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The least shocking cup shock - report
Tuesday, 6th Jan 2015 01:06 by Clive Whittingham

QPR's annual early-round FA Cup style came against League One side Sheffield United at Loftus Road on Sunday afternoon.

Rarely has the word 'upset' been so flagrantly misused.

Sheffield United away to Queens Park Rangers, a 'David v Goliath' drama with a plot so transparent and easy to telegraph it would have made the script writers at Diagnosis Murder scoff.

Ostensibly this was a Premier League side, with a decent strength team on the field, against a League One outfit. There were 33 league positions between these two at the start of play, and the superior one on paper held home advantage.

But even a recent convert to either cause could tell you this was a rare chance to beat the bookie over the head with a fair certainty of success. QPR haven't won a tie in the FA Cup without the aid of a replay for 18 years, since Trevor Sinclair soared into the air and scissor kicked home a miraculous winner against another South Yorkshire side, Barnsley, in 1997. Since then the R's have been involved in 30 FA Cup games, drawing eight of which four replays resulted in wins, and losing 18. Grimsby Town, Luton Town, Vauxhall Motors, the old bankrupt lower-league Swansea City, Luton Town again, Blackburn Rovers, Huddersfield Town, Middlesbrough, Blackburn Rovers again, Burnley, MK Dons and others have all been, seen, laughed and conquered during an abysmal run of form that continues to match and beat national and competition records to this day.

Sheffield United are, by support base and facilities at least, a weight division too low in League One. But they continue to languish in the third tier in this their fourth season since relegation from the Championship, and although the Blades currently lie sixth they're 15 points behind leaders and favourites Bristol City and with more play-off defeats than any other club in the country to their name – eight disappointments – few would place money on a successful escape this term. What they have been able to do, however, is carve a niche as a dangerous cup team. West Ham, Southampton, Aston Villa and Fulham are among the scalps claimed during a run to the FA Cup semi-final last season and the League Cup last four this.

Given that QPR face varying degrees of financial purgatory if they're relegated from the Premier League this season, and seem to be relying on a tiny handful of players, several of them ageing and injury prone, to keep them up, the choice seemed very clear here. Either commit to winning the cup tie with the best possible team playing at its maximum effort and potential; or hold hands up right from the start and blame other priorities and a crowded fixture list for resting key players, fielding youngsters and accepting the inevitable defeat.

In the end Rangers neither rested players nor won the tie. They achieved nothing from this. Nothing.

Charlie Austin, who carries much of the club's survival hopes on his shoulders, played a full 90 minutes for the fifth time in 15 days. Steven Caulker, whose continued fitness stands between QPR and a heart-stopping Richard Dunne-Rio Ferdinand centre half combination, started too. Bobby Zamora, whose presence has contributed much to an effective change in the style of play during the last two months, but who isn't fit enough to compete for 90 minutes or in more than one match a week, was forced into 45 minutes of action. Eduardo Vargas and Mauricio Isla, rare beacons of genuine ability and quality in a mediocre squad, both played most of the second half. Leroy Fer – not everybody's cup of tea, nor somebody playing particularly well, but a key first team player judging by his appearance record – also played 90 minutes for the fourth time in a fortnight.

You could therefore understand why QPR manager Harry Redknapp came out after the game and said his players had been tired and lethargic, while Sheffield United had been full of life and endeavour having had two of their Christmas fixtures called off due to bad weather.

Except that, like so many of Redknapp's well-worn excuses, which almost never get challenged by a largely sycophantic media who like to subscribe to his loveable East London barrowboy-doing-his-best-in-a-world-set-against-him persona, you could easily disprove this mathematically. It wasn't quite on a level of his persistent early season claim that he'd been forced to take a travelling party of just a dozen senior players on a pre-season tour of Ireland – easily rubbished by reading the club's own official website squad list for the trip – but it wasn't far off. QPR have played 22 times this season and enjoyed three separate fortnights off for international breaks, during which time only four senior players have travelled to play for their countries. Sheffield United do not get the international breaks off, compete in one more competition than QPR, play in a division where you have eight more fixtures than the Premier League, and have reached the semi-final of a cup Rangers shuffled out of at the first hurdle. Nigel Clough's team have played 33 games this year and counting.

