Resurgent Rangers inching closer to safety target – full match report
Thursday, 12th Apr 2012 23:23 by Clive Whittingham
QPR gave their survival hopes a shot in the arm at Loftus Road on Wednesday night by hammering Swansea City 3-0.
Fighting their way back into the light, climbing out of hell one inch at a time, QPR finally seem to be getting it together. They've left it late, possibly too late, but they're healing as a team and as a club.
The legendary Al Pacino speech from Any Given Sunday revved up a tense Loftus Road crowd beneath the Wednesday night lights prior to this game against the housewives' favourites Swansea City. But it was Rangers' own grey haired gaffer Mark Hughes who really did the business here, setting QPR up perfectly to cope with the unique challenges of playing against Brendan Rodgers' men and then watching as his charges executed the game plan perfectly.
It's all so un-QPR like – tactically astute, hitting form at the right time – but it's very typical of Mark Hughes to take ten games to settle in before his team suddenly hits its straps. There were moments to reassure you this was still Queens Park Rangers you were watching – Taye Taiwo attempted to tackle Danny Graham with his face at one point – but overall this was a performance that almost bordered on professional. And Rangers kept 11 men on the field. Be still my beating heart.
Swansea suddenly look like the footballing equivalent of a supermarket website that's accidentally put a 24 pack of beer on sale for 99p; word has got around and the rush to cash in before they correct the problem is on. Four straight defeats now for the team from South Wales that has been lauded and hyped to outrageous levels all season but has either now hit the wall, put the cue on the rack, or been found out. They'd conceded seven goals and scored just one for a zero point return in the three games immediately prior to this one and QPR swiftly added another three of their own to the total and kept a first clean sheet in 23 league games in the process.
Swansea amuse themselves by moving the ball backwards and sideways multiple times on the halfway line, waiting for an opponent to lose patience or concentration so they can then incisively cut through the space he's in. It's astonishing that it's taken three quarters of a season for Premiership teams to realise the solution to this is not to lose patience or concentration, and to press high up the field as a complete unit rather than as ill-disciplined individuals, but it has. God bless Everton, Spurs, Newcastle and now our own Queens Park Rangers for clocking on to it belatedly; one more sycophantic article about just how fucking marvellous the football is from the Super Soar-away Swans and I think I'd have vomited my entire digestive system onto the roof of the South Africa Road boxes.
Mark Hughes played Bobby Zamora alone up front and then stationed a five man midfield across the halfway line that prevented Swansea from moving into the QPR half without a struggle, and hunted further forward in packs of three to force them out of their comfort zone and into long clearances and hurried passes. Joey Barton was back to something like his best as part of that unit, with Jamie Mackie's extraordinary work rate a vital component as well. Akos Buzsaky and Adel Taarabt brought class and finesse, Samba Diakite an eye catching mixture of exceptional ability on the ball, heart stopping moments near his own penalty area, and gratuitous violence.
At the back an expensive ensemble of Man City academy product Nedum Onuoha, AC Milan left back Taye Taiwo and big summer transfer window purchase Anton Ferdinand were led into battle and victory by an outstanding display of defensive ability and steel from Clint Hill whose Indian summer looks like it could continue into next season and beyond. Paddy Kenny cut a somewhat lonely and underworked figure in goal as the R's dominated.
The pattern for the game was set from the very first whistle. Tip, tap, sideways and backwards, tip tap, sideways and backwards, tip, tap and then suddenly QPR would squeeze the space enough to bring this ridiculous nonsense to an end and then create a goal scoring chance in a fraction of the time it had taken the Swans to go nowhere. In the home team’s first meaningful spell of possession Hungarian midfielder Akos Buzsaky improvised an audacious long range volley after Onuoha’s cross had been cleared out to him but he wasn’t bar wide.
