The most inevitable 0-0 draw in the history of the sport – report
Monday, 30th Dec 2013 23:03 by Clive Whittingham
QPR, playing without a striker, and Watford, under new Italian management, played out a predictably dire 0-0 draw at Vicarage Road on Sunday.
With 14 minutes left to play a well flighted, inswinging corner from the left side eluded the defenders who’d been sucked into the near post area and fell plum for the QPR man at the far stick who expertly guided a powerful header beyond the keeper and into the net to secure a vital winning goal for his side.
Unfortunately for the 2,000 Rangers fans behind the goal at Vicarage Road on Sunday that QPR man was Tom Hitchcock, and that goal was being scored over in Essex, at Colchester, for Crewe Alexandra – his third in four appearances for the League One side. Harry Redknapp’s team, meanwhile, faced a Watford outfit that has been in freefall in recent weeks, and posed minimal threat to Rob Green’s goal in this turgid encounter, with a formation made up of four defenders, six midfielders and no strikers at all.
Hitchcock is a lazy stick to beat QPR and Redknapp with at the moment. Rangers were never exactly prolific scorers even when they were winning games like shelling peas earlier in the season – you have to look down as low as nineteenth placed Charlton to find a side that has scored less than the 24 goals the Super Hoops have mustered so far – and have seen their attack dry up completely during a run of difficult fixtures over Christmas which leading scorer Charlie Austin has had to sit out through injury.
That the barren run has coincided with Hitchcock, who scored his first goal for the club on his full debut as a substitute to win a home game with Ipswich in August, suddenly hitting form for Crewe in the division below is unfortunate in some ways as it provides easy ammunition for critics.
In the wake of the most inevitable 0-0 draw in the history of football at Vicarage Road on Sunday – a game where, for vast, drawn out, tedious periods of time literally nothing of any note whatsoever happened at all – the QPR fans seem to have divided neatly into two camps. One wonders why a striker who has scored prolifically for the club’s EDS side and is now banging them in for a very poor Crewe team without too much trouble, is out on loan while QPR play with no striker at all against Watford, and effectively field ten men for the first half of the Nottingham Forest game with the now totally finished Bobby Zamora lumbering about embarrassing himself for 45 minutes. The other says Tom Hitchcock isn’t the answer at all, and this is simply cheap and easy points scoring.
But the answer rather depends on what the question is doesn’t it? Is Tom Hitchcock good enough to play regularly up front for a promotion chasing side in the Championship? Almost certainly not. He’s 21 now, a long way from being a fresh-faced kid, and having been released by Blackburn he hasn’t been able to breakthrough at QPR, nor play that regularly when on loan at Bristol Rovers last season. Would Tom Hitchcock start banging them in for this QPR team if he was picked? Almost certainly not, given the lack of chances the R’s create at the moment. Would it be better for his development to stay at Crewe, playing regularly and learning his trade, than be thrust into the spotlight at Rangers for a very short period of time, and potentially struggle to meet expectations, before vanishing back off into the reserves? Of course.
But, given what happened at Vicarage Road, should the question not be ‘is Tom Hitchcock better than nothing?’ Because that’s what 2,000 QPR fans sat through on Sunday. Nothing up front at all. Ostensibly Niko Kranjcar led the line, and to be fair to the Croatian he did the job with admirable application and effort, but with Junior Hoilett and Matt Phillips either side and Joey Barton returning behind them along with Little Tom Carroll and Yossi Benayoun as well it was rather a crowded mess. With Watford fielding a five man midfield of their own, and looking very Italian in outlook and philosophy under the charge of new boss Giuseppe Sonnino, the centre of the park looked like Westfield on Boxing Day – bodies everywhere, space at a premium, nobody moving very quickly, or very purposely, everybody getting a bit frustrated with everybody else, no obvious end to the torment in sight.
Given that QPR – perversely, having refused point blank to do so for Charlie Austin save for a half hour spell at Blackpool earlier this month – spent the first half getting wide and flashing decent crosses through a vacant penalty area, would Tom Hitchcock not have been a decent shout here? Andy Johnson showed a loose grasp of the offside law when he was eventually introduced to loud cheers from the away end with 25 minutes left – one header over, another wide and a powerful shot on the turn that flashed past the post would all have been ruled out by the linesman’s flag – but the value of having him there was obvious immediately. Had he played in the first half he’d have scored, although given his fitness struggles perhaps saving him for a longer stint in a winnable game against Doncaster on New Year’s Day, you could see Redknapp’s thinking.
But everyone loves a conspiracy theory. Harry Redknapp may object quite strongly to being called a “wheeler dealer” but the transfer window is where he has made his name as a manager. He was at pains to point out during a laid back stint on Soccer AM on Christmas Day that it was Spurs chairman Daniel Levy who enjoyed masterminding the last-second three-for-one deals which White Hart Lane became a hotbed for, aided by a suspiciously temperamental fax machine, rather than him, but during his Portsmouth, Southampton and West Ham days transfers were concluded by the half dozen.
