A horribly familiar sinking feeling – report
Monday, 25th Aug 2014 23:34 by Clive Whittingham
QPR produced another of their special London derby capitulations at Spurs on Sunday, succumbing to a comprehensive 4-0 defeat that could have been twice as bad.
For the long-suffering QPR fans wedged into the corner of White Hart Lane, hopelessly exposed to the mocking of the jubilant Spurs fans all around, it felt rather like that moment the down-trodden wife of a serial cheater checks his text messages while he’s in the shower and finds out the bastard has been at it again.
There have been encouraging words, and big changes, since the R’s embarrassed themselves and those who devote their lives to following them around with a 2012/13 season that included just four wins from 38 league games. There have been 15 new permanent arrivals and at least as many loans, while 22 players have left. Only three of the players who started on Sunday did so for QPR’s last away game at this level at Liverpool 15 months ago.
The quality of QPR’s signings this summer seem in marked contrast to that ill-thought out plan to populate the club with ageing, big name stars. The Super Hoops add Maurcio Isla, Jordon Mutch and Steven Caulker to their ranks these days, not Ji-Sung Park, Julio Cesar and Jose Bosingwa. They’ve learnt their lesson, or so they say. Dare we dream again?
And then this. A total abomination of a performance, lacking in every facet of the game, offering no resistance at all to a rampant Tottenham team. It was every bit as bad as anything that happened during the relegation season, laced with all the lousy attitude, appalling body language and insipid play that came to define that campaign. As much as things change, they stay the same, it seems. With a Wembley win and seemingly faultless summer in the transfer market, optimism has been unusually high around Loftus Road of late, making this abject surrender all the more difficult to stomach. As ever, it’s the hope, not the disappointment, which kills you.
Harry Redknapp will curse his charges’ efforts on his first return to White Hart Lane since he was sacked in the summer of 2012. Redknapp achieved consecutive top-four finishes when manager here, and Champions League qualification, which chairman Daniel Levy craves and hasn’t been able to attain since. Although he played it down, ‘Arry must have hoped to niggle his former boss by wrecking the home debut of his latest successor Mauricio Pochettino. Perhaps he even allowed himself the odd daydream about standing on the touchline overseeing the closing stages of a famous win as Tottenham fans streamed towards the exits on all four sides of the ground. Instead he sat motionless on the bench as Pochettino’s well-drilled side tore QPR asunder.
The tone was set in the first minute – Armand Traore with a typically feckless blind pass on the edge of his own area that played the home team’s lone striker Emmanuel Adebayor into space but the Togo international saw his shot deflected wide. That hospitality continued as the time ticked into double figures – this time Richard Dunne handed possession over in a lethal area and Nabil Bentaleb crossed for Adebayor to plant a close range header over the bar when he should have scored.
The QPR fans have never really warmed to Redknapp, despite him successfully offloading the deadwood Meticulous Mark Hughes inflicted on the club, rebuilding the side, and returning it to the Premier League at the first time of asking. The football, for the most part, has been dull and uninspiring, and Rangers squeezed up through the play-offs while operating on the Championship’s biggest budget. Redknapp spent last season giving the impression he was somewhat bored by the second tier, coming to life only at the very end of the campaign when the TV cameras and crucial, do-or-die games returned.
Much of the good will he fostered with that magnificent May will have been burned off by this shambles.
QPR were noticeably slower in body and mind than their opponents. Every pass the visiting team played offered Tottenham a chance to regather possession – some were overhit, some underhit, some were in the air, some went directly to Tottenham players. There was no crispness, no sharpness, no thought or care taken with the passing on a pristine playing surface. On the rare occasions QPR did have the ball they seemed to be noticeably trying to slow the game down, but it just gave Tottenham a chance to close down spaces and snap into tackles. Literally every time Rangers passed the football it looked like they were about to give it away. Once they had conceded possession the R’s were yards off the pace, never close enough to an opponent to make a tackle. Tottenham’s third goal came at the end of a 48 pass move during which not one single QPR player had got within three yards of an opponent in possession to make a tackle. It was like watching a pub team.
