QPR and Palace grind out bore draw - report
Monday, 29th Dec 2014 18:49 by Clive Whittingham
QPR concluded their 2014 fixtures with a dire 0-0 draw against Crystal Palace at Loftus Road on Sunday.
An advert for the Premier League it was not, nor much of an endorsement for making teams play twice in 48 hours.
Between them, Queens Park Rangers and Crystal Palace, both desperate to avoid a swift return to the Championship, served up distinctly second-tier quality football at a subdued Loftus Road.
This had been billed as the first return of Neil Warnock to W12 since his harsh sacking by QPR just shy of three years ago, but a Boxing Day thrashing at home to Southampton had plunged the Eagles into the relegation zone, below Rangers, and chairman Steve Parish swung the axe on Saturday morning.
That left Keith Millen to assume the caretaker manager role he’d held twice before and lead his team into battle on statistically one of the most difficult Premier League grounds to get a result. QPR have lost only twice at home this season, and won five - more than anybody from ninth down in the table. They’d won four of the last five and drawn the other prior to this fixture.
Millen attacked the challenge positively, picking three wingers in his attack - in form duo Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasia joined by one-time QPR loanee Jason Puncheon. Rangers, with Clint Hill restored at left back following Armand Traore’s hapless exploits at Arsenal on Boxing Day, and Richard Dunne back at the heart of a flat back four, may have feared being exposed by that trio’s burning pace.
Throw in former R Damien Delaney, who always did like the rough stuff and aerial conflict, at centre back and it was clear that QPR would have to think of something new long before they actually did.
The pattern of home attacks was set very early in the piece. Totally unable to create a single chance of any note in open play, Rangers were left to rely on corners and free kicks to pose a goal scoring threat. Joey Barton, typically, took every single one of them, from every position on the field. After scoring from three of his corners against West Brom, Rangers did again look dangerous when he delivered from the flags, but his free kicks started abysmally and fell away from there.
Leroy Fer burst through the middle after eight minutes and was felled by McArthur. Barton stuck the resulting dead ball straight into the middle of the wall.
In open play the R’s were completely toothless. Charlie Austin, starved of possession with Palace successfully taking Zamora out of the game, improvised brilliantly with a 30 yard volley which visiting goalkeeper Julian Speroni saved comfortably as his near post, but that was about as good as it got. Junior Hoilett, as he had done repeatedly as a substitute at Arsenal, crossed straight into the stand behind the goal when he finally worked space to deliver into the area. His final ball and decision making remains amateur standard.
When Clint Hill ventured forwards to lend support he succeeded only in picking up a harsh yellow card from referee Mike Jones for stretching to retrieve a loose ball and fouling Adrian Mariappa in the process.
The first half had been turgid, and the second started in much the same way. Joel Ward fouled Hoilett and Barton wasted the free kick. Leroy Fer, increasingly a target for the fans ire after several incidents of sloppy possession concession, dragged a weak volley wide from long range.
Barton can be forgiven a lot of his failings because of his work rate, and Fer often gives the ball away while trying to engage a player and beat him, which - when successful - is more effective than simply passing the ball sideways in front of a defence. But both have to be substantially better than this in tougher forthcoming home matches with Swansea, Man Utd and Southampton.
Both showed the quality they do possess on the hour mark. First the Dutchman let rip with a volley from 25 yards which Speroni had to tip over. Then, when the resulting corner was cleared back to Barton, he brilliantly beat the onrushing defender and stood the ball up perfectly to the back post where Charlie Austin looked certain to bury a trademark header before it hit a defender and flew over.
The match, already desperately low on quality, tempo and entertainment, drifted still further in the final half an hour. Puncheon was booked for pushing Hoilett as he ran headlong into oncoming traffic once more. On the one occasion the Canadian winger took his man on the outside, he beat him and was about to run clear into the penalty area along the byline until referee Jones gave a typically poor decision and awarded Palace a free kick for pulling - Hoilett had actually been the one sinned against. Later Jones played on through a clear foul on Clint Hill and Green had to push Puncheon’s shot over the bar. Palace’s first corner of the second half was kicked straight out of play. QPR allowed a long hoof down the field to bounce twice at the heart of the defence and then had to crowd out Bolasie as he threatened to steal in.
Redknapp sent on Matt Phillips for Bobby Zamora and then Eduardo Vargas for Leroy Fer, but a cutting edge sharp enough to slice through Palace’s physical rear-guard remained elusive. Mauro Zarate of West Ham has been linked in January, but QPR have enough ‘number ten’ type players currently forced to play out position on the wing - Vargas, Fer - or unable to get in the team at all - Niko Kranjcar and Jordon Mutch both unused substitutes here.
