made this mistake enough times in the past to have learnt from it by now. His 2008/09 Liverpool team lost just two matches in the league all season, and beat Manchester United twice, but lost the title by four points to Alex Ferguson’s men after drawing home matches with West Ham, Fulham, Hull and Stoke with a weakened side out.
The media’s Chelsea cheerleader in chief Pat Nevin subsequently told Five Live listeners that Benitez had a “footballing heart the size of a pea” but has been more reticent in his criticism since the the former Valencia boss moved into SW6. He was right in the first instance. Benitez spoke afterwards about freshness and squad rotation but with Chelsea’s next league match a week and a half away and two cup games in the meantime, he was fooling nobody. His selection was disrespectful to QPR, and to the status of the fixture.
It could and should have been even worse for him had Marko Marin, drafted in for a first league start alongside Oscar and behind Torres in the space usually occupied by Mata, been sent off when he should have been. Three minutes in he launched into a wild challenge on Stephane Mbia that many referees would have quickly shown a red card for. Lee Mason, whose recent history with QPR saw his name roundly booed before kick off, deemed a yellow card sufficient. After halftime Mason whistled Marin again, this time for a cynical and deliberate shirt pull on Wright-Phillips as he attempted to join a counter attack. To release him once was generous, twice was incompetent.
Chelsea fans booing Benitez before his first ever match kicked off seemed vindictive, but they were more than vindicated here. The travelling fans who stayed long after the final whistle sang the Chelsea manager’s name.
In small defence though, QPR had shown little evidence in their previous match that they would offer anything worthy of Chelsea’s respect. Harry Redknapp’s team could scarcely have been worse against Liverpool but the experienced manager had tricks up his sleeve to prevent a repeat. He selected a back four of Nedum Onuoha, Clint Hill, Ryan Nelsen and Fabio Da Silva in front of Julio Cesar in goal, then placed Shaun Derry strategically in front of them to close off the wide open spaces that Luis Suarez had grazed in on Sunday. Derry was wonderful and after a difficult weekend at the hands of Liverpool’s Uruguayan talisman, and on a ground where he was ripped to shreds in this fixture last season, Clint Hill delivered a class on the art of old fashioned defending. He smashed through Fernando Torres with a ball-and-all tackle early on in the game that left the effeminate forward sprawled on the floor. Hill picked Torres up as the play developed down field and told him there was more to come. Sure enough, having killed Torres’ interest in the game stone dead in that instance, Hill spent the rest of the match nailing him to the floor at every possible opportunity just for the fun and sport of it all. They sent a man out with a bin liner to clear bits of the beleaguered striker from the field at full time.
Further forward Stephane Mbia was detailed to lessen the impact of David Luiz who Chelsea have recently been playing as a midfielder. The two of them went at it like animals of the Serengeti for the entire match – no quarter asked for or given. Mbia’s cult hero status continues to rise. Esteban Granero was recalled for his economy in possession then wider there was Jamie Mackie and, to begin with, David Hoilett before his hamstring injury summoned Wright-Phillips to the field. But the masterstroke and main reason for victory was the selection of Adel Taarabt as a lone striker. Chelsea had Branislav Ivanovic and Gary Cahill at centre half, Cesar Azpilicueta and Ryan Bertrand at full back, and Luiz in a deep lying midfield position but none of them could do a thing with him. There was only one £50m striker on show in this game and it wasn’t the sulky git who looks like the one that never gets picked on Take Me Out.
Redknapp picked his team, spent two hours running pattern of play drills on the training ground, broke away briefly to tell the media only a “complete dope” could do a bad job of managing Chelsea and then took his seat in the dugout at Stamford Bridge. The trap was set.
Rangers appeared nervous at first. Marin, having escaped the early red card, had a 20 yard shot blocked on the edge of the box and then Luiz sent an improvised bouncing volley over the bar from the edge of the area. Bertrand, perhaps aware of Lee Mason’s propensity to award penalties against Queens Park Rangers for no reason at all, collapsed to the ground in embarrassing fashion after deliberately clipping his own heels to make it look as if he’d been fouled by Jamie Mackie – who was a yard away at the time and running in the opposite direction. For the second time in the opening 20 minutes Chelsea had reason to be grateful for the referee’s generosity – that was a stone wall yellow card.
Oscar went past Derry but then launched a 35 yard shot that could kindly be described as ambitious and failed to trouble the scorers. Marin also shot over from range then Oscar went slightly closer but still saw his effort from the edge of the area headed behind by Hill. There was a sense, as the total domination of Torres by Hill and Nelsen took hold, that Chelsea were already struggling for ideas with their two most creative talents still in tracksuits.
