Austin's fluffed line starts QPR off with a defeat - report
Sunday, 17th Aug 2014 22:47 by Clive Whittingham
QPR, once again, lost their opening game of a Premier League season on Saturday, continuing a winless run that goes right back to the league's formation with a 1-0 set back against Hull City.
For Charlie Austin, perhaps it was just a little too perfect. For QPR, a reminder – as if one were needed – about the harsh realities of Premier League life.
Had things been slightly different, Austin could have been lining up on the Hull City side at Loftus Road on Saturday as Rangers made their return to the top division after 12 months away. A year ago Hull City were the new boys and manager Steve Bruce, who was played the transfer market expertly since he arrived at the KC Stadium, wanted Austin to be his headline summer capture to lead the Tigers line.
It would have been the latest chapter of a boy's own story for the former brick layer who had worked his way up through the sport from non-league Poole and Hugerford to the Championship with Burnley where he scored 45 times in 88 appearances. The £5m move collapsed at the last minute in mysterious circumstances – a failed medical examination turning up a childhood knee operation that Austin himself had forgotten all about.
That worked out well for QPR, who have in the past not bothered having medical examinations of new signings, and don’t tend to be too thorough with them when they do. The R’s brought Austin to Loftus Road and rode back to the Premier League on the back of his 20 goal campaign, which included two crucial strikes in a play-off semi final against Wigan. When the Tigers turned out to be QPR’s first day opposition, Austin will have afforded himself a wry grin and when referee Craig Pawson harshly penalised the visitors’ excellent centre half James Chester for handball in his own area five minutes from time the script seemed written.
Austin, who scored five out of five from the spot in 2013/14, grasped the ball immediately to his chest while Hull protested the decision, and looked confident as he stepped up at the Loft End, but Hull goalkeeper Alan McGregor and his understudy Steve Harper had picked up a quirk of Austin’s run up in their pre-match homework that can give away the direction of his kicks and the Scottish stopped saved the ball low to his right. Not only that but, crucially, he managed to scoop away the rebound with his trailing leg. Rangers’ centre forward will have to wait another week at least for a first ever Premier League goal.
Hull will claim that justice was done. Chester’s hand had been down by his side and made no deliberate move towards the ball when he was penalised for blocking a cross from substitute Junior Hoilett. Whether the penalty decision from Pawson, a relative newcomer to the top division himself after promotion last season, signifies a change in interpretation from the “unnatural position” understanding we seemed to have reached last season, and a move towards the way they work in La Liga where penalties are awarded for the ball striking the hand regardless of position, intent or distance from the player only time will tell but it seemed like a harsh call to me.
The Tigers actually seemed to have a stronger shout for a penalty themselves in the first half, when Croatian striker Nikica Jelavic hit the deck under heavy, clumsy contact from Armand Traore who shouldered his man in the back and trod on his right ankle as they competed for loose possession in the right channel.
As it was, Austin’s mess enabled Chester to bask in the glory of a job well done. He scored the only goal of the game six minutes after half time, acrobatically shaping his body in midair to connect powerfully with a corner and head past Rob Green who had no chance of saving from such close range. Rio Ferdinand, who’d been excellent on his QPR debut to that point, was guilty of loosing Chester as Rangers’ struggles at defensive set pieces continued from last season into this. That crowned a man of the match performance from Chester who, like Curtis Davies before him, really seems to be benefiting from being managed by former Man Utd centre half Bruce.
The win would have been more emphatic had Rob Green not rushed from his line to make a fine one-on-one save from another debutant Tom Ince, who thought he’d sold the keeper to his left only for Green to thrust out a leg and divert his shot to his right away to safety. A splendid piece of goalkeeping which kept Rangers in the game.
But Hull were flattered by a one goal win and any more would have been incredibly harsh on QPR who can be reasonably pleased with their opening day showing here. The R’s have never been strong starters since the inception of the Premier League – failing to win their opening day fixture in the top flight in seven attempts – and prior to this fixture had lost their first home games of top flight campaigns 3-0 (Wimbledon, 1995/96), 4-0 (Bolton, 2011/12) and 5-0 (Swansea, 2012/13). By those standards, a 1-0 setback represents progress and for long periods the R’s looked like a far more accomplished side than the at-times dreary outfit which laboured in the Championship last season despite having the division’s highest playing budget by some considerable distance.
Lining up in a new 3-5-2 set up with wing backs, Rangers looked settled and comfortable from the off. Ferdinand, but for his mistake for the goal, would have been on obvious man of the match contender, marshelling the three man centre back set up superbly, reading the game faultlessly, constantly stepping in front of Jelavic to starve him of possession and using the ball well when he received it to feet. New signing Steven Caulker looked accomplished alongside him and while most would prefer Nedum Onuoha to make up that trio, Richard Dunne did not look out of place on his return to the big league.
Left wing back looks like the ideal position for Armand Traore, who has always been too attacking to be considered a genuine full back, but Danny Simpson struggled on the opposite side and will face a tough task to hold onto his place in the team ahead of new signing Mauricio Isla who will start at Spurs next Sunday paperwork pending. Shaun Wright-Phillips’ concerningly large amount of pre-season minutes thankfully seems to be a ploy to get him fit and try to trick somebody stupid into final taking him off QPR’s hands, rather than because Harry Redknapp intends to use him at all this season.
In midfield the R’s were guided around the park superbly for the first hour by the returning Ale Faurlin. This is his second comeback from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament injury in two years and the signs are already more promising than first time around. Back then he looked noticeably heavier and slower, miles off the pace initially and, crucially, seemed to have lost his ability to win balls in the air which had been a key strength in his game prior to the injury and an important asset in a physical Premier League. This time he’s come back lean, fit, and looks back to something like his best – although he visibly tired and wilted after an hour here allowing Hull to take the game over for 15 minutes in the second half. He’s winning headers again, suggesting no physical or psychological hangover, which bodes well. Touch wood.
Further forward Loic Remy is still at Loftus Road, and started here despite not featuring at all during the pre-season campaign. He looked sharp, and quick, causing Hull problems with his movement and touch, but should probably have done better with a late one on one chance against McGregor where he allowed the keeper to save above his head when he should have gone low into the corners, albeit from an acute angle.
The game was initially punctuated by a series of corners and Rangers went closest to breaking the deadlock when Faurlin dragged a low shot wide after the ball had dropped in the Hull are provoking a scramble down at the School End. Austin’s opportunism, robbing McGregor of possession in the area, created a chance for another new boy Jordon Mutch but he missed the target.
At the midway point of the first half a terrific pass from Joey Barton gave Remy a chance to turn inside Davies and extract the game’s first yellow card. The free kick was well right of centre and seemed ideally placed for Faurlin’s left foot only for Barton to step forward and try to curl it right round the wall and into the net on the keeper’s blind side. Shane Warne in his prime couldn’t have turned a ball that far and the attempt was pure ego. As I feared when Barton scored a fine dipping free kick at Leyton Orient in pre-season, he’s clearly going to insist on taking absolutely every dead ball that Rangers get this season and his execution of a range of set pieces here was wildly inconsistent.
When he did get one right, from a corner three minutes before half time, Steven Caulker’s powerful downward header was cleared away by a defender on the line. That happened in the second half too when Rio Ferdinand diverted a Charlie Austin header towards goal, but QPR don’t believe in having men on the posts when it’s their turn to defend set pieces and that cost them dearly here.
The momentum seemed to be leaning more and more towards QPR as the first half drew to a close with Loic Remy at the heart of a lot of their good work. The powerful Frenchman crossed for Jordon Mutch to glance a header wide at the near post when he might have scored, then shortly after Jelavic’s penalty shout he drove a pure strike straight at McGregor. He hit the deck appealing for a spot kick of his own just before half time but Pawson, rightly, showed no interest.
Hull decided Southampton’s £12m was too good an offer to turn down for striker Shane Long during the week leaving them short up front with Matty Fryatt heading to Nottingham Forest during the summer and Yannick Sabo suspended for this one. They’ll certainly add more players before the close of the transfer at the end of the month – they’ll have to, with European football coming to the city for the first time this year – and at times looked like a bit of a work in progress here. Their task was made all the more difficult by enforced early changes with summer signing Robert Snodgrass forced off after half an hour to be replaced by Stephen Quinn and Alex Bruce going the same way at half time necessitating the introduction of Paul McShane.
