QPR build momentum with fine FA Cup success – full match report
Wednesday, 16th Jan 2013 23:38 by Clive Whittingham
Struggling QPR stretched their unbeaten run to four matches and moved into the fourth round of the FA Cup with a 1-0 victory at West Brom on Tuesday.
There’s a growing sense that Houdini may be about to pull off his greatest escape act yet.
Queens Park Rangers were holed below the water line long before they turned to football’s great survivor for help, but three straight defeats over Christmas from performances that got progressively worse seemed to suggest it was time to start putting the women and children into the lifeboats.
Harry Redknapp preached belief and faith and his Rangers are now unbeaten in four matches. They’ve drawn two and won two, keeping three clean sheets and conceding only once, against three of the Premier League’s top seven teams and, whisper it quietly, they’ve looked good doing it. The players appear happy and confident, sure of their jobs and comfortable in the set up. Two months ago they didn’t even look like footballers at all.
Redknapp’s powers of persuasion and motivation apparently know no bounds. Rangers hadn’t beaten a Premier League side in the FA Cup since 1995, hadn’t beaten a top flight team away from home in this competition since 1982, only ended an 11 year winless run in the world’s oldest cup competition with a scratchy 1-0 replay success against League One MK Dons last season and had played West Bromwich Albion three times in three months without winning once prior to Tuesday night’s fourth instalment.
More impressive still is that the recent upturn has been accomplished while juggling the team around. Mark Hughes made fringe players he felt he had no use for train twice a day, including a session late in the afternoon by themselves, in order to make them feel that their only option was to leave the club. Redknapp is preaching clean slates and inclusion – and when a player like Jay Bothroyd is given an opportunity it’s in the same team shape and with a lot of the same players he could expect to find in Rangers’ Premier League team, rather than in a total reserve outfit. Here he followed Kieron Dyer and Shaun Wright-Phillips into the role of unlikely goal scoring hero.
It’s intelligent management this: Redknapp has created a situation during a busy Christmas period where 21 different players have got at least 90 minutes of football under their belts, including both goalkeepers, while only Clint Hill and Jamie Mackie have played every minute of every game. Hughes would pick somebody three times in a week and then not again for three months; Redknapp knows whoever he calls upon in the coming weeks will be fresh, sharp, match fit and confident.
On a night so cold even a family of Eskimos would have through twice about venturing into the main stand at The Hawthorns, QPR’s two standout performers were Bothroyd and goalkeeper Robert Green who were both recalled to the starting line up following a weekend draw with Spurs. Bothroyd, who scored the only goal of the game, was a revelation after a year out of favour at QPR and a confidence sapping loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday where he scored just one goal in 14 appearances and regularly incurred the wrath of the club’s supporters. He started wide right in support of central striker Djibril Cisse but moved forward in the second half when it became clear the Frenchman wasn’t that interested in proceedings. Jamie Mackie, whose interest you sense could probably be maintained for several hours using just a shiny piece of paper, completed the attack. In midfield there was a recall for Ale Faurlin alongside Ji-Sung Park and Shaun Derry while Anton Ferdinand and Tal Ben Haim were both returned to the defence with Clint Hill and Nedum Onuoha.
Bothroyd played his wing role well – an important outlet for Green to seek out with long kicks, but also a creative presence who had the visitors’ one decent shot of a dour first half when he let fly from 25 yards out wide on the right and forced Albion’s keeper Bo Myhill into a stretching save. There was touch, sharpness and effort that have often been sadly lacking from the former Cardiff striker’s game since his move to Loftus Road 18 months ago.
The same could not be said of Cisse, who forced Bothroyd to strike from distance in that instance by passing the ball to him and then moving at a slow walking pace towards the area when he should have been sprinting forward to provide an option for a cross. Redknapp removed him at half time and sent on Shaun Wright-Phillips whose recent improvement in form continued with an energetic display. The manager said Cisse was ill, but an impending loan move to the Middle East betrayed his true feelings. The French international can rightly point to the lone striker role in a team as limited as QPR’s being a thankless task, but when your work rate is being shown up by Adel Taarabt playing the same position for the first time in his career something is not right.
