Austin ends dire week on a high note – report
Monday, 1st Sep 2014 00:30 by Clive Whittingham
A first Premier League goal for Charlie Austin secured QPR’s first points of the season at home to Sunderland on Saturday.
At the end of the sort of traumatic week that QPR seem to inflict on themselves all too frequently came a much needed Premier League win to boost morale, calm nerves and relieve pressure on the Super Hoops.
The individual components of another dark seven days in the recent history of the club wouldn’t have come as a great surprise if they’d happened in isolation.
A heavy defeat at Tottenham, for instance, will happen to other clubs this season, and at a time when newly promoted QPR were still putting a team together, bedding in new players, trying a new system and shape and searching for match fitness after a play-off induced delayed start to the preseason there was perhaps an inevitability that a team as good as Spurs would enjoy something of a feeding frenzy.
Getting knocked out of the League Cup at the second round stage by a Burton Albion side three divisions and 54 places below Rangers was billed as a cup upset, but given QPR’s priorities this season and recent record in knockout competitions that wasn’t a terrific surprise either. Certainly there wasn’t as much shock and anger on the away terrace on Wednesday night as one might have expected.
The latest anterior cruciate ligament injury suffered by the seemingly cursed Ale Faurlin is a personal tragedy for the player, and a big blow to the squad given that he’s still the most talented midfield player Rangers have. But at a club that collects serious knee injuries for its best players like Panini World Cup stickers, there was a sad inevitability about that news as well. We know from experience with Martin Rowlands that once you’ve had a couple of these problems things can often continue to spiral and so it seems to be the case for the stricken Argentinean.
And Loic Remy’s departure two days before the end of the transfer deadline day was more of an eye-roller than a nervous breakdown inducer as well. The clauses QPR had to include in his contract to persuade the talented Frenchman to move to a club so gravely threatened by relegation 18 months ago meant Rangers were always vulnerable to losing him this summer, and that vulnerability only grew last week with the departure of Fernando Torres from Chelsea, and the injury to Olivier Giroud at Arsenal. In the end the only eyebrow raisers there were the deal being done before 22.50 on deadline night, and the destination being Chelsea’s bench rather than Arsenal’s first team.
But having all four happen inside a week is bad luck even by QPR’s notoriously poor standards, and the manner of the performances in the two away defeats gave cause for concern. Throw in the approach of Transfer Deadline Day, which a week ago didn’t look like it would involve Rangers at all but could now see as many as four new arrivals with at least that many departures as well, and it’s easy to see why the prevailing mood has gone from optimistic to panic-stricken.
Having spent the entire summer moaning about the small size of his squad, it seems odd that Harry Redknapp is now seemingly keen to sell some of the younger, better players from it so close to the deadline – Danny Simpson has gone to Leicester, Palace have a bid lodged for Armand Traore, Matt Phillips and Nedum Onuoha are attracting interest. Expect Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Lassana Diarra and Niko Kranjcar to be among a clutch of players linked with the club on Monday – undoing, to some extent, the sound work the R’s have done so far this summer signing talent, hungry, younger talent.
What QPR didn’t need was a third defeat in as many games at the start of the season for the first time since their Southern League days a century ago. A loss at home to Sunderland, one of the sides Rangers must be looking to compete with on the league table this season, would have produced the tri-annual message board meltdown and changed a flashing amber warning light activated by the effort levels and commitment in the two away defeats last week into an all out, screaming, lifeboat-manning pandemonium.
Fortunately, everything fell right for them on Saturday. The game was decided by a single goal scored at the perfect time. In one minute of time added on at the end of the first half by referee Robert Madley, Leroy Fer intelligently nodded Joey Barton’s deep corner back into the path of Charlie Austin - back in the team after a hamstring injury - and he swept home with his left foot through a crowd of players. Austin had earlier lost out in a one on one situation with Sunderland keeper Vito Mannone at the end of a flowing move thanks to a heavy touch on the edge of the box but he kept plugging away and got his reward in the end.
The goal was a real tonic for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, Sunderland had no time to respond. The half time whistle followed immediately after it had been scored, changing the complexion of Gus Poyet’s address during the break, giving QPR something to hang onto and build on in the second half, and lifting the mood around the ground noticeably.
