Bale force blows QPR out of the water at Spurs – full match report
Monday, 31st Oct 2011 20:34 by Clive Whittingham
A brace from Gareth Bale went a long way towards beating QPR at White Hart Lane on Sunday, but Rangers were left wondering what might have been after a vastly improved second half performance had Tottenham worried.
Tottenham use the advertising hoardings between the upper and lower tiers around three sides of their fabulous White Hart Lane home to remind their players that ‘To dare is to do.’ If only the QPR players had been given a moment of peace in the first half to take that mantra on board for themselves this could have been a very different game.
Every Saturday QPR fans are treated to the thoughts and rambles of manager Neil Warnock via his column in the Independent newspaper. Titled 'What I learnt this week,' it's often more Countryfile than Panorama with tales of cycling in Richmond Park often burying the item of interest. What Neil Warnock and his players should have learnt this week, after a coupon busting victory over big spending Chelsea, is that football is not an exact science and no game is ever lost before it's even begun. Sadly, despite last weekend's heroics, they had to learn that all over again at White Hart Lane on Sunday.
Tottenham are a wonderful team – beautifully balanced from back to front and left to right with a genuinely quality player for every position. They're the best team we've played this season by some distance, sweeping forward with speed and grace like a flock of birds in perfect formation. They stretched QPR with high class talent tight to both touchlines and then when the visitors could take no more they thrust a penetrative jab through the middle with often devastating consequences. Only Paddy Kenny prevented this from being a thrashing requiring brackets on the Sky Sports News score service.
But the message Tottenham surround their players with is one that QPR would have done well to heed themselves. In the second half, with nothing to lose, when QPR dared they almost did. By adopting a more forthright attacking stance, with an extra body at the top of the team and Joey Barton moved into the heart of the action in midfield, QPR looked dangerous and held their own. In the first half - with Helguson isolated, Barton sulking somewhat in wide areas, Shaun Derry looking his age and Adel Taarabt having one of those days - Rangers looked like a Championship side out of their depth in an FA Cup tie.
QPR looked, in the first half, like a team going through the motions – expecting to lose and keen to get home. In the second half there was more anger and attitude about the visiting side – as if they'd realised that however brilliant an opponent is (and Spurs were brilliant) there is still only 11 of them. The revival owed plenty to Spurs taking their foot off the gas and engaging cruise control for the second 45, troubling themselves to score a third goal only after QPR had halved the deficit with a rare headed goal from a corner, but it was still hard not to lament a lack of application from the Hoops in the first half. This could have been a different game had they achieved their second half performance for a full 90.
The team Warnock started with initially was very similar to the 11 he took Chelsea on with last Sunday. Armand Traore returned for Clint Hill at left back to provide some vital pace against a Spurs wide right that included England pair Aaron Lennon and Kyle Walker who was given a warm reception by the 3,000 travelling QPR fans before the match. Other than that the defence remained the same for the first eight minutes at least with Fitz Hall and Anton Ferdinand at centre back, Luke Young against one of his former clubs on the right and Paddy Kenny in goal.
Further forward Shaun Derry partnered Alejandro Faurlin in midfield with another ex-Tottenham man Adel Taarabt in attack along with Shaun Wright Phillips, Joey Barton and Heidar Helguson as a lone striker.
Spurs welcomed William Gallas back from injury but Ledley King’s knees were in a suitable condition for him to play so Harry Redknapp partnered him with Younes Kaboul and left the Frenchman on the bench. Jermaine Defoe was also benched with Rafael van der Vaat in attack behind Emmanuel Adebayor following a two goal haul in a win at Blackburn last weekend.
This was billed as a London derby but given the strange dynamics of football in the capital it’s rarely felt like one through history in quite the same way as our clashes with Chelsea have. Sky duly bumped the game back 24 hours anyway and turned up with their cameras perhaps hoping for some more of the outright hostility and ankle biting that QPR produced a week previously against Andre Villas Boas’ men.
