Battling QPR hold Spurs to hard fought draw – full match report
Sunday, 13th Jan 2013 23:06 by Clive Whittingham
QPR’s surprisingly decent start to 2013 continued on Saturday with another clean sheet and good result against a Champions League-chasing side. For Harry Redknapp, it was a point well won against his former Spurs team.
Harry Redknapp says he is not a man to dwell on the past: no grudges, no regrets, and no thoughts of what might have been or should have happened. But the QPR manager is only human, and as he sat himself down on another Saturday evening flight to another foreign scouting trip and another attempt to persuade another player to come and join QPR’s seemingly doomed season of toil he surely must have been troubled by a pang of frustration and lament.
An amazing chain of events that started at Loftus Road nearly 18 months ago when the England captain lost control of his temper in a 1-0 Queens Park Rangers win against Chelsea has affected Redknapp more than most. If John Terry wasn’t such a vile human being then Fabio Capello may still be the England manager, and Harry may well be managing a Champions League side at White Hart Lane. Instead Roy Hodgson found himself in the big job, and Redknapp unemployed altogether during the summer after allowing speculation about his candidacy for the national team position to derail a Tottenham season where a league championship didn’t look out of the question at one stage.
Now he spends his days running QPR’s rag-tag bunch of misfits up and down fields rented from a college at the end of Heathrow’s main runway while his replacement Andre Villas Boas develops the team he inherited at Tottenham’s brand new, state-of-the- art training complex. On Saturday it was all Redknapp could do to put a plan in place that held and frustrated the Spurs team which he had such a hand in building over the past four years. Last season QPR had to be at their absolute best just to hang onto Tottenham’s coat tails in a 3-1 defeat at White Hart Lane where the home team’s performance was as good as anything you’ll ever see in the Premier League, and on Saturday at Loftus Road it required a super-human effort to keep them to a 0-0 draw. Redknapp surely believes he’s served his time in such scraps and deserves more illustrious surroundings – he hides it well if that is the case.
What Redknapp has done is turn QPR into a crap side that works hard and if that sounds like an insult it’s certainly not meant to be. The group of players he inherited from Mark Hughes – surely a strong candidate for QPR’s worst manager of all time – was hardly a team at all. It was a mess: a bloated collection of over-paid players that didn’t get on off the field, and didn’t play well together on it; a dressing room divided along economic and attitude lines; a football team incapable of competently managing even the rudimentary basics of the sport; a club destined for relegation, saddled with a bunch of mercenaries who seemed thrilled to death about it.
That Redknapp has been able, in two months, to turn that into a unit capable of winning at Chelsea and then becoming the first team to prevent third-placed Tottenham from scoring away from home this season is testament to his coaching and motivational ability.
Andre Villas-Boas’ team is wonderful when in full flight: Dawson and Vertonghen a physically dominant and yet classy pair of centre backs; Kyles Naughton and Walker as good going forward as they are defending from full back; Dembele oozing class from the centre of the park with first Sandro and then later Scott Parker as a minder; Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale thrillingly quick and fleet of foot with only their respective tendencies to collapse to the ground in strong breezes setting public opinion against them; and Jermain Defoe a constantly moving ball of goal scoring trouble. Remove Emmanuel Adebayor and add a striker with attitude to match the ability and this is a title contending team waiting to happen.
For QPR, buoyed by a shock win at Chelsea but still adrift in the relegation zone with only two wins to their name all season, it rather felt like battling tanks and Apache helicopters armed with slingshots and tooth picks. Stung by a thrashing on this ground against Liverpool, Redknapp has found solace in the canny knowhow of old warhorse Shaun Derry in front of his back four. Derry protects a centre back combination of Ryan Nelsen and Clint Hill to form a trio of players Rangers have come to rely on with three working knees and two ankles between them. The crowd sang Hill’s name after a typically robust challenge knocked Dembele to the floor under a Tottenham corner, and Nelsen was given a rousing reception from the Loft at full time in a week when he announced he would be leaving to take charge of Toronto – exactly when that will be is unclear and his continued participation is key to QPR’s slim survival chances.
Fabio Da Silva played left back and Nedum Onuoha right with Stephane Mbia affecting the midfield in a positive way with an all-action display ahead of Derry, and Ji-Sung Park doing the opposite after coming into the side late when Esteban Granero withdrew injured. Shaun Wright-Phillips appeared revitalised by his Stamford Bridge winner on one wing – although his crippling fear of shooting opportunities has been unaffected by that first goal in 54 appearances – while Jamie Mackie was all hard work and little attacking end product on the other. Adel Taarabt also faced his former club, in the same withdrawn striker role he’d played so well against the European champions.
