Taarabt haunts Spurs before taking the long walk – full match report
Monday, 23rd Apr 2012 00:47 by Clive Whittingham
QPR continue to dream the impossible dream and are now potentially just one more win away from making it a reality after a tense 1-0 victory against Tottenham Hotspur at Loftus Road.
Faced with a hellish fixture list that has brought the country’s best teams face to face with QPR’s unhinged gang of misfits at the worst possible moment, Rangers have marched proudly into battle for their heavenly cause and can now almost touch Premiership salvation.
Such has been the remarkable nature of victories against Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal this 1-0 victory against a Tottenham side whose season appears to be coming apart at the seams almost felt routine. Lining up against a QPR back four that didn’t keep a clean sheet for 24 matches but, newly settled, has now only conceded one in three matches, England manager in waiting Harry Redknapp fielded diminutive Jermain Defoe as a lone striker. Spurs lacked presence and threat as a result.
But the style of play that has brought Queens Park Rangers four wins from the last four home games, only one fewer than they managed in the previous seven months of home and away fixtures, creates a sense of danger even when one doesn’t actually exist. If opposition teams want to have possession of the football QPR allow it, and they give up a fair amount of territory as well in the interests of creating counter attacking opportunities. Often, seemingly for the sheer hell of it, Rangers will get a man stupidly sent off and they did so again here with ten minutes to go.
It can be terrifying at times, but as the team learns the system and gains trust in each other so faith from the supporters grows. Amidst a raucous Saturday night atmosphere at Loftus Road the game plan worked to perfection again. Spurs, looking low on confidence and spent on energy, mustered meek resistance to a Rangers team led splendidly from the front by Bobby Zamora, playing as a lone attacker, and his supporting cast of Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt against his former club. The midfield three of Joey Barton, Shaun Derry and Samba Diakite were outplayed last week at West Brom, but controlled the middle ground here with England captain and Spurs Player of the Year elect Scott Parker reduced to flagrant play acting to try and regain supremacy.
If Redknapp is to become the national team manager at the end of the season his inability to learn from past mistakes will be an immediate concern. While admittedly facing a tough challenge from QPR full backs Nedum Onuoha and Taye Taiwo, Gareth Bale and, later, Aaron Lennon were still far too keen to cut inside into centre field rather than attacking the flanks and providing the natural width that Spurs annihilated Rangers with in the first meeting this season at White Hart Lane. A crowded middle stifled the talents of Defoe and Rafael Van Der Vaart and played right into the hands of centre backs Clint Hill and Anton Ferdinand who were both in fine form. On the rare occasions space did open up for the visiting team, Paddy Kenny was in typically unorthodox but effective form to keep their efforts at bay.
Joey Barton won the toss and chose to turn the teams around so visiting goalkeeper Brad Friedel would face the sun as well as QPR attack in the first half. Predictably, given QPR’s technique of sitting deep and breaking swiftly, the visitors took the first pot shot at goal. Moira Stewart look-a-like Benoit Assou-Ekotto unleashed a shot from distance that flew into the School End within a minute of the game beginning.
Spurs had been irresistible in the first half of the first meeting between these sides this season and led 2-0 at the break. They eventually won 3-1 but were given more of a fright in the second half at White Hart Lane after then-QPR boss Neil Warnock introduced Jamie Mackie down the Rangers right flank at half time. Assou-Ekotto, an international full back with Cameroon, clearly hated every second of playing against the former Plymouth man that afternoon and came a distant second in their battle here before he decided, just after the hour, that he wasn’t fit to carry on and was replaced by Danny Rose. In fact Assou-Ekotto wasn’t fit for purpose from the first minute in the face of Mackie’s lung-busting high-energy style of play and was given a torrid time.
A minute after Assou-Ekotto had fired over Mackie began his afternoon’s work of terrorising the hairy full back. Mackie, typically, chased after two Spurs passes before seizing possession from Luka Modric after an uncharacteristically slack first touch. Then he turned and ran towards the penalty box. And that’s what Mackie does, he works himself into the ground to try and win possession back for his team and then once he has it he plots the most direct route to goal and sets off along it at speed. Assou-Ekotto perhaps considers himself a more refined footballer, and made the mistake of trying to second guess what his opponent was thinking as Mackie accelerated towards the area. Here’s a tip for next time Benoit, he’s not thinking at all, he’s a very simple boy, and he’s just going to run in a straight line towards the goal over and over again. On this occasion, while the Spurs man was thinking, Mackie dragged his shot wide of the target but the pattern of play in that right QPR channel was set for the afternoon.
