Newcastle defeat outlines size of task for Hughes – full match report
Monday, 16th Jan 2012 22:38 by Clive Whittingham
Leon Best’s first half strike was enough for Newcastle to send QPR crashing to defeat in Mark Hughes’ first match in charge.
Another day, another game drifts by for Queens Park Rangers. There are just 17 matches left now and the need to secure a victory grows stronger with each passing defeat.
Having managed just four wins in 21 matches so far Rangers must now find another six or possibly seven between now and May if they’re to stay in the Premier League. A combination of poor finishing and lack of cutting edge ensured that the first of those did not come at Newcastle on Sunday.
Rangers hit the outside of the post and the top of the crossbar at St James’ Park before losing to a rare Newcastle shot on target. This was the twelfth defeat of an increasingly troubled season for the R’s, the seventh by just a single goal, and the ninth time they have been prevented from scoring. They have managed a single goal or less in 19 of their 23 matches in all competitions this season, including the last five. Only West Brom have scored less at home, only Wigan have scored less in total.
None of this will be lost on the new manager Mark Hughes, a no-nonsense striker in his playing days. The first affects of his reign could be seen already at St James’ Park on a biting cold day – a more rigid structure and shape to the team, more emphasis on keeping possession of the ball, even a couple of moderately dangerous set pieces – but there were still too many players out there playing with fear in their games and there is no quick fix for that.
Why, for instance, will Shaun Wright-Phillips not take an opponent on under any circumstances? Why will he never take a player to the byline, or push it past him and test him for pace? Is this actually Shaun Wright-Phillips we’re watching at all at the moment?
Hughes switched QPR immediately into his tried and tested 4-4-2 set up. Wright-Phillips started on the left with Jamie Mackie on the right but the pair interchanged frequently. In the centre of midfield, with Ale Faurlin and Joey Barton injured and suspended respectively, Shaun Derry partnered Akos Buzsaky who enjoyed a rare start. Jay Bothroyd and Heidar Helguson teamed up in attack while the defence was made up of Luke Young, Anton Ferdinand, Danny Gabbidon and Clint Hill. Paddy Kenny started in goal amidst rumours of a possible approach for Birmingham keeper Ben Foster who is currently on loan at West Brom.
Newcastle have had a terrific season so far, sitting comfortably in the top half of the Premier League after an unbeaten start to the season that stretched across 11 games, including a 0-0 draw at Loftus Road which they could easily have lost. Senegal international striker Demba Ba has been pivotal to them with 15 goals in his previous 16 matches but he, along with similarly influential midfielder Cheick Tiote, was away on international duty for this game and missed out. Leon Best, once a QPR loanee, and Shola Ameobi partnered each other in attack, just as they had done at Loftus Road when these sides last met in September.
Much is made of the effect of ‘new manager syndrome’, Sunderland have gone from relegation candidates to an outside bet for Europe since Martin O’Neill moved into the top job at the Stadium of Light, but Mark Hughes has previously struggled to feel much of the benefit. He won one of his first eight games as Blackburn manager, and was third from bottom after four months with Fulham before rallying to finish eighth – but with QPR’s fixtures falling the way they have he cannot afford not to hit the ground running. The early signs here were good as his side, finally wearing their superb red and white away kit rather than the hideous baby-sick orange monstrosity, made an excellent start to the game.
Tim Krul in the Newcastle goal made a routine save from Heidar Helguson in the first minute and then had to scramble to gather a shot from Shaun Wright-Phillips at the second attempt with Jay Bothroyd hunting for scraps in the six yard box. We even managed to keep the ball on the field for more than three seconds after kicking off. Revolutionary stuff.
After four minutes Newcastle’s giant home crowd was living on its nerves again. Heidar Helguson’s intelligent flick on tempted Krul out to the edge of his area and Bothroyd could have lobbed the opening goal of the game beyond him with better awareness of the situation. Instead he teed up first Helguson whose shot was blocked, sparking tentative appeals for handball, and then Wright-Phillips who fired wildly off target. Within 60 seconds Akos Buzsaky had drilled straight at Krul from distance meaning that in five minutes of football we’d had more shots and posed more threat on the goal than we did in the entire away match at Liverpool just before Christmas. Sadly, none of the chances had been taken, and that lack of a cutting edge meant that the outcome was ultimately the same.
QPR were much the better side of the opening 15 minutes and could have made that count on the quarter hour when Shaun Wright-Phillips waded into a piece of broken play on the corner of the Newcastle penalty area and lashed a powerful shot past Krul but away to safety off the top of the crossbar. Wright-Phillips just can’t buy a goal for QPR and this is the third time I recall him striking the woodwork this season after similar bad luck against Wolves and Stoke – he’s at risk of becoming our version of John Jensen. It’s clearly affected his game and confidence as well because he now point blankly refuses to take on a defender, constantly choosing a safe pass back and inside instead.