Loftus Road was at its fierce best last week and the QPR team flew out of the blocks and took the game to their more talented neighbours – clearly catching the Chelsea players by surprise. They received a taste of their own medicine here as Tottenham made a blistering start to the game.
QPR were given a clear warning of what was to come when, in the second minute, a weak Luka Modric shot deflected in behind the visiting back line to Rafael van der Vaat whose low shot was splendidly saved by Paddy Kenny. The set up a succession of corners the second of which was headed goalwards by Bale at the near post but QPR were able to scramble the ball off the line. Kenny was then called into action again, saving with his feet after Bale had again attempted to open the scoring. Rangers’ difficulty in clearing their lines continued when Armand Traore was harshly penalised for a foul on the corner of the penalty area – Benoit Assou Ekotto took the free kick and curled it over when I would have expected van der Vaat to have a crack. Given the breathless, backs to the wall, start to the game I’m rather pleased the Dutchman left it well alone.
Tottenham’s start to the game was to be expected given the players at their disposal and the form they were in prior to the game – 16 points from the last 18 available. And speaking of things that came as no surprise whatsoever Neil Warnock was forced to change his team just eight minutes in when Fitz Hall slumped to the ground, vaguely gesturing towards a muscle injury of some sort as usual, and had to be replaced by Danny Gabbidon.
At the top of this site you’ll find a ‘News’ option in which you can search for all the past match reports and stories on LoftforWords during the time I’ve been writing for the site. Type Fitz Hall into that and then simply read what I’ve written about him on the several thousand occasions this has happened before. It really is a waste of keystrokes going through it again but needless to say he was, is and will remain an absolute liability to us while this keeps happening.
Gabbidon wasn’t given any time to settle in by the Spurs attack. Within a minute of him coming on Spurs won a free kick wide on their left, a second rather soft decision of the day from referee Howard Webb as Barton was adjudged to have fouled Bale. Van der Vaat came across to deliver the ball and produced a glorious, undefendable cross to the back post where Adebayor had the seemingly simple task of heading home from close range but somehow contrived to plant the ball past the post. Gilt edged chances missed would be the theme of the Togo forward’s afternoon.
The first genuine QPR attack of the game came after a quarter of an hour but if the noisy visiting supporters had hoped this signalled the end of the initial Spurs storm they were to be disappointed as Taarabt’s cross was easily cleared and Bale quickly accelerated away to set up a dangerous counter attack that ended with a low cross from the Welshman that Gabbidon expertly manoeuvred Adebayor past so the ball could fly through the penalty area without anybody getting a touch.
And that pattern was to be repeatedly to devastating effect five minutes later. QPR may have thought they were getting into the game when Helguson’s intelligent flick down set Taarabt up for an ambitious volleyed attempt from the corner of the penalty area. The Moroccan miscued his shot badly, but in doing so inadvertently sent the ball back in Helguson’s direction and he instinctively thrust out a leg to divert the ball a yard or so over Brad Friedel’s bar. But from the goal kick Spurs broke again, attacking down the right with a weight of numbers that sucked Luke Young across from the opposite side of the field and left Gareth Bale free to receive Aaron Lennon’s pass and drill an unstoppable shot past Kenny and into the net.
Spurs set up like a Premiership version of Swansea City, with Bale and Lennon permanently stationed in wide areas and the team constantly stretched across the full width of the field. It means that whenever a full back is forced in field to try and cover or help out his central defenders there is always going to be a wide man available in acres of space. Joey Barton’s tracking back left something to be desired in the first half which exacerbated the problem with Bale and with a left foot as cultured as his you cannot afford to allow him time and space in the penalty area.
At the beginning of this month QPR found themselves overwhelmed and hit for six in a London derby with Fulham and although Spurs had only succeeded in scoring once by the midway point of the first half here a lot of the signs that this could be a very serious defeat were starting to shine through again. Rafel van der Vaat hit a weak shot with his right foot from the edge of the area when he had time and space to do better and then after Gabbidon had naively gone to ground and missed Adebayor the languid striker sent a low cross right the way through the area which was retrieved and returned by Assou-Ekotto only for Bale to hack over the bar from close range on the turn.
To be fair to Gabbidon moments before he’d put in two robust but fair ball winning challenges on Scott Parker after Adel Taarabt had lost possession on halfway and that seemed to briefly fire a bit of bravery and spirit within the QPR side so perhaps that was his intention when he lunged in on Adebayor.
There was a feeling that Rangers were only delaying the inevitable and when Armand Traore hit the deck injured and Spurs played on around him the second goal did duly arrive. As happened in the second minute the chance actually came from a weak shot from long range, this time from King, which deflected into the path of van der Vaat who looked offside at first glance but was allowed to finish calmly past Kenny to double the advantage. Replays showed both Traore and Wright Phillips playing him on, but there were far too many QPR players literally walking around for my liking while this went on.
Barton hit a long range shot over in retaliation but his body language, and the general demeanour of the team, was that of a group of players who believed themselves to already be beaten. At this stage I started to fear we would simply go through the motions for the next hour and, possibly, get whacked for another big score. Taarabt’s afternoon was going from bad to worse with a series of misplaced passes and crosses culminating in one wild effort across the field that flew out for a throw in on the far side, and a corner that he hacked high and handsome over the penalty area to nobody in particular. He wasn’t alone in playing poorly, but I’d have been tempted to remove him after half an hour here and ultimately he was fortunate to survive until half time before being given the hook. The potential reaction to a substitution before halftime from the Moroccan doesn’t really bear thinking about though.
Taarabt is currently eating away at the considerable amount of credit he has built up at QPR over the past couple of seasons. Players like Joey Barton, who also did little to be proud of in the first half of this game, are not exactly tearing up any trees and Taarabt has had impressive spells in games, especially last week against Chelsea, but he was really, genuinely awful against Spurs. He can point to a lack of support and decent service with some justification, but when a simple corner kick proves beyond him it’s difficult to make much of a case for him being in the team.
Disinterest and lethargy is a lethal combination against a team with Spurs’ undoubted quality. The home side was marshalled magnificently by Scott Parker. The 31-year old, 1950s haircut slicked back with rainwater, was like an expensive dominatrix to QPR's German businessman. Time and again Rangers ventured towards him, time and again he butchered them – one uncompromising tackle followed another. Often he did so on the wrong side of the law, but Howard Webb seemed just as in awe of this all conquering midfield display as the rest of the players on the pitch and allowed the former West Ham man off without a card which he can count himself fortunate for. It didn't help QPR's cause that once won the ball was quickly moved from Parker to Modric and the torment began again.
Modric looks like Sally Gunnell after a crystal meth binge, but he plays like the illegitimate love child of Pele and Lionel Messi. Interest is sure to be renewed in him this January. The imperious Croatian twice went close to scoring in the first half – first volleying a yard wide of the post after receiving a short corner from van der Vaat, then toe poking one wide after playing a long range one-two with Assou-Ekotto.
Parker meanwhile is yet to taste defeat in a Spurs shirt, seven games and counting – why Arsenal are allowing players like this to change hands for £5m while they pay more for Santos and Mertesacker only God and Arsene Wenger know. Redknapp remains the master of the transfer art.
I should image that Harry ‘don’t call me a fucking wheeler dealer’ Redknapp’s half time team talk was a pretty leisurely affair in contrast to what may or may not have taken place on the other side of the corridor. I think judging by the reports, the team changes and the subsequent second half performance it’s fair to say that there was a full and frank exchange of views in the QPR dressing room at half time and a more purposeful visiting team emerged for the second half.
They came without Adel Taarabt and Shaun Derry. It was hard to argue with either change – Derry had been pedestrian and Taarabt awful, but they weren’t alone in their underperformance and Joey Barton could easily have been hooked at a ground where he was once sent off during the halftime break by longtime friend of the site Rob Styles. Taarabt looks heavy legged, physically and mentally to me, and is either lacking confidence or is under instruction to play a less selfish game which has taken away the good things he can bring to our side. I wouldn’t write him off just yet, I thought he played well against Chelsea last week, but he has some serious thinking and working to do.
