Second time unlucky for QPR as Sturridge cons Dean – full match report
Monday, 30th Jan 2012 00:34 by Clive Whittingham
QPR were knocked out of the FA Cup by near neighbours Chelsea at Loftus Road on Saturday thanks to a controversial penalty converted by Spanish midfielder Juan Mata.
It was President George W. Bush who once eloquently said: “Fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me… You can't get fooled again.” Quite.
Bush also once infamously said that he was a “war president” and as a result even he probably understood the vital element of surprise when you’re going into battle.
In October QPR were able to hit a confident and cocky Chelsea team smack in the teeth with the element of surprise. Two moments from a memorable afternoon at Loftus Road stick in my mind to this day. The first was the sight of Juan Mata strolling across to take a first half corner in front of the R Block only to then turn on his heels with a stunned look on his face when he saw the reception committee waiting for him there. Two minutes later, three before half time, he clutched the back of his leg and demanded to be substituted. The second was the assertion from Frank Lampard’s cousin Jamie Redknapp in the post match fall out that he “didn’t even realise this was a derby game”. Neither, it seemed, did Frank and his team mates.
Nothing summed up just how much of a wake-up call that 1-0 defeat here was to QPR’s near neighbours more than Mata’s performance in this highly charged but ultimately disappointing re-match on Saturday. Always unmarked, always posing a problem, always threatening and possessing the composure that the QPR fans had previously frightened out of him to bury the only goal of the game from the penalty spot. The spot kick should never have been awarded, but after surviving two similar shouts in the league game and getting the rub of the green on several other decisions QPR could hardly complain too loudly – a point Andre Villas Boas was keen to make through a broad smile after the game.
Loftus Road was every bit as hostile on Saturday as it had been for the first game, possibly more so, but there was a different atmosphere to the game. There were two factors behind that.
From the QPR side of things that was because John Terry has since been charged by the police with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand which directed the hatred almost exclusively in his direction whereas previously no Chelsea player was safe. Terry – a man with a lamentable behaviour record, a shop lifting mother, drug dealing father, and brother who helped drive a young man to suicide by having an affair with his wife – has had to grow a thick skin down the years and was able to shrug off the constant abuse and perform well. Chelsea weren’t going to be surprised again.
From the Chelsea point of view, they actually care now. When QPR were last a Premiership team the Blues had Frank Sinclair at centre back and 18,000 supporters at their home matches and the many thousands of new comers were delighted to inform us before the first game that we were a tiny irrelevance to them, if that. They barely even knew who we were. Even their official website waded in on the act. They know now. Now they send bullets. You know Chelsea care about you when they start sending bullets, it’s just their way. Even in defeat, it’s gratifying to know that we’ve riled them a bit this season.
QPR have changed managers since the last meeting of course, persuading former Chelsea striker Mark Hughes to sit in one of football’s hottest seats. He has immediately set about strengthening a leaky defence with Man City’s Nedum Onouha signed during the week and on the bench here, and AC Milan’s Taye Taiwo awaiting clearance for his debut at left back. But it’s further forward that the need is most pressing now, as highlighted here. QPR were enthusiastic but toothless when working off Heidar Helguson in the first period, Tommy Smith partnered him in the absence of Jay Bothroyd and DJ Campbell through injury and didn’t do badly at all. But when Helguson was forced off injured at half time they were just plain insipid. Playing with Manchester United loanee Federico Macheda was like playing with ten men which is a concern if Helguson is to be out for any length of time with his knock. That said, to rely on an injury prone 34-year-old for the rest of the season would be extremely risky regardless.
The team was completed by a midfield of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joey Barton, Akos Buzsaky and Jamie Mackie. At the back Luke Young and Clint Hill played at full back with Anton Ferdinand and Fitz Hall in the centre. Paddy Kenny played in goal.
