McCarthy holds improving QPR at bay – report
Sunday, 10th Nov 2013 21:17 by Clive Whittingham
QPR were forced to settle for a point at Reading on Saturday thanks largely to a series of brilliant saves from home goalkeeper Alex McCarthy.
The last time Queens Park Rangers were relegated from the Premier League into the second tier, back in 1996, they found a rather peculiar phenomenon obstructing their path to an immediate return. While the quality of the lower division was undoubtedly inferior – facing Port Vale slightly different to trying to mark Dennis Bergkamp as it turns out – the standard of opposition goalkeepers seemed unusually high.
Rangers, who had been titting about in the top division for years with Tony Roberts dropping balls in his own net and what not, suddenly found themselves in a division packed full of Lev Yashin wannabes. Long running fanzine A Kick Up The R’s published an ode to Mark Hateley in the style of Oasis’ Wonderwall that included the line: “And all the roads to Blundell Park are winding, and all the keepers we play against are blinding.”
The Loftus Road faithful would be forgiven for thinking that history is repeating itself some 16 years on. At Huddersfield in August an enterprising performance from Harry Redknapp’s side yielded just a single point largely due to the brilliance of home gloveman Alex Smithies and on Saturday at the Madejski Stadium the Super Hoops had to settle for the same 1-1 scoreline thanks to the flying form of Reading keeper Alex McCarthy.
He could do nothing about Junior Hoilett’s second minute barnburner that dipped beyond him and smacked flush onto the face of the crossbar but he was brilliant thereafter, denying Rangers at every turn. Charlie Austin spun sharply onto a low cross and drilled towards the near post only for McCarthy to turn the ball aside with his shins, then from the throw in another low delivery from Matt Phillips was sidefooted towards goal by Austin and McCarthy blocked it away again.
Reading had conceded five goals to bottom club Sheffield Wednesday in the game before this one, each more shambolic than the last, prompting manager Nigel Adkins to recall former QPR favourite Kaspars Gorkss at centre half for the first time this season. It wasn’t a conspicuous success: the Latvian looking rusty and accident prone, and just five minutes into the match Rangers could feasibly have been three goals to the good.
Redknapp’s side have dropped down to third in the table recently after a difficult run of three consecutive away matches brought just two points from Burnley, Millwall and Wigan. Rangers top the divisional stats for pass completion and possession this season but there was a growing sense that they lacked a real purpose in those games, happy to just move the ball around aimlessly without the necessary thrust to make it count for anything. That changed last week in a win against Derby thanks largely to the return to form and fitness of winger Matt Phillips and he was in sparkling shape again early on against Reading, tormenting former QPR loanee Stephen Kelly who started at left back instead of the injured Wayne Bridge, and going close to opening the scoring in the eleventh minute when another Gorkss mistake gave him a chance to cut in and shoot into the side netting. A sizeable travelling support – creditable given the kick off time, location and presence of the Sky cameras – celebrated believing it had gone in but were left disappointed.
Resplendent in their baby-sick coloured third strip Rangers continued to pile forward with real menace. Gary O’Neil, recalled to the midfield following the tragic knee injury suffered by Ale Faurlin in the Derby game, cut a cross back from the byline that flashed right through the danger zone without a touch. Then the former West Ham man was cleverly teed up for a shot on the edge of the box by Junior Hoilett after the Canadian had retrieved a deep cross and beaten his full back – O’Neil’s shot deflected twice on its way through and went wide. Later McCarthy saved well when Austin powered a header towards him – three shots on goal in the first half from Austin, all three on target, and a different keeper may well have conceded a hat trick. When the keeper did make a mistake – kicking weakly a minute before half time – he was still able to retrieve the situation with a classy save to deny Junior Hoilett. This was starting to get irritating.
Not least because having not taken the chances they’d created at will, Rangers drifted out of the game as the first half wore on. A pathetic dive by Reading academy graduate Jordan Obita attempting to con a penalty out of Danny Simpson – which should have brought a yellow card from referee Anthony Taylor and followed a similarly limp attempt by the same player to extract a free kick by the corner flag – seemed to sum up the home team’s desperation but the incident came as the momentum of the game shifted in their favour. Garath McCleary lashed over from long range – a sign of things to come later in the game – and Pavel Pogrebnyak headed over the bar when placed to do better. The Russian also poked wide under pressure from Danny Simpson when McCleary got in behind Assou-Ekotto and crossed low in the heart of the penalty area.
QPR weren’t helped by having to make two changes in quick succession. Jermaine Jenas and Richard Dunne both required treatment at the same time – any QPR player with any sense of comic timing would have sat between his two stricken team mates and commenced the traditional Oops Upside Your Head rowing dance although given that the natives were restless enough at the delay of the game perhaps it wouldn’t have gone down well. That brought Niko Kranjcar and Nedum Onuoha into the action a good deal sooner than the medical team would probably have liked given their respective health problems of late – Kranjcar looked a mile off the pace, Onuoha slotted in like he’d never been away.
Amidst it all Green did well to not only save a Baird header from Guthrie’s whipped free kick, but also palm the ball away from a crowd scene in front of him. He sprang from his line to fist the resulting corner away for good measure. Benoit Assou-Ekotto paid the price for being too casual in pursuit of a loose ball by fouling McCleary and picking up a yellow card from Taylor as a result.
There were signs after half time that QPR had refocused and were ready to start pummelling McCarthy again, and a prolonged spell of pressure ten minutes after the break brought a shot from Assou-Ekotto that struck defender Michael Morrison and bounced away to safety.