Redknapp said afterwards his side lacked legs and energy, and he was exactly right. The question is why? The very least you should expect of a newly promoted side is it to be fit. Sure, QPR aren’t going to be able to afford and attract players of the calibre that Tottenham can and yes, they’re going to take some shellackings on the road this season like all the league’s lesser teams do, but there’s no excuse for not being as fit as the opposition. Not as good, fine, but QPR actually managed to cover less ground collectively in this game than Tottenham, despite the home team having 64% of the ball. Surely the bare minimum you can be, to give yourself half a chance at this level, is as fit as everybody else. You don’t need to be a £30m footballer to be fit.
The QPR manager has criticised the club’s pre-season programme. Again, why? Even when QPR were skint and kicking around in the two leagues below this they would get Ajax, Celtic, Tottenham, Chelsea down for pre-season games. Redknapp said the game against a bang average PAOK side at Loftus Road two weeks ago was the first time Rangers had played a decent team on a good pitch all summer. Why? Hull City go to Germany and play Schalke in a friendly. QPR go there and play two lower division teams in a village athletic stadium. Why? Why? Every summer our preparation seems to be noticeably inferior to the clubs we’re competing against.
Rangers have switched to a three at the back, wing-back formation this season, but already the personnel selection that’s going into it is mystifying. Richard Dunne, never a ball playing centre back ten-years ago and seemingly completely spent in the second half of last season when Redknapp said he was “running on fumes”, now pressed into service as the left sided centre back aged 34 while Nedum Onuoha sits on the bench. It’s not quite akin to picking a goalkeeper at left wing, but it’s not far away. Dunne can’t do it, with or without the ball. With it, he looks terrified, without it he looks like an old man in a particularly high-quality dads v lads match. Redknapp’s persistence with him must go on no longer than this game, where his withdrawal at half time was more mercy killing than substitution. If he continues to be selected in that position, in this system, at this level, the Premier League is going to fill its boots. Rangers will concede 100 goals. It’s borderline cruel to keep doing it to him.
What pre-season Rangers did have went very well for Junior Hoilett, who scored three times, looked like the club’s best attacking threat, and impressed playing as a withdrawn second striker behind a frontman. He was dropped for the opening game against Hull all the same, with Loic Remy recalled despite spending his off-season angling after a move to Liverpool and not playing a single minute of the friendly action. Remy is an exceptional talent, although having been left marooned up front by himself here with Charlie Austin out injured he noticeably chucked the towel in and stopped taking part after half time, so you could perhaps understand the decision. Playing Matt Phillips, another with limited summer action, ahead of Hoilett here though? Inexplicable. Phillips rewarded his manager with a dire display, littered with rank poor control of the ball, and headlined by a missed sitter when – having killed a rare fabulous pass from Joey Barton stone dead in the area and twisted Younes Kaboul inside out – he bizarrely decided to try and chip goalkeeper Hugo Lloris when the ball was crying out to be struck properly and succeeded only in spooning it into the home end.
Score there to equalise and the story could have been different, but not much. Tottenham had already taken the lead by that point, following their two near misses in the first ten minutes up with the opening goal after 12 – Remy crowded out of possession in attack, Nacer Chadli with so much time at the back post that he was able to pull Adebayor’s assist out of the air, draw Robert Green from his line and chip the ball home unchallenged.
Two minutes later Green had to improvise and palm Erik Lamela’s cross-shot away from under his bar. A minute after that a typically dreadful Joey Barton corner set the home team away on a counter that Armand Traore initially seemed to have done brilliantly to interrupt on the edge of his own box only to subsequently present the ball straight to Adebayor whose shot luckily flew straight at the overworked Rangers goalkeeper.
Spurs gave their visitors ten minutes of respite before Rio Ferdinand, tempted out of position by the weight of white shirts ahead of him, fouled Lamela 25 yards from goal and Christian Eriksen – all smart touches and game intelligence – whipped a trademark free kick over the wall, off the underside of the bar, and just about back into play.
This week Barton replaced his drilled low corners straight onto the head of the man at the near post with wide, sweeping, delicate, lofted balls into the danger area which mean that even when a teammate can win a header – and Steven Caulker does that far more often than he has a right to – they also have to generate the power and direction towards goal themselves. A long hard winter awaits if he’s going to continue to insist on taking every dead ball Rangers get.
But our beloved team aren’t just awful with attacking set pieces, they’re woeful at defending them as well. QPR conceded more goals from corners than any other team in the Championship last season and they’ve already shipped two in two games this. Despite bringing every man back into the box to defend, they still can’t find a body or two to man the posts, and for the second week in a row that cost them after half an hour here. QPR fans appealed for a handball in the build up to the corner being awarded – it looked a good shout – but they could have no excuse once Remy had failed to track a cross-box run from Eric Dier who scored his second goal in as many league games with a powerful near post header. Man on the post, and it’s not a goal, even with the pathetic marking.