That near miss preceded the turning point of the game. Shaun Derry began the season surprisingly well at the higher level but has looked his age recently, although like the doting owners of an incontinent old family pooch the fact that his time may have come is an elephant in the room as far as QPR fans are concerned. Derry’s magnificence last year is buying him a hall pass from supporters at the moment who prefer to direct their ire at Jay Bothroyd instead, but the limitations of the veteran midfielder shone through in the nineteenth minute on Sunday.
After miscontrolling a routine ball in the middle of his own half Derry then attempted to retrieve the situation in what can only be described as a fool’s mission. He lunged, wildly, on Newcastle’s French midfielder Yohan Cabaye as he stole in to retake possession for his team. Derry caught his man flush on the ankle, sending him flying into the air, and although Cabaye initially bounced straight up to attempt to start fighting Derry over the challenge it quickly became apparent that something was wrong and he slumped to the ground before being removed from the field on a stretcher – pointing and swearing at a non-plussed Derry as he went.
Cabaye had every right to be furious. This was a dreadful tackle, far worse than the Vincent Kompany and Glen Johnson efforts that attracted so much publicity last week, and actually caused a serious injury. Referee Chris Foy sent Kompany off in the Manchester derby last week for cleanly winning the ball with two feet because it could have caused injury had it been mistimed, and yet only showed a yellow here to Derry because he went in with one boot despite him being wild, reckless out of control and actually causing an injury. The law, and Foy, is an ass. Kompany’s was never a red card in a month of Sundays and Derry was extremely fortunate to stay on the field here.
Long term Cabaye’s injury, if serious, will be desperately bad news for Newcastle because he has been in fantastic form this season. Short term though it turned the game in their favour because Alan Pardew was forced to introduce French winger Hatem Ben-Arfa earlier than he otherwise would have done and QPR’s early domination drained away thereafter.
Of immediate concern to Hughes was keeping 11 men on the field. Immediately after being booked Derry was penalised again for a foul on Gutierrez, although not for the first or last time on the day the Argentinean’s keenness to fall to ground the second any meagre contact was made was obvious to all expect the match officials. He was down again 30 seconds later, although this time there clearly had been a foul by Danny Gabbidon. Ryan Taylor planted the set piece onto Gutierrez’s head in the six yard box but he guided the ball over the bar.
On the half hour Rangers were left cursing their poor fortune again when Jay Bothroyd cut in onto his right foot in the corner of the Newcastle penalty area and beat Krul with a curling shot that struck the outside of the post and flew out for a goal kick. Bothroyd continues to be the subject of mindless abuse from QPR fans at games and while I wouldn’t for one moment suggest he’s playing well, and certainly doesn’t do himself any favours with his lackadaisical playing style, I can’t see how he’s playing any better or worse than anybody else at the moment. I thought he was improved on Sunday, and was desperately unlucky not to score with this chance.
Anger turned back onto the match officials moments later when Clint Hill was shown a yellow card for nothing more than a routine trip on Danny Simpson tight to the touchline. Given that Foy wasn’t initially going to award a free kick only to then belatedly change his mind on the advice of his assistant on that side of the field one has to wonder how he then reached the decision that it was a yellow card.
Ben Arfa took hold of the resulting set piece after Newcastle worked the ball to the edge of the area and curled a low shot to the far corner which seemed to miss the base of the post unaided with Kenny struggling to get across but Foy, guessing, awarded a corner all the same.
Rangers weren’t happy about that decision, and appealed for both handball and offside when Newcastle then took the lead ten minutes before half time. Both shouts, rightly, fell on deaf ears and Leon Best was left to toast his first goal in 12 appearances after picking up Shola Ameobi’s chest control, turning Luke Young inside out and then finishing into the far corner with Kenny already committed in the other direction.
With QPR’s lack of cutting edge you sensed that that maybe it. And you’d have been right. Although Jamie Mackie could have equalised almost immediately when he turned well in the Newcastle penalty box, saw an initial effort blocked and then hacked a very presentable chance over the bar.
Anton Ferdinand was forced to clear the goal mouth in four minutes of added time at the end of the half when Danny Simpson reached the byline and cut the ball back but Newcastle did indeed lead at the break.
Mark Hughes believes strongly in his methods and systems. Don’t expect to see QPR deviate much from this team shape and style of play regardless of new additions or results good and bad over the coming weeks. Predictably there were no changes at half time and Rangers went on the offensive straight from the restart with Bothroyd intelligently teeing up Wright-Phillips for a weak shot straight at the goalkeeper.
There was nothing intelligent about Bothroyd’s finishing five minutes later though when Buzsaky chipped a fine cross to the back post, Helguson showed great awareness to nod it back to his strike partner, but unmarked and with time to pick his spot Bothroyd shot pathetically into the crowd. QPR’s best chance of the match hopelessly wasted. He went closer two minutes later, testing Krul with a powerful shot at the near post after Helguson had again showed an admirable touch of the ball to lay a fine pass in behind the defence for Bothroyd to run onto. He should have gone across the keeper, but after his previous attempt I was just glad to see it pose some threat to the Newcastle goal.
