Townsend’s spectacular strike keeps improbable escape bid alive – full match report
Sunday, 10th Mar 2013 23:49 by Clive Whittingham
Two fabulous second half goals from Andros Townsend and Jermaine Jenas sealed a vital 3-1 win for QPR against Sunderland at Loftus Road on Saturday.
Queens Park Rangers continue to stay just the right side of the line between the improbable and the impossible.
After just two wins in the first 27 league matches this season further setbacks for Rangers this week in games against fellow strugglers Southampton and Sunderland would have made it more Mission Impossible for their manager Harry Redknapp than The Great Escape.
If the R’s have simply been lulling the rest of the division into a false sense of security before staging a dramatic late revival then they’ve certainly lulled them pretty hard and left it until the last possible moment. The margin for error is almost non-existent now but while teams like Reading and Southampton - who had looked set to climb away from the whirlpool at the bottom of the Premier League - suddenly can’t buy a win, the momentum and form is with the Super Hoops who have now won two on the spin for the first time in two years.
Rangers are once again banking on a remarkable run of results at the very end of the season to save their top flight status. It’s a path they walked 12 months ago, and one successfully negotiated in previous years by Wigan, Fulham and Portsmouth. The latter took 20 points from their final ten games after Redknapp returned to them for a second spell in charge in the middle of the 2005/06 campaign. The run of six wins and two draws that carried them to salvation began with three consecutive successes in March and Redknapp’s new team are now two thirds of the way to achieving the same thing.
Back then a spectacular last second strike from Pedro Mendes sealed a 2-1 win against Man City at Fratton Park to set the ball rolling. If QPR are to achieve the same sort of miraculous getaway this term than perhaps a seventieth minute wonder goal from Andros Townsend against Sunderland will be spoken about in similar terms.
Townsend, on loan from Spurs and starting wide on the right, epitomised QPR in the first half. Bright, positive, pacey, direct, dangerous – a newcomer wouldn’t have believed it was the hooped team anchored to the foot of the table and not Sunderland who were leggy, disinterested and one dimensional. But the second half had been a different story prior to Townsend’s spectacular intervention.
The visiting boss Martin O’Neill was like a cat on hot tin roof in the technical area and had clearly relished the opportunity to deliver a firm dressing down to his men during the half time break. Adam Johnson – a disappointment since a big money summer move from Man City – cut in from the left flank and rode through three limp challenges on the edge of the area before shooting straight at Robert Green who was deputising for the injured Julio Cesar in goal. O’Neill quickly removed Danny Graham – whose impact on proceedings was so minimal it didn’t seem fair that he hadn’t been charged the same as the other spectators to get in – and replaced him with Danny Rose who had impressed against Rangers earlier in the season. Suddenly it was the home team looking tired and drained.
Step forward young Townsend. A free kick awarded wide right had been cleared, lofted back in by the left winger Junior Hoilett and cleared again. Townsend calmly watched the ball fall from the greying skies, adjusted his feet, brought it down on his chest and then executed an expert volley. Much like his team’s bid to escape from relegation after such a cataclysmically awful campaign, Townsend’s attempt was a difficult long shot against all odds but the result was absolutely spectacular and one can only hope it serves as a metaphor for what’s to come over the remaining nine fixtures. He caught the ball plum, controlling its height, pace and direction in such a way that although Sunderland’s excellent goalkeeper Simon Mignolet could see it the whole way it just continued to arc away from him as he scrambled across his line and ultimately he was helpless to prevent it dipping perfectly into the far corner of his net.
The relief was palpable, the noise deafening. It completed an impressive turnaround from the home team who had actually fallen behind after half an hour when a swift counter attack from their own cleared free kick ended with Johnson hammering a low cross in to the six yard box and Sunderland’s leading scorer Steven Fletcher poking home from close range. There’s been a naivety about Rangers at times since they were promoted back to the top flight, and twice in the build up that goal they spurned opportunities to stop the move dead in its tracks with a tactical foul and yellow cad.
