Austin’s last gasp strike halts QPR’s Christmas rot – report
Thursday, 2nd Jan 2014 22:12 by Clive Whittingham
A towering stoppage time header from returning hero Charlie Austin secured a scarcely deserved three points for Rangers against lowly Doncaster at Loftus Road on New Year’s Day.
Not bloody rocket science this is it?
Three minutes into four added on at the end of the game and for the very first time QPR attacked with speed, purpose and width.
Goalkeeper Robert Green delivered the ball swiftly down the field, as opposed to his usual ponderous routine that usually ends with a short pass to a full back, centre half, or Little Tom Carroll. Matt Phillips defied the sodden playing surface and teeming rain to control the ball immaculately on the halfway line and worked it swiftly into the feet of Charlie Austin, as opposed to his well-versed, indecisive routine that usually involves six or seven touches of the ball into a blind alley. Austin worked it wide to Danny Simpson and spun away into the penalty area and - rather than control the ball, check back, think about things for a while, and then play the it back into the centre of midfield so another succession of pointless passes to nowhere in particular could unfold - Simpson simply got it out of his feet and slung it over with reasonable quality.
And what do you know? Charlie Austin, who has shown throughout his career so far that he will happily feast on service from wide areas all day and night, rose implausibly high and fairly powered an unstoppable header into the top corner.
It was exciting, it was swift, it was incisive, and as the ball sailed into the top corner it brought an ecstatic pandemonium to Loftus Road. QPR had won, in the last second of the game, with a wonderful goal. A wonderful, simplistic, goal.
It seems to me that modern football is being over-complicated by people who stand to make a lot of money by making out they know something the rest of us don’t. Andre Villas Boas has pocketed £16m in settlement payments alone from Chelsea and Spurs in the last two years after turning two collections of world class players into drab, dreary, dysfunctional units obsessed with shape and statistics and this moment and that moment. Tim Sherwood, who speaks like the estate’s friendly coke dealer, is already doing a good deal better with Spurs simply by picking two strikers instead of one and letting the team attack a bit.
QPR have the finest centre forward in the Championship, and decent balls into the penalty box from wide areas are where he eats. In Matt Phillips and Junior Hoilett they have two wingers capable of delivering that service in open play while Niko Kranjcar and Joey Barton can both oblige from set pieces. The Championship is a simple league made up of 24 teams who are all much the same as one another – Doncaster were fourth bottom at the start of play but every bit as good here as table topping Leicester had been before Christmas – and the quality is mostly bang average. Working the ball wide, crossing it with quality, sitting back and watching Charlie Austin do the rest should be plenty good enough for this group of players to earn promotion from the second tier this season – particularly with the back four performing as well as it is.
One would have hoped that message may have got through to the Rangers players and staff after the December win at Blackpool where they laboured horribly for an hour and then pulled away to a comfortable win simply by introducing Niko Kranjcar and instructing him to feed Matt Phillips in a wide right role so he could sling a few crosses over. Austin thumped in a header that day to seal the 2-0 win. We hoped it might be an epiphany. We hoped they’d seen the light. And then Christmas happened – and the overly complicated, tippy-tappy rubbish returned with Rangers very, very, very slowly attempting to work intricate little moves through dreadfully congested midfield areas. Mind blowing stuff – in the sense that if you’d handed me a firearm during the second half at Watford I’d happily have used it to plaster my brain over the back wall of the stand rather than watch any more. I might have shot a few of the four dozen midfielders in their feet first, if only to clear some bloody space for some football to break out.
The penny hadn’t dropped after the Blackpool game, or after a dire Christmas period which brought two defeats and a draw with not a single goal, or, indeed, after a first half here that was totally dominated by Doncaster Rovers playing in exactly the manner which would suit the QPR players best.
Rovers, under the management of Paul Dickov, are competing in a division their bank balance and squad suggests they shouldn’t have much of a prayer in. They arrived at Loftus Road without a win in six – since beating QPR first time around at the Keepmoat Stadium in November – and with an injury list as long as their motorway journey to reach W12 on new Year’s Day. But they were brilliant.
They got the ball wide to good effect - Mark Duffy turned in an excellent display of wing play and one-time QPR loanee Federico ‘Smokey’ Macheda caught the eye when he wasn’t flinging himself to the ground hunting free kicks for trivial offences. They got the ball forwards quickly where Theo Robinson was a constant, athletic, pacey threat that neither Richard Dunne nor Nedum Onuoha coped with particularly well. And they passed positively, with real purpose, with veteran central midfielder Richie Wellens able to dictate the play and dominate the midfield despite an expanding midriff and turn of pace similar to a full laden cement mixer. It’s really not difficult stuff this.
