Lessons unheeded, QPR down to ten and beaten at home again – full match report
Sunday, 26th Feb 2012 22:57 by Clive Whittingham
For the third time in four home league games QPR had a man sent off in the first half on their way to a damaging defeat. On Saturday Fulham were the beneficiaries of Rangers’ chronic stupidity.
Premier League football module 1.1:
1.1.1 – Chances to score are hard to come by. You must be clinical and ruthless in front of goal.
1.1.2 – Possession of the ball should be treasured. Without it teams will hurt you at will.
1.1.3 – Premiership teams are difficult enough to play against with 11 men, pick up early red cards at your peril.
Queens Park Rangers are a lousy pupil. They’re the boy who sits at the back of the class talking about all the fantastic things he’s going to do when he grows up while ignoring the teacher and firing bits of rolled up inky paper at other kids through a biro tube.
They’re the lad that has teachers nipping off to the supply closet for a mental breakdown because despite being told something five, six or seven times he still returns only a blank look when questioned on it later. “What have we said about red cards in the first half of Premiership games class?” “Don’t know miss, remind us again.”
Following the dreadful performance at Blackburn Mark Hughes took the class away on a field trip to Portugal last week, proving once again just how different football is to any other walk of life where poor performance tends to result in punishments and sanctions rather than weeks in the sun. On this evidence that trip, no doubt made at great expense, achieved absolutely nothing. Nothing.
After five minutes Fulham striker Andy Johnson, a man QPR fans turn their noses up at whenever his name is linked with our club but whose work rate and movement in this game was a cut above anything offered by those in Hoops, had the ball in the net with a fine header from a John Arne Riise cross but was half a yard offside. After seven minutes Fulham were allowed to play two passes through the centre of the field unchallenged which created an opportunity for the excellent Moussa Dembele to trick his way into space on the edge of the area and brilliantly find Pavel Pogrebnyak who made it two goals in as many English league games with a cool finish past Paddy Kenny. After ten minutes a simple ball in behind the defence from Bryan Ruiz who had left Barton for dead carved QPR apart again and Clint Dempsey fired a foot wide of the bottom corner.
Two weeks to prepare a team for the game, two more weeks of players and management talking about how hard they’re working and how great the training is and how important the games are to them, and QPR were, if anything, even more shambolic than they had been at Ewood Park. There they were three nil down by half time, here they could easily have been three behind with the time in single figures.
Hughes had returned Clint Hill to the heart of the defence alongside Anton Ferdinand with Nedum Onuoha at right back and Taye Taiwo on the left and while Hill did himself credit with his performance the defence as a whole was a disaster zone. Never once did Rangers look capable of dealing with Johnson’s movement or Dembele’s ability.
In midfield QPR had hoped that Mali international Samba Diakite would bring the strength and muscle so sorely lacking from our team so far this season. Diakite started alongside Joey Barton with Adel Taarabt left and Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right, a set up that became a five with striker Jamie Mackie dropping back whenever Fulham had the ball, but sadly turned out to be more mentalist than messiah. With the ball he looked promising, without it he looked like somebody who’d recently escaped from a secure unit of some kind. Somewhere out there are two Malian doctors in white coats walking around with a laden syringe looking for this guy. The gratuitous violence he unleashed on an unsuspecting Fulham side in the 32 minutes he managed to stay on the pitch for actually had me feeling sorry for referee Phil Dowd. Never before has an official tried so hard to keep a man on the pitch, rarely has a referee been left with so little choice but to produce a red card by the player. It was mindblowing to watch.
Up front, with Mackie when in possession and alone when Fulham had the ball, was Bobby Zamora against his former club. He must be wondering what on earth he’s done. Seeing the performances of Zamora and Pogrebnyak up close the 3,000 Fulham fans in attendance must have wondered why on earth they were so bothered about the deadline day switch.
To be fair, despite the Fulham goal and two other excellent chances, the opening stages were far from one way. In a frantic opening QPR were able to worry Fulham out of possession in their own half with Joey Barton starting the game like a whirling dervish and twice winning the ball back in the Fulham half to allow Taarabt to get away a weak shot on goal, hindered somewhat by an attempt to hack him down by Danny Murphy. Then more hard work, by Wright-Phillips this time, drew another foul from Murphy which did result in a free kick – Barton passed short to Taiwo who cracked a shot from range but missed the target.
