QPR’s survival bid stirs with four goal West Brom salvo – report
Sunday, 5th Apr 2015 23:33 by Clive Whittingham
Just when all seemed lost, QPR surged back into contention to stay in the Premier League with a 4-1 win at West Brom on Easter Saturday.
Hope rekindled, or agony prolonged?
The beleaguered supporters of Queens Park Rangers, who must be wondering what on earth their mentally unstable football team will serve up next, will have a better idea which it is after Tuesday night’s crucial match at relegation rivals Aston Villa.
The complexion and significance of that game has shifted markedly after Saturday’s remarkable, nonsensical rout of West Bromwich Albion.
The storyline for the Easter period seemed set: two defeats on the road against teams that have both been below Rangers at one time or another this season but have since been revitalised by managers QPR could have appointed, but didn’t, hammering the final nail into the London side’s Premier League coffin.
QPR arrived at The Hawthorns adrift in the bottom three, on a run of five straight defeats and ten losses in 11 games. They’d won only one of their 15 away matches in all competitions this season, and lost the other 14 scoring only eight goals in the process. But they hadn’t read the script here.
First Chilean international Eduardo Vargas, recalled from the start wide on the left after a goal scoring cameo from the bench in defeat to Everton last time out, seized on Bobby Zamora’s knock down of Robert Green’s long goal kick and arrowed a technically excellent shot into the corner of the West Brom net from 25 yards out.
Any West Brom hope that this was merely a blip and better was to come was extinguished 25 minutes later by a second QPR goal. More amazing still, it appeared to be the product of a set piece routine worked on in training. Be still my cynical heart. You have to go back to the war for the last one of these Rangers produced. Three generations of supporters have heard about them only from story books, and fables passed down through late-night fireside chats.
A chill mist blew across the field and the sun was shrouded as Chris Ramsey added newt eyes and frog toes to his cauldron and began to cackle as the mixture was brought to the boil and reduced to a simmer. Kevin Bond donned a cloak, read from an ancient Hebrew text and wafted his car keys over the brew as the fumes and dry ice spilled out across the playing surface. The stage was set for Niko Kranjcar to run from the far post to the near, tempting a defender across with him which left the vacated space free for Charlie Austin to steal in and head home his fourth goal of the season against the Baggies unchallenged when Kranjcar flicked Matt Phillips’ low delivery onto him. What sorcery was this?
Austin’s first three goals against Albion had come in the same match back in December at Loftus Road. A first hat trick for the club from the former Burnley man which helped the R’s recover from two goals down to win 3-2 – still their last victory at home. The shell-shocked faithful in the away end feared a revenge mission. After all, Kranjcar was only on the pitch because Vargas had followed his fabulous first goal by collapsing in agony on the touchline with no opponent near him. The swelling around his knee was so bad doctors had been unable to scan it 24 hours later, and Rangers will fear a repeat of the cruciate ligament curse until the results are in. Kranjcar had to rush his sausage roll and get ready for a premature introduction in double quick time but the change didn’t interrupt QPR’s flow at all. In fact, things would get better still before half time.
Such is Bobby Zamora’s lack of mobility these days, Matt Phillips’ percentage ball knocked down the right flank into the channel for the veteran target man to chase looked more like an exercise in trolling than an actual pass. Zamora lolloped after it gamely, to chuckles from the away end, and you’d forgive home centre half Joleon Lescott for surmising he was in little danger as the ball bounced towards the corner of the penalty box. Lescott, nor anybody else, could possibly have predicted what was to come next.
Zamora, who has spent his whole career at QPR mixing hours and hours of looking almost completely useless with astonishing, almost circus-like, goals, was in the mood for another moment of lunacy. Before you could say “what on earth is he doing?” he’d reached the ball ahead of Lescott and executed a world class chipped effort with the outside of his left boot without breaking stride or stopping to check the whereabouts of the goal. The ball remained perfectly still in flight, sailing perfectly over Myhill’s head and plum into the far bottom corner, kissing the underside of the bar on the way in. It was beautiful. It was inexplicable.
And, in a tiny way, it was bloody annoying. Because QPR do have ability and belief in this team – it was there for all to see in the first half on Saturday. Two wonderful goals, and a third perfectly executed from the training ground. What they don’t have is balls and belief. They’ve conceded the first goal 25 times in 32 games this season and on only two occasions – Leicester and West Brom at home – have they recovered to win.
They clearly had the measure and beating of Albion and yet you couldn’t help but wonder how different things might have been had, for example, home striker Brown Ideye headed into the net rather than over it seconds before Vargas’ opener when a cross to the far post had Mauricio Isla caught too far infield and the home centre forward in space deep inside the penalty box.
That came during a sustained period of pressure as West Brom upped the intensity slightly after a sluggish start. Ordinarily, particularly away from home, those slight increases in tempo and intent are enough for QPR to fall like a house of cards but here they survived a scare and took the lead.
Four minutes after Vargas’ goal, referee Lee Probert waved play on through an obvious push on Yun Suk-Young and Albion were able to cross from their right once more. This time Ideye beat Green with a bundled shot off his knees, but the ball rolled wide of the post. Again, at 1-1, who knows where QPR might have gone. What this should do is give them confidence that there are goals and ability in the team to recover from set backs.