Macheda gave a hint of what was to come on the quarter hour when Danny Simpson was too casual in attempting to stop his low cross from the left to Robinson who was then also allowed to spin in the area under little duress and smack a low cross-shot right through the goal mouth without a touch. He was entitled to question where the second wave of attack was – a tap in would have been the reward for anybody gambling at the far post – but Rovers hadn’t quite realised just how poor QPR were going to be at that stage.
As the realisation dawned on the visitors they grew into the game to the point where, by half time, they’d totally taken the thing over. Gary O’Neil, recalled at the base of midfield alongside Barton instead of Carroll after his poor showing at Watford, missed a tackle on Wellens at the midway point of the half allowing the Rovers man to waltz unchallenged into the area but he somehow sidefooted wide of the target when a goal seemed inevitable. Later Macheda sent an undefendable cross right through the corridor between Green and his back four but Robinson’s leg wasn’t quite long enough to turn it home at the back post.
I would say that Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s casual header back towards his own goal, played in treacherous conditions and almost carrying too much weight for Green who had, unbeknown to the full back as he hadn’t bothered to look, come racing off his line to claim the through ball, summed up the first half display from the home team. In fact, Doncaster scored the goal their play richly deserved before the break to provide a much better microcosm.
Typically it came from ponderous QPR play in the midfield area. Yossi Benayoun, a gratuitous, unnecessary signing in the first place, concluded an insipid personal first half display by dallying in possession and losing the ball to Macheda. The Israeli pathetically appealed to referee Graham Scott for a non-existent foul rather than running back to try and recover a situation entirely of his own making which meant Macheda had time and space to feed Robinson and he allowed the ball to run across his body before finishing crisply across Green and into the far corner. Just rewards for Doncaster, Macheda, Robinson and Benayoun for their respective opening 45 minutes.
Robinson is an odd case. This isn’t the first time he’s really caught the eye on a visit to Loftus Road – he was very impressive for Derby here during Rangers’ 2010/11 promotion season – but the consistency to be a decent striker, even at this level, seems to elude him. Solely judged on this game you’d say he had Premier League potential – but his stats and career to date tell us that isn’t the case. Strange one.
QPR were an embarrassing, lethargic, arrogant mess compared to their visitors. Simpson had crossed for Austin to head straight at Ross Turnbull in the third minute and a goal bound shot from Gary O’Neil struck Niko Kranjcar’s back side early on – if you want to be cruel you could remark on the size of the target. The Croatian nearly made amends with a low shot that beat Turnbull but whistled past the post. But an energetic start was too much for Junior Hoilett’s piano-wire hamstring to cope with and his early withdrawal, and the introduction of Matt Phillips, did little to aid the home team. Neither Kranjcar nor Benayoun are left wingers, and Rangers were horribly lopsided in shape, and lamentably slow and laboured in possession. Always an extra touch, always an extra pass – there was just no tempo to it. Any of it. The Doncaster players will have seen copies of the Sunday Star more difficult to read than this QPR team. O’Neil was lucky to only see yellow from the referee for a bad tackle on Dean Furman.
Yet again – just as at Forest and Blackpool, and at home to Leicester recently – serious surgery was required on the QPR team at half time. Has a manager ever been forced, by his team’s own poor performances, into making early substitutions as often as Harry Redknapp at the moment? This time Benayoun was the obvious choice for the hook and Andy Johnson was introduced to add another body to a toothless attack.
Initially it made little difference. Dunne allowed a long ball to bounce and Macheda was able to head weakly at Green. Then the Italian had one shot blocked and another immediately afterwards deflected wide. When Rovers delivered dangerously from a wide area again six minutes after the break O’Neil seemed to clear out Duffy as he attempted to bring a bouncing ball under control. No penalty was awarded by referee Scott, and Doncaster protested long and loud while Duffy received treatment. It looked a clear spot kick.
When you’re down the bottom of the league things like that don’t go for you. Not only that, but they often turn around and kick you in the crotch while you’re still grumbling about the injustice of it all. Within three minutes QPR had drawn level. Just as they would do for the winner they got the ball wide and delivered with quality – Kranjcar gave it to Assou-Ekotto on the left and he dipped the ball into the back post area. Unfortunately for Rovers, David Cotterill, who had a decent game apart from this moment, trod on the ball and fell while trying to clear it which gave first Joey Barton, then Charlie Austin and finally, decisively, Matt Phillips a chance to hammer in the equaliser from close range.