But on the rare occasions the Fulham defence, marshalled calmly and with real authority by Brede Hangeland, did appear to be in trouble QPR could only fire weak shots straight at Mark Schwarzer. Fulham were much more clinical with theirs at the School End, the only blot on the copy book being the yellow card for Pogrebnyak for diving into the crowd to celebrate that opening goal.
The goal did little to calm the frantic tempo of the encounter. Barton and Jamie Mackie combined for the latter to drag a shot wide of the post, then within 60 seconds Pogrebnyak was in behind the QPR defence again and forced a save from Kenny with a shot from a narrow angle. Two weeks to prepare for this game, and Rangers were running an offside trap like a rusty drawbridge.
On the quarter hour a weak pass out of defence from Danny Murphy went straight to Diakite who released Taarabt but his shot the edge of the area was weak, scuffed and straight at Schwarzer. Four minutes later the Moroccan repeated the trick, unable to test the veteran Australian goalkeeper with a dazy cutter along the ground – Schwarzer may have found himself with a stiff back this morning given the amount of times he had to bend down and collect a tame shot rolling straight to his feet.
The other developing theme in the game was Diakite. He’d already committed three fouls that were worthy of yellow cards in their own right before he finally did pick up a booking from Phil Dowd in the nineteenth minute for hacking first into Dembele and then into poor Bryan Ruiz who was little more than a punching bag for the Malian in the first half an hour of this game. Diakite apparently doesn’t speak much English – perhaps “stay on your feet you pillock” should be the first phrase he is taught.
The only thing I will say in Diakite’s defence is that Danny Murphy conceded four free kicks in the first 20 minutes, and six overall on the day, and wasn’t even spoken to by referee Dowd. The fourth came immediately after Diakite’s first booking and resulted in a free kick that Taiwo his straight at the keeper.
QPR haven’t scored a goal against Fulham since sealing the Second Division title with a 3-1 win on this ground against them in 1983 – five meetings have taken place in the meantime. Had either Bobby Zamora or Adel Taarabt found the net at the midway point of the half then they would have found the flag had long since been raised against them but how they failed to do so only they will know. Shaun Wright-Phillips hit a low shot from 25 yards out that Schwarzer should have held but recovered with an unlikely save to deny Zamora at point blank range and Taarabt then bobbled the second rebound wide of the open goal.
That did seem to inspire the Hoops though. Soon after Jamie Mackie’s swashbuckling running style carried him to the byline but nobody had shown the initiative to get into the penalty box and tap home the cut back. Then Taarabt drilled a low long range shot wide of the post.
At the other end another Diakite foul allowed Ruiz to find Dempsey with a well delivered free kick but Onuoha denied the American a sight of goal and just about bundled the ball out for a corner, missing an own goal by no more than a foot. Kenny saved well from Murphy in Fulham’s next attack.
Now one of the criticisms that is coming up time and again with QPR at the moment is a lack of leadership, talking on the field and people taking responsibility. The responsibility for what happened next lies solely at the feet of Diakite who showed stupidity on a level I can scarcely remember by continuing to fly into ridiculous challenges he had no chance of winning until - three fouls, a final warning from Phil Dowd and ten minutes since his first booking – he wildly chopped down Ruiz at the knee for a final time and was sent off. But I’d also question where the leadership and talking was as well.
Our club captain Joey Barton spent much of the first 30 minutes berating Adel Taarabt for reasons known only to the pair of them, but I never once saw him go to Diakite and attempt to explain to him that he was going to get himself into serious trouble. Diakite is a professional footballer and shouldn’t need telling, but it wouldn’t have hurt to break off from the unjustified Taarabt persecution for a minute and try.
In addition given that everybody in the stadium, certainly everybody sitting near me, were unanimously in agreement that it would be a miracle if Diakite made it to half time why didn’t Mark Hughes act? Earlier this season Jonathan Woodgate conceded a penalty while playing for Stoke at Wolves and escaped what should have been a sending off after previously being booked – Tony Pulis substituted him after 19 minutes to prevent the team going down to ten men and that’s exactly what should have happened to Diakite here.
