Much improved QPR hold in form Everton – full match report
Sunday, 4th Mar 2012 23:06 by Clive Whittingham
Bobby Zamora’s second goal for QPR sealed a point in a 1-1 draw against Everton at Loftus Road on Saturday, but it could have been all three had the R’s taken their chances.
Could it be that the key to QPR’s salvation was actually lurking in a Mayfair cinema all along?
Rangers have tried outlandish transfer market spending, a change of manager, scores of different formations, a range of different approaches and a week of warm weather training in Portugal to arrest their alarming slide down the Premier League table but on the evidence of this hard fought point against in form Everton the solution was right under their noses all along – in DVD form in the club shop.
Tonight the nation will be exposed to The Four Year Plan on BBC Two, a film initially intended to show the triumphant success of four of the world’s wealthiest men in their first foray into football but ultimately portraying a great many of the things that are wrong with the modern game. It’s a football version of Airplane, or This Is Spinal Tap, and it premiered in the UK on Tuesday night at the Curzon Cinema in Mayfair. It’s there, in the dimmed cinema lighting, that our season may just have been saved.
The current squad of QPR players, with one win from 13 matches prior to this game, were in attendance to see the film, most for the very first time. Having seemingly treated the ‘smart casual’ dress code as an excuse to ram raid the local charity shops while heavily inebriated the players then initially fidgeted and joked their way through the film’s opening gambits before, to a man, they became as enthralled as the rest of us. Their mood, press comments and tweets after the film were noticeably more focused, heartfelt and less bombastic than they had been before. Perhaps the penny has dropped.
Against Everton, unbeaten in seven as they commence their annual wet sail turn for home, the performance was a great improvement on anything the team has produced recently. They were organised, they concentrated, they kept 11 men on the pitch, they competed for a full 90 minutes and they were unfortunate not to win. There just seemed to be a bit more about QPR on Saturday, a bit more to like.
Mark Hughes looked like a man who’d just witnessed his own funeral at the end of Tuesday’s premiere but some of the colour will have been restored to his cheeks here by Clint Hill, who led the team with an old fashioned centre half’s performance to be proud of. Anton Ferdinand partnered him in the heart of the defence with Nedum Onuoha right and Armand Traore left, Paddy Kenny retained his place in goal despite poor recent form. Joey Barton, too, was much improved on recent weeks – his rhetoric and attitude seems most changed by a lesson in where this club has come from. He kept things simple in a midfield that also included Shaun Derry, Akos Buzsaky and Adel Taarabt and was much the better for it. Up front Bobby Zamora led the line with support from Barton, Taarabt and Shaun-Wright Phillips.
Barton recently announced to his 1.3 million Twitter followers that he’d be giving up meat for lent, which immediately brought 1.3 million pleas for him to stop conceding possession in his own half of the field instead. He was at that again here after four minutes, but this time worked hard to retrieve the situation before further damage could be done. Is this a worm on the turn?
Perhaps not. After all QPR still didn’t win this game and could easily have lost had Tim Cahill’s third minute left footed volley dipped under the crossbar rather than smashing flush against it and bouncing back into play. Cahill has usually been good for around ten goals a season since joining Everton from Millwall in 2004 but has managed just one in 28 appearances this season. QPR are usually so generous in such circumstances that even Watford’s Lloyd Doyley managed one against them, the only goal of a 358 match professional career to date, and you could make a good case for registering the club as a charity. Cahill though was two inches too high with his shot on this occasion.
The traffic wasn’t only flowing one way. Everton were without midfielders Jack Rodwell and Darron Gibson through injury with Leon Osman, Phil Jagielka and striker Nikica Jelavic only fit enough for the bench. Rangers looked to capitalise on the absentees after nine minutes when Barton’s corner was cleared out to Buzsaky who returned a mishit volley into the goal mouth which Clint Hill stabbed wide of the post.
Buzsaky has blown hot and cold since returning to the side following Mark Hughes’ appointment. So brilliant against Wigan, so truly awful at Blackburn, here he showed flashes of real genuine quality particularly from dead ball situations. With the time ticking into double figures Taarabt extracted a foul from Drenthe after a neat turn on the corner of the penalty area and Buzsaky delivered a superb cross into the heart of the penalty area where Hill again, still without a Premier League goal in his career, failed to steer the ball on target.
The Hungarian had another chance to try his luck with a dead ball five minutes later, although QPR would much rather he hadn’t. A scrappy passage of play where possession of the ball changed hands on multiple occasions in the Everton half came to a head when Buzsaky won the ball back, fed Barton and he in turn found Wright-Phillips on the edge of the area. Centre back Sylvain Distin clearly fouled Wright-Phillips as he passed the ball to his left but by the time referee Kevin Friend had blown his whistle Bobby Zamora had worked the ball left again and Adel Taarabt was into the area, with only Tim Howard to beat and no Everton defenders in the picture. It was the very definition of an advantage waiting to be played but Friend brought play back regardless and the fact that Buzsaky then forced a smart save from Howard with a direct shot at the goal was scant consolation.
