Charlton’s late smash and grab heaps pressure on QPR – report
Sunday, 23rd Feb 2014 22:18 by Clive Whittingham
A last minute header from Charlton captain Johnnie Jackson condemned woeful QPR to a 1-0 defeat at The Valley on Saturday.
In the hyperbolic world of modern day professional football, you’re never more than a few weeks away from a perceived crisis.
In 1990/91 QPR were afflicted by a succession of injuries at the heart of the defence – a problem so severe that they agreed to take the terminally useless Gus Ceaser on loan from Arsenal. They lost eight straight matches in the old First Division and drew the next two. A Christmas home win against Sunderland briefly lifted the gloom before three more quick fire defeats followed – 11 losses and two draws from 14 matches.
Today, manager Don Howe would almost certainly have been sacked. He’d have been branded too old, outdated, stories about him “losing the dressing room” would have quoted anonymous sources in the tabloid press. Back then QPR kept faith. Howe brought in Bobby Gould to assist him, and Gould leafed through his little black book of lower league contacts and produced Darren Peacock from Hereford and Andy Tillson from Grimsby to solve the central defensive issues. Rangers lost just three of their last 16 matches and won eight.
When Howe was then controversially replaced by “younger man” Gerry Francis – a returning club hero – the R’s started the following season without a win from their first eight league matches. By mid-November they’d won just three in the First Division from their first 16 games. These days it would be “too much too soon” for young Gerry Francis. QPR would be pilloried making a dreadful mistake promoting the new manager too high, too soon, purely because he was such a great player for the club. Again there were mitigating circumstances – Ray Wilkins and Alan McDonald had long term injuries – again the club kept faith an again they were rewarded. By the end of the 1992/93 season Francis had QPR fifth in the Premier League, top London club ahead of Arsenal, Chelsea and Spurs.
Even as recently as 2002/03 in the Second Division one of Francis’ former players Ian Holloway was on a run of results as dire as many can remember – 12 without a win including humiliating defeats by Cardiff, Notts County and Vauxhall Motors. The board stuck with their man, he signed a young Lee Cook on loan from Watford, and by the end of the season Rangers were in the play-off final at Cardiff. A year later they were promoted in fine style, Holloway carried aloft from the pitch at Hillsborough by the jubilant, talented, committed group of players he’d put together. Good times.
Four matches ago QPR had just secured a fourth successive league win against Bolton and were sitting in the automatic promotion places. Four wins from the next four league games and there’s a good chance they’ll be back there. After a nightmare Premier League season in 2012/13 where the R’s won just four times in the entire campaign, and inflicted a hoard of over-paid mercenary players on themselves, many – including this website – feared a Wolves-like plummet through the Championship this season. Instead the R’s currently sit fourth, seven points shy of the automatic promotion places and seven points away from the pack chasing the play offs in seventh and below.
It’s a funny looking crisis, even after a woeful third consecutive defeat against one of the most limited sides you could ever hope to play at Charlton on Saturday. Again, there are mitigating factors – Rangers are missing Ale Faurlin, Danny Simpson, Matt Phillips and Charlie Austin which effectively removes the youth, speed, creativity and goals from the team in one fell swoop.
And yet the mood in the away end at The Valley by the end of Saturday’s dirge, and across the message boards since, has been turning against Harry Redknapp and the management team. The chairman Tony Fernandes Tweeted before the game that this was a big game for QPR, and that the board had provided everything they’d been asked for this season, ratcheting up the pressure another notch. QPR responded with an insipid display, and dreadful defeat. The newspapers are now quickly filling with tales of Redknapp’s imminent demise. To an outsider looking in, it all looks so typical of the modern day QPR – chronic short termism and regular managerial changes.
