Not very good, not very lucky, QPR suffer crushing Bolton loss – full match report
Sunday, 11th Mar 2012 23:08 by Clive Whittingham
QPR slipped to a highly controversial late defeat against relegation rivals Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday.
When I said earlier this season that QPR were a lethal combination of not very good and not very lucky I was merely attempting to sum up a concerning situation in a pithy one liner. I didn’t in any way intend the team to adopt it as some sort of mantra to play their football by. Alas, at Bolton on Saturday, in a game the team simply could not afford to lose, QPR were most certainly not very good and were definitely not very lucky.
When the Premier League enters into discussions over its next set of television and sponsorship deals it might want to make sure all copies of this game are hidden away in a filing cabinet somewhere. An advert for everything that is good about English football this most certainly was not.
Two dreadful teams incorrectly set up by managers who are supposedly rated as two of the league’s better prospects engaged in an encounter so shy on quality it actually became laughable at several points. The whole thing was overseen by one of the worst all round officiating performances in the history of the game and eventually settled four minutes from time when one of the beleaguered gaffers stumbled across a solution to the thousands of problems with his team completely by accident. Both managers, both sets of players and all four officials involved on the day should be embarrassed by their part in this nonsense and take very long, very hard, very considered looks in the mirror when their ludicrous pay cheques arrive later this month.
According to a report released last week Mark Hughes is the thirteenth best paid football manager in the world today – with a reported extra £1m bonus on the table should he succeed in keeping QPR in the Premiership this season. In an interview with the Independent newspaper prior to this crucial game chairman Tony Fernandes admitted that Hughes interviewed the club, rather than the other way around, during the appointment process.
The bare facts of Hughes’ team selection at the Reebok Stadium on Saturday are that he picked the same back four and goalkeeper that had played against Everton last week; Paddy Kenny, Nedum Onuoha, Clint Hill, Anton Ferdinand and Armand Traore. Taye Taiwo and fit again Luke Young had to make do with places on the bench. In midfield Samba Diakite returned from a suspension alongside Shaun Derry and Joey Barton. In attack Shaun Wright-Phillips played centrally behind a pairing of Bobby Zamora and Djibril Cisse, himself back from a three match spell on the naughty step.
I bite my tongue with managers wherever possible because it’s an incredibly difficult job, particularly in the modern game where players hold all the power. But on this occasion I can only assume that, short of time to do it himself, Mark Hughes sent a chimp to scout Bolton Wanderers prior to this game. Either that or a fan of one of our relegation rivals.
Where are Bolton weak this season? Full back. They’ve tried all sorts of combinations with no great success and conceded the most goals from crosses in the Premiership this year. How did QPR approach this game? With no wingers. Mind blowing. Absolutely mind blowing. What else do Bolton have? Two very big, very strong centre backs who are excellent in the air but leaden footed on the ground. How do QPR respond? By knocking long balls, in a high wind, at Bobby Zamora for most of the day. What else do we know about Bolton? Limited technically in all departments but well capable of out muscling a team. What do QPR decide to do? Drop all the technically decent players they possess who could quite comfortably have picked apart a team that only really has Mark Davies and Ryo Miyaichi who can play the game properly and replace them with a line up designed to engage in an arm wrestle.
I’m all for picking a horse for a course, as the saying goes, and adapting to each opponent’s specific strengths and weaknesses but Hughes turned up here with a steeplechaser for a flat track. Words fail me. I’m watching the wrong sport. I’m living the wrong life.
The problems with this maddening QPR set up were apparent right from the sixth second of the game – the first five had been taken up by their usual highly effective kick off routine which involves two completed passes and then the ball being belted into touch for no discernable benefit whatsoever. For the next 14 minutes and 54 seconds QPR were comprehensively outplayed by a team that sat second bottom in the table at the start of play and nursed the worst home record in the entire Football League.