Things continued to conspire against Donny thereafter. Twice Robert Green struggled in difficult conditions – first punching a corner away from Robinson at the back post, then spilling a low bouncer in his six yard box, but on the first occasion Wellens could only lob the loose ball over the bar and on the second nobody was sniffing around the penalty area and able to convert.
Green’s opposite number Ross Turnbull, who has looked like a lumbering liability in both games between these two sides this season, also got away with a spillage after a low shot from Kranjcar – Johnson inches away from netting the rebound there. That shot came while Robinson was down injured in the other half of the field, and Paul Dickov and his coaching staff were incensed that play had not been stopped. Robinson was only a yard from the touchline to be fair, and could easily have rolled off, but that doesn’t seem to cut any ice these days. His subsequent withdrawal, and the introduction of an oversize Chris Brown, totally stunted the visiting team’s attack. The former Sunderland man contributed one foul on Danny Simpson, for which he was booked, during his time on the field.
But even without the threat of Robinson to trouble them, QPR were still thrashing about rather hopelessly. Tom Carroll divides opinion, but without him picking the ball up in deep positions from the centre halves QPR’s technique on passing out from defence was even more haphazard than usual. Nedum Onuoha was particularly guilty of conceding possession poorly on a number of occasions while trying to seek out options further forward. Armand Traore was sent on for Kranjcar to add a threat down the left but, once again, spent his brief time on the pitch miscontrolling the ball and falling over his own feet. A changed man, says Harry Redknapp - still insisting on playing in his wife’s shoes though it seems.
Two terrific crosses from Joey Barton in quick succession both tempted Austin at the back post, and the centre forward was only a foot or so away from converting a left foot delivery from Danny Simpson before that. Rangers had found the winning formula, but could they convert it into a victory in the time that remained?
The answer was yes. In the very final minute of the game Austin spectacularly rounded off a mercifully swift counter attack from a Doncaster free kick awarded for a crass foul by Traore on sub Harry Forrester that was, typically, swung over in search of an away winner rather than held in the corner to play for time. QPR had got out of jail, and exacted revenge for the last minute goal they conceded at the Keepmoat Stadium a month before.
It barely papered over the yawning cracks in the QPR performance, but if it wakes Rangers up to the value of quicker play, attacking in wide areas, and servicing their superb centre forward properly, then it could be a vital moment in the season, not only for the three points it added to their total.
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QPR: Green 6; Simpson 6, Onuoha 5, Dunne 6, Assou-Ekotto 6; Barton 6, O’Neil 6; Benayoun 5 (Johnson 45, 6), Kranjcar 6 (Traore 84, -), Hoilett – (Phillips 11, 6); Austin 6
Subs not used: Murphy, Henry, Carroll, Hill
Goals: Phillips 55 (assisted Assou-Ekotto), Austin 90+3 (assisted Simpson)
Bookings: O’Neil 12 (foul), Johnson 90+2 (foul)
Doncaster: Turnbull 6; Wakefield 7, McCullough 6, Quinn 6, Stevens 6; Duffy 7, Wellens 7, Furman 6, Cotterill 6; Macheda 7 (Forrester 83, -) Robinson 8 (Brown 78, 5)
Subs not used: Woods, de Val, Bennett, Paterson, Maxted
Goals: Robinson 43 (assisted Macheda)
Bookings: Brown 86 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Charlie Austin 6 A very difficult award to hand out with QPR so terribly average all across the park, so Austin takes it rather by default for winning the game in such fine style right at the death. In truth, the outstanding players on the pitch were all wearing red and white hoops rather than blue and white – Wellens, Wakefield, Duffy and particularly Robinson were all impressive.
Referee – Graham Scott (Oxfordshire) 6 Waved away what looked like a cast-iron Doncaster penalty in the second half for a bad foul by Gary O’Neil, and was very lenient on the obvious time wasting taking place in the second half. Not too bad apart from that, but he got the key decision in the game wrong so a lower mark than he might otherwise have deserved.
Attendance – 15,807 (450 Doncaster approx) The performance of the team and the vile weather didn’t help, but judging by the morgue-like atmosphere around Loftus Road it seems I’m not the only one who could quite happily do without the poxy New Year’s Day match. Credit to the small band of Doncaster fans who travelled a long way the day after the night before to see a struggling team, sang throughout and celebrated their goal raucously. The winner was just as harsh on them as their team.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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