Swansea City - who showed enough fitness, endeavour, attitude and drive to equalise at Loftus Road in stoppage time during the last fixture here, despite being reduced to ten men – played the same number of games as QPR during Christmas, but unlike the R's and their four home matches, four of the five fixtures facing the South Wales side were away. They've been on one of their longest trips of the season to Hull, to London, and twice to Liverpool including a midweek night match. The Swans have won three, drawn one and lost one. They are into the fourth round draw. Talk to them about tiredness and sluggishness.

And while there were senior players flogged to death here, QPR also included several who have not played big minutes during the Christmas period – two thirds of the team in fact. Alex McCarthy started in goal having not played at all since October; Nedum Onuoha played in defence having sat out the previous two just like Sheff Utd; Rio Ferdinand started for only the second time since September; Armand Traore played down the left after only playing 62 minutes since November 29; Jordon Mutch has played twice in a month; Matt Phillips has had an hour at Everton and a quarter of an hour against Palace in two months; Junior Hoilett started only once during Christmas. All senior players, all far too good for a League One side on paper, and yet all apparently tired.

Redknapp's excuses irritate almost as much as the performances of his team on days like this. And yet, he may have got what he wanted from this game after all. All those fringe players given a chance, to a man under-performing alarmingly, add weight to Redknapp's constant, incessant assertions that despite the millions spent, despite the multitude of transfer deals completed, despite his two years at the club, Rangers are short of quality, short in key positions, and in need of yet more additions during this month's transfer window. He'll also have a bit of ammunition should any of those players come banging on his door looking for first team football in the coming months.

The experienced QPR manager will say this team should have been good enough to beat Sheffield United and he was let down by the players, and he's right. But the set up they were fielded in was wild. Down the left it appeared as though the back three formation Redknapp toyed with at the start of the season had made a return, with Traore pushed right on up the flank with no left winger ahead of him. But on the right, Nedum Onuoha was deep and wide right like a conventional full back. The defence was lop-sided all day as a result. In midfield Junior Hoilett played wide right, Leroy Fer leftish and Matt Phillips through the middle – if ever a Rubik's Cube needed one more twist that was it. Karl Henry as the deep-lying, ball playing centre midfielder, charged with starting moves with creative passing, was like heading to sea in a sieve.

The tormentor in chief in red and white was Jamal Campbell-Ryce, a diminutive winger of Jamaican origins who knows all about how much fun you can have against QPR when they're playing like this. Back in 2002 he scored one and made two others as Leyton Orient knocked the R's out of the League Cup and then in February 2007 he picked up another couple of assists as Southend United ran amok 5-0 against John Gregory's team. A career taking in permanent spells with Rotherham, Bristol City and Notts County as well as a series of loans at Chesterfield, Colchester and AFC Wimbledon among others suggest Campbell-Ryce isn't actually much good, but QPR have always made him look like a Lionel Messi tribute act. Here he revelled in the space afforded down the right by the home team's poxy formation. On the rare occasions Traore did get anywhere near the winger, he tricked his way back into space using the starter skills from the Big Ladybird Book of Step-overs.

Campbell-Ryce skinned Traore and crossed through the penalty box after nine minutes, then seven minutes later had Caulker at full stretch to divert another dangerous centre away into the path of Stefan Scougall but he shot over. Later Caulker challenged Mark McNulty at the near post and sent the ball bobbling just wide of his own goal after Campbell-Ryce had again delivered a devilish fizzer into the box.

You couldn't help but draw comparisons with QPR's right winger Junior Hoilett, almost a decade younger and paid at least ten times as much, who couldn't beat an egg here. Time and time again his predictable attempts to dribble past his full back ended in possession concession and when you throw in an obvious dive after two minutes trying to win a penalty kick this was another sorry afternoon for the Canadian. He was lucky to only be substituted at half time – his performance was so devoid of life they could easily have called a Catholic Priest to tend to him.

In the end United scored three times. The first, after Caulker and Fer had been caught failing to execute a one two down the field, was finished nervously, but effectively, by McNulty after a clever passing move the likes of which QPR haven't strung together for more than a month played him clean through on McCarthy.

The giant goalkeeper may think he should have done more against a timid shot, but that was nothing compared to the howler for the second. Any hope a half time bollocking and substitution may have livened QPR up were quickly extinguished by Traore conceding a sloppy corner which McCarthy inexplicably walked underneath at the near post leaving the motionless defenders at the back stick to inadvertently divert the ball to Campbell-Ryce and he could hardly miss an open net from a yard out.

That, in turn, was nothing when judged alongside a truly shambolic third goal, scored in stoppage time at the end of the match. Leroy Fer's foolish attempt to head the ball back to McCarthy from fully 35 yards wouldn't have reached the goalkeeper easily even if it had been on target. As it was, he placed the ball too wide, allowing Campbell-Ryce to collect, control, dribble into an unmanned penalty box, sit the goalkeeper down, and slide the ball into the corner. That one was truly pathetic.

The Blades are not a big, horrible, physical Second Division team in the old style. Very few of their players reach six foot and the football they played here was attractive with the ball and tireless without it. In midfield they played with a 17-year-old, Louis Reed, making just a fourth start of his professional career. The only time he looked remotely his age was when he failed to delay a run through on goal long enough to stay onside in the first half. Had he done so, when a more experienced player surely would have done, that would have been 2-0 at the time, 4-0 by the end, and no more than he and his team deserved. Roared on by 3,000 raucous travelling fans, this was a day to take nothing away from Sheffield United, however rank poor QPR might have been. They didn't bully or fluke their way through here, they comprehensively dominated and outplayed their hosts.

Rio Ferdinand, carrying himself like a retired ex-pro dragged from the television studios for a testimonial game, played a suicidal pass to Nedum Onuoha in his own area in the first half, which the former Man City trainee attempted to dribble out of trouble only for McNulty to rob him and journey right to the heart of the danger area unchecked. When QPR escaped, Karl Henry tried to run the ball clear, only for Onuoha to try and tackle him. In the second half a free kick awarded 25 yards from goal was struck by Leroy Fer, but only after he'd insisted on it being nudged to the side, allowing a charger from the wall to advance eight of the ten yards and block the shot away. There's a line from a Friends episode about wanting to push your finger through your eye, and into your brain, and whirl it around...

QPR are being propped up by their home form, or held back by their away results, depending on your outlook on life. With trips to Burnley, Sunderland and Hull on the horizon and Manchester United next up in Shepherd's Bush this, and plenty else besides, has to change. Otherwise Redknapp's steady stream of excuses will be about securing his own place on the Match of the Day sofa next season, rather than keeping his job at a Premier League club.

Links >>> Photo Gallery >>> Ratings and Reports >>> Message Board Match Thread

QPR: McCarthy 4; Onuoha 4, Ferdinand 5, Caulker 6 (Isla 61, 6), Traore 3; Hoilett 2 (Zamora 46, 5), Henry 5 (Vargas 61, 6), Mutch 4, Fer 4, Phillips 6, Austin 5

Subs not used: Furlong, Hill, Grego-Cox, Murphy

Bookings: Onuoha 65 (foul)

Sheff Utd: Howard 6; Kennedy 6, McEveley 6, Flynn 7, Harris 7; Campbell-Ryce 8, Doyle 7 (Higdon 90+2, -), Reed 8, Baxter 6 (Wallace 90, -), Scougall 7; McNulty 8 (Murphy 82, -)