You could say – and you’d be spot on in my opinion – that Fernandes’ “providing everything that’s been asked for” is part of the problem, because all a manager like Harry Redknapp will ever ask for is another signing and short term signings are the last thing QPR need. To have accumulated eight loanees in a league that only permits five to be selected – Benoit Assou Ekotto and Niko Kranjcar sat out altogether on Saturday, leaving God-only-knows how much in weekly wages up in the main stand – is preposterous, but Fernandes and his CEO Phil Beard know barely enough about football to fill the back of a cigarette packet and they are therefore wholly reliant on the football manager for the football input. Fernandes’ apparent surprise that chucking money at the problem, again, hasn’t worked, again, makes a mockery of this idea that QPR have learnt any lessons from last year’s shuttle disaster. QPR have no infrastructure, ethos, identity or clear idea of what they’re doing – and money and attention is permanently directed away from those things towards making more big-name signings. QPR had nobody above the manager with any football knowledge whatsoever last season, and they still don’t. Lessons learnt stretch little further than the directions to Championship away games.
And you could make an argument – and several did, to the point of violence in an away end dripping with nastiness and aggravation on Saturday – that fans coming to matches and being negative about the team, and voicing their displeasure, are doing more harm than good and should stay away. With little under ten minutes remaining of this dreadful encounter with Charlton Redknapp removed Little Tom Carroll from the centre of midfield and sent on Yossi Benayoun. The away end, a large portion of which had been barracking Carroll throughout the second half, cheered ironically as the boyish 21-year-old trooped off with his head down. And this was stupid, counter-productive and moronic for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, the introduction of Yossi Benayoun is quickly replacing the appearance of the stoppage time board as an excuse to head back to the pub and beat the rush at the bar. His arrival at QPR, almost more than anything else, shows just how little this club learnt from its chastening experience last season. Why bother driving a scumbag like Jose Bosingwa from the club, just to add another like Benayoun? Bosingwa refused to sit on the QPR bench for a home game with Fulham last season, which made him a pariah in the eyes of the club’s fans, and while Benayoun hasn’t gone quite that far yet he ticks every other box that the detestable Portuguese full back did. Overpaid for his talent throughout his career, ageing, with Chelsea connections, well past his best, with nothing left to prove or achieve, in decline for several years, with no connection or affinity for QPR, looking for a final pay day to top up the pension… he is a disgusting, repugnant signing, and anybody cheering his arrival onto the field, regardless of whose expense it’s at, should be having a look at themselves. Lessons learnt from last season? Right sorts? The prosecution submits Yossi Benayoun into evidence your honour.
But secondly, Tom Carroll is being unfairly persecuted here. Yes he’s physically unsuited to the Championship division, yes he’s giving the ball away far too often, yes he’s clearly very low on confidence (cheering him off should do him the world of good) and no he’s not playing at all well but I would contest that the reason he’s standing out is because he’s still got the stones – despite still awaiting the onset of puberty – to stick his hand up and have a go for our team. Despite all of the above it’s still Tom Carroll who shows for the pass every time, it’s still Tom Carroll who turns and faces forward and tries to direct the team that way, it’s still Tom Carroll making the effort and trying things and doing what he can. At one stage in the second half he played a pass that was easily intercepted by Charlton left back Lawrie Wilson and even had it made its way through it would have rolled out of play next to the linesman – dreadful, inexplicable play. But if we’re scapegoat hunting – and the reaction to his substitution suggests we are – then how about the man Redknapp selected to play alongside him on Saturday?
Jermaine Jenas escapes similar public rebuke for all of the reasons Tom Carroll attracts it. Tom Carroll offered himself as an option to receive a pass more often on Saturday than Jermaine Jenas has in total since 2004. Carroll is a 21-year-old boy built like an 11-year-old with minimal first team experience. Jenas is now 31, has commanded an incredible £12m in transfer fees during his career, has amassed an astonishing 21 England caps, and yet is stealing a living from QPR by appearing very occasionally in the first team and maintaining an uncanny ability to always, without fail, be at least 10 yards away from anything that happens. A tackle, a pass, a goal, a shot, a goal conceded, a fight – whatever happens in a QPR match, Jenas is never closer than ten yards to it. He has as much impact on QPR games as the kids selling the programmes. So while Carroll rolls his sleeves up and gives it a shot, his vastly more experienced, better paid, supposedly more talented partner on Saturday barely got his kit dirty. And it’s Carroll who cops the stick and gets replaced by Yossi chuffing Benayoun. The game’s gone. Or at least this club has.
