Back to back defeats for listless Rangers – report
Friday, 27th Dec 2013 11:44 by Clive Whittingham
QPR slipped to their second defeat in as many games over Christmas with their annual lacklustre showing at Nottingham Forest’s City Ground.
What will concern Harry Redknapp the most about this latest setback for his QPR team won’t be the result – defeats, even back-to-back losses, at this point of a 46 game season aren’t terminal problems – but the ease at which it was achieved.
To be beaten quite so comfortably by a team so short of centre forwards it was forced to field Greg Halford, who made his name as a mediocre full back with a long throw, as a lone striker, and in front of a television audience that no doubt included several interested managers of QPR’s forthcoming opponents, is a big concern.
Nottingham Forest were everything you’d expect a Billy Davies side to be: well organised, hardworking, pressing high up the field and haranguing opponents that dallied in possession. But that’s all it takes to beat this Queens Park Rangers side at the moment as it arrogantly swaggers about, stroking passes around and believing that the quality of the players in the team will mean victories inevitably follow.
It shouldn’t have escaped Redknapp’s notice that Forest’s performance was epitomised by a man he felt he had no place for in his team, Jamie Mackie. Typically, the former QPR man was perpetual motion and, along with the excellent Henri Lansbury, revelled in the opportunity to swarm all over opponents who far too frequently wanted far too long in possession before picking their next move. Mackie was everything QPR were not: quick, committed, purposeful, hard working. Add in the quality of Andy Reid and, particularly, French winger Djamel Abdoun and it mattered little that the lumbering Halford was leading the line and missing half a dozen decent chances his team mates created for him.
Mind you, compared to QPR’s lone striker Bobby Zamora, Halford was a Zlatan Ibrahimovic tribute act. Zamora looked like a man who really should be considering retirement even before his latest 13 week injury lay off and a spell under the surgeon’s knife doesn’t seem to have improved him greatly. The wisdom of throwing a player in that condition straight back in from the start has to be questioned after a woeful first 45 minutes in which QPR were effectively playing with ten men. Yards off the pace, with the first touch of somebody wearing a false leg, Zamora was an absolute liability to his team, frequently conceding possession and posing no challenge whatsoever for the Forest centre backs.
A cynic may suggest that his sudden inclusion, ahead of top scorer Charlie Austin who sat out with a worrying-sounding hamstring injury, may have something to do with the close proximity of the January transfer window. No other team in the division would be able to afford another striker with Austin, Zamora, Andy Johnson and Tom Hitchcock already on the books, but QPR’s vampire-like thirst for new blood whenever that pesky window is open doesn’t appear to have been quenched just yet.
Zamora brought a tepid encounter to life after 18 minutes, conceding possession lazily in the centre circle, enabling Halford to slalom through a wide open QPR defence into a one on one chance with Green but the keeper made a fine save with his feet to maintain the deadlock. A minute later, with Danny Simpson caught up field and Abdoun able to sprint into the space he’d left behind, Halford again found himself in space in the penalty area but this time blasted miles over when it seemed easier to hit the target.
Forest did their very best QPR impression with a free kick awarded for a foul by Karl Henry, in for the suspended Joey Barton and turning in a performance that should see him very far from the manager’s thoughts for a starting place for some considerable time to come, on Henri Lansbury. The set piece, orchestrated by Andy Reid, was needlessly elaborate and fell flat on its face – much like the visiting team as a whole. But Forest were quickly back to their basic best – Lansbury roughing Henry out of possession on the corner of his own box after a hospital pass from Simpson before shooting wide.
The home assaults weren’t coming in waves at this point, it was just one permanent attack. QPR had started the game reasonably, finding Niko Kranjcar with the ball in decent areas, but the lack of width and tempo in their game played right into the home team’s hands. The plan remains, as Redknapp said when he signed him on deadline day, to “play through” Little Tom Carroll, but when it’s done so deliberately and so slowly, with so few options in wide areas for the loaned Tottenham man to seek out, it’s easy to shut down. And one thing Nottingham Forest can do really well is shut down. One corner followed another – Green flapped at one and punched another – Abdoun fired wide from the edge and then, finally, when Mackie’s industry won possession back from Dunne and Abdoun flighted in a perfect cross even Halford couldn’t miss with his head from six yards out.