Five minutes later and Tottenham were permitted to put together the thick end of 50 passes unchallenged before eventually Dunne stepped out of the line sending the whole defensive shape imploding in on itself as Lamela ran smoothly across the face of the area unchecked before chipping a ball back into the centre of the penalty box for Chadli to power in a second unmarked. That was astonishingly inept. Absolutely pathetic.
Leroy Fer, signed from Norwich during the week, was thrown in from the start immediately despite a lack of training and game time since the World Cup, and a lack of contact with his new team, and Ale Faurlin being QPR’s best midfield player for the first hour of the game against Hull, and the entirety of the PAOK game. The Dutchman looked leggy, languid and ineffective.
Danny Simpson, one of the players of last season, was rewarded for that by being dropped immediately for Mauricio Isla. The Chilean will surely get a good deal better than this showing – always three or four yards away from his man, allowing crosses to come into his penalty area unchecked time after time after time.
QPR were horribly open and exposed. Tottenham calmly outnumbered the wing-backs three to one one both sides, and simply switched the ball quickly and precisely from one side of the field to the other. It was swift and fluid, in stark contrast to QPR’s laboured, casual, clueless attempts at the same. Rangers were totally unable to deal with the transition from left to right or vice versa. It was like shelling peas. Pochettino stood as close to the touchline as he could get, directing, demanding, gesturing, yelling – a constant, noisy presence, there with his team. Harry Redknapp and his coaches sat completely motionless on the bench for the entire game, offering no input during play whatsoever. At 2-0 down the QPR manager responded to the home fan’s request for a wave. In the second half, at 4-0, he did so again, to a smattering of boos from the away end. Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but a thoroughly daft thing to do, and entirely disrespectful to those who’d paid £40 to get in and see his team put on that display. Like I say, fuel is leaking from the Redknapp good will tank.
The whole shemozzle was probably best summed up by Christian Eriksen casually wandering into the area unmarked in receipt of a simple long throw in just before half time – he set up Adebayor who, somehow, missed a golden chance to add a fourth. Tottenham played the majority of their corners short, and QPR were caught cold by it every single time. Two on one every time. Every time. Like they’d never seen a short corner routine before. Like it was a complete surprise to them. And, again, this is with all 11 players back in the penalty box and nobody on the posts. Amateur.
The introduction of Onuoha to the back line at half time, and an abandonment of the wing back system in favour of what, at times, seemed to be a flat back six instead, steadied the ship somewhat, although Spurs had the game won by this point and played the second half in park. Caulker headed an early Rangers corner wide, Ferdinand showed his experience and strength to shrug Lamela off a half chance from an Adebayor through ball, and Eriksen lashed over from distance.
Anthony Taylor, with nothing to referee all afternoon, blotted his copybook with a booking for Leroy Fer when the Duchman had no choice but to launch a challenge – slightly mistimed – for a loose ball in the Spurs goal mouth. A referee with no feel or understanding of the sport he’s paid to control on that evidence.
Moussa Dembélé added fresh quality to the home midfield that QPR could well have done without, but the long overdue introduction of Faurlin – a midfielder who can and does tackle, win headers and pass the ball properly – boosted Rangers still further.
They couldn’t hold the score to three though. The away end faithful had become restless following several occasions where crosses were delivered into the home penalty box, or the ball bounced in dangerous areas, only for neither Phillips nor Remy to be anywhere in the vicinity. Phillips looked entirely unsure and uncomfortable in this unfamiliar position while Remy, whose attitude Redknapp claims is “first class”, noticeably gave up in the second half, walking around and showing no interest in anything other than staying fit and keeping his kit clean. One can only wonder what Redknapp’s reaction, and that of our fan base for that matter, would have been if Adel Taarabt had played and behaved in the same manner on Sunday.
That restlessness turned into a mass exodus when three QPR players were drawn to a ball on the Tottenham left leaving acres of space in behind for Lamela to free Rose and he rolled it across the penalty area for Adebayor to stab in an easy fourth.
