Four star Everton secure QPR's annual early cup exit – report
Sunday, 5th Jan 2014 23:02 by Clive Whittingham
As sure as night follows day, QPR play badly in cup competitions. Drawing one of the country’s form teams away from home was never likely to change that, and so it proved.
Nil satis nisi optimum – nothing but the best is good enough. Hard to think of a less apt Latin phrase to adorn a main stand overlooking this Queens Park Rangers performance.
Those who travelled – and amazingly, 900 Rangers supporters felt compelled to do so – cannot surely have expected anything different. Rangers have the country’s worst FA Cup record since the turn of the millennium with just three wins in the last 14 years. Those all came in the third round by narrow margins and were followed on two occasions by fourth round annihilations. Last season’s 4-2 hammering at home to MK Dons and the 6-0 defeat to Arsenal in 2001, with a controversial 1-0 home loss against bitter neighbours Chelsea in between, seem to have given Rangers an aversion to progressing beyond the third round ever again.
A catalogue of early-round humiliations over the past decade or so includes a previous infamous visit to Merseyside when Ian Holloway’s QPR team was held by Wirral-based works team Vauxhall Motors, and then shambolically beaten in the replay at Loftus Road on penalties. There’s a good deal more respectability in losing to Roberto Martinez’s wonderful Everton team - which is living by its motto so far this season - but the result could scarcely have been more emphatic and the QPR performance any more insipid.
Rangers have also developed a nasty habit of picking up season ending injuries to their star players in these knock-out games. Jamie Mackie broke his leg at Blackburn in 2011, Ale Faurlin’s knee feel apart for the first time at MK Dons a year later, and Akos Buzsaky’s first ankle ligament tear was suffered in the League Cup at Manchester United. That’s made team selection for these ties a good deal more exciting and uncertain than the result as the R’s faithful watch through barely parted fingers and wait for the next disaster to unfold.
It was therefore a real surprise to see Charlie Austin selected to lead the attack. Rangers’ top scorer, with 12 so far, sat out the Christmas fixtures with a hamstring problem, returning to win a dreadful game with Doncaster Rovers with a last minute goal on New Year’s Day. A laughable 45 minute cameo from Bobby Zamora at Nottingham Forest, an hour at Watford spent without a striker playing at all, and no goals scored in the three festive fixtures show Austin’s importance to Rangers’ promotion hopes. A Mackie-like injury to the former Burnley man at this stage could kill QPR’s promotion hopes stone dead – and let’s not forget that Austin has latent knee problems serious enough for Hull City’s medical team to pull the plug on his move to the KC Stadium back in the summer.
His risky selection from the start suggested either Harry Redknapp was keen to try and progress in the competition, despite the received modern wisdom that cup runs are detrimental to league form, or that he has a new signing lined up to come into the club and provide Austin with much needed cover and competition. Carlton Cole at West Ham and Spurs’ Harry Kane have been mentioned in dispatches but it was Everton’s out of favour forward Nikica Jelavic who the R’s seemed most keen on prior to this game. The Croatian wants regular first team football to ensure he’s on the plane to the World Cup in Brazil at the end of the year but is struggling to oust Romelu Lukaku from the Everton starting line-up. He was given a rare start here, and by the end had probably decided that London W12 perhaps isn’t for him after all.
He scored twice, and hit the bar with a daft penalty to deny himself a deserved hat trick, as the Toffees ran a hot knife through a particularly soft slab of low budget butter.
The first was set up for him by QPR who dallied initially in possession at the back, and then gave it away altogether when the hapless Karl Henry trod on the ball and inadvertently poked it straight to Jelavic in space 30 yards from goal. Despite not scoring for the first team all season the Croatian needed no second invitation to drill the ball past Brazilian international keeper Julio Cesar, surprisingly recalled (and therefore cup tied) for his first appearance of the season just as the transfer window creaks open.
Rangers are desperate to be rid of Cesar’s wages, but if this was meant to be a showcase for his skills it backfired. Rather unfair to expect anything else of a keeper whose only football for the last eight months has been internationals and 45 minutes of a reserve friendly with Wycombe. Penny for Brian Murphy’s thoughts – ostensibly the number two all season, but left on the bench here despite Robert Green’s absence.
