Unloved tie gives way to unwanted replay – full match report
Sunday, 6th Jan 2013 20:15 by Clive Whittingham
QPR and West Brom fought hard to produce the outcome neither of them wanted from Saturday’s FA Cup tie at a sparsely populated Loftus Road.
Rarely has the FA Cup felt so unloved as at Loftus Road on Saturday.
QPR experimenting, West Brom sloppy, the crowd almost totally absent. Shane Long’s goal, 12 minutes from time, brought sighs of relief; Kieron Dyer’s subsequent injury time equaliser drew at least as many groans as cheers. Ultimately these two sides laboured to the one outcome neither of them wanted – a replay – and if this fixture felt more like a reserve friendly match, one can only imagine how desolate The Hawthorns will feel a week on Wednesday.
For Harry Redknapp this tie fell somewhere in between an opportunity to compete for silverware and an unwanted distraction. He didn’t convince in his Friday press conference when asked if next week’s league match with Spurs would have suited his troops better following Wednesday night’s morale boosting shock win at Chelsea, but he resisted the urge to change the entire team.
There were opportunities, as expected, for new signing Tal Ben Haim and DJ Campbell fresh back from a lone spell at Ipswich he should never have been sent on in the first place. Little point though, in Redknapp’s eyes, giving the striker a chance to impress at the higher level after ten goals in 17 appearances in Suffolk in a reserve side. If he is to become a regular for QPR in the Premier League he’ll need to forge a partnership with Adel Taarabt and so, with the full knowledge that a serious injury for the Moroccan would just about snuff out any lingering hope the Hoops have of playing Premier League football next season, Rangers took a risk and played their maverick forward from the start.
Likewise at the back, where Ben Haim could easily have slotted in for either Clint Hill or Ryan Nelsen but would have disrupted a defence that played so well during the week had he done so. Redknapp instead chose to play the Israeli out of position at left back where he defended soundly but looked uncomfortable with any attacking elements required by the position and therefore made the team lopsided to the right. Minutes under his belt however will be crucial, particularly if the post match discussion about Nelsen accepting a player coach role in the US and leaving London within the next fortnight come to fruition. Sadly Ben Haim’s form over the last four years suggest that an already porous defence will only get worse if QPR are intending to replace Nelsen with the new signing for the remainder of the season. Hopefully Nedum Onuoha will figure in those plans – he started on the bench after a couple of impressive performances at right back but came on in the second period. Julio Cesar was the goalkeeper and he did more than most to secure the draw that nobody wanted.
Elsewhere there was a recall for Ji-Sung Park who looks absolutely spent alongside Stephane Mbia who did nothing to hinder his growing reputation as an absolute fruit cake. Run outs too for regular Jamie Mackie, semi-regular Esteban Granero, and occasional footballer Kieron Dyer.
West Brom, swimming in injuries to defenders, laid their cards on the table right from the off. Familiarity may breed contempt in some relationships but in the case of the Baggies it has bred boredom. They’ve played QPR twice in three months, including a game ten days ago, and won on both occasions. They were in a mood to dispose of them quickly for the third time and get back off to the West Midlands as soon as possible and so abandoned their usual strategy of playing a lone striker with a supporting cast of three, sitting deep and waiting to see what transpires on the counter attack. Here both Shane Long and Romelu Lukaku started together from the off, with support from Chris Brunt, Zoltan Gera and James Morrison who have all scored goals against Rangers already this season. Only the inclusion of youngster George Thorne hinted that this wasn’t a league match and given his assured performance and impressive physical presence in the midfield it won’t be long before he’s playing regularly in the top flight himself. QPR fans wondering why the Baggies have suddenly decided that Graham Dorrans is surplus to requirements – at 25 exactly the sort of player Rangers should be looking to buy – got their answer in Thorne’s performance here. Oh to have a functioning youth set up of our own.
Thorne lashed wide and his deep-lying midfield partner Tamas sent one over the bar from range as the Baggies settled into the game. The irony, given the way the Boxing Day game between these two was settled, of QPR’s first attack ending when Ryan Nelsen was accused of fouling goalkeeper Bo Myhill when attacking a corner, was lost on nobody.
Redknapp complained long and hard about that goal - officially credited to Robert Green who took up a position behind his goal line from a corner then struggled to escape past the considerable frame of Marc Antoine Fortune before flapping the ball into his own net – but he dropped Green to the bench afterwards betraying his true feelings on the matter. That has meant a recall for Julio Cesar and he has already secured a win and a draw that may well have been a draw and a defeat without him.
