An all too familiar feeling - report
Monday, 2nd Feb 2015 13:32 by Lee McAlpine
QPR lost their twelfth straight away game in much the same style as the previous 11, going down 3-1 at Stoke City on Saturday. Lee McAlpine was there for LFW.
Three things you can guarantee when QPR visit the Britannia Stadium: a nasty reception from the ever jovial Stokies, a victory for somebody, and it will be chuffing freezing.
Prior to the game, looking at the weather forecast and Premier League form table, the only part of the treble that threatened to let us down was if the usual 20,000 Delilah-singing hoards were abducted by aliens. So, the £20 treble: home win, plenty of abuse with the odd coin and bottle chucked into our car park afterwards, and frozen to the bone. Sorted.
Except The Brit was strangely subdued. We were only treated to one quietish rendition of their theme tune after the second goal and then they went back to sleep. A moving film about the late Sir Stanley Matthews just before the players emerged from the tunnel accompanied by classical music set the mood.
All QPR wanted was a point. An end to their pathetic away record so the press can stop going on about it. But Rangers simply don't do draws here.
The Britannia has been a pretty good hunting ground for QPR during the last 15 years. My personal favourite was the Heidar Helguson-inspired 3-2 win under Neil Warnock. Who could forget that bullet header from the Iceman, sporting a huge swelling under his eye and getting pissed off with his teammates when they mobbed him to celebrate? Those were the days when we actually looked like a genuine Premier League team. Mind you, we also thought Shun Wright-Phillips was really a footballer - we should have been concerned when he missed a sitter to make it 4-1 that day.
How things have changed. Every pundit had this down as a comfortable home banker and why wouldn't they? QPR had lost their previous 174 away games (well it feels like that) and Stoke would have far too much quality and power. As it turned out, Stoke had neither. In fact, they were barely average. Sadly, that turned out to be enough.
While I was underwhelmed by QPR’s line-up, I was certainly encouraged by Stoke's. Their midfield and forward line didn't worry me at all. Steven Nzonzi is a bit of a beast, but Glenn Whelan puts the j into journeyman and is incredibly ordinary. Ahead of those two was Mr Upsidedown Head Ireland, with the unreliable pair of Victor Moses and Marko Arnoutovic on the wings supplying the bullets for the huge lump of Walters. No Peter Crouch, Mame Diouf or the injured talisman Bojan… I was more than hopeful before kickoff.
Our now, widely despised, leader had made only one change from the plucky defeat against Man Utd with Niko Kranjcar replacing Bobby Zamora. So, once again, we tried to pack the midfield and leave Charlie Austin completely isolated up front. Harry, have we tried this before away from home? Have we had any joy?
Worse was to come. Kranjcar on the left. A joke. He didn't look any good on the left away at places like Doncaster last season, what on earth could we expect at Stoke? The answer was obvious, the square root of nowt. The Croatian has been pretty rubbish this season overall, but his display here was truly pathetic bar being in the right spot for the tap in. His free kick from our left in the first half had to be seen to be believed. Right footed, he managed to clear all those waiting in the area and clear it behind for a goal kick by about four goal heights. Woeful.
QPR had options on the bench to fill the left side with Junior Hoilett or maybe Mauro Zarate. Who? Well apparently we signed a South American, nippy, forward player some time ago. I say apparently… maybe one of our esteemed and experienced coaching staff need to put a different coloured, fluorescent, flashing, high-viz vest on him before kickoff so Harry might notice his new signing. Anything would have been an improvement on Niko's efforts.
The good news was that Leroy Fer had a central role and played well. That’s pretty much the end of the good news.
The first half was utterly dire. The lack of quality on show from two Premier League teams was unbelievable. What exactly do we train with between games? Because it sure as hell isn’t a spherical thing. Perhaps we’re just generous, because we kept giving it back to Stoke every time we had it. I say again, Stoke were rubbish but they harried our back line whenever we fleetingly had possession and sure enough we looked scared of the ball and couldn't wait to give it back to them. Maybe the Stoke staff had done some research on us and then coached their players. A strange concept.
By now you will have all seen the unbelievably shambolic, juvenile way we gifted Stoke a two goal lead. In the away end there seemed to be a quiet acceptance of the scoreline - as if we expected it. What Karl Henry was doing only he knows and why did Green just fell down and palm it into the net? He was obviously not well because the medics brought him some tablets shortly after. We needed something far stronger than aspirin, freezing to death behind the goal. If he was poorly why not play your backup keeper who is supposedly good enough to have been wanted by Everton and Liverpool recently? To emphasize just how bad Stoke were, I don't recall Green actually making a save. Ireland and Moses both had good efforts in the first half but both off target and that was it until the third in the ninety third minute.
Anyway, Stoke's second goal was fun to watch too. Vargas needlessly gave the ball away on the halfway line and a couple of clever passes later Walters fires home. Can you guess which QPR player was closest to tackling the goal scorer in the box? It was Vargas. Great goal for Stoke; embarrassing for us.
