Rangers rue late heartbreak after rub of the Green - report
Friday, 2nd Jan 2015 18:26 by Clive Whittingham
QPR surrendered a precious one goal lead in injury time against Swansea at Loftus Road on New Year’s Day, but can be satisfied with a point from a difficult fixture.
There can be few things in football as gut-wrenching as conceding an equaliser in the second minute of stoppage time. Finding the time to kick off afterwards then missing a gilt-edged chance to win the game anyway is certainly one of them.
Swansea striker Wilfried Bony was the man who delivered the knock-out blow to Queens Park Rangers late in the New Year’s Day piece at Loftus Road. The muscular Ivorian collected a pass from Ki Sung-Yueng on the edge of the QPR area, worked space with two immaculate touches of the ball, and then lashed an unstoppable shot past Robert Green and into the top corner.
With only a minute left to play, and Swansea much the better of the two sides, it seemed certain to rob Rangers of three points. But the London side rallied in the remaining 60 seconds with Mauricio Isla standing a cross up to the back post where Charlie Austin, first with his head and then full on the volley, saw efforts you’d ordinarily expect to burst the net blocked on the line. Joey Barton’s follow up was also stopped improbably, and finally Austin hooked over from close range when he’d usually score. What a pisser.
Barton, at the end of arguably his best performance in a QPR shirt, was flat on his back by the time the final whistle sounded, and he wasn’t the only one in Hoops to sink to the turf when it was all over. It had required a herculean effort for the home team to hang onto the coat-tails of their visitors, and they’d come so close to not only matching a superior side, but beating them as well. The timing of the equaliser made it feel like a defeat, but this was a good result against a far better team.
Things could have been much worse. For a start, Swansea boss Garry Monk left Bony, his leading scorer, on the substitutes’ bench until deep into the second half. Ordinarily a sensible move, given the rush of fixtures at this time of year, this decision seemed bizarre given that Bony will jet off for the African Nations Cup this weekend and potentially not feature for the Swans again until February. A rare example of a club side resting a player for international duty? It made little sense, and it played right into the hands of QPR as his replacement, Bafetimbi Gomis, missed a catalogue of chances Bony surely would have done better with.
Rangers should also have been reduced to ten men after just five minutes. Swansea’s 11 is a mixture of tall, powerful, physical players with surprisingly deft touches, and lethally quick, enterprising midgets who run relentlessly right at the heart of defences. They had the R’s on the rack from the first whistle, outnumbering the home team in midfield, outrunning them in wide areas, and working the classy Gylfi Sigurdsson into dangerous space between the home midfield and defence. It was Sigurdsson who set former QPR man Wayne Routledge screaming through a yawning gap in the back four with the time still in single figures and the only mystery bigger than how referee Anthony Taylor and his assistant missed Green’s blatant handball at full stretch some four yards outside his penalty box was why the Swansea players failed to appeal at all for an obvious free kick and sending off.
Perhaps the Welsh side, who’d beaten QPR 2-0 with plenty to spare at the Liberty Stadium in the corresponding fixture at the start of December, were simply taking all this for granted. Maybe they thought they could win without Bony, without red cards for opposing players, and without really shifting out of third gear. Early on, despite QPR’s excellent home record, it looked like they might be right. An early cross from Routledge was dummied by Sigurdsson at the near post for Gomis to convert at the far stick but the over-sized Frenchman scuffed his kick. Right back Angel Rangel, recalled instead of “Jazz” Richards as one of three Swansea changes prior to kick off, ghosted in behind Clint Hill down the opposite flank a minute later and cut the ball back for Routledge to strike a shot that deflected behind off Joey Barton. Then there was Green’s narrow escape and the chances kept coming at regular intervals thereafter.
But QPR were a good deal more energetic and purposeful than they had been in a dreadful festive fixture against Crystal Palace earlier in the week. Joey Barton and Karl Henry, facing a talented, slick midfield of five, turned in their best performances of the season. Barton in particular was a ball of energy, charging around the field to break up Swansea play and set Rangers on their way. When he’s in this determined, destroyer mode - rather than believing himself to be some sort of Scouse Beckham, capable of spreading Hollywood passes right and left - he’s a real asset to his team.
Slowly the Super Hoops worked a foothold in the game. Charlie Austin skilfully pulled the ball down from a corner kick but saw his shot beaten back by a wall of Swansea defenders. A throw in from Hill sparked a scramble in the visiting team’s penalty box. Chilean Eduardo Vargas, also looking far more threatening than he has in recent games, reached the byline and stood up a cross Bobby Zamora should have scored with but headed over.
