'Modern day penalty' robs QPR of Chelsea scalp - report
Sunday, 2nd Nov 2014 22:26 by Clive Whittingham
QPR's recent improvement continued at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but a controversial late penalty meant they have no points to show for their efforts.
Tragically, you get no points for a moral victory. A potential rule change if ever there was one. That, and this creeping acceptance that you’re “entitled to go down” in the penalty area if you feel contact.
There’s something so pathetically small time about coming away from Premier League matches filled with pride at a performance, talking up your team’s chances and banging on about just how loud your fans were compared to theirs when it’s all come to nought again. QPR got the same amount of points for their considerable efforts at Stamford Bridge on Saturday as they did for their abject, gutless, unprofessional showings on the road earlier in the season.
For Loftus Road regulars who remember – and you don’t have to be particularly old – standing toe to toe with Chelsea, beating them more often than not, finishing above them almost without exception, coming to Stamford Bridge when there were half as many people there and Dave Beasant kept goal, it’s tough to take. Now they have Petr Cech on the bench.
Football changed beyond all recognition during QPR’s 15-year absence from the top flight and, by the time they returned, Chelsea had been flushed with Russian rubles and joined a select group of clubs who - courtesy of annual participation in the long, drawn-out cash cow that is the Champions League - have moved into a different league within the league.
Now fixtures like this are often an exercise in parallel parking for bus drivers. Get people behind the ball, defend deep, hold out as long as you can, be grateful if you only lose by one or two goals. Like a brow-beaten eight year old in a Victorian orphanage, thanking your cruel masters for only giving you half a dozen lashings rather than the full set.
QPR have played that role to an Oscar-winning level so far this season. For trips to Tottenham and Manchester United Harry Redknapp made it repeatedly clear beforehand that it would be “very, very ‘ard” and then sat very quietly in the dug-out while Rangers rolled over and had their tummies tickled. At White Hart Lane in August the R’s turned their own kick off into a Tottenham throw-in deep in the danger zone inside 20 seconds and a chance to Emmanuel Adebayor – set up beautifully by Armand Traore – within 40. At Old Trafford, Rio Ferdinand took time out immediately before kick-off to collect a carriage clock for long service with the opposition, and then turned in one of the worst performances of his professional career. Both games finished 4-0.
The most annoying thing about this isn’t even the scorelines. It’s that QPR fans are so easily pleased, to not even meet their meagre expectations in those fixtures was unforgiveable. We don’t need telling it’s ‘ard, we know it’s ‘ard, we can see it’s ‘ard. Grimsby away is ‘ard when you’re QPR, we know it’s bloody ‘ard going to Manchester United and Tottenham and Chelsea and Arsenal. By 17.00 on Saturday, perhaps for the first time, it seemed like Harry Redknapp and his QPR team understood that.
Because here, at Stamford Bridge, against what is clearly the best team in the league, which will have the title sewn up by the end of March barring an Ebola outbreak at their Cobham training ground, Rangers should have had at least – at least – a point to show for their efforts. At least.
QPR fans want to see effort, they want to see commitment, they want to see hard running, they want to see passion and all of those traits the English value far higher than anybody else in Europe. But they also want to see some semblance of a plan, beyond lining ten players up on the goal line and trying to hold it scoreless for as long as possible. They want the team to be confident and proud enough to go and play its own game, and try to win the game, however unlikely that is. They want to see that the management and the players have thought about what they’re going to do and how they’re going to do it. Manage that, and the result in games like this becomes immaterial.
In three minutes of stoppage time on Saturday, with Chelsea’s billion pound team wasting time in the corner at the far end, the away following rose as one to sing about how proud they were of their team. They stayed, to a man, and applauded them off at the final whistle, and the team came across and responded in kind. Chelsea fans had been streaming out for ten minutes, after sitting in silence for the previous 80, and their players sloped off quietly at the end as well, almost embarrassed. Even their provocative, outspoken manager Jose Mourinho could do nothing afterwards but praise the QPR performance and support, and say that the first time he realised he wasn’t standing in an empty stadium was when the first goal was scored.