Bothroyd then moved into the centre forward position for the second half. When picked there before his tendency to drift off onto a wing, miles away from an area where he can actually cause a team some damage, has driven his team mates to distraction but here he stayed between the posts, worked hard, and was rewarded 15 minutes from time with a powerful downward header from Ale Faurlin’s deep corner that Myhill may have feel he should have saved, despite the distraction of Clint Hill in front of him, but instead contrived to palm into the side netting for the only goal of the game. Bothroyd looked absolutely thrilled.
Yes, QPR even score from corners these days.
There were other notable performances from the men in red shirts as well. Nedum Onuoha, another like Bothroyd whose lack of form appeared to be terminal, excelled at right back, beginning his evening by snuffing out an attack by Jerome Thomas down the right side of the QPR penalty box, and ending it with a determined attacking run that carried him past three Albion players. He was caught out once – static when he needed to be alert and mobile as Lukaku beat Ferdinand in the air – but Tal Ben Haim cynically hauled back Lukaku on the edge of the area as Thomas threatened to find him with a cross, took the yellow card for the team and then breathed again when transfer listed Graham Dorrans could only find the wall with the free kick. Dorrans and his midfield colleagues struggled to find space to breathe all night with Shaun Derry a strong presence at the heart of the QPR team once more.
Goalkeeper Green didn’t appear at all comfortable with his set up for that set piece – building a wall that covered neither the left nor the right side of his goal and then standing behind it so he couldn’t see the ball. Ten minutes later though the former West Ham stopper was on top form, plunging away to his left to get a strong, scooping hand on Lukaku’s powerful downward header. Then just before half time he was sharp at his near post as Thomas tried to catch him out after charging down Anton Ferdinand’s clearance with what appeared to be both hands raised above his head – referee Martin Atkinson allowed play to continue and Rangers were indebted to their stand-in goalkeeper.
There was more to come in the second period as well. You’d have expected Green to make the low save from Lukaku when the giant striker shot from distance but when Markus Rosenberg arrived late in the box and strode onto a perfectly played cross to execute a powerful volley immediately after Bothroyd had opened the scoring it seemed a goal was inevitable only for Green to change direction and thrust out his right hand to produce the save of the night. Rosenberg tried his luck again from similar range five minutes later – this time a lower shot through a crowd of players that Green watched closely and saved well. Another two handed parry from Popov, and a late one handed tip over when Dorrans cracked one from long range, were more routine but added to the feeling that he wouldn’t be beaten. Redknapp now has two confident and in form goalkeepers to choose from.
Improvements too from Jamie Mackie whose work rate has been high but productivity low in recent matches. Here he twice worried the Baggies into mistakes in their own penalty area in the second half – on the first occasion he forced Myhill to spring from his line and nervously punch the ball off his toe, and on the second he turned the ball perfectly back into the path of Faurlin who seemed certain to score from close range only for the shot to be blocked away. And Wright-Phillips, who couldn’t find the target with one effort from the edge of the box, and was then unfortunate that a second chance he created for himself with a nice piece of control 20 yards from goal had all its pace removed by a heavy deflection when it would have troubled Myhill if left untouched, and could easily have bounced past the goalkeeper anyway had the contact been a little thinner.
West Brom knocked at the door, with much of their threat carried by Lukaku, Thomas and Morrison. When Park – better than against Spurs but still not producing anything worthy of a postcard home just yet – weakly lost out on a second minute challenge on the edge of his own box Lukaku headed a subsequent cross off target. Another shot sailed high and wide into a creditable away following of more than 700 from London who later teased the home support by cheering the name of Redknapp’s latest transfer target Peter Odemwingie when he came on as a second half substitute.
