Austin’s penalty miss proves crucial in Hammers stalemate – report
Sunday, 26th Apr 2015 23:15 by Clive Whittingham
Charlie Austin missed a penalty for the second time this season as QPR drew their must-win home match against West Ham 0-0 on Saturday.
A season of what-ifs, bookended by two Charlie Austin penalty misses in crucial games. Ultimately though, QPR simply haven’t been good enough.
Manager Chris Ramsey promised a “blood and thunder” London derby with West Ham at Loftus Road on Saturday as the R’s sought a victory to potentially lift them out of the bottom three for the first time since he took over. In the end there wasn’t enough of either. A key game, a wonderful chance for points against an out-of-form side with nothing to play for, was allowed to slip quietly by. Positive results for Leicester and Hull elsewhere only added to the feeling that time is about to be called on QPR’s Premier League status.
Austin’s miss from the spot in the first half proved crucial. A flowing move, easily QPR’s best of the game, worked Matt Phillips into space down the right and when he found Bobby Zamora in the area the hapless James Collins thrust up an arm and diverted the ball away from the danger zone. Even Mike Jones, a referee who carries himself with all the gravitas of the hand towel in the gents toilets of a particularly down-at-heel East End pub, couldn’t miss it and the penalty was duly awarded.
Austin has been magnificent for QPR since arriving from Burnley nearly two years ago, barely missing a beat or a chance in his time with the club and often carrying his team far beyond what their collective ability and efforts should allow with his goals. He’s scored 17 times already this season and without those goals Rangers would have been knocking on the door of Derby County’s lousy single-win Premier League record from a decade ago. But his reaction – hands to face, turning away towards the Ellerslie Road side of the ground in wide-eyed fear – did little to inspire confidence before he took the penalty down at the School End and his shot was so poorly struck and placed that visiting keeper Adrian, who’s saved three of these already this season, actually almost dived past the ball and ended up saving it with his shins. But, he saved it all the same.
The mood around the place dipped as a result and Austin’s performance level dropped almost as much as his head. Later, in the crucial final moments, Nedum Onuoha, picked at right back, received the ball on a successful overlap and laid the perfect low cross through the goalmouth, cutting out the whole West Ham defence and the goalkeeper in one swing of his right boot. Austin would be on hand to tap in 99 times out of 100. On this occasion, he was stuck back in the crowd and the chance went begging. The mental fatigue caused by carrying the hopes and expectations of an entire club on his shoulders looked to be weighing heavily.
The home side may feel aggrieved not to have won anyway. A second half corner, headed straight up in the air by Bobby Zamora at the back post, caused panic in the West Ham penalty area. Steven Caulker, up from the back, seemed to do little more than jump for a header as the ball dropped and it was subsequently bundled into the net from close range by his recalled centre half partner Richard Dunne. Jones was on hand to award West Ham a free kick – Adrian’s act of running up behind Caulker, attempting to jump over the top of the QPR man and subsequently spilling the ball, deemed a foul. A nonsense decision, but one referees blow for every single time. You’ll never see that goal awarded, for reasons known only to the officials and goalkeepers' union.
There were other moments as well. Matt Phillips broke down field in the opening minute and laid the ball into Sandro who tried to catch Adrian out at his near post with a low shot that the keeper toed wide. A full 90 minutes later, in the first minute of time added on at the end of the game, Phillips ran onto a long ball into the West Ham area and unleashed a powerful first time volley from a difficult angle that seemed destined for the top corner until the Spanish goalkeeper flung himself off to his left and made a truly astonishing one-handed save.
Zamora rushed one shot straight after half time, possibly believing he was either offside or under pressure from the West Ham defence when neither was the case, and struck the ball straight at the goalkeeper. Later, when played in behind the Hammers’ back four, he blasted a wild shot over the bar when he had to hit the target. After that he took a deep cross away from Karl Henry who seemed to be better placed for an effort on goal and Sandro subsequently shot over. Henry, who’d hardly endeared himself to a good portion of the QPR faithful with a provocative Twitter outburst in favour of the Conservative Party prior to kick off, could have won back friends and influenced people with a well-struck late volley but Adrian dived to his right and saved once more.
But did QPR do enough? Did they really deserve to win here? Given how poor West Ham have been of late, and were again in this match, and how little they had to play for relative to Rangers, can you really say anything other than “not good enough” at the end of this game and this season?
Ramsey’s tactics have won praise of late, particularly after matches with Aston Villa and Chelsea, but he seemed paralysed by a fear of defeat here rather than imbued with the urgency the situation required. A back four made up entirely of centre halves in readiness for the physical battle West Ham always offer may have been fair enough, but Henry on the left of midfield – necessary against a team as good as Chelsea – seemed a bit belt and braces for this one.
