Redknapp and Remy silence the Saints – full match report
Monday, 4th Mar 2013 01:30 by Clive Whittingham
A goal and stellar performance from the returning Loic Remy meant it was many happy returns for Harry Redknapp at Southampton on Saturday in more ways than one.
Harry Redknapp turned 66 on Saturday, and when he opened his eyes for the first time that morning he could have been forgiven for wondering exactly why he was still bothering with the football management game.
With each passing season this is a sport that is turning its back on the likes of Redknapp more and more. Trendy, young, mostly foreign, coaches are infiltrating football carrying iPads, Pro Zone technology and books about the power of positive thinking leaving the likes of Peter ‘Reidy’ Reid and the other grizzled old pros complaining about the unfairness of it all from the Goals on Sunday sofa. The Spurs side that Redknapp built and took to the Champions League now looks like it’s going back there with 35-year-old Andre Villas Boas at the helm while Redknapp was sacked at White Hart Lane in the summer, and overlooked for the England job. Other offers were few and far between and he was killing time on Match of the Day when Queens Park Rangers, bottom of the Premier League and without a win from their first 16 games, asked if he fancied one more rescue mission. It must surely have crossed his mind that his recent record warranted a better offer than that.
On Saturday he met the Southampton club he was in charge of seven years ago that also recently dispensed with an English manager in favour of Mauricio Pochettino who, coincidentally, turned 41 on the day of this game. The Saints faithful don’t remember Redknapp fondly, partly because they were relegated from the Premier League under his charge but mainly because he then subsequently walked out on them to rejoin their bitter local rivals Portsmouth. As if his advancing years, and QPR’s seemingly terminally lousy form of one win from ten games, wasn’t enough to get him down an afternoon of hostilities from the St Mary’s crowd apparently awaited him.
And then there was the Daily Mirror’s lead sports story for Saturday morning. The paper claimed three unnamed senior players from QPR’s squad had “lifted the lid” on the recent training camp in Dubai which, far from being the tough work out sceptical fans had been promised, had allegedly been a week long excuse for a drinking binge. One described it as a “stag party”. QPR have never been more than three weeks away from another media controversy of some sort but, with the league table and balance sheet the way they are, stories like this only add to the feeling that this is a club on the brink of being completely out of control – if it isn’t already.
But the pundits are reticent in writing off QPR just yet, despite all known facts pointing to a relegation by the end of April, and that’s because there’s life in Redknapp yet. By 5pm on Saturday he was marching down the touchline, applauding a raucous travelling support numbering 3,000, and punching the air to mark a potentially significant victory. In a game of such mediocre quality it could easily have been mistaken for one from a level or two below, Rangers won through because they had a couple of game changers and Southampton did not. Redknapp recalled Loic Remy and David Hoilett to the attack and the Saints had nobody of equal quality – that, in a nutshell, was the deciding factor.
Remy has been hugely frustrating in his two months in English football so far because while he can clearly play the game it’s been a struggle to actually get him fit and out on the park. The Fragile Frenchman poses a threat to any defence with his pace, movement, game intelligence and clinical finishing but none of that is much use if he only starts one game in four – especially as QPR’s attacking options without him are almost non-existent.
On paper Redknapp’s method of shoehorning him and Hoilett back into the starting 11 looked curious. Adel Taarabt dropped to the bench, admittedly looking tired and ineffective in recent games but only because he was picked out by opponents as Rangers’ only player with any attacking ability, along with Andros Townsend who has been excellent since joining on loan from Spurs. The obvious question was whether the decision was related to the leak to The Mirror but Redknapp refuted that suggestion and cited footballing reasons.
There was plenty of evidence to back him up. A quarter of an hour into this game Hoilett dissected a square Southampton defence with a cross field pass that Remy took in his stride, wrong footed goalkeeper Artur Boruc with an intelligent shoulder drop and lashed into the net despite the best efforts of Fox to get it off the line. Adrenalin still pumping Remy then cracked a first time volley from the edge of the area that Boruc had to fumble wide. There was more attacking threat in that 90 seconds of action than the R’s had mustered for several weeks prior.
Eyebrows were also raised about the selection of QPR’s three man midfield. Rickie Lambert has been grabbing the headlines on the South Coast this season but Southampton’s survival quest is built on the hard working duo Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork who buzz around the base of their midfield. Rangers went up against them with Esteban Granero, whose struggles to adapt to the English game continue; Ji-Sung Park, whose work rate would once have made him the ideal man for such a situation but clapped out engine these days make him rather a liability; and Stephane Mbia, who was publicly lambasted by Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville for bizarrely toying with his gloves on the edge of the penalty box for several seconds while Manchester United walked around him and scored a second goal last week.