Albion boss Steve Clarke tried everything he knew. A half time pep talk produced an early free kick for a foul by Faurlin on Rosenberg and a header by McAuley from Morrison’s cross that landed on the roof of the net. But Wright-Phillips and Park reset the tone by harrying Popov out of possession in his own half and crossing low for Mackie to trouble Myhill, then Thomas was booked by Atkinson for a poor challenge on the former Plymouth man. Drifting out of the competition, Clarke sent on Odemwingie for Thomas midway through the second half, and introduced Yassin El Ghanassy for Gabriel Tamas to try and turn the game back in his favour, but it was Redknapp’s changes that made the bigger difference: Wright-Phillips upping the overall work rate by replacing Cisse; Stephane Mbia stiffening the midfield when he replaced the goal scorer; and then Adel Taarabt managing to nutmeg Gareth McAuley in three minutes of added time at the end of the game with his first touch of the ball having only really been introduced to waste time. Nutmegs he does indeed still prefer.
Albion could point to the form of Green and say they deserved more from the game, and they had a chance to salvage a draw in the last minute of normal time when Atkinson harshly penalised Hill for handball on the edge of the area but Lukaku shot off target. In truth they lacked ideas and threat for much of the evening and looked tired at the end of a hectic run of fixtures that has coincided with their first serious injury crisis of the campaign. A booking for Rosenberg for another foul on Mackie suggested frustration at a number being done on them in a competition their league form and position would suggest they may have fancied a concerted attempt at winning this season. Instead it’s lowly QPR moving onto another meeting with MK Dons.
Having brought a considerable shine to the surface, the next stage of Redknapp’s turd polishing exercise is to add expensive decorations to the pile. Loic Remy was the hot topic of the post match press conference as he completes a club record £8m move to W12 on a wage so substantial it turned him onto Rangers rather than Newcastle United. Yann M’Vila may yet follow and while concerns about wage bills and impact on team spirit are valid – QPR signed 16 players over the last 12 months and got steadily worse in all areas leading to a lasting fear of new faces – it’s hard to begrudge Redknapp a full throttled attempt at completing the impossible job given the impact he’s had so far.
Two away victories on the bounce after none in 23 attempts over the course of 14 months, the second inspired by Jay Bothroyd of all people, suggest anything may yet be possible. If the magician’s next trick is consecutive Premier League wins for the first time since December 1995 it will throw a particularly sprightly cat into an easily scared crowd of pigeons. Don’t bet against it.
West Brom: Myhill 6, Popov 6, McAuley 6, Jones 6, Tamas 6 (El Ghanassy 81, -), Morrison 7 (Reid 90, -), Thorne 6, Dorrans 6, Thomas 6 (Odemwingie 71, 6), Rosenberg 7, Lukaku 6
Subs not used: Foster, Olsson, Ridgewell, Dawson
Bookings: Thomas 50 (foul), Rosenberg 76 (foul)
QPR: Green 8, Onuoha 8, Ferdinand 6, Hill 7, Ben Haim 7, Park 6, Derry 7, Faurlin 6, Mackie 7 (Taarabt 90, -), Bothroyd 8 (Mbia 80, -), Cisse 4 (Wright-Phillips 46, 7)
Subs not used: Murphy, Ephraim, Ehmer, Hulse
Goals: Bothroyd 75 (assisted Faurlin)
Bookings: Ben Haim 17 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Jay Bothroyd 8 Not really a night to be a Sheffield Wednesday fan. While they were eliminated by League One MK Dons, depriving them of a fourth round tie against Premier League opposition, QPR won through to the other half of that draw with a goal from a player who was consistently unimpressive for them during a recent loan spell. You’d hardly believe this was the same man to look at him – confident, diligent, hard working, and deserving of his goal.
Referee – Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire) 8 Little to referee, one or two niggly decisions such as the late handball call on Hill but otherwise absolutely fine.
Attendance 11, 184 (718 QPR) I’m genuinely stunned that so many QPR fans actually made the journey to this midweek replay given the way the team has played this season, its away record, the cost of the Christmas games, the uninspiring nature of the tie, the expense and everything else. Outstanding away support both in number and noise, well done to everybody who made the effort.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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