Honest to God, plays – report
Monday, 9th Dec 2013 18:28 by Clive Whittingham
Another day, another dirge. QPR 0 Blackburn Rovers 0 this time, a game that had the majority inside Loftus Road talking amongst themselves about other things for most of the afternoon.
Great football matches played between Queens Park Rangers and Blackburn Rovers wouldn’t make for much of a Christmas present if you found the DVD in your stocking. Of the last seven meetings between these two on this ground five have featured one goal or fewer, and one of the other two finished 1-1.
Saturday’s encounter at Loftus Road was never likely to deviate from that too much: Rovers have won only once away from home this season while QPR had won eight and drawn one of nine before kick off - Rovers manager Gary Bowyer was therefore always likely to view a point as a good result. But while Rangers record and league position is impressive, they have struggled for goals this term and matches in W12 have been decided by a single strike on three occasions already.
A switch to a two striker system for a midweek win over Bournemouth brought a spurt of ‘I told you so’ from the 4-4-2 lobby as Rangers ran in three goals for the first time in two years, but Saturday was back to the dreary monotony that has marked much of QPR’s campaign so far despite the continued presence of Andy Johnson and Charlie Austin together in attack.
Rangers’ ship steadying after a nightmare 2012/13 campaign has been impressive, and only the most optimistic supporter could have expected Harry Redknapp’s team to be this high in the table given the rebuilding job that was required. But this is getting to be very dull now.
Too often QPR are relying on the excellent Charlie Austin to sniff out the odd goal to win them a game rather than grasping matches by the throat and affecting them – which they really should be able to do with the attacking players they have at their disposal. Consecutive games at Blackpool, at home to Leicester, then at Forest and Watford will ask sterner questions and QPR will have to find a way of being as dominant in the attacking third of the pitch as they are in the defensive one.
The R’s have conceded just twice at home in nine matches this campaign and Clint Hill was superb at centre half on Saturday, keeping one of the division’s top strikers Jordan Rhodes quiet and winning a succession of important headers and challenges.
Hill needed to be good. A switch out of the 4-2-3-1 QPR have utilised more often than not this season into the more traditional 4-4-2 may get Andy Johnson onto the pitch with Austin – and the value of that was seen in the early minutes when first he drew a free kick wide on the right and then teed up Austin for a shot that deflected wide – but it doesn’t help QPR much in midfield. Rangers like to pass the ball to death but taking a body out of the central area not only reduces the number of players happy to receive short balls in the central third, but also leaves the team short on protection for the back four when possession is lost.
Blackburn had much the better of the first half as time and again Joey Barton and Little Tom Carroll struggled to find team mates with passes, and then found themselves chasing back frantically to try and fill the yawning space between them and a back four which will naturally sit deep while it’s anchored by two old stagers like Hill and Richard Dunne.
Jason Lowe was left unmarked at the back post after a quarter of an hour and when Tom Cairney picked him out with a deep cross he sent a bouncing shot into the ground, over Rob Green and almost certainly into the net but for an intervention on the line by Hill. Austin had to come back and head the resulting corner out under heavy pressure from centre back Grant Hanley and Rovers weren’t finished there either. Twice around the half hour Hill had to stick his head on dangerous deliveries as Blackburn broke through the wide open spaces of the QPR midfield and then amid a funereal atmosphere at Loftus Road Chris Taylor steamed onto a Tommy Spurr cross five minutes before half time and headed over when he should have scored. In a minute of added time at the end of the half a deep long throw was directed towards goal by Dann but the ball bounced fractionally wide of the post with Green beaten but no Rovers players on hand to tap into the gaping net.
Rangers were as dysfunctional as an EastEnders family Christmas. Junior Hoilett seemed to be trying too hard to impress against his former club – a decent travelling support from the north booed his every touch and called him a ‘greedy bastard’ when he was within earshot – and went through one of those spells in the middle of the first half where he couldn’t find his own arse with both hands. Matt Phillips was anonymous on the opposite flank, save for one mishit shot on the stroke of half time that was kicked behind for a corner by Dann, and neither Benoit Assou-Ekotto nor Danny Simpson showed enough inclination to get forward from full back.