QPR were set up like an away side, and within five minutes of this early afternoon game getting underway Spurs had shown exactly why Redknapp felt that necessary. The R’s were indebted to the one person who may get into the Tottenham side, Julio Cesar, for a pair of spectacular saves – first tipping Defoe’s long range effort onto the post, then regaining his feet quickly and bounding off his line to shut down Emmanuel Adebayor’s attempt at converting the rebound. World class. Not one to stand and admire his own work, the Brazilian was then sharp at his near post as Bale attempted a cheeky back flick towards goal from the resulting corner.
But thereafter the game became a tense, tight battle of few chances and openings. An arm-wrestle is the oft-used parlance in such circumstances, but this was more a prolonged stare out; the two teams stood a yard apart and looked at each other for the next 85 minutes, waiting to see who would blink first. The crowd was silent for long periods as a footballing chess developed. Redknapp was so wary about unbalancing the stalemate that he left all seven substitutes on his bench unused.
Such deadlock suits a QPR team with Adel Taarabt in its attack because the Moroccan is a player who can conjure breakthroughs through sheer sorcery even while starved of possession. Left isolated to battle with Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen - pound-for-pound the outstanding signing of the last transfer window in my opinion – the Moroccan seemed to be on a hiding to nothing. But there’s a physical strength to Taarabt these days not present when he was released to Rangers by Spurs, and a work ethic born only recently by a pang of responsibility as one of the longest serving players at a club that has loved and indulged him for four years now.
There was much toil for little reward for Taarabt, but when opportunities to assert his quality arose he was right at the very top of his game. As time ticked into double figures he collected the ball, spun and fed a precision through pass into the area for Shaun Wright-Phillips who cut inside, delayed and then attempted to chip the ball beyond the advancing goalkeeper Lloris from close range but saw his shot deflected an inch wide. Much later, with 13 minutes left for play, another through ball drew Lloris from his area to execute a clearance as Wright-Phillips threatened to steal in and win the match. Then five minutes from time, the much maligned but improving winger skipped past Kyle Walker down the wing after backhealing the ball over his head and into the space behind the full back but after racing into the area onto a fine returned pass from Taarabt he got his studs caught in the turf as he was about to shoot. Similarly aggressive, positive running down that flank from Da Silva ended with him playing a one-two with Taarabt and then sending a ball through the goalmouth to nobody when few would have begrudged him a low shot at the goal.
Taarabt’s performance was not only testament to his improving all round game, which will surely bring him a big-money move this summer if QPR are to be relegated, but also a calmer temperament that allowed him to cope with the long spells of the match when he wasn’t even given scraps to feed on. QPR fans present at the club’s last visit to Hull City, when Taarabt became so frustrated that he went on strike in the middle of the game and demanded to be substituted, can only marvel at the development of this supreme talent. His presence means that even a team as poor as QPR, set up as defensively as they were on Saturday, against a team as accomplished as Spurs, managed to craft three or four very decent chances to win the game.
But for the most part the heroes and standout performances were at the other end of the field. Shaun Derry, whose legs were said to be failing him when Neil Warnock took him to Crystal Palace five years ago, snapped at Kyle Walker’s heels as he attempted to test Cesar from distance after Adebayor had touched the ball back to him at the midway point of the first half. The crowd was roused by desperate, determined challenges from Nelsen and Onuoha on the edge of the area five minutes before the break and when Mackie swooped in to add his puppy-like enthusiasm to the shemozzle he was hacked down by Dembele who was booked. The value of determination and hard work that simply hasn’t been there for the majority of this season at Loftus Road was there for the players to see, and the crowd applauded their efforts.
Earlier referee Lee Probert had concocted a bizarre drop-ball decision in the QPR penalty area after blowing his whistle and awarding a corner prematurely, not expecting Julio Cesar to prevent the ball from leaving the field. Both goalkeeper and referee saw the funny side – this an official who once sent off Jude the Cat for looking like Paul Furlong remember.
Cesar continued his fine form with a leg save from Jermain Defoe after half time as the tiny striker worked space in the area, and Ryan Nelsen swooped in with a firm tackle to deny Adebayor a clear shot on goal as the Togo international dallied too long in the red zone.
