QPR finally cut loose and demolish in-form Ipswich – report
Sunday, 12th Jan 2014 23:35 by Clive Whittingham
QPR shook off their Christmas blues with an excellent second half performance and comfortable 3-1 win at promotion rivals Ipswich Town on Saturday.
The skies were pure and the field was green and the sun was brighter than it’s ever been.
Only the wonderful, blood red and jet black away kit was the same from a week ago when Rangers looked disinterested during their annual early FA Cup exit at Everton. Harry Redknapp’s side failed to register a single effort on target at Goodison Park and the problems with a lack of width in the team and pace in the play that has dogged the R’s all season didn’t look like being banished any time soon when the veteran manager turned out a side with no wingers at Portman Road.
Ipswich were unbeaten in nine going into this match, climbing into the play off places of late, and you’d have been forgiven for thinking Redknapp was happy to escape from Suffolk with a point when he selected Yossi Benayoun, Niko Kranjcar and Gary O’Neil in support of lone striker Charlie Austin with Matt Phillips relegated to the substitutes bench.
The two sides danced around each other during an evenly contested first half, trading occasional jabs like bantam-weight boxers. Only Town goalkeeper Dean Gerken will know how he got a hand to Charlie Austin’s powerful header on the half hour and kept it out after O’Neil had stood up a perfect cross for the former Burnley man to attack from point blank range. But at the other end the R’s were indebted to first Robert Green, who saved from right back Luke Chambers as he ran clear into the right channel of the penalty area, and then Joey Barton who got back on the line and executed a desperate clearance to prevent Paul Taylor turning home the rebound.
Ipswich had been forced to exhume Alan Lee to make up their substitutes bench with Sylvain Ebanks-Blake the latest to join a lengthening injury list but the Tractor Boys still threatened sporadically. McGoldrick, the home side’s Player of the Year so far, shot miles over after 17 minutes, then coveted young left back Aaron Cresswell played the percentage game with a volleyed cross shot into a dangerous area that could just have easily flown into the net off any number of players in attendance as bounce away to safety as it did. McGoldrick saw another shot blocked away by a crowd scene in front of the goal and Robert Green, booed throughout by the home fans owing to his Norwich connections, was lucky to get away with his weekly spill of a routine bouncing long ranger two minutes before the break – seizing on the loose ball at the second attempt as McGoldrick threatened to swoop on the chance.
QPR played the nicer football, and created the better chances before half time, but they were hamstrung first of all by their best opportunities falling to Gary O’Neil – he headed wide in the second minute, taking the chance away from Charlie Austin in the process, and then lashed hopelessly wide from long range ten minutes later. QPR’s other problem – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – was lousy delivery from set pieces with Joey Barton particularly culpable of hitting the first defender at the near post with his first three corners of the day. One particularly poor delivery from O’Neil actually sent Taylor scurrying up to the other end on the counter attack with Rangers’ ageing centre halves struggling to catch him, but he took too long to get a shot away and found the chance crowded out by the ever reliable Danny Simpson.
But overall Rangers just looked a little bit more ‘on it’ than they have of late. Richard Dunne Pub Landlord turned in his best performance at centre half for some time and a typical no-nonsense tackle on Paul Anderson and then intelligent piece of distribution out from the back after 28 minutes set up the move of the first half which culminated in Yossi Benayoun somehow failing to get a goalscoring touch to the perfect low cross from O’Neil wide on the left. Later Austin ran clear on goal after Hill’s long punt downfield had been allowed to bounce through a static backline but, unusually, he took too long to shoot and Chambers got back at him.
Scoreless at half time, the in-play betting fiends may have been tempted to back that as the final outcome, but the game’s turning point had already occurred by then and QPR were all set to rip the second half apart.
Five minutes before the break Joey Barton hobbled out of the action having spent some time struggling with a knock to his thigh. Harry Redknapp must have been tempted to introduce Matt Phillips and drop Gary O’Neil back into the holding midfield role, and there certainly wasn’t much enthusiasm among the 1,600 travelling faithful for the emergence of Karl Henry from the bench on the far side of the field. Henry had been so poor against Forest and Everton in recent weeks that he actually polled votes for the opposition Man of the Match award.
But the whole situation played right into the London side’s hands. With Barton out of the picture it was left to Little Tom Carroll to dictate the direction and style of passing, and he did so with real aplomb. Where Barton will often look or a miracle Hollywood ball over 50 yards, Carroll gives the ball simply, but almost always in a forward direction. He was bright and bouncy and positive and made Rangers move the ball quicker and much more efficiently than they have done over the winter period. As a result Henry was left to do a much simpler job than he had perhaps been asked to do in dire personal showings at the City Ground and Goodison Park: win the ball back, give it to Carroll, Kranjcar and the other creative players in the QPR midfield. The change inadvertently balanced QPR up beautifully and laid the platform for an excellent second half performance.
The first goal was always likely to have a big say in the direction of the rest of the game. Had Paul Taylor drilled past Green rather than straight at him in the first minute of the second half the story may have been very different so perhaps QPR were fortunate that Niko Kranjcar picked the fifty second minute of this game to return to form. The Croatian playmaker, wildly inconsistent since arriving from Dynamo Kiev on deadline day back in August, picked up a throw in from Assou-Ekotto with an immaculate piece of control on the corner of the penalty box and having been allowed to escape far too easily from the clutches of Chambers and Taylor he then trundled into a dangerous shooting position and sought out the far bottom corner with a low shot.