Phillips and Hoilett hold the key for QPR this season, but almost certainly not in this shape and system. They showed in the away game at Reading just how dangerous and attractive they can make Rangers when they’re on form and supporting Austin as part of a three-man supporting cast behind him but, even for wingers, their form is wildly erratic. Both scored good goals against Bournemouth on Tuesday, neither looked capable of scoring again in their careers here. Throw in their respective troubles with actually staying fit to play and it’s a headache for Harry Redknapp.
All that said, the decision to remove both of them at the same time in the second half and send on Niko Kranjcar and Gary O’Neil – two players more suited to central positions being asked to play as wingers – took the R’s too far the other way. Assou-Ekotto’s superb piece of skill and cross for Austin to head against the base of the Blackburn post was as close as QPR came to a goal all afternoon but that width wasn’t provided nearly often or readily enough and too often after the change Rangers moved attacks into crowded spaces around the edge of the area too readily. Now they were predictable for a different reason. Redknapp tried to correct this by sending on Armand Traore late in the day, but he spent ten minutes falling over his own feet having seemingly picked up a pair of his wife’s shoes and put them on the wrong feet by mistake.
It all made QPR very easy to deal with when they had the ball, and offered plenty to target when they didn’t. It was a mess of ineffective straight lines and Blackburn not only should have been in front at half time, but could easily have won the game when Rhodes caught Hill in possession on the edge of the QPR area just before the hour and Barton had to swoop in with a covering challenge as Taylor threatened to capitalise.
Rangers looked more positive when they got Andy Johnson on the ball. He drew a foul from Dann while running at the Rovers defence for which referee Darren Drysdale showed a yellow card, and later sent in a low cross that Austin stepped over allowing Phillips a clear strike on goal but a remarkable save from Rovers keeper Simon Eastwood – third choice and making his first league start of the season – kept the scores deadlocked.
Drysdale had the book out again for Chris Taylor - who’d been crying out for a card long before it actually arrived in the sixty fourth minute following a series of fouls, dives and, ultimately, a hack on Joey Barton – and then again for Tommy Spurr despite the one-time QPR transfer target appearing to win the ball with a fair tackle. Taylor should have scored moments after his indiscretion when a cross from the right dropped in the six yard box but Rangers muscled up and cleared away.
The game petered out through a dire last quarter of an hour. Rovers sent on former R DJ Campbell for Jordan Rhodes but he clearly had 0-0 on his coupon and had little effect on proceedings, and later a large gent who looked a bit like David Dunn came on for Josh King, who himself had only been introduced just after the hour but seemed to pick up a knock in the closing stages. The substitutions disrupted the flow of an already dreadful game and except for one low drive by Taylor straight at Green, and Austin glancing a header wide from a corner won by Danny Simpson after a wonderful pass by Little Tom Carroll, there was little action of note. Rangers finished the game, typically, with two poorly executed corners in four minutes of injury time.
Blackpool away, Leicester at home, Forest away, Watford away – we’ll soon see exactly what this QPR team really is made of.
QPR: Green 6; Simpson 6 Dunne 6, Hill 7, Assou-Ekotto 6 (Traore 87, -); Phillips 5 (O’Neil 59, 6), Carroll 6, Barton 6, Hoilett 5 (Kranjcar 59, 6); Johnson 6, Austin 6
Subs not used: Onuoha, Jenas, Henry, Murphy
Blackburn: Eastwood 7; Henley 6, Dann 6, Hanley 6, Spurr 6; Marshall 6, Williamson 6, Lowe 6, Cairney 6 (King 63, 5 (Dunn 85, -)); Taylor 6; Rhodes 6 (Campbell 76, 5)
Subs not used: Kilgallon, Judge, Rochina, Kean
Bookings: Henley 33 (foul), Dann 48 (foul), Spurr 64 (foul), Taylor 69 (repetitive fouling)
QPR Star Man – Clint Hill 7 A rock at the back for QPR, making several crucial tackles in the penalty area and winning every header that came his way. Can be forgiven one frightening moment in the second half that almost cost the only goal at the game for 89 minutes of solidity either side of it.
Referee – Darren Drysdale (Lincs) 7 Thought he allowed Taylor to get away with far too much before booking him, and then yellow carded Spurr rather harshly immediately afterwards, but other than that he had a calm, firm control on a dreadful game.
Attendance 15,987 (1,300 Blackburn approx) A very creditable size of away following, given Blackburn’s current form and league position and the low numbers that usually travel to W12 from that part of the country. Overall though, a morgue-like atmosphere where boredom hung in the air.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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