QPR add style to function and sweep aside beleaguered Boro - report
Sunday, 29th Sep 2013 23:25 by Clive Whittingham
QPR produced their best performance of the season so far at Loftus Road on Saturday as goals from Joey Barton and Charlie Austin saw off Middlesbrough 2-0.
Could that be the faint sound of the 2013/14 Queens Park Rangers finally clicking into place?
Football’s village elders tell us that league tables don’t lie and as the sun rose on another unseasonably warm autumn Saturday in West London QPR sat proudly atop of the second tier. Eight games, six wins, two draws, just two goals conceded – Rangers have trailed in league matches for just 23 minutes so far this season as we prepare to enter October. What’s not to like?
But there hasn’t been much super about the Hoops this term. The suave, sophisticated, stylish swagger that coursed through the early season performances in 2010/11, when Neil Warnock’s Rangers won this division, has been sadly lacking. Games have been grinds rather than exhibitions, like footballing arm wrestles won through attrition or good fortune rather than skill or ability.
If anything the performances have been getting worse. A recent home win against Birmingham City was achieved more due to the poor finishing ability of the opposition than anything Rangers did while a subsequent goalless draw with Brighton in W12 could have lulled an acid addict into a deep sleep. Last week at Yeovil only goalkeeper Robert Green prevented defeat to a team whose entire weekly wage bill could probably be covered by QPR’s catering contract.
Things didn’t bode well for a great improvement against Middlesbrough in Shepherd’s Bush on Saturday. Manager Harry Redknapp, who has forged a career on a reputation for attractive, attacking football, was shorn of the services of both his first choice wingers: Junior Hoilett’s chewing gum hamstring is bent out of shape again and Matt Phillips’ wankers’ elbow keeps playing him up.
The response to a growing absentee list was inspired, and has potentially provided a glimpse to a very bright future for this group of players through a long dark winter ahead. Redknapp chose to field his five best ball players through the midfield and allow full backs Danny Simpson and Benoit Assou-Ekotto to provide the threat in wide areas. Joey Barton and Ale Faurlin were recalled to the team to hold Little Tom Carroll’s hand while Gary O’Neil and his iron lung added work rate and guile.
The whole thing was hung around Niko Kranjcar, three parts male model to one part footballer and apparently well short of match fitness but still far, far too good for the Championship on this evidence. In the first half, when he played mainly wide left, the Croatian showed off a repertoire of neat touches and clever passes then when he was positioned more centrally after the break he dictated the entire pattern of the game without breaking a sweat. He needn’t have changed out of his designer suit, so easy did it seem to him, and the contrast between the man capped 79 times by Croatia and lone striker Charlie Austin, a former brick layer with work rate to match, was both intriguing and effective.
The home team took the lead after just four minutes thanks to a mixture of actually committing decent numbers into the penalty box for a change and some shambolic Middlesbrough defending. When the visitors failed to take several invitations to clear their lines Danny Simpson whipped in a low cross that goalkeeper Jason Steele punched out as far as Barton and his bobbling low shot bounced into the net via half a dozen deflections in a crowded goal mouth. His first goal of a second spell with Rangers following a loan at Marseille last season.
Later Barton’s eye for a Hollywood pass almost had Danny Simpson clean through into the area. Referee Darren Deadman ruled that the interception that denied the full back a goal his best performance of the season so far really deserved was no pass back, and a later shove by Fraser Richardson on Ale Faurlin in the area when the Argentinean seemed set to open his goalscoring account for the campaign wasn’t a penalty. But the R’s did get a spot kick just after the half hour when QPR flooded a chaotic penalty area with bodies, Charlie Austin drew a save from Steele and young centre back Ben Gibson handled a follow up shot from O’Neil playing against his former club. Austin took the kick himself, went the opposite side the one he’d picked for his match winner at Yeovil a week ago, and calmly collected his third goal in four appearances.
QPR had scored 23 goals by this point of their last promotion season compared to just eight prior to the start of Saturday’s game. Of the six victories achieved so far, five have been by a 1-0 scoreline, and the R’s seemed to revel in the comfort provided by a two goal cushion. Austin headed off target when he should have scored after earlier shooting wide from range and Steele spread himself to save well when Barton got free in the area.
Wonderful play by Austin at the heart of a counter attack just before half time drew a free kick on the edge of the box that Faurlin smacked over the top and then after the break the hosts really threatened to cut loose. At one point a dozen first time passes were strung together in quick succession through the midfield to the delight of the home crowd, and another eye catching move ended with Steele saving well from O’Neil. O’Neil then saw a volley fly straight at the keeper when a corner landed at his feet in the area – a foot right or left and that would have been three nil.
The stats say Middlesbrough had 16 shots on Robert Green’s goal, but 67% possession in the home team’s favour paints a much fairier picture of the game. QPR shouldn’t get too cocky or confident yet because seven of their nine games to this point have been against teams placed twelfth or lower in a dreadfully mediocre league, and they’re yet to play any of the top seven. Middlesbrough are a poor team playing poorly and never once carried themselves with any sort of belief that they would take anything from this match.