The latest window opens next week and while the rest of the division would – and indeed does – look at QPR’s squad and say it should already be plenty good enough to climb out of the Championship with something to spare, Redknapp no doubt has his eyes on one or two new faces. Austin’s injury cannot be helped but the decision to release Javier Chevanton, and then select a patently unfit Zamora at Forest, and then field no forward at all at Watford, rather smacks of not-so-subtle hints from the manager to the board that the cheque book probably needs to come out again. Carlton Cole has been mentioned in passing, as has Spurs youngster Harry Kane – despite him looking distinctly average in various other temporary spells in this division previously.
You’ll forgive me – or perhaps you won’t – for musing about Tom Hitchcock, Harry Redknapp’s thought process, the price of fish, the weather, and plenty else besides in this ‘match report’ because, frankly, there was nothing in the actual match to report on. Only the cold kept the travelling faithful awake for as the singers at the back pleaded through verse for more alcohol. It was like paying £26 to gain entry to Paulo Sousa’s wet dream.
After a defensive shambles at the City Ground on Boxing Day the usually water-tight QPR backline seemed to be in the mood for some more self-immolation early on. Danny Simpson cracked through the back of Lewis McGugan after 12 minutes giving the former Forest man an opportunity to strike a trademark free kick at goal from the corner of the penalty box. That one smacked Joey Barton square in the face on the end of the wall but having survived that scare Rangers then contrived to give him another chance from a more central position after a daft foul by Richard Dunne. The resulting shot, dragged well wide, rather summed up the performance of both teams.
In truth, QPR were a lot better at the back for the return of Nedum Onuoha who didn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon and was easily he Hoops’ best player. His pace allows QPR to defend higher up the pitch, safe in the knowledge that he can get back and salvage situations that would be lost to either Dunne or Clint Hill, who sat this one out through illness. It makes an already formidable defensive unit even harder to play against and Watford, despite playing two up front, posed almost as little threat as their toothless visitors. Troy Deeney improvised an effort at goal after 22 minutes with his chest, and then deflected a shot from Fabbrini towards goal on the half hour, but Green was able to save both with relative ease.
Predictably Redknapp’s side was mainly restricted to shots from outside the area. Kranjcar struggled to keep a sixth minute effort in the ground after Hoilett had teed him up, then shot a yard or so wide at the end of a flowing move down the right flank that ended with a neat back heal from Carroll to play the Croatian into space. Angella was booked by referee Neil Swarbrick, who really tried his best to allow a dreadful football match to flow without blowing for a lot of free kicks or handing out a slew of cards, for sliding into Kranjcar as Watford, despite fielding three centre backs to mark no strikers, struggled to track Kranjcar in deep lying positions.
Later Carroll won a ball back with an uncharacteristically strong tackle and then received it back in a wide area before delivering a low cross that sparked a scramble in the six yard box and, eventually, a stoppage in play so Hornets goalkeeper Almunia could receive treatment. Sadly, in a crowded midfield, with few options for a pass ahead of him, Carroll really struggled apart from those two moments.
Kranjcar went closer still with a shot from the edge of the area that flashed an inch wide with Almunia beaten, and QPR were much the better of the two teams in the first half, but this had nil nil written all over it from a long way out.
In the end Rangers set about seeing what would frustrate their own supporters the most. In three minutes of first half injury time they reached the byline down the right through Phillips, and the left with Hoilett, and on both occasions whipped brilliant crosses right through the heart of the six yard box. Penny for Charlie Austin’s thoughts, who has seen those two wingers cut in field and crowd his space rather than servicing him properly from the wide areas all season only to start providing ideal service for him on the day he’s sitting up in the main stand.
Even more annoying though was Rangers’ rank incompetence at set pieces. Given the lack of forwards on the field one would have thought corners and wide free kicks might be a vital part of the Rangers’ armoury, with Dunne and Onuoha able to advance from the back. It took the R’s 25 minutes to win a corner and when they did Carroll and Barton executed a rancid short passing routine despite having two Watford men in attendance and lost the ball altogether within three touches. Short corners should be played quickly when a two on one situation has developed. Other than that they’re the work of the devil and should be punished with fire. Lots and lots of fire.