A team with only one home win to its name all season would have been forgiven for cursing its bad luck and feeling sorry for itself at that stage, especially as the goal had gone in totally against the run of play. But Redknapp had started with Hoilett and Townsend either side of strikers Loic Remy and Bobby Zamora with only the inconsistent Ji-Sung Park and the somewhat wild Stephane Mbia to anchor the midfield – as positive a line up as the veteran manager has fielded since arriving in W12 – and the side had enough attacking intent about it to find a way back into the match.
Mbia had almost played Graham in with a back header that forced centre half Clint Hill into evasive action after just ten seconds and then the Cameroonian had to block a shot from Seb Larsson on the edge of the area but the Mackems’ superiority was short lived and soon the traffic was flowing exclusively towards the School End. The R’s were led magnificently from the front by Bobby Zamora who defied his chronic hip problem and a new ankle ligament issue that should be ruling him out until the end of April to dominate an accident prone defensive pairing of John O’Shea and Titus Bramble during the first period. He linked well with Remy to cause all manner of problems.
Zamora nodded down for Remy to feed Hoilett after three minutes but his low, left footed shot rolled agonisingly wide of the far post with Mignolet beaten. Then the former Fulham man hit the deck in the area after seizing on a loose back pass but referee Mike Jones rightly paid the half-hearted appeals little attention. Townsend shot over, Hoilett wide and then Zamora – mind somewhat sharper than body at the moment – anticipated a long ball into the area better than Bramble but just couldn’t reach out a toe to knock it into the net.
The Sunderland goal came just after N’Diaye had pulled a speculative effort wide under pressure from Park and immediately before Fletcher headed over with Samba fighting to distract him but was, on the balance of play, something of a travesty all the same.
No matter. This group of players, fractious and spiritless for so long, stuck to their guns and received their reward on the half hour at the end of a move that start with Jose Bosingwa capping one of his best performances in a QPR shirt with an intelligent interception and purposeful run into the opposition half. The much maligned Portuguese full back fed Townsend who cut in field to shoot and ended up inadvertently teeing up Loic Remy who doesn’t need asking twice when he sees the whites of the goalkeeper’s eyes and expertly found the far bottom corner with a crisp finish. Three goals in four starts for the clinical Frenchman.
The domination continued thereafter. Remy flicked a Townsend cross goalwards with his head but Mignolet was equal to it. Then Zamora nodded a Hoilett cross down and the Frenchman snatched at a volley and blasted over. Later a hopeful long range shot from Mbia moved in the air and forced the Belgian goalkeeper into a nervous fumble. A home win seemed the only conceivable outcome at the break.
It was therefore a surprise to see Sunderland rally to the extent they did after the restart. Martin O’Neill has always been known as a manager who gets his team doing the basics well: an uncompromising, physical defence; two wingers keeping tight to the touchline; a big man-little man strike force; a constant danger at set pieces. But he inherited a mess from Steve Bruce at the Stadium of Light and has thus far only succeeded in creating one of the league’s most uninspiring sides during the clean up. The Black Cats are a straight line team lacking imagination and prone to relying on hopeful long balls. They involve the talented Larsson far too seldom while Graham and Johnson are shadows of the players who previously starred for Swansea and Middlesbrough. That Rangers struggled as much as they did at the start of the second half in the face of such meagre opposition should serve as a warning sign that the garden isn’t in full rose bloom just at the moment, but this was a better QPR performance than last week at Southampton and if that upward trajectory continues then another crucial win can be theirs at Villa Park in a week’s time.
The Townsend goal changed everything. Redknapp removed Zamora – once again nowhere near as effective in the second half as he had been in the first and probably allowed to continue for 20 minutes too long by his manager – and sent on Jamie Mackie. Hoilett came off for Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jermaine Jenas was introduced for Loic Remy. The emphasis was suddenly on hard work and high tempo rather than creativity and deadlock breaking which suited the R’s down to the ground against an opponent that, once behind, looked like a group of players already planning their summer holidays. N’Diaye was booked for hauling back Remy and Gardner for a late lung on Hoilett – lazy, half-arsed challenges both.
