Defensive horror show leaves QPR floundering – full match report
Tuesday, 2nd Apr 2013 23:10 by Clive Whittingham
QPR remain seven points adrift of safety with games running out after a kamikaze night of defending saw them crash to a 3-2 defeat against local rivals Fulham on Monday.
The self-destructive tendencies of this Queens Park Rangers side apparently know no bounds.
In a critically important West London derby with Fulham on Monday night they dominated, as the away team, for almost the entire second half but spurned the opportunity to take points from the game by first missing a penalty – the third spot kick failure of a miserable season so far – and then bizarrely putting the cue on the rack and giving up for the night with ten minutes left for play and the home side down to ten men.
Harry Redknapp fumed – angry that French striker Loic Remy grabbed the ball for the fateful penalty which goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer saved with something to spare, and seething that his team had stopped playing prematurely just when they seemed to be well on top and set to go for the jugular.
But what happened in the second half at Craven Cottage was almost academic and irrelevant given what had gone on in the first.
QPR had already beaten their near neighbours once this campaign. A 2-1 victory at Loftus Road in December was the R’s first success in the league this season at the seventeenth attempt and the 16 separate disasters that went before it are the reason that Rangers are still second bottom of the table despite form since Christmas more akin to a midtable team. The return fixture, played in front of the Sky cameras, turned out to be a microcosm of the entire season with an enterprising and spirited second half rendered almost completely irrelevant by an amateurish first.
Fulham seemingly weren’t in the mood to be turned over twice in a derby that seems to mean a good deal more to their recently swollen ranks of support than the Hooped faithful who look – rightly or wrongly – more to Chelsea with their own hatred and bile. Martin Jol’s side started quickly, forcing a smart save from goalkeeper Julio Cesar in the sixth minute when Damien Duff cut in from the left and shot with his right, then making Armand Traore clear with a difficult back header underneath his own crossbar when Duff accelerated to the byline and sought out late arrivals at the back stick. Rangers never fully cleared their lines and a clumsy challenge by Chris Samba invited Ashkan Dejagah to hit the turf and Dimitar Berbatov to convert the resulting penalty with consummate ease. Referee Lee Probert was left with few options.
QPR’s response to an early set back was wholly unprofessional. Clint Hill hacked through the back of midfielder Giorgos Karagounis with a challenge that was designed to hurt the man rather than win the ball. The travelling 3,000 behind the goal had good cause to ask why Berbatov was allowed to jog 20 yards into a situation that hadn’t involved him and shove Hill in the chest without sanction but the Fulham man had every right to be angry with a tackle as cowardly and nasty as that. After 13 minutes of chasing shadows the best QPR could do was a petulant hack through the back of an ageing Greek midfielder – embarrassing for Hill who was lucky to only be yellow carded and then substituted at half time, and for Rangers who weren’t at the races and had been reduced to such nonsense so early.
Perhaps they should have channelled their aggression into some possession retention instead, or some proper defending. Fired by the injection of needle into proceedings the home team won a seventeenth minute corner that looked suspiciously like it should have been a goal kick and Berbatov was left unmarked to head a foot over the bar with Cesar beaten. A header from giant centre half Brede Hangeland bobbled wide after the Brazilian keeper had set off for an inswinging free kick and then changed his mind. Cesar then flapped at an in-swinging cross and was fortunate to be awarded a free kick of his own. And finally Samba pisballed around in possession on the edge of the area and ultimately played in Berbatov who calmly slid in a second goal with the game barely 20 minutes old. A fifth goal in four starts for the Bulgarian, who could barely stifle a laugh as his team mates congratulated him.
QPR have turned in some shambolic performances since winning promotion back to the Premier League almost two years ago, not least in a 6-0 defeat on this ground last autumn, but this was now threatening to trump everything that had gone before. Harry Redknapp, shaking his head on the touchline, had every reason to wonder how a player as good as Chris Samba was suddenly playing like this at such a crucial moment of the season. But Redknapp, who can take little blame for the train wreck that 2012/13 has become for the not-so-Super Hoops, must share responsibility here as well.
Persistently setting up a side to rely on Bobby Zamora, whose serious ankle and hip problems leave him effectively playing on one leg, seems odd. Jay Bothroyd, a poor footballer but somebody who has suggested he can make a positive impact in attack on his rare outings since Christmas, must wonder what he has done to offend his manager. Redknapp could be forgiven for recalling Adel Taarabt from the start given his impressive cameo at Aston Villa last time out and one-man demolition of Fulham in December but he was poorly serviced and surrounded by a home defence eager not to be fooled twice by the Moroccan and the set up left Rangers’ main goal threat Loic Remy marooned wide on the right and starved of the ball. When he volleyed a first time shot over the bar on the half hour after Zamora had chested down a cross from the hard running Stephane Mbia it was not only QPR’s first serious threat on goal, it was the first time I can recall Remy touching the ball at all.