Chelsea played with nine men for a good portion of the last meeting between these sides and decided to start with just the ten here, selecting Fernando Torres as a lone striker. Because of that they rarely looked like scoring themselves in a pretty dismal encounter that would have ended 0-0 without the intervention of referee Mike Dean who will be embarrassed when he sees just how much he was conned by Daniel Sturridge, who despite his flagrant cheating really should be the man Villas Boas is building his attack around rather than his giant Spanish white elephant.
QPR under Mark Hughes set up in two very solid banks of four in front of their own penalty area. This has made them more solid defensively (they’re yet to concede more than one in any of Hughes’ games in charge) but it has also made them rather laboured in attack at times. They either have to work the ball out slowly to give men a chance to get up and join the attack, or rely on Heidar Helguson to pluck a long ball out of the sky, hold it until support arrives and then distribute it. Luckily Helguson is very good at this because a couple of times in the opening few moments the playing out from the back technique almost caught QPR out in and around their own penalty area. Shaun Wright-Phillips gave the ball away cheaply after three minutes but Rangers muscled up to prevent a shot on their own goal.
In fact it took eight minutes for any effort of note from either team and even that, from Daniel Sturridge, finished closer to the Q Block than the roof of the Loft End goal.
The best way to break down a team set up as QPR are under Hughes is to bide your time and wait for a counter attack. Two minutes after the Sturridge chance Chelsea did just that and could easily have taken the lead. A QPR free kick was cleared out to Luke Young who first made a mess of returning the ball into the Chelsea penalty area and then, as Juan Mata collected possession and ran at him, lost his footing at the worst possible moment on a slippery surface. That gave Mata the freedom of the park and he trundled up to the area before drawing a save from Paddy Kenny. Ramires attempted to convert the rebound with his head but only won a corner which was toed wide at the near post by Florent Malouda.
And this pattern of play continued. Long periods of nothing very much happening, both teams keeping the ball reasonably well without ever really threatening, and then suddenly Chelsea spotting a chance and looking quite incisive. Fitz Hall’s heart must have been in his mouth when he stretched to poke Ashley Cole’s low cross wide of his own near post after John Terry had set his full back up with a nice chipped ball in behind Luke Young. Terry nodded the resulting corner down but the always hilarious David Luiz’s wild attempt at a bicycle kick from 15 yards out sent the ball flying into the upper tier behind the goal.
Two minutes later Luiz went on a trademark run into the heart of the QPR penalty area which caused brief panic before Anton Ferdinand swept in with a clearance. It’s said that the furore over the John Terry allegations in the last match affected Ferdinand’s form over Christmas and certainly I realised on Saturday that I hadn’t seen him play as well as he did here for a good number of weeks. Long may he keep up this quality of performance, I thought he was QPR’s best player.
The first yellow card of a surprisingly level tempered game went to Shaun Wright-Phillips who overran a ball and then lunged in on Florent Malouda who’d taken it from him. It summed up Wright-Phillips performance really, he continues to struggle badly for form. His main problem, apart from an obvious lack of confidence that may be cured by a goal or two, is that from his position wide on the left he is constantly looking to come inside onto his right at the first possible opportunity. It’s narrowing our attack and reducing his options. He should look to take men to the byline as often as possible. Even if he then still has to check back onto his right foot he’ll be more dangerous and have m0ore options doing it there than he does at the moment running into traffic 40 yards away from goal. Either that or as a well paid professional footballer he could practice kicking with his left foot.
Wright-Phillips cut in again ten minutes from half time and blasted a shot over after Tommy Smith had won the ball well from Meireles on halfway, but the tattooed Chelsea winger responded in kind with a shot of his own past the target.
A dull first half then sort of drifted through to the break with only a mishit Ramires shot wide to hold the interest. Jamie Mackie and Joey Barton both showed appalling game management by giving the ball away deep in their own half with only a minute of stoppage time left to go but Chelsea’s cutting edge was Torres so they weren’t able to capitalise and 0-0 was a more than fair reflection on a dreadful game at the halfway point.