They were without centre half Rhys Williams prior to the game, young Ben Gibson did plenty to suggest a bright future in his stead, and were forced into two further changes at half time with veteran Jonathan Woodgate and József Varga both withdrawn, so there were mitigating circumstances but this was mostly dismal stuff from Tony Mowbray’s side who look a million miles away from a Premier League return after four years away.
In the first half they succeeded in niggling the home side and little more. Carroll’s penchant for turning into traffic in midfield created one or two nervy moments for the R’s and former Harrow Borough boy Albert Adomah saw a fifth minute shot deflected over the bar before Rob Green showed great command of his area to fist the resulting corner away under pressure. Kei Kamara had a shot deflected at Green after 12 minutes when Faurlin took a turn in sloppily conceding possession in his own half.
But QPR had more trouble with the match officials than their opposition. Dean Whitehead, formerly with Sunderland, always has been a wind up merchant extraordinaire and in Hungarian Varga he had a handy partner in crime. For the second time in as many home games Joey Barton did well to, just about, hold onto his notoriously short temper in the face of provocation – especially as referee Deadman was quite happy to produce early yellow cards for first Gary O’Neil and then Danny Simpson while continuing to allow Whitehead and Varga free reign to do as they pleased. The penalty award, and a long overdue card for Whitehead just after the half hour, lessened QPR’s persecution complex somewhat.
There were occasional threats from Boro in the second half too. Half time substitute Lukas Jutkiewicz, on for Varga, blasted over after Carroll lost the ball in a dangerous area and Richard Dunne Pub Landlord, imperious once again at the back, had to slide in bravely and clear at the back post as a low cross flew through the six yard box 20 minutes from time.
Boro’s best chance of the game came in seventy fourth minute when Jutkiewicz nodded a long ball down and Adomah missed the target via a deflection when he really should have scored. That suggested a grant stand finish could yet have Rangers in a sweat, especially when veteran centre back Clint Hill pulled up injured and had to be replaced by inexperienced youth team graduate Max Ehmer for his senior debut.
Jutkiewicz is a decent striker at this level, and immediately pulled away from Dunne and onto the new comer hunting nerves and weakness. But while tattoo-enthusiast Ehmer may be a relative pup, he’s built like an old boat and seemed to relish a ten minute physical battle with his fellow substitute that he got much the better of.
QPR seem to be running some sort of Battersea Dogs Home for out of contract footballers down at Harlington at the moment, unused substitute Javier Chevanton the latest to sign a permanent deal after spending time kicking around with the R’s in training, and with Nedum Onuoha out injured any potential absence for Hill could well see Redknapp looking externally for options again but Ehmer has enough about him to fill in adequately. Nine minutes from time he flung his substantial frame in the way of a low shot from Richard Smallwood to keep the sheet clean for a club record seventh consecutive league game.
Redknapp shored the midfield up by sending on Karl Henry for the final ten minutes instead of Faurlin, and gave Junior Hoilett a run at the end to try and expose any tiring limbs in the visiting defence, but that was really belt and braces stuff because the game was won long before.
Hoilett went past three and fired wide in four minutes of stoppage time at the end of QPR’s most accomplished performance of the season by some distance.
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QPR: Green 7; Simpson 7, Dunne 8, Hill 7 (Ehmer 79, 7), Assou-Ekotto 7; Carroll 6, Faurlin 7 (Henry 79, 6), Barton 7, Kranjcar 8 (Hoilett 83, -), O’Neil 7; Austin 7
Subs not used: Murphy, Traore, Jenas, Chevanton
Goals: Barton 4 (assisted Simpson), Austin 35 (penalty, handball)
Bookings: O’Neil 6 (foul), Simpson 12 (foul)
Middlesbrough: Steele 6; Friend 6 Gibson 7, Woodgate 6 (Parnaby 46, 6), Richardson 6; Butterfield 6 (Smallwood 67, 6), Leadbitter 6, Varga 5 (Jutkiewicz 46, 6), Whitehead 5; Adomah 6, Kamara 6
Subs not used: Leutwiler, Hoyte, Halliday, Carayol
Bookings: Whitehead 32 (repetitive fouling), Gibson 34 (deliberate handball) Adomah 89 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Niko Kranjcar 8 Close run thing between him and Dunne but I thought the way Krancjar controlled the pace and direction of the game, particularly in the second half, was exceptional and made a massive improvement to the way QPR have been playing just recently.
Referee – Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire) 5 A fairly typical performance from Mr Deadman, who seems to lack any feeling for the sport he’s in charge of each weekend at all. The early bookings of O’Neil and Simpson, while Whitehead and Varga were allowed to chop their way through QPR’s midfield unchecked, was just rank inconsistency and had Joey Barton properly lost his rag and got sent off as a result – which it looked at one point like he was going to – it would have affected the whole pattern of the game and probably the result as well. Calmed down a bit after that, and got both first half penalty decisions – one given for handball, the other not for a shove on Faurlin – just about right I think.
Attendance – 17,081 (1,500 Boro approx) A decent crowd in, and a good following from the North East considering their place in the league and quality of the team. The atmosphere was improved on recent weeks, in line with the performance on the pitch, but still nothing to write home about.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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