Bolton forced four corners in the opening 12 minutes – Nedum Onuoha cleared two of them, Bobby Zamora was alert enough to divert another off the line after David Wheater had journeyed forwards from the back to head towards goal. David Ngog, an insipid attacking force with little apparent application and ability prior to Saturday, looked like a black Lionel Messi as he chipped a ball over Clint Hill and collected it on the other side of the stricken defender before dragging a shot across the face of Paddy Kenny’s goal.
This was abject stuff. QPR’s ball retention was non-existent, their possession percentage must have been in single figures, and Bolton were able to attack two on one situations in their favour in wide areas whenever the mood took them. Mark Hughes’ talented strike force was marooned on an island far down the field linked to the mainland only by Shaun Wright-Phillips, a very small boat with a very large hole below the waterline.
And yet despite all of this – the poor team selection, the terrible performance, the contempt shown to controlled possession of the football – QPR still could and should have won this game and would have done so but for the ‘not very lucky’ half of the theme of their season to date.
Having not been out of their own half for a quarter of an hour Rangers suddenly paid three quick visits to the Bolton penalty area in as many minutes and could easily have been 2-0 up in the blink of an eye. Rangers served notice of intent with a counter attack engineered by Djbril Cisse and finished off by the much maligned pair of Wright-Phillips and Barton, the former teeing up the latter for a low shot that deflected wide. Like the little engine that realised it could the QPR attack then strung another few passes together culminating in Wright-Phillips feeding Cisse and the Frenchman knocking a delightful ball in behind the Bolton defence which Bobby Zamora could scarcely have connected with any better but although his powerful drive from a tight angle beat Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan all ends up it smashed off the underside of the bar and stayed out.
When they did then beat Bogdan moments later they fell victim to the first in a series of dire decisions from our match referee Martin Atkinson and his two Scouse assistants Bob Pollock and Jake Collin. There were arguments even before the crucial corner was taken – first over whether it was a corner at all as Nedum Onuoha appeared to get the final touch on Joey Barton’s free kick, and then over the placing of the ball with Barton engaging in the latest obnoxious trend of placing the ball outside the corner quadrant for no other reason or advantage than to wind people up. When the set piece was delivered it was met powerfully at the near post by Hill who scored with a thumping header that Bogdan clawed out from two feet behind the line onto the underside of the crossbar.
It was a goal. You could see from the other end of the stadium it was a goal – the very large Hungarian man with the shocking ginger hair and bright pink jumper leaning two feet into his own goal to fish the ball out was a massive clue. Pollock kept his flag down, then lied about there being two players obstructing his view when QPR asked what in the name of all that’s fucking good in the world he was playing at. Unless, a la the Hollywood film, Pollock has a sixth sense and often finds his vision obstructed by spirits of the dead then the only thing in the way here was his own crass incompetence. He’d be up at dawn for 50 lashings if I was in charge.
While the away end came alive with texts from people watching at home confirming an injustice had occurred the game slipped into a monotonous malaise during which Wheater was penalised for pushing as he headed another set piece towards goal, Wright-Phillips dribbled a shot wide of the post and former Swansea midfielder Darren Pratley was booked by Atkinson for a foul on Samba Diakite. That last one is an important moment to make a note of as Atkinson’s steadfast refusal to show Pratley a second yellow card thereafter would also be another key talking point later.
The teams exchanged half chances around the 30 minute mark. Pratley had a long range shot deflect past Paddy Kenny but wide of the top corner then Wheater headed the resulting corner straight to the goalkeeper. The former Middlesbrough defender was then booked for a cynical shirt pull on Djibril Cisse after the Frenchman had skinned him for pace and Bobby Zamora saw a presentable chance in the six yard box taken off his toe as he was about to pull the trigger. No yellow card however for David Ngog who, ten minutes before half time, took a tumble in the penalty area so unconvincing I was ashamed on his behalf.
Clint Hill had been the defender on that occasion, no doubt relieved not to be conned out of a penalty as he had been against Chelsea in January, and he was involved again seven minutes from half time when he was pulled to the ground by Pratley in the left back area. Atkinson somehow decreed that the free kick should go to Bolton.