QPR lost Heidar Helguson to injury at half time, probably the player they’d have wanted to go off least given his importance to the way they were playing, and replaced him with Federico Macheda. They attacked first, and the hard working Tommy Smith saw a shot blocked on the edge of the area, but Chelsea then countered and Fitz Hall was forced to concede a free kick and yellow card for deliberate handball after falling at the feet of Torres by the corner flag. Malouda chipped the resulting free kick into the area and Sturridge lost his marker to meet it but his shot was blocked away.
Six minutes after the break that element of surprise I spoke about earlier came into play and caught QPR cold. Fernando Torres, almost completely useless to this point, carried the ball to the byline with Anton Ferdinand. I relaxed back in my seat, safe in the knowledge that despite QPR’s long previous record of helping out of form strikers rediscover their touch that we were in little danger as long as the Spaniard had the ball. However suddenly, on this occasion, we saw a flash of the unplayable ball of magnificence that Torres was two years ago for Liverpool. He dropped his shoulder and dummied back inside to such wonderful effect that Ferdinand almost ended up in the first row of the away end while Torres made the most of the resulting space to tee up Sturridge who should have done better than hack a shot over the bar from 15 yards out.
Torres went back to being dreadful thereafter. I actually think he’s some sort of freak of nature. I found him utterly fascinating to watch. How can a man who was almost unplayable two years ago be this bad now? How and why? It’s astonishing, I was astonished to see him up close and in the flesh. The man now cannot even pass a ball ten yards to a team mate with any degree of consistency. You get this in golf sometimes, Ian Baker-Finch a famous example, but rarely in football to this extent. I watched him here with a mixture of pity and amazement. Somewhere inside that slender frame topped by a permanently bowed and frowning face lurks one of the world’s greatest footballers. Either that or this is some ugly blonde bird who has the real Fernando Torres tied up in a cupboard at home and has assumed his identity.
In the end Chelsea won despite Torres’ meagre influence on the game, rather than because of it. Without Helguson QPR couldn’t find a way of maintaining possession in the Chelsea half and were penned deep in their own defensive third for the majority of the second half as a result. Luiz lashed a ridiculous shot wide from closer to the halfway line than the penalty box, Ramires made mugs of Barton and Macheda on his way to the edge of the penalty area before Clint Hill crunched Sturridge as he attempted to race onto the through ball. John Terry headed the resulting corner into the ground and Kenny claimed well through a crowd of players.
That said the only goal of the game, when it did arrive, came on the counter attack after Rangers had gone close to scoring. Shaun Wright-Phillips finally saw the benefit in actually taking a player on for pace down the flank rather than cutting infield as he’d done on every previous occasion when he ghosted past Ashley Cole with the help of Macheda’s obstruction and a lousy but fortuitous piece of ball control. Now in space in the area he hit a low shot that Cech parried to his right and Jamie Mackie was a whisker away from converting from six yards out. The chance came and went just too quickly for the flat footed former Plymouth man to react.
There was little time to reflect on the miss because Chelsea flew downfield and took the lead on contentious circumstances. A deep cross to the far post from Juan Matta was above and beyond Sturridge when he felt the slightest of contacts from Clint Hill at the far post. The resulting dive was laughably bad, and Hill let the Chelsea man know it as he laid on the floor appealing to the referee. Sadly for Hill and QPR Mike Dean had been taken in and awarded the penalty, peering through a crowd of players to see the incident and getting his decision badly wrong as a result. After the usual committee meeting between the referee and three or four wronged players failed to overturn the decision Mata confidently dispatched the ball beyond Paddy Kenny and into the corner of the net.
Chelsea celebrated while Mike Dean retreated to the halfway line where he found Mark Hughes waiting for him shaking his finger to signal his opinion on the matter. Dean simply shrugged, I think he knew deep down he was wrong. QPR got the benefit of the doubt on several decision in the league game, and didn’t get it here. They say things even themselves up in football and maybe they did a bit here.
