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Professional R’s safely through at expense of Exeter — report
Wednesday, 7th Aug 2013 18:37 by Clive Whittingham

QPR turned in a professional display and secured a comfortable 2-0 win at Exeter City in the League Cup at St James’ Park on Tuesday evening.

On a night when Exeter City’s League Two rivals Accrington, Morecambe and Newport County all sprung League Cup shocks on more illustrious opposition, QPR would have been forgiven for fearing the worst from a trip to St James’ Park.

Rangers, still in a state of post-relegation flux with time counting down until the end of the transfer window and players moving in and out of Loftus Road on an almost daily basis, have been prime targets for lower league sides chasing cup upsets in recent times. Vauxhall Motors is the most infamous example but Northampton, Leyton Orient and Grimsby have all claimed QPR’s scalp and they’ve been eliminated at the first stage of the League Cup in two of the last three seasons by Rochdale and Port Vale. The casual punter may well have been tempted to include Exeter on a Tuesday night coupon.

But on closer inspection of the form book the R’s could scarcely have pulled a more favourable draw from the hat. Since returning to the league in 2008 Exeter have drawn Championship sides at home in four out of five seasons and lost with meagre resistance on every occasion. QPR themselves won here 5-0 in 2009 and Palace, Ipswich and Southampton have all avoided a potential banana skin in this part of the world recently too.

Under a setting sun in the south west it quickly became apparent why so few ‘giants’ have fallen at the hands of the Grecians. In a morgue-like atmosphere more appropriate for the pre-season friendly these sides played a month ago than a classic English cup tie, Rangers were allowed to do pretty much as they pleased for the first hour of the game. There was a distinct lack of self-belief about Exeter who sat off their opponents and allowed them to calmly stroke the ball around in their own half for long, ball-acheing periods of time. There was no tempo or urgency to the game, no pressing high up the field from the home team, no desire to get stuck in and ruffle a few feathers among a team of big names.

Perhaps things would have been different had QPR not scored so early. There was barely a minute on the clock when a deep corner from Joey Barton was headed clear as far as the recalled Jermaine Jenas on the edge of the area and his low, first time shot was diverted into the net by Charlie Austin on his first full start for the club.

On their last visit to this ground Rangers won through thanks, in part, to a first goal for the club from striker Alessandro Pellicori. Rangers will be hoping that Austin, who scored 28 goals for Burnley last season, has a rather more successful spell in West London than the lumbering Italian did and the early signs are very promising. Austin has a prodigious leap enabling him to repeatedly win headers against taller centre backs — former Bristol City man Danny Coles in this instance — and his hold up and lay game is similar to that of the much-missed Heidar Helguson. He looked sharp, busy and keen on Tuesday and once he’d been joined at half time by an equally sprightly Andy Johnson, who replaced an increasingly forlorn looking Bobby Zamora at the break, Rangers always had enough quality about them to keep their hosts at arm’s length.

Johnson and Austin is surely the first choice partnership in attack when everybody is fit, and if so they’ll both be hoping that Junior Hoilett’s revitalisation continues apace. The Canadian winger was a pathetic, podgy mess by the end of last season but has been full of the right kind of beans in the first two games this term and was a menace to Exeter throughout his 74 minute stint at left wing — the home fans applauded him off when he was substituted.

First he cut in from the left flank and fired a low shot which was well saved by home keeper Artur Krysiak. Then the Polish stopper flung himself to his left to make a smart save from an Austin shot after Hoilett had played his team mate in. A low cross to the far post was too high and firmly struck for Zamora to reach but later he set up the former Fulham man for a shot on the turn that the keeper gathered safely. The answer to the lack of creativity in the wake of Adel Taarabt’s departure this week could lie in the continued form and confidence of Junior Hoilett.

Rangers also look a danger from set pieces this season — an absolute revelation given how poor they’ve been with them previously — and that’s thanks in large part to the return of Joey Barton to the side wide on the right. Having scored from a corner in the first few seconds the lead was almost doubled from another wide dead ball in the seventh minute but Clint Hill’s powerful header flew was saved down low by the keeper. When Barton varied the delivery in the second half, sending a long ball out to the edge of the box, Jermaine Jenas was waiting unmarked to unload a firm shot that Krysiak saw late through a crowded penalty area and did well to fist away. Barton looked slightly heavy legged, but added much needed vision and imagination to the right side of Rangers’ attack.

