Taarabt’s miss proves costly in latest scoreless draw – full match report
Sunday, 3rd Feb 2013 22:42 by Clive Whittingham
QPR were left to count the cost of Adel Taarabt’s second half penalty miss as they drew 0-0 for the third time in four league games, this time against Norwich at Loftus Road.
In March 1996 relegation haunted QPR welcomed Leeds United to Loftus Road for a crucial premier League game. As had happened so often that season things quickly went wrong as Leeds – experienced, pacy and too powerful for QPR’s naïve, confidence-shorn young side – surged into a two goal lead with Tony Yeboah scoring twice.
But despite a miserable winter period that had brought seven consecutive league defeats for the Super Hoops, Ray Wilkins’ side rallied after Kevin Gallen pulled one back and by the middle of the second half only the flying form of veteran goalkeeper John Lukic was keeping the London side at bay. It felt like a matter of time before an equaliser arrived and when centre half David Wetherall inexplicably thrust up an arm and palmed a high cross away from danger referee Graham Poll awarded a penalty and it seemed the moment had arrived.
Rangers were dominant at this stage, and an equalising goal with the best part of 20 minutes left for play could have laid the platform for a memorable win. Gallen took on the responsibility, but Lukic denied him with another fine save. Momentum killed, wind taken out of sails, Rangers lost 2-1 and were relegated at the end of the season with a game to spare.
Harry Redknapp can only pray that history is not repeating itself 17 years on. Gallen’s crucial miss was the third important spot kick Rangers had spurned that season – Simon Barker had fired over against Middlesbrough and Bradley Allen wide of the target versus Chelsea – and the modern day Rangers are two thirds of the way towards matching that after Adel Taarabt’s tame kick was saved by Norwich’s Mark Bunn at the Loft End on Saturday. The R’s have had two spot kicks this season, both against Norwich, and scored neither of them. At Carrow Road in August Bobby Zamora converted the rebound and a creditable draw was secured but here there was no such reprieve for Taarabt and QPR had to settle for a single point once again at a time when draws are in plentiful supply but not good enough for the stricken West London club.
A dead ball situation or penalty always looked the most likely source of a goal in this tense, niggly Saturday lunchtime encounter. Redknapp was forced to go into the match without £7m striker Loic Remy who injured a groin in training during the week and despite completing 38 transfers or loans in or out of the club this season Rangers are still in a position where one injury to one centre forward reduces them to playing Jamie Mackie on his own in attack with Taarabt for support. This dire situation makes Remy’s seemingly fragile physical state a serious concern, and the decision to allow first Djibril Cisse and now apparently DJ Campbell as well leave the club on loan all the more mystifying.
The makeshift front two certainly couldn’t be faulted for effort and enterprise. Within seconds of the match beginning Taarabt had shot wide after a solid challenge in the centre of the park from Shaun Derry – partnering Stephane Mbia in the middle of midfield with Spurs loanee Andros Townsend making a debut on one wing and Shaun Wright-Phillips running about to little positive effect on the other. Then the Moroccan rode one challenge, beat a second man and shot wide when he had absolutely no right to even still have possession of the football, let alone work a shooting opportunity. When Wright-Phillips then won the ball back on the edge of the Norwich area Taarabt was busy and bright again, skilfully setting up Mackie who dragged a shot across the face of goal. Later he returned the favour, feeding Wright-Phillips in the danger area with a majestic pass that the diminutive winger killed with an immaculate first touch and then hacked wildly wide with an amateurish second.
At this stage Taarabt looked like he was in the mood to put on a show and when Javier Garrido tempted the industrious Mackie with a slack pass back in the second period and goalkeeper Mark Bunn rushed from his line to upend the former Plymouth man it seemed the time had come. Taarabt, like Gallen before him, could only produce a tame shot in front of an expectant home crowd and Bunn saved easily. It was a sickener for Rangers, and Taarabt in particular who has been in wonderful form of late but seemed to be really effected by both his crucial miss and the attentions of Norwich’s Alexander Tettey who grew into his man marking role after a nervy beginning.
An early introduction for Bobby Zamora from the substitute’s bench in place of Wright-Phillips betrayed Redknapp’s desperation for a win. The former Fulham striker has been heavily criticised in some quarters for a questionable attitude on the field, and ill-timed newspaper interview where he stated his dislike for football and lack of interest in it when he’s not playing himself, but it was hard to fault him here. Clearly struggling with a hip injury, he performed admirably for 41 minutes when the doctors had said he could only manage 20, providing an experienced hold up and lay game that QPR have badly missed without him.