At the back the aerial domination by Hill and Samba was impressive while at the other end Mackie started worrying mistakes out of Titus Bramble. The lumbering oaf hauled down his pest-like opponent on the edge of the box with ten minutes to go allowing Bosingwa to fire just wide from the free kick. Then later he totally missed a simple header of the edge of his own area allowing Mackie to swoop in and run clear on the goal but Mignolet rushed from his line and made a fine save.
That second miss was academic, coming as it did just 60 seconds after Mackie’s fellow sub Jenas had fired in a spectacular goal of his own to seal the three points. How odd that after an entire season of dreadful corner taking, QPR actually scored from one where they only put a single man in the penalty box to attack it. Seemingly happy to keep the ball in the corner and see out time, Shaun Wright-Phillips sprung a surprise by instead tracking along the byline past two bewildered defenders and running for goal by himself. A low cross was scrambled away but showing technique every bit as impressive and considered as Townsend’s, Jenas strode onto the ball and pinged it straight back into the bottom corner from 25 yards through a crowd of players. A beautifully executed goal that made a potentially terrifying five minutes of time added to the end of the game an unusually enjoyable experience. Even a late Sunderland corner that Green required three attempts to finally grasp from the air brought only mocking cheers – the away end was almost completely deserted by that stage in any case.
QPR appear galvanised, either by the confidence gained from positive results or the negative headlines that have followed the club around this month. The celebrations, both on the field and in the dugout, after the two second half goals were raucous and involved almost every player. This suddenly looks like a united, committed camp. Players who were previously turning in consistently awful and under-committed displays excelled here with Park and Bosingwa particularly impressive and Zamora, for the first half at least, putting it all on the line to great effect.
Win for a third time in as many games next week at Aston Villa and Rangers may move their fight from improbable into the realms of the highly possible.
QPR: Green 6, Bosingwa 7, Samba 7, Hill 7, Da Silva 6, Townsend 8, Park 7, Mbia 7, Hoilett 7 (Wright-Phillips 76, 7), Zamora 7 (Mackie 72, 7), Remy 7 (Jenas 79, 7)
Subs not used: Murphy, Onuoha, Granero, Bothroyd
Goals: Remy 30 (assisted Townsend), Townsend 70 (unassisted), Jenas 90 (unassisted)
Sunderland: Mignolet 6, Gardner 6, O’Shea 5, Bramble 4, N’Diaye 5 (Vaughan 77, 6), Larsson 6, Colback 6 (Bardsley 81,-), Johnson 6, Sessegnon 6, Graham 4 (Rose 57, 6), Fletcher 6
Subs not used: Westwood, Kilgallon, Cuellar, Mangane
Goals: Fletcher 20 (assisted Johnson)
Bookings: N’Diaye (foul), Gardner 71 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Andros Townsend 8 A fabulous first goal for the club capped the latest impressive display in what’s turning out to be a very successful loan spell. Townsend isn’t exactly a box of tricks, but he’s positive and direct – always looking to cause an opponent a problem and targeting the very heart of the danger area when he has the ball. He’s greedy at times, often cutting into shoot when he should go outside and look to cross, but he’s effective and fun to watch at the moment. The goal was executed with technique seldom seen in a QPR player.
Referee Mike Jones (Cheshire) 8 Unfussy and happy to keep out of proceedings. Too quick with his whistle early in the second half, interrupting a four v three break in QPR’s favour to award them a free kick in their own half, but otherwise very impressive with very few incorrect decisions.
Attendance – 18,169 (1,800 Sunderland approx) Wonderful to see Loftus Road full and hear it in full voice after such a dire winter – that atmosphere could be a key factor in the run in, just as it was 12 months ago. Credit to the Sunderland fans who travelled in such great numbers at great expense to watch such a limited team as theirs go through the motions for all but the first quarter of an hour in the second half. They must be wondering why they bothered.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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