Perhaps the idea was to ensure a solid foothold was gained in the game, that Rangers weren’t out of it before they’d even got into it as happened in another London derby recently against Crystal Palace. Once that was achieved, Leroy Fer could return from injury from the bench and more attacking intent could be shown. That idea and plan has plenty of merit, but sadly the onslaught never came. Rangers got stuck in second gear, unable to find any pace or tempo in their game. A final, third substitution never came. Ramsey, and Rangers, had run out of ideas.
Phillips may have almost won the game spectacularly at the end, but he was mostly played out of the game by the wonderful Aaron Cresswell, who had been sitting at Ipswich Town and available for a couple of million quid for several years while Rangers were busy giving £65,000 a week to Jose Bosingwa and loaning in kids from Manchester United.
Cresswell actually came closer than most to winning the game – whipping a left footed free kick over the wall ten minutes after half time and drawing an excellent save from Robert Green. But that was far from West Ham’s only chance in the game. Gangly 18-year-old centre back Reece Burke, making his senior debut, saw a first half header from one of a succession of corners cleared from the line by Richard Dunne. Before half time Enner Valencia shot wide with options for a pass after shouldering Dunne off the ball far too easily. Dunne made another error in first half injury time giving Kevin Nolan a sight of goal but he struck the ball straight at Green.
Nolan is much-maligned by the West Ham fans, but loved by a manager who has signed him for three different clubs during his career. It was easy to see both points of view here. In open play, Nolan was an absolute liability - leaden footed, one-paced and incapable of passing the ball to a team mate. However, he refereed the game superbly. Never more than ten yards from Jones, and repeatedly allowed to scream in the referee’s face, it was a display of influencing match officials unrivalled by anybody other than Wayne Rooney. Twice West Ham players committed fouls worthy of yellow cards only for Jones’ attention to be distracted by Nolan bellowing at him from half a foot away – no bookings were issued. Three times Nolan himself committed a foul, and twice he was warned about his dissent, but again no yellow. Job done, as they say.
He could easily have been a victorious captain too. Robert Green, who’d spent the first half against his former club looking haunted by his mistake against Chelsea – kicking the ball with even less conviction and accuracy than usual, and remaining rooted to his line when he could have stepped forward to take pressure off defenders – rushed out of his area after half time and slid in on Stewart Downing to deny the winger a run through on goal. Credit where it’s due – fantastic goalkeeping. He should have been given no chance at all nine minutes from time though when Valencia again made a mug of Dunne and placed a sitter on a silver platter for Cheikhou Kouyate eight yards out but the Senegalese midfielder lost his footing and skied the ball over the bar.
Overall though, this was a turgid, tepid encounter that deserved to finish goalless. It was the sort of game that drained your will to live as you watched it. It was like being at work.
QPR’s players, inexplicably, seemed incapable of keeping their feet, slipping and sliding around like they’d taken to the field on roller skates. The logic of soaking the pitch immediately before kick off, and then again at half time, almost as sound as picking an overly-defensive team for a must-win home match. Young Burke managed to boot the ball out over his own cross bar from 18 yards out for a corner at one stage. In the first half Sam Allardyce ran onto the pitch to berate the referee for failing to stop the play for an injury to one of his players – ignoring the fact that West Ham had turned down the chance to kick the ball out themselves and initially played on before losing possession. In three minutes of added time the veteran manager could be seen on the touchline enthusiastically applauding as James Collins boomed a towering clearance into the main stand.
It was that kind of game, and the noise at the final whistle was more the sound of life draining from those unfortunate enough to witness it rather than any pronounced booing or cheering. QPR now require snookers.
QPR: Green 6; Onuoha 6, Dunne 5, Caulker 6, Hill 6 (Yun 64, 6); Phillips 6, Barton 6, Sandro 6, Henry 6; Austin 5, Zamora 5 (Fer 67, 5)
Subs not used: Kranjcar, McCarthy, Taarabt, Isla, Wright-Phillips
Bookings: Austin 76 (foul)
West Ham: Adrian 8; Jenkinson 6, Collins 5, Burke 6, Cresswell 7; Jarvis 5 (Cole 55, 5), Nolan 4, Kouyate 5, Noble 6, Downing 6; Valencia 6
Subs not used: Carvalho, O’Brien, Amalfitano, Poyet, Jääskeläinen, Oxford
QPR Star Man – Joey Barton 6 By default almost. Tried to inject tempo and urgency, tried to make things happen, always looked forwards with the ball. But overall this was an insipid team display from which there were few stand-out performances.
Referee – Mike Jones (Cheshire) 5 As usual, allowed himself to be dictated to and influenced by players and managers. Zero presence, zero authority.
Attendance 18.036 (1,800 West Ham approx) An atmosphere in keeping with the game – slow to get going, died completely after the penalty miss. There was resignation in the air, an acceptance of the increasingly inevitable.
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