Portman Road collapse does little to improve QPR's Christmas hangover - full match report Tuesday, 29th Dec 2009 22:24
QPR slipped to a dire 3-0 defeat at Ipswich on Bank Holiday Monday with Jon Stead once again enjoying the space afforded to him by the R’s defence.
With everybody in a foul mood after a narrow win achieved against all logic on Saturday, you could cut the atmosphere with a knife by the end of Monday’s debacle at Portman Road. QPR, boasting several players obviously unfit and overweight and one with Scott Sinclair syndrome, collapsed to a comprehensive three nil defeat that could have been at least twice as bad despite dominating possession for long periods against the fourth worst team in the league at the start of play.
Error prone at the back, gutless in midfield and toothless up front QPR were an embarrassment to the travelling support who paid up to £39, battled engineering works on the rail to be there and once again expressed their frustration at the players and Paul Hart towards the end of the game.
That the day concluded with a QPR fan in the hospitality boxes going out into the stand to lambast the players during their warm down tells you everything you need to know. Possessing all the skill in the world but none of the mental attributes required to achieve success in professional football our team without heart, leadership or any confidence whatsoever got absolutely everything it deserved on Monday in a game that marked a low point of the season so far.
The frustrating thing was Paul Hart actually had the game plan right. Any sort of direct play would simply see Simpson beaten in the air by McAuley (the decision to loan out Helguson looks increasingly stupid with each passing game) so QPR would have to keep possession in their own half, draw Ipswich onto them and then use the likes of Routledge and Taarabt when the home side stretched out a bit. That was exactly the right way to play but having gifted Ipswich a goal inside three minutes with defending Zesh Rehman would have been proud of the going was always going to be tough and QPR lacked the inclination to quicken the tempo of that passing, the skill in midfield to do anything other than simply go from side to side, and the bravery and professional pride to dig their heals in and stick at it when the going got tough.
Hart resisted the urge to stick with the six at the back with three holding midfielders we ended Saturday’s farce with and restored Adel Taarabt to his starting line up instead of Alejandro Faurlin. Taarabt provided support for Simpson through the middle which meant Buzsaky was again forced into a wide role with Routledge on the other side. Leigertwood and Watson played in the middle of the park while Damion Stewart returned to the defence at the expense of Hall. Gorkss, Ramage and Williams made up the back four with Cerny in goal.
Ipswich included former R Damien Delaney in their side and his programme notes, which included the assertion that things behind the scenes at QPR are even worse than have been suggested in the media, made for interesting reading. Delaney played at centre half with the left back role he occupied at QPR given to Canadian winger Jamie Peters to combat the pace of Routledge – a smart move by Keane it must be said, and one that QPR never once attempted to counter by perhaps swapping Routledge with Taarabt or Buzsaky for a bit. Town also included Jon Stead, sent off at Palace on Saturday but allowed to play pending an appeal – he scored three times against Rangers last season.
The game started at a frightening pace. Stead was lucky to escape a booking for a crude lunge on Ramage inside the first ten seconds, referee Steve Tanner employing the non-existent “it’s a bit early for cards” rule to let the striker off with nothing more than a free kick against.
Ipswich then unveiled a weapon that QPR were obviously under prepared for – Carlos Edwards sent a long throw into the area that was allowed to bounce right through the six yard box by a clutch of players around the goal mouth.
Rangers recovered from that early scare to put together their first attack inside five minutes but ultimately, frustratingly, ended up conceding a goal from it. The ball was nicely worked around the edge of the area with Taarabt playing an eye catching ball through for Routledge but when the chance to shoot from the edge of the area fell to Leigertwood he spurned it, dallied and lost possession. That gave Stern John a chance to set Walters away down their left and when Ramage backed away from him allowing an unchallenged passage into the penalty area we were always likely to have a problem. The Geordie right back was punished when Walters’ tame shot flicked off Gorkss’ outstretched foot, past Cerny and into the net. The worst possible start for the visitors.
The game then settled down into what would become the pattern of play for the best part of an hour. Ipswich sat a little deeper, QPR tried to draw them out with a lot of passing around at the back. I didn’t really understand Keane’s logic of immediately switching Walters away from Ramage after he had done him so comfortably for the goal but Ipswich seemed happy to try and soak up what Rangers had to offer and pick apart our fragile defence when the chance presented itself. The key to playing it around and drawing a team onto you is moving the ball reasonably quickly, especially through midfield when a gap does open up. Rangers were laboured and slow with the possession across the back four and Watson, Leigertwood and Buzsaky were both very poor in possession when it did start to move forward.
Rangers had a half hearted appeal for a penalty waved away in the eighth minute when Simpson hit the deck in the penalty area – from my £33 seat it looked like more of a foul than the appeals really hinted at.
The sides exchanged two missed sitters each either side of the twenty minute mark. Ipswich went first – Edwards sweeping a ball in behind the QPR defence to the back post where Norris stole in unmarked and onside. This was Norris’ first game back after four months out with injury and he could scarcely have asked for an easier chance, given time to bring the ball down and pick his spot from six yards out but he waited too long and Radek Cerny was able to brilliantly block and smuggle the ball behind. Not content with that scare Rangers then left Damien Delaney completely unmarked from the resulting corner but he planted his free header over the bar from eight yards out.
Then it was QPR’s turn to create and spurn a couple of gilt edge chances. A splendid move down the right after 20 minutes ended with an inch perfect cross from Ramage onto the head of Taarabt who contrived to completely fluff a free header from the centre of the goal and six yards out. The loaned Tottenham man had a chance to make amends within two minutes when Watson sent in a superb cross from a free kick after a foul by Edwards on Routledge but this time he side footed a half volley into the ground and watched in horror as it bounced up and over the bar.
Rangers afforded another free header from a corner, to Gareth McAuley this time, but were let off once again by a poor finish. Peters and Taarabt exchanged long range shots to the corner flag as the game wound down to half time with the scoreline unchanged.
When 2-0 down at Derby earlier this year I never once thought we would not take at least a point from the game. I did not have that same confidence here. The game plan was right but the execution of it was poor and although Taarabt’s run and through ball for Simpson who turned and fired wide right at the start of the half promised more we were too nervous and laboured in possession and far too weak through the centre of the team. Ipswich seemed to sense this – they had been pretty poor in the first half as well but blossomed more in the second. Leadbitter got hold of the game in the centre after the break and when QPR needed an all action opponent for him they had only Ben Watson.
Now Ben is a player I rate very highly and was delighted that we signed. I feel he lost confidence through incidents like the goals he gave away against Sheff Utd and Peterborough, suffered from a couple of silly suspensions early on and along with his team mates has not benefited from chopping and changing of managers, teams and systems. It has been pretty clear for the last few weeks that he probably will not be staying in January, and rumours of a move to Cardiff abound. That has been clear because he has suffered from a touch of the Scott Sinclair syndrome – i.e. