Eat, sleep, rave, repeat – report
Sunday, 27th Apr 2014 23:12 by Clive Whittingham
A typical QPR performance seemed set to bring them another win at home to Millwall on Saturday before Joey Barton and Rob Green contrived to gift Millwall a last minute equaliser.
Queens Park Rangers 1 Millwall 1 – the archetypal QPR performance of the 2013/14 campaign.
Firstly, changes to the starting 11 before the match.
Kevin Doyle and Armand Traore dropped out – the former to the bench and the latter altogether – and the shape of the team was altered again as Harry Redknapp abandoned his wing back system in favour of a more conventional 4-2-3-1 set up. It remains unclear what starting eleven, and perhaps more importantly what shape, will be chosen for the forthcoming play-off semi finals and perhaps that’s Redknapp’s purpose in this steady rotation of personnel: keep the opposition guessing. Problem is, it seems to be confusing the QPR players just as much.
You’re more likely to find a racially tolerant member of the Terry family than an unchanged QPR starting 11 these days so it was no surprise to see the pack shuffled again. Clint Hill started at left back, despite his advancing years and cement-mixer ankles, which suggests either Benoit Assou-Ekotto has finally shot his bolt with a daft sending off at Leicester after six months of lackadaisical, carefree, careless play, or Redknapp is still absolutely determined to start with Richard Dunne regardless of who else has to miss out and despite the Irishman’s rapidly declining level of performance.
On occasions it looked like the R’s were really going to click into gear. A wonderful, flowing counter attack in the twenty first minute came to a premature end when Ravel Morrison selfishly shot when he had better options for a pass. Later Morrison went a lot closer with a spectacular diving header that goalkeeper David Forde did well to parry aside from directly above his head. Super Size Niko Kranjcar lumbered in down the left on the half hour and drew a save from Forde who had to smother the rebound at Charlie Austin’s feet and then Austin took a fresh air shot at a through ball from Yossi Benayoun on the end of another eye-catching passing move. After half time Joey Barton volleyed wide after executing a neat one two with Austin.
But quite often this season QPR have resembled a strong man contender struggling to knock over a pile of feathers. You look at the attributes available to them and struggle to believe they can be so stilted and ineffective, but you see it with your own eyes so you have to believe it.
It’s a criticism you could also easily level at Saturday’s visitors to W12, Millwall. Looking through Ian Holloway’s starting 11, which matched QPR 4-2-3-1, there were familiar names and talented players who have done well in this league before: striker Steve Morison used wide on the right has scored goals prolifically and commanded big transfer fees; Owen Garvan had impressive spells with Ipswich and Palace; Martyn Woolford impressed in a Scunthorpe side which punched above its weight; Nicky Bailey cost Middlesbrough £1m before he got fat; Carlos Edwards was bought for big money by Premier League Sunderland once upon a time. Richard Chaplow, Ed Upson and Danny Shittu were all unavailable.
There is some dreck in this league this season – Barnsley, Birmingham, Blackpool, Charlton – and there are some teams trying to compete on a budget that would barely cover a family of five’s weekly shop – Yeovil Town. Millwall, on paper, should be doing a lot better than they are. As it stands, they go into the final game of the season with relegation a distinct possibility.
Here they spurned countless chances to win the game. In the opening minute Garvan ran in behind Danny Simpson far too easily and crossed for giant striker Stefan Maierhoffer to head wide at full stretch. Maierhoffer later drew a leg save from Green from a tight angle. Then Lee Martin volleyed wide after Niko Kranjcar had conceded possession – three minutes later Martin was carted off in a body bag after a clash with well-known hard man and head case Little Tom Carroll who looked as surprised as anybody that he’d actually managed to hurt somebody. Morison came on as his replacement.
That interrupted Millwall’s promising early start, and they had only a ridiculous 45 yard attempt from Maierhoffer and a shameless piece of play acting from Alan Dunne – dying on the floor one moment and then miraculously up and about again seconds later when it was clear his attempt to get Joey Barton sent off for treading on him accidentally had failed – to show for their first half efforts.
But they could and should have led at half time when Woolford was able to turn leaden footed Richard Dunne all too easily in first half stoppage time only to be denied by a fine save from Robert Green in a one on one situation. Rangers needn’t think they’ll get so lucky with chances like that in the play-offs and the case for Dunne to be left out in the knock-outs is growing stronger. Nedum Onuoha alongside him was excellent once again, as he continues to work himself into an undroppable position.
In the second half Holloway took off Maierhoffer, who didn’t look impressed with the decision, and sent on Simeon Jackson who was a key part of Norwich’s promotion squad in this league three years ago. He looks badly short of confidence these days though – firing one effort high over the bar when placed to do better, and then lacking conviction when through on goal and played onside by Dunne.
Thirdly, despite a rather laboured showing, QPR looked like they would win the game regardless thanks to striker Charlie Austin, just as they’ve done so often this season.
