Another late goal conceded all but condemns QPR - report
Sunday, 3rd May 2015 20:40 by Dave Thomas
Another late goal, another 2-1 defeat, Liverpool the beneficiaries this time and QPR seem certain to be playing second tier football next season now. AKUTR’s editor Dave Thomas reports from Anfield.
It was all too predictable really. Under four minutes left on the clock, plus stoppage time. Rangers back on level terms, deservedly so given the respective league position of the two sides. A morale-boosting point not quite in the bag yet - but getting closer with every passing minute.
Add in to that equation a very average Liverpool team unable to add to the one goal that had opened the scoring just shy of the 20-minute mark, and giving Rob Green and a solid enough QPR defence, even after the dismissal of Onuoha, less to worry about than either West Brom or Aston Villa had (even West Ham, come to that).
Finally, two moments to get the away support celebrating. Firstly, Leroy Fer’s decisive finish when connecting with Joey Barton’s corner, for 1-1 – just about the first time a QPR corner had cleared the first defender. Secondly, and cheered just as wildly in one small corner of Anfield, Green’s fine save from Gerrard’s penalty.
It all pointed to a hard-fought draw, (let’s be honest here) against most expectations. One that still probably wouldn’t be enough to preserve Premier League status, but might - just might - have given everyone a bit more hope for next week’s trip to (gulp) Manchester City. And after that? Well, who knows…
Except, of course, we all do. Know our fate, that is. Even in the unlikely event of three straight wins before the season runs out on us, 36 points almost certainly won’t be enough. Not now.
And in the final analysis, there will be one overwhelming factor in a relegation that, apart from a midweek trip to Sunderland and back-to-back games in the West Midlands last month, has been like pulling teeth.
It’s that games last 90 minutes, not 85. That fact is what took us up 12 months ago. The same fact is what, above all else, is now sending us back down.
With the clock showing 85 minutes, Rangers were looking comfortable. It would be stretching it to say Liverpool, following that penalty miss by Gerrard, had settled for a point but that was the way the game was heading. All Rangers needed to do was defend pretty much as they’d done up until then. But then that has been a familiar story this season.
Instead a Liverpool corner wasn’t defended properly. There were enough hooped shirts in and around the six-yard box to have done so, but it was a player in red who connected with the ball, powering his header past a helpless Rob Green. And that player was… of course, naturally, inevitably Gerrard.
It was cruel. It was costly. It was demoralising. It was… well, that’s where I came in on this report: it was so frustratingly predictable. In those final few minutes of games this season, we are the gift that just keeps on giving.
If I was a proper journalist and not a second-rate stand-in for this one fixture, I’d tot up the number of points thrown away by conceding late, late goals. But I’m not, so I won’t. Suffice to say, it feels like lots and lots – even though, to undermine my own argument here, it’s probably just lots.
(In fact, according to Match of the Day stats, it’s ten – the highest in the division, but even then not as many as it feels.)
Of course, the stark truth is that whatever the reasons behind a propensity for conceding so many late goals – lack of concentration, lack of fitness perhaps, bad luck even – overall QPR have simply not been good enough.
That rather inexplicable, oddly lacklustre start to the season apart, there have been very few occasions during the season, even when the away defeats were totting up, that you could point a finger at the team collectively, or players individually, and accuse them of not trying, or not caring – or any one of the sins visited on the QPR team that went down with a whimper last time around.
All any of us ask of our players is they put in the effort and the commitment; that they play to the best of their ability; that they play with a professional pride. The difference between then and now is that we at least have an honest team.
When this QPR team goes down (‘if’ has left town!), it will be because it’s not been good enough to stay up. It’s not exactly a cause for pride in going down honestly, or with a battle, but it goes a long way towards explaining the absence of any real anger or blame for that situation by Rangers fans.
Certainly, just as there was in the wake of the Chelsea defeat and the must-win game against West Ham that we didn’t, there was an air of resignation amongst those supporters trudging out of Anfield at the end.
Fairly predictability, post-match online comment, in its many guises, included the usual stuff and nonsense about players not caring or not putting in the effort – which is not only untrue and blatantly unfair, it also demonstrates a lack of knowledge about what the poster is watching.
One charge that can be fairly levelled at Rangers is that compared to almost every team they face, they are slower at moving the ball around, less fluid in their play, less instinctive in their passing.
Once again that was very much in evidence here, although the game plan was plain for all to see in Chris Ramsey’s line-up. Surprisingly, he opted for Charlie Austin playing as a lone striker, with only Matt Phillips and Leroy Fer for occasional company, and the midfield sitting deep, trying to break up the Liverpool play and rarely venturing too far forward unless it was for a set-piece.
As a set-up for a point, it was just about perfect, Rangers winning the battle in midfield and on the occasions that Liverpool threatened in front of goal, the defence time and again put their bodies on the line. It didn’t make for the best game of the season, though it was a long way from the being the worst.
But time and time again this season that set-up has not worked, with Austin cutting an isolated and frustrated figure up front, starved of any real service over the 90 minutes and forced wide on far too many occasions. That’s not his game, and it’s certainly not how he’s got the vast majority of his goals.