But even with Zamora up front, and the dominant force of Chris Samba on debut in defence alongside Clint Hill allowing the back four to play higher up the field and dispense with the need for a holding defensive midfielder, Rangers have an infuriating aversion to putting men in the penalty area during attacks in open play. Zamora dominated Norwich centre back Michael Turner, winning every header he challenged for, but on countless occasions intelligent and well placed flicks ons and chested lay offs found only visiting players scurrying around on a clean up mission.
The R’s simply didn’t get enough bodies around Zamora to take advantage of his fine target man play and when the impressive Townsend made strides in attacking wide areas he regularly looked up to see a penalty box containing just one or two team mates. When another substitute Tal Ben Haim chipped an inviting cross in from the right with time running out Zamora was flat footed and outside the six yard box allowing Norwich to clear. The lack of QPR players desperate to get their nose under the cross bar and sniff out crucial goals has been a persistent problem all season, and remains an absolute ball ache. Immediately after half time a Taarabt free kick from wide whistled right through the very heart of the six yard box and was eventually headed wide by Mbia at full stretch when anybody gambling in the centre of the goal would have had a simple opening goal – a reasonable appeal for a penalty for a foul on Samba as the ball was delivered doesn’t detract from the point. When Zamora did get into the right position to attack a back post cross from Townsend eight minutes from time he could only head wide when he seemed certain to score. No wonder the loaned Tottenham winger – impressive on his first QPR start – went himself five minutes later and drew a save from Bunn with a 25 yard howitzer.
Rangers didn’t have things all their own way though – this was certainly no attack v defence-type contest. Norwich, a very limited side in poor form, lacked ambition and invention for almost the entire game but when there was a chance to pose a threat they had no such issues with packing the penalty box full of attacking threats and feeding the creative force of Wes Hoolahan and Robert Snodgrass in good areas. In the third minute Hoolahan lifted the ball over from close range after being found in an offside position by Snodgrass – the flag stayed down, it would have counted, he should have scored.
Having then recovered from the early loss of Anthony Pilkington – who scored a fine goal in this fixture last season but could only last 20 minutes on Saturday owing to a thigh injury – they twice worked heading opportunities for Snodgrass in quick succession around the midpoint of the first half. The winger, part of a plethora of former Leeds men in the Norwich ranks, headed an absolute sitter flush against the cross bar when these sides met at Carrow Road earlier in the year and here he headed wide at first, and then straight at keeper Julio Cesar with his next chance after Rangers had lost three challenges one after the other in midfield.
Redknapp will have been disappointed with that, and tellingly it was Stephane Mbia, rather than the ageing Shaun Derry, who made way for Jermaine Jenas when he came on for a debut in the second half. Mbia is a wild, raw player – quite possibly a centre half playing out of position in midfield. He committed two cynical fouls to draw a warning from referee Jon Moss, and then received a yellow card for a third challenge on Snodgrass who curled the resulting free kick low around the wall and wide of the target. That seemed harsh on the Cameroonian, who got plenty of the ball in the Snodgrass challenge and was so furious about the award of a free kick it looked like he might talk himself into a red card. Mbia would no doubt point out that while he was warned after two fouls and booked after three, pantomime villain Grant Holt was whistled four times in the first half without so much as a word on the run from Moss who the let him off again with a fifth infringement immediately after the break.
Having seemed reluctant to book anybody but Mbia in the first half, Moss then went rather card happy in the second and showed yellow to Turner, Sebastien Bassong and Mark Bunn for their respective fouls on Jamie Mackie and Garrido for body checking Wright-Phillips after he’d run half the length of the field on a counter attack.
It made for a tetchy, nervous encounter that QPR should have won, but could easily have lost. When Clint Hill uncharacteristically allowed a long ball to bounce he was indebted to Julio Cesar for a point blank save to deny Wes Hoolahan and then, when the ball was returned back to the far post, right back Fabio Da Silva who, not for the first time in his QPR career, was strong in standing his ground and commanding in heading behind as Holt put heavy pressure on him to try and force an effort on goal. When the resulting corner was delivered the home team muscled up with a block from Derry to deny Holt – all bluster, blubber and faux outrage at perceived injustices as usual - and a fine tackle in the six yard box by Samba keeping the score deadlocked.
Da Silva is playing well at the moment, so it was a concern to see him leave the field injured late on given that Nedum Onuoha was already ruled out prior to kick off and the other alternative would be a return for pariah Jose Bosingwa.
Nobody in Hoops is playing quite as well as goalkeeper Cesar though. After denying Hoolahan he palmed wide when Johnson cracked in a long range shot just after the hour, and then later tipped another goal bound effort from Snodgrass around the post. Cesar has conceded one goal in four games now and been magnificent in all of them – he goes into this week’s international friendly between England and Brazil in excellent form as he looks to cement his place in his country’s World Cup squad.