But you can forgive the QPR fans their frustration. For all the difficulties of last season, and all the hard work the club has put in arresting the decline, this is still an incredibly expensively assembled squad for the division it’s playing in. The rest of the league can only dream of spending the money QPR have shelled out this season on wages, and loaning in the quality of player they have attracted. Even with key injuries, every single one of the QPR players selected on Saturday would walk into the Charlton team, and yet they were beaten 1-0.
Not only that, but the performance wasn’t a good deal different from the one turned in for the corresponding game at Loftus Road against the same dreadfully limited opposition before Christmas. On that occasion a 30-yarder from Charlie Austin settled the match in Rangers’ favour, and only in the talismanic striker’s absence are we seeing just how many cracks he was papering over. Here Rangers failed to manage a single serious shot on target while playing against the worst goalkeeper they’re likely to face in many, many years.
Frenchman Yohann Thuram-Ulien stood between the Charlton posts on Saturday in a short-sleeved shirt, shorts that looked like they belonged to somebody else, and an expression that betrayed his discomfort at being asked to keep goal in the Championship. He looked like he’d won his place in the team in a raffle and yet Rangers rarely went near him. In the first half he had little more to deal with than the odd back pass and on three separate occasions, under no pressure, he hooked clearances straight into the side stand. By half time the Charlton fans were cheering ironically when he kept the ball in play, but his ill-fitting all yellow kit remained unblemished.
In the second half he did his best to present Rangers with the opening goal, inexplicably passing the ball straight to another of Redknapp’s short term fixes Mobido Maiga – who’d replaced Kevin Doyle just moments before – but despite having enough time to do an oil painting of the situation the loaned West Ham man executed an appalling first touch and toed the ball out of play for a goal kick. Absolute pony.
Thuram-Ulien looked like a man who wanted to give you a goal, if only Rangers would have given him the opportunity. But they rarely tested the erratic custodian. Carroll shot over, Morrison did likewise with a volley, Hughes skewed one wide before half time.
The visitors’ best two chances both fell to debutant Ravel Morrison – loanee number eight of eight. His touch was wonderful on a pitch more useful for cultivating potatoes than playing football, and he made QPR tick all afternoon but sadly, when faced with the whites of the goalkeeper’s eyes, he fluffed his lines. On the hour he played a smart one two with Carroll in the Charlton box but then snatched at a chance and sent the ball sailing off towards the corner flag when it seemed easier to hit the target. Then in four minutes of added time a low cross from the wildly inconsistent Armand Traore seemed to fall plum for Morrison at the back post but he could only shin it straight to the goalkeeper.
The West Ham man looks a class act, head and shoulders above his new team mates, and his arrival forced Redknapp to select a formation far more suited to the players at his disposal than the straight-line 4-4-2 rubbish he’s been picking for the past few weeks. There was a lot to like about a back three that saw Nedum Onuoha recalled, and the wing back system suits Armand Traore much better although he was fairly wild here on a difficult playing surface. Onuoha showed the value of actually running forwards, with the ball, and genuine purpose, in the first half when he carried the ball to the heart of the Charlton box but then sadly hit the ground theatrically under minimal contact – referee Eddie Ilderton right to wave that one away. Far too often QPR went sideways or backwards for want of a better option, and when Carroll did try to move the ball positively, too often he gave it away.
This system puts Morrison at the heart of the action, and doesn’t expose Carroll so much, but it’s a sad indictment of QPR’s transfer policy that despite all the comings and goings and the multitude of loan signings they ended up here with Aaron Hughes – a mediocre 34-year-old centre back – playing right wing back with predictably dire results. It also seems strange for Redknapp to be throwing his hat in with Morrison, who has all the same problems as Adel Taarabt who he wouldn’t tolerate.
In truth, the QPR manager seems to be thrashing around. Gary O’Neil starts one week, then doesn’t make the squad at all, then makes the bench, then starts and goes off at half time. Tom Carroll is the fulcrum of the team one week, and then doesn’t get picked at all the next. Armand Traore comes on three times as a sub, then gets man of the match as a starter, then gets dropped altogether, then comes back in from the start. Junior Hoilett starts left one week and right the next. Will Keane is not selected for two games, then starts and plays well but goes off after an hour, then gets dropped to the bench, and who knows what next? Rangers play 4-2-3-1, then 4-4-2, then 3-5-2, and then…. You’d achieve similar team selections, and probably the same sort of results, drawing a starting 11 out of a bucket at the moment.
