Out of form QPR pick up another defeat, and injury, at Southampton – report
Monday, 29th Sep 2014 19:34 by Clive Whittingham
QPR suffered a fourth straight away defeat of the season at Southampton on Saturday, despite an overall improvement in performance level.
If Harry Redknapp is wrong and QPR don’t survive in the Premier League this season, the club may well look back at August and September as the time when the damage was done.
Business always starts late in a World Cup summer, and the play-off final winner is at a real disadvantage as the manager cannot begin planning until the end of May, well after all other 19 clubs in the top division. Redknapp openly admits that his forward planning had stretched only as far as which golf courses he’d take a membership out at when the Wembley final against Derby in May seemed to be slipping away from his team.
But the mitigation stops there for Rangers because the rest of Redknapp’s excuses ring very hollow indeed. Redknapp says a number of players were late back from the World Cup – as if QPR were the only team with players in Brazil – and he was hampered by having eight players on loan last season who all had to return to their clubs, as if somebody else foisted those temporary signings upon him against his will.
The manager has also admitted that his team isn’t fit enough, and that’s there for all to see. Against Southampton on Saturday the R’s looked a good deal fitter and more up to the pace of the game than they had in abject surrenders at Tottenham and Manchester United in the previous away games this season. But it was still only good enough to hang onto the coat tals of a team who have just as much excuse as QPR for poor performance – the sale of half a dozen of their best players and departure of the manager during the summer can’t have been easy to recover from – but are absolutely ripping into this year’s Premier League and currently, implausibly, sit second.
The fitness thing is really starting to grate. How hard can it be to get a squad of footballers fit? There’s no better example than Southampton of a team that also endured a high turnover of players during the summer, and had a load at the World Cup, and they look like a fit, organised, cohesive unit.
Although Rangers looked a bit more like it at St Mary’s, you could still see the distinct differences between the attitude, pace and fitness of the two teams in the first ten seconds. QPR, through two misplaced passes and a clearance rushed into under pressure from an onrushing opponent, conceded a throw in deep in their own half from their own kick off inside the opening ten seconds. It was a microcosm of their approach to the season – don’t worry, slow start, we’ll get going eventually, bit of time that’s all… The Premier League is an unforgiving place.
Indeed the opening ten minutes was a harrowing affair for Rangers and their travelling army of supporters. Rob Green saved routinely from Victor Wanyama down in the bottom left hand corner after three minutes and then made a fine one-on-one block against the impressive Dusan Tadic out by the corner of the penalty area, although had the goal been scored QPR would have had good cause to ask why the goalkeeper felt the need to race out that far in the first place.
Redknapp has picked Sandro at the base of his midfield to protect the defence, fresh from a knee injury the manager had originally said was caused by a sliding goal celebration in training – a crock of shit as it turns out. That risk didn’t look like it was helping the team to begin with, and certainly didn’t when the Brazilian hit the deck after seven minutes and, after prolonged treatment, left the field with a head injury to be replaced by Karl Henry. Not a particularly durable "beast" is he?
The change actually helped. Karl Henry was much maligned last season, because in a division where QPR were spending more than ten times what some of their opponents were on transfer fees and wages, a defensive midfielder in front of a quality back four wasn’t necessary, and his sideways passing and refusal to cross the halfway line would slow things down and allow opponents to get ten men back behind the ball.
Now, thanks to injuries to several other midfielders, Henry has stumbled upon another first team opportunity at a higher level and Rangers may actually find this to their benefit. Suddenly the sensible, possession retaining, steady passing game is valuable as it keeps the ball in QPR’s possession – something the team is badly struggling with so far this season. Henry blotted his copy book with a cynical foul on Sadio Mané around the half hour as he threatened to seize the second half of a one two and break into space – and Henry was fortunate referee Mark Clattenburg didn’t dish out a second booking immediately for booting the ball away in frustration – but that apart he was a vital cog in the clunky QPR machine on Saturday, protecting a defence that is crying out for Nedum Onuoha to be reinstated next to Steven Caulker, while retaining the ball for a feckless midfield ahead of him.
His calming influence didn’t stem the pace of a frantic encounter too much though. Harshly penalised for handball, Henry could only stand and watch Green flap the resulting inswinging free kick on to the back of Jose Fonte and, fortunately for the keeper, out for a goal kick. The spectre of Alex McCarthy looms large over Rangers number one. Three minutes later a promising QPR attack only succeeded in opening up space for the home side to break back and Tadic struck the base of the post with a heavily deflected bouncer past Green. No more than 60 seconds later Graziano Pellè struck a firm shot into the side netting, with most of the Southampton fans to the left of the away end celebrating what they believed to be the opening goal.
