Bi-annual Fulham thrashing exposes familiar failings – report
Sunday, 14th Feb 2016 16:49 by Clive Whittingham
Fulham, once again, ran the rounds of the kitchen through Queens Park Rangers on Saturday lunchtime, exposing key issues Rangers must address before next season.
Change the players, change the manager, change the CEO, change the DOF, change the transfer policy… the one thing QPR can’t alter is their aversion to playing against neighbours Fulham.
On paper, Saturday’s meeting at Loftus Road looked like a reasonable opportunity for Rangers to arrest a run of just one win from nine meetings against the side from the other side of Hammersmith Broadway. Unbeaten in five, with three clean sheets in that time, and on the back of arguably the best all-round performance of the season against Ipswich a week ago, things seemed to be looking up in Shepherd’s Bush. Fulham, meanwhile, have been flatlining, down in nineteenth in the league with one win from 16 matches prior to this one.
But on three occasions in the last five matches between these sides QPR have found themselves 3-0 down at half time, and history repeated itself here. “Queens Park Rangers, it’s happening again,” rang out from the away end as Ross McCormack, Moussa Dembele and Tom Cairney scored before the break – in truth it could have been twice as bad.
Part of this comes down to that unquantifiable stuff that football people prattle on about – heart, character, confidence, mental strength. That extra little bit of intensity and atmosphere that comes with playing a London derby has proved too much for QPR under all of their recent managers, whoever has been on the field. They have now lost all four of their games against other London opponents this season, extending a winless run in derby games to 16 – 13 defeats and three draws.
This is, in the weird West London food chain, a bigger game for Fulham than it is for QPR, and can’t you just tell? Once the euphoria has died down among the visitors they might start to wonder why they’ve watched their team struggle to win games at all for three years, dropping out of the Premier League and down to the bottom of the Championship in the process, while consistently playing this well whenever QPR arrive on the scene. For now though, the question marks are all hanging over Hooped heads. That pride, that leadership, that determination, all so sadly lacking here, and at Brentford, and at Fulham back in September, and at Charlton, and against Spurs and Arsenal and Palace, has to be found from somewhere.
But this wasn’t all about the Terry Butcher and Stuart Pearce-type stuff, there was plenty for Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher to get their teeth into here as well.
As we saw at Craven Cottage, despite being having a poor season Fulham do have strengths in areas where QPR are particularly weak – namely advanced central midfield and the wings.
QPR have won 35% of their games with Ale Faurlin in the team this season, and only 18% of those without him, so the absence of the Argentinean through injury here was always likely to cause problems. But even with him, Rangers have lacked a muscular presence in front of the defence, or a player capable of doing the hard yards box to box all season. I was surprised the R’s let Diagouraga move from Brentford to Leeds so cheaply without any interest. On Saturday they replaced Faurlin with Daniel Tozser, who’s had a dreadful season at Loftus Road since joining on loan from Watford and quickly wiped away memories of a decent cameo against Ipswich a week ago with an abject display here.
Fulham, meanwhile, play three men through the middle to QPR’s two. Scott Parker sits and holds, allowing Jamie O’Hara and most importantly Tom Cairney to bomb on ahead. That leaves Rangers outnumbered whenever the teams meet and when a player as good as Cairney – probably Fulham’s best player other than Ross McCormack – is the spare man in space there are always likely to be issues.
Time and time again Fulham were able to move into acres of space between Rangers’ midfield and back fours, playing between the lines of a square 4-4-2 formation, with Cairney given the freedom of the park. Alex Smithies had to save well from Jamie O’Hara at the end of one swift move through the centre of the park and Fulham had sprung McCormack and Dembele in behind Nedum Onuoha and Grant Hall three times already before McCormack calmly raced onto a through ball and finished powerfully, precisely into the far corner of the net – only uncertain, ponderous flagging from the linesman on the Ellerslie Road side had saved the R’s on the previous occasions.
Things weren’t much better on the wings, where QPR have struggled all season, and particularly in the two games against Fulham. A lethal combination of two poor full backs playing poorly, with two bone idle wingers in front of them, is ready made for a team that likes to get its full backs overlapping and double up two on one in wide areas down both sides.
It looked like a blow to the visitors when Lasse Christensen was forced off injured after just six minutes – the Dane had already advanced through the wide open spaces of QPR’s right channel into the penalty area to draw a near post save from Smithies in the third minute. But in the end it actually proved to be a blessing. On came Everton loanee Luke Garbutt, and with Matt Phillips turning in a defensive display that he should be personally ashamed and embarrassed by he was able to do pretty much as he liked.
One attack after another down that side saw Garbutt and Phillips start in the same position only for the Fulham man to run forward as Phillips stood still and let him go. Garbutt was free for a pass every time his team had the ball, Phillips didn’t get close to him once. The look of surprise on the Rangers’ man’s face as he turned around, following the ball, again and again and again only to notice far too late that Garbutt had wandered past him into a lethal area unchecked was amazing. It left Perch outnumbered every single time. Garbutt had a whole electoral ward to himself to pick out a cross for Dembele to head in from close range for the second. Phillips not so much phoning his defence in as sending it by post, second class, due to arrive on Tuesday maybe.
If Garbutt needs his kitchen work surfaces wiping down, or his car cleaning, or his shoes shining, maybe Phillips might like to do that for him on his day off this week as well. Couldn’t have done much more to aid and abet his performance on Saturday. How do you like it Luke? In lots of space with lots of time? Fill your boots boy.
Throw in a shambolic third before half time where McCormack ran into that vacant channel once more, Dembele rolled the ball off the base of the post, and Cairney smacked the rebound into the net past Smithies, and the rout was complete. It could have been worse – Perch and Hall both produced great blocks one after another as the ball bobbled around the area dangerously from a Fulham corner.
In response, Phillips headed straight at Andy Lonergan in the Fulham goal early on after good approach play by the recalled Jamie Mackie, and Junior Hoilett dragged a long range shot wide late in the half. Outnumbered in midfield, out enthused across the pitch, lazy in wide areas, and lacking intensity, Rangers were well beaten yet again.
Hasselbaink probably wished he had eight or nine substitutions available to him at the break but he settled for removing Seb Polter, who’d been completely ineffective and off the pace, for Conor Washington. That seemed slightly odd, as it was another body in the middle of midfield Rangers were really crying out for, and all Washington really added was a different face staring upwards as one hopeless punt down the field after another was headed straight back by Dan Burn.
But there was some sort of rally at the start of the second half as Mackie freed Hoilett on the edge of the box to burst into the area only for Michael Madl to chop him down right on the line. It was the dictionary definition of a yellow card, but referee Tim Robinson didn’t even speak to the offender, and then allowed Scott Parker to stand seven yards away from the kick as it was taken. As QPR - stupidly, moronically - decided to touch the ball rather than just hitting it, Parker was only about a foot away from it when it was finally struck by Phillips and was therefore able to block it away. Shambolic refereeing all round really, and Onuoha was subsequently yellow carded for telling him as much.
It was a curious performance from Robinson on his first ever outing at Loftus Road. Not exactly a difficult game to control, given how totally uncompetitive it was, but he nevertheless made a bit of a pig’s ear of it. Later Jamie O’Hara was carded, either for a foul in back play or something he’d said, or both. When you’re upsetting players from both sides equally to the point where they’re all getting booked for dissent you’ve got to have a look closer to home I think. Hall was later yellow carded for a foul nowhere near as bad as Madl’s, in a more neutral area, while in the first half a seemingly obvious hack on Massimo Luongo as he accelerated into a dangerous area brought no free kick at all.
When, midway through the half, Jamie Mackie caught Fulham pissing around in possession and ran clear on goal only to be chopped down by Dan Burn a red card seemed the only likely outcome. Robinson bottled the big decision and showed a yellow, before then booking O’Hara a short time later, and speaking to Mackie at length about his own dissent – a farcical five minutes at the hands of an official out of his depth.