On came Jamie Mackie, a man determined not to let Tottenham have it all their own way, and Jay Bothroyd who was criticised with almost no justification whatsoever during his previous spell in the team and made a world of difference when he came on in this game. A solution that includes both him and Helguson must be found by Neil Warnock as soon as possible.
Initially though it was more of the same from the home team as a throw in was accidentally diverted into the path of van der Vaat by Shaun Wright Phillips and the Dutchman extended Kenny with a half volley towards the far corner. Spurs kept the pressure on, returning the ball to the goalmouth from Bale and giving Adebayor an opportunity to miss his latest presentable chance – this time he dropped a weak header into Kenny’s bread basket.
Adebayor impressed when running across field into the penalty area at full tilt in Spurs next attack but he was denied by a fine challenge from Danny Gabbidon on this occasion and by then QPR had staged a couple of worthwhile attacks of their own. Jay Bothroyd scored a world class goal against Rangers from the corner of the penalty area while playing for Cardiff last year but couldn’t repeat the feat on this occasion, firing over the bar with Friedel untroubled.
Reprieved at half time Barton was also setting about showing what he can do in a central position – ten minutes after the break he sprayed a glorious pass out to the left flank for Shaun Wright Phillips who controlled, flicked the ball over Walker on the byline and then cut it back to Heidar Helguson who shot over the bar via a deflection. It was better - not great but better.
Kevin Bond, Harry Redknapp’s assistant, was concerned enough to come out to the edge of his technical area and ask his team to calm down and keep tight for ten minutes.
Howard Webb allowed this game to flow reasonably well, and didn’t produce a card all afternoon, although he incurred the wrath, and puzzlement, of the visiting supporters around the hour mark when first he punished Jay Bothroyd for a high boot when the striker appeared to have actually pulled off a fine piece of ball control and then failed to yellow card Parker for a horrible lunge on Luke Young as QPR attacked down the right.
Their anger at the lack of a card for Parker soon turned into celebrations though. Webb had allowed an advantage to be played after the Young incident and Rangers won a corner. Given their lack of threat from set pieces so far this season and Tottenham’s height in the penalty area here wasn’t a great deal of anticipation among the travelling faithful as Barton stepped up to deliver but on this occasion Heidar Helguson met the ball well and diverted it back towards Jay Bothroyd who just nipped in ahead of Anton Ferdinand to head home his first ever QPR goal at the back post. Now things were interesting.
QPR needed Paddy Kenny to be at his very best to keep them within a goal of Spurs – the former Sheff Utd keeper spilled a routine save from Rafael van der Vaat’s free kick but recovered splendidly to pull off a trademark unlikely second save from Bale. The value of those heroics could have been increased within 60 seconds as Ale Faurlin let fly from range and forced Friedel to save at full stretch in the bottom corner.
This tit-for-tat shot and save routine continued when Assou-Ekotto collected a short corner while the QPR defence clocked off and unloaded a shot into the top corner which the unsighted Kenny did well to keep out. Spurs returned the ball to the danger zone but Ledley King headed over.
Suddenly this previously one-sided encounter looked like it could go either way. However the theory that Spurs were merely slacking off was given some credence when they stepped it up and restored their two goal cushion 19 minutes from time – a slick passing move completed by Bale who played a one-two with Lennon and then found the roof of the net.
The game felt like it was over as a contest at this point, although another QPR goal would have restored interest once more. Ale Faurlin landed a ball on top of the net from a free kick after Heidar Helguson’s Kevin Davies-style falling tree act extracted a foul from Modric on the edge of the box. There was a curling shot from Wright Phillips after nice build up work from Mackie and the revitalised Barton to make note of as well. But that underlying feeling that Spurs could probably score at will remained, and Adebayor’s hapless afternoon in front of goal continued when he hacked an easy opportunity wide from ten yards out after QPR had rather ill-advisedly presented their own free kick straight to Gareth Bale.