You could, with some justification, ask what on earth Redknapp and QPR had been doing by way of preparation during more than a fortnight of down time prior to this fixture. But then Fulham had that same period of time to put their own plan in place for the visit of what is, essentially, just a very, very poor football team indeed.
When Zamora turned and smacked one over after Traore’s cross had been touched back to him by Mbia it suggested the visitors were getting a foothold in the game and Andros Townsend tried his luck from range to no avail. But the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be another train coming the other way. An exceptional piece of skill on the byline from Berbatov was apparently so mesmerising it caused Jose Bosingwa to forget where he was and he was then fortunate that an farcical miscue was saved on the line by Cesar to spare his blushes. No such luck for the hapless Hill who thumped in an own goal of his own after John Arne Riise had cut the ball back from the byline five minutes from half time. Nothing more than QPR deserved. Pathetic. Embarrassing. Shameful.
And, ultimately, very frustrating. Three goals up they may have been, and Berbatov was in full-on football porn mode by this stage, but Fulham are a limited team with little to play for at the back end of the season. A central midfield pairing of Steve Sidwell and Karagounis doesn’t scream Premier League quality and both were reasonably poor here, particularly after the break, and easily dominated by the impressive Mbia and tidy Jermaine Jenas. That QPR almost snatched a point from the depths of their first half despair suggested that any kind of intensity and professionalism from them before half time would have seen them in with a terrific chance of winning the game.
Taarabt – wasteful with what little decent service he had received to this point and apparently drowning in a crowded area in front of the Fulham back four – suddenly collected possession out of the blue, after Karagounis had passed straight to Zamora just before half time, and fired a low shot into the far corner to reduce the deficit. Given the pattern of play and weight of possession to this point it should have been the merest blip on the Fulham radar, swatted aside and quickly forgotten about on the way to a comfortable win. Instead it caused the home side to collapse in the second half.
Remy, playing more centrally after half time, won the ball from Kargounis after he miscontrolled Fulham’s kick off and hit a shot that Hangeland deflected wide. The resulting corner flashed right through the goal mouth. No matter, within moments Taarabt had tempted a foul from Karagounis in the penalty area and the R’s had a gift wrapped chance for a second goal. Sadly, Remy’s kick never looked like troubling the scorers.
But when Remy was then played through on goal by Mbia he was in no mood to look a second gift horse in the mouth and he fired a much more taxing chance than his penalty into the net off the underside of the bar under heavy pressure from Schwarzer and Senderos.
The ferocity of a soft handball appeal against Bosingwa at the back post – waved away by Probert – underlined the anxiety in the home ranks and Andros Townsend broke on the counter attack and tested Schwarzer with a low shot.
Despite an orchestrated “clapper rehearsal” before the kick-off, the Satanic clapper boards were now being used to shield home eyes from the horrors of an impending implosion rather than their intended purpose of annoying the living fuck out of any right thinking individual that should happen to find themselves within three quarters of a mile of one. The game was very much back in the balance.
Stephane Mbia, at the heart of everything, won a free kick which Taarabt curled around the wall but not through the crowd of players in the goal mouth. A cross from Traore landed at the feet of Chris Samba but he shot wide after taking a touch to steady himself. Now it was Fulham that couldn’t get out of their own half, harangued and harassed by Mbia who was turning in his best ever QPR performance. The Cameroon midfielder won possession back on halfway with 15 minutes left to play and fed Remy with the sort of channel ball he seems to thrive on. On this occasion the French striker fired over after crafting space in the red zone. Zamora went closer still with a measured 25 yarder that Schwarzer saw late and finger tipped around the post. Junior Hoilett replaced Taarabt to join the one way traffic. It felt like a matter of time.
That feeling only grew stronger when Steve Sidwell – who’d responded to a footballing lesson by Taarabt in the Loftus Road fixture with gratuitous violence that should really have seen him sent off – overran his first piece of possession for half an hour with a League Two-standard touch and attempted to retrieve the situation with a wild lunging tackle that looked like a fool’s errand from the moment he embarked on it. Armand Traore, fragile as vintage porcelain at the best of times, was on the receiving end and although Sidwell decided to play dead and demand treatment while Brede Hangeland pleaded his case the red card was inevitable and he was left to face the long walk back to the Cottage a quarter of an hour early. A standing ovation his reward for a poor performance and idiotic sending off.