The definition of insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result. This is the fifth time this season at Loftus Road, and the third time in the first half of a home game, QPR have gone down to ten men and they have taken just one point from a possible 15 with a numerical disadvantage. Still, Diakite got a round of applause as he left the field from some of the more easily pleased supporters in the South Africa Road stand. At most clubs costing your team the match earns you a bit of grief, at Loftus Road you get a round of applause for it. If I spent Saturday afternoons setting fire to my own flesh I don’t think it would be as agonising as this.
Still, at least QPR have had plenty of practice at playing with ten. The early signs were promising when an unusually purposeful and well executed passing move ended with Onuoha crossing for Barton to volley over after arriving late in the penalty box. But Fulham had looked a more accomplished side than QPR before the red card and having seen the game through to half time they then cruised through the second half in third gear, rarely troubled by their hosts.
The second period initially started much like the first with basketball style tit for tat attacking moves. Ruiz ran in behind the QPR defence and rounded Paddy Kenny before being crowded out of the chance, and then Taarabt unleashed another low shot straight at Schwarzer. He shot over in the next attack and Fulham went straight to the Loft End and did likewise through Pogrebnyak. Martin Jol’s men, as they do most seasons, have the division’s worst away record this term with only one road win at Wigan in October to their names. You’d never guess that looking at them here, although as Craven Cottage is only two miles away and Fulham actually played at Loftus Road for two seasons while their own ground was developed perhaps that’s understandable.
Clint Hill and then Taye Taiwo both headed Joey Barton corners off target as the hour mark approached. The second set piece came after Shaun Wright-Phillips had actually run past three men but he was poor again here in general.
Fulham seldom threatened in the second half, happy to hold what they already had, but Clint Dempsey got a volleyed shot away on the hour after being given time and space on the corner of the penalty box to chest down a throw in and turn to face Paddy Kenny. Joey Barton responded with a shot of his own deflected wide.
QPR went close to an equaliser twice in identical circumstances either side of the midway point of the half. First Aaron Hughes was fortunate not to turn the ball into his own net after Dowd had played advantage through a foul on Shaun Wright-Phillips and Nedum Onuoha had crossed. Dembele was retrospectively booked for that foul, and John Arne Riise also saw yellow five minutes later for a late chop on Barton which had again been initially waved as play on so that Taarabt could feed Mackie into the penalty area but he dragged a low shot across the face of the goal and out.
Phil Dowd certainly isn’t my favourite referee, but I thought he had a good game here apart from the free license he gave Danny Murphy and one obvious piece of poor officiating 18 minutes from time. Having just been booked Moussa Dembele cynically and deliberately dragged back Joey Barton after the midfielder had gone past him. It was an obvious second yellow card but Dowd, who to be fair had tried hard to give Diakite the benefit of the doubt for a long time, only awarded a free kick. Then, ten minutes later, he booked substitute Chris Baird for a foul on Bobby Zamora where the contact appeared to be minimal if it existed at all.
When play restarted Barton planted the set piece straight into the Fulham fans behind the goal without a bounce. This, and a later sitter missed by Wright-Phillips from six yards out after an exquisite through ball from Taarabt, brought about the first genuinely audible sounds of anger towards two of QPR’s most high profile players. Neither Barton nor Wright-Phillips have been as bad as people have made out since they came to the club in my opinion, but neither has ever been anywhere close to the players they can be. They’re playing within themselves, and the fans know it, so they’re always likely to be given a harder time than the likes of Clint Hill and Jamie Mackie who have limited ability but never play anything less than 100% of their best.
On Saturday Barton worked incredibly hard, and neither he nor Wright-Phillips ever hide from the ball however badly they’re playing. Barton also made more tackles in this game than anybody else in the Premier League at the weekend I’m told by the stats people. That said, both players continue to fail to complete even the most basic task. This free kick typified Barton – a simple long set piece into the heart of the penalty area and he overcooked it by 15 yards. He can be so, so, so much better than he is currently showing and taking to Twitter later in the day to talk about what a great Saturday night out he was having was tactless and provocative in my opinion. As it stands he’s mediocre at best as a footballer, and failing miserably as a captain. Wright-Phillips can’t stand up for falling down at the moment and was replaced by Buzsaky immediately after his sitter.