Newcastle responded with a long range shots from defenders Simpson and Santon – the former barely kept his in the ground, the latter drew a desperate last ditch block from Luke Young. On the hour Rangers survived a very loud handball appeal when Clint Hill turned a situation where there appeared to be no danger whatsoever into one where he was at the mercy of a notoriously erratic referee by taking a needless, and somewhat lazy, risk in bringing the ball down in his own penalty area.
Hughes sent on Tommy Smith for Helguson and Federico Macheda for Akos Buzsaky, both no doubt fitness related with Helguson not getting any younger and Buzsaky short of match minutes, but neither change had any great positive effect on the match. I seem to be writing that on a weekly basis about our substitutions – a squad of 37 players, only a handful of them actually good enough for the level we’re playing at.
As happened in the first half, Chris Foy forced himself on the game for ten minutes or so before growing weary and disappearing from view again. First he refused Danny Guthrie’s free kick appeal on the edge of the area despite the former Bolton man writhing in apparent agony. When play finally stopped Guthrie refused treatment, got straight to his feet and was magically ok again.
Then Foy allowed play to go on when first Macheda and then Gutierrez appeared to be fouled – a situation that bred frustration and immediately produced another foul from Macheda who was booked. Had Foy done his job properly and awarded the first foul it would never have happened.
Newcastle were much the better team in the closing stages of the game, just when QPR could have done with pushing on to search for an equaliser. Leon Best’s cross shot was hacked at by Gabbidon in the six yard box and then Shola Ameobi embarrassingly swung and completely missed at the resulting loose ball at the far post. Rangers responded with a slick move with Macheda at its heart but the Italian waited too long to cut the ball back into the area by which time the angle had almost completely disappeared and Krul was able to claim – unbelievably Clint Hill was the closest man to getting to it.
Pardew sent on utility defender James Perch for Leon Best, which seemed a rather needlessly negative change, and later introduced Dan Gosling for Ryan Taylor. But the path of this game had long since been set and I found myself thinking that had I been sensible and stayed at home to watch from the comfort and warmth of my living room, rather than travelling 600 miles on a Sunday to sit in the freezing cold 3,000 feet up in the air and watch what looked very much like the old Sensible Soccer computer game I’d probably have dozed off during the second period.
For most of that second half QPR were almost Swansea City like in their approach to the game. Possession was treated with far more care and respect than it has been previously and there was a lot of ball being moved sideways along the halfway line without ever really going anywhere. The team was also much more disciplined about its shape and individual duties than it has been for some time.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Certainly I’d prefer to see QPR retaining possession and shape than turning it over and melting away. But as well as implementing the new style and shape, and adding some much needed quality in the transfer window, Mark Hughes has to deal with two urgently pressing issues: firstly adding a cutting edge to the attack, and I’m not convinced that can be achieved with the current personnel he has available to him; and secondly instilling some confidence and belief in the current players. Shaun Wright-Phillips in particular could be doing so much more to unlock opposition teams for us, but for whatever reason doesn’t feel able to even try and take on a man at the moment.
And all of this needs to be achieved two weeks ago. Time is not a friend to QPR and Mark Hughes.
Newcastle: Krul 7, Simpson 6, Coloccini 7, Williamson 6, Santon 6, Ryan Taylor 6 (Gosling 81. -), Guthrie 6, Cabaye 6 (Ben Arfa 25, 7), Gutierrez 7, Best 7 (Perch 76, 6), Shola Ameobi 5
Subs Not Used: Elliot, Abeid, Obertan, Ferguson
Goals: Best 37 (assisted Ameobi)
QPR: Kenny 7, Young 6, Gabbidon 6, Ferdinand 7, Hill 6, Wright-Phillips 5, Derry 6, Buzsaky 6 (Macheda 76, 6), Mackie 5, Helguson 6 (Smith 64, 6), Bothroyd 6
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Orr, Hall, Campbell, Ephraim
Booked: Derry (foul), Hill (foul), Bothroyd (foul), Macheda (foul)
QPR Star Man – Anton Ferdinand 7 QPR weren’t particularly good, or that bad, so picking a star man out of a pool of mediocrity is quite tough. Go on, Anton Ferdinand, why not.
Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside) 6 No major decisions wrong, but for two separate ten minute spells either side of half time he descended into a confused, mushy mess. Shaun Derry was lucky not to be sent off, Clint Hill was unfortunate to even be penalised, Federico Macheda was booked in a situation created by the officials and so on. Just seems to lose the plot quite easily, and frequently.
Attendance: 49, 865 (1,500 QPR approx) Credit all round is in order here I think. For a televised Sunday lunchtime match in tough economic times to get 50,000 to a game like this is really quite something. For 1,500 of them to travel 300 miles from London and back again is also excellent. The away fans seemed a little quiet, although there is a pervading sense of pointlessness about supporting your team from that away end because you’re so far away they clearly can’t hear you.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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