It’s not just at full back where this Spurs side can be hassled and worried though. Missing veteran New Zealander Ryan Nelson and Frenchman Younes Kaboul, Redknapp could only turn to Ledley King and William Gallas. You could cover The Shard with all the sycophantic news copy we’ve had to sit through over the years about what a medical miracle Ledley King is, playing once a week without ever taking part in training and then resting for three days waiting for his knee to return to its normal size. But against Chelsea last week and again in this game he looked somewhat less miraculous and quite a lot like a player whose knee cartilage and super-tanker sized turning circle is no longer able to cope with the rigours of Premiership football.
Gallas meanwhile looks exactly what he is: a player who is too old to be out late at night with a cigarette hanging from his lower lip and it not show in his performances on the pitch. Bobby Zamora dominated Gallas and King while Clint Hill, an underwhelming free transfer signing from Crystal Palace two years ago, delivered a lesson in the art of centre half play at the other end.
With Mackie setting the tone down the right flank Rangers set about telling the heart of the Spurs defence how things were going to be as well. Slow, cumbersome passing on the edge of their own box soon had Spurs in trouble and goalkeeper Brad Friedel, suddenly looking every day of his 41 years of age, toed a hopeless clearance into touch and then when Mackie returned the ball to the back post the American stopper got in an ugly mess with former R’s loanee Kyle Walker and conceded a corner. Although that was cleared the maverick stylings of Samba Diakite kept the pressure on around the edge of the area; the mental Malian initially seemed to believe he was playing headers and volleys, twice losing the ball by doing a bizarre flick of the ball and then heading it straight up into the sky for his own amusement, but he soon got the gist of things and when the ball came to him for a third time he hammered it wide after ghosting past three players.
Although Gareth Bale’s sudden insistence on running infield whenever Tottenham attack is restricting his effectiveness he twice came close to opening the scoring here either side of the quarter hour. First he shot wide from long range, then he met a Van Der Vaart corner with a powerful header that flew straight at Kenny and made a one handed save rather more routine than the Irish stopper made it appear.
That set up another corner, and another chance for the same cheeky ball boy who proved to be rather a thorn in the side of Juan Mata earlier in the season to niggle Van Der Vaart with a delayed return of the ball and strategic placing of his foot stool. God I love how delightfully small time and silly our club is sometimes. When it was eventually taken the defending wasn’t much better than it had been for Bale’s header a moment earlier and Van Der Vaart was able to work a short routine and then unleash a shot of his own from range that Kenny dived and caught as it threatened the top corner.
Bobby Zamora was the first player yellow carded by referee Mark Clatttenburg when he cynically hauled back Sandro after initially winning a free kick for QPR that they made rather a mess of. Two minutes later, they got things absolutely right from a dead ball situation.
Spurs were furious when Sandro was penalised for fouling Adel Taarabt 30 yards away from goal as he appeared to win the ball in a one footed sliding tackle, but replays suggested he’d handled the ball while on the ground and indeed Clattenburg was at pains to point out that’s why the kick had been awarded. With the early evening sunlight streaming down the field into Brad Friedel’s eyes the task of keeping Rangers at bay was perhaps more difficult than it might otherwise have been but there can still be few excuses for the American goalkeeper with what happened next.
Taarabt, against the club that happily sold him to QPR for a discount £1m, drifted a tame looking free kick over the wall and down towards the bottom corner. The distance from goal and speed of the shot meant it should barely even have troubled the Spurs goalkeeper but somehow it was allowed to bounce once and nestle in the bottom corner as the opening goal of the game. Taarabt sprinted off down the touchline, blanking the Tottenham coaching staff that rejected him to rejoice with the backroom boys at QPR who are quickly turning him into a splendidly effective all round player. Not only was the goal ultimately crucial, but Taarabt’s tracking of the notoriously attack minded Kyle Walker was also well worthy of praise.
Within minutes Taarabt had plucked a loose ball out of the air and powered past three would-be tacklers before toeing a weak shot at Friedel. Spurs responded through first Van Der Vaart who made the most of Joey Barton’s slip in his own area to take a shot at goal that Paddy Kenny parried and Jermain Defoe headed onto the roof of the net when he should have scored.
Five minutes before half time a foul by Taarabt on Walker right on the cusp of the penalty box brought a yellow card that would prove crucial later, but this interesting phenomenon where players like Scott Parker and Paul Scholes are let off without cards for equally bad challenges simply because they make more tackles than everybody else soon reared its ugly head when the England captain chopped Diakite in the middle of the park and escaped with a ticking off from Mark Clattenburg.
