Austin’s late special drags QPR over the line – report
Tuesday, 22nd Apr 2014 23:47 by Clive Whittingham
A last minute goal from Charlie Austin gave QPR a barely deserved 2-1 win against Watford at Loftus Road on Bank Holiday Monday.
It’s facetious and unfair to suggest that a manager of Harry Redknapp’s experience and standing in the sport is indeed selecting his starting elevens for these final few meaningless league games using a tombola machine, or other method of random draw, however it may appear to the layman.
His critics may say it appears as if Redknapp doesn’t actually know what he’s doing at the moment – wild fluctuations in starting elevens, and systems, suggest he doesn’t know his best team, or even the shape he wants it to play in. Deeply concerning on the face of it with the play-off semi-finals now just two games away.
On Bank Holiday Monday at Loftus Road, with Watford ordering a round from the last chance saloon on their own promotion hopes, changes were run once again: eight new faces from Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at champions Leicester, and another new system with a return to the wing back set up that has rarely worked when used this season but does mean that Nedum Onuoha, Clint Hill and Richard Dunne can all be selected at centre back and save that two from three headache.
But I think he does have a plan, however flawed it may appear. Redknapp has spoken time and time again about how injuries have derailed a title challenge that was originally going to be built on an attacking set up with Junior Hoilett and Matt Phillips crossing balls for Charlie Austin. All three have been out for prolonged periods of time and QPR’s form without them has been poor. The tactic now seems to be to nurse as many of the walking wounded back to fitness, and keep the rest ticking over but not tired.
Results are largely immaterial, QPR will almost certainly finish fourth and play Wigan, so in theory Redknapp can indeed just sling the likes of Luke Young out there to keep players like Dunne rested and Joey Barton free of suspension for the real quiz in May. Rangers have taken four points from Wigan so far this season without conceding a goal which, given their abject record against the rest of the teams in the top six, in theory makes Uwe Rosler’s side ideal opponents in the semi-final. QPR found a way to beat them at Loftus Road despite being second best for long periods and I’d say that a similar system, with similar personnel, will be used when they meet again regardless of anything that may happen in the meantime.
So there is potentially a coherent plan and strategy to all this current nonsense after all: QPR will be fully fit apart from Ale Faurlin and Matt Phillips; they will be rested; they will have confidence from taking four points against Wigan and they’ll be playing opponents who have had a long run in the FA Cup and Europe and had to fight their way into the top six from a low starting point.
But this is risky stuff. It’s often a wise move to place money on the form team to win the play-offs, rather than the one that bobbed around the top six all season and narrowly missed out on the top two who now potentially sees the end of season knock out as a bit of a booby prize. QPR currently have mediocre form, despite grinding out a win against Watford from what was largely a very poor performance. They’re also in danger of going into an intense two-legged semi-final with a starting 11 that hasn’t played together for months, in a shape they’ve only used on odd occasions in recent weeks, and being expected to just click and turn it on.
The R’s have zero continuity and little momentum. That’s rarely made for a successful play-off recipe in the past.
On Monday they were second best to the Hornets for the first hour of the game. Watford have had a tough season, hamstrung by a run of defeats through the winter that cost manager Gianfranco Zola his job, but on this evidence they’re a far better team than a thirteenth place starting position suggests.
QPR may have had all three senior centre backs on show, but none of them could cope with Troy Deeney’s power in the air and hold up and lay game – if he could finish he’d surely be a Premier League player by now. And the R’s may have started with two deeper lying midfiedlers – Barton and Little Tom Carroll – but neither could get to grips with the roving presence of Lewis McGugan who was the outstanding player on the pitch for an hour before he was substituted – a decision which had a profound effect on the visitors’ performance.
They were leading at that stage – Deeney nodded a ball down in the area just before the hour as he’d done so often and Richard Dunne was turned far too easily by Mathias Ranegie who gleefully smashed an unstoppable shot past Robert Green.
And it was only thanks to QPR’s former England goalkeeper that this wasn’t a game-sealing third or fourth goal rather than merely a deadlock breaker. After nine minutes he’d sprawled to his right and produced a fantastic one handed save as Deeney, one on one with Onuoha, unloaded a low shot towards the bottom corner from the edge of the area. That was Watford’s third decent chance of the game already, with the time still in single figures, with Deeney shooting over after being found at the near post with a low cross and McGugan blasting off target from a range that became his trademark while at Nottingham Forest.
Then after the break Deeney tried a Van Basten/Cureton style volley from a tight angle at the School End that Green got a strong fist to and punched behind for a corner.
Roared on by their animated Italian manager on the touchline, and a boisterous travelling support, Watford looked sharper, more energetic, more committed, with more purpose and far more idea about what exactly it was they were supposed to be doing.
The R’s weren’t helped by a baffling insistence on taking every set piece they were awarded quickly, long before their three giant centre backs made it into the area. When playing so poorly, and finding chances hard to come by, spurning such an obvious chance to deliver some quality into a crowded area is mind boggling, and it’s not the first time this season QPR have used attacking free kicks as little more than an excuse to complete another five or six passes which often get them no further forward than where the set piece was placed in the first place, and alarmingly often end up with a back pass all the way back to Robert Green.