Perhaps Harry Redknapp simply needed a bit of a poke. Four games ago at West Ham his shapeless, listless side lost meekly while he sat impassively in the dugout and watched it all happen. There was talk that even his biggest fan Tony Fernandes may pull the trigger. Since then, QPR and Redknapp have been at it – spiky, angry, awkward. Everything a newly promoted team needs to be. They only have three points to show for it but they should have beaten Liverpool and drawn here which would have given them seven – a fairer reflection of the dramatic improvements made. Could have, would have, should have… but Rangers won’t live and die on results against Liverpool and Chelsea this season. The last fortnight of football bodes very well for more ‘winnable’ games to come.
Redknapp will say it’s because he’s getting players up to full fitness and back from injury – Sandro, who he mentions in every interview, was outstanding in the centre of midfield here, easily his best performance for the club after a stop-start campaign so far, giving his team a platform to build on and a belief that they could do more than simply cling on to Chelsea’s coat-tails. But it’s the shape, plan, concentration, determination and semblance of tactical thought that’s impressive about Rangers at the moment – basic stuff that was all missing pre-Liverpool.
Sure, there were moments of extreme stress and times when QPR simply couldn’t lay a boot on the ball. Referee Mike Jones started the match as he meant to go on, incorrectly giving Chelsea a corner when it was obviously a goal kick inside the first 45 seconds and there followed a terrifying sequence of deliveries from wide areas as Steven Caulker miscued a header narrowly over his own bar and eventually Yun scrambled one clear.
The size of the task was microcosmed by Nemanja Matic. The Serbian sums up Chelsea’s transfer policy and attitude to developing young players better than any other – swept up as a youngster and shoved in the reserves, making only two first team appearances, he was eventually bunged off to Benfica as part of the David Luiz deal only to be bought back again for £21m three years later. Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck used his programme notes to discuss the club’s efforts in the area of Financial Fair Play. You’d laugh, if it was funny. But here, he showed why the Blues were so keen to return him to Stamford Bridge. He honed in on Robert Green’s clearances like a heat seeking missile, covering ground like an Olympic distance runner and rarely losing a ball in the air. He was outstanding, and it meant that initially at least QPR couldn’t clear their own half.
But QPR would not be cowed and would not bow to the pressure as they had done previously. A powerful run by Eduardo Vargas and subsequent cross by Junior Hoilett – selected left and right of a four man midfield which became a five out of possession – gave Charlie Austin his first sight of goal and he headed narrowly over. Moments later Leroy Fer’s awkward, leggy style carried him to the edge of the area on a dangerous counter and having turned away from the would-be tacklers brilliantly on the edge of the 18-yard box it was a shame that he just couldn’t keep his footing well enough to unload a shot. Chelsea tried to counter but latest flavour of the month Diego Costa – looking heavy legged and barely fit – was cleaned out by Richard Dunne who was in fine form. When Fabregas did get into some clear water in a dangerous area – Vargas’ slack pass feeding the Spaniard possession – Robert Green made a fine save in the bottom right corner.
No tummy tickling today boys.
It took a genuinely world class goal to break the deadlock – Costa’s strength carrying him through a couple of tackles, Fabregas’ vision feeding Oscar in the area, an improbable bending finish with the outside of his right foot, around Green and into the net off the far post as good as you’ll ever see. Even the QPR fans, whose hatred for Chelsea burns with the fire of a thousand suns, had to accept genuine brilliance when they saw it. It defied the laws of physics.
But before the game had even restarted the Chelsea fans had quietly retaken their seats, and the noise from the away end had picked up again. That attitude permeated the pitch where QPR continued to go about their work. Sandro and Fer were particularly impressive on the ball – Chelsea stood off them both, respecting the damage they could do. When Karl Henry found himself in possession the home team hunted in packs, sensing a weakness, but the former Wolves man is a canny operator who works well within his limitations and is in fine form – he didn’t look out of place here at all.
