Phillips haunts Blackpool as Redknapp outsmarts Ince – report
Monday, 16th Dec 2013 14:39 by Clive Whittingham
A fantastic second half display, inspired by two Harry Redknapp substitutions, secured an impressive 2-0 win for QPR at Blackpool on Saturday.
Not a bad little weekend for Harry Redknapp.
With three points already in the bag from his Saturday trip to Blackpool, the QPR manager will no doubt have kicked back on Sunday afternoon with a glass of cheek warmer to digest Sandra’s finest roast dinner and have a look at the last rights being read to his bright, young, new-age predecessor at Tottenham Hotspur, Andre Villas Boas.
Beaten 5-0 at home by a rampant Liverpool just a month after conceding six at Manchester City, the sacking of the former Chelsea manager first thing Monday morning was as inevitable as night following day. Even with a squad of players that had £93m lavished on it during the summer, Tottenham cannot get anywhere close to the level they were playing at during the height of Redknapp’s reign there.
One cannot help but think back to QPR’s own visit to White Hart Lane in 2011/12 when the R’s had to be at their absolute best just to hold onto Spurs coat tails sufficiently to only lose 3-1. Tottenham were lightning fast, beautifully balanced, wonderful to watch and ruthlessly efficient in attack. Now they’re slow, ponderous, struggling to score or even pose much of a threat and with all the balance of Ashley Young after a 12 hour drinking session. Nobody before or since Redknapp has managed to get Spurs playing as well as he did, or finishing as high in the league.
Which begs two questions….
The first, which troubles Redknapp a good deal more than anybody else you suspect, is why on earth he’s now stuck managing in the Championship. Having taken over QPR midway through last season he probably planned to either sign a few players and keep Rangers up so he could have another crack at the top flight, or sign a few players and take them down at which point a mutual parting of the ways would ensue. QPR didn’t play ball and while Redknapp has done a magnificent job in turning round a free-fall at Loftus Road and preventing a Wolves repeat, his body language on the touchline – admittedly afflicted by a botched summer knee operation – isn’t exactly that of a man happy with his current lot.
The second, which has been a source of some conjecture in recent weeks, is why QPR are quite so boring to watch this season. You can’t argue with first place, two defeats from 20 matches played and 14 clean sheets kept but you can quite easily say that – Derby and Bournemouth at home and Reading away apart – the R’s have been fairly awful on the eye. It’s not been typical Redknapp football, and it’s not been befitting the wealth of talent he has at his disposal within this QPR squad. This is the Championship’s best team and squad on paper by a country mile.
A Christmas period of three away matches at Blackpool, Forest and Watford as well as a visit from second placed Leicester is as testing as they come at this level. It’s a chance for QPR to silence a few critics and provide assurance that they’re the real deal. On Saturday at Bloomfield Road they put a substantial, defiant marker in the ground.
It was one of those typical December days at the British seaside. A vile wind had been howling in off the Fylde coast all day and a tall, foreboding sea promised swift death to anybody drunk or stupid enough to venture down to the beach. During the first half the weather took a turn for the barbaric, whipping sleet and bits of old boat in off the water and straight down the field of play into the face of Pool goalkeeper Matt Gilks. By half time his clearances were hanging in the air to such an extent that he was struggling to clear his own penalty box. The corner flag clung to its moorings by a nerve ending and a member of ground staff had to be dispatched from the main stand to hold it in place. It was End of Days stuff.
And that didn’t bode well for Queens Park Rangers. Once again they’d done little to assert themselves on the game or affect it positively in an attacking sense during the first half. Blackpool’s former Bristol City striker Steve Davies drew a comfortable save from Rangers keeper Robert Green with a purposeful header, then the former West Ham stopper had to palm one from Craig Cathcart over the bar when the R’s were trapped in their own box by a deep free kick. Defender Cathcart should then have done more than simply hook over the bar when that resulting corner found its way through to him at the back post.