It was never a penalty in a month of Sundays, anybody with half decent eyesight could tell you that. But I have to say that Clint Hill does give players the chance to do this to him. He will always put in a little needless shove, a little niggle, a little bit of contact that isn’t required. It’s part of his game, part of his wind up technique, a way to put players off their game – it’s needless but it’s the way he goes about his work. On three or four previous occasions in the game Hill had done something similar to Sturridge, absolutely nothing really and not worthy of a free kick but Sturridge had exaggerated the contact and complained to the officials about it every single time. The seed of doubt had been planted in the referee’s mind and he was watching the pair of them closer than he would have been had Hill just left him alone. On this occasion Dean was wrong, the decision was dreadful, but Hill had allowed this situation to brew prior to this incident and then he made contact (very meagre contact) with him under a cross that neither of them were ever going to reach. He gave the referee a decision to make, or rather he gave Sturridge a chance to give the referee a decision to make, and he does this quite often.
Dean is a hard referee to like given the arrogant manner he conducts himself with around the pitch, and he was in no mood for avoiding the limelight after this error. A few moments later a QPR fan in the front row threw the ball back into play in the direction of Ashley Cole, catching him flush in the back. Cole didn’t even turn around but Dean saw fit to stop the ball, call a steward out of the stand and lecture him. The steward, hilariously, then sat back down next to the supporter who’d done it and patted him on the back. Hopefully we won’t hear any more about that non-event.
Could QPR get back into it? It seemed unlikely initially but hope sprung afresh when Wright-Phillips was chopped down by Cole who became the first Chelsea player booked and Petr Cech then fumbled Joey Barton’s brilliantly delivered free kick in a crowded penalty area. The ball fell to Smith whose goalbound shot was blocked by Ramires and Chelsea survived. This wasn’t the first decent set piece Barton put in on Saturday which was encouraging, but sadly it was the last – several corners and free kicks were wasted thereafter much to the frustration of the home crowd.
Ramires paid a heavy price for his block, carried from the field in a leg brace after a lengthy period of treatment that created seven minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game. The QPR fans amused themselves during the stoppage by upping their abuse of Terry and his family a few notches. Then when that died down a grey haired figure in a black coat appeared on one of the new camera gantry positions that hang from the advertising hoardings at the front of the Upper Loft. There he was dancing away and leading fans in the corner in the chants like a real life Dancing Homer. It didn’t take long to realise that it was in fact my friend and message board regular Dai Hoop. With the stewards massing behind him but apparently unwilling to contravene health and safety laws by climbing over to fetch him Dai seemed to be settling in to watch the rest of the game from his new vantage point but he was eventually bundled out of the ground on his back, waving to his crowd of admirers as he went. Sadly, from a QPR point of view, this was probably the highlight of the match.
Chelsea sent on Oriol Romeu to replace Ramires, his only real contribution to the remainder of the game was a wild tackle on Rob Hulse tight to the touchline in the last minute which brought a deserved yellow card. Rob Hulse? No that’s not a misprint. While Chelsea were making their change Mark Hughes readied the forgotten target man to replace Akos Buzsaky who continues to struggle with an Achilles problem.
Hulse struggled for large parts of last season when called upon to fill the Heidar Helguson lone striker role in the Championship. That’s because he’s not a lone striker, and much like Jay Bothroyd this season he was never as bad as certain sections of the QPR support made him out to be anyway. Now lining up in a 4-4-2 formation Rangers may actually be set up for him to make more of an impact and indeed he did more in 18 minutes here than Macheda has done in a month at the club. In fact he probably did more in the first minute, racing across to force Ivanovic into conceding a throw in his own territory.
You may have gathered I’m not a fan of Macheda. Apart from 20 minutes at MK Dons where he was actually playing wide left I think he’s been bloody awful from the moment he arrived, and was pretty dreadful for the previous few years prior to that as well. He lives off one goal against Aston Villa and ‘Manchester United syndrome’ which QPR have been suckered into a time or two before. Were Macheda signed permanently to Bolton Wanderers he would first of all not be in their team, and second of all nobody would want to take him on loan. Certainly not in this league. But because he plays for United teams assume he must have something about him when, as we have found ourselves with John Curtis, Nick Culkin and Daniel Nardiello, that isn’t always the case. I’d rather see Hulse or Bothroyd selected ahead of him at the moment. He can rightly point to a lack of service, he was never going to be able to do the same job Helguson had done in the first half and we didn’t modify our approach at all to suit him. But his first touch is as bad as anybody else at our club and unlike people like Jamie Mackie who make up somewhat for their failings with an incredible work rate he was blowing more after 15 minutes of action here than everybody else who’d played 45 minutes more than him. Cigarettes are not your friend children. I wonder if we can take him back with a receipt?