Subs not used; Alcock, McGahey, Turner, Dimaio

Goals: McNulty 36 (assisted Reed), Campbell-Ryce 49 (assisted Reed), 90 (assisted Fer)

Bookings: McNulty (kicking ball away), Reed 79 (foul)

QPR Star Man – N/A

Referee – Mark Clattenburg (Durham) 8 Even QPR's lucky referee couldn't save them here. Clattenburg had little to referee but did everything to his usual high standard. Hoilett should have been booked for diving early on. McNulty's card for kicking the ball away a needless one, given that QPR could have played all night here and not threatened a comeback.

Attendance – 12, 972 (3,000 Sheff Utd approx) Given QPR's record, the daft kick off time, and the inevitability of what was to come here, I think it's amazing this crowd made it into five figures and the QPR fans who bothered deserve medals/head checks. The quality of he travelling support there for all to see, and hear.

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Kaos_Agent added 04:33 - Jan 6
Thanks Clive. Can't be easy writing about that.

"The tormentor in chief in red and white was Jamal Campbell-Ryce, a diminutive winger of Jamaican origins"The tormentor in chief in red and white was Jamal Campbell-Ryce, a diminutive winger of Jamaican origins"

The sequitur must be that the tormentor in chief in blue and white was Junior Hoilett, also a diminutive winger of Jamaican origin. Instead of being an embarrassment to Jamaicans and Canadians everywhere, Junior, why not ask Jamal for some pointers on how to hold onto the ball?

Marshy added 08:31 - Jan 6
Thanks for the report Clive. I was one of the one's who bothered. I will collect my medal later as I'm busy getting my head checked. I can only describe this performance as incompetence of the highest order. I don't accept the argument in any form about the congested fixture list being the cause for this defeat. These are highly paid Professional footballers who were completely outplayed for the whole 90 minutes. There was no shape or cohesion to the team. There was no pace or desire. It was plain to see that Sheffield were really "up for it", whereas our players give the impression that they couldn't give a toss. Someone has to take the responsibility for this embarrassment. Redknapp should do the honourable thing and fall on his sword, and get the hell out of Loftus Road.

enfieldargh added 08:53 - Jan 6
I doubt any of our coaching staff would read this, but they need to.

I doubt any of the players would read this as there are too many long words and not enough pictures for them to comprehend.

I decided recently that qpr have a tendency to buy skill full players whose feet and not in contact with their brains unlike most other prem players who have good footballing brains.

Our players have it inside somewhere but need someone to coach this aspect into their mind sets. Sadly hr,BB and jordan cannot coach. Our mind guru appears to have changed his methods into reverse physiology creating a nose dive.

Jamal Campbell rice was Lionel messi and their centre half got banged on the head so much he turned into Beckenbauer

Silverfoxqpr added 09:13 - Jan 6
"Rio Ferdinand, carrying himself like a retired ex-pro dragged from the television studios for a testimonial game, played a suicidal pass to Nedum Onuoha in his own area in the first half, which the former Man City trainee attempted to dribble out of trouble only for McNulty to rob him and journey right to the heart of the danger area unchecked. When QPR escaped, Karl Henry tried to run the ball clear, only for Onuoha to try and tackle him"

Brilliant, sums up the utter shambles our team has become this season perfectly.

HastingsRanger added 09:15 - Jan 6
Thanks for the excellent report, Clive. I do wonder if the club could give a coded hint as to how the team is intending to compete for cup games, as I feel that the 9000 who paid good money to watch their team are being totally shafted by the club.

My only surprise was not to see SWP involved in this but presumably absent due to a bed sore injury from the bench against Swansea. And Ferdinand has taken his mantle of turning up to collect his pay cheque.

I agree entirely about the fixture congestion myth, which allows players not to perform. The idea that we can blow hot and cold, which is presumably coming from the top, is misguided. We should be using these games to work on team cohesiveness and match fitness. Next week is a real test against a team who have done just that, regardless of their 'inferior' squad.