That said, it was still something of a surprise when Dutchman Leroy Fer drew a right foot back from 22 yards and sent the ball fizzing past keeper Lukasz Fabianski and into the corner of the School End net with unerring accuracy and substantial power. Not least because, while still being asked to play out of position, Fer continues to turn in Jekyll and Hyde performances, mixing incompetence with signs of genuine ability, often in the same piece of control or pass. For all the criticism Fer is taking at the moment, his three goals in eight games have added three points to QPR’s total this season and is a record his fellow midfielders need to aspire to.
His contributions could best be summed up by two incidents in the final five minutes of the half. First he played Steven Caulker into trouble with a lazy, casual pass that resulted in a Swansea throw-in deep in dangerous territory. From that set piece Routledge, Sigurdsson and Gomis all had shots repelled by desperate, last-ditch challenges as the home team hung grimly to their lead. Then, 60 seconds later, he set an eye-catching counter attack in motion at the other end and when Zamora pulled a cross out of the air in the area Vargas was able to seize possession and rattle the outside of the post from a tight angle.
I can see why Fer is getting stick, but I think his pros out-weigh his cons at the moment, particularly given the alternatives available to Harry Redknapp, of which more later.
The goal did little to affect the pattern of play. Gomis ran onto a ball from a suspiciously offside position after 26 minutes but dragged his shot across the face of goal. Then the big target man drilled a foot wide of the bottom corner from long range. Steven Caulker swooped in to head Routledge’s cross over his own bar with Gomis loitering with intent behind him. But QPR posed occasional threats of their own - Mauricio Isla, a growing presence in the team at the moment, sent Fabianski flying off to his right to palm away a firm effort from 20 yards out.
QPR emerged for the second half apparently in the mood to double their lead rather than protect it. Fabianski’s save right by the base of the post from Charlie Austin’s planted header was high quality, and the keeper therefore deserved a bit of luck which he got when Henry’s fiercely struck follow up hit a defender rather than the back of the net. Within five minutes the Polish goalkeeper had saved well again, this time denying Joey Barton as the QPR captain headed goalwards. Barton, perpetual motion, certainly the home team’s best player at this point.
But Swansea seemed to have had a flea in their ear during the break as well and with QPR regressing from an adventurous midfield diamond formation to a deeper lying flat four they stepped their game up to another level, attacking in waves after surviving those early scares. Sigurdsson curled a shot wide of the right post with Green struggling, then Routledge had the keeper scrambling frantically to cover the opposite corner.
QPR’s tiredness and desperation grew. Isla was rightly booked for a bad foul on Neil Taylor. Richard Dunne likewise for pulling back Gomis after allowing himself to be turned high up the field. Monk sent on Marvin Emnes to add more pace and goal threat to his attack. Bony remained on the bench but it felt like a matter of time before they equalised regardless.
Rangel was off target with a low shot just after the hour, Gomis had another blocked, Emnes saw his first attempt deflected wide. Green was like a footballing General Custer - just when he thought the barrage couldn’t get any worse, another load of Indians turned up.
Sigurdsson’s departure with 20 minutes left to play was a blessed relief. The arrival of Bony in his stead less so.
When Ki Sung-Yueng - an impressive, classy, leggy presence at the heart of this excellent Swansea team - accelerated into space behind QPR’s midfield four Barton had no choice but to pull him back and take a yellow card. Bony took the free kick himself, curling the ball round the wall and drawing a two handed save from Robert Green which the keeper seemed to make rather a meal of. The corner was guided wide by Emnes at the far post.
With ten minutes left for play Bony fed Ki into space in the area and Green dived bravely at the South Korean’s feet to deny him. Emnes swooped on the loose ball and headed towards the empty net only for Dunne to clear from under his own cross bar.
You started to wonder if it wasn’t going to be Swansea’s day. Had Vargas scored, or better still squared the ball to an unmarked Bobby Zamora, during a rare counter attack that sprung the Swansea offside trap, it certainly would have been curtains for Monk’s men. That miss didn’t look like it would matter greatly when Routledge was sent from the field five minutes from the end for lashing out at Karl Henry after the QPR midfielder had delivered what Ron Atkinson may have called a “reducer” to the shins of the fleet-footed winger.
