Knife hot, butter everywhere, QPR crash at the Cottage - full match report
Monday, 3rd Oct 2011 18:48 by Colin Speller
Colin Speller was the lucky man dispatched to Craven Cottage with match reporting duties for LoftforWords. QPR were beaten 6-0.
I have had several different introductions to this match report rattling round my mind in the lead-up to the game. One concerned some sort of comparison to Cannes, where Clive was fortunate enough to be on match day. I was going to write about blistering heat and the presence of lots of tourists looking somewhat bewildered at the event taking place and go on to wonder if it was the same in Cannes.
Then, as things unfolded, I wondered whether it would be possible to go all foody and publish a permanent recipe for QPR Humble Pie – take one away game (not necessarily local), add a significant dose of expectation, get anywhere between 2,000 and 7,000 QPR fans along, brew nicely through the match build-up and pre-game drinking and watch the whole thing collapse spectacularly, usually within the first hour. Slink home...
In the end I was left to recall a character from Greek mythology (more of him later) whilst reaching for my most recent Gordon Macey QPR history book and looking up a date – 27 January 2001, to be precise, ten days after the last FA Cup tie won by QPR (we have, as Clive is quick to point out, the worst current FA Cup record of any team in the land – ten years and counting since we won a game). On that day, a QPR side en route for relegation, administration and all that followed lost 0-6 at home to a rampant Arsenal side. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s the last time we lost by six goals. In that game a young and inexperienced Peter Crouch missed an early chance to put the R’s into the lead before Arsenal carved us apart in a ‘men v boys’ encounter.
Scroll forward ten and three-quarter years and it was like watching the same game all over again. But, instead of the likes of Steve Morrow, Karl Ready and Christer Warren, we took to the field with players of infinitely better quality, certainly infinitely greater cost and instead of an Arsenal side in rampant form we were facing a Fulham side still seeking its first Premiership win. Neil Warnock has already pinched my knife through butter line but even that old cliché fails to give sufficient illustration of the ease with which Fulham carved us open to win this game. A knife heated to glowing red would not have passed through butter that had been left in the heat of the unseasonable midday October sun any easier than the Fulham attack did through the QPR midfield and defence. Last week Clive had to calm down following the amazing refereeing performance at Loftus Road. I don’t need to calm down – I am simply numb as a result of watching the comprehensively worst QPR performance I have seen for a long, long time and if that numbness transmits itself through the rest of this report, I apologise.
The absence of Traore – suspended and presumably still in the naughty corner at the training ground – meant a reshuffle of the defence. Matthew Connolly was apparently injured so Bradley Orr came in to right back with Luke Young going to left back. Hall (more of whom anon) partnered Ferdinand in the middle behind Derry and Faurlin with Wright-Phillips, Barton and Taarabt all roaming in the midfield and Bothroyd up front.
Key players for Fulham were Sidwell and Murphy in midfield and Zamora and Johnson up front. They lined up in the 4-4-2 formation that is oft pleaded for by Rangers fans.
The stragglers in the noisy away end were still finding their seats when Fulham went 1-0 up. Wright-Phillips had already got a shot away for QPR but Schwarzer distributed the ball quickly, the knife sliced through the butter for the first time as Fulham broke away. Dembele shot, Kenny saved but Johnson followed up to score - 78 seconds on the clock and we were 1-0 down with Johnson behaving like a complete tool by goading the away support. I’ve no idea why he did this given that it was far too early in the game for any of the Fulham players to have received the wisdom of the QPR faithful on their shortcomings, but he felt the need to stand in front of the away end gesturing for some time in the aftermath of the goal. Much has been said about referees in recent weeks and I always think it’s a complete nonsense when a player gets booked for over-celebrating a goal with his own fans but this is just the sort of behaviour that could have incited a nasty reaction and if I had been the ref I would have booked the bugger for it.
Anyway, a bad start but no need to fret as yet as we had barely got going and there was plenty of time. QPR tried knocking the ball about and their only early reward was to see Sidwell scythe Taarabt down as he turned. He was, quite rightly, booked. As the minutes ticked by the pattern of the game became established – QPR huffing and puffing trying to create an opening, Fulham sitting tight, harrying the QPR players and seeking to break with pace. The latter they did on more than one occasion and the hot knife was in evidence several times. Dempsey should have scored in the ninth minute, but was blocked by Orr, and Johnson was close in the seventeenth minute. During this time QPR had forced a corner or two but little had come of them.