It would be stretching the criticism too far to say that Charlton deserved to win the game. Robert Green was fortunate to get away with dropping a deep cross into the danger zone after 68 minutes, and Johnnie Jackson lashed wide after being teed up by substitute Marcus Tudgay during a rare fluent attack shortly after that, but the Addicks are a very, very basic side with little attacking intent. QPR held the possession, and created two gilt-edged chances for Morrison.
And yet the meagre ammunition the home team had to chuck at Rangers was, eventually, enough to secure all three points. They’d served notice in the first half when Jordan Cousins belted a low 20 yarder against the base of the post and then, with Green committed, the implausibly named Reza Ghoochannejhad contrived to miss the open goal and strike the foot of the post on the opposite side.
Then, in stoppage time, they struck. After Morrison’s second miss Richard Dunne was fortunate to get away with a miscued cross-interception that would have diverted the ball into his own net but for a smart recovery from the Irishman on the line. Rangers were unable to clear their lines and Green had to make a fantastic save to deny Ajdarevic from 20 yards after Onuoha gave the ball away but, just as happened at Doncaster earlier in the season, the R’s didn’t take advantage of a stoppage time reprieve and ended up conceding the winning goal from the resulting corner – Jackson heading down, into the ground, and up into the net, after climbing easily above Hughes at the back post. For an experienced centre half to be beaten that easily in the air by a central midfield player from a basic set piece in the last minute of the game rather summed up Aaron Hughes’ afternoon, and the performance and attitude of the QPR players as a whole.
Harry Redknapp spoke briefly to Kevin Bond after the goal but otherwise said nothing. He glanced briefly towards the away end on two occasions and met an angry reaction both times – sparking more arguments between QPR fans. If you believe the club would take a breath, realise their problems are long term, make a sensible appointment aimed at a building programme with a focus on youth and facilities rather than another raft of signings and immediate plundered promotion, then by all means demand Redknapp’s head. If you think they’ll appoint the next big name that comes along – Gianfranco Zola? – and spunk more money on more signings then, really, what’s the point?
Few QPR players braved the away end to thank 3,200 QPR fans for their support at full time, and while that’s poor form you can understand people with no affinity or connection with the club for not wanting to walk into the teeth of that sort of abuse – booing had started long before the end, long before Charlton scored.
This has the potential to turn very ugly, on and off the pitch. The church is restless.
Charlton: Y Thuram-Ulien 5; R Wiggins 6, D Dervite 6, M Morrison 6, L Wilson 6; D Poyet 6, D Green 6 (A Ajdarevic, 64, 6), J Jackson 6, J Cousins 6; R Ghoochanneijhad 5 (M Tudgay, 64, 6), S Church 6 (C Harriott, 89, -)
Subs not used: R Wood, M Sordell, B Hamer, M Fox
Goals: Jackson 90+3
QPR: R Green 6; C Hill 6, R Dunne 6, N Onuoha 5; A Hughes 5, J Jenas 3, T Carroll 5 (Y Benayoun, 81, -), A Traore 5, J Hoilett 5 (W Keane 59, 6); K Doyle 5 (M Maiga, 70, 5) R Morrison 6
Subs not used: K Henry, B Murphy, Yun Suk-Young, G O'Neil
QPR Star Man – Ravel Morrison 7 Sadly, his debut will be remembered for two missed sitters in the second half that cost the R’s a point or more, but it’s frightening to think of how bad Harry Redknapp’s side would have been without him.
Referee – Eddie Ilderton (Tyne and Wear) 7 A decent performance. Correct not to award Nedum Onuoha anything in the first half when he appeared to be fouled on the edge of the area, and allowed the game to flow, making allowances for a difficult pitch, far more than he ever has done on previous QPR appointments.
Attendance 17, 333 (3,200 QPR approximately) A nasty element to the atmosphere in the away end, with QPR fans fighting among themselves and arguments breaking out all over the place. Personally, I don’t think there’s much wrong with voicing displeasure at a performance as bad as this, but given that even after the goal went in people were still turning around and yelling at fellow supporters to “be positive or don’t bother coming” clearly I’m wrong there. The reaction towards Tom Carroll has been covered.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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