There then followed five solid minutes of Swansea possession which mercifully, after what seemed like an eternity, did progress to the edge of the QPR penalty box before petering out when Wayne Routledge lost possession against his former club. Suddenly a counter attack was on and Bobby Zamora was keen to seize that opportunity. The former Fulham man sprayed a ball left to Taarabt who cut in and unleashed a shot that was blocked to Barton who fed Onuoha rushing forward down the right and his low cross was hammered goalwards by Jamie Mackie but saved by Michel Vorm in the Swansea goal. Swift, attractive, incisive – proper football.
It took a quarter of an hour for the visitors to threaten in a similar way and although the first move, that ended with Diakite sliding in to deny Rangel a run through on goal, was typical of them they then unveiled a more conventional string to their bow with a slew of well taken, dangerous looking corners that QPR struggled to cope with. The first was well cleared from the goal line at the back post by Joey Barton in heavy traffic, the second was headed over his bar from close range by Anton Ferdinand and the third was buried into the Lower Loft by Swansea centre back Steven Caulker.
Diakite’s cavalier approach to football both with and without possession can have hearts in mouths at times but he’s improving with every passing game and was arguably QPR’s best player in this one. In the nineteenth minute he bounded off down the right flank in unorthodox fashion and then cut a fine ball back into the penalty area where Zamora was able to control and lay it off for Jamie Mackie who should have done so much better than simply side foot a weak shot straight at Vorm.
The mental Malian raided Swansea down that flank again at the midway point of the half, winning a corner which Taarabt played low to Barton on the edge of the area but his first time shot landed just shy of the goal at the far end of Griffin Park.
Brendan Rodgers had left former QPR loanee Scott Sinclair and our main summer transfer target Danny Graham out of his team for their recent defeat against Newcastle but recalled them here. Ten minutes before half time the pair combined for what, without the superb intervention of Clint Hill, could easily have been the opening goal. A long ball forward from Caulker (not a typo) was won well at the back post by Graham and suddenly Sinclair found himself in possession, eight yards out in the centre of the goal and only Hill to beat. He’d have taken that situation if you offered it to him but Hill is in the form of his career at the moment and he refused to either be turned easily or sold the wrong way which meant he was still on his feet and able to execute a goal saving block when Sinclair did eventually unload a shot on goal. Excellent defending.
There was a further warning sign that the men in orange may be getting on top when Gylfi Sigurdsson, boasting six goals in nine games prior to kick off, had a shot blocked and the rebound fell to Rangel who shot at Kenny. But Rangers soon responded in kind with Buzsaky sending a long range effort out for a corner via two deflections and then Zamora volleying over from close range after Vorm had dropped the resulting corner straight to him. He ought to have scored.
Rangers had appealed half heartedly for a penalty when Buzsaky’s shot twice struck hands on the way through the Swansea penalty area but referee Lee Probert was right to ignore the pleas. He could have done a little more for Bobby Zamora in the first half though as Swansea defenders were repeatedly allowed to climb over the striker to win headers with no recourse. It was a surprise therefore that Probert not only decided to add a minute onto the end of a half with no stoppages, injuries, substitutions, cards or goals but then in that minute finally awarded a free kick to the lone QPR striker.
Neil Taylor was the man at fault, first allowing a routine pass to run under his boot for a throw and then using Zamora as a step ladder to reach an unreachable ball. Boy did QPR make him pay.
Set pieces have not been a strong suit for the Super Hoops this season but when Taarabt’s delivery was half cleared to Barton at the back post he rejuvenated captain cut inside and finished confidently into the bottom corner to give QPR a crucial lead with the last kick of the half.
A great time to score, and a crucial goal to get as well because now Swansea had to do something other than tip and tap backwards and sideways on the halfway line for the entire second half. Barton thoroughly deserved a goal to cap a performance that was so different to his showing against Liverpool on this ground three weeks ago it was hard to believe it was the same player – the reaction of the fans that night and his subsequent axing at Sunderland really seems to have kicked Barton’s arse and he was back to something like the player I remember at Newcastle and Man City in this game.
In the enormous and, it must be said, rather dull game of chess that matches against Swansea can become QPR had made the first move so, to return to Al Pacino for a moment, what were the swans going to do? Well, two substitutions is the first answer. Either through tactics, injury or punishment for his stupidity in stoppage time Taylor was replaced at left back by the very definition of a Championship defender Alan Tate and the ineffective Wayne Routledge was replaced by handbag thief Nathan Dyer.