As time wound down to the break Rangers almost snatched a fluke second when super lone target man play from Zamora in the area fashioned a chance for Barton whose initial shot was blocked by Parker but rebounded back against him, over Friedel but just over the cross bar as well.
At White Hart Lane in October Harry Redknapp spoke about the almighty row he’d heard coming from the QPR changing room during the half time break. Now it’s his turn to field rumours about unrest in his dressing room and when Spurs emerged for the second period he’d already decided to make one change, taking off Sandro and sending on Aaron Lennon.
It made little difference. There was a real purpose about Queens Park Rangers at the start of the second half with Diakite embarking on a journey longer than your average X-Factor contestant’s, driving past three players before firing into the side netting in the first attack. Diakite dragged another shot wide after a patient passing move while all Spurs could muster in return was a long range shot from Parker high over the QPR bar.
All of which meant it was rather a shame when Redknapp hooked Assou-Ekotto, who’d been one of QPR’s best players, and Diakite was also forced from the field in the midst of a dominant display and replaced by the less physically imposing figure of Akos Buzsaky. Defoe hooked a volley wide from close range and Taarabt shot wide after slipping in the act of striking the ball as the sides exchanged attacks amidst the fractured pattern of play.
Losing Diakite and Assou-Ekotto from the action was undoubtedly a blow to Mark Hughes’ team, and they could have found themselves level pegging once more after the hour. Taye Taiwo, all smiles and strange newspaper quotes, chopped down Kyle Walker giving Van Der Vaart a chance to deliver a free kick which tempted Gallas, Bale, Onuoha and Kenny into an untidy clash from which the ball bounced behind for a corner – it could so easily have dropped into the unguarded net.
There’s an encouraging air of confidence about the QPR boys when they’re playing at home recently, although it sadly drains straight out of them as soon as they get onto the coach for an away fixture. Their comfort on the ball shone through in the sixty seventh minute when Taiwo and Taarabt combined during a prolonged period of possession wide on the left that culminated with Taiwo feeding Zamora in the area and, after he’d turned neatly and totally flummoxed William Gallas, Spurs needed substitute Danny Rose to crunch in with a key block. Gallas subsequently hacked the loose ball high into the sky but Spurs muscled Zamora out of any second opportunity to score. Despite not scoring, again, Zamora was impressive in the lone striker role and gave Gallas and his former youth football team mate King a torrid time.
A minute later a rare piece of good play in an actual wide area from Bale saw him finally get the better of Taiwo and cross into the heart of the QPR penalty box. Clint Hill’s spine crunching mid-air turn and back header cleared the initial danger but Van Der Vaart should have scored rather than hack wide when the ball then fell to him in the penalty box.
Then, controversy. Rarely do we get through a game involving QPR without it anymore and having refereed reasonably for the previous 72 minutes Mark Clattenburg duly obliged by losing the plot in a bizarre five minutes that could have cost him his job as a top flight official in this week where he was confirmed as the British representative for the summer Olympic Games.
First of all he rightly booked Nedum Onuoha for a late tackle on Gareth Bale but within 60 seconds he was faced with another decision when England captain Scott Parker ran at the former Man City man and then took an Ashley Young-style swallow dive over his leg, long since withdrawn from the tackle, in a cynical attempt to get the QPR man sent off. Rangers reacted angrily, in the stands and on the field, and Joey Barton had to be separated from the Tottenham man in the aftermath.
Clattenburg presumably agreed that Parker had played for the free kick in the hope of getting not only an attractive set piece for his team but also a fellow professional player sent off into the bargain because he awarded nothing and told the Spurs man to get to his feet. Why, therefore, was a yellow card not produced? What is this hold Parker has over referees that allows him to get away with so much more than anybody else?
With the furore over that incident barely settled Tottenham attacked down the right and won a legitimate free kick when Clint Hill stupidly kicked Aaron Lennon into the air despite the Spurs man having his back to goal and passing options numbering zero. Clattenburg rightly booked Hill, but also flashed a yellow card in Adel Taarabt’s direction after the Moroccan toed the ball away from the scene in the aftermath. Those who’ve been paying rather more attention than the referee at this point will know that this was in fact Taarabt’s second yellow card and had Spurs taken a quick free kick and play gone on then Clattenburg would have gone the way of Rob Harris and Andy D’Urso, the two other English referees who allowed sent off players to remain on the field of play and subsequently never refereed in the top flight again. A frantic word down the ear piece from somewhere alerted the County Durham official and he saved his job with a belated red card amidst scenes of high farce. I’m firmly of the opinion that had Clattenburg realised he’d previously booked Taarabt, he’d never have shown him a second yellow card for this.