Henry’s lunge was reckless, perhaps worthy of more than the yellow card it received. Routledge’s response seemed meek by comparison, no raised arms and certainly no “kick out” as was claimed by the linesman on that side. He was furious to be sent off, kicking every advertising hoarding and tunnel wall he could find on his way off, and he had every right to feel aggrieved. Anthony Taylor, another modern referee hot on technicalities, but with little feel for the sport he’s in charge of. The rules, and the referees, seem weighted in favour of aggressors, often given the benefit of the doubt for “mistimed” tackles that could cause serious injury, and against players who object to being on the receiving end, or pull somebody’s shirt, or handle the ball, or remove items of clothing during goal celebrations.
Good news for QPR though, or so it seemed. Despite a numerical advantage, the R’s were clearly running on fumes. Harry Redknapp and his coaches had dithered, ummed and ahhed throughout the second half about making changes, but a substitutes bench of Junior Hoilett, Jordon Mutch, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Alex McCarthy, Nedum Onuoha, Matt Phillips and Rio Ferdinand was a collection of the washed-up, the out-of-form and a goalkeeper.
Redknapp took a panning on social media afterwards for taking so long to make a change, and then introducing Junior Hoilett for Bobby Zamora when he did - the Canadian is playing appallingly at the moment and had a hand in the possession concession that led to the Swansea goal. But where are all these quick fixes, obvious choices, and quality players that Redknapp missed when trying to pick a substitute? Who there really would have made a difference? Possibly Onuoha could have been added to the defence, but QPR are not blessed with half a dozen game changers not currently in their team.
Redknapp will use that lack of quality as an excuse, and a pitch to be allowed to add yet more players in January, when really he has had enough time and enough money to spend to have solved the problems long before now. But the time for that accusation is not in the eighty fifth minute against Swansea when protecting a one goal lead. Fact is, Swansea are better than QPR, were better than QPR, deserved at least a point and were unlucky not to get all three. No amount of substitutions would have changed that.
The frustration and angry reaction comes from the timing of the goal, which was a fabulous piece of skill and finish. Had it gone in after an hour and the game finished level, QPR would have been praised for a hard won point. Had Rangers equalised in stoppage time, the talk would have been about the spirit and togetherness of the group. It all counts the same - one point - but the perception of its worth is skewed by Rangers coming so close only to have it snatched away from them. Having probably spent the previous 85 minutes expecting Swansea to score, the long suffering W12 regulars had just started coming round to the idea they might not when they finally did. The deflation puts a negative skew on a hard won point.
The importance of the Bony goal to QPR’s season will only become clear in May, but whether the R’s are relegated by the two points they lost here or survive by the one they gained, I think it’s a fine result given the respective quality of the teams and the balance of play.
QPR: Green 7; Isla 7, Dunne 6, Caulker 7, Hill 6; Fer 6, Barton 8, Henry 7, Vargas 6; Austin 5, Zamora 5 (Hoilett 83, -)
Subs not used: Onuoha, McCarthy, Mutch, Wright-Phillips, Phillips, Ferdinand
Goals: Fer 19 (unassisted)
Bookings: Isla 57 (foul), Dunne 61 (foul), Barton 73 (foul), Henry 85 (foul)
Swansea: Fabianski 8; Rangel 7, Williams 6, Fernández 6, Taylor 6; Britton 7, Ki Sung-Yueng 7; Dyer 6 (Emnes 60, 6), Sigurdsson 8 (Bony 71, 8), Routledge 8; Gomis 6
Subs not used: Carroll, Tremmel, Bartley, Richards, Barrow
Goals: Bony 90+1 (assisted Ki Sung-Yeung)
Red card: Routledge 85 (violent conduct)
QPR Star Man - Joey Barton 8 Stuck to what he’s good at and was all the better for it. Tore around in the midfield, making up for QPR being outnumbered five v four with a super-human work rate and determination to drag his team through to a victory. Looked more devastated than anybody else at the final whistle. This is the Joey Barton we need in the second half of the season, particularly away from home.
Referee - Anthony Taylor (Cheshire) 4 While he generally kept control of the game well, and there can be no complaints about the QPR bookings, the two big decisions in the game - the Green handball and the Routledge red card - were fundamentally wrong and seriously damaged the visitor’s chances of getting anything from the game. There were other niggles as well - Bobby Zamora penalised every time he went near the ball, Bafetimbi Gomis allowed to proceed unchecked for much the same sort of challenges at the other end - but it’s the big decisions that count and he got them both wrong.
Attendance - 17,729 (1,800 Swansea approx) Not as quiet as the Palace game, but not as good as it has been this season. I was hoping the crowd could roar Rangers home in the last ten minutes but I think the nerves and tension got the better of us all.
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