Rangers came out for the second half in a far more positive frame of mind than their hosts. Yun Suk-Young was at the heart of an enterprising attack from left to right that ended up with him deep inside the Chelsea penalty area and preparing to unload a shot until referee Mike Jones, under heavy duress from the home players, awarded a ridiculous handball decision against the South Korean. Hand balls seemed to trouble Jones all day – his interpretation of the rule varying wildly depending on what colour the offender’s shirt was. Chelsea couldn’t have wished for a more gutless official for this fixture. Gimps in Soho fetish clubs have carried greater authority.
Chelsea responded in kind – Hazard agonisingly out of reach of Willian’s cross to the back post, and then left back Luis lashing over the bar after three minutes of sustained assault on the QPR penalty area. But this was a contest, and QPR were well in it. Redknapp summoned Bobby Zamora, fit for only half an hour of action, to replace Junior Hoilett, disappointingly poor after such a good cameo against Aston Villa last week. Within two minutes a deserved equaliser had been fashioned in fine style.
Robert Green cleared up a goal mouth scramble with a calm claim and then freed Eduardo Vargas down the right with a swift, accurate, intelligent throw. The Chilean drives at goal at every opportunity and did so again here, crossing infield to Charlie Austin who executed a perfectly angled pass with his chest – like only a former bricklayer could – to get Vargas into clear space in the Chelsea penalty area. Courtois palmed away a powerful cross shot but only as far as Fer who scuffed a first time volley into the area which gave Austin a chance to cheekily, brilliantly back-heel a fine finish into the bottom corner to level the scores. Three goals in a week, five in nine games, Austin’s record looks right at home in elite company.
Mourinho’s team, unbeaten in 14 games prior to this, had grown complacent. The Portuguese immediately sent on Didier Drogba to bolster his attack, but momentum isn’t a switch you can flick on and off in sport and QPR were buoyant. Sandro drilled a shot in inch wide of the bottom corner via a deflection. Gary Cahill, as slack and off the pace as anybody in blue, misjudged a through ball, pushed it wide of the goal with his hand, and then had to scramble back and block Austin’s attempt on goal. Mike Jones, changing his interpretation of hand ball once again, ignored the initial discretion altogether.
Chelsea had chances. Vargas’ waste of a late corner was criminal and set up a counter attack that resulted in a lethally placed free kick right on the cusp of the penalty box dead centre – Robert Green continued his fine afternoon’s work by palming Oscar’s shot wide, and then brilliantly saving John Terry’s header from the resulting corner.
But Rangers looked good for a draw, until the naivety that cost them a win against Liverpool resurfaced with a penalty concession 15 minutes from time. Eden Hazard, going nowhere on the left side of the penalty area with Mauricio Isla well placed to defend any threat, waited for contact from Eduardo Vargas and hit the deck when it came. Had the Chilean gone with shoulder alone, a spot kick would have been scandalous. But he obliged with a right foot as well, making contact with the left leg Hazard had planted there for that exact purpose and, sadly, it was a stick on penalty from that moment. Complain all you like, but it was a naïve challenge that offered Hazard an opportunity, and didn’t need to be made. This is the league we’re in now. Hazard converted it himself.
As a side issue - compare the brutal physical intimidation of QPR players this same referee allowed Wigan to enact as a deliberate tactic to try and provoke a red card from Joey Barton or Ravel Morrison in a play-off semi-final back in May, with this challenge on Hazard that he penalised immediately. Same referee, same away team, entirely different application of the same rules of the game. Jones remains a liability on the Premier League list.
Chelsea reverted back to their original shape, sending on Schürrle for Costa who’d been poor. The German immediately drew another fine save from Green after Jones had played on through another hand ball. The referee’s control of the game had been weak before the penalty and disintegrated thereafter. What looked like an obvious pass back from Dunne to Green went unpunished.
