Liverpool caught in QPR’s Wednesday night lights – full match report
Thursday, 22nd Mar 2012 22:37 by Clive Whittingham
A last minute goal from Jamie Mackie completed a remarkable comeback and unlikely victory for QPR against Liverpool at Loftus Road on Wednesday evening.
It was one of those nights, under the lights, at Loftus Road.
It was a night where nothing made sense and everything seemed possible. A night nobody had ever quite seen the likes of before, and yet one that brought memories of other such occasions flooding back - only at QPR do things like this happen so often.
It was a night where the five times European Champions and current League Cup holders came to Loftus Road and absolutely dominated a football match for 75 minutes, scoring twice in the process and spurning three times that many gilt edged chances besides, and then lost. It was a night where newly promoted and apparently soon to be relegated Queens Park Rangers played awfully for three quarters of the game and still won. A night when stalwarts of national teams from all over the globe were humbled in 13 minutes by a plucky lad from Plymouth Argyle, a mentally unsound African with his shorts rolled up to his crotch, and a fat goalkeeper. It was lunacy.
It was also the night that time ran out for Joey Barton in West London. A simmering feud between supporters tiring of his Tweeted tales of golf and "tidy Saturday nights" interspersed with performances he'd have been embarrassed to put his name to 12 months ago came to a dramatic boil midway through the second half when Mark Hughes finally ran a white flag up the pole and removed him from the fray. The reaction was astonishing. Plenty booed, some cheered, Barton sarcastically applauded, the cacophony of noise was as loud as anything that has been heard in this strange little corner of West London all season. That was, until half an hour later when the man sent on in his stead secured the unlikeliest of unlikely wins.
Jamie Mackie is the boy you want your daughter to bring home - although possibly not somebody you'd want sitting a spelling test on her behalf. Jamie Mackie feels like a QPR player: strong, honest, hard working, slightly vacant, loyal. His is a triumph against the odds: a climb from the depths of the old Wimbledon reserve team to this pinnacle of Premiership achievement through Milton Keynes, Exeter and Plymouth. He should be starting games. He changes QPR whenever he's on the field from a team of sulkers arguing the toss into the football equivalent of the little engine that could. Think that ball's going to run out for a goal kick? Jamie doesn't, Jamie's going after it. Think you've got time to consider your options for this pass? Don't reckon so mate because here comes Jamie with his arms flailing, his legs whirling around like a cartoon character and the world's worst tattooed dragon coiling around his shoulder.
Barton is the one your daughter actually turns up with: bad reputation, cocky, full of himself, dislikeable, not nearly as brilliant as he believes and in need of coming down a peg or three. The neighbours rustle their net curtains and talk in hushed tones when they see his car pull up.
Here the introduction of housewife's favourite Jamie, and the withdrawal of public enemy number one Barton, lifted the crowd instantly. More importantly it changed the whole dynamic of the team; suddenly they looked relaxed, happy, composed, unhurried, even almost assured at points. In the first of three added minutes at the end of the game, Mackie calmly strode through from an onside position onto a hopeful header from Luke Young that caught both Martin Skirtel and Luis Enrique hopelessly out of position and then slipped the ball between the legs of Spanish international goalkeeper Pepe Reina and into the back of the Loft End net to win a game that had long seemed lost. Then he stood in the corner of the field and shrugged his shoulders while pandemonium broke out around him.
QPR had been a distinct second best for the entire game, thanks mainly to a chaotic midfield set up that only the impressive Samba Diakite could apparently make any sense of. Diakite, clearly, should be in a secure unit. It's disconcerting to think that somewhere out there in this great city of ours he's allowed to wander about as he pleases in general society. He's a bit of a maverick, doesn't play by the rules, as Alan Partridge may have said. Here, after a nightmare opening to the match where he gave possession away twice in quick succession, he glided around the middle of the field moving the ball as if it were made of silk; he looked composed in what he was doing but confused about where on earth he was.
Diakite's one man human wrecking ball operation against Fulham that resulted in 13 fouls in half an hour of football and an inevitable red card means that Old Father Time Shaun Derry must now start alongside him as a chaperone. The team benefits from Derry's calming influence on the talented but unhinged Malian, but finds itself hindered by the presence of a player who sadly cannot help but allow much of the action at this level to pass him by these days. To help Derry out, Barton played to his right, covering into the centre when out of possession with disastrous consequences: the midfield became too crowded, Liverpool found overlaps too easy to come by in wide areas, and on the rare occasions they didn't have the ball Barton gave them it straight back. It was a midfield set up a managerial dream team of Bryan Robson and Peter Reid might have come up with and it left the high quality strike pairing of Djibril Cisse and Bobby Zamora isolated 50 yards down the field waiting a dozen minutes at a time to see scraps of possession. Adel Taarabt roamed the no man's land between the two groups in vain, similarly starved and frustrated by the shemozzle behind him. This hadn't worked against a Bolton team vastly inferior to Liverpool ten days previously so why Hughes tried it again here only he knows. Facing up to a midfield three of Steven Gerrard, Jay Spearing and Charlie Adam in this manner was a recipe for total destruction.