Secondly, it got the ‘first Premier League goal’ monkey off Charlie Austin’s back after just two appearances in the top flight and, hopefully, banished any lingering doubts created by his missed penalty against Hull City on day one.
Rangers had more than enough chances to beat the Tigers here on day one only to eventually fall to defeat thanks to a soft headed goal from a corner. For a while, it looked as though that heartbreak would be repeated as Rangers dominated the first half without scoring. Austin had earlier seen a header direct from a Barton corner cleared from the goal line while Leroy Fer whacked one against the bar having let rip from fully 25 yards with a dipping shot over Mannone.
The QPR players wore Faurlin shirts before kick off, and both sets of supporters rose to acclaim the luckless midfielder after 18 minutes – matching his squad number – but the best tribute to the Argentinean came from Fer and, to a slightly lesser extent, Jordon Mutch, who both produced performances Faurlin would have been proud of. Neither Fer nor Mutch had covered themselves in glory during the difficult first three games of the season but here they looked fitter and far more effective in a new-look formation. Fer, in particular, was excellent.
Perhaps that’s because manager Harry Redknapp abandoned his much talked-about three man defence and wing backs system after just two league games in favour of a more conventional 4-3-3. That seemed to suit everybody a lot better, particularly Fer who revelled in a more advanced role, and Mutch, but did necessitate the selection of Clint Hill at left back – a fine performance delivered here doesn’t mean having him there is a sustainable situation in the top flight these days.
The home side were perhaps a little guilty of sitting too deep at the start of the second half, too focused on holding what they already had rather than looking to extend it. They’d been handed a warning that Sunderland wouldn’t be going quietly before the break when lone striker Steven Fletcher moved onto a cute through ball in the area and tried to turn the ball around goalkeeper Robert Green with an instinctive first time shot the keeper did superbly to read and tip away one handed.
Green finished last season strongly but will come under greater scrutiny now excellent young Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy has joined on a four year deal. The England youth international pointedly said in his Friday interviews that goalkeepers content to sit on substitutes benches for prolonged periods of time tend to get forgotten about and that’s not where he sees himself at QPR. Green has always seemed like a goalkeeper who responds well to being settled, and knowing he’s in the team at the end of the week. How he’ll cope with this increased competition, and just who will be the number one keeper at QPR come the turn of the year, will be intriguing.
The initial signs from the man in possession of the number one jersey are promising. Having denied Fletcher before half time he got down smartly to save a shot on the run from the otherwise awful Santiago Vergini eight minutes after half time. Then, in four minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game, he sprang instinctively to his left to palm away a fine 20 yard volley from substitute Emauele Giaccherini that looked for all the world like it was going to break QPR hearts. Chalk two points won up on Green’s 2014/15 scorecard.
Sunderland, and Giaccherini in particular, felt they had good cause to be angry with referee Robert Madley who first ignored substitute Will Buckley’s pleas for a free kick on the cusp of the QPR penalty area following an apparent trip by Chilean full back Maurcio Isla. The referee awarded a goal kick, suggesting Buckley had gone down too easily, and the replays made him right, but a yellow card handed out to Giaccherini in stoppage time for diving on the edge of the area when he looked to have been fouled for all money was more controversial.
But then the Mackems were perhaps fortunate not to have been reduced to ten men in the first half. Lee Cattermole, a boy only a mother could love, hacked through four fouls in reasonably quick succession either side of the half hour mark and having been booked for the third one on Mutch he seemed to be skating on thin ice with a cynical trip on Leroy Fer immediately afterwards. The QPR players didn’t cover themselves in glory – Mutch and Fer both collapsed to the ground feigning far more pain than they were ever actually in, trying to get Cattermole sent off – but to continue to commit such fouls having already been booked was pure stupidity and vintage Cattermole. The Sunderland fans who watch him regularly say their bad-boy midfielder is a better bet for England than either Newcastle’s Jack Colback, who was with them last season, or Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph, and as Cattermole was their best player here – expertly anchoring a 4-1-4-1 set up - it’s perhaps easy to see why that is. But while he continues to be so utterly brain-dead with his challenges he has little chance of international recognition – and nor should he have, he’s a liability.