This is not looking good.

probbo added 11:44 - Jan 6
Thanks Clive. I can't add anything to the other comments about Redknapp and his team's coaching and tactical ineptitude but what the hell is Hoddle doing? I had great hopes when we secured his services that he would bring a new dynamic (or something positive) to the team but clearly he's failing miserably in that regard. All very disappointing.

I can't see Redknapp falling on his sword now unfortunately (the money's too good and the transfer windows open) but hopefully he'll go at the end of the season, regardless of our position.

Jigsore added 12:04 - Jan 6
Campbell-Ryce 49 (assisted Reed), 90 (assisted Fer)


EastR added 12:20 - Jan 6
Clive, excellent summary.At your caustic best, and much more eloquent than the 'what a f*cking shambles' I could only sum up.

smegma added 13:05 - Jan 6
I think Rob Greens place is safe for eternity. Even if he had two broken arms he would've done better. Hoilett is surely finished at the club now while Mutch hasn't even got started.

FloridaR added 15:11 - Jan 6
Thanks for the write up Clive it must be getting harder to keep a mental focus on writing about Ary's QPR.

Spiritof67 added 17:02 - Jan 6
What a shambles. Lack of team cohesion, lack of formation, lack of pace, lack of mental strength and a lack of ability from the "management team", despite the welcome introduction of Vargas and Isla,, to have a any real idea as how to change things at half-time. Was Mutch a one season wonder at Cardiff? Is SWP that poor that he couldn't even make the bench. Has Adel only lost a couple of pounds from the alleged 3 stone that he is supposedly carrying. What goes on at the training ground each week?

Such a lame excuse "the players are tired." I saw more effort and ability watching both Wrexham and AFC Wimbledon on TV recently. Our home from has been our saviour so far this season; but with home games coming up against, Man Utd, Southampton, Arsenal. Chelsea and West Ham, Harry has got his work cut out to achieve the same effort and commitment from the team as shown at our earlier home games against Liverpool and Man City..


dixiedean added 18:37 - Jan 6
Clive's title says it all- this was no shock. They were up for it and we weren't. Our team selection was neither one thing nor the other- were we going for it or not ? Seeing as he made the ludicrous decision to play Austin ( who should have been sent off to Dubai for the weekend) presumably we were trying to win - not that it showed. The game was a microcosm of the season ; all made up as we go along with no apparent plan or method, a situation reflected in our transfer policy. Seeing as we were apparently surprised when Remy left, we've had since Sept to scout a replacement , yet all we can come up with is one from Arry's little black book, ie Defoe. I'll eat humble pie if we pull a couple of quality signings out of the hat by the end of the window but that's not looking likely. Ditto if we can somehow dig out a performance ( and result) at Burnley, but that would be more of a surprise than us losing to Sheff Utd. As for the sorry crew who played this game: the answer to whether SWP was there is that he was there in disguise wearing 23. Or has Hoilett gone so far downhill he has morphed into SWP? A very sad show when Campbell-Ryce looks like Arjen Robben compared to Hoilett. Phillips tried hard but lacked quality apart from the excellent cross BZ should have scored from ; Mutch barely crossed the halfway line and looked like he wanted to be elsewhere. Why wasn't he tearing the place up trying to show he should be in the 1st team ? I'd love to see his ' heat map' from that game. Ned's cross into the Upper Loft summed it all up.Lacking in quality, mobility, pace,desire. So if HR can't motivate his team to a performance on Sat you have to wonder what he can salvage from this season. If we do win, then the cup defeat will be tolerated, but we've tried to flick the on/off switch a few times and got away with it, but sooner or later that won't work, esp with teams like Palace & Sheff U who put a midfielder in front of BZ to cut out the supply- which they can do, knowing we don't have a plan B. The most faultless performer on the pitch was Clattenburg, reminiscent of the Wigan play-off game. Always on the spot and always correct. If our players made as few errors as he did we'd have walked it.