Jol added Emmanuel Frimpong to his midfield instead of Urby Emanuelson, who himself had only come onto the field midway through the first half when Ashkan Dejagah injured himself executing an elaborate dive under minimal contact by the corner flag. Breath was now very much bated and the scene seemed set for a grandstand finish: the travelling faithful stamped their feet and sang about an impending third goal; Redknapp sent on Jamie Mackie for the injured Traore; Gary Neville sat poised over his machine ready to analyse the completion of a remarkable comeback; the clapper boards remained mercifully still and silent.
And then what? Well, nothing. Despite the momentum behind them, and a numerical advantage in their favour, Rangers simply stopped playing. Remy once again became a peripheral figure and the goal threat dried up. When QPR got the ball they either sent it exclusively down the right, where Riise had long since clocked Andros Townsend’s one footedness, or high into the night sky towards Chris Samba who’d gone forward as an auxiliary striker. Having struggled in both matches this season against the skills of Taarabt, Hangeland was no doubt relieved that the R’s had suddenly started to play a game he knew the rules to and the Norwegian dominated the closing stages.
First Riether and then Senderos were booked by Probert for time wasting and Mark Schwarzer was lucky not to go the same way but their gamesmanship was wholly unnecessary. A weak shot dragged wide of the post from ambitious distance by Jenas was all QPR had to show for almost 20 minutes of chasing an equaliser against a tired group of ten men they’d been dominating when it was 11 v 11.
In fact Fulham almost extended their lead in five minutes of stoppage time when Berbatov robbed Hill’s half time replacement Nedum Onuoha and set up Ruiz for a run on goal that he was muscled out of. The Costa Rican felt sure he’d been fouled, and slammed his fist into the turf in frustration, but he needn’t have worried. QPR’s hopes, it turned out, had left with Taarabt 20 minutes earlier. Whether that goes for their Premier League status as well remains to be seen.
Fulham: Schwarzer 7, Riether 6, Hangeland 7, Senderos 6, Riise 7, Dejagah 6 (Emanuelson 38, 6 (Frimpong 78, 6)), Sidwell 5, Karagounis 4, Duff 6, Berbatov 8, Ruiz 6
Subs not used: Etheridge, Richardson, Hughes, Frei, Rodallega
Goals: Berbatov 8 (penalty, won Dejagah), 22 (unassisted), Hill og 41 (assisted Riise)
Red Cards: Sidwell 78 (serious foul play)
Bookings: Riether 88 (time wasting), Senderos 90 (time wasting)
QPR: Cesar 5, Bosingwa 6, Samba 2, Hill 2 (Onuoha 45, 5), Traore 4 (Mackie 83, -), Remy 6, Mbia 8, Jenas 6, Townsend 6, Taarabt 6 (Hoilett 74, 5), Zamora 6
Subs not used: Green, Ben Haim, Park, Granero
Goals: Taarabt 45 (assisted Zamora), Remy 51 (assisted Mbia)
Bookings: Hill 13 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Stephane Mbia 8 Relatively straightforward decision as Mbia was second only to Berbatov as the outstanding player on the pitch. Totally dominated the centre of the midfield, drove QPR on in the second half and was incredibly unlucky to finish on the losing side. A fine pass for the Remy goal as well.
Referee – Lee Probert 7 A higher mark than I would like to have given him in truth because I felt at times, particularly in the first half, he was guilty of guessing (often incorrectly) far too many decisions and he allowed himself to be dictated to by Berbatov from Fulham and Hill from QPR who probably should have been sent off for his hack at Karagounis. However, three key decisions in the match – two penalties and a sending off – were all absolutely spot on so difficult to be too harsh.
Attendance 25,177 (3,100 QPR approx) A wonderful old traditional football venue, far superior to any of the identikit, soulless bowls that have been erected at great expense in retail parks up and down the country for middle of the road sides like Leicester and Coventry to die in slowly and quietly. A game of huge importance, a local derby, a full house, a raucous travelling support, a noisy collective of home fans at the back of the Hammersmith End, television cameras, Monday night, floodlights – a magnificent setting for a top flight football match. So which mouth breathing lunatic decided that what the situation was really missing was a job lot of cardboard “clappers”? They should have their feet bound and be thrown off the back of the side stand into the river.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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