Rangers had, at times, made it difficult for themselves. Isla, in particular, gave the ball away too often and allowed crosses to come in from his side too easily. Steven Caulker, erratically mixing moments of excellence with moments befitting Manuel from Fawlty Towers, committed a necessary foul on the edge of the area after the Chilean had ceded field position in the twenty second minute. Probert showed a yellow card but while the stage seemed set for Chris Brunt to strike at goal, West Brom overcomplicated the set piece and tried to work a fancy routine only to punt the ball straight into the wall.
There was to be no over complicating after half time. Victor Anichebe was sent on for Stephane Sessegnon, who’d been totally anonymous, and the game plan was blatantly obvious from the opening seconds – this was Pulis-ball 1.1. Everything – every goal kick, every throw in, every free kick, every piece of possession in open play, every drop ball, everything, everything, everything – was immediately launched high down the centre of the field towards the Nigerian substitute. It was like the bombing of Dresden.
First Anichebe worked some space for a shot off target himself, then he held the ball up long enough for Craig Gardner to move into position for a shot that he should have done much more with than simply roll straight down Robert Green’s throat. Rangers possibly thought they’d done the hard work, getting through the first ten minutes of the second half and re-silencing the home crowd, but then they conceded after 12 minutes – Berahino crossed, Anichebe guided a soft header into the net. Game back on.
But mostly the former Everton man simply collected the ball, waited for the contact, and then collapsed to the ground so that Lee Probert could award him a free kick. The second half turned into a succession of stoppages, destroying any momentum West Brom may have built up, and playing right into QPR’s hands. Particularly as, bizarrely, the free kicks were universally complicated and badly worked – Berahino curling a well-placed one wide from 20 yards with his right foot when it was crying out for a left foot strike the pick of the madness. The whole thing was set to the unmistakable soundtrack of Pulis bellowing from the touchline. Jon Walters certain to be summer transfer target number one in these parts.
Probert did a reasonable job of upsetting everybody on either side in this, his first Premier League game of the season. Charlie Austin turned and volleyed straight at Myhill when he might have scored, but seconds earlier Chris Brunt had batted the ball down in his own area with the palm of his hand – close range, sure, but the hand was thrust out at a right angle, filling the ‘unnatural position’ interpretation referees are working to. The home fans howled back when Yun took an inordinate amount of time to leave the field when he was caught by Robert Green rampaging off his line to retrieve an unorthodox save and kill the danger. Joey Barton was booked when others had been let off with worse – but rather than fuel his notorious temper, it actually grew him further into a game he was already bossing in the centre of midfield. He was QPR’s best player.
West Brom, realising that Yun was physically deficient in their land of the giants, started hanging up crosses to the back post and Probert was happy for Ideye and Anichebe to use him as an adventure playground to gain height and head balls back across the face of goal. Ramsey was slow to introduce Hill from the bench to stop that, and could have seen his side concede a second only for Berhainho to head straight at Green from point blank range as the ball came back across.
But any nerves were based purely on QPR’s poor play previously this season, rather than anything that happened here. The game was up when another of Pulis’ substitutes, Youssouf Mulumbu, caught Barton flush in the face with an elbow while rising to contest a header. Deliberate or not, it was dangerous and an obvious red card. Probert didn’t hesitate.
The away end, finally, belatedly, accepted that the win was theirs. In the final minute the team did too, breaking away through Phillips into an understaffed West Brom half. The winger crossed looking for Austin and although he became tangled in challenges from McAuley and Fletcher, the ball broke for Joey Barton to slam in a fourth goal he, and his team mates, deserved. Brunt was booked for protesting too vehemently about a perceived foul by Austin in the build up. He, and Pulis, yawping to the end. But the points, and the plaudits, were QPR’s long before full time.
The significance will be known in time.
West Brom: Myhill 5; Baird 5 (Olsson 65, 5), McAuley 5, Lescott 5, Brunt 5; Gardner 4 (Mulumbu 72, 4), Fletcher 6, Morrison 5, Sessegnon 4 (Anichebe 46, 7); Ideye 5, Berahino 5
Subs not used: Wisdom, Yacob, Pocognoli, Rose
Goals: Anichebe 57 (assisted Berahino)
Red Card: Mulumbu 83 (dangerous play)
Bookings: Sessegnon 45 (foul), Brunt 90+5 (dissent)
QPR: Green 7; Isla 5, Caulker 6, Onuoha 8, Yun 6 (Hill 82, -); Phillips 7, Barton 8, Sandro 7, Vargas 7 (Kranjcar 30, 7); Austin 7, Zamora 7 (Henry 75, 6)
Subs not used: McCarthy, Sutherland, Hoilett, Doughty
Goals: Vargas 15 (assisted Zamora), Austin 37 (assisted Phillips/Kranjcar), Zamora 44 (assisted Phillips), Barton 90+4 (assisted Phillips/Austin)
Bookings: Caulker 22 (foul), Barton 73 (handball), Henry 90+2 (foul)
Referee – Lee Probert (Wiltshire) 5 First game back at the top flight for ten months, and he was everything he was when he left. Few harsh cards, few very generous free kicks for minimal contact, little done about obvious time-wasting, all with a big smile on his face.
QPR Star Man – Joey Barton 8 Drove the team on from the middle of midfield, deserved his goal at the end, super all-round performance.
Attendance – 25, 735 (2,000 QPR approx) An odd atmosphere in the away end in the second half, with everybody – to a man – quite openly expecting the team to make a mess of it. The Mulumbu red card sparked everybody back into life. This was reward for the faith of the faithful. Most of the home fans had left long before the end, which meant there was no queue for the tram – added bonus.
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