The former Burnley man opened the scoring with a quarter of an hour left to play in circumstances eerily reminiscent of an FA Cup fifth round tie between these sides on this ground back in 1995. On that occasion the Lions’ Damien Webber inexplicably thrust up an arm to deflect an Andy Impey cross away from danger in the Loft End penalty box and Clive Wilson stepped up to slam home a winner from 12 yards in stoppage time. This time it was Jackson who put his hand in the air and palmed the ball away from Ravel Morrison and referee Kevin Friend pointed straight to the spot. Forde, whose erratic performance and wild kicking made it something of a surprise that he was only beaten once from 12 yards in the whole game, was booked for delaying Austin’s kick which was nevertheless dispatched into the bottom corner with a minimum of fuss.
Rangers had only managed long range shots over the bar from Carroll and Morrison, and a header from Austin that dropped straight into Forde’s hands, prior to that but the return of the talismanic lone striker from injury means that however insipid the Super Hoops are, they always stand a chance of winning the game.
Where things are different now from the beginning of the season is at the back. Rangers kept a club record eight consecutive clean sheets earlier in the season, and have 17 shut outs overall this campaign which is second only to Brighton in the entire division. In a 12 match unbeaten run at the start of the year, poor performances were usually turned into victories by a combination of resolute defending and goals from Austin. This match felt very much like September’s trip to Yeovil where the R’s won 1-0 with an Austin penalty a quarter of an hour from the end.
But the clean sheets have dried up of late – just one in the last ten and none in the last seven – and Rangers concocted a ludicrous stoppage time equaliser for the visitors here as well.
Millwall had threatened – Nedum Onuoha harshly penalised by Friend for a good tackle on the edge of the box and Shaun Williams chipped a delicate effort onto the bar from 20 yards with Green motionless then Carroll threw in a fine block as he continued his unusually tenacious defensive display. But there seemed little danger when, in the first of four added minutes at the end of the game, the ball fell loose on the edge of the penalty box.
Little danger because Joey Barton - who is held in terribly high esteem by a section of the QPR support and, of course, himself – seemed a clear favourite to get to the ball first. Even once he’d totally bottled making any kind of tackle on Scott Malone – just as he did for George Friend’s opening goal for Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium in March – there still seemed a lot for the Millwall man to do. He launched an improvised looping effort on goal that seemed to be going over until Robert Green, bizarrely, flapped the ball down into his own goal having reached for the shot with the wrong hand.
Maybe QPR might not be that good after all – relative to the players they have at their disposal – after another uninspiring game in Shepherd’s Bush. But a league position of fourth, and just two defeats on this ground all regular season long, says that’s simply not true.
They remain a frustrating team to watch though and with the defence now leaking goals steadily, rather than regularly, they may make life difficult for themselves in the end of season knock out. I’m tempted to say we’ll find out about them once and for all in the play-offs but I’ve been promising ‘jam tomorrow’ on that front all season and am now resigned to the idea that we’re forever going to look back on 2013/14 and be completely unsure what exactly QPR’s game plan and style was, and whether they were actually any good or not.
Could always be worse though – Millwall could well need a result from Bournemouth at The Den next week to stay up and haven’t won at home in nine attempts.
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QPR: Green 5; Simpson 6, Dunne 5, Onuoha 7, Hill 6; Barton 6, Carroll 6; Benayoun 6 (Hoilett 63, 6), Morrison 6, Kranjcar 5 (Zamora 74, 6); Austin 6 (Doyle 84, -)
Subs not used: Suk-Young, Hughes, Henry, Murphy
Goals: Austin 76 (penalty, Jackson handball)
Bookings: Onuoha 84 (foul)
Millwall: Forde 4; Edwards 6, Dunne 5, Beevers 6, Malone 6; Bailey 6, Williams 6; Martin 6 (Morison 16, 6), Garvan 6 (McDonald 65, 6), Woolford 6; Maierhoffer 6 (Jackson 53, 3)
Subs not used: Robinson, Easter, Abdou, Bywater
Goals: Malone 90+1 (unassisted)
Bookings: Beevers 59 (foul), Forde 76 (dissent)
QPR Star Man – Nedum Onuoha 7 While Richard Dunne’s performances decline, Nedum Onuoha’s keep getting better. He has to be one of the first names on the team sheet for the semi-final on current form.
Referee – Kevin Friend (Leicestershire) 8 Ian Holloway complained about the penalty afterwards, saying nobody appealed for it and it wouldn’t have been given against sides other than Millwall, but he’s wrong and it was definitely a spot kick. Friend did well to spot it, and refereed the game reasonably well overall.
Attendance – 15,725 (1,500 Millwall approx) The desire to rush onto the pitch at the end of the final few home games of the season is a mystery to me – particularly as we definitely have another home match to come – and an unfortunate incident where a young supporter slipped and crashed into Mark Beevers sitting on the floor in the penalty box could bring a sizable fine for the club. Millwall came, made a lot of noise, postured a bit, but had a police officer each and so their visit passed off with few incidents.
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