Later Green saved bravely at the feet of Eriksen as attention in the away end was drawn to one fan, substantially more oiled than the creaking machine out on the field, who’d decided that 4-0 down at Tottenham was the time to unfurl a Palestinian flag and bait the home fans. The prolonged struggle that ensued, and eventually resulted in an ugly wrestling match on the steps, could have been the start of a joke: how many stewards and police officers in how many different coloured jackets does it take to safely deal with one drunkard waving a flag?
There were chances to restore some lost pride in the final ten minutes. Bobby Zamora, on for the hapless Phillips, lashed over when he should have scored, and Caulker missed a sitter from a Barton corner in the very last minute. When the ball did finally beat Lloris the goal was disallowed, seemingly for a push on Danny Rose who’d flung his hand up and palmed the ball back towards his own net. Most who’d travelled from Shepherd’s Bush were already tackling the long walk back down the Seven Sisters High Road by that point though.
The result, not unexpected, and not necessarily a disaster. Tottenham, and the rest of the top seven teams in this league, are so far ahead of the rest it can be embarrassing at times. Spurs themselves lost 6-0, 5-0, 5-1, 4-0 and 4-0 last season and still qualified for Europe. It will happen to clubs of QPR’s status more often than most, it will happen to QPR again this season, it will happen to Burnley and Leicester and Palace and Hull and Swansea ad others this season, it will happen whether you run your arse into the ground or not. In the modern Premier League, it happens. QPR will play worse teams when they’re fitter, settled and used to playing with each other. Leagues and relegations are not won and lost in August after two matches.
But the attitude, effort, body-language, and all those things this club had promised they’d sorted, promised they’d changed, promised they’d never let us down on again, was there for all to see. That needs correcting first and foremost, before we even start talking about systems, shapes and team selections.
That familiar sound of an alarm bell is ringing in the ears of QPR fans once more.
Please Rangers, don’t do this to us again.
Spurs: Lloris 6; Dier 8, Kaboul 7, Vertonghen 7, Rose 7; Bentaleb 7 (Dembélé 59, 6), Capoue 7; Eriksen 8, Lamela 8, Cadli 8 (Kane 69, 6); Adebayor 7 (Soldado 80, 6)
Subs not used: Lennon, Holtby, Friedel, Davies
Goals: Chadli 12 (assisted Adebayor), 37 (assisted Lamela), Dier 30 (assisted Lamela), Adebayor 65
QPR: Green 6; Caulker 5, Ferdinand 5, Dunne 2 (Onuoha 46, 6); Isla 4, Traore 5; Barton 5, Fer 4 (Faurlin 68, 6), Mutch 4; Phillips 3 (Zamora 74, 6), Remy 3
Subs not used: Simpson, Wright-Phillips, Murphy, Hoilett
Bookings: Fer 63 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Ale Faurlin 6 Tempting not to award a star man, particularly as Tottenham had obviously declared and given up by the time that Faurlin came on, but having somebody who was capable of completing passes crisply and accurately, while competing for possession with tackles and headers when Rangers didn’t have the ball, made a hell of a difference. Faurlin was QPR’s best player against PAOK in the final pre-season game, he was the best player in the game against Shamrock Rovers in Ireland, he was the best player on the pitch for the first hour against Hull last week, and yet he’s the one dropped to make way for Fer who has barely trained with his new team mates and looked miles off the pace. Redknapp does himself, and his team, few favours with decisions like that.
Referee – Anthony Taylor (Cheshire) 6 Very little to referee, as one of the teams was completely uncompetitive and refused to put a tackle in of any kind, but I thought the Fer booking was an absolute joke of a decision. A bouncing ball, in the six yard box, with defenders scrambling to get back, and he gets booked for trying to force it into the net? What’s he meant to do? Stand there and think “oh well it’s a chance of a goal, but it’s a little bit high off the ground so I’ll just leave it be.”
Attendance 36,109 (1,700 QPR approx) An odd atmosphere at times in the second half, with the game clearly won and large chunks of the away support leaving early, White Hart Lane was actually quite quiet considering Spurs were three, and later four, goals up. Such an uncompetitive game, and inevitable result, hardly helped. The QPR fans with the Palestinian flag is probably a debate for elsewhere, but it wasn’t dealt with at all professionally by the stewards, who actually ended up wrestling with him on the steps, barreling into other spectators and children. They’ll get far worse related to that political situation at White Hart Lane when the likes of West Ham and Chelsea get there this season and if they can’t cope with one drunk idiot waving a flag about and making a bit of a scene they’re going to have problems.
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