Incidentally I thought it was a shame that some chose to boo Routledge on his return to W12 because he’s been excellent in two separate spells for QPR and scored some vital goals to get us to this stage. He never asked to leave and the reason he’s not at our club now was nothing whatsoever to do with him so I thought that a little harsh.
Initially the changes seemed to have done the trick. Bobby Zamora gave the ball away cheaply four minutes after the break and although he chased Joe Allen all the way back to the edge of the QPR penalty box to make amends the young Welshman still got a shot away that Paddy Kenny was fortunate to get a second bite at after initially spilling.
Then, the really killer moment - a second goal for QPR who once again showed the value of passes that actually go somewhere. Patient build up involving Barton, Diakite and finally Ferdinand had brought some grumbles from people around me in F Block but quick as a flash Ferdinand had found Mackie with an incisive 40 yard pass and the chance was there for the taking. The former Plymouth man used an immaculate first touch that he simply didn’t possess when he first arrived at Loftus Road to turn elegantly past Williams and then composed himself on the edge of the area before finding the back of the net with a low shot. Replays showed Mackie had begun the move in an offside position, and that the shot was heavily deflected, but after the luck QPR have had just lately it was hard to do anything other than smile. Mackie has now scored three goals in as many appearances for QPR against the Swans who were now well on the way to a nineteenth league game at Loftus Road without a win.
The Swans showed some resistance initially, and were unfortunate not to score when a typically rash foul from Diakite resulted in a free kick that sparked an arse-clenching goal mouth scramble at the School End.
Then a mad 60 seconds of refereeing saw Bobby Zamora apparently fouled on the edge of the Swansea area and then Sigurdsson also seemingly chopped down in a similar position at the other end but neither received free kicks. This reinforced the deficiencies in Lee Probert’s method of running in a lazy-man square around the centre circle rather than corner flag to corner flag as is the generally accepted way.
But that was all forgotten 25 minutes from time when QPR wrapped the game up once and for all. Swansea had just sent on Luke Moore, whose brother Stefan is regarded as one of the worst QPR players of all time, for midfielder Leon Britton to try and add a sharper attacking cutting edge but Rangers revelled in the subsequent gap in front of the back four for the rest of the match. When counter attacking from a Swansea corner in the sixty fifth minute it appeared as though Diakite had picked the wrong option by going long across the area looking for Taarabt when there were shorter balls but the Moroccan took charge of the situation, calmed the situation down and then teed up Akos Buzsaky who had all the time and space he needed to let rip with an extraordinary strike into the bottom corner from 25 yards out. An exceptional goal.
Swansea were beaten 4-0 on this ground on Boxing Day last season and at this point it looked like being at least that again. Nedum Onuoha should have got his first goal for the club when he arrived in front of an open goal, for reasons known only to himself, to get on the end of a mesmerising run and low cross from Bobby Zamora but his lack of striker instinct meant Swansea were able to scramble the ball behind. From the corner Taarabt sought out Barton on the edge of the area again but unlike the first half he caught this shot as sweet as a nut and had it not flown straight and true at Michel Vorm it would have ripped the netting off the back of the posts at the Loft End.
The big question at the other end was whether Rangers would be able to secure a first shut out in the league since October. You couldn’t argue with Taiwo’s determination in that quest, he conceded a free kick by tackling Danny Graham with his face over by the corner flag after initially losing his footing – Taiwo was booked but Graham was livid he hadn’t been allowed to play on after eventually escaping the clutches of another of QPR’s more mentally unsound squad members. Still, he was only half a foot away with his back post header when the free kick was delivered, and Sigurdsson went just as close with a bouncing volley in the very next attack. Rangers were also indebted to Clint Hll for a fabulous headed clearance from right in front of his own goal when a Swansea goal seemed certain.
The game was up though, and Hughes responded by removing Jamie Mackie, who appeared to be struggling with an injury after another amazing shift of work, and Akos Buzsaky for Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jay Bothroyd.