The game remained in the balance, and referee Phil Dowd’s decision to first of all penalise Assou-Ekotto for a non-existent foul on Taylor and then yellow card Clint Hill for complaining about it, added to the tension in the visiting ranks. But the goal had ignited the travelling support, and an escalating feud between a group mouthy Ipswich fans and the local police and stewards to the left of the away end stoked the fires still further. Suddenly roared on by the sort of support that’s been sadly lacking for most of the campaign, Rangers cut loose and carried the game away from Town.
First Charlie Austin was afforded far too much time and space – a developing theme – on the edge of the area and unloaded a low shot on goal that Gerken made rather a pickle of, parrying back into the traffic rather than away to his right to safety and that was all the invitation O’Neil needed to steal in and slam home his first goal for the club.
Sensing the game was going away from his team Mick McCarthy sent on Frank Nouble for Paul Anderson and veteran winger Stephen Hunt for Luke Hyam who’d ealier been yellow carded for pulling back Danny Simpson after sloppily losing possession from an attacking Ipswich throw. Sadly for the home team Nouble is one of those players with such meagre ability he makes me feel like I should be earning a living from the game at some kind of level, and Hunt has been in decline for years and offers little other than needlessly aggressive ankle biters these days. Harry Redknapp knew he had Town where he wanted them and added Armand Traore’s pace instead of Yossi Benayoun’s craft just to press home the advantage.
Five minutes after coming on the Senegalese winger – keeping his feet and remaining upright for a season-best 12 seconds – recognised a centre back in trouble when Tommy Smith allowed a booming Clint Hill clearance to bounce on the edge of his own area and he was able to use his speed to steal in, chest the ball down, and bundle it past Gerken and into the corner for his first goal for Rangers more than two years after arriving from Arsenal. Cue more fighting and ejections from the home end, and by now the travelling faithful had worked themselves into a fervour.
The only frustrating thing about it all is the lack of consistency. Traore has spent most of his recent cameo appearances from the bench miscontrolling the football and falling over as if wearing the wrong size shoes on the wrong way around – and yet here he was racing in and rounding the goalkeeper to make it 3-0. Niko Kranjcar has appeared overweight and sluggish at times – and yet here he was controlling proceedings and stroking the ball around as if it was tied to his foot with a length of string. Gary O’Neil and Karl Henry have both been in embarrassing form over Christmas and yet they were dominant and composed at the heart of this Rangers performance. A week ago few tears were being shed when it looked like Tottenham might recall Little Tom Carroll from his loan, but here he controlled the shape and tempo of Harry Redknapp’s side to great effect. Charlie Austin, Danny Simpson and the two veteran centre backs apart it’s been difficult to know which QPR will turn up from one week to the next lately, hence the need for Redknapp to make so many early substitutions in games, but here they all were right on their game all at once and the effect was devastating to the opposition. They can do it, as we always suspected they could.
The QPR manager will have been irked by Paul Taylor getting a late shot away when Rangers were caught posing during a prolonged period of gratuitous passing on halfway, and a spectacular consolation goal scissor kicked in by Tommy Smith after being left unmarked from an injury time corner, but he’ll be especially angry if this level of performance isn’t maintained for next week’s home game against Huddersfield.
Leicester City laid down the gauntlet with a demolition of Derby live on Sky on Friday night and QPR responded with vigour on Saturday. But a standard has been set now and must be maintained if Rangers are to keep pace with, and eventually overhaul, the Foxes this season.
For now though it was just nice to see QPR playing with tempo in their game, displaying attacking ambition, raining a few shots down on a goalkeeper, scoring a few goals, and ultimately taking a team apart.
And they look really bloody good in that kit.
Ipswich: Gerken 6; Chambers 6 (Mings 86, -), Berra 6, Smith 6, Cresswell 6; Hyam 6 (Hunt 72, 6), Skuse 6, Tunnicliffe 6, Anderson 6 (Nouble 72, 5); Taylor 6, McGoldrick 6
Subs not used: Loach, Edwards, Tabb, Lee
Goals: Smith 90+1 (assisted Hunt)
Bookings: Hyam 22 (foul)
QPR: Green 7; Simpson 7, Dunne 8, Hill 7, Assou-Ekotto 7; Carroll 8, Barton 6 (Henry 40, 7); Benayoun 6 (Traore 68, 7), Kranjcar 7 (Phillips 85,-), O’Neil 7; Austin 7
Subs not used: Johnson, Wright-Phillips, Onuoha, Murphy
Goals: Kranjcar 52 (unassisted), O’Neil 66 (assisted Austin), Traore 74 (assisted Hill)
Bookings: Hill 57 (dissent)
QPR Star Man – Little Tom Carroll 8 Much maligned by the QPR support since arriving on loan from Spurs, but showed his value to the team here with his best performance in Rangers’ colours. Even when LTC isn’t playing well he’s still the only player Rangers have who will both show for short passes from the centre halves and then try to distribute it intelligently – Henry doesn’t have the passing ability, and Barton is too wrapped up in his one-man quest to hit the most ridiculous Hollywood passes in a single season. When he is playing well, as on Saturday, Carroll can guide QPR around the park and that’s exactly what he did here, which in turn released Henry into the win-back-and-give role that he’s much more comfortable in. The withdrawal of Barton was key to both Carroll and Henry who both turned in their best performances of the season in the second half.
Referee – Phil Dowd (Staffordshire) 7 Looked at one point like he was going to have a typically flouncy fit of temper and send Clint Hill off for protesting too much over a ridiculous decision given against Benoit Assou-Ekotto but he just about remained calm and refereed the rest of the game reasonably well.
Attendance – 18,369 (1,534 QPR) A fantastic atmosphere in the away end – probably the best of the season – to roar QPR home to victory. The joy of seeing three goals in one after the other was improved considerably by the angry reaction of the chavs in the stand to the left who were subsequently thrown out one by one in various violent, dramatic circumstances. Great entertainment.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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