Here the big Brazilian stopper made routine saves to deny Morrison from range after referee Mark Clattenburg had played advantage through a foul on Long, then he parried nervously at his near post after Long had advanced into the area and tried his luck himself but recovered to make a routine save from Lukaku on the rebound. Later he sprawled quickly to his left to turn aside a powerful Lukaku header at the back post after West Brom sought him out with a deep cross. He’s a goalkeeper that seems to grow into games – his outstanding performances at Chelsea and Arsenal earlier in the season both started with reasonably uncomfortable, nervous looking saves before the fireworks show later. He looked beaten when Lukaku pulled a ball back from the byline and Morrison diverted it goalwards at full stretch but the ball bobbled an inch or so wide of the post.
QPR meanwhile were struggling to craft chances. Everything came off for Adel Taarabt on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge but he often cut a frustrated figure here. DJ Campbell was reduced to foraging for scraps which he did willingly without ever losing heart but must have longed for just one half chance in the area to really announce his return to the fold. Taarabt shot low at Myhill and Mbia blasted half a foot over the bar from long range with the last kick of the half. Park may have done better with a volley from a tight angle after Ben Haim had chipped the ball in behind the visiting team’s defence.
Campbell can count himself unfortunate not to have won a free kick on the edge of the area after a quarter of an hour when he appeared to be fouled but Clattenburg showed no interest. The referee, for whom this has not been an easy season to date, openly admonished himself on two other occasions when his failure to play advantage brought attacks to a halt. In other moments he played advantage when the teams didn’t really want him to. Once he punched the air in frustration at himself, twice he could be seen shaking his head at his own decision. This is a referee in need of some time off in the sun.
West Brom also looked a frustrated bunch by half time. Kept at bay by Cesar they may also have been cursing their decision to take the competition more seriously than others when first Zoltan Gera left the field injured at the midway point of the half, and then his replacement Fortune couldn’t even make it to half time and had to be substituted himself with former R loanee Jerome Thomas taking to the field after a recent loan spell with Leeds. Already without Jonas Olsson, Steven Reid, Goran Popov and Claudio Yacob before the game had kicked off that replay a week on Wednesday may not be the forgone conclusion many are anticipating and Rangers may well rue the decision not to take advantage of the tube strike and move the Boxing Day game back a few weeks to a time when their reinforcements may have arrived, and West Brom may be struggling for numbers.
If you’re still fully awake and reading this it’s more than I was by the time the second half kicked off. I don’t want to get all Alan Green on you here but this was boring. Magic of the FA Cup in short supply, this had all the sparkle and wonder of a bout of the norovirus – and to be fair, even a spectacular dose of the shits can bring a deal of excitement and tension to your life as you embark on things like tube journeys of 20 minutes or more.
When Lukaku burst through into the left channel and fired across the face of the goal in the opening minute it suggested the second half may be more lively. DJ Campbell returned fire, finally getting that half chance but heading a nice cross from Park over the bar having been left unmarked. He should have at least found the target. Redknapp sent on Jay Bothroyd for Esteban Granero, but a half-season loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday spent mostly receiving dog’s abuse from his own supporters hasn’t curbed his enthusiasm for disappearing out into a wide role where he can have no effect on the game and had you been late back from a half time toilet trip you’d have been forgiven for realising Bothroyd wasn’t actually on the field at all.
That cross was one of the few positive influences Park had on the game and, while excuses about time out of the side and injuries are valid and accepted, if Redknapp’s intention was to give the South Korean a full 90 minutes here to see if he can be of use to QPR in the forthcoming Premier League games he’ll almost certainly have decided he can’t. Four minutes after the break he was weak in a challenge with Morrison – the defensive side of the game he was so famed for at Old Trafford sadly absent once more – and the Baggies midfielder took advantage by unloading a long range volley straight at Cesar.
Rangers put some better moves together around the hour and forced a couple of corners but Clattenburg was hot on Clint Hill’s contact on Myhill this time and the hope of an opening goal faded into the early evening gloom. At the other end Billy Jones cut in from the right back slot and launched a left foot shot over the bar. With another corner Taarabt worked it short to Dyer who should have attacked the space in front of him on the edge of the area but instead returned it to Taarabt who then played a ball across the edge of the area where Ben Haim had stationed himself but a first time shot on the run with a ball travelling across his body was only ever likely to go in one place and indeed the ball rattled around in the empty seats over by the corner flag.