There was a degree of Tottenham playing into QPR’s hands at times. Aaron Lennon, magnificent in a recent victory at Sunderland, was too keen to cut in field which suited the home team’s intention to defend in a deep and narrow formation. Lennon became frustrated, executing a theatrical attempt to win a penalty in the first half for which he was fortunate to escape a card, then when he was fouled after the break somehow managing to stagger a further five or six yards and collapse in the area hoping for a spot kick rather than the free kick it clearly was. Kyle Walker lashed that set piece half a foot over the bar with Cesar beaten, and the keeper was fortunate to get away with some nervous handling when Bale tried his luck with a dipping dead ball from the other side of the field although one couldn’t help but think Bale would be better served just stepping up and taking his free kicks like a normal person rather than spending so long posing, marking out run ups, and taking deep breaths. I blame Johnny Wilkinson personally.
Later Villas-Boas removed Lennon for the less mobile Gylfi Sigurdsson just when Jamie Mackie had committed a couple of clumsy fouls that suggested tiredness was setting in. That change seemed as odd as Redknapp’s refusal to call anybody from his own bench, but in truth only really the forlorn figure of Ji-Sung Park warranted replacement and even he was still getting around the field and offering nuisance value in an otherwise poor individual performance.
The visitors could also point to bad luck. Sandro, an influential midfield figure in their recent run of seven wins from nine league games, was carted off injured in the first half and replaced by Scott Parker who covered every blade of grass in typical style but is a different kind of player to the one he replaced and couldn’t help to create space for Moussa Dembele to operate in. Both found Stephane Mbia an oppressive force on their games – the Cameroon international mixed a sound defensive display with some swashbuckling attacking runs, the usual array of comedy play acting and a yellow card for a blatant handball in the centre of the park. There was also a late incident when he raced onto another fine Taarabt through ball and decided to ignore the offside flag and referee’s whistle and charge into goalkeeper Hugo Lloris anyway before collapsing to the ground in apparent agony which quickly vanished when the referee and goalkeeper arrived on the scene in fits of laughter. A strange individual.
Dawson headed a corner over the bar, Parker blasted just too high from long range and the introduction of Clint Dempsey for Emmanuel Adebayor also failed to unlock the QPR door – while they couldn’t have complained about a defeat, Rangers were ultimately good value for a point that they worked extremely hard to win.
Redknapp seemed pleased at full time, describing it as a fantastic result. He was right, but the circumstances QPR find themselves in make it two more points dropped on a weekend when Wigan, Reading and Southampton all improved their own tallies. The improvement brought about by the change of manager in W12 is clear for all to see but, as if the size of the task needed underlining, even the ever-positive Redknapp admitted that having flown to Marseille last week to discuss the possibility of signing striker Loic Remy the striker not only wouldn’t entertain the idea, he wouldn’t even politely entertain Redknapp himself and the pair never spoke.
Having fashioned a team from QPR’s group of individuals the tragedy now is that Redknapp needs not only extra quality that is unlikely to be tempted to a team in this position, but also the one thing he cannot buy or instil: more time and more games than Rangers have left.
QPR: Cesar 8, Onuoha 7, Nelsen 7, Hill 7, Da Silva 7, Derry 7, Park 5, Mbia 7, Mackie 6, Wright-Phillips 7, Taarabt 7
Subs not used: Green, Ferdinand, Ben Haim, Faurlin, Cisse, Bothroyd, Campbell
Bookings: Mbia 69 (handball)
Spurs: Lloris 7, Walker 6, Vertonghen 7, Dawson 7, Naughton 6, Sandro 7 (Parker 25, 7), Dembele 7, Bale 6, Lennon 7 (Sigurdsson 79, 6), Defoe 7, Adebayor 5 (Dempsey 69, 6)
Subs not used: Friedel, Assou-Ekotto, Caulker, Huddlestone
Bookings: Dembele 38 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Julio Cesar 8 Two fantastic saves in the first five minutes kept the score level and ultimately preserved a precious point, but it also laid the platform for a performance that was all about not giving up on lost causes and continuing to work hard against the odds. Made another smart save from Defoe in the second half as well and currently looks very confident and assured in goal.
Referee – Lee Probert 7 A decent performance in what, admittedly, wasn’t the most challenging game to referee. The bounce ball in the first half was a bit of a farce, and I think he was generous not booking Lennon for an obvious dive in the first half – then similarly kind to Mbia after his late clash with Lloris. Fine overall though, no big decisions wrong.
Attendance – 18,018 (3,100 Spurs approx) As I suspected, QPR could really have done with playing this match last week immediately after the remarkable win at Chelsea. I’m sure the atmosphere would have been far superior to this had we not had the snooze-a-thon with West Brom sandwiched in between. The style of the game didn’t make for revving the crowd up, and the noise was further dampened by an early kick off. Very large, vocal following from Spurs, but then it’s easy to sing when you’re team is constantly on the front foot and not looking in any danger – most of the QPR fans were busy watching the game from between their fingers.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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