Plus, it’s not like Sunderland were cheated out of a game they deserved to win. They were a shadow of the team that played so well against Manchester United a week ago, and Gus Poyet cut an animated, frustrated touchline presence throughout. Adam Johnson, a player who should be pushing for England recognition himself, was particularly disappointing, making no inroads at all against Clint Hill who says himself he’s no longer capable of playing at left full back at the highest level.
And Rangers were reasonably annoyed themselves when Mutch was yellow carded in the second half for a nothing foul on Steven Fletcher. The Sunderland man made a lot of the contact, and Madley seemed to reach his decision with a good deal of guesswork.
There were late scares – Hill cleared well at full stretch at his near post after a rare moment of decent wing play from Johnson, and Caulker bravely blocked a powerful shot from man-child Connor Wickham having rushed out to face him on the edge of the QPR area. But in the end, Rangers could have extended their lead and won more comfortably. Armand Traore came on for Junior Hoilett late in the day and was teed up by fellow substitute Bobby Zamora – on for Charlie Austin who missed the previous game and most of the week’s training with a hamstring injury – to race into the penalty box in the final minute of normal time but the Senegalese left sided player dragged a tame shot wide of the post.
Harry Redknapp also sent on Adel Taarabt, brought in from the cold for an impressive first outing of the season at Burton on Wednesday, for the stoppage time instead of man of the match Fer. That seemed an odd decision, with Adel not noted for his defensive diligence in such situations, but a late sight of goal where he had a shot blocked on the edge of the area perhaps hinted at Redknapp’s thinking.
One wit suggested Redknapp may have fancied Taarabt’s super-sized frame to form a three man wall by himself should Rangers find themselves facing a dangerous late free kick, and when Giaccherini hit the turf in the final seconds that prospect seemed likely. But the decision, and the result, went QPR’s way, and they’re now up and running.
QPR: Green 8; Isla 7, Ferdinand 7, Caulker 7, Hill 7; Barton 6, Mutch 7, Fer 8 (Taarabt 90, -); Hoilett 6 (Traore 83, -), Phillips 6, Austin 7 (Zamora 69, 7)
Subs not used: Onuoha, Murphy, Henry, Dunne
Goals: Charlie Austin 45 (assisted Barton/Fer)
Bookings: Mutch 56 (foul)
Sunderland: Mannone 7; Vergini 5 (Altidore 82, -), Brown 6, O’Shea 6, Van Aarnholt 6; Cattermole 7; Larsson 6, Rodwell 6 (Giaccherini 69, 7), Johnson 5, Wickham 6; Fletcher 6 (Buckley 69, 6)
Subs not used: Pantilimon, Jones, Bridcutt, Gomez
Bookings: Cattermole 36 (foul), Giaccherini 90 (diving)
QPR Star Man – Leroy Fer 8 Thanks goodness for that. His performances against Spurs and Burton had me wondering what on earth QPR had bought from Norwich but here, playing in a more advanced midfield role, he looked calm, composed and creative with the ball, and helped guide QPR around the park with a fine display. Very unlucky not to score with a first half piledriver against the bar. Run close by Robert Green.
Referee – Robert Madley (West Yorkshire) 5 I dare say the Sunderland mark for the referee would be a good deal lower, judging by the stick he was taking from the away end, but in the end he just about managed to keep control of a niggly, competitive fixture with a number of strong characters on both sides. The decision to ignore an appeal from Will Buckley for a foul by Isla on the edge of the area was correct – it was a dive. Whether he got the one with Giaccherini right at the end I don’t know, haven’t seen it again. I thought the Mutch booking was a joke. Not the greatest display of refereeing, but not the worst.
Attendance – 17,930 (1,800 Sunderland approx) Nothing like a backs-to-the-wall effort to get Loftus Road going again – excellent atmosphere in the second half. Credit to the Sunderland fans for not only travelling in such good numbers, but also joining in with the tribute to Ale Faurlin after 18 minutes.
The Twitter – @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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