The visitors were fortunate it wasn’t, they should have been well behind at this point, but one or two signs that Rangers may have it within them to frustrate the Saints started to surface. Nathaniel Clyne was booked for a hack on Armand Traore and Mané followed him into Clattenburg’s notepad for a trip on Henry, although that one seemed like a harsh decision. Matt Phillips, continuing to frustrate more than he thrills, thrashed over when there were passing options and Niko Kranjcar sent an ambitious shot wide after a fine crossfield ball from Rio Ferdinand set the wheels in motion on another QPR attack. QPR were at least attacking here, contrary to Redknapp’s previous miserly policies in road games.
In six minutes of added time at the end of the half Charlie Austin curled a shot wide but only Morgan Schneiderlin will know how he contrived to role the best chance of the half wide of the post when through on Green in the area after a fine ball through to him by Mané.
The big half time question, along with the usual quest to throw as much beer down your throat and coke up your nose as possible in 15 minutes, was would QPR be able to make the most of that reprieve? The answer? No. Not 60 seconds after the start of the second half, Chilean right back Mauricio Isla – who continues to look wholly uncomfortable in that position, and alarmingly slow across the ground – tripped Mané right on the very edge of the penalty box and Tadic should have done much better with the free kick than simply curling it hopelessly over the bar. Isla is becoming a real problem for Redknapp, who bought him to play right wing back only to abandon the system, and chose to sell last year’s full back Danny Simpson while not registering the only other one at the club – Michael Harriman – for the 25 man squad. Isla’s form is showing those decisions up for what they are – shambolic management. Redknapp has reduced his own options down to simply praying that Isla gets better, at least until January.
QPR, it should probably be said at this point, involved just five players here from their promotion winning team, and of those only really Charlie Austin and Matt Phillips were regular starters. The obsession with ditching everything that was good about a promotion winning team in favour of ever more shiny new trinkets continues to infect and enthral QPR with exactly the same results every time. Both Simpson and Onuoha would have made a noticeable, positive difference to a rickety looking defence here. Armand Traore didn’t do badly trying to suppress Tadic, and Steven Caulker played reasonably for an hour before bizarrely allowing Pellè to start running in behind him unchecked, but Rio Ferdinand continues to look like an ageing pro topping his pension up with testimonial money, and Isla is flailing badly.
Rangers would have good cause to feel aggrieved had Wanyama scored in the fifty second minute when he cut into the area and shot at Green – Rangers had been away at the other end until Mark Clattenburg pulled play back for an alleged handball by Niko Kranjcar, although the decision looked like a guess and was very harsh indeed.
But there can be no excuses for the goal that did finally break the deadlock two minutes later – Ryan Bertrand running into the area unchecked by Matt Phillips, behind the static Isla onto a pass from Mané and firing a low shot right through Robert Green and into the net. The goalkeeper should have saved it.
The flood gates were starting to creak. Isla was caught out again within a minute, allowing Pellè to set up Steven Davis for a shot that was magnificently blocked by Caulker at full stretch. The rebound fell the way of Tadic, who was calm and composed enough to craftily trick his way into space in the six-yard box but not t produce a finish and Green made a fine save. The goalkeeper then had to scramble the ball off the line from the resulting corner. All hands were at the pump, but the water was winning.
A promotion can win a manager so much good will from the supporters of his club that they often maintain patience with him the following year a good deal longer than even the chairman. Few wanted Neil Warnock sacked when Tony Fernandes pulled the trigger in January 2012, for instance. But the way many perceive QPR came out of the Championship last season – spending more than everybody else, loaning more players than everybody else, boring the tits off everybody, grinding their way through the play-offs – means what little positivity Harry Redknapp was able to build has already been burnt off.
The mood among the support base is turning increasingly ugly. On Saturday at St Mary’s a small group of the travelling support had already rolled out a despicable ditty about Loic Remy which, if sung in any great number at Chelsea in a few weeks’ time, will make a mockery of the club’s abuse of John Terry and bring heavy, negative national press coverage on the club and who knows what else besides.
Southampton taking the lead, and then QPR inexplicably deciding that their first corner of the game should be played short, rather than thrown into the box hunting an equaliser – two of QPR’s three goals this season to this point had come from corners delivered to the back post – turned the mood blacker still. A father, sitting quietly throughout the game with a boy of no more than six, grumbled at the decision of Kranjcar to go short and was immediately set upon and attacked by the foul-mouthed gibbon in front of him who felt it appropriate to scream aggressive obscenities into the guy’s face about “supporting your fucking club” while the child cowered in fear and then burst into floods of tears. A brave assailant in purple alongside him joined in from behind the larger man before then pretending he’d had nothing to do with any of it and was in fact required to stand hugging and protecting his girlfriend from potential retribution from the evil, crying six-year-old. That was, of course, until the police had left the scene, when he decided to get brave again and start the row all over, forcing the father to take his inconsolable son to the other end of the block first and foremost and then, a few minutes later, tragically, home altogether some 25 minutes before the game had ended.
