Morrison’s class halts Rangers rot – report
Sunday, 9th Mar 2014 23:45 by Clive Whittingham
Two excellent goals from on loan midfielder Ravel Morrison sealed a 2-0 win for QPR at Birmingham City on Saturday and halted a run of five matches without a victory.
For QPR, and maverick loanee Ravel Morrison, a chance to get out onto the pitch and silence a few critics with some football was most welcome.
It’s been a tough few weeks for both. Rangers have not responded well to losing key players to long term injuries and embarked on a five match run without a win, just as Leicester and Burnley have upped their own performance a couple of gears and moved away into the distance. The R’s have won only one of eight matches against the top six sides in the division this year making the play-offs and unappetising proposition.
Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a problem – in fact following a disastrous 2012/13 campaign it could be argued that staying in the Championship for a couple of seasons and rebuilding the squad along more sensible ideals and on a more solid base is exactly what the club needs – but the release of the accounts for last season earlier this week lays bare the financial gamble taken by Tony Fernandes and his Malaysian consortium. Stay out of the Premier league television money for too long and the owners’ patience with shovelling money into a blue and white hooped hole may wear thin.
At St Andrew’s on Saturday it looked like the stark financial figures had triggered a few positive steps from the massively overpaid playing squad currently being marshalled by Harry Redknapp. A fortnight ago QPR lost meekly at Charlton, but against the Addicks’ fellow strugglers Birmingham this weekend there was no repeat of the lethargy that blighted the game at the Valley.
Rangers looked keen to force the issue right from the first whistle, to actually go and make things happen rather than simply popping the ball about in midfield and hoping something comes their way as has been the case in so many matches this season. Joey Barton returned from a two game ban at the heart of the midfield and played an important role while the revitalised Armand Traore’s strong, positive wing play was a persistent problem to City’s defence all afternoon.
But it was Morrison who stole the show, against a club where he’d previously spent time on loan. The former Manchester United trainee has already had more bad publicity than most players get in an entire career and having catapulted himself into potential England reckoning with a decent start to the Premier League season at West Ham, and a sensational individual goal in a win at Tottenham, he has since fallen out of favour completely at Upton Park, been involved in a tapping-up row with Fulham, and moved on loan to a club the division below just as less talented but better behaved players his own age are stepping up their bids for a place on the plane to Brazil.
While photographs of him hanging around with groups of lads in car parks in front of souped up BMWs make him an odd choice of signing for a club that has promised to look for the “right sort” this season, Morrison is a port in a storm for the injury hit Rangers. Without Matt Phillips and Charlie Austin, Redknapp has lost the pace and goals from his attack and Morrison is a final, desperate attempt to push on despite those set backs. If he carries on like this, QPR might stand half a chance after all.
Birmingham paid the price time and again for giving Morrison the freedom of the park, in front of central midfielders Barton and Jermaine Jenas but deeper than lone striker Doyle. He revelled in the space and scored two fine goals worthy of winning any game.
The first, after a quarter of an hour, came direct from a free kick. Kevin Doyle showed a decent touch of the ball when he turned smartly and accelerated towards the Birmingham penalty area but Paul Robinson, who has made a career in the game as a thug for hire, pole-axed the Irish international on the edge of the area and received an early yellow card from referee Graham Scott for his troubles. Robinson probably thought he’d done the right thing, giving his defence a chance to get good numbers back and regroup, but he’d reckoned without Morrison smacking the ball over the wall and into the back of the net – goalkeeper Darren Randolph will be disappointed to have conceded, as the shot flew into the centre of the goal, but it was well struck and difficult to stop. When Joey Barton’s ego allows him to walk away from a free kick and let somebody else have a go, you know that somebody else must be a bloody good free kick taker and so it proved.
The second didn’t come until 15 minutes from time but there was an air of inevitability about it all the same. Jermaine Jenas, following up and improved showing against Leeds last time out with another unusually purposeful display here, was freed down the left by substitute Gary O’Neil, on for Junior Hoilett who continues to struggle for any kind of form. Jenas picked out Morrison on the edge of the area and the crispness of the strike, into the bottom corner past Randolph, showed technique and quality well above and beyond the Championship average.
Morrison was at the heart of most of the good things QPR did. Five minutes after opening the scoring he’d cut the home defence apart with a pass to free Kevin Doyle in the area and his chipped cross to an unmarked Armand Traore at the back post was volleyed wide by the Senegalese winger. When Morrison later backed himself at the end of a mazy run he dragged the ball wide of the far post and then when Assou-Ekotto - recalled at left back after a series of sub-standard performances and unsavoury reactions towards his own team mates – cut a ball back from the byline after 25 minutes Morrison took just a fraction too long to get a shot away and Birmingham were able to mass bodies in front of him.
And so it continued after half time, with Morrison cutely setting up Jenas with a slide-rule pass worthy of Ray Wilkins but although his fellow midfielder buried the subsequent chance beyond Randolph the flag had long since been raised and the goal chalked off.
There were chances for others in the resplendent red and black of Queens Park Rangers as well. Barton’s deep free kick five minutes before half time was headed flush against the cross bar by centre half Clint Hill, who must have done something hideous to a black cat at some point given his uncanny bad fortune in front of goal. This latest near miss followed last week’s disallowed last minute winner against Leeds – correctly flagged a yard offside just as the club captain thought he’d won the match with the last kick.