In fact even the half chances they had crafted had mostly come from QPR giving the ball away in their own half. The R’s laboured initially because Julio Cesar continues to struggle to make the halfway line with his kicks. Having spent the majority of his career with Inter Milan and Brazil kicking has probably never been a big part of his line of work and it shows, but as time wore on this actually suited QPR. Cesar much prefers to throw or pass out which forced QPR to collect the ball deep in their own half, and then treasure it for fear of dangerous concessions in bad areas. Derry and Granero revelled in the calmer, less rushed possession and recycled the ball left and right with growing confidence as the game wore on. A peach of a pass from the former Real Madrid man to Wright-Phillips after 25 minutes resulted in the visitors’ first shot across the bows.
You could see those in red growing in stature. The game had begun with the father of the QPR mascot enjoying the once in a lifetime opportunity to walk along the touchline at Stamford Bridge and flick double v’s at the home fans to the delight of those behind the goal and the team started to show the same cocky bravado that belied their league position. They were strong when they needed to be – impressive Da Silva bravely headed clear at the far post when a goal seemed likely – and resolutely disciplined without the ball. Ivanovic was one of several home players to unload hopeless long range shots off target and, when they finally did produce something to interest Cesar, the keeper was equal to a low shot that deflected off Frank Lampard in the area and required a leg save to keep the scores level.
Half time brought Neil Barnett to the field, Chelsea’s resident Bantersaurus Rex, who explained to the confused home crowd who Marvin Hinton was over the public address system, then marched him to the away end to tell the QPR fans he’d won more medals in his career than Rangers had in the history of the club. Chelsea have attempted to play this patronising , superior role to QPR since the R’s returned to the Premier League before the start of last season. The club’s official website carried a match preview prior to the first meeting at Loftus Road mocking what they saw as quaint cup-final rhetoric coming out of W12 while their side calmly prepared for just another game with a midtable side on the way to another league title. Barnett introduced the teams to the field on Wednesday as Queens Park Rangers and “European Champions Chelsea looking for five Premier League wins in a row.” Chelsea mock QPR for their hatred, and talk about their rivalries being with Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United these days. John Terry even managed to drop in a line about 18,000 QPR fans not really bothering him - having played at some of the biggest stadiums in the world - while testifying in a court of law, but that wasn’t the only lie he told in that case and the insincerity is starting to shine through in SW6.
QPR have very successfully annoyed Chelsea. They have won two and drawn one of four Premier League meetings without conceding a goal. Chelsea’s vastly experienced team of internationals have regularly lost control of themselves in those matches. After receiving two red cards in the first half and going a goal behind the Blues took leave of their senses at Loftus Road last season and Terry ultimately ended his England career with his reaction. Here they lashed shots into the stand from all angles and threw on attacking players – first Hazard for Marin and then Mata for Moses – to no avail. Their main song, about being European champions, was drowned out by a retort about their early exit this year and never heard again. Ashley Cole came to warm up in front of the away end, received a meaty chorus of “you’re John Terry’s bitch” and didn’t warm up again.
QPR haven’t done much right since returning to the top flight, but they’ve quickly got the hang of getting under Chelsea’s skin. Cole’s face wasn’t that of a man paying no attention, or laughing anything off, just as Terry’s attempt to ‘front up’ the Loft End earlier this season lacked conviction. The away end was a wall of noise throughout the second half and when the goal went in Barnett could be seen, quietly, in a seat behind Harry Redknapp sinking his head into his hands. What a time to be alive.
The second half started with Marin sending a low cross right through the goal mouth that Moses failed to convert when it seemed easier to do so. Lampard had a shot deflected wide from the edge of the area leading to three quick fire corners – the last of which should have been given as a goal kick by Mason who would have faced a lengthy inquest from a crowd of visiting players had Ivanovic headed home off the underside of the bar rather than out off the top of it. The Chelsea fans roused themselves briefly as the thumbscrews were tightened, but foolishly channelled their energy into abusing QPR’s international quality goalkeeper. It added determination to Cesar’s laid back demeanour and when Luiz had a shot blocked on the edge of the box and the ball rolled invitingly to Torres the giant goalkeeper sprang from his line in a heartbeat and remained upright long enough to produce a stunning save. Later he dived to save at Moses’ feet.
But this was no Alamo; no smash and grab raid. QPR were ultimately good value for their lead and victory. They tested the home team’s stand in keeper Ross Turnbull with a Granero shot on the turn that the young stopper’s giant frame and excellent footwork made light work of when many other goalkeepers would have struggled. Then, with Taarabt at his mesmeric best and producing a Ray Wilkins-like through ball from the edge of the box, Turnbull and Cahill had to converge on Jamie Mackie to deny him in a one on one situation where an early shot may have yielded greater reward. From the corner Derry was left unmarked at the back post and, again, Turnbull’s sound positioning made the save look easier than it was as he plucked a firm header out of the top corner.