Four seats along from me an elderly gent woke himself with a snore and asked if he’d missed anything. He hadn’t.
Redknapp replaced Ryan Nelsen with Nedum Onuoha and for the remaining 20 minutes of the game the defence seemed to be in a state of constant rotation. There were times when it appeared to be a four with Onuoha at centre half, then Ben Haim and Dyer seemed to swap over full back roles, then a period where Ben Haim moved into the middle, and then finally to a back three with Kieron Dyer asked to advance into more attacking duties. West Brom took full advantage, opening the scoring with a deflected shot from Long after Thorne’s jinking run right along the edge of the area had carried him past several would-be tacklers and through an attempted shot on goal that was blocked back to him.
Chris Brunt dragged a shot wide, and then blatantly kicked the ball away after a whistle had been blown but having let him off with four fouls in quick succession Clattenburg was in no mood to card him for that although he did then produce a yellow card when he pushed his luck too far with another offence two minutes from time. Rangers couldn’t complain too loudly – earlier Stephane Mbia was fortunate not to be carded for his latest elaborate attempt to con a free kick out of minimal contact. What’s most irritating about this is the one time he has been genuinely badly fouled in his QPR career – by Marko Marin at Chelsea - he leapt straight back up and made the referee’s decision not to send the opponent off much easier. Strange character.
The referee, as keen to get this over with as everybody else it seemed, added just two minutes onto the end of the game but that was enough for Rangers to force an unlikely equaliser. They’d barely threatened at all for the previous 20 minutes but when Ben Haim knocked a long ball forward from the right back spot and Bothroyd failed to make contact having drawn two men to him the coast was clear for Dyer to sneak in down the left and send a bobbling shot across Myhill and into the far corner. His first goal for QPR, his first goal for anybody since May 2007 – following Shaun Wright-Phillips’ unlikely winner at Stamford Bridge it seems it’s a week for dogs having their days.
There was still time for Long to salvage the situation, but having shown renewed determination to seize the ball, turn quickly and get a shot away in the time that remained he found Cesar blocking his path once again.
Redknapp extolled the virtues of maintaining momentum by not getting beaten ahead of what is now a Saturday lunchtime showdown with Tottenham at Loftus Road next week. West Brom, with injuries mounting, must beware sod’s law in their fourth meeting with Rangers in a week and a half’s time having not been beaten by the R’s in five meetings over the last season and a half. For both teams a home draw with either Sheffield Wednesday or MK Dons means the fifth round suddenly seems very attainable, but the monotony of a replay awaits first.
The worst possible outcome for both, and yet so completely inevitable.
QPR: Cesar 7, Dyer 6, Hill 6, Nelsen 6 (Onuoha 71, 6), Ben Haim 6, Park 5, Granero 5 (Bothroyd 46, 5), Mbia 6, Mackie 5, Taarabt 6, Campbell 6
Subs not used: Green, Ferdinand, Faurlin, Cisse, Derry
Goals: Dyer 90 (assisted Ben Haim)
West Brom: Myhill 6, Jones 6, Ridgewell 6, McAuley 6, Tamas 6, Morrison 6, Thorne 7, Brunt 6, Gera 6 (Fortune 21, 6 (Thomas 45, 6)) Long 7, Lukaku 6 (Dawson 88, -)
Subs Not Used: Foster, Jara, El Ghanassy, Rosenberg
Goals: Long 78 (assisted Thorne)
Bookings: Brunt 88 (repetitive fouling)
QPR Star Man – Julio Cesar 7 No out of the ordinary saves, but a few decent stops to keep QPR in the tie and that probably made him the best of a mediocre bunch.
Referee – Mark Clattenburg (County Durham) 5 Could do with a long holiday. He’s had a tough and stressful season to this point thanks to the disgraceful behaviour of the scum down the road and this was a very average, and tired performance. Called the advantage badly wrong on several occasions, including the one in the first half where Mackie was actually in a goal scoring position and he openly punched the air in frustration at his own poor call. Let Brunt get away with far more than he should have done in the second half too. He just looks low on confidence and in poor form to me.
Attendance 8984 (1,600 West Brom approx) A pitiful gate, and totally non-existent atmosphere, but it was more than the club deserved for their clueless, scandalous pricing of tickets for the match. Proped up – both in number and noise – by a fantastic following from West Brom.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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