Imelda added 19:18 - Jan 6
Big Ladybird Book of Step overs - just snorted my cuppa tea out of my nose!

Seriously though - same sh*t, different year

TacticalR added 20:06 - Jan 6
Thanks for your report.

I saw the highlights, such as they were, and we really did look in a terrible state. I also heard the BBC Radio Sheffield commentary, and their commentary team described us as 'a soft touch' and thought that Ferdinand wasn't taking the opposition seriously.

The defence was hopeless. It doesn't matter how many first team players we had out, Onuoha at right-back and Traoré at left-back/wing-back is never going to work. Onuoha really did look as though his head had completely gone. He obviously needs somebody alongside him telling him what to do.

There is much lamenting about the FA Cup becoming a meaningless spectacle, but surely nobody brings a greater meaningless to this competition than QPR?

Lblock added 23:34 - Jan 6
That picture of our dugout makes my blood boil
It's only redeeming feature is the sort in the crowd on the right hand side!!

I'm so glad I didn't go to this game. QPR are a huge part of my life but it's getting easier and easier to accept that some things matter so, so, so much more. I've sacked off Burnley and may well give my Utd ticket to one of my mates as I've far more pressing things in my life currently

If I have to make do with razor match reports then so be it!!

062259 added 20:42 - Jan 7
Redknapp is an embarrassment to his profession, constantly regurgitating old excuses when not desperately seeking some new ones. If I had a quid for every time I've heard him say the words 'Remy', 'difficult', 'pace' and 'tired', I'd be able to singlehandedly fund another transfer window spending spree all by myself. It's pathetic.

How admirable are the efforts of Leicester and especially Burnley to adapt to the Premier League with vastly inferior resources, and not complain. Their fans can be rightly proud of their achievements this season, whether or not they are relegated. 'Pride' is not one of the words we will be associating with QPR or Redknapp at end of this season, whatever the outcome.

Hoillet, Phillips, Traore , Ferdinand, Taraabt and SWP are the deadest of dead wood. By next season, especially if survival is achieved, so will be Hill, Dunne and Zamora. That's almost a whole team, right there, which just indicates how far off Premier League stability this club really is.

Every game is a gut-wrenching, fingernail-biting episode, usually bereft of quality, or just a hopeless capitulation. The club is constantly teetering on the precipice. It is rarely fun.

Redknapp has to go at the end of the season, come what may. He is the ultimate dinosaur and has been found out, long ago by QPR fans.

Burnley represents the third game In a row that offers a realistic opportunity of opening a four or five point gap to the bottom three (Palace play Spurs). These opportunities will become increasingly rare as the season progresses and failure to take them will lead to a predictable outcome, almost entirely self-inflicted.

dixiedean added 10:08 - Jan 8
062259- Great piece. I think most of us would agree with every word you've said and you make a good point re Hill, Dunne & BZ. We've already squeezed more out of them than we could have expected, while getting nowhere near enough from the dead wood . As Clive often says, we never COACH players but just replace them, otherwise by now we'd have taught Hoilett to cross the ball. Redknapp is a fraud and should have left after the play-off final regardless of the result. He got lucky at Spurs where they could only get better when he went there ; he had moderate success at Pompey but bankrupted them in the process. For someone who is allegedly renowned for transfer dealings, his transfer policy at Rangers is lamentable. No strategy, no plan, no forethought. Maybe Sir Les or whoever should have more involvement in transfer dealings so we can get back to buying up-and- coming players to nurture ,as Swansea just did with the Exeter kid. I also wonder what the fallout might be of the AirAsia plane crash in terms of TF's commitment to us, both financial and emotional. He rightly has more pressing worries right now. Oh how easy the world was when we were winning successive home games - suddenly it all looks bleak again. A win at Burnley would help !

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