That made it 2-0 two minutes before half time. Prodigious young talent Ross Barkley had already curled home just after the half hour after being fed into the area by Bryan Oviedo and the home side could have had plenty more besides.
With the time still in single figures Jelavic ran in behind centre back Nedum Onuoha as he suffered a brain freeze and allowed a through ball to run across his body – Cesar saved the resulting shot from a tight angle at his near post. Young defender John Stones headed the resulting corner over and later Barkley walked round Gary O’Neil, whose form continues to dive alarmingly, before drawing a routine save from the keeper.
Rangers succeeded in quietening the game down for a while after that, with only Barry’s hopeful long range shot to trouble Cesar. In fact the R’s launched one or two attacks of their own with Henry volleying hopelessly wide after the first Rangers corner of the day was cleared out to him, and Danny Simpson thrashing a low cross shot right through the six yard box with nobody able to apply a goal scoring touch. Gary O’Neil was also well off target with his own strike from 25 yards and Austin found the upper tier of the Gwladys Street stand behind the goal from similar range.
But Everton have been magnificent under Roberto Martinez so far this season and must surely be a very decent bet to win this trophy come May – the Spaniard, of course, lifted it last season with Wigan. As the half hour approached they turned the screw on QPR to the point where the Londoners could resist no longer. O’Neil blocked well when Barry let fly from the edge of the box, and Cesar saved twice at his near post as flying full back Seamus Coleman piled forward down the right in trademark style. Cesar then parried a cross back into the danger area and Leon Osman hooked over when he should have scored but it felt like it was coming and sure enough Coleman and Jelavic obliged before half time.
So far, so predictable for Harry Redknapp and his team. This tie should have been given up as a bad job by the supporters as soon as it came out of the plastic salad bowl and a midfield containing out-of-form O’Neil and Karl Henry who was never any good in the first place was never going to be much of a match for a well-drilled, high-quality outfit like Everton. But there were, nevertheless, troubling signs for Rangers in the second period: too many players walking around; too many players abdicating responsibility and blaming each other; too many players pulling out of tackles. At 2-0 down the game was effectively over, but you couldn’t help wondering how different things might have been, or how much more rewarding the game would have been despite the result for the team and the fans, had the entire team put in the same shift as centre half Clint Hill.
At one stage Hill was back on the line to clear one shot from Naismith with his foot, and then leapt up from a horizontal starting position to get the follow up effort from Jelavic away with his head. It typified a never-say-die attitude that we’ve come to expect from the former Tranmere man and capped a man of the match performance. But sadly this was all too much like last season, when often Hill was the only one who seemed to be trying, and was hung out to dry by his team mates. Contrast his performance and approach to this game with Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who ambled through this game looking like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world, and the difference is stark – and that doesn’t bode well for the remainder of the season.
Nor does Harry Redknapp’s constant need to perform emergency surgery on his team early on in matches. Just as happened at Blackpool, Forest, Watford and at home to Leicester during December, the QPR manager had to make early substitutions. This time he took off Armand Traore, who’d started left wing and done no better or worse than anybody else but seems to be Redknapp’s fall guy more often than not, at the break and sent on Niko Kranjcar who slobbed about for the second half and added nothing positive to the performance.
Then former Everton striker Andy Johnson came on for the hapless Karl Henry to huge cheers from all four sides of the ground – the home crowd happy to see a returning favourite, the Rangers supporters glad to see the back of the former Wolves man. Fitness is the reason Johnson cannot start games for QPR, but really what did Redknapp expect from Traore and Henry that he didn’t get here? Traore was average, because he’s an average player and hasn’t played for a long time, and Henry was poor because he is poor. It’s not exactly a case for Poirot this is it? The amount of times recently the wrong team has been picked and early substitutions have been required is alarming.
Despite the changes, Everton ran the sword through QPR in the second period. Henry’s final act was to present possession to Seamus Coleman whose shot was saved wide by Cesar and that followed O’Neil teeing the Irishman up for a curling shot that Cesar finger tipped an inch wide of the post. QPR really were their own worst enemies at times.