More pressure after another home corner just before the half hour saw defender Kirk Broadfoot felled in the QPR penalty area but referee Stuart Attwell showed no interest in a spot kick. Attwell generates his decisions seemingly at random, and flits wildly between controlling games with common sense or killing them with cards. He was in benevolent mood here, penalising nobody for anything, and when Clint Hill hacked into the back of Davies on the halfway line without so much as a free kick being awarded the official had to go over to the touchline and calm Blackpool assistant Alex Rae who had erupted into a frothy mountain of bile and Special Brew.
Dan Gosling, English football’s great lost youth, dragged a shot wide after Gary O’Neil had twice presented him with the ball in the QPR half, and saw another deflected over before the break.
QPR offered little in return. Jermaine Jenas, recalled as the most advanced of the three man supporting cast behind Charlie Austin, pulled an early Joey Barton cross out of the air and tested Gilks but had long since been flagged offside, and later seemed to chicken out of a header when another of the forward-thinking trio Gary O’Neil had seized on a failed interception by Pool’s Nathan Delfouneso and crossed to the near post. Barton tried to seize on that loose ball, but could only head straight to Gilks.
It was all rather typical of Rangers new and old. The Euston Station Tie Rack had been raided for its gloves before the players set off and the R’s looked like they’d rather be anywhere else – memories of previous defeats in the frozen north at places like Doncaster and Grimsby came flooding back. Little Tom Carroll, bedraggled and in severe danger of drowning in the mud, looked like the latest poster child for the Disasters Emergency Committee.
Having done so little to go and win the match in the first half with the wind at their backs, the script seemed written for a second half when Rob Green and QPR would have to stand and face into the teeth of the gale. Blackpool would surely not make the same mistake as their visitors. This was to be 45 minutes of pummelling: balls flying high, and often, into the QPR penalty box; Green to be surrounded by Tangerine shirts; crosses whipped into the goal mouth. This was going to be a footballing Battle of the Alamo. This was going to be a 2-0 defeat.
Losing Clint Hill’s heading ability at half time – illness dispatching the QPR skipper into the early bath water – looked like another blow but in fact the introduction of Nedum Onuoha in his stead played into Rangers’ hands. Now, even with the wind in their faces, QPR could push higher up the field knowing that Onuoha has the pace to get back and cover the space in behind if necessary.
It didn’t stop Tom Ince – a shadow of his former self for the most part – drawing Green’s best save of the game four minutes after the restart. Then the son of Blackpool’s manager should have been played in on goal when Little Tom Carroll sloppily conceded possession in his own half but Gosling overcooked the pass to him and then headed over when Ince retrieved the situation and placed a cross plum on his head in the six yard box.
But Onuoha’s arrival in the game was the first of two key substitutions that Redknapp can look back on with particular satisfaction. The other came ten minutes later and at first seemed like a fool’s mission.
Niko Kranjcar, all smokey eyes and tousled hair, coming on to splash around in the mud? Craft and guile in these conditions? Redknapp had lost his mind. Or so it seemed. In actual fact, the Croatian completely took the game over from the moment he stepped onto the pitch. Gary O’Neil’s work rate and industry may appeal in such circumstances, but he’d been poor and ineffective before he was replaced and QPR were a different team thereafter. Suddenly Matt Phillips – too central, not seeing enough of the ball – was receiving high quality service in dangerous wide right areas where he could accelerate into open space and cause serious problems. Rangers were going to play under the wind. Under the wind. Revelatory. Why didn’t anybody think of this before?
The R’s could feasibly have scored five goals in ten minutes after Kranjcar’s arrival. Richard Dunne headed a free kick from Benoit Assou-Ekotto towards goal but directed the ball down into the ground rather than up into the net and Gilks was able to save. The Pool goalkeeper also claimed a 23 yarder from Phillips with relative ease but that was merely a warning of what was to come and when the Scottish international keeper fluffed another clearance, under pressure from the tireless Charlie Austin, Phillips returned it quickly and powerfully from 25 yards out and the speed and ferocity of the shot, and a slight deflection, was enough to carry it beyond Gilks and into the net. None of this respectful lack of celebration business either – the man QPR signed from Blackpool for £4m in August ran the full width of the pitch to celebrate in front of a boisterous travelling support.
