Winning ugly, QPR maintain unbeaten start at Leeds – report
Monday, 2nd Sep 2013 01:16 by Clive Whittingham
Harry Redknapp’s new look QPR side may not be that good to watch just yet, but it’s finding a way to grind our results. Leeds were the latest victims, slain 1-0 at Elland Road on Saturday.
The most worrying part for the rest of the Championship is that QPR haven’t been that good yet.
For the newly relegated Super Hoops, August looked nightmarish on paper: five league fixtures, plus two in the League Cup; games with Leeds, Bolton and Ipswich who were all tipped in certain quarters for promotion; just two home games, and 1,500 miles worth of away travel; and all conducted at the same time as trying to shift two thirds of the squad out, and bring a whole host of new arrivals in. Welcome back to the Championship lads, you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Rangers have swept the whole thing aside on a wave of mediocrity. They’ve won four and drawn one in the league, conceded just two goals in total and kept three clean sheets on the bounce, and rarely looked any good doing it.
Leeds United away on Saturday lunchtime was supposed to be the rude awakening. Perhaps QPR had been lucky, maybe they’d caught their opponents so far on bad days - Dave Jones will tell you only refereeing incompetence stood between his Sheffield Wednesday side and victory at Loftus Road on the first day of the season. Well that was all about to be found out and more. Brian McDermott, using a calm and intelligent demeanour to mask a secret love of the game’s dark arts and desire to see three of his players surrounding the referee at every stoppage of play, is in the midst of a revolution designed to carry Leeds back to the Premier League. Ross McCormack, apparently highly sought after by a host of other clubs, signed a four-year contract before kick-off. Elland Road, 150,000 screaming locals, scarves above the heads, Champions of Europe – we’ll soon see about this unbeaten start QPR.
QPR won here with something to spare; four players to spare to be precise. Gary O’Neil passed a late fitness test to play wide on one side of the midfield, but had his thigh strapped and struggled to pass to a team mate all afternoon. On the other flank, Shaun Wright-Phillips couldn’t be faulted for work rate or persistence but seemed to be having real trouble with the size and air pressure of the football. That in turn deprived strikers Charlie Austin and Andy Johnson of decent possession and they snatched at what scraps came their way as a result.
Rangers spent most of the afternoon grinding between second and third gear. Positive spells of progressive possession occurred in both halves, but there were equally periods when the best thing about the London side was their wonderful looking red and black away shirt which got an overdue first outing of the campaign.
In midfield the odd-couple partnership of Joey Barton and Karl Henry really excelled for the first time. They broke up play and directed QPR around the park very well all afternoon. Barton should have had his name on the score sheet to cap a decent performance as well. Played in by O’Neil after eight minutes he finished coolly past former R Paddy Kenny in the Leeds goal only for the linesman to flag him offside. Barton wasn’t off when the ball was played, when it arrived, or when he finished the chance off with consummate ease, but the assistant raised his flag regardless under duress from the home fans on the west side of the ground.
In defence Rangers were rock solid. Danny Simpson and Nedum Onuoha are models of consistency and Richard ‘The Pub Landlord’ Dunne physically intimidated Noel Hunt, and later Matt Smith, despite looking a long way away from being fit, slim or fast enough to play football at this level.
Clint Hill, who surely thought his days racing up and down the flank from left back were long gone, was also excellent and was rewarded with a goal in the second half. Barton swung over a free kick, won thanks to some fine hold up play by Andy Johnson wide on the left 13 minutes from time, and Onuoha seemed to be hauled back in the area as he tried to convert. That debate was settled in Rangers favour when Paddy Kenny failed to hold the ball and Hill hooked in from close range. His first goal in two and a half years and 82 appearances. The celebrations, conducted loudly and proudly in front of the QPR fans in the side stand, betrayed Hill’s frustration at not only the team’s under-performance over the last two years but also his own bad luck in the opposition penalty area that means he will likely retire without a Premier League goal to his name.
And that was enough for a 1-0 away win. Two central midfielders playing reasonably well and a well drilled back four was all it required for QPR to come and win at one of the division’s supposed promotion contenders. This was a Leeds team one victory away from their best start to a season in three decades. Perhaps, as McDermott and every other manager QPR have faced this season have mentioned before kick off, the parachute payments from the newly minted Premier League just set the relegated sides up far and beyond anything the rest of the division can possibly hope to achieve. That increased wedge for the relegated sides has occurred just when the rest of the Championship has equalled out the ability of all its teams by imposing strict financial fair play rules. Potentially bad for the competition in the long run, but very beneficial for QPR at the moment.
Leeds will admit themselves they’re short of quality in wide areas. QPR looked to exploit this by involving their full backs in attacks whenever possible and Wright-Phillips stole in to head an early cross from Danny Simpson wide of the post. Wright-Phillips later showed excellent poise to turn in behind Murphy at the base of the Leeds midfield and accelerate away to the edge of the box but, like so many shots that have gone before in his QPR career, his eventual effort on goal was scuffed and off target.