Then Onuoha executed a fine tackle on Barkley only to see the ball roll to Osman who shot straight at the goalkeeper. Jelavic made it three nil when Oviedo’s low cross took a slight deflection and allowed the Croatian to sweep home from close range with Assou-Ekotto’s half arsed marking job and pathetic lack of challenge rather summing up his attitude to proceedings.
Jelavic then chipped a free kick over from the edge of the area after a foul by boyhood Everton fan Joey Barton. Barkley shot over after a long run had carried him to the heart of the penalty area.
It looked like being whatever score Everton fancied, and Jelavic seemed certain to get his hat trick when he fed Oviedo into space in the area in the seventy third minute and the Costa Rican was hacked to ground by a combination of Cesar and Onuoha for an obvious penalty. Stupidly though Jelavic tried to chip the resulting spot kick past Cesar and although he successfully sat the goalkeeper down, he got too much on the shot and watched in horror as it bounced back into play off the bar and QPR muscled up to survive. Cesar had one or two choice words for the striker after clearing the ball down field as well – if you’re going to try and humiliate a keeper like that, make sure you get it right.
That gave the otherwise silent travelling faithful something to get excited about, but they’d barely finished taking the piss when Everton worked Coleman into the right channel and the Irishman sent a scorching first time shot across Cesar and into the far top corner. A wonderful finish from one of the form players in the country at the moment – bought for £60,000 from Sligo Rovers while QPR were trying to become a global brand and using foreign agents instead of scouts.
Johnson fed on scraps after his introduction, but would certainly have been awarded a penalty by Howard Webb after being hauled down in the area by McCarthy had he not already been flagged offside. Joey Barton may have done better with a late chance that he hit over after Alcaraz had erred in possession, but chances for the away side were few and far between.
Thankfully Martinez got his side to ease up a little after that. A quick burst of substitutions – Barkley, Coleman and Gareth Barry all went off to give Tony Hibbert, Kevin Mirallas and Jonny Heitinga a run out while Redknapp finally took Austin out of the firing line and sent out Yossi Benayoun – disrupted the flow of the game. Everton could have had five but for Clint Hill’s heroics on the goal line and in the end the four goal margin flattered the disinterested visitors more than the free flowing hosts.
Still, Rangers do look nice in that red and black away kit.
Everton: Robles 6; Coleman 8 (Hibbert 82, -), Stones 7, Alcaraz 7, Oviedo 8; Barry 7 (Heitinga 83,-), McCarthy 7; Osman 7, Barkley 8 (Mirallas 89, -), Naismith 7; Jelavic 8
Subs not used: Lukaku, Pienaar, Howard, Vellios
Goals: Barkley 35 (assisted Oviedo), Jelavic 44 (assisted Henry), 68 (assisted Oviedo), Coleman 76 (assisted Barkley)
QPR: Cesar 6; Simpson 6, Hill 7, Onuoha 5, Assou-Ekotto 4; Henry 3 (Johnson 58, 6), Barton 6; O’Neil 4, Phillips 6, Traore 5 (Kranjcar 45, 5); Austin 6 (Benayoun 76, 5)
Subs not used: Dunne, Onyewu, Zamora, Murphy
QPR Star Man – Clint Hill 7 But for his tireless backs-to-the-wall effort and several last ditch clearances and tackles this could have been a whole lot worse. Reminded me very much of a lot of games last season where Hill seemed to be trying to hold back the tide by himself, badly let down and exposed by the players in front of him.
Referee – Howard Webb (Yorkshire) 8 Nothing to referee in a totally uncompetitive fixture, which he’s probably very grateful for after a difficult Christmas. Rather generous with Armand Traore who should have been booked early on for pulling down Seamus Coleman, but that was about the only controversial moment.
Attendance 32,283 (900 QPR approx) Credit so many Everton fans turning up, and nearly 1,000 QPR fans travelling up from London, but in truth the result was a forgone conclusion and the morgue-like atmosphere reflected that. As quiet as you’ll ever hear Goodison Park.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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