Late heartbreak for Hill as QPR continue to stutter - report
Sunday, 2nd Mar 2014 18:43 by Clive Whittingham
QPR's run of league games without a win stretched to five with a 1-1 draw against Leeds at Loftus Road on Saturday.
Saturday afternoon, Loftus Road, 90 minutes played, final grains of sand draining away from five minutes of stoppage time, one last opportunity for Queens Park Rangers to put the ball into the Leeds United penalty box and push for a first win in five matches. QPR never score these.
Aaron Hughes took responsibility, hanging the ball up towards Richard Dunne on the far side of the penalty area. The giant Irish centre half climbed into the sky and flicked the ball on expertly. Suddenly, there he was, Clint Hill of all people, drawing back his left foot and pinging the ball past keeper Jack Butland and into the far top corner. The ball flew straight as an arrow, Hill couldn’t have struck it any truer, and unstoppable effort to complete a second win of the season against Leeds and get QPR’s season back on track.
But Clint Hill has been unluckier than most as far as goalscoring is concerned during his time with Rangers, and things just aren’t running for the team as a whole at the moment. On the far side of the field a linesman’s flag fluttered in the early afternoon breeze. Rangers forced to settle for a point and are now closer to seventh than second – nine points the gap to Burnley in the cold light of a harsh Sunday morning.
Harry Redknapp’s frustration was audible in his post-match interview for Sky as he pointed to the injuries that continue to rule his key players out for long periods of time. In that respect the QPR manager has found himself in a similar situation to West Ham’s Sam Allardyce earlier in the season – under pressure for faltering results where injuries, which cannot be helped, are probably the prime cause. The Hammers kept faith with their man, while all around them at the bottom of the league sacked and in some cases sacked again, and have now been rewarded with four straight wins that have lifted them clear of trouble.
So perhaps Rangers would be well-advised to stick with their man and write off what’s happening now, and what is likely to come, as unfortunate. Ale Faurlin, Danny Simpson, Charlie Austin and Matt Phillips would certainly have made a significant difference in this latest match. But then given the number of players Reknapp has been allowed to bring in, the amount of money they’re costing, and the quality of them relative to the majority of the rest of the league, a manager renowned for his motivation and man management ability should be able to get more out of this squad of players.
To be fair, QPR didn’t want for effort or character at Loftus Road on Saturday. They’d started the game well – referee Chris Foy waving advantage through a foul on lone-striker Kevin Doyle allowing the wildly inconsistent Armand Traore to advance into the area and send a dangerous low cross right through the goal mouth – only to then concede a penalty kick in Leeds’ first serious attack of the game.
At the time, from the front of the upper tier in the South Africa Road stand, it seemed as though Richard Dunne had got a full foot on the ball and toed it out for a corner as Ross McCormack moved into the area – which is exactly what the linesman with the best view of the incident awarded - but the replays showed Dunne looking his age and the Leeds man reaching the ball first. McCormack picked himself up to take the spot kick himself but despite scoring 24 times already this season, and nothing six in his last six, the Scottish international rolled a tame effort to Robert Green’s left and the keeper was able to make a smart save.
The reprieve and perceived injustice revved the Loftus Road crowd up, and the team seemed to respond to that, but within two minutes Junior Hoilett had been caught flat footed and in the ensuing panic Foy awarded another harsh looking foul, right on the edge of the area, with Traore adjudged to have fouled Rudolph Austin. McCormack’s shot from the set piece looked set to fly straight at Green once again before it took a flick off Traore and flew into the back of the net.
Rangers would have been forgiven for throwing their hands up in the air and complaining at the unfairness of it all. They looked horribly laboured and low on confidence at times – Junior Hoilett, now barely a shadow of the player we saw showing glimpses of promise back in August, can barely stand up for falling down, while Ravel Morrison and Armand Traore tried plenty but enjoyed little success.
Jermaine Jenas, partnering Karl Henry at the base of midfield, curled one shot high and wide and then, when a nasty foul from Stephen Warnock on Kevin Doyle belatedly drew the first yellow card of the day from Foy, inexplicably launched a free kick from out by the corner flag out of the ground and away out of town via the Westway.