And yet Rangers appeared to have got off to the perfect start, with an early corner from Phillips, which daisy-cutted its way down the goalline, turned in at the near post by Leroy Fer. Celebrations in the away end were quickly muted by the sight of the linesman’s raised flag. At the time no-one knew quite why it hadn’t counted, but according to MOTD commentator Jonathan Pearce later, the ball had “clearly bounced over the line… good decision!” - when it fact the television pictures confirmed nothing of the sort.
Five minutes in to the game, QPR fans broke into a minute’s applause as a mark of respect to the Ferdinand family, the news revealed just hours earlier that Rio’s wife, Rebecca, had lost her battle with cancer.
Even after the early blow of having a goal chalked off, Rangers were enjoying the best of the opening exchanges. So it was typical that Liverpool would take the lead on the 19-minute mark, Coutinho finishing off a swift Liverpool move with a well-placed shot curled in to the top corner; nothing Green could do about that one.
The goal seem to lift Liverpool, if not the home support, who after celebrating seeing their team take the lead soon resumed their slumbers. This is a very different Anfield to the one it used to be, and mocked by the QPR support with chants enquiring if it was, in fact, a library – and asking where the famous atmosphere had gone.
Perhaps the answer lies with the banner flown over the ground pre-match which simply stated ‘Rodgers out – Rafa in’. Yes, it must be tough that – sitting in fifth place.
I mock. I know it’s not as simple as that. Reflecting the experience of a visit to Anfield these days, this is a far from vintage Liverpool side, and despite Rangers going in at half-time a goal behind and with plenty of work to do to get back in to it, the game was still in the balance.
QPR were forced into making a change at half-time, with Yun on for Caulker, who was later revealed to have broken a bone in his hand. One-time QPR youngster Raheem Sterling should have doubled Liverpool’s lead early in the second-half, when with the Rangers defence stretched and a clear sight of goal in front of him, he shot hopelessly wide.
Another feature of this season has been the number of corners taken that have failed to clear the first man. That was again in evidence here, with a couple of poorly-taken efforts in a second-half in which Rangers were otherwise looking quite bright. Clearly frustrated by this, when Phillips went to take a third QPR corner of the half, he was waved away by Barton, whose inch-perfect cross was volleyed home through a crowd of players to make it 1-1, and now very much game on with more than a quarter of an hour left.
Fer celebrated by running to the QPR support and lifting his jersey to reveal a T-shirt on which was written a rudimentary message urging the Ferdinand family to stay strong.
With Zamora on for Henry, and Austin dropping deeper, the advantage swung firmly back to Liverpool in the space of two minutes, the time it took Onuoha to collect two yellow cards, the first for a blatant tug on Skrtel, the resulting penalty saved by Green, and then a scything tackle on Jordon Ibe, which was only ever going to earn him a red card.
As on so many occasions this season, Rangers couldn’t hold on to what they had. It had been a decent enough performance, but ultimately it had fallen short of what was really needed. Hopes raised, then dashed. Points thrown away through an inability to see a game out. The story of the season encapsulated in this one 90 minutes.
Mathematically, we can still do it. Realistically, it’s not going to happen. Short of an unlikely win at Eastlands next Sunday, relegation could well be confirmed before facing a Newcastle side itself currently very much in the mix.
It was supposed to be the season when, lessons learned, we were going to make a better fist of things back in the Premier League. Instead, once again we’ve proven not good enough as a team. All the same, we haven’t exactly helped ourselves with a succession of new and imaginative ways to shoot ourselves in the foot in the remaining minutes of games – figuratively so, but almost as painful in its own way.
Liverpool: Mignolet 6, Can 6, Skrtel 7, Lovren 6, Johnson 8 (Markovic 84, -), Gerrard 7 (Lucas 89, -), Coutinho 8, Sterling 6, Lambert 6, Lallana 7 (Ibe 68, 6) Subs not used: Moreno, Toure, Allen, Ward
Goals: Coutinho 19 (assisted Lambert), Gerrard 87 (assisted Coutinho)
Bookings: Gerrard 19 (foul), Lovren 74 (foul)
QPR: Green 7; Onuoha 6, Dunne 7, Caulker 7 (Yun 45, 7), Hill 7; Phillips 6, Barton 6, Sandro 7, Henry 6 (Zamora 71, 6); Fer 8, Austin 6 Subs not used: McCarthy, Kranjcar, Hoilett, Wright-Phillips, Grego-Cox
Goals: Fer 73 (assisted Barton)
Bookings: Sandro 42 (foul), Dunne 75 (foul), Onuoha 78 (shirt-pulling), Austin 90 (foul)
Sending-off: Onuoha 81 (decapitation)
QPR Star Man - Leroy Fer 8 Not just for his goal, which brought Rangers level and raised hopes of leaving with a point, but for his efforts throughout the game.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (Yorkshire) 8 Never made himself the centre of attention, got the penalty decision right and had no choice other than to dismiss Onuoha. Stepped in calmly when Hill and Lallana got involved in a bout of verbals, and despite brandishing six yellow cards was never over-fussy.
Attendance: 44,707 (2,000 QPR) Other than a pre-match rendition of the Liverpool anthem, there was little atmosphere to speak of, with only the odd stirring from the home fans and the away support making the most of what noise there was.
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