If you were looking for microcosms of this QPR performance, how about Henry panicking under more pressure from Lansbury and falling on the ball hoping for a free kick? Referee Keith Stroud, who QPR had never lost with in 11 previous appointments, rightly penalised the former Wolves midfielder for handball. Or, moments later, Richard Dunne’s all-too casual square ball on the edge of his own area that Abdoun, stunned by the laziness of his opponent perhaps, handled as he attempted to spring through on goal.
Apart from one opportunity when a ball fell to Zamora in the area and he squared for Jenas – largely anonymous as always – to send a shot in on goal that was blocked away, QPR’s only real goal threat was carried by Kranjcar who curled a shot a foot wide of the post with keeper Karl Darlow struggling on the half hour, then saw another shot deflected into the path of Carroll who hesitated when faced with the whites of the keeper’s eyes and lost the opportunity as a result.
The abject performance forced Redknapp into two half time changes and it was no surprise at all to see Henry and Zamora hooked. The problem is, this requirement for emergency surgery on the QPR team during a match is becoming all-too frequent. At Blackpool in their last away game Rangers were distinctly second best until Kranjcar was introduced in the second half and then against Leicester at Loftus Road on Saturday Gary O’Neil needed to be removed after a dreadful first half. Here Redknapp could happily have removed half his team at the break but questions have to be asked about why that team was picked in the first place. What, exactly, did anybody expect from Karl Henry and Bobby Zamora, given their respective lack of ability and time out of the side, in a tough away match like this? The fact that neither of them were at the races, and found themselves totally out-played, out-run, out-muscled, out-worked and out-fought was about as surprising as that bit at the end of Scooby Doo where they take the mask off to reveal it was actually the only other character who’d featured in the episode all along. Mr Fitzgerald the old fairground caretaker?! Who would have thought it?
And for a while it looked like the introduction of Andy Johnson as the lone striker and Junior Hoilett wide on the left might haul Rangers back into the game. Hoilett saw a shot blocked almost immediately and then Phillips fired a foot over the bar. When Forest full back Jara was penalised for an obvious climb over Kranjcar on the corner of the penalty box the Croatian whipped a devilish free kick right through a crowded area and an inch wide of the far bottom corner with Darlow puffing his cheeks out in relief. The keeper, fresh out of the chair at Toni and Guy’s ready for his big television appearance, then had to be alert and get back quickly to tip an improvised volley from Carroll over the bar.
But in truth Rangers had merely improved from abject to average, increasing their tempo from pedestrian to passable. Forest had other gears to go through and after that little flurry of chances in the first ten minutes of the half promptly did just that. Soon Abdoun was showcasing his skills again and teeing up Lansbury for a shot that was blocked behind, and Benoit Assou-Ekotto, whose half-arsed casual style rather summed up his team’s performance, saw the first yellow card of the day from Stroud for a high tackle on Jamie Mackie. Mackie always gave the Cameroon full back a torrid time when QPR played Tottenham in the Premier League and did so again here – Assou-Ekotto likes time on the ball so he can flounce about, Mackie likes to get in his man’s face and kick him a bit.
When Hoilett lost possession just after the hour Mackie was off and running again, crossing for Halford to poke a gilt edged chance straight into Green’s arms from close range with Richard Dunne, bizarrely, happy to let Halford run and appeal for offside rather than get back in and defend professionally. That reliance on the linesman, rather than diligent hard defensive work, would haunt Rangers again a little later. Nedum Onuoha must surely be pushing for a recall.
QPR rode their luck again five minutes later when Green sprang from his line to field a high free kick into his box and then inexplicably missed the ball completely. In the ensuing carnage the ball fell to Hobbs who struck a powerful shot towards the unguarded goal but Clint Hill, who has been playing with the accident-prone Green for 18 months now and knows the warning signs well, had retreated onto the line and was able to clear.