Everton had allowed themselves to drift out of the game somewhat after a bright start and it was left to Drenthe to drag them back into it at the midway point of the half. The Dutchman, on loan from Real Madrid, has the build of a Rugby League player and twice the aggression. The battle between him, Clint Hill and another unorthodox Everton attacker Denis Stracqualursi enthralled the crowd and evoked memories of a bygone era when football was a contact sport. Drenthe tried his luck from range but could only find Paddy Kenny in the twenty second minute, then won a foul from Traore wide on the right that almost drew an unfortunate own goal from Shaun Derry when it was delivered but Kenny was again alive to the danger. These were warning signs that went unheeded.
At the Loft End Shaun Wright-Phillips launched a diving header attempt from a Taarabt cross but was too far out to trouble Howard with it. Then he ran in behind the Everton defence onto a lay off from Bobby Zamora but had been flagged offside long before he shot straight at the Everton keeper. The long wait for a Premier League goal in QPR colours continues for the diminutive winger.
Down at the School End the waiting for a goal in this game came to a dramatic end on the half hour. Adel Taarabt dallied on the ball in his own half, losing out to the imperious physical presence of Fellaini and when Pienaar then fed Drenthe there was only one thing in the Dutchman’s mind. Questions are starting to be asked of Paddy Kenny’s form and I expect they will be again after this because although Drenthe caught his low drive well and drew it intelligently away from Kenny into the bottom corner he was nevertheless fully 25 yards out when he hit it and the goalkeeper had a clear sight of the ball. Rangers were behind at home again.
To their credit the home team simply resumed where they’d left off. They equalised within four minutes and could easily have scored before that as well – Taarabt’s long range free kick deflecting past Howard and agonisingly wide of a gaping side of his goal. When the goal did come Taarabt was at the heart of it, tricking his way past Hibbert and then crashing to earth under heavy contact from Drenthe which rightly brought the first yellow card of the game from referee Friend.
The quality of QPR’s set pieces has had supporters waking up in the night sweating and begging for mercy for most of the season, their total of five goals from dead ball situations is the league’s lowest total, but Buzsaky got this one absolutely spot on. The Hungarian whipped a devilish cross into the near post with real pace and purpose which meant that Zamora’s firm connection sent it bouncing high into the roof of the net despite the best efforts of Howard and Stracqualursi on the line. No more than Rangers deserved, and just rewards for Bobby Zamora as well who led the line intelligently in easily his best QPR performance so far.
Everton then attempted to do what Rangers had done to them and respond in kind with a goal of their own. Mr Friend’s increasingly maddening performance continued with a ludicrous decision against Clint Hill on the edge of the QPR penalty area but Drenthe drilled the free kick into the wall. When Everton were then penalised themselves Steven Pienaar was booked for telling Friend what everybody was thinking.
The Toffees went somewhat closer moments later when Fellaini, who seems to play to his own rules of the game most of the time but is a classy and domineering presence at the heart of the Everton team, reached the byline and cut the ball back for Stracqualursi at the near post but the Argentinean could only send the ball spinning through the goal mouth and away to safety.
If you thought that was a let off you hadn’t seen anything yet. For the final ten minutes of the half the crowd were entertained by the presence of a squirrel running around in the Everton half and, at one stage, running into the back of the net which brought a huge cheer. But the rodent’s presence only served to underline how little attacking QPR were doing at that stage – it happily roamed around the Everton half for a good ten minutes undisturbed until Rangers stormed forward and did another one of those things that relegated teams tend to do.
After intelligently heading a loose ball back to Kenny at one end of the field Taarabt then sprinted the full length of the field to pick up on more excellent hold up and lay work from Zamora on the edge of the Everton box. Afforded time and space and nursing a pre-game stat of 59 shots for no goals this season the Moroccan drew his right foot back, beat Tim Howard with an intelligent low shot and then watched in mental agony as the ball struck the inside of the post and flew back out across the goal to safety. As if that wasn’t ball acheing enough Zamora then cut the loose ball back into the six yard box where Buzsaky, unmarked and facing an open goal, contrived to hit the base of the other post with one of the misses of the season.
I return to my increasingly well warn phrase about being a combination of not very good and not very lucky. Two home wins all season has little to do with luck, but on the occasions that QPR have fulfilled their potential this season they’ve been involved in far too many incidents like this. Heart breaking, especially as few players deserved a goal more than the three involved here – Taarabt, Buzsaky and Zamora all played well on Saturday. QPR have now hit the woodwork 13 times this season.
Half time brought positive news from elsewhere in a Premier League and Rangers came out for the second half aiming to capitalise on the opportunity to move up the league. They forced a corner after three minutes which fell to Derry at the far post who rushed a snatched volley which Onuoha failed to divert home – Derry had so much more time than he allowed himself for that one.