It’s hard to criticise Mourinho, given the team he’s assembled here and what it will inevitably achieve, but picking Costa up front when patently lacking fitness and then launching quite so much long ball his way, against Caulker and Dunne, was a tactical plan from the Paul Hart school of what the fuck are you doing? Oscar and Hazard were Chelsea’s best attacking threats and should have been utilised far more, making the most of the lack of mobility at the heart of the QPR defence and instead Chelsea played right into the hands of the visitors. Richard Dunne lived up to his Pub Landlord nickname, eagerly gobbling up the business Chelsea repeatedly sent his way.
But they got away with it. A late half chance for Vargas was volleyed over. QPR are looking fitter, more organised, more committed, and, simply, better. They look like the team we thought they were back in the summer. But they’re finding points hard to come by. Those will come if this level of is maintained, and a standing ovation at the end of the game delivered a clear message that a standard of both performance and attitude had been set.
Pointless, but proud and with plenty of future promise. A fine day to be QPR.
Chelsea: Courtois 6; Ivanovic 6, Cahill 5, Terry 6, Luis 6; Matic 8, Fabregas 7; Willian 6 (Drogba 63, 6), Hazard 7 (Ramires 90, -), Oscar 7; Costa 5 (Schürrle 78, 6
Subs not used: Cech, Zouma, Aké, Salah
Goals: Oscar 32 (assisted Fabregas), Hazard 75 (penalty, won Hazard)
QPR: Green 8; Isla 6, Dunne 8, Caulker 7, Suk-Young 6; Fer 7 (Traore 84, -), Sandro 8, Henry 7, Vargas 6, Hoilett 5 (Zamora 60, 6); Austin 7
Subs not used: Hill, Phillips, Wright-Phillips, Kranjcar, Murphy
Goals: Austin 62 (assisted Fer)
QPR Star Man – Richard Dunne 8 Run close by Sandro, who had his best game for QPR by a mile, and Robert Green, who made half a dozen really excellent saves, but Dunne, against the flavour of the month Diego Costa, was calm, composed and difficult to fault.
Referee – Mike Jones (Cheshire) 4 The penalty is a penalty. It’s a modern day penalty – Hazard has put his leg across Vargas, waited for the contact, and gone down when it arrived, but it’s not a dive in an Ashley Young sense, it’s just playing the modern game, and it is a penalty. That adds a couple of marks to Jones’ total because, apart from that, he was abysmal. At the start of the second half a ball bounced up and hit Yun Suk-Young’s hand from a quarter of a yard away while he was going forwards on the attack and a free kick was awarded. Later Bobby Zamora charged a clearance down and again a handball was given. Cahill deliberately handled a through ball after misjudging it and nothing was awarded. Matic nudged the ball past Henry in the middle of the park with his hand, no free kick. He missed an obvious pass back to Green from Richard Dunne. He awarded a corner to Chelsea after 30 seconds when it was a goal kick and that set the tone. For ten minutes after the penalty award he literally couldn’t get a decision right. He’s a weak official. He’s refereed for ten years and he’s rarely come close to changing my mind. Easily bowed and intimidated by big personalities, easily panicked in pressure games. A simpering idiot.
41,486 (2,945 QPR) Coming away from Southampton a month or so back I feared this fixture – not only because I thought we’d be heavily beaten, but also for the reasons I gave at the time about incidents in the away end. Well, perhaps there’s something about being surrounded by 40,000 completely silent Surrey commuter-belt, chinless wonders who’d no more have gone to Chelsea 15 years ago than flown to the moon that brings out the best in QPR on and off the pitch. The behaviour of the QPR fans was impeccable, they outsung their hosts from beginning to last, and they gave the team a tremendous reception at full time despite the result which should send a strong message to the team about what is expected of them – defeats are forgivable, surrenders are not. The players, to a man, came over and offered their thanks. It felt like a potentially big moment in the season where the whole club pulled together again. Even Jose Mourinho couldn’t help but admit that, in the stands at least, his club had taken a hammering. I felt tremendously proud to be a part of it.
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