At this stage we were a shambles, a better team would have murdered us but as I've already said, Stoke were ordinary. To be honest our goal was a bit of a shock to the whole ground. Great run by Fer, an advantage played by referee Dean after a foul by Shawcross, good pull back by Barton and Austin's mishit shot is deflected to Krankjar who couldn't miss. Rangers back in the game.
More hope was to follow shortly after, as Stoke captain Shawcross was obviously struggling with an injury. He eventually was replaced by Muniesa who appeared to be about a foot shorter than the rest of the Stoke defense.
Stoke applied some pressure before halftime but we somehow managed to hold out until the break and maybe there was some hope.
The mood under the concourse was pretty good really during the interval. The atmosphere at the games is certainly a lot better than you would imagine after looking at the messageboards. The current levels of anger and misery that can be read online are not replicated amongst the travelling fans. Even yesterday when things were going horribly wrong there was still plenty of singing from our corner of the stand. There was hope but no-one could have expected the second half to turnout the way it did with almost complete one way traffic towards us and the Stoke goal.
Harry acted straight away and replaced Henry with Zamora. Just like the first half Stoke continued to be ordinary. We pressed from the off. Fer and Vargas ran at Stoke with pace and we got into lots of good situations but the final ball and sheer number of red and white shirts stifled our attacks. The ball just would not run kindly for us. At last Kranjcar was replaced by Hoilett who immediately set about attacking at pace down our left side.
We were getting free kicks in dangerous areas. Fer’s scuffed effort ended up at Vargas’ feet. His wonderful overhead scissor kick was acrobatically smashed straight at Begovic - a yard either side and it was 2-2. The Barton free kick was his best set piece in a very long time and deserved a goal. It could quite easily have come down and hit Begovic’s back and gone in, it probably would’ve if it was at the other end. The ball was delivered back in again by Barton and Hoilett’s goalbound effort was blocked for a corner. Fer’s long range strike was a beauty and the Stoke stopper had to be at full stretch to palm it away. An Isla corner should have been headed in by either Fer or Zamora but it went just wide.
Rednapp’s final change was to swap Hill for Yun with 15 to go, another really original substitution. Why not replace Hill with Zarate and go three at the back? Why not try something different?
Stoke were posing zero threat and dropping deeper and deeper at this point. They were worried, the home fans had been silent for the whole second half and an equaliser would’ve been deserved.
On the train back to Manchester I stupidly had a look at messageboards. The venom was predictable and extremely fair on the first half’s efforts. But not the second. The disappointment with me lay with the fact this had been a massive missed opportunity. Stoke were worse than Newcastle and Burnley and yet we still got nothing. Not many of our team actually played very well and yet we were still more than a match for a supposedly strong Stoke side.
Rednapp’s selection and match management do my head in. We make the same mistakes over and over again. Kranjcar should not have started on the left and if Yun was fit he should have played instead of Hill. Austin hardly had a touch he was so isolated and Zamora’s impact was negligible. All of our opportunities came when we ran at Stoke and drew fouls around the box.
But at any level of football you cannot give the ball away so easily and in such dangerous areas. We seem to be punished for every mistake yet we don’t take advantage when we have similar opportunities. We are not getting the rub of the green or run of the ball but perhaps we have to start making our own luck.
Our season probably rests on the next three games and two days. It’s probably too late to sack Redknapp, there has been plenty of opportunities to do that. If Fernandes lets him sign any unmotivated mercenaries on Monday while hanging out of his car window I think the game is up, if it’s not already.
The team was motivated. They didn’t stop trying and were supported to the end by the travelling fans. We had a new song yesterday that we could sing until the twentieth minute. “How shit must you be, we’re drawing away”
It wasn’t our day, I know there have been far too many of those this season but we’ll be there at Hull in two weeks and hopefully the ”win away” song can be heard loud and clear at the end of the game rather than just at the start.
Stoke: Begovic 8; Bardsley 6, Shawcross 5 (Muniesa 42, 5), Wollscheid 6, Wilson 5; Nzonzi 6, Arnautovic 6 (Crouch 63, 5), Ireland 7 (Adam 72, 4), Moses 6; Walters 9
Subs not used: Diouf, Cameron, Butland, Sidwell
Goals: Walters 21 (assisted Ireland), 34 (assisted Ireland), 90 (unassisted)
Bookings:Moses 57 (dive), Walters 84 (foul)
QPR: Green 4; Isla 4, Dunne 5, Onouha 4, Hill 4 (Yun 75, 4); Henry 3 (Zamora 46, 3), Barton 6, Kranjcar 3 (Hoilett 68, 6), Fer 7, Vargas 6; Austin 4
Subs not used: Caulker, Phillips, McCarthy, Zarate
Goals: Kranjcar 36 (assisted Austin)
Bookings: Isla 23 (foul), Barton 67 (foul)
Referee: Mike Dean (Merseyside) 8Really good display. Not a hard game to manage but I thought he was very solid in his decision making. Played two good advantages, one for our goal and another when Ireland fouled Vargas. Both QPR yellows for Barton and Isla were correct, carded Moses for dive too so that’s worth an extra mark. Assistant ref in front of us was a clown though- utterly inept.
Attendance 27,512 (1,400 QPR approx)
Pictures – Action Images
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