Set pieces are another staple of a cup upset that Exeter failed to make the most of. Centre half Danny Coles scored a thumping header from a corner against Bristol Rovers in the opening league game at the weekend but the delivery on Tuesday night was poor. When referee Jeremy Simpson adjudged Alejandro Faurlin to have fouled striker Alan Gow on the edge of the QPR box just after the half hour an enticing free kick offered the home side a route back into the game. Winger Liam Sercombe had earlier fed young Jamie Reid in open play and his shot forced a comfortable parry from QPR’s stand in goalkeeper Brian Murphy but on this occasion Sercombe hoisted a mishit shot high and wide of the goal and onto the terrace of QPR fans.

Sercombe’s technique was much sounder five minutes before the break but Murphy saved a low shot well down to his left and Rangers responded swiftly with a counter attack that involved a smart ball round the corner from Charlie Austin and ended with a low shot from Jenas that Krysiak was glad to stop.

The visitors were good value for a half time lead and the last thing Exeter needed was the insipid Bobby Zamora to be removed and replaced by Andy Johnson. That’s exactly what happened and Rangers threatened to move through the gears as a result. A low cross from Barton searching out the bald hitman in the middle was skewed over his own bar at full stretch by Coles who could easily have diverted the ball into his own net. Then Krysiak denied Jenas and Austin miscued a firm header from another Barton delivery and sent the ball wide. A second goal seemed inevitable and it came five minutes after the restart when a passing move more steady than spectacular concluded with Johnson playing onrushing right back Danny Simpson into space in the area and he finished smartly across the keeper and into the far corner for his first goal for QPR.

Immediately after the restart Barton had a shot deflected wide for another corner that he played short to Hoilett who also saw his effort flick wide of the target off a defender. Yun Suk-Young, the South Korean left back making a senior debut for Rangers instead of Saturday’s fall guy Armand Traore, stayed up in the attack when that set piece was cleared and was rewarded for his positivity with possession in space on the edge of the Exeter box which he used to feed Joey Barton into a one on one situation but he dallied too long over the finish and Krysiak rushed from his line to block. Young certainly looked a better bet than his Senegalese predecessor on this evidence.

City manager Paul Tisdale, ludicrously dressed in purple velvet trousers with a dark suit jacket and patterned shirt with associated pocket handkerchief, looked like he’d turned up expecting to do tricks at a children’s party but he’d been unable to conjure much resistance from his team to this point. Even former QPR hard-man Tommy Doherty, famed for twice getting sent off in his Rangers days for lifting an opponent up by the throat, had been anonymous during the first half and was removed at the break and replaced by Arron Davies. There’s clearly a chasm between the two clubs in terms of resources and ability, and Exeter are missing key man Matt Oakley from their midfield, but I thought there’d be a bit more urgency and vibrancy from the home team, a bit more pressing and hassling.

The whole complexion of the cup tie changed on the hour when both managers played another card from the bench. Tisdale went first, introducing Sam Parkin instead of David Wheeler. The giant front man was a QPR fan as a boy but that hasn’t stopped him participating in the downfall of the Super Hoops previously, against whom he has scored four times for three different clubs in his career so far. With that in mind, and an impressive performance and goal on his Exeter debut against Bristol Rovers at the weekend, the home faithful may have wondered why he hadn’t started this game — and they’d have wondered a little more when he immediately attacked a corner at the near post and headed a foot over the bar with Murphy well beaten. He’d been on the pitch a matter of minutes and already had the Grecians’ best effort on goal.

Harry Redknapp meanwhile removed Alejandro Faurlin from the midfield and replaced him with Shaun Derry. This turned out to be the footballing equivalent of a bad move in Jenga and suddenly a previously sturdy QPR tower was swaying alarmingly. Already lacking pace at the back with Richard Dunne preferred to Nedum Onuoha alongside Clint Hill, Rangers suddenly found themselves unable to either maintain possession or get their team high enough up the field. A mild panic set in as the back four got sucked deeper and deeper towards Murphy’s goal. Exeter’s Davies let fly from 20 yards and rattled the cross bar; then referee Simpson waved away loud penalty appeals for a clumsy challenge by Clint Hill on John O’Flynn; and Murphy did little to calm the nerves when he scrambled around a crowded penalty area chasing the ball while leaving his goal unguarded during a melee sparked by an Exeter corner.