Leeds looked much more dangerous, with McCormack a permanent pain and hulking Connor Wickham, newly signed on loan from Sunderland, providing an unprecedented physical challenge for the Rangers back line. Hill raced across to snuff a half chance out when McCormack executed a one two with his unfeasibly enormous partner but the QPR backline looked slow and cumbersome at times, with Aaron Hughes out of his depth at right wing back.
Wickham dragged wide via a deflection on the half hour and if Green was lucky with that one it was nothing compared to what had gone. When Jenas went in wild and high on Austin the resulting free kick was delicately chipped over the wall by Cameron Stewart – a shot that looked to ose few problems for a goalkeeper of Green’s experience but was nevertheless spilled back into the danger area by the former West Ham man.
But the home team stuck at it as best they could, crafting an eye catching move with two back flicks that ended with a chipped cross from Traore and a header straight at Butland from Jenas. Three minutes later Doyle, who stood up admirably to constant physical punishment from the Leeds defenders, held up a pass from Jenas and returned the ball to him perfectly giving the former Forest man a chance to stride into the area and roll an equaliser into the far corner.
Jenas’ contributions on Saturday ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous – dreadfully executed free kicks and bottled tackles mixed with intelligent passing and a crucial goal – but whether he was good or bad it was just nice to see him actually getting involved, and providing support to the attack from deep lying positions, after his completely anonymous showing at Charlton a week ago. He really should be capable of grabbing games at this level by the scruff of the neck more often.
Those improvements could perhaps be attributed in part to the recall of Karl Henry at the base of the QPR midfield. Leeds were a typical Brian McDermott side – physical, niggly, annoying, cynical, dangerous – and Henry’s presence at the base of the midfield freed Jenas to press further forward and added a solidity that has perhaps been missing in recent weeks.
Given that Clint Hill was left completely unmarked from Jenas’ corner in two minutes of first half injury time it’s not stretching things to say that QPR could, and perhaps should, have gone in at half time in front despite being second best for the most part.
That provided hope for the second half, but sadly the more detestable elements of McDermott’s footballing philosophy came to the fore after the break, and with Premier League referee Chris Foy treating the whole thing as being a bit beneath him, strolling around and not doing his job properly, the whole thing descended into an incredibly frustrating, dire, steamy pile of footballing manure.
I’d usually try and pick one incident to sum the whole thing up but there are just too many to choose from.
Traore could have put Rangers into the lead straight after the restart when played in by Ravel Morrison, and Wickham was little more than a foot away from his first goal for Leeds after the hour when a loose crossfield pass from Jenas put his team in trouble. But the game was littered with cards, prolonged stoppages, injuries and substitutions for the most part and the faithful in attendance would have been forgiven for retreating back to the hostelries of Shepherd’s Bush well before the end.
Foy certainly wasn’t endearing himself to a boisterous away following in the School End with a booking for Jimmy Kebe, and a soft QPR free kick immediately after he’d waved away Leeds’ appeals for what looked like a much clear cut foul at the other end. Typically, Jenas wasted that free kick and was then booked himself for deliberately pulling Austin back and preventing his latest possession concession turning into a dangerous counter attack.
Rangers had cause to wonder why Wickham wasn’t booked for a late hit on Henry, then later Henry undid some good defensive work on the edge of his own box by flying into a wild tackle on Kebe that could easily have brought more than the yellow card Foy deemed punishment enough – Wickham headed the resulting delivery towards goal and Green did well to palm the ball not only away from goal, but also out of the danger zone - which allowed Onuoha to block a shot from an acute angle on the rebound - with an unorthodox save.
Amongst the niggles were long, drawn out, ball aching passages of play when literally nothing happened at all. One by one QPR removed the hapless Junior Hoilett for Will Keane, injured Jenas for Little Tom Carroll and struggling Doyle for Yossi Benayoun. Leeds also sent on young Mowatt for Cameron Stewart, Sam Byram for Jimmy Kebe and Michael Brown for Luke Murphy. On six separate occasions in the final 28 minutes, and three times in four minutes between 80 and 84, play was stopped while a substitution was made, slowing the game to a snail’s pace and giving it a pre-season friendly feel.