Granero was questioned early and often. Southampton besieged him when he dwelt on possession in the crucial middle third, denying him a canvas for his artistry. It was clear from the very early moments that the Spaniard would either have to increase his work rate and roll up his sleeves or die a slow and agonising footballing death in the late afternoon sunshine. Sadly, as is becoming all too common with the former Real Madrid man, he just couldn’t adapt his game to suit the circumstances and nine minutes into the second half he was hooked for Jermaine Jenas.
Park could easily have gone off as well or instead. His descent from Manchester United’s go-to man for the big occasion into a lost cause even QPR cannot afford to spend time rehabilitating has been remarkably quick and had shown no signs of slowing until the final 15 minutes of this game. The South Korean international lost his footing almost as often as he conceded possession which meant he was either laid out on the turf or desperately trying to retrieve his own mistakes for almost the entire game. He looked just as out of his depth as Granero did but for different reasons and it’s actually a surprise he was even still on the field to do what he did 13 minutes from time.
Jose Bosingwa, keeping his place at right back, knocked a ball into the right channel and asked Park to chase down Maya Yoshida who’d come across to tidy the situation. Suddenly it looked like the Park of five years ago as he sprinted after the ball, executed a fine sliding tackle on the rather lethargic Yoshida and accelerated along the byline into the penalty area. Redknapp had recalled Jay Bothroyd to provide a greater presence to the attack between Hoilett and Remy and when Park picked out a fine ball across the six yard box the former Cardiff striker could hardly miss from four yards out. QPR hadn’t scored twice in a Premier League match in ten attempts, and hadn’t scored at all in any of their previous five home games, but they had two here.
Bothroyd, wildly inconsistent to the point where sometimes you wonder why he only has one England cap and others you question whether he’s actually a footballer at all, did a passable impression of a Premier League centre forward on Saturday and deserved his goal. The real story though was Park. Buoyed by the assist suddenly he was everywhere: chasing lost causes, harrying Southampton players, charging around like a lunatic. In a manifestly excessive six minutes of injury time added to the end of the game by referee Howard Webb, Park chased the ball through four Southampton passes, forcing the home team to go backwards and run the clock down, always denying them a clear line of sight to the penalty box. It was wonderful to see, but where has this player been – not only this season but for the previous hour or so in this game as well?
This was by no means plain sailing for the visitors who had to endure long spells without the ball during the game and overcome several setbacks to achieve the win. Southampton equalised at the worst possible time - during three minutes added to the end of the first half - in shambolic circumstances. Julio Cesar has been carrying an injury for several weeks now and as a result his wonderful form of January has rather collapsed. He was culpable for at least two of the goals in a recent thrashing at Swansea and here even a bad knock could barely excuse his fumble of Jay Rodriguez’s routine low shot which allowed Gaston Ramirez to seize on the rebound and chip a clever finish over the stricken Brazilian for a momentum-killing equaliser.
Cesar emerged after the break but the Saints smelt blood. Rodriguez was the first to ask a question with a fair but firm challenge on the keeper as a high ball dropped from the sky and although Cesar was initially equal to it and punched clear he required lengthy treatment afterwards and subsequently spilled another speculative long range shot from Rodriguez in exactly the same way he had done for the goal.
The QPR coaching staff had a decision to make and with a quarter of an hour left to play they elected to replace Cesar with Robert Green. Now if Jay Bothroyd is inconsistent then Robert Green is bi-polar but the accident-prone stopper had been in fine form on a recent outing against West Brom in the FA Cup and he endeared himself to the travelling faithful here with a fantastic one-handed stop at point blank range after Jose Fonte had wriggled free at a corner and firmly planted a header towards goal. Within seconds he’d flung himself off to his right to turn a low shot from long range around the post. The hosts had clearly seen Cesar as a weak link to target and the sight of Green fully fit, in form and making saves deflated Pochettino’s men and the crowd – many of whom were filing into the exits long before the end despite the delicately balanced scoreline.
They’d made such a bright start to the game as well. The promised hostile atmosphere for the Redknapp return was more petting zoo than lion’s den but the Southampton team set about its work well regardless. The first corner was forced inside 30 seconds and Cork soon dragged a shot wide of the target from the edge of the box after Mbia missed an attempted interception on halfway. More missed tackles from the Londoners’ rag tag midfield allowed Adam Lallana a chance to shoot wide a minute after Cork and when Lambert then nodded a deep cross back across the face of goal both Lallana and Puncheon looked certain to tap in from close range before being muscled out of the respective chances by Hill and Mbia – Webb ignored the subsequent penalty appeals. As QPR initially struggled with the pace of the game, Bothroyd and Mbia were both booked for wild challenges and Traore later followed them - although on that occasion Webb appeared to be conned by Ramirez’s obvious dive. It wasn’t Traore’s day for decisions because when substitute James Ward-Prowse hacked into him in the final minute Webb decided a ticking off was sufficient when he’d shown yellow cards for less earlier in the game.