Rangers have now received eight red cards this season, more than any team in Premiership history apart from the 2009/10 Sunderland outfit which lost nine over the course of the campaign. No team has ever had as many players sent off in home games as Rangers’ six, and the R’s have now been down to ten me on five occasions in their last 12 games. Little wonder that Mark Hughes looked ready to snap fourth official Lee Probert in two and feast on the goo within down on the touchline.
Loftus Road had been lively before this, fuelled by the extra drinking time a 5.30pm kick off provided, but now it was genuinely hostile. Kenny saved shakily from Modric but when the ball subsequently wound up in the Lower Loft the home fans refused to return it to Gareth Bale who disappeared into the crowd to retrieve it, pursued by LFW’s own Ted Hendrix offering words of advice and encouragement.
Kenny made another similarly nervy save from Giovani, who’d been sent on for Parker to defuse that particular situation, and although the rebound fell kindly for Gallas Kenny was up quickly to make a second save and the offside flag had been raised anyway. A third attempt, from Van Der Vaart this time, was palmed away to safety by Kenny at full stretch and he won a free kick from the subsequent corner when Gallas challenged him in the air.
Spurs look like a team that lack the stomach for such occasions and they almost conceded a second goal in the closing stages despite Rangers now playing with a flat back nine and Bobby Zamora 40 yards further forward by himself. Zamora chose to run for the corner when freed by a superb run and cross by Taiwo, but should have gone and scored in the next attack during five minutes of added time when Barton released him through the middle but Walker got back and conceded a corner.
The final whistle was greeted with a roar that echoed around the corridors of the Premier League. Three of QPR’s closest rivals had played earlier in the day, with only one victory secured between them, which means a fifth straight home win for QPR against Stoke in a fortnight might just be good enough for them.
This unlikely escape bid, the sheer definition of ‘doing things the hard way’, might just be on after all.
QPR: Kenny 8, Onuoha 7, Ferdinand 8, Hill 8, Taiwo 8, Mackie 7, Barton 7, Derry 7, Diakite 7 (Buzsaky 69, 6), Taarabt 7, Zamora 8
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Gabbidon, Traore, Helguson, Cisse, Wright-Phillips
Sent Off: Taarabt 78 (two bookings)
Booked: Zamora (foul), Taarabt (foul), Onuoha (foul), Hill (foul), Taarabt (kicking ball away)
Goals: Taarabt 24 (free kick, won Taarabt)
Tottenham: Friedel 5, Walker 7, Gallas 5, King 5, Assou-Ekotto 4 (Rose 66, 6), Sandro 5 (Lennon 46, 6), Modric 7, Parker 6 (Giovani 84, -), Bale 6, Van der Vaart 6, Defoe 5
Subs Not Used: Cudicini, Livermore, Khumalo, Smith
QPR Star Man – Taye Taiwo 8 One of those lovely days when half the team could stake a claim for the man of the match award. I’m going for Taiwo for coping admirably with a variety of threats posed in wide areas by Spurs who tried Bale, Lennon and Rose against him at various points of the game but got the better of him on no more than two occasions. He’s really growing into his role after a nervy start and could be a real cult hero in W12 if we avoid relegation and he signs permanently.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear) 6 One problem I do find with Clattenburg is that if he has been involved in a controversial incident his performance can quickly deteriorate. With a quarter of an hour to go here I felt, apart from giving Parker license to kick pretty much whoever he wanted and also letting Gareth Bale off with more than he should have done, Clattenburg had controlled the game reasonably well. But the failure to book Parker for an obvious dive quickly saw the whole thing degenerate into a farce which almost cost him his job and that seemed to kill him for the rest of the game. During five minutes of stoppage time there was a blatant foul on Zamora not given as well which could have resulted in Spurs equalising on the counter attack.
Attendance: 18,021 (3,100 Spurs approx) A superb atmosphere inside Loftus Road, particularly after the sending off, that really seemed to help the QPR team and rattle the Spurs players. I’ve read an excellent thread on a Spurs message board today criticising the “negative attitude” of the QPR supporters booing when the Tottenham players were in possession. I can only hope that one day we too graduate to the level of singing about the father of a black player washing elephants for a living to pay for the upkeep of his prostitute wife.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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