This was suddenly a different game - a proper cup tie at last — but QPR were able to reassert their dominance for the final 20 minutes and cruise through as they’d previously seemed certain to do. Perhaps it was just a case of every team having ten minutes in the game. Johnson signalled a return to normality with a firm shot at the keeper and while that save was routine, Krysiak’s spectacular finger-tip touch that sent a powerful shot from another substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips onto the underside of the bar and away to safety was anything but. Wright-Phillips, on for Hoilett, tried his luck again from a similar position a moment later and this time clipped the base of the post with the QPR fans on the opposite side of the ground celebrating what looked a certain goal.

There was still time for Hill to chop down Exeter sub John O’Flynn as he bore down on the goal — a yellow card and free kick right on the cusp of the box could easily have been a red card and a penalty had the challenge come in a split second later — but Sercombe’s aim with the free kick was again found wanting and this time he crashed a low shot into a five man QPR wall. Nevertheless, Dunne and Hill look a long way from a partnership capable of dealing with pacier, more talented Championship strike forces just yet. Nedum Onuoha needn’t worry about his starting spot.

Plenty to like about a professional QPR display then, but much work still to do.

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Exeter: Krysiak 8, Woodman 6, Baldwin 6, Coles 6, Moore-Taylor 6, Bennett 5, Sercombe 6, Doherty 5 (Davies 46, 6), Wheeler 6 (Parkin 54, 7), Gow 5 (O’Flynn 54, 6), Reid 6

Subs not used: Pyn, Dawson, Gosling, Keohane

QPR: Murphy 6, Simpson 6, Hill 6, Dunne 5, Suk-Young 6, Barton 6, Jenas 6, Faurlin 6 (Derry 63, 6), Hoilett 7 (Wright-Phillips 74, 6), Austin 7, Zamora 5 (Johnson 46, 7)

Subs not used: Green, Onuoha, Ehmer, Henry

Goals: Austin 1 (assisted Jenas), Simpson 50 (assisted Johnson)

Bookings: Hill 85 (foul)

QPR Star Man — Charlie Austin 7 A pretty routine performance from Rangers with few players standing out as being particularly brilliant or awful. Junior Hoilett was very decent again but I thought Austin shaded it for an excellent all round centre forward performance, including total aerial dominance against Coles and an excellent ability to bring team mates into play in dangerous areas. Topped it off with a first goal for the club as well.

Referee — Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire) 7 Very little to referee really because, as previously said, Exeter stood off and did little to effect the game for the first hour at least. There were none of the biting challenges and frayed tempers you usually see in a fiery cup tie, even with Mad Dog Doherty prowling round the midfield for the first half. Waved away two penalty appeals in the second half, one completely and the other because he felt it was a foul on the edge of the box rather than inside. I’ve seen neither again, and the away terrace didn’t offer a great view of the far end of the ground, but by most accounts the first one should have been given.

Attendance — 5,253 (798 away) A creditable away following on a Tuesday night for an increasingly unloved competition. Sadly the overall atmosphere was killed off by the early goal, with the home ranks roused only briefly in the second half by Exeter’s five minutes of pressure. Still, hopefully the home club has made some decent gate money from a crowd of more than 5,000.

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connell10 added 20:12 - Aug 7
Good write up mate. Rangers must be doing something right as thats twice you having giving the oppositions keeper their highest mark! By the way id have giving BZ 2 and that would have been generous!

francisbowles added 21:08 - Aug 7
Thanks for the report Clive, I couldn't follow the match in any way last night so it's good to get some perspective from it. Seems like the penalty decisions and poor finishing by the opposition helped a decent attacking performance again. Let's hope we can improve defensively and the luck stays with us.

I don't want to jinx things but I seem to remember gutsy defending and our more than fair share of luck with penalty decisions at both ends three years ago!

qprninja added 15:33 - Aug 8
There really was very little difference in Exeter's performance between the friendly and the cup game, I found it encouraging that we have raised our game though, I don't think that would have happened last season. I think you've got to take your hat off to Rednapp and the coaches at the moment for the squad changes they're making, the players seem united and are actually playing like a team for the first time in a while. We've just drawn Swindon in the next round at Loftus Road, very winnable game that should see us on a bit of a cup run, imagine that........

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