The Trotters had looked dangerous in wide areas where QPR lacked the cover that would have been provided by wingers had Hughes picked any, and had looked good from set pieces too, so it was no surprise to see them take the lead from this free kick but the fact it should have been given the other way made it all rather galling. As did Darren Pratley gaining an advantage by standing offside throughout the three pass move that led to him heading in from close range but, crucially, he was on when the final ball was delivered across the goal by Martin Petrov.
Rangers crafted two presentable chances for an equaliser before half time but betrayed a lack of confidence with their finishing. First Cisse, as creative for others as he is dangerous himself, fed in Wright-Phillips who almost ran out into the club car park and back to get the chance onto his right foot and then having done that spooned it hopelessly over the cross bar. How this man is better bet for our starting 11 than Jamie Mackie and Akos Buzsaky I do not know. Nedum Onuoha, a centre back by trade, did at least get his effort on target from a similar position on the opposite side of the penalty area in the last minute of the half but Bogdan made a fine save with his legs to deny him.
In stoppage time at the end of the half Diakite, much more composed and impressive than he had been during his disastrous debut against Fulham, went on an enterprising run through the heart of the Bolton team that was interrupted deliberately and cynically by Pratley who grabbed the Mali international’s shirt with both hands and prevented him from continuing with his run. The absolute definition of a yellow card but Martin Atkinson awarded just a free kick and laughed off suggestions that further punishment may be forthcoming. Ha ha ha, yes, very funny indeed.
Things didn’t get better for the officials after half time either. First there was the unprecedented situation of having both the teams on the field, in formation, ready to kick the game off for the best part of two minutes before the referee and his assistants made it back out onto the pitch. I suspect, given the strange sport that we follow, they’re more likely to be hauled over the coals for this than any of the dreadful decisions they made during the game – the match official’s report on the game would have made for interesting reading had, for the sake of argument, two of the players become embroiled in a fight or argument while they were pissballing about doing whatever the hell it was they were doing in the dressing room. Let’s say, for example, that Diakite had come out for the second half angry about the Pratley incident and sought him out for an argument prior to kick off that descended into a bout of fisticuffs. Atkinson would have emerged from the tunnel to find a mass brawl taking place, potentially a player bleeding from the face, and not the first idea what had actually happened or what he could do about it. A disgraceful denigration of duty.
Within 120 seconds of the restart Atkinson and his mates on the touchlines had cocked up again. Djibril Cisse, standing offside, received a deflected pass from Shaun Wright-Phillips and ran through to finish an equaliser off confidently past Bogdan in front of the travelling QPR fans. He was offside, miles offside, by any definition of the law. Jake Collin kept his flag down. I was starting to wonder whether our team of officials actually knew the rules of the sport at all. They were humiliating themselves now.
There was another half chance for Cisse before the hour when Diakite played him in but his shot was too weak to trouble Bogdan, then Ricketts cut in field and made the most of Joey Barton turning his back on the play to launch a long range effort that skimmed across the roof of the net. Atkinson then kept up his average of one ludicrous decision every ten minutes by waving play on after Ferdinand had been hacked down from behind on halfway then awarding Bolton a free kick and showing Onuoha a yellow card when he did likewise to Pertrov. That was a literally stunning piece of officiating and unfortunately the injury that resulted from it did little to improve what was already Ferdinand’s worst performance for the club.
Owen Coyle sent on Chris Eagles for Petrov with 20 minutes of the match remaining and he quickly won a free kick from Derry on the edge of the area before dusting himself down and smacking it into the wall. At the other end Cisse delivered a superb ball in from a wide area (if only we’d thought to spend some time out there before this) but Zamora just failed to connect with it at the back post. The performance of that strike pairing was a rare positive on a dark day but Zamora probably needs to work on his free kick taking – he too drilled a shot into the Bolton wall after Onuoha’s progress into the area had been halted illegally by, wait for it, Darren Pratley.
Three minutes late Diakite was deliberately taken out as he ran through the Bolton midfield again. Let me check my notes to see who committed that foul. Pratley apparently it says here, you may have heard of him before. This was beyond a joke now and Atkinson thought so too – issuing a very stern lecture presumably telling Pratley that he would only be allowed to do that three or four more times at most before he’d speak to him very sternly again.