Having slagged off Mobido Maiga only for him to score on his debut, then done likewise to Jenas last week before his goal in this game, I’m perhaps merely trying to provoke a goal from Benayoun when I say the reason for his introduction in this, or any other, game, or in fact the club in general, remains an absolute, total mystery. Morrison may well have tired from carrying his substantial arse around for the previous 85 minutes and replacing him was fair enough, although a subsequent knock for Traore then effectively reduced the R’s to ten men for five minutes of stoppage time, but Benayoun is currently able to offer nothing other than constant possession concession and moments of hilarity when he falls over the ball.
Add in one farce where Kebe decided he was injured a quarter of a yard away from the touchline and Foy permitted the Leeds physio to come on from the opposite side of the pitch and treat him on the field of play when he could easily have been moved a fraction to his right to allow the game to go on, and another where Ross McCormack had his ankle strapped in the penalty area which sparked a debate lasting most of the weekend about what would happen with the subsequent drop ball, and it was difficult to understand why anybody who had paid to get in here would ever want to go to a football match again.
QPR weren’t good enough to positively affect the game, Leeds lacked the ambition to do so when a win was probably there for the taking for them, and Foy’s control of proceedings waned from a low starting point. The referee would wave away a foul at one point, suggesting he was getting a bit sick of the play acting, only to then, in the next few seconds, award a free kick for nothing at all – the decision to award Butland a free kick for leaping up in the air under no contact whatsoever from Doyle as the QPR man chased down a pass back was a pathetic embarrassment.
Leeds seemed happy with their point, which was a little odd considering their firepower and QPR’s vulnerability – having boasted the division’s best defensive record for most of the season it’s now ten league matches since a clean sheet for Harry Redknapp’s side. God it was turgid stuff by the end.
That could have all been forgotten had Hill’s late howitzer counted as the winning goal, but the muffled boos and swift exit from the majority inside Loftus Road at the final whistle were much more apt for a game that had coughed and spluttered through a reasonably entertaining first half before descending into a medically induced coma in the second half.
Could have, would have, should have – QPR are in danger of ending the 2013/14 season with a long list of regrets.
QPR: Green 6; Hughes 5 Onuoha 6 Dunne 5, Hill 6; Hoilett 4 (Keane 62, 5), Jenas 6 (Carroll 81, -), Henry 6, Traore 6; Morrison 6 (Benayoun 85, -), Doyle 6
Subs: Suk-Young, Murphy, Maiga, Sendels-White
Goals: Jenas 44 (assisted Doyle)
Bookings: Jenas 59 (foul), Henry 87 (foul)
Leeds: Butland 6; Peltier 6, Lees 6, Pearce 6, Warnock 6; Kebe 5 (Byram 90+6, -), Murphy 6 (Brown 80, -), Austin 6, Stewart 6 (Mowatt 70, 6); McCormack 7, Wickham 6
Subs not used: Hunt, Smith, Wootton, Cairns
Goals: McCormack 14 (unassisted)
Bookings: Warnock 32 (foul), Kebe 46 (foul), Mowatt 90+2 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Armand Traore 6 A really difficult decision from such a mediocre afternoon of football. Green was a candidate, given the penalty save and late parry from Wickham, but he was lucky to get away with one or two other fumbles;; Morrison did his best to make things happen without anything really coming off for him; Kevin Doyle likewise; and Nedum Onuoha made a number of key interceptions and crunching tackles to get his team mates out of difficult situations; and I thought Karl Henry’s calming influence, but for a horrible foul and yellow card late in the day, was probably more important than many would give him credit for. But I liked a lot about Armand Traore’s work rate and attitude so I’ve gone for him, even allowing for wildly inconsistent end product.
Referee – Chris Foy (St Helens) 5 Two key decisions in the game – the penalty and the disallowed goal – were both correct, and one overruled a linesman who’d got the call wrong, so really I shouldn’t be too harsh on him, by I thought this was a thoroughly odd refereeing display. Things that didn’t look like fouls at all were given as free kicks while other stuff that looked like an obvious infringement was waved away. The second half ground to a complete halt at several points and his lack of a firm control, summed up by the ludicrously lengthy debate over a poxy drop ball, was a big part of that. To be honest he looked like a Premier League referee trying to stroll through a Championship match when really it needed a lot more from him.
Attendance – 16,448 (1,800 Leeds approx) The loudest away support of the season only further highlighted just how quiet Loftus Road has become these days.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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