Then in the nineteenth minute another Fulham attack had appeared to break down as Kenny and Hall converged on the ball in the area, but as they seemed to dither Johnson nipped in, Kenny bundled him over and the ref pointed to the spot. The juxtaposition of foul and goal was such that the ref did not even bother to yellow card anybody such was the lameness of the foul and the lack of risk to the goal at the point of contact. Murphy despatched the penalty with ease and then indulged in his own bit of fan goading, albeit limited to a minor ‘ear-cupping’.
So, 2-0 down and very much the seeds of our own destruction thus far, QPR got back to the task in hand without appearing to threaten that much. There is a character in Greek mythology called Sisyphus who was a king punished by being compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity. According to Wikipedia, the word ‘sisyphean’ means ‘endless and unavailing, as labour or a task’ but a new definition could be ‘QPR’s performance at Craven Cottage, 2 October 2011’. Certainly QPR’s attacking endeavours had all the characteristics of pushing a boulder uphill by hand whereas Fulham’s flowed like water downhill.
And so it was in the thirty eighth minute when they swept forward again - Dempsey shot, Ferdinand blocked, but Zamora squared the ball for Johnson to fire home. So 3-0 before 40 minutes were up and no signs of a way back. Many of those around us left for an early half time beer and apart from a pretty unthreatening shot by Wright-Phillips there was little other than frustration to quicken the pulse.
Warnock acted at half-time to change things around. Smith came on for Derry and DJ Campbell for Taarabt, the latter allegedly stomping out of the ground during the second half (I’ll deal with him later, seemed to be Warnock’s post-match view). Anyway, the upshot of this was 4-4-2 and – for a few minutes at least – an apparently greater attacking threat, although I could not help remembering the Wolves game of two weeks’ ago where they came out firing for the first part of the second half before it all fizzled out. QPR did work an opening and were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. Two things infuriated me about this – first, the ref marked where he wanted the wall but despite a lot of pleading from him the closest it got was about a yard away from where he said it should be. He then gave up, whereupon it moved forward another yard. Second, despite being faced with a wall about eight yards away, we tried shifting the ball sideways and inevitably by the time Bothroyd got his shot away he was closed down to within a couple of yards. But generally this was within a better patch of play from QPR with shots from Barton and Wright-Phillips as well as a header from the latter.
But, re-enter Sisyphus as, with the boulder close to the top of the hill, QPR let it slip again. Fulham were awarded a free kick, Murphy took it quickly and Johnson was given all the time in the world to pick his spot for his hat-trick.
It was fair to say that any sting left in QPR was well and truly extracted by that point. So much so that after another five or six minutes of nothing-in-particular the butter parted again to allow Dempsey to score.
Not long after that the most exciting part of the afternoon for the QPR faithful saw Jamie Mackie make his much-awaited return to competitive action replacing the rather hapless Bothroyd, with Smith moving to the centre. It all made no immediate difference as yet another swipe of the knife saw Zamora score the sixth.
With a good fifteen minutes to go there were fears in the away end of an even more serious rout but Fulham had clearly decided enough was enough and that allowed QPR a little purple patch where, urged on by the enthusiastic Mackie, they had shots from Barton, Wright-Phillips, Mackie and DJ Campbell, with the latter also heading over. This gave a rather surprising degree of balance to the ‘attempts’ count in the match stats. Despite taking their collective foot of the gas, Fulham still managed shots by Ruiz and Dempsey. It’s also worth reporting that in the latter part of the game Faurlin (foul) and Wright-Philips (dissent – suggesting the linesman needed spectacles) received yellow cards to add to one awarded to Hall in the second half – I honestly can’t remember why Hall got one but maybe the ref responded to the collective telepathic ire of the QPR fans.
So, what have we learned today, kiddies? Well, let’s deal with Fulham first, whose fans must be pinching themselves. Martin Jol talked afterwards about them having scored ‘too many goals’ and you can kind of see what he means if they now go back to being goal-shy in their coming games. Their goal difference may have improved but the result was still only worth three points. Their overall superiority is reflected in the score-line and in summary they did the simple things well. They were generally stronger in the tackle and when otherwise competing for the ball, when attacks broke down they re-started them by the simple virtue of having either Sidwell or Murphy available when the ball came back from the QPR defence, they moved the ball quickly and their build-up play was ruthlessly simple. And QPR were utter shite, which helps enormously, of course.
And the shite was pretty consistent throughout the QPR team. I left the ground not knowing who to give the Man of the Match award and I still don’t some five hours later. They were basically all pants really, truth be told. I shall, though, select one or two for particular lament.