Parker was removed to a standing ovation three minutes from time and it’s no coincidence that the subsequent added period was spent almost exclusively with QPR looking dangerous around the Spurs penalty area. Bale was called into action to get Young’s header off the goal line as Rangers pressed for consolation. Jamie Mackie took a touch on the edge of the six yard box when a first time shot would have yielded greater rewards during another scramble.
There was a suggestion in the summer, when QPR were being linked with Kyles Naughton and Walker along with Alan Hutton, Jermaine Jenas, Robbie Keane and others that Rangers were in danger of becoming 'Tottenham lite'. On this evidence, on and off the pitch, we could aim for far worse. Although none of those transfer materialised I couldn't help but think that the way Redknapp sets his Spurs team up would suit QPR really well at the moment.
Put Helguson in the Adebayor role at the top of the attack but rather than isolate him, as QPR did brutally in the first half here, support him with Jay Bothroyd playing where Rafael van der Vaat does with Adel Taarabt or Akos Buzsaky potentially coming in as cover or impact subs. Use Jamie Mackie or Tommy Smith down one wing and Wright-Phillips down the other as Spurs use Lennon and Bale but make sure they play very wide indeed. Wright-Phillips' problem since the Newcastle game has been a lack of ball in wide areas where he can hurt teams but his ability and willingness to track back, and Mackie’s legendary workrate, would make them ideal out and out wingers in the Spurs-type set up. Play Barton and Faurlin in the centre of midfield, with the Argentine filling the Scott Parker role of breaking up play and starting attacks with an economical and creative passing game from deep lying positions.
The problem with all this is QPR could probably pick whatever side they like this coming Saturday and not take anything from a rampant Manchester City side. But if they take anything from the past week it's that strange things can happen in football – nobody gave them a prayer against Chelsea, and they didn't seem to believe they had much of a chance themselves in the first half against Tottenham. Self belief is more important to Neil Warnock's team than any sweeping tactical changes – in the first half here it got lost in a sea of respect for Spurs and pessimism over their own chances.
On Saturday night, under the lights at Loftus Road, whatever the QPR team may be - a little self belief will go a long way.
Tottenham: Friedel 7, Walker 7, Kaboul 7, King 7, Assou-Ekotto 6, Lennon 7, Parker 9 (Sandro 86, -), Modric 9, Bale 8, Van der Vaart 8, Adebayor 6
Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Pavlyuchenko, Gallas, Defoe, Bassong, Livermore
Goals: Bale 20 (assisted Lennon), Van der Vaart 33 (assisted King), Bale 72 (assisted Lennon)
QPR: Kenny 8, Young 6, Ferdinand 7, Hall - (Gabbidon 9, 6), Traore 6, Faurlin 7, Derry 5 (Mackie 46, 7), Wright-Phillips 7, Barton 7, Taarabt 4 (Bothroyd 46, 8), Helguson 7
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Hill, Buzsaky, Smith
Goals: Bothroyd 62 (assisted Helguson)
QPR Star Man – Paddy Kenny A series of fine saves kept QPR in the game and, ultimately, the scoreline respectable. Had Barton and Wright Phillips played as they did in the second half for the entire match they would have run him close. As it was his rivals for the award were Faurlin and Bothroyd, the former starting to attract attention from pundits and the latter a must in future starting elevens.
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire) 7 Allowed the game to flow and kept the cards in his pocket, but was rather lenient with Scott Parker and others. No big decisions wrong in a pretty well run contest overall.
Attendance: 36,147 (3,000 QPR approx) I really loved White Hart Lane, a proper old style football ground that Spurs need to increase in size but a club like us should be looking to replicate if we ever get a chance to build from scratch. Although there was the usual taunting from both sides about how quiet it was the atmosphere from where I was at the front of the top tier was excellent on both sides.
Photo: Action Images
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