And even that was nothing when compared to a farcical 30 minutes in the second half when QPR repeatedly, and in a variety of convoluted and extravagant ways, succeeded in conceding possession within one touch – and often less – from every single throw in they had in the Watford half in front of the away end. Assou-Ekotto was penalised for a foul throw at one stage, and on another occasion a piss rank return pass from Barton was handled by Simpson who’d just thrown it to him in the first place. When Phillips gave the ball away from a throw and was then booked for chopping into Diego Fabbrini attempting to retrieve the situation it was getting to the stage where you wondered whether Watford might try kicking for touch deep in the QPR half rugby union style, safe in the knowledge that while it may be a throw in to their opponents, Rangers would have the ball back with them almost immediately. How bloody difficult can it be to take a throw in? My days.
There were early suggestions that the second half might improve in quality as the temperature headed south and the testicles north. Phillips cut into the area and shot powerfully at goal, catching Almunia off guard and drawing a nervous punched save from the keeper that could easily have flown into the roof of the net. Then Deeney gave Fabbrini a rare sight of goal at the other end but Rob Green made a very smart save down to his right to maintain the deadlock – though, typically, he sprang to his feet and bollocksed up his kick down the field, injuring himself in the process.
While Phillips was certainly trying, and on the odd occasion succeeding, to make a significant attacking impact, Junior Hoilett was having one of those days where he couldn’t find his own substantial arse with both hands. Possession was conceded and poor decisions made as a matter of routine – a hospital pass into the centre circle set Joey Barton up for a foul on George Thorne that couldn’t possibly have been anything other than a yellow card - and it was no surprise to see him hooked for Armand Traore with ten still to play. Hoilett started the season in the kind of form everybody expected of him when he arrived from Blackburn, but once again this season he seems to be struggling with self-belief, confidence and decision making. If we hadn’t seen, with our own eyes, how good he could be on occasions for Rovers before arriving here the obvious conclusion would be that he’s simply not very good – and the longer this goes on, the more likely it becomes that this might actually turn out to be the case.
Johnson came on for Carroll who’d had a difficult time of it, and Benayoun was replaced by Gary O’Neil which did nothing to improve QPR as an attacking force or de-clutter a hopelessly overcrowded middle third of the field. It did, thankfully, mean that Zamora stayed on the bench though – the sight of him trundling up and down the touchline had many at the front of the away end vowing an early exit if he was brought on and some even promised never to return again.
Watford, for their part, introduced Javier Acuña for Diego Fabbrini but his sole contribution was a foul on Barton five minutes after coming on that drew the game’s fourth yellow card. A tepid shot by Sean Murray, allegedly a transfer target for Rangers,that bounced into Green’s arms was as interesting as it got for the final 20 minutes of a wretched encounter. The gents in front of us had a conversation about the funniest episode of Jim’ll Fix It while to our right a hornet mascot that didn’t even look as big as a real hornet banged a drum relentlessly, drawing zero response from a tired, bored, cold crowd of people wondering what on earth they’d wasted their time and money on this dross for. A lone voice in the background sang “my mate Rob Green’s, got nothing to do” and demanded Zamora be introduced for Dunne before laughing himself into a coughing fit.
Three minutes of added time seemed needlessly cruel but did bring a free kick opportunity wide on the left for a foul by Cassetti on Traore but rather than deliver into the danger area, Joey Barton decided to fuel his ego with a shot to the near post that never looked likely to trouble Almunia and was indeed deflected wide for a corner which QPR duly wasted.
Announcements that the QPR contingent would be held behind for ten minutes after the game were met with boos, and the policy was swiftly abandoned when crowds swarmed towards the exits and demanded early release from the tedium. A game we’ll never remember, in a Christmas QPR would rather forget.
Watford: Almunia 6; Doyley 6, Cassetti 6, Ekstrand 7; Bellerin 6, Angella 6, Thorne 6, Murray 6 (Battocchio 87, -), McGugan 6; Deeney 6, Fabbrini 6 (Acuña 75, 5)
Subs not used: McEachran, Iriney, Bond, O’Nien
Bookings: Angella 38 (foul), Acuña 80 (foul)
QPR: Green 6; Simpson 6, Dunne 6, Onuoha 7, Assou-Ekotto 7; Phillips 6, Benayoun 6 (O’Neil 73, 6), Carroll 5 (Johnson 71, 6), Barton 6, Kranjcar 6, Hoilett 5 (Traore 79, 6)
Subs not used: Henry, Zamora, Murphy, Sendels-White
Bookings: Phillips 61 (foul), Barton 65 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Nedum Onuoha 7 Strong, confident and composed in defence, admittedly not in the face of stiff opposition. Makes a big difference to QPR when he plays.
Referee – Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire) 8 Set his stall out early by letting a series of niggly fouls go without so much as a free kick, which aided the flow of the game. All the bookings were correct and overall I thought he controlled things very well. You can’t polish a turd at the end of the day, and he did his best.
Attendance 16,625 (2,000 QPR approx) Big crowd for a Christmas derby game, but almost zero atmosphere as both sets of supporters descended into a boredom induced coma.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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