Taarabt has been a huge disappointment so far this season by the high standards of last year where his brilliance was – in the end – the difference between being Champions and some way down the league. I don’t know whether it’s him or the way he is being asked to play, but he seldom runs at people in the way that he did before. Given the ball he is far more likely to cut back inside, often bringing one or more defenders back into play. Those bursting runs into the box that delivered penalties and goals last year are notably absent. Are we being tactically more cautious, thus stifling his contribution?
Hall’s reputation with the QPR support is about as damaged as his hamstrings and he did it further damage here today, largely just by being out there on the field. He certainly seemed culpable with Kenny regarding the penalty. To be fair, though, I would have to watch the highlights to determine precisely who was responsible for the constant gaps in the defence, and sadly I haven’t the time to do that and get this finished before another week’s grafting starts again.
We are very thin in terms of quality at the back, hence Warnock’s ire regarding Traore. His replacement, Orr, was his usual self and could not cross the ball to save his life. Indeed, several times in the first half there was an extra interchange of passes to allow Barton to swap positions with Orr so he could cross the ball instead. But, it would be wrong to heap all the blame on Orr – Young was not at his best on the left and one assumes that had Connolly been fit he would have played. If the new regime has more money to spend in January then quality centre-backs and fullbacks would be on my list.
The midfield looked all at sea for most of the game, whether playing the conventional 4-4-2 or the 4-2-3-1 that we seem to play, with the three in that formation ‘floating’. After an earlier match report I was castigated by someone who was at pains to point out that I could not possibly know what I was talking about, so I’ll try to avoid a repeat of that by saying that whatever I think about team shape, in general teams play well in spite of their formations rather than because of them. In terms of decision-making and execution QPR were poor today and the various changes of personnel and shape did little to change that. We also fell over far too easily and seldom looked like getting the fouls for which the players appealed whilst sprawled on the floor. Oh, and while I am about it, please practice keeping the ball and moving it about, rather than simply hoofing it forward. Three touches and hoof was not really good enough in the Championship – it’s hopeless in the Prem.
I suppose in the end we have to hope that it was just an all round bad day at the office – if not, we are in trouble because the expensive new additions looked no better and in many ways worse than the pre-takeover options did against Bolton. Class is permanent and form is temporary so let’s hope Shaun and Joey get back to form when we face Blackburn. The Bothroyd jury is still out as far as I’m concerned, but it will have seen little here to help his case.
On a more general point, even with a return to form, we could still do very much better with set pieces. The corners are poor and any attempt to sophisticate them makes them worse. And despite an apparent plethora of riches in the free kick department we can still only dream of scoring that way. This set-piece malaise has been absolutely consistent thus far this year. It can – and should – be sorted on the training ground as soon as possible.
Losing the last game before an international break is never a good move, but getting an absolute thumping means that we must now fester for nearly two weeks before we can pick ourselves up again. With rumours of Taarabt stomping off and other discord in the camp breaking on the message boards, it seems that there will need to be some work to be done to restore the apparent harmony of recent weeks before the – ahem – ‘six pointer’ against Blackburn Rovers.
Finally, a mention of the QPR support that turned out in large number despite the ludicrous £49 ticket price (plus booking fee!), was noisy throughout and mostly stayed to the end despite the score. The players would do well to note that commitment and recognise that they owe us one for today.
QPR: Kenny 5, Ferdinand 5, Hall 4, Young 5, Orr 5, Faurlin 5, Derry 4 (Smith 45, 5), Wright-Phillips 5, Taarabt 4 (Campbell 45, 6), Barton 5, Bothroyd 4 (Mackie 72, 7)
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Perone, Buzsaky, Helguson
Booked: Hall (foul), Faurlin (foul), Wright-Phillips (dissent)
Fulham: Schwarzer 7, JA Riise 6, Hangeland 6, Baird 6, Grygera 7, Sidwell 8, Murphy 7 (Etuhu 83 6), Dempsey 6, Johnson 8 (Ruiz 75 6), Zamora 7, Dembele 7 (Sa 87, -)
Subs Not Used: Etheridge, Kelly, Senderos, Duff
Booked: Sidwell (foul), Hangeland (foul)
QPR Star Man: Jamie Mackie 7 I hate doing scoring and I cannot choose any of the main participants in a woeful QPR performance as ‘Star Man’, but Jamie’s typical energy and enthusiasm shone through on an otherwise dreadful day. DJ Campbell was probably the pick of the rest but even he was only out there for 45 minutes.
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands) 7 Largely unfussy and just got on with things really. Can’t really recall him getting anything wrong but needs to make sure a wall starts and finishes ten yards from a free kick otherwise there seems little point to him being there to say where it should go.
Attendance: 23,776 (3,000+ QPR fans)
Photo: Action Images
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