Moses sought out the top corner of the QPR net and missed by a foot, then Frank Lampard rattled in what he thought was a record equalling one hundred and ninety third goal for the club only to be flagged offside. This wasn’t to be Lampard’s night, or Chelsea’s for that matter – QPR grateful that linesman Harry Lennard, who was slated to take this game, was replaced following his dreadful error in Rangers’ Boxing Day game with West Brom.
Benitez finally introduced Mata with 15 minutes to go, despite evidence that this game was slipping away from his team growing for some time. The change came too late. Granero swung a corner into the near post, Taarabt collected the headed clearance and showing a sublime touch and faultless awareness moved it off to his right in one fluid movement. Wright-Phillips strode onto the ball and put his laces through it. It was his first league goal in 47 QPR appearances, 54 appearances in total, and 969 days. I came oil, and I wasn’t the only one.
An anticipated bombardment of the QPR goal failed to materialise. Only once, five minutes from time, did the away team look stretched and in serious danger but Hill and Nelsen hunted the ball like rabid dogs and closed off the danger. Hill brought the heart stopping scramble to an end with a crunching foul on Ivanovic so close to the centre of the goal and the edge of the area that it seemed easier to score the free kick than miss. Luiz took responsibility, but Cesar constructed a 17 man wall for the occasion and the danger was repelled. After that a late flicked header from Ivanovic, that flew over the bar but looked in for all money from the far end of the ground, didn’t seem quite so terrifying.
QPR had done it. They ran three minutes of stoppage time off the watch effectively by sending on Ji-Sung Park for Granero and Kieron Dyer for talismanic Adel Taarabt. At the full time whistle Clint Hill raced to the away end shouting “that one was for you” at the ecstatic away supporters. He was joined by Jamie Mackie, who in the wake of a 6-1 defeat on this ground last season had promised supporters on the Open All R’s Podcast that Rangers would be coming to SW6 for revenge next time, and then the rest of the Rangers players.
They’d played like a team, and celebrated together as one. Harry Redknapp ran down the touchline punching the air – later he declared it one of the best wins of a 30 year managerial career. It hardly felt like the same club from three days previously; still sick, but no longer a corpse. Redknapp stands over the withered specimen clutching he chest paddles and repeating the word ‘believe’. The cause still seems lost, but QPR fans will be proud of their side if they can replicate this level of performance and commitment for the rest of the campaign.
And young Shaun? Well, buoyed by the goal, he picked up possession a minute or so later but got the ball caught between the ground and his ankle and fell over. Nobody minded that time though. Whatever has gone before and is still to come he, and the long suffering QPR fans, will always have that Wednesday night when he finally got something right.
Chelsea: Turnbull 7, Azpilicueta 6, Ivanovic 6, Cahill 6, Bertrand 5, Luiz 7, Lampard 6 (Ramires 79, 5), Oscar 6, Moses 5 (Mata 75, 6), Marin 5 (Hazard 60, 6), Torres 4
Subs not used: Hilario, Cole, Ferreira, Piazon
Bookings: Marin 3 (foul)
QPR: Cesar 8, Onuoha 7, Hill 8, Nelsen 7, Da Silva 8, Derry 8, Granero 7 (Park 90, -), Mbia 8, Mackie 7, Hoilett 6 (Wright-Phillips 15, 5), Taarabt 9 (Dyer 90, -)
Subs not used: Cisse, Faurlin, Ferdinand, Green
Goals: Wright-Phillips 78 (assisted Taarabt)
Bookings: Hill 85 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Adel Taarabt 9 Wow, a choice, I can’t remember the last time I had a choice. Taarabt was superb here – physically strong, fiercely intelligent, determined, skilful and the best player on the pitch. While Torres offered all the cutting edge of a wooden spoon at one end, Taarabt led a four man defence and one holding midfielder on a merry dance throughout and crowned it all with a delicate assist. Mature, skilful when needed, sensible with the ball at other times, always making the right decision. Awesome, about as good as I’ve seen him.
Referee – Lee Mason 6 Generous with Marin, who could easily have been sent off to begin with and then surely should have been later for deliberately pulling back Wright-Phillips. Generous with Bertrand, who should have been booked for an obvious dive in the penalty area. Must shake this cowardice that he regularly displays when refereeing big clubs at their own ground if he is to progress as a referee.
Attendance 41,634 (2,800 QPR approx) A constant, amazing noise from the away end throughout, even when everybody though Rangers were simply lambs to the slaughter. As at Old Trafford, a swift and witty retort stopped the home fans dead in their tracks and the home supporters weren’t heard from again after the “Champions of Europe, you’re already out.” Some people in that away end will have done all 23 of the away games in QPR’s dismal run on the road since last November, and for them this was pretty emotional.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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