Southampton though often appeared uncomfortable in their own skin. Shorn of Lallana’s services before half time they struggled to implement Pochettino’s favoured style of slow, patient build up from the defence. At Loftus Road in November Nigel Adkins’ Saints had absolutely battered QPR and won the game 3-1 with Rickie Lambert and Jason Puncheon starring in a system that focused on getting the ball into wide areas as early as possible and then servicing the central striker with good quality crosses. Pochettino appears to be keen to abandon this more typically English style in favour and the continental method made popular by Spain and Barcelona abroad and played successfully on these shores by Swansea City. But by doing so in the middle of a season when the team just seemed to be finding its feet at a higher level playing the old way, and attempting this with players ill-suited to the job, he’s running a huge risk and gambling with the club’s Premier League status. Southampton have now won just one of the last seven and have conceded 11 goals in their last five matches.
They lost heart in the second half, even before Bothroyd bagged the winner. Fox poked wide early and Rodriguez was a foot away with a curling 20 yarder that Cesar was nowhere near. But their best move of the match came to a premature halt when Lambert was flagged offside and Fonte’s wild lash wide five minutes after half time was more typical. The midfield may have been messy, and the possession stats weighted in the opposition’s favour, but QPR looked more dangerous when they did have the ball and Hoilett emphasised that with a jinking run past four players on the hour that just ran out of space tight to the byline before he could produce a glorious finish. Later Remy teed him up for a shot that was blocked inside the area by Clyne.
Few could understand where six minutes of added time came from at the end of the game but QPR were unusually professional and committed in seeing it off with few scares – Green commanding his area well. The result provided Redknapp with a platform to attack The Mirror story in his post match press conference, branding it nonsense being peddled by an agent with an axe to grind. “Read all about it, Southampton 1 Queens Park Rangers 2,” he said.
He’ll have slept more soundly on Saturday night I’m sure. A day that looked and felt for so long as though it would be a final nail in QPR’s season ended with a faint tapping noise being heard on the inside of the coffin lid. Perhaps Redknapp, and his Rangers, aren’t quite finished just yet.
Southampton: Boruc 6, Clyne 6, Yoshida 5, Fonte 6, Fox 5 (Shaw 57, 6), Schneiderlin 6, Cork 6, Puncheon 5, Ramirez 6 (Ward-Prowse 74, 6), Lallana 6 (Rodriguez 43, 6), Lambert 6
Subs not used: K Davis, S Davis, Richardson, Do Prado
Goals: Ramirez 45 (assisted Rodriguez)
Bookings: Fonte 45 (foul)
QPR: Cesar 4 (Green 74, 7), Bosingwa 6, Samba 7, Hill 7, Traore 6, Park 6, Granero 5 (Jenas 53, 6), Mbia 6, Remy 7, Hoilett 7, Bothroyd 7 (Fabio 90, -)
Subs not used: Onuoha, Taarabt, Townsend, Mackie
Goals: Remy 14 (assisted Hoilett), Bothroyd 77 (assisted Park)
Bookings: Bothroyd 16 (foul), Mbia 22 (foul), Traore 44 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Loic Remy 7 A brilliantly taken goal was obviously the key moment, but his pace and positioning makes him a constant threat and provides QPR with an attacking outlet that they simply don’t have without him. Whatever slim survival hopes Rangers have, they hang almost entirely on Remy’s shoulder.
Referee – Howard Webb (South Yorkshire) 6 The Premier League’s best referee by a country mile, but I thought he was slightly below par on Saturday. Regularly allowed himself to be conned by play acting, from Ramirez in particular, and yellow carded Traore on one such occasion. Later allowed Ward-Prowse off without a booking for a foul equally as bad as the ones he booked Mbia and Bothroyd for. I felt the nine minutes added on in total was excessive as well, considering there was only one injury requiring treatment in each half.
Attendance – 31,728 (3,100 QPR approx) And here’s another problem with new stadiums like St Mary’s. Harry Redknapp returning to Southampton, the club he relegated and then walked out on for Portsmouth, was being talked about in the build up as a grudge meeting of epic proportions. The QPR manager was the talk of the Southampton message boards before the game as they prepared to tell them exactly what they thought of him and make his afternoon a living hell. At The Dell maybe it would have been, but at St Mary’s the reception was barely audible. There was booing certainly, but when you compare it to the genuinely frightening scenes at West Brom a decade ago when we returned shortly after pinching Ray Harford from them this was absolutely nothing. In fact if you weren’t aware of Redknapp’s history here the whole thing may well have bypassed your attention altogether. Even when they’re filled with 30,000 people for a match as important as this, with all its extra circumstance and intrigue, these places look and feel like Ikea distribution centres with the atmosphere to match. If QPR are to ever escape Loftus Road they must design its replacement creatively and carefully to avoid ending up in a similar bland vacuum.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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