Rangers could do with reducing his workload though. Jenas and Hill were caught fooling around with pedestrian pace possession on the halfway line just after the hour here resulting in Norwich seizing the ball and posing a threat first through Snodgrass and then - controversially considering he’d been motionless on the floor and apparently at death’s door just seconds before when he thought QPR might still have the ball - Wes Hoolahan, but the defence repelled the danger once more. Hill was booked by Moss for his rash attempt to retrieve his own mistake that had felled Hoolahan in the first place.
Once the penalty was missed QPR’s attacks became rather American Football-like on this Super Bowl weekend. Play would stop for a free kick or corner, Rangers would set something up, the play would run, and then the game would ground to a halt again. Taarabt probably wasn’t the best person to take a free kick on the edge of the area a minute after his spot kick horror and sure enough, after Mackie had been felled by Turner and Bradley Johnson had been yellow carded for his latest bout of screaming in a referee’s face, the Moroccan dollied a hopeless shot over the cross bar. When he did find the target in open play, after Zamora had intelligently nodded the ball down to him, Bunn produced a nervy save and was fortunate that Mackie couldn’t steal in on the rebound before the ball rolled too far away from the target for a decent shooting chance.
In the sixty sixth minute the pattern repeated again: Traore counter attacked and was well tackled, Taarabt picked the loose ball up and was fouled by Tettey who was also booked by Moss, Taarabt delivered the free kick, Samba headed goalwards, Turner kicked the ball wide. Ten minutes later Taarabt chipped a corner to the back post and Hill headed into the Lower Loft. Then, when Moss very harshly penalised Turned for a non-existent foul on Mackie as he tried to hold up a Zamora flick on, Jenas tried his luck with a direct free kick but could only find the wall.
A generous five minutes of added time at the end of the game couldn’t separate the two sides. Norwich seemed happy with their point, QPR less so with theirs. To clutch at straws slightly a win at Swansea would mean four points from the week, which if it had been achieved with a win against Norwich and a draw in South Wales, would have been seen as a successful return. But QPR are now six points adrift with just 13 games left to play and need not just one win, but consecutive maximum point hauls to recover an increasingly bleak looking situation.
As if the trip to the League Cup finalists isn’t hard enough, it’s followed after a two week break by a visit from Manchester United. At full time Taarabt shook his head and left the field. A tragedy that somebody who has done so much more than almost everybody else to try and save QPR this season should be the one to cost them so dearly here, but this is ruthless league in a demanding sport. Taarabt knew, he didn’t need telling.
QPR: Cesar 7, Da Silva 6 (Ben Haim 74, 6), Samba 7, Hill 6, Traore 6, Wright-Phillips 5 (Zamora 54, 7), Derry 6, Mbia 5 (Jenas 69, 6), Townsend 7, Taarabt 6, Mackie 6
Subs not used: Green, Park, Granero, Bothroyd
Bookings: Mbia 38 (repetitive fouling), Hill 70 (foul)
Norwich: Bunn 7, Martin 6, Turner 6, Bassong 6, Garrido 5, Snodgrass 7, Johnson 6, Pilkington 6 (E Bennett 20, 6), Tettey 7, Hoolahan 6 (Becchio 88, -) Holt 6
Subs not used: Camp, Whittaker, R Bennett, Howson, Jackson
Bookings: Garrido 51 (foul), Bunn 54 (foul), Johnson 57 (dissent), Tettey 66 (foul), Turner 80 (foul), Bassong 84 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Chris Samba 7 Clearly Julio Cesar deserves great credit, and probably more than a seven truth be told, for another two or three excellent saves to preserve a point but I also thought the performances of both Townsend and Samba were worthy of note on debut. Ryan Nelsen was a fantastic player for QPR, but the lack of pace between him and Hill hamstrung the back end of the QPR team somewhat and the difference having a mobile, athletic, powerful centre half in there was obvious on Saturday. This is Samba at, by his own admission, 40% fitness which certainly bodes well.
Referee – Jon Moss (West Yorkshire) 6 The big decision in the game was the penalty and that was correctly judged, with a spot kick awarded and a yellow card for the goalkeeper. But I thought he was inconsistent in a number of other areas – very keen to penalise Mbia, warn him and then book him after three first half fouls but not even feeling the need to talk to Grant Holt until his fifth offence just after half time. Michael Turner can also count himself unfortunate to have been penalised and booked for a challenge on Jamie Mackie late in the game that didn’t even look like a foul to me. Not great, but not awful.
Attendance – 17,543 (1,500 Norwich approximately) A flat atmosphere, 1,000 empty seats, and the smallest following we’ve had from Norwich - including a midweek game during their Championship relegation season – in a good long while. Please Sky, no more 12.45 kick offs at Loftus Road.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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