Within four minutes Barton had Phillips running free into the penalty area but he waited too long to shoot and the angle had started to favour the goalkeeper by the time he unloaded a low strike. Charlie Austin also found Gilks equal to the task when Little Tom Carroll made the most of another generous call by Attwell not to award a Blackpool free kick and slid an incisive through ball into Austin’s path in the penalty box.
No matter. When first Simpson and then Jenas involved themselves in the move of the match that swept from left to right through ten crisp passes they were able to work in Phillips with a neat one two and he crossed perfectly for Charlie Austin to fairly well thump home an unstoppable header to kill the game off. Brilliant stuff from all the QPR players involved, and just rewards for Austin who ploughed that lone striking furrow with such dedication and commitment once again. He is the complete Championship centre forward.
The football was flowing and the champagne corks were popping. When Robert Green claimed a cross in his area 13 minutes from time he quickly found Kranjcar with a low throw and with a swivel of the hips and minimal back lift he pinged the perfect pass wide to Phillips who in turn cut it back into the Blackpool area for Little Tom Carroll to strike at goal and draw a one handed save from Gilks. Four passes in eight seconds from one end of the field to the other – swift, incisive, creative, attractive, dry weather football played to absolute perfection. Where has this been? It was like watching Redknapp’s Tottenham team.
Blackpool fussed and faffed around a bit. Michael Chopra, looking like somebody who has eaten the real Michael Chopra and assumed his identity, was helped up from the bench and sent lumbering on for an anonymous 23 minutes and was followed by Barkhuizen instead of Osbourne and Grant for Delfouneso – all to no affect whatsoever. Redknapp sent on Karl Henry for Jermaine Jenas eight minutes from time, but the veteran QPR boss had worked his magic long before this and the game was well won by that point. In impossible conditions, you can forgive a dire first half for a second half showing as good as this.
The QPR fans bounced in unison, making the side stand rock under their feet. “We are Rangers, we are here, shag your women, drink your beer,” they cried. Blackpool’s hospitality had extended from the promenade onto the pitch in the second half.
It was a result that returned Rangers to the top of the Championship table, and on this second half performance alone that is exactly where they deserve to be.
Blackpool: Gilks 7; Basham 6, Broadfoot 6, Cathcart 6, Robinson 6; Osbourne 6 (Barkhuizen 72, 6), Ferguson 6, Gosling 6; Ince 6, Delfouneso 5 (Grant 80, -), Davies 6 (Chopra 68, 5)
Subs not used: Warner, Dobbie, Blackett, Harris
QPR: Green 7; Simpson 6, Dunne 7, Hill 6 (Onuoha 45, 7), Assou-Ekotto 7; Carroll 6, Barton 6; Phillips 7, Jenas 6 (Henry 84, -), O’Neil 5 (Kranjcar 54, 7); Austin 7
Subs not used: Traore, Chevanton, Hoilett Murphy
Goals: Phillips 61 (unassisted), Austin 73 (assisted Phillips)
QPR Star Man – Matt Phillips 7 Not the best first half, and Robert Green and Niko Kranjcar ran him close, but a really effective, damaging second half display won the game for QPR thanks to a goal and a splendid assist against his former club.
Referee – Stuart Attwell (Warwick) 7 Was in one of his moods where he was giving nothing and booking nobody for anything, which wound the home fans up somewhat as the game went away from them but is preferable to his usual card-happy random nonsense. Kept out of the game mostly.
Attendance – 13,822 (1,300 QPR approx) A lot of the recent home matches have had a really poor atmosphere, and even at Doncaster a fortnight ago a large travelling contingent from West London hardly made a peep, so it was great to hear the R’s back in full voice in the side stand here. Given how bad the conditions were, it really felt like the noise generated helped spur the team on when they were doing it very tough, so it was nice to feel like we made a difference.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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