In truth, it looked like a 0-0 draw a long time before the end. It was unbelievably awful for a Premier League fixture, and it was played out in the worst atmosphere at Loftus Road for many months. Whether it was boredom, the cold, Christmas hangovers or something else, rarely has a QPR crowd been this quiet at a home match. Inspiration was thin on the ground mind.
Midway through the half the public address system clicked into life and asked for Mr Vince Eavies to leave his seat and report to reception. Sir, I envy you. I’ve never wanted to be Mr Vince Eavies more.
Rangers posed more threat than their visitors in the closing stages, but it was all coming from corners. Steven Caulker saw a well-placed header cleared from the goal line, and Clint Hill’s powerful climb and firm attempt was also blocked at point blank range by a defender. Hoilett thrashed high and wide with a first time effort after the ball fell to him from another set piece in acres of space in the heart of the penalty area. He had time to take a touch and pick his spot, but cogent thought and correct decisions are low on the former Blackburn man’s repertoire. He’s surely running out of chances at Loftus Road.
Barton’s mixed bag of an afternoon continued with a yellow card for a foul on McArthur in midfield when it appeared he’d merely been pulling a dropping ball out of the sky, unaware of the Palace man’s presence. Jones has as much understanding and feeling for the sport he referees as I do for basket weaving.
QPR’s afternoon, and that of their captain, could be best summed up by two moments in the final ten minutes. First he wasted another chance to deliver from a free kick, only for Clint Hill to then concede a soft one the other way on the counter attack. Then, with just six minutes left for play, Karl Henry and several others wasted chances to return the ball to a crowded Palace penalty area after a cleared set piece, only to eventually pissball around so much they had no choice but to play the ball back to Robert Green who skewed his clearance straight into the Ellerslie Road stand. Frustrating enough to make you want to tear the flesh from your face and eat it just for the want of something better to do with your time.
Palace will look back at their video review of this match and regret not pushing more for three points. They almost took them despite their lack of ambition when Barton gave the ball away deep in three minutes of stoppage time and a shot from Puncheon, saved by Green, sparked a colossal scramble in the penalty box. The away side appealed for a penalty, Mauricio Isla - QPR’s outstanding player on the day - was the only man calm enough to seize possession and work it away from danger. A real let off.
The final whistle was a blessed relief for most and a cue to boo the team from the field for a very tiny minority. Barton took to the Twitter - as ever - to voice his displeasure at this afterwards, and given how well QPR have played at home to this point you could see his point. A cynic may suggest it successfully ensured all the post-match coverage was about his comments and not his free kicks and ball retention. A niggly, irritating, exasperating end to a truly dire football match.
All that said… fifteenth and outside the bottom three at the turn of the year, Palace remain below QPR in the table, this probably wasn’t a bad result.
QPR: Green 6; Isla 7, Dunne 6, Caulker 7, Hill 6; Hoilett 5, Barton 6, Henry 6, Fer 5 (Vargas 66, 5); Zamora 5 (Phillips 75, 5), Austin 6
Subs not used: Ferdinand, McCarthy, Wright-Phillips, Onuoha, Mutch
Bookings: Hill 45 (foul), Barton 61 (foul)
Palace: Speroni 6; Mariappa 6, Dann 6, Delaney 7, Ward 6; Jedinak 7, McArthur 6, Ledley 6; Zaha 5 (Campbell 67, 5), Bolasie 7, Puncheon 6
Subs not used: Hangeland, Doyle, Hennessey, Thomas, Bannan, Kelly
Bookings: Puncheon 71 (foul)
QPR Star Man - Mauricio Isla 7 His best performance for the club so far, with sound defensive work coupled with intelligent use of the ball. A shining beacon of quality in a sea of mediocrity. Steven Caulker ran him close and would have deserved his goal had it gone in.
Referee - Mike Jones (Cheshire) 5 Harsh bookings for Hill and Barton, ridiculous decision to penalise Hoilett in the second half when he’d gone past his man fairly, almost had a hand in a Palace goal by playing on through a foul on Hill to allow Puncheon to shoot. A poor referee for a poor game. That said, I think he got the big decision for the penalty right at the end, though I haven’t seen it again and Palace will no doubt hold that against him as well.
Attendance 18,011 (1,800 Palace) A footballing chicken and egg - is it the players’ job to lift the crowd or vice versa? Here the football was dreadful, and the atmosphere non-existent. I can scarcely recall Loftus Road being so quiet. Joey Barton has, as ever, had his say, but as a self professed people’s poet, he must surely understand the frustration of people shelling out money at this time of year to watch football this poor.
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