Martin Jol then engaged in a spot of clock running with Baird sent on for Danny Muprhy, Damien Duff for Bryan Ruiz and Dickson Etuhu for Andy Johnson – three substitutions in ten minutes which disrupted the game and killed any momentum QPR may have been able to build up in that period. Intelligent management. QPR for their part lost Taye Taiwo to injury and replaced him with Armand Traore.
I suspect Etuhu was sent on with instructions to secure the midfield area but he almost scored a rare goal a minute from time when the QPR defence did its very best Red Sea impression and allowed him to storm right down the centre of the pitch unchallenged before firing wide. Any other Fulham player probably would have scored. A push for an equaliser in four minutes of injury time at the end of the game never materialised, in fact Nedum Onuoha had to block a shot from Moussa Dembele to make sure the scoreline didn’t get any worse.
This was a big day for Mark Hughes against his former club, and his reaction to Martin Jol’s sympathies at the full time whistle betrayed how angry he was with the outcome of it.
In my opinion he has to shoulder a good deal of the blame for the outcome – he threw Diakite straight into a Premiership game and then didn’t hook him off after the first yellow card when it was blatantly obvious what was coming. He also set the team up to drop into a 4-5-1, or 4-1-4-1, formation when it didn’t have the ball but this merely allowed Fulham to play the ball out from the back through Hangeland and Murphy which is exactly what they like to do. Instead of falling back into a right wing position to defend Jamie Mackie should have been 20 yards further forward and more centrally positioned, nibbling at Murphy and not allowing him time to pick QPR apart. In addition the defence, after two weeks of being worked on y the coaching staff, was a shambolic mess for the first half.
But Hughes can only do so much. When the players cross the white line it’s all on them. Hughes didn’t make Shaun Wright-Phillips miss from six yard out, or Samba Diakite behave like a rabid dog, or Joey Barton plonk attacking set pieces straight into the front row of the stand. I keep saying QPR are a lethal combination of not very good and not very lucky, here they were even worse - not very good and absolutely braindead.
QPR: Kenny 6, Onuoha 6, Ferdinand 6, Hill 7, Taiwo 5 (Traore 72, 6), Diakite 5, Barton 6, Wright-Phillips 5 (Buzsaky 83, -), Mackie 6, Taarabt 7, Zamora 6
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Derry, Gabbidon, Bothroyd, Smith
Sent Off: Diakite 33 (two yellows)
Booked: Diakite (repetitive fouling), Diakite (repetitive fouling)
Fulham: Schwarzer 7, Kelly 6, Hughes 7, Hangeland 8, Riise 6, Ruiz 6 (Duff 78, -), Murphy 7 (Baird 74, 6), Dembele 8, Dempsey 7, Pogrebnyak 7, Johnson 7 (Etuhu 81, -)
Subs Not Used: Stockdale, Orlando Sa, Senderos, Frei
Booked: Pogrebnyak (over celebrating), Dembele (foul), Riise (foul), Baird (foul)
Goals: Pogrebnyak 7 (assisted Dembele)
QPR Star Man – Adel Taarabt 7 A toss up between him and Clint Hill for me – once again it’s the players from our Championship winning team showing up and putting the more high profile names and signings to shame. I’ve gone for Taarabt because firstly while Hill played well and dominated Pogrebnyak in the air he was part of a very rickety looking defence in general. Which leaves Taarabt who is quite often the only person showing up and demanding the ball, the only person who wants to get into possession and make things happen. He was greedy at times, and his shooting was poor, but he created our two best chances as well for first Mackie and then later Wright-Phillips.
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire) 8 Absolutely no choice whatsoever with the Diakite sending off, and actually seemed to do his best for the lad by giving him more warnings and let offs than he probably deserved. That said, Murphy fouled repetitively without ever getting a talking to and Dembele was very fortunate not to be sent off in the second half. No real complaints though, the game was well refereed.
Attendance: 18, 015 (3,000 Fulham approximately) A quiet atmosphere for a local derby, tempered of course by an early Fulham goal and QPR sending off that had the home fans settling in for a repeat of the Norwich and Wolves home defeats.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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