The scenes were similar to Charlton last season, when one of the toilet cubicles had a queue of people a dozen long, openly going in at half time – and various points during the game as well – to brazenly stuff as much coke up their nose as they could. It’s creating a toxic situation in the away end where ever increasing numbers of the travelling support are so pumped, wired, on edge and out of control that set backs like late Charlton winners or opening Southampton goals are sparking fights and scuffles among fans of the same team all over the stand.
Typically, just as you start to wonder whether this constant attendance at away games, to sit in a hostile atmosphere where once you felt you were among friends, to watch a team with zero chance of actually winning an away game, for upwards of £40 every other week, is worth it, QPR suddenly reel you back in a bit. Out of the blue, after 65 minutes, Charlie Austin pulled a square ball from Eduardo Vargas out of the air with his back to goal, spun and smashed home a brilliant equaliser in one glorious fluid movement. A magnificent goal from a player who, prior to that, admittedly with little service, had made next to no impact on proceedings at all.
There was the demon hope again. The QPR fans finally sang as one. Southampton swapped Mané for Long. Rangers looked like they were capable of going on and getting more from the game for a brief, shining moment.
And that’s all it was because, criminally, the London side conceded a second goal almost immediately. Tadic headed the ball in to Pellè in the penalty area, and the Italian striker made it six goals already for the Saints this season, and 54 in his last 63 appearances for Southampton and Feyenoord, with an outrageous scissor kick. I’d question the position for the goalkeeper, if I didn’t think it would have me accused of a witch-hunt. Overall though, a cardinal sin for a team that had just taken the lead.
Little more than Southampton deserved overall. They should have made it three 12 minutes from time when substitute Long got in behind Caulker far too easily and, with Isla entirely absent, seized onto a pass from Davis but couldn’t beat Green with a low shot.
QPR slung on Bobby Zamora and went long. This caused Southampton more problems than it should have done and Austin will feel he should have hit the target with a late header from a chipper Leroy Fer cross – the Dutchman once again fine with the ball, but powder-puff light without it and seemingly incapable of ever winning a tackle.
The chance for redemption came when Niko Kranjcar was fouled on the edge of the area six minutes from time. The Croatian scored a beautiful free kick against Stoke to salvage a 2-2 draw a week ago and couldn’t have gone any closer to doing so again here without actually succeeding – a wicked, curling effort over the wall beat keeper Fraser Forster all ends up but bounced back into play via the underside of the bar and the goal line. Steven Caulker, agonisingly, headed the rebound over the open net under pressure.
An improvement from QPR, who had a dig but came up short. They’ll need to be better again, and fitter, and quickly, if they’re to avoid being cut adrift, because it’s hard to see West Ham away next week being a great deal different to this, and the fixtures thereafter look unkind to say the least.
Redknapp cut a figure his supporters would call philosophical afterwards. It could more accurately be described as bored. He needs to find some passion, and some answers, rather than tired excuses, many of which don't reflect well on his work, and he needs to find them soon.
Southampton: Foster 6; Clyne 7, Alderweireld 6, Fonte 6, Bertrand 8; Wanyama 7 (Cork 69, 6), Davis 7, Schneiderlin 7; Tadic 8 (Targett 90, -) Mané 7 (Long 68, 6), Pellè 8
Subs: Davis, Mayuka, Reed, McCarthy
Goals: Bertrand 53 (assisted Mané) Pellè 67 (assisted Tadic)
Bookings: Clyne 25 (foul) Mané 32 (foul)
QPR: Green 6; Isla 4, Caulker 6, Ferdinand 5, Traore 6; Sandro – (Henry 11, 7) Phillips 5 (Hoilett 58, 6), Fer 6, Kranjcar 7; Vargas 6 (Zamora 77, 6), Austin 6
Subs: Hill, McCarthy, Dunne, Onuoha
Goals: Austin 65 (assisted Vargas)
Bookings: Henry 29 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Karl Henry 7 Difficult situation, coming into a game QPR were already well second best in far earlier than he ever thought he would be introduced, but the forced substitution actually benefited Rangers as Henry provided much needed protection for a ragged defence, and kept the ball intelligently when QPR did have it, enabling them to move further up the field. Cynical booking and lucky not to be dismissed for kicking the ball away immediately after but a decent showing overall.
Referee – Mark Clattenburg (Durham) 8 Kept hold of a game played at a wild pace very well indeed. Was kind to Henry after his booking, although a red card would have been harsh. The yellow for Mané soon after that was also a bit over the top I felt, but otherwise another excellent display from one of the league’s better officials.
Attendance – 30,504 (2,800 QPR fans approx) Said it already – the away end was an unpleasant place to be. The chanting about Loic Remy from a minority at the back, QPR fans abusing other QPR fans, a child led away in tears after some moron went for his dad for no other reason than him criticising a short corner routine. There’s little fun in following QPR away from home these days once you’re actually through the turnstile and into the ground. Heading for a really serious incident or flashpoint soon.
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