But it was hard to shake the feeling that the chance to really put the sword through a nervous looking home team had passed QPR by. Gary O’Neil’s back flick pass to get Matt Phillips in down the right was sexual, but Phillips immediately conceded possession - more fumbling teenage boy than masterful porn star. When Joey Barton attempted to take a free kick quickly and drive the ball to the heart of the penalty area Danny Guthrie, who’d come dressed as a 1972 vagina, was allowed to block the ball from two yards away and set a counter attack away with, bizarrely, no intervention at all from referee Taylor. Andy Hall would never have stood for such nonsense – at least one of the two players involved would have been off, almost certainly the QPR one.
The other problem the 1996/97 Rangers had was that while the opposition goalkeepers seemed to be using witchcraft to keep them at bay, giant American stopper Juergen Sommer was doing a nice line in conceding a minimum of two long range goals a week. Every time a player drew his boot back from 35 yards the Loft would sigh as if he was standing three inches from the goal, so inevitable did it become that the ball would hum into the top corner. Even Grimsby’s Tommy Widdrington got in on the act. Tommy Widdrington for goodness sake.
The déjà vu became overwhelming when, just after the hour and out of absolutely nothing, McCleary pinged a dipping shot in off Robert Green’s post from the thick end of 30 yards. QPR perhaps had cause for complaint that the throw in immediately beforehand should have been awarded to them, and may look at both the goalkeeping and slow closing down from the defence, but in truth it looked like one of those freak goals that come along every now and again that you can do little about.
“You should have spent some more” trilled the home supporters, conveniently forgetting their own rich Russian owner and signings like Bridge and Royston Drenthe who won’t have moved to Reading in the summer purely for a love of the Berkshire countryside.
Redknapp, frustrated, withdrew O’Neil for Andy Johnson to add more support for Charlie Austin but the sense that it wasn’t to be QPR’s day only grew stronger when, almost immediately after that final change had been made, Junior Hoilett’s elastic-bands-and-chewing-gum hamstring twanged again leaving the Canadian limping around in the centre of the field, essentially little more than ballast, and QPR down to ten men to all intents and purposes.
For one wonderful moment it looked like the numbers might be evened up immediately when Taylor rushed into a melee with the purpose of a referee with red on his mind, but Pavel Pogrebnyak’s tackle barely looked like a foul at all on second inspection and the Russian could count himself unfortunate to even be booked. When Clint Hill subsequently gave the ball away in his own half and Green was forced into a nervy save with his foot to deny Obita it seemed that the game was drifting away from the R’s for good.
But there was another twist to come. With a quarter of an hour left for play Andy Johnson fed Charlie Austin on the edge of the box and his admirable hold up play drew a foul from Gorkss which Taylor awarded after initially, correctly, playing advantage. That set up a presentable free kick opportunity for the visitors and with Kranjcar and Assou-Ekotto causing distractions on the end of the Reading wall QPR’s best player on the day Joey Barton was able to thread the ball through the eye of the needle and into the far corner of the net. No more than QPR, or the excellent Barton, deserved and celebrated in classy style with the hoisting of an Ale Faurlin away shirt down on the touchline.
Despite the loss of Hoilett and subsequent numerical disadvantage it was QPR who pressed on for a winner thereafter. McCarthy would have been helpless to stop Andy Johnson’s shot on the turn had it been bar wide and Phillips should have at least found the target when Johnson fed him a wonderful cross field pass on the run but he blasted over the bar.
Reading made all three substitutions at once to try and wrestle back the initiative, but you couldn’t help but think they’d left it a little late – certainly an earlier sight of Billy Sharp and Adam Le Fondre would have been more troubling to QPR than 89 minutes of Pogrebnyak and Hal Robson Kanu. Five minutes of added time at the end of the game were notable only for Barton playfully jiggling the testicles of his former Newcastle team mate Guthrie with the soul of his boot while the Reading man lay on the floor receiving treatment. He usually has to pay for that sort of thing.
Rangers left to reflect on what might have been from an excellent away performance, and castigate themselves for missing so many chances. Reading no doubt looking forward to two weeks on the training field working on a defence that looks a long way from one capable of supporting a promotion push – McCarthy apart.
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Reading: McCarthy 8; Gunter 6, Morrison 6, Gorkss 5, Kelly 5; McCleary 7 (McAnuff 89, -), Guthrie 6 (Akpan 89, -), Baird 6, Obita 5; Pogrebnyak 6 Robson-Kanu 6 (Sharp 89, -)
Subs not used: Federici, Pearce, Cummings, Le Fondre
Goals: McCleary 62 (unassisted)
Bookings: Pogrebnyak 66 (foul)
QPR: Green 7; Simpson 7, Hill 6, Dunne 6 (Onuoha 46, 6), Assou Ekotto 6; Barton 7, O’Neil 6 (Johnson 66, 7); Phillips 7, Jenas 5 (Kranjcar 31, 5), Hoilett 7; Austin 6
Subs not used: Traore, Chevanton, Murphy, Henry
Goals: Barton 76 (free kick, won Austin)
Bookings: Assou-Ekotto 44 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Joey Barton 7 The goal crowned a very decent performance indeed, dictating the pace and tempo of the game from the base of the QPR midfield, moving Rangers around the field and driving them forwards whenever possible. Narrowly pipping Matt Phillips to the prize for the second week running in my opinion.
Referee – Anthony Taylor (Cheshire) 6 One or two odd decisions – Obita should certainly have been booked for his first half foul, and I’m not sure what Pogrebnyak did to stir the official up so much, or why Guthrie was allowed to block Barton’s free kick from two yards in front of the ball – but overall not too bad.
Attendance 21,497 (2,300 QPR approx) A remarkable away following given the 12.15 kick off and Sky coverage.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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