Unlikely heroes to the fore in five-star QPR victory – report
Monday, 14th Apr 2014 19:25 by Clive Whittingham
QPR snapped out of their recent mini-slump with an emphatic 5-2 home win against Nottingham Forest in front of the Sky cameras at Loftus Road on Saturday.
In the context of the Championship league table, QPR's convincing win against Nottingham Forest on Saturday meant little.
Burnley may be showing signs of nerves and picking up injuries for the first time this season, but they look safe in second, ten points ahead of Rangers with four games left to play. A chasing pack is running hard and winning regularly but, again, a nine point gap down to seventh offers Harry Redknapp's side plenty of security.
But this victory, and perhaps more crucially the manner in which it was achieved, was absolutely vital.
QPR may sit fourth, but the form on which their lofty league position is built has long since deserted them. Rangers lost none of their first 11 but following the departure of coach Steve McClaren to Derby they won just four of the next 13 including a resounding 2-0 loss at Nottingham Forest in the first meeting between the sides this season. More recently they've won just four of 14, losing seven including their last two.
Sympathy has been thin on the ground, despite a crippling list of injuries. QPR have the squad size, budget and quality of player to cope better than they have done with the absentees. The players have been accused of not caring enough, not putting in enough effort, giving up when the going gets tough. The management has appeared disinterested, short sighted, lazy and incapable of motivating the playing squad. The board lacks football knowledge, direction and a coherent long term plan. Last Saturday's defeat against a Bournemouth side which played for the last half an hour with ten men, and then at Blackburn on Tuesday, where Harry Redknapp's point blank refusal to ever consider picking a QPR youth team graduate for the first team regardless of circumstance saw permanently crocked right back Luke Young start a match for the first time in two years at centre half had many at the end of their tether. Apathy is rife, the atmosphere at games poor, the performances on the pitch completely lacking in tempo. It all went towards setting up a potentially toxic clash with Nottingham Forest at Loftus Road.
Forest are in the midst of a proper collapse themselves: 12 games without a win has turned a team that looked a shrewd bet for automatic promotion going into the January transfer window into the footballing equivalent of a failed soufflé – flat, mushy, messy. A 5-0 defeat to bitter local rivals Derby was their nadir, and manager Billy Davies paid with his job, skulking off into the sunset for a second time with his bitter personal agendas and squabbles trailing behind him. Despite still being within touching distance of the top six, no manager could be found to take the job on – Peter Reidy Reid is still looking by the way guys – and so a bizarre situation has developed whereby a team with a realistic promotion chance has effectively written the final quarter of the season off waiting for a new man to arrive in the summer. Alarm bells should be ringing all over the red half of the city of Nottingham.
But QPR are famed for their generosity in such situations. Swindon Town, Lloyd Doyley, John Jensen, Dean Bowditch – if you have a team, or a player, who hasn’t won, or scored, for a prolonged period of time, simply bide your time and wait for a game with Queens Park Rangers to rock around on your fixture list. You could reasonably register the Super Hoops as a charity.
QPR are also renowned for conceding goals to their former players and in Jamie Mackie, Nottingham Forest appeared to have an ideal weapon at their disposal. He’s a player many supporters were disgusted to see leave Loftus Road, who seemingly embodies everything that a great many of the Rangers he left behind lack – effort, passion, drive, commitment, urgency. Goals. A third defeat in a row, to a team in cataclysmically awful form, and a goal from Mackie into the bargain, and they'd have been looting shops and setting fire to cars all the way down the Uxbridge Road for the rest of the weekend.
A fine time then for the 2013/14 QPR – so dull and lifeless for so much of the campaign – to show their teeth and state their intent. Thankfully this turned out to be a day of unlikely and returning heroes in hoops, rather than a chance for revenge from those we used to worship in these parts. Junior Hoilett, Yossi Benayoun, Little Tom Carroll and Karl Henry – all heavily criticised at various points this season – were excellent and Danny Simpson made more impact on his return from injury than you’d ever think possible of somebody playing right back.
Three of those players combined to give QPR the lead in the opening minute. Hoilett teed up Carroll for a shot from the edge of the box that young Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Karl Darlow should have done a hell of a lot better than parry down, into the ground, and inadvertently right into the danger zone in front of his goal – Benayoun happily snaffled the headed chance from close range to open the scoring.