Maddeningly, despite effectively playing with three defensive midfielders immediately in front of the back four QPR still found themselves overrun by a Liverpool side playing a lone attacker. Steven Gerrard picked the R's apart like a rugby league half back, playing his strike man Luis Suarez in at will between the bemused pairing of Anton Ferdinand and Nedum Onuoha, restored as the centre back combination in the absence of in form Clint Hill. Luke Young was recalled at right back and struggled like most others for the early stages of the game, Armand Traore played on the other side with slightly more authority. Paddy Kenny started in goal.
QPR’s players finished the night as heroic Trojans, but they started it looking almost afraid of their own shadows. Shanked clearances and wayward passes meant Rangers barely got out of their own half for the first quarter of an hour and when they did Barton played out the opening act of his horror show by presenting a well positioned free kick straight back to Liverpool which, thanks to a subsequent slip from Nedum Onuoha, allowed Luis Suarez to race through on Paddy Kenny’s goal. Thankfully - for all of Suarez’s movement, tricks and casual racism – he’s actually not much of a finisher and currently only has six league goals to his name, two less than our own Heidar Helguson who hasn’t played for three months. Here he was denied splendidly by Kenny who then did enough to save bravely at his feet and prevent the rebound being converted as well. Suarez kicked it out of the goalkeeper’s hands and was rewarded with a corner - one of only two decisions referee Howard Webb got wrong all evening.
Fortunately for the official Gerrard’s delivery went right through the penalty box untouched but Liverpool quickly won another corner, and another, and another, and another. Eight in all were swung over during that terrifying Alamo-like first ten minutes with the marking ranging from questionable to non-existent. Rangers seemed to revel in the dark art of switching off every time the ball went dead enabling Liverpool to load repeated two on one situations against them.
With James Bond actor Daniel Craig watching on Martin Skrtel, looking for all the world like a potential bad guy from that particular film franchise, nodded a free header into the six yard box where Martin Kelly had the ball pinched off his toes by a combination of Barton and Young. Then after Downing had, to his credit, turned down the opportunity to go over in the penalty area when tripped in favour of getting a shot away that was blocked behind, Skrtel headed down again for Kuyt this time in the six yard box but Rangers muscled up again.
This was a footballing train wreck – bodies strewn about the place, people looking confused. A gentleman behind me consulted the in play odds on a 5-0 away win. Sadly, unlike a well known betting firm’s monotonously frequent adverts, the fat ugly face of Ray Winstone didn’t appear before us for me to throw rotten fruit at. A shame, distractions and activities to cheer myself up with were desperately needed given events out on the field.
I’d almost forgotten what Bobby Zamora and Djibril Cisse looked like by this stage but they delivered a reminder on the quarter hour with a welcome attack that included a neat one two between the pair and concluded with Cisse dragging a shot wide from distance. Ten minutes later more attractive approach work from first Barton an then Luke Young saw a cross loop high into the night sky and Reina was forced to claw it away at the back post as Zamora loitered with intent.
Some of Kenny Dalglish’s signings during his second spell as Liverpool manager have raised eyebrows both for their price and subsequent lack of impact on the team. Prior to Wednesday Luis Enrique, picked up from Newcastle last summer, had been one of the success stories but he looked wholly uncomfortable throughout this match and was fortunate not to bury the ball in the top corner of his own net when a wild attempt at a volleyed clearance actually sent the ball spinning back over Pepe Reina and out for a corner kick. Sensing weakness Rangers pressed again a minute later and Djibril Cisse’s perfectly executed 25 yard shot had the goalkeeper beaten, and fans in Ellerslie Road believing he’d scored, but he wasn’t bar wide.
Barton tried his luck from the same position two minutes later but found only the upper tier of the away end. The natives were getting restless, but attention was soon diverted elsewhere with Liverpool forced into an early change. Right back Martin Kelly, impressive in the Merseyside derby a week ago but taken off early in Liverpool’s FA Cup tie with Stoke at the weekend because of injury, made his way off to be replaced by Uruguayan centre back Sebastien Coates.
Veteran centre back Jamie Carragher moved out to right full back to accommodate the change and immediately Armand Traore began to have an attacking influence on the game down the QPR left. Whether the changed unsettled Liverpool or QPR had simply garnered hope from surviving the early barrage the Londoners undoubtedly came into the game more in the final ten minutes of the half. So much so, in fact, that Paddy Kenny had time to go around the back of the goal for a prolonged conversation with somebody sitting in the Lower Loft.