I know Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez are making it trendy to pass the ball to death, but Liverpool and Everton do so with a real purpose and we saw at the weekend that even the Toffees are happy to go direct when the opposition weakness dictates. Watford’s pre-match report said they were weak in wide areas defending crosses, and yet here QPR were getting all tippy tappy over their own free kicks. It is still ok, in the modern game, to deliver a free kick long into a crowded penalty area. The Spaniards won’t laugh at us for doing so, promise. Now put some clothes on emperor for goodness sake.
While Sannino will have won friends and admirers in W12 for his team’s style, and his touchline antics, the decision to remove McGugan – which was surely injury related – proved to be his undoing. QPR made changes of their own a short time later, sending on Junior Hoilett for Simpson and taking off Kevin Doyle - hard working but ineffective on his return from injury – and sending on super sub Bobby Zamora. Wing back system mercifully abandoned, the game was never the same again.
Suddenly Almunia was having to make genuine saves – flinging himself to his left to palm away a low shot on the turn from Charlie Austin. QPR carried purpose and threat for the first time – Armand Traore accelerated right through the heart of the Watford defence at break-neck speed after being freed by Barton but in the end his shot was blocked.
With 18 minutes to go Almunia did the old Tony Roberts trick of building a wall to protect his goal from a free kick on the edge of the box – Ravel Morrison tripped by Ranegie when he really looked like he was running up a blind alley – and then standing directly behind it. It was all the invitation Joey Barton needed, and he curled in the equaliser from 20 yards in similar style to a goal he scored at Reading earlier in the campaign. Barton had given the ball away cheaply time and time again before this, but he provided the much needed piece of quality to draw QPR back into the game.
Watford weren’t noticeably discouraged and could easily have won the game when Green came for a cross with one hand, and then embarked on a fool’s mission chasing the resulting loose ball around the penalty area. Nedum Onuoha was one of three defenders with the foresight to retreat back onto the line and he spared his keeper’s blushes with a fine clearing header as McGugan’s replacement Battocchio teed up Almen Abdi for a shot at goal. When Clint Hill missed a through ball completely you’d have put your house on Deeney to score but, with the linesman’s flag up, he shot wide.
The Hornets committed men to the penalty box for a corner in the last minute of normal time as well but their optimism brought only a season ending goal at the other end as Hoilett broke down the right and sent a crossfield pass that had Austin, Morrison and Zamora all steaming forward with limited opposition. Austin initially tried to play in Morrison who seemed to be felled in the area but referee James Linington waited long enough for Zamora to touch the ball back to Austin and he scored his first goal since January with a precision shot from 20 yards out, around Almunia and into the far corner.
A magnificent counter attack goal, a tremendous finish, his sixteenth goal of the season from 32 appearances, bizarrely celebrated with Austin jumping onto the back of an unsuspecting steward on the South Africa Road side of the ground.
It was reminiscent of a clutch of league games from the first half of the season where QPR were average, on a par with or perhaps even worse than their opponents, but possessed just enough quality – often through Austin – to grind out a win anyway. That’s a good trait for play-off football and perhaps Harry Rednapp’s plan – if it does indeed exist – doesn’t stretch much further than making sure the former Burnley striker is fit enough for 180 minutes in five days.
While Austin is out there, however poorly he and QPR are playing, they always have a chance of winning.
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QPR: Green 7; Simpson 6 (Hoilett 72, 7), Dunne 5, Onuoha 7, Hill 6, Traore 6; Carroll 6, Barton 6, Morrison 6; Austin 6 (Henry 90+1, -), Doyle 5 (Zamora 72, 7)
Subs not used: Keane, Suk-Young, Hughes, Murphy
Goals: Barton 76 (free kick won Morrison), Austin 90 (assisted Zamora)
Bookings: Austin 85 (foul)
Watford: Almunia 6; Angella 6, Cassetti 6, Ekstrand 6; Riera 6, Abdi 6, Tozser 7, McGugan 8 (Battocchio 63, 5), Pudil 6; Deeney 7, Ranegie 6
Subs not used: Merkel, Doyley, Murray, Faraoni, Bond, Hoban
Goals: Ranegie 51 (assisted Deeney)
Bookings: Riera 51 (foul), Ranegie 57 (foul), Abdi 59 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Nedum Onuoha 7 Had to be at his best with Troy Deeney in great form, backed by McGugan in a deeper lying role, and with little support from Richard Dunne who is getting worse with every passing game now and looks like a potential liability for the play offs on this form.
Referee – James Linington (Isle of Wight) 8 Three quick fire Watford bookings before the hour were arguably a result of him not showing one earlier and calming down a increasingly frenetic visiting team – poor game management – but otherwise he went about his work sensibly, with a smile on his face, and didn’t get involved in the game unduly.
Attendance -16,951 (1,800 Watford approx) Loud, boisterous travelling support from Watford in contrast to an almost entirely silent home crowd. Hopefully things will liven up a little bit for the play-offs. Millwall’s visit on Saturday should certainly provide a tasty warm up.
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