Paul Caddis was booked for felling Hoilett in first half injury time after Doyle had worked an opening for him and then when Assou Ekotto took a turn to advance in behind a chronically slow home defence after the break he seemed caught in two minds between a cross and a shot and ultimately did neither.
Randolph made a great save from Doyle’s low shot on the hour, and the rebound eluded Jenas. Later, after Doyle had – rather worryingly, given QPR’s paucity of striking options - been taken off with a bad looking injury, been taken off and replaced by Will Keane, the Manchester United loanee tried his luck from the edge of the area an found the keeper equal to the task.
But let’s not get too carried away here. Birmingham have ownership and money problems of their own with club chairman Carson Yeung this week jailed for six years in his native Hong Kong for money-laundering offences. Questions about why a glorified hair dresser was able to amass so much money so easily probably should have been asked when he was buying this famous old football club from porn barons David Gold and David Sullivan but, even though the laundering allegations had already been made and were being investigated, he was waved through all the same.
What remains of City now is a shell of a football club. Attendances are dropping alarmingly – a pitiful 14,500 here propped up considerably by the thick end of 2,000 noisy QPR fans behind the goal. Where once there were banks of boisterous Brummies massed to the right of the away end, now there are 12 fat yobs, barely of GCSE age, and even some of them didn’t return for the second half. The match was played in near total silence from three sides of a mostly empty stadium and Birmingham look like a club that will be in League One within 18 months unless something drastic changes. A big gay flag fluttered forlornly as it was passed around two sides of the ground, club legends looking on from the canvas as Morrison opened the scoring.
Rangers will not face a team as bad as this again this season and yet they still allowed the home team sights of goal far too often. Liverpool’s former Wycombe trainee Jordan Ibe, who made his league debut for his parent club against Rangers at Anfield last season, was probably the pick of the home players with veteran Chris Burke full of effort and endeavour on the opposite wing, but all too predictable these days and well marshelled in the most part by Nedum Onuoha.
Still, Robert Green had to deal with a couple of routine shots with the time still in single figures, then improvise a fine tip over the bar immediately after Morrison had given QPR the lead when Man City loanee Emyr Hughes sent an inswinging delivery through a crowded penalty box and then, via a wicked bounce on a hard pitch, towards the roof of the net. Barton had to clear from inside his own six yard box when Hughes reached the byline and cut a dangerous ball back and Rangers were caught out with those purposeful runs far too often considering the meagre quality of the opposition.
At times Rangers were just a little bit too pleased with themselves. Referee Scott showed no interest in two quickfire dives from Doyle and Morrison looking for pressure-relieving free kicks just before half time and with numbers running out in the visiting ranks Burke was able to turn inside Assou-Ekotto and fire a dangerous cross shot in the danger area. Then a good cross from the right wing was headed out of harm’s way by Dunne. Manager Lee Clark had good reason to ask why his top earner – the giraffe-like Nikola Zigic – hadn’t made more of an effort to reach that one with Dunne able to beat him to the ball by five yards an head clear, but the giant Serb showed little interest in proceedings all afternoon, rarely breaking out of an amble, and was replaced soon after half time by one-time QPR loanee Federicho Macheda who was little better. With just one win from the previous 15 home games it’s easy to see why Birmingham lost hope on and off the pitch long before the end.
The visitors will need to be more clinical with their own chances, and tighter at the back, against better opposition starting with Brighton on Tuesday. But for now, in a battle between two of the division’s worst run clubs, at the end of a tumultuous week for both, a win’s win, and much needed.
Birmingham: Randolph 6; Caddis 6, Ferguson 6 (Blackett 73, 6), Robinson 5, Spector 5; Ibe 6 (Novak 67, 5) , Ferguson 5, Adeyemi 6, Huws 7, Packwood 5, Burke 6; Zigic 4 (Macheda 58, 5)
Subs not used: Martin, Doyle, Lee, Shinnie
Bookings: Robinson 12 (foul), Caddis 45 (foul)
QPR: Green 7; Onuoha 7, Hill 6, Dunne 6, Assou-Ekotto 6; Hoilett 5 (O’Neil 70, 6), Barton 7, Jenas 7, Traore 7; Morrison 8 (Carroll 87, -); Doyle 7 (Keane 84, -)
Subs not used: Hughes, Henry, Murphy, Benayoun
Goals: Morrison 14 (unassisted), 73 (assisted Jenas)
QPR Star Man – Ravel Morrison 8 A fairly straightforward decision this week because, while Armand Traore’s endeavour and wing play is worthy of note, Ravel Morrison was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch against one of his former clubs. Two fine goals capped an excellent display from the loaned West Ham man.
Referee – Graham Scott (Oxfordshire) 8 Not the most competitive game Mr Scott will have to referee in his career, but I thought he did well to produce yellow cards only when strictly necessary, and repeatedly ignore obvious dives rather than taking the easier way out and awarding free kicks.
Attendance – 14,500 (1,800 QPR approx) Great to see QPR travelling in decent numbers, and in wonderful voice, despite the recent poor results, and in stark contrast to the nasty atmosphere in the away end at Charlton. The three home stands at St Andrew’s these days are a sorry sight. The huge gang of singers to the right of the away end for our last visit have been replaced by 12 fat teenagers an rows of empty seats and attendances are plummeting towards the 10,000 mark. Zero noise and atmosphere, but it’s hard not to sympathise with the reasons for that.
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