Benayoun looked a typical modern day QPR signing when he arrived – ageing, with fitness issues, and nothing left to prove, on colossal wages, with Chelsea connections, in a position where Rangers already had several other options. A gratuitous addition it seemed. But the Israeli has grown into an important member of the team in recent weeks – his energetic, hard running performance was key to a recent home win against Wigan and reaching a loose ball in the Forest penalty area ahead of his team mates and opponents, despite starting wide on the right wing, typified his attitude. That’s his third goal in five outings.
Mackie meanwhile, formerly known in these parts for such high-octane performances, was completely anonymous in a poor performance from the visiting team – after six minutes Benayoun launched into a risky tackle on the former QPR man and came out with the ball and the approval of referee Oliver Langford. A microcosm of their respective performances.
Hoilett, also much maligned for most of this season as he's waddled from one failed dribble and hamstring injury to the next, was also a surprise success in this game. After his hand in the first he dragged another shot across the face of goal and wide on the end of a slick move after a quarter of an hour, and then found the net with a crisp finish after prolonged pressure around the edge of the Forest penalty area five minutes before half time. That goal owed much to the patience of Carroll, who popped up three times in the move right across the width of the field, intelligently recycling possession and maintaining the pressure while always providing an option for a pass. He finished the game with three assists to his name.
Simpson was also involved, running laterally with the ball at his feet searching for an opening. He was exemplary at right back as he continues his return to fitness and at one stage completed a successful Taye Taiwo-style tackle with his face on Simon Cox after losing his footing trying to shepherd a ball out for a goal kick and then later running the full length of the field to overlap down the right flank and deliver a cross into the box. His impact on the team, despite playing at right back, should not be underestimated.
Robbed of Jermaine Jenas through yet another injury early on, his replacement Karl Henry also impressed in the centre of midfield, breaking up play, passing the ball with imagination and accuracy not previously seen, and giving Carroll a platform on which to showcase his give and go ability. Henry niggled Forest, and he provoked a reaction on the ground from Henri Lansbury on the stroke of half time that could have led to greater punishment than a simple word on the run from Langford.
But that was nothing compared to the impact of Bobby Zamora when he emerged for the final 20 minutes of the game. Rangers had been pegged back to 2-2 by then thanks to their chronic inability to defend corners which cost them at Bournemouth a week ago and nearly robbed them of points here. Giant Forest youth team graduate Jamaal Lascelles came up from the back to head home the first equaliser from close range just after the half hour and then Matt Derbyshire powered in a similar effort with 15 minutes left to play. Greg Halford, centre forward in the first meeting but back at right back here and lucky to escape a card for a nasty tackle from behind on Hoilett, also powered a header from a set piece at goal only to see it cleared from the line. Rangers must tighten up before the play-offs come around.
Charlie Austin lost his man for the first goal and his impact on a first start in three months was negligible – given the rough end of the decisions from the referee and clearly struggling for fitness, he should have been removed much earlier than he was. A first half chance poked wide at full stretch from a perfect Benoit Assou-Ekotto cross would surely have been converted earlier in the season when he was fighting fit and match sharp. One wouldn't have thought the introduction of Zamora would improve the situation greatly, given that his contribution to QPR since arriving from Fulham two years ago would probably qualify him for shop mobility, but the lumbering target man looked like a man possessed here and turned the game back in QPR's favour. Lascelles had been imperious at the heart of the Forest defence to that point, but looked like a rabbit in headlights as Zamora steamrollered his way through the final 15 minutes of the game which brought Rangers three goals.
QPR had managed only weak penalty appeals in the 20 minutes before he arrived: Kelvin Wilson potentially handled accidentally after Lascelles had flicked a cross onto his team mate, but Ravel Morrison definitely dived – pathetically – under very little contact at all 20 minutes from time. The Forest fans were in fine voice up in the School End, hopeful of roaring their team onto a first win in 13 attempts, but they were to be let down by their players again. The light at the end of their tunnel merely a train coming towards them at speed.
With Zamora leading the line, and an extra-large Niko Kranjcar – seemingly freshly fished out of the vat of chocolate mousse he's been wallowing in for the last few months – introduced instead of Austin and Hoilett, whose piano wire hamstring let him down once again, chances and goals came thick and fast.
First a cute header from Assou-Ekotto got Ravel Morrison into space in the penalty area and Darlow had to make a wonderful finger tip save to stop a chipped effort dropping into the bottom corner from a tight angle. Zamora closed on the loose ball but could only hit the base of the post at full stretch. That was a moment of redemption for Darlow whose erratic display was crowned by a wild kicking game that placed those in both side stands in permanent danger of coffee spillage.