Sadly Traore, as injury prone as he is impressive on the field, picked up his weekly knock before half time in executing a fine covering challenge on Charlie Adam and neither player reappeared for the second half. Liverpool introduced Jordan Henderson into the midfield, Rangers sent on Taye Taiwo at left back.
The second period opened up with an ambitious long range shot from Cisse that barely reached Pepe Reina’s goal and was easily gathered in by the keeper. But Liverpool soon hit their stride again and the corners started to mount once more. There was a feeling that it was taking more and more effort from QPR just to hang onto the visiting team’s coat tails and sure enough, three minutes short of the hour, the deadlock was broken. Another corner kick broke loose to Downing whose low shot was cleared from the line at the back post by Bobby Zamora. Danger passed? A let off? Not a bit of it. Coates, a £7m summer signing with only two league starts to his name prior to this game, instinctively threw his mighty 6ft 6ins frame into the air and executed a remarkable scissor kick that sent the ball fizzing past Paddy Kenny and into the roof of the net before the goalkeeper was even aware what had happened. Had it not been for the vomit inducing realisation that it probably wasn’t QPR’s night I’d have admired one of the best goals I’ve ever seen scored live. Instead I sank my head into my hands and wondered what on earth I’d ever done wrong to deserve all of this.
Rangers looked a little stunned and retreated into their shells. More possession concession from Barton gave Downing a chance to shoot from range and Kenny needed two attempts to gather the subsequent effort. A further poorly delivered free kick had the writing painted all over the wall in thick black letters. Barton was shot. He’d started poorly and fallen away and was now in a position where he couldn’t do right for doing wrong, his every touch booed and heckled by a crowd that once hoped his signing heralded a bright new era for the club.
All eyes switched to the touchline. Mackie, dressed and ready to go, waited with everybody else for the blinking lights to pierce the gloom. When they came they confirmed the inevitable; Mark Hughes’ substitution form submitted to the fourth official had the number 17 on it. Barton was gone. The reaction was completely unique, a mixture of booing and cheering but a unanimous outpouring of relief that the captain was leaving the field. In many ways this was a brave decision from Hughes who must have known how the crowd would react to him withdrawing his skipper, and that such an outburst would crush the spirit of many a footballer. Luckily Barton’s self belief far out ways anything that he actually has to believe in and far from slinking off to breakdown in a corner somewhere he stayed to watch the remainder of the game, fronted the abuse up with sarcastic applause as he left the field and later Tweeted that his form was temporary but his class permanent. Rarely has the definition of ‘temporary’ been stretched quite so far.
The difference in the place could be felt immediately. Mackie immediately embarked on one of his fool’s errands, closing down lost causes and enabling Cisse to win a corner kick. With Barton benched Taarabt was allowed to take it, a relief I’m sure to the Liverpool defender on the near post who must have been suffering with a splitting migraine by this point such was the consistency of Barton’s delivery plum onto his head from every single set piece. Suddenly people were positive, the team visibly relaxed, Liverpool’s defence looked a little ragged.
Whether you’re a critic or supporter of Joey Barton, the difference in the team without him was there for all to see. He simply cannot start at Sunderland on Saturday. To do so would send a clear message that our team is selected on who you are rather than how you’re playing. There isn’t a single footballing reason for Barton to start at the Stadium of Light and having made a tough decision to withdraw him in this game Hughes must now make another and leave him out again at the weekend.
Maybe QPR could get something from this game after all. Maybe Liverpool were starting to look a little unsure of themselves. Maybe Mackie’s introduction was going to be the key to the door that leads to a wonderful Narnia of success and points and chesty ladies. Or maybe not. In true QPR style they immediately conceded a second goal. It’s not the disappointment, the disappointment I can handle, it’s the hope that kills you.
Certainly Paddy Kenny can take no blame for Liverpool’s second. He suddenly stopped being the park standard moron of recent games and returned to his Player of the Year form of last season by saving first from Downing one on one. Then, from the resulting corner and after Suarez had struck the base of the post, he denied the former Middlesbrough man again at point blank range before Kuyt stole in and poked home from inside the six yard box. On the far side of the stadium two men slunk silently away down the steps of the Ellerslie Road Stand. The rest stayed through idiocy and lack of homes to go to. Miracles are, by their very definition, rare events.
However, fifteen minutes from time an unfathomable, ridiculous, and indeed totally miraculous chain of events kicked into gear. Martin Skirtel was, not before time, penalised for pulling Bobby Zamora’s shirt on the edge of the area and Taye Taiwo took out his jackhammer and smashed a free kick into the back of the Lower Loft via a deflection. Corners were interesting, valuable things to have at this stage with Lord Tweet-a-Lot parked in the main stand but even allowing for the improved delivery of Taarabt few could have expected Shaun Derry to rise salmon like in the centre of the goal and power home his first goal in 211 appearances going back across five years for three different clubs.