Despite Hulse improving things somewhat Rangers forced only one more serious effort on goal, deep into stoppage time Luke Young’s dipping volley from the edge of the area was palmed out by Cech and when Smith’s chipped cross was then cleared out to Wright-Phillips he, not surprisingly, skied a hopeless first time shot into the crowd. Much as it pains me to say it, there was a part of me glad we didn’t force a replay a week on Tuesday for a whole host of reasons both footballing and otherwise.
I didn’t come away from this match as despondent as some. We were organised, solid, mostly quite hard working and more thoughtful and considered when we had the ball. Hughes has quickly instilled a system, style and shape in the team and tightened the defence immeasurably – that will only improve further when the excellent Nedum Onouha begins playing from the start which he surely will on Wednesday at Aston Villa.
And any criticism of the attack must be set in the context of Heidar Helguson only playing one half, and Bothroyd and Campbell not featuring at all. We have those two and Adel Taarabt to come into that forward line which may help. But that doesn’t disguise the fact that we rarely threatened the goal, and often looked distinctly unimaginative throughout this match. Either creative midfield players and lively strikers have to arrive through the soon to be closed transfer window, or people like Shaun Wright-Phillips and Federico Macheda have to up their games considerably and show that the answer is here within the club already.
I have my doubts.
QPR: Kenny 7, Hill 6, Ferdinand 7, Hall 7, Young 7, Mackie 6, Buzsaky 6 (Hulse 79, 7), Barton 6, Wright-Phillips 5, Helguson 7 (Macheda 46, 4), Smith 6
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Orr, Derry, Ephraim, Onuoha
Booked: Wright-Phillips, Hall
Chelsea: Cech 7, Ivanovic 6, Luiz 6, Terry 7, Cole 7, Meireles 6, Ramires 7 (Romeu 79, 6), Sturridge 7, Malouda 6, Mata 8 (Essien 90, -), Torres 3
Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Bosingwa, Lukaku, Cahill, Bertrand
Booked: Cole, Romeu
Goals: Mata 62 (penalty, won Sturridge)
QPR Star Man – Anton Ferdinand 7 Calm, composed, professional. For the first time in a while he looked like the man people were tipping for the Player of the Year award back in October. Hopefully this game and performance will help him draw a line under a difficult period personally when he has often become the one more persecuted and targeted for having the temerity to have John Terry allegedly say something to him. Deserves credit for the way he played here and handled the week.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral) 6 Will have been glad to find the game passing off as quietly as it did, with many including myself expecting a nasty bloodbath. Refereed perfectly well for the most part, but had one big decision to make in the game and got it obviously wrong. Players will continue to dive while referees are able to be conned this easily.
Attendance: 15, 728 (3,000 Chelsea approx) I’ve found the press coverage of yesterday’s game absolutely hilarious. One hack after another dispatched to Loftus Road to write a colour piece about the handshake that never happened left only to sum up the atmosphere in 500 words and somehow, universally, coming up with a line about John Terry being pure as the driven snow and standing tall as a model professional while evil QPR fans sang reprehensible things about him. Nothing said about the Chelsea supporters booing Anton Ferdinand for having the nerve to be racially abused strangely. The QPR fans that did turn up never once crossed the line with their chanting or behaviour. Those that didn’t, leaving an embarrassing number of empty seats on all three sides of the ground, will no doubt moan like hell and tell hard luck stories the next time a Leeds at home situation arises and they can’t get tickets.
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