Having failed, one again, to do his job of officiating the match correctly Atkinson opened a window of opportunity to Bolton manager Owen Coyle who substituted Pratley immediately and replaced him with striker Ivan Klasnic. Klasnic scored at Loftus Road in a 4-0 Bolton win on the opening day of the season and how he cannot get into this team from the start I do not understand. His introduction came about by accident, and wouldn’t have happened had Pratley been sent off when he should have been. Ten minutes later Barton allowed Klasnic to run past him unfollowed, and a porous defence which has conceded at least one per game for 19 consecutive matches parted like the Red Sea to allow him to score the winning goal from Miyaichi’s cute through ball.
Hughes had made changes of his own prior to that, finally sending on Jamie Mackie and Akos Buzsaky for Shaun Derry and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Armand Traore limped off to be replaced by Tae Taiwo in a triple swap. This almost brought about immediate results – Mackie ran with purpose towards the area and fed Cisse who crossed back towards the former Plymouth man who was denied a close range finish by David Wheater’s last ditch header. The ball dropped first to Buzsaky and then to Diakite who had low shots blocked and finally to Mackie who poked it towards the open goal from four yards out but Wheater flung himself in the way to deflect the ball behind and safety. Martin Atkinson awarded a goal kick. As you would expect.
Injury time at the end of the game brought about more farce. Diakite had a taste of the Pratley-type leniency when first he pulled back Ryo Miyaichi and was carded – Miyaichi and Davies were the two stand out performers for the home team – and then he did exactly the same thing again in injury time but was let off without a second yellow.
Then finally, to really put the tin hat on it all, Bolton survived a handball appeal and blatant foul on Nedum Onuoha in their own penalty area without punishment. Atkinson brought the low point of his refereeing career to an end moments later. Bolton were out of the bottom three, replaced by their hapless visitors who must now surely be staring the Championship square in the face.
Still, at least Wanderers have the good grace to soften the blow of conceding goals to them by blasting a bit of Depeche Mode at you in the immediate aftermath. I wonder if Dave Gahan and the boys ever realised their work would be used to torment long suffering football fans on such occasions? QPR continue to slip and slide.
Bolton: Bogdan 7, Steinsson 6, Wheater 6, Ream 5, Ricketts 6, Reo-Coker 5, Mark Davies 7, Pratley 6 (Klasnic 80, -), Miyaichi 7, Ngog 6 (Muamba 89, -), Petrov 6 (Eagles 71, 6)
Subs Not Used: Jaaskelainen, Knight, Kevin Davies, Sordell
Booked: Pratley (foul), Wheater (foul)
Goals: Pratley 37 (assisted Petrov), Klasnic 86 (assisted Miyaichi)
QPR: Kenny 6, Onuoha 6, Ferdinand 5, Hill 6, Traore 6 (Taiwo 79, -), Barton 5, Diakite 6, Derry 5 (Buzsaky 79, -), Wright-Phillips 4 (Mackie 80, -), Cisse 7, Zamora 7
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Gabbidon, Bothroyd, Young
Booked: Onuoha (foul), Diakite (foul)
Goals: Cisse 48 (assisted Wright-Phillips)
QPR Star Man – Bobby Zamora 7 Led the QPR attack well and looked dangerous in combination with Djibril Cisse. The pair of them were a class apart from the rest of the team behind them. Unlucky not to score on more than one occasion. Would have been better served had QPR attacked Bolton from wide areas and provided service from there, rather than playing so direct into them.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (W Yorkshire) 0 Shambolic. Not a single decision correct. Couldn’t even make it out on time for the start of the second half.
Attendance: 21, 551 (1,500 QPR approx) A tense atmosphere as you would expect, not helped by a bracing wind that whipped around the bowl like stadium all afternoon. I thought QPR’s support - considering the distance, kick off time and television coverage – was excellent and it’s a shame a minority of them let the side down at Euston station later in the evening.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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