Certainly there was no need for Liverpool to panic. Reina had hardly had a save to make prior to that and the reaction of the home fans to the goal screamed ‘consolation’ to the casual observer. Kenny Dalglish sent on Andy Carroll - who looks increasingly like that woman that lives alone with her six kids in the house at the end of everybody’s road with an old fridge in the garden - for the rodent-like Luis Suarez. Presumably Carroll was designated the job of occupying tired centre backs and using his physical presence to keep the ball in the QPR half. Andy Carroll circa 2010 perhaps, but now for a variety of reasons, many of them alcohol related, he’s barely capable of serving even that meagre purpose. A very large, very expensive, waste of an expanding mass of flesh and stupid amount of hair.
With four minutes remaining Diakite humiliated the flailing Geordie with a smart turn and found Taarabt who showed craft and vision more associated with Liverpool’ own Steven Gerrard to thread an inch perfect ball into the penalty area for Bobby Zamora. Zamora’s movement was perfectly timed and hyper-intelligent, his hold up play and calmness was immaculate, and his touch off to Taye Taiwo was all the invitation the Nigerian needed to curl in a world class, undefendable cross that Djibril Cisse powered home from six yards out before collapsing with cramp in the goal mouth. Rangers were level. Four starts for Cisse now and they’ve yielded three goals and a red card. He did say it would be like this.
But we’ve all read this book before. We’ve seen the film version of this book before. We can recite this tale of woe line by line. Coming from two down to level a Premier League game in unlikely circumstances has not proven beyond QPR this season despite their travails, except last time they promptly went down the other end and conceded a late third to lose. “We’re going to win, look we are, watch, I’m telling ya… ah no we’re only kidding, we’re shit after all.” The dog eared script looked set for another thumbing as the lights blinked three minutes. Three more minutes.
And then there was Jamie Mackie, all alone and with the ball at his feet in the penalty area. A free kick for which Rangers had committed just Bobby Zamora forward was, inevitably, cleared and knocked back towards Paddy Kenny. Skirtel headed his clearance away onto the head of Luke Young and then, for reasons only Skirtel and Enrique could possibly explain, it was all on the line. Jamie Mackie allowed the ball to drop over his shoulder, drew the goalkeeper, slipped a cool finish under him, and calmly took the acclaim.
An astonishing one of those nights, under the lights, at Loftus Road.
QPR: Kenny 7, Young 6, Onuoha 6, Ferdinand 6, Traore 7 (Taiwo 46, 7), Barton 3 (Mackie 62, 7), Derry 5, Diakite 7, Taarabt 6, Zamora 7, Cisse 7 (Buzsaky 88, -)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Gabbidon, Bothroyd, Wright-Phillips
Goals: Derry 77 (assisted Taarabt), Cisse 86 (assisted Taiwo), Mackie 90 (assisted Young)
Liverpool: Reina 5, Kelly 6 (Coates 34, 6), Carragher 5, Skrtel 6, Jose Enrique 4, Kuyt 7, Spearing 7, Adam 6 (Henderson 46, 6), Downing 7, Gerrard 7, Suarez 7 (Carroll 82, 5)
Subs Not Used: Doni, Aurelio, Shelvey, Flanagan
Goals: Coates 54 (unassisted), Kuyt 72 (assisted Downing)
QPR Star Man – Samba Diakite 7 Like the rest of the team he started dreadfully and grew into the game. Ultimately he was the only man in QPR’s midfield horror show who actually knew what he was doing and ended up taking the game to the likes of Gerrard and Spearing rather than simply trying to defend against them. He’s played three times for us so far and has been markedly better on each occasion, very promising indeed.
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire) 9 As for the Man United home game before Christmas Webb was almost completely faultless, allowing the game to flow and keeping his cards in his pocket. A man right on top of his game, outstanding.
Attendance: 18, 033 (3,000 Liverpool approx) It’s the return of the perennial question, to boo or not to boo? That it gets asked so often says something about how often QPR fans get stuck into their own players and of course everybody, whether they did it or not, knows it’s counter productive. We want to win the game, we want the players to play better, we know that abusing them isn’t going to help them do that. But at the same time, with one win in 16 matches, how long can anybody be expected to fork over their money and sit and clap merrily along to rubbish for fear of upsetting the poor rich footballers? Joey Barton is not playing as well as he can do and hasn’t been for some time. Joey Barton also gives the impression, through his Tweets, of somebody who’s not actually that bothered about our club or his own performances – on only one occasion as he actually acknowledged QPR fans who address him on that God forsaken website. The club’s PR machine is in overdrive today about how delighted he was to win the match and what a wonderful team player he is but the fact is last night has been coming for a while and while I didn’t boo him myself I wouldn’t say a word against anybody that did.
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