Then Kranjcar just about manoeuvred his ample frame into a shooting position eight minutes from time but the ball dipped and swerved onto, rather than into, the roof of the net from 25 yards. The resulting corner from Carroll was cleared but Henry returned the ball to the penalty area and the pressure was maintained by Nedum Onuoha first retrieving the ball when a goal kick looked certain, and then holding his onside position in the area long enough to receive a lovely reverse pass from Carroll that he was able to spectacularly sweep across Darlow and into the far corner with a fine first time shot.
Forest had sent on Jonathan Greening, Ben Osborn and Darius Henderson to pursue a victory by this stage, and yet more rank bad defending from set pieces would have resulted in a third equaliser when the impressive Derbyshire stole in at the near post to head for goal but this time Robert Green was equal to it.
And the R's celebrated their let off with two well worked goals in injury time. First Zamora outmuscled and out paced Wilson (time to consider alternative careers when that's happening to you) and square the ball to Morrison in the area where the West Ham loanee tricked two defenders and the goalkeeper into thinking he was going to curl it into the far corner with his left foot before checking back onto his right, and then seeking that corner out with a reverse shot anyway. Cool, calm, classy finish, giving the impression that he had much more time and space on the ball than was really the case.
When Benayoun then found Morrison with his back to goal 50 yards out with an accurate low pass out of the QPR half the England youth international was then able to turn the ball around the corner, race away from his man and lay a square pass into the path of Zamora who perhaps would have been denied by Darlow had he caught his first time volley cleanly but in actual fact wrong footed the keeper totally with a scuffed effort that bounced into the net for number five.
Flattering on QPR perhaps, but they were good value for the win and only really let down by an inability to defend set pieces. In open play Forest offered little – Rob Green made a decent one handed save from Lansbury in the first half, and needed two attempts to gather a 25 yarder from Gonzalo Jara in the second, but other than that only the terror of watching carnage develop in front of him under dead ball deliveries from wide troubled him.
QPR looked much more like a Harry Redknapp team. The R's passed positively, progressively, forwards, with the agenda set by Henry and Carroll at the base of the midfield - that combination also played a key role in another of the team's best performances this season at Ipswich. They got the ball into wide areas where Assou-Ekotto and Hoilett were decent and Danny Simpson was exceptional. They pressed for goals rather than possession and scored a fourth and fifth when previously they may have just held possession on half way. There was pace and purpose and vim and vigour about the R's in the final 20 minutes and it made a refreshing change. Forest's awfulness qualifies the success slightly, and perhaps further reinforces the idea that rangers are flat track bullies, happy to stick their hand up when the scent of low hanging fruit fills the air but quick to bottle out when the going gets tough - but this was very much needed at the end of a poor week.
Plenty to concern, plenty to admire – but, most importantly in the context of the season, fantastically entertaining. More please.
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QPR: Green 6; Simpson 8, Dunne 6, Onuoha 6, Assou-Ekotto 7; Carroll 7, Jenas 6 (Henry 13, 7); Benayoun 8, Morrison 7, Hoilett 7 (Kranjcar 77, 6); Austin 5 (Zamora 73, 8)
Subs not used: Keane, Suk-Young, Hughes, Murphy
Goals: Benayoun 1 (assisted Carroll), Hoilett 43 (assisted Carroll/Benayoun), Onuoha 84 (assisted Carroll), Morrison 90+1 (assisted Zamora), Zamora 90+3 (assisted Morrison)
Forest: Darlow 4; Halford 6, Lascelles 6, Wilson 5, Fox 5; Peltier 5, Jara 6 (Greening 65, 5); Lansbury 5 (Osborn 65, 6), Mackie 5, Cox 5 (Henderson 74, 5); Derbyshire 7
Subs not used: Harding, de Vries, Gomes, Vaughan
Goals: Lascelles 37 (assisted Lansbury), Derbyshire 75 (assisted Osborn)
QPR Star Man – Danny Simpson 8 Plenty of candidates for this for a change, but I thought Simpsn was terrific at right back, offering vital input in defence and attack.
Referee – Oliver Langford (West Midlands) 7 Lenient – with Henry and Lansbury in their clash before half time, with Halford who fouled repeatedly, with Cox who dived in the first half, and Morrison who did likewise in the second. But overall, unfussy and calm, allowing a decent game to flow. No key decisions wrong.
Attendance – 17,220 (1,400 Forest approx)
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Pictures – Action Images
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