Bothroyd is a former Cardiff player of course, and responded to predictable cat calls from those left in the away end by doing City’s famous Ayatollah head pat in the Swans’ direction. To be fair a goal against them would have probably been a better idea but either through a lack of effort, confidence or common sense he didn’t come close to managing one. I’ve never known a striker, like Bothroyd, who is so averse to getting his arse into the penalty area and trying to score goals. He constantly pops up in harmless positions wide on the flanks only to look up and find nobody to aim at with the ball because he should be in there himself. Barton stood seven minutes of this and then let rip with 30 second rant in Bothroyd’s direction which seemed to bring about improvement initially, but the captain was still less than impressed when a decent cross in the closing minutes was headed out of the six yard box unchallenged.
The two sides of Samba Diakite shone through in the final ten minutes. First he brilliantly slalomed through two challenges and set up Taarabt for a low cross that Wright-Phillips hacked hopelessly over the bar. Then he miscontrolled a simple ball in the middle of the Swansea half and immediately hacked Moore’s leg off just below the waist when the Swansea man dared to try and take advantage. A yellow card – his thirteenth of the season overall and sixth in seven matches since joining QPR – came as no surprise. If we do stay up and keep this boy he looks like a hell of a player, but it’s highly likely we may see the first ever four match suspension for the accumulation of 20 yellow cards next season. Absolute raving lunatic.
Three minutes of stoppage time at the end of the game was enough time for the linesman to pull up injured and quickly switch with the fourth official, and the public address system to accidentally blast out the Pigpag goal music during a period of open play which brought a predictable reaction from the raucous home support. A job very well done all round – manager, players and supporters – and that new found feeling of togetherness that I spoke about at Old Trafford was in evidence again at the full time whistle.
But of course what we have now is hope, which as we all know is the first step on the road to crushing disappointment. Ahh cruel, cruel hope why do you torment us so? Saturday, West Brom, inch by inch, play by play. That’s football guys. That’s all it is.
QPR: Kenny 6, Onuoha 6, Ferdinand 7, Hill 8, Taiwo 7, Barton 8, Diakite 8, Buzsaky 7, Taarabt 6 (Smith 88, -), Mackie 7 (Wright-Phillips 77, 6), Zamora 6 (Bothroyd 78, 5)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Gabbidon, Campbell, Young
Booked: Taiwo (tackling a man with his face), Diakite (hacking a man’s leg off)
Goals: Barton 45 (assisted Taarabt), Mackie 55 (assisted Ferdinand), Buzsaky 67 (assisted Taarabt)
Swansea: Vorm 5, Rangel 5, Caulker 6, Williams 5, Taylor 5 (Tate 46, 5), Sigurdsson 7, Britton 6 (Moore 62, 5), Allen 6, Routledge 5 (Dyer 46, 6), Graham 7, Sinclair 6
Subs Not Used: Tremmel, Monk, McEachran, Gower
QPR Star Man – Samba Diakite 8 Quite a few candidates this week for a change, but Diakite was the pick of the bunch in my opinion. He’s a true maverick, clearly very talented but absolutely bonkers. Just when you think he’s curbed the mental side of his personality he maims somebody, just when you think he’s played himself into trouble he uses his silky first touch and deceptive turn of pace to escape from it. Looking like an excellent signing.
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire) 6 Not my favourite official in the world, and did himself few favours here by refusing to move more than 20 yards from the centre spot at any time rather than running corner flag to corner flag which meant he was often 40 yards or more away from decisions on the touchlines. I thought Zamora was harshly treated overall and Swansea will rightly feel the second goal should not have stood. Overall he was mediocre, and yet again a big decision in a key game is wrong.
Attendance: 17, 557 (1,800 Swansea approximately) An atmosphere that started off tensely and then exploded into life as the team accelerated away to a victory. The team and the stadium are really buzzing at just the right time in the season. The hope now is 2,700 travelling R’s can roar the lads on to a key victory at West Brom on Saturday.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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