Kenny had to rush out of his area to reach a Barton through ball before Andy Johnson could get to it and lob home into the unguarded net before half time. Then right at the start of the second half the keeper stood tall and strong at his near post and was able to deny Austin from an acute angle after Jason Pearce had found himself totally caught out by a back pass from Stephan Warnock that inadvertently played the QPR striker into the left channel.
Austin is cutting rather a frustrated figure at present. He got the first goal monkey off his back with an early strike at Exeter in the League Cup but it wasn’t one he knew a lot about, nor was it scored in a league game, and I think you can tell it’s starting to play on his mind. He could have done little else with that chance straight after the break, but he snatched at others and sent shots low and wide and high and over from the edge of the area when there were options available for a pass. When a prolonged spell of pressure and QPR corners ended with Onuoha winning a header in the box and the ball falling to the former Burnley man with time to pick a spot or a team mate he duffed one straight to Kenny.
Leeds threatened sporadically. Rodolph Austin has only scored four times in 43 appearances for the Whites but insisted on trying his luck from outrageously long range whenever the opportunity presented itself. That shoot on sight policy seemed ill-conceived when he lashed over the first half, but then with the final kick of the game a howitzer from the best part of 40 yards left Green motionless and pinged to safety off the top of the goal frame. It would have been a spectacular equaliser not befitting anything that had gone before in this game, and harsh on QPR as well.
Leeds were so ineffective in attack for the most part that McDermott substituted both his strikers before the hour mark. Noel Hunt and Luke Varney, as threatening and useful as a wet paper towel in the midst of a forest fire, both departed to be replaced by Matt Smith, all height and presence, and Dom Poleon who is more of a speed merchant. The changes briefly unsettled the visitors, and the otherwise exemplary Nedum Onuoha was caught out under a bouncing ball in his own area, but Poleon hit one shot against Onuoha and another tamely through to Green. Smith, in fact, could have scored with his first touch having raced into the penalty area from the bench to attack a corner and head wide.
Later that combination of substitutes – Smith flicking the ball on for Poleon – saw the youngster catch another sight of goal, but again he could only shoot directly at the goalkeeper. Running out of time, McDermott threw on pantomime villain El Hadji Diouf, sporting a scalp made up to look like Mel B’s vagina, but he could offer little hope of an equaliser either. One deep cross, headed wide by Smith, was as good as it got for the Senegalese scumbag.
McCormack already has four goals to his name this season, but only managed nine in the whole of last season and never once looked like adding to his total in this game.
In fact when Leeds should have been pushing for an equaliser, QPR were actually asking them to do plenty of defending. Redknapp sent on Junior Hoilett for Gary O’Neil, clearly below par, and the difference having a player with some genuine pace and ability to play the game in a wide area made was there for all to see.
But it’s with Hoilett, and new signing Matt Phillips, that QPR’s success this season lies. The difference Hoilett made when he came on here, while only fit enough to play for 30 minutes, was stark even allowing for the influence of his fellow sub Alejandro Faurlin who replaced Karl Henry. While Rangers are simply remaining solid and taking their chances for wins at the moment, it could be a whole different kettle of fish if they can get two quality wingers on the pitch at the same time.
Referee Stuart Attwell added five minutes on at the end of the game and played nearly six but QPR rarely looked panicked, even allowing for Austin’s late barnburner. At one point Richard Dunne marched into a piece of broken play on the edge of his penalty area and delivered a right footed clearance into the side stand that Peter Kay would have been proud of. Basic stuff, but it seems that’s all teams required at this level these days.
Leeds: Kenny 6; Peltier 6, Wootton 6, Pearce 6, Warnock 5; Murphy 6, Green 6 (Diouf 80, -), Austin 7, McCormack 5; Varney 5 (Smith 57, 6), Hunt 5 (Poleon 57, 6)
Subs not used: Ashdown, Drury, Lees, Tonge
QPR: Green 6; Simpson 7, Dunne 7, Onuoha 7, Hill 7; O’Neil 5 (Hoilett 64, 7), Henry 6 (Faurlin 72, 6), Barton 7, Wright-Phillips 6; Johnson 6 (Jenas 88, -), Austin 6
Subs not used: Murphy, Suk-Young, Zamora, Shariff
Goals: Hill 75 (assisted Barton)
Bookings: Hill 86 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Nedum Onuoha 7 A massive part of QPR’s defensive stinginess so far this season, and given the relative ages and fitness concerns of Clint Hill and Richard Dunne – both excellent in this game – a vital part of the team.
Referee Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire) 7 A tad lenient with some nasty tackles at various points of the game, and very pernickety about the exact placing of free kicks, but overall very decent, with a new found common sense, and a keenness to let the game flow that simply wasn’t there a couple of years ago.
Attendance – 23,341 (700 QPR approx) Credit to the QPR fans who made the journey, the second long slog up north inside a week, both for 12.15 televised games, and with Leeds charging extortionate amounts for the tickets.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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