Hasselbaink brought on Nasser El Khayati for Junior Hoilett and the Dutchman was arguably the pick of a fairly wretched bunch. Later Phillips was finally hooked for Tjaronn Chery, who bundled in late consolation from a corner, but these changes exacerbated problems rather than curing them - the R's now without any width to their attack, or any extra defensive presence in the middle of midfield. I’m sure the church, already understandably restless, would have lost their shit completely had Karl Henry come on for Daniel Tozser, but that would have at least stopped Cairney running riot.
Cairney was at the heart of a move on 56 minutes that picked QPR apart again only for Jamie O’Hara top be flagged offside as he ran clear on goal. Three minutes later the ball broke to Cairney himself in a similar position, but he shot wide when he should have scored. And four minutes later still an absolutely wild, ridiculous, unprofessional attempt at something resembling a tackle from Perch wide on the right left the whole half behind him vacant and McCormack should have done more than shoot straight at Smithies.
Lonergan needed two attempts to gather a drive from El Khayati, and then saved well from Perch as he headed a corner firmly towards goal, but conceded late to Chery. But Smithies was fortunate to fumble a wide shot from McCormack over the bar rather than into the net and ultimately it was fairly miraculous that it was only 3-1 by the end.
At the risk of being happy clappy about it, in the context of this being preparation for next season this might be more use to Hasselbaink than us ambling to a routine draw. That lack of a dominant, athletic presence in the middle of midfield, the poor form of both full backs, the laziness of both wingers in defence – these have been problems all season and will need to be solved before next season. Having a bright, harsh light shone on them in such a high profile game will dispel any idea that they can be papered over.
Hasselbaink said afterwards he was surprised, and hadn’t seen it coming. That shouldn’t have been the case – Fulham beat QPR in the same areas, with the same players, they’d taken them to the cleaners in and with back in September.
An excruciating watch.
QPR: Smithies 6; Perch 5, Onuoha 4, Hall 5, Konchesky 4; Phillips 3 (Chery 76, 6), Toszer 3, Luongo 5, Hoilett 5 (El Khayati 65, 6); Polter 4 (Washington 46, 5), Mackie 6
Subs not used: Hill, Henry, Ingram, Petrasso
Goals: Chery 89 (assisted Tozser)
Bookings: Onuoha 48 (dissent), Hall 82 (foul)
Fulham: Lonergan 6; Fredericks 7, Madl 6, Burn 8, Christensen – (Garbutt 6, 8); Amorebieta 6, Parker 7 (Ince 78, 6), O’Hara 7, Cairney 8; McCormack 8, Dembele 7 (Hundman 84, -)
Subs not used: Richards, Smith, Kacaniklic, Lewis
Goals: McCormack 35 (assisted Cairney), Dembele 41 (assisted Garbutt), Cairney 45+2 (assisted Dembele)
Bookings: Burn 63 (foul), O’Hara 65 (dissent)
QPR Star Man – N/A
Referee – Tim Robinson (West Sussex) 4 Made rather a pig’s ear of a one-sided, uncompetitive game which doesn’t bode particularly well. One red card challenge from Burn only received a yellow, one yellow card challenge on Hoilett didn’t get a card at all, one foul on Luongo was waved away altogether, two players were booked for dissent when their frustration with the officials all became too much for them… but he was very hot and precise about the placement of throw ins. Not as bad as QPR, but not far off.
Attendance – 17,335 (2,900 Fulham approx) Ordinarily I’d say that the booing and heckling of the QPR players doesn’t help and we should try and support and yadda yadda yadda. Bollocks to that today. This was embarrassing, and continues to be embarrassing, and the people who paid money to get in had every right to say as much. If only some of the QPR players out on the field were so vocal with each other – the silence and resignation among the players after each goal goes in was nearly as alarming as the goals themselves, Onuoha more keen on screaming at the referee than trying to rally the team he’s meant to captain.
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