QPR growing in confidence, Hull losing two of their starters, pressure growing on McGregor’s goal, and a stirring half time address from boxer Mark Prince, father of murdered QPR youth-teamer Kiyan, all seemed to be pointing to one, positive result. But in actual fact those changes, particularly the first one, worked in Hull’s favour because Quinn was superb when he came on and with Faurlin visibly tiring in the QPR midfield the away side were able to take the game over for a good quarter of an hour after they’d taken the lead. The Ince one on one situation, caused by Richard Dunne leaving his post unattended to chase a lost cause followed quickly by a superb pass from Jelavic that took Ferdinand out of the game, was their best chance but by no means their only threat.
Rangers needed fresh legs and impetus. Redknapp replaced Danny Simpson, who;d struggled, with Matt Phillips, who looked extremely rusty after missing all of 2014 so far with a fractured ankle. Junior Hoilett came on for the spent Faurlin and later play-off final hero Bobby Zamora joined Austin and Remy in attack having replaced Richard Dunne. Hull replaced Ince with Meyler and set their stall out to hold onto what they had for the final quarter of an hour.
The question was, could QPR find a way through? Chester produced a fine clearing header to deny Remy a close range chance from a fine Phillips cross and Jelavic was carded for a bad foul on Hoilett. Ferdinand saw his attempt from a corner cleared from the line and then three minutes from time Steven Caulker, who stayed up from an earlier corner, almost sniffed out a chance when Remy cleverly turned the ball back into the area. The Frenchman appeared to have laid an equaliser on a plate for Zamora in the final minute of normal time but the veteran target man was ponderous and slow when the chance required speed of thought and a first time shot and Chester got back to deny him a sight of goal. Remy tried himself in injury time only to be denied by McGregor. But it was Austin’s penalty that provided the Super Hoops’ best hope of redemption, and the miss which made it clear it wasn’t to be their day. QPR have now missed their last five top flight penalty kicks.
Plenty of positives to take, but given that Hull are a work in progress and – back three apart – looked fairly mediocre here this represents a big chance missed. QPR must be more clinical if they’re to fight their way to safety this season.
QPR: Green 7; Caulker 7, Ferdinand 7, Dunne 6 (Zamora 78, 5); Simpon 5 (Phillips 68, 5), Traore 6; Barton 6, Faurlin 6 (Hoilett 69, 6), Mutch 6; Remy 7, Austin 6
Subs not used: Henry, Onuoha, Hill, Murphy
Bookings: Dunne 68 (foul)
Hull: McGregor 8; Davies 7, Chester 8, Bruce 6 (McShane 45, 6); Robertson 6, Elmohamady 6; Huddlestone 6, Livermore 6, Snodgrass 6 (Quinn 40, 8); Ince 7 (Meyler 82, -), Jelavic 6
Subs not used: Brady, Figueroa, Harper, Aluko
Goals: Chester 52 (assisted Quinn)
Bookings: Davies 26 (foul), Jelavic 78 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Rio Ferdinand 7 An awkward one this, because can you give a man of the match award to the guy who ultimately cost QPR the crucial goal in the game? But if not Ferdinand, then who else? Remy? Played well but didn’t score. We’ll stick with Ferdinand I think – calm, composed, classy, and clearly crucial to the way QPR are going to play this season.
Referee – Craig Pawson (Sheffield) 5 Overall, I thought he had an excellent control of the game, allowing it to flow in an unfussy manner. The three bookings were all correct and you couldn’t pick fault with him for 88 minutes. But I thought Nikica Jelavic was fouled by Traore in the first half and that should have been a penalty, and the spot kick that QPR were awarded was incredibly harsh on James Chester. Two big decisions wrong in my opinion, equals a lower mark than his overall performance really deserved.
Attendance 17,603 (1,300 Hull) Such a shame that once again, at the behest of the Premier League, QPR have had to rip up yet more seats from an already limited capacity to provide yet more television camera positions (many of which sit unused even for the televised games) and another two banks of press benches in Ellerslie Road which, we’re told, will also be largely unusued except for when the “big clubs” are in town. These go with our new television studio on Ellerslie Road, which has also sat empty for 90% of the games since it was built two years ago. Loyal, paying football supporters who actually come to games, and in many cases have sat in seats and handed them down through families for generations, shit on once again by the “best league in the world”.
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Pictures – Action Images
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