Taarabt had the opposite problem. He took too much time in the wrong part of the pitch for the second time in the game and was fortunate that having been robbed by Fellaini again the giant hairy Belgian advanced into the area and fired over. Taarabt is slimmer, harder working and more effective of late, but is still prone to moments of pure naivety like that which Premiership teams will take advantage of more often than not. I’m pleased Fellaini, looking like a Muppet Jim Henson rejected for being too ludicrous but playing like a man the league’s big hitters will soon be waving blank cheques at, missed on this occasion not only for QPR’s benefit but for Taarabt who would have been unfairly crucified had he gifted the Toffees two goals.
Buzsaky had a shot blocked on the edge of the area, and another volleyed over after Howard had nervously punched a corner out from under his own bar either side of the hour mark and that was enough for David Moyes to make changes to his team. Jelavic came on in attack for Drenthe, Osman in midfield for Cahill and suddenly QPR were faced with a very different attacking proposition. Having spent an hour facing a big man-little man combination in attack where winning second balls was key, Rangers now had to compete in the air under the first ball with Stracqualursi and Jelavic posing a formidable forward line. They adapted well, with Clint Hill to the fore – the veteran Scouser tackling back well as Stracqualursi threatened to run clear on goal after Jelavic’s header.
The strength of Hill at the back against this renewed threat built a platform for Rangers to hunt a winner at the School End. More good lone striker play by Zamora set Taarabt up for a run into the area but he betrayed a lack of confidence in front of goal with a dragged effort across the face. Later he cut in from the left again and hit a cross shot that Dutchman John Heittinga headed over his own bar.
The game then descended into a frustrating 20 minute pattern of hopeful long range shots and poor refereeing. Buzsaky shot straight at Howard after a good counter attack involving Taarabt and Onuoha, then hit a free kick into the upper tier of the stand from the thick end of 40 yards out when just about anything else would have been a better option given the circumstances. Buzsaky later smacked a free kick from closer in into the Everton wall after another foul by Fellaini, I made it his sixth of the game without receiving a yellow card.
Everton could have won the game when Jelavic attacked a Neville cross at the near post but he didn’t make a thick contact and Kenny claimed – Moyes replaced Stracqualursi with Seamus Coleman a short time later to preserve the point they already had. Derry picked up QPR’s first yellow card of the game for fouling the Irishman in four minutes of injury time at the end of the game. Hughes did something similar, adding Mackie’s industry instead of Taarabt’s creativity. That decision met with some boos from the home fans but the Moroccan was tiring and I think probably had as much chance of costing QPR the game as winning it by the time he went off.
Mark Hughes has always started slowly, and he’s certainly done that at Loftus Road with only one win so far. But, at Blackburn and Fulham, things came very good indeed and this match was the first time I actually felt like the team were starting to get what he wants from them. The attack will be improved no end by the return of Djibril Cisse next week and if Clint Hill can maintain this level of performance then our defence may well stop being such a soft touch – expect Young to return at right back and Onuoha to move into the middle when fit all the same.
That just leaves the centre of the midfield and again I return to my whack-a-mole fairground game analogy. At Blackburn Buzsaky was so awful he barely looked like he’d played the game before, here he was very decent. As was Derry, who’d previously looked well past his sell by date. So you keep them in? Well, yes, but very few of our players are currently producing the same level of performance from one week to the next so a good performance here in no way guarantees the same next week at Bolton.
Ah yes, next week at Bolton. Quite important that one. Is this light at the end of the tunnel? Or a train coming towards us?
QPR: Kenny 6, Onuoha 7, Ferdinand 6, Hill 8, Traore 7, Derry 7, Barton 7, Wright-Phillips 6, Buzsaky 7, Taarabt 7 (Mackie 80, -), Zamora 7.
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Gabbidon, Bothroyd, Young, Smith, Taiwo
Booked: Derry (foul)
Goals: Zamora 36 (assisted Buzsaky)
Everton: Howard 7, Hibbert 6, Heitinga 7, Distin 7, Baines 7, Drenthe 7 (Osman 63, 6), Fellaini 8, Neville 6, Pienaar 7, Cahill 7 (Jelavic 63, 6), Stracqualursi 6 (Coleman 88, -)
Subs Not Used: Mucha, Jagielka, Gueye, Barkley
Booked: Drenthe (foul), Pienaar (dissent)
Goals: Drenthe 31 (assisted Pienaar)
QPR Star Man – Clint Hill 8 After a season of putting up with mediocre performances from Fitz Hall and Danny Gabbidon at centre back it seems an answer to that particular problem may lie with veteran defender Clint Hill. Everton didn’t have a striker capable of taking advantage of his lack of pace and the physical challenge posed by first Stracqualursi and then Jelavic was right up Hill’s street and he won both battles comprehensively.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire) 5 I’ve accused Kevin friend of being a home orientated referee on many previous occasions – he wasn’t that here, he was just very mediocre for both sides. No major decisions wrong, but some strange ones all the way through and a poor overall performance in my opinion.
Attendance: 18, 033 (1,800 Everton approx) Everton fans were upset with their club for taking the lower ticket allocation and it was interesting to see just how many of them ended up in the Lower School End anyway when Drenthe gave them the lead. A better atmosphere among the home fans, aided by a better performance from them and an appearance from a squirrel, but still some way from its best.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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