For all the improvements in the QPR performance after half time, it was still Forest creating the better chances. Even with Hoilett on one side and Phillips on the other the problems with width and pace in the Rangers side remained. Never once did Hoilett take his full back on down the outside – always preferring to cut in field and try a shot of his own which starved Johnson of possession and crowded Kranjcar’s work station. When Matt Phillips got going down the right and crossed perfectly for Charlie Austin to score the second goal at Blackpool one hoped it might be the Eureka moment for this team, but apparently not. Every bloody time they get the ball the first thought QPR’s wingers have is to cut in field and narrow both their options and the field. It’s easy to play against this. Sending on Yossi Benayoun for Phillips only exacerbated that situation and while Jenas could easily have equalised had his powerful shot deflected a foot below the bar rather than a foot over with Darlow beaten that would have been harsh on Forest who put the game to bed a short time later.
A long ball from back to front towards Greg Halford ten minutes from time missed the makeshift striker altogether as he attempted to flick it on and ran through to Andy Reid in behind the QPR defence. The linesman raised his flag immediately but referee Stroud was happy to hesitate a moment – admittedly under heavy duress from Billy Davies on the touchline - and allow Reid to roll the ball past Green and into the net. QPR had stopped – Green barely made an attempt to deal with Reid and Assou-Ekotto and Dunne were actually walking the other way – but Halford had missed the ball altogether meaning that Reid, who was inside his own half when it was originally knocked long, was actually onside and Stroud was right to overrule his assistant, however he reached the decision. The old adage about playing to the whistle sprang to mind. The lazy reaction of the QPR players to the incident, followed by a good two minutes of bitching and moaning at the officials, typified their overall attitude to the game and performance on the night. The goal summed Forest up as well: bright, alive, positive, enthusiastic and opportunistic. Just rewards for Reid and his team.
Davies showed some mercy afterwards, removing Forest’s best player Abdoun and talismanic figure Mackie and sending on Paterson and Derbyshire. Junior Hoilett clipped a delicate effort wide of the post and Darlow was booked for time wasting over the resulting goal kick but there was no need – QPR wouldn’t have scored if the game was still going on now. Even when Johnson did finally receive a decent bit of service in the penalty area, Hobbs came across and blocked the ball away with a fine challenge. Kranjcar wasn’t bar wide with a long range shot in five minutes of added time but Green had to deny Lansbury with a low save and Reid blasted the rebound over so it could just have easily been 3-0 as 2-1.
A first QPR win at the City Ground in 30 attempts never looked likely in truth and the ease with which a team that’s supposed to be the title favourite this season could be stopped, picked apart and ultimately swept aside simply by playing at a high tempo, working hard, pressing high up the field, and having a couple of quality midfield players was alarming.
The response from Redknapp’s “right sorts” will be intriguing.
Forest: Darlow 6; Jara 6, Lascelles 6, Hobbs 7, Lichaj 6; Vaughan 6 (Chalobah 67, 6), Lansbury 8; Mackie 7 (Derbyshire 86, -), Reid 7, Abdoun 8 (Paterson 82, -); Halford 6
Subs not used: Harding, Majewski, de Vries, Osborn
Goals: Halford 29 (assisted Abdoun), Reid 80 (assisted Abdoun)
Bookings: Darlow 84 (time wasting)
QPR: Green 6; Simpson 6, Dunne 5, Hill 6, Assou-Ekotto 5; Carroll 6, Henry 3 (Hoilett 45, 5); Phillips 5 (Benayoun 76, 5), Jenas 4, Kranjcar 6; Zamora 2 (Johnson 45, 6)
Subs not used: Traore, Wright-Phillips, Onuoha, Murphy
Bookings: Assou-Ekotto 48 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Niko Kranjcar 6 The best of a very mediocre bunch indeed, carrying QPR’s only genuine goal threat and the only player capable of penetrating the Forest defence with any kind of regularity.
Referee – Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 8 Much was made of the second goal, and the wide angle replays suggest that Stroud wasn’t nearly as certain as he made out and seemed to play on initially under heavy protest from the Forest bench, but ultimately the decision – like almost every other one he made on the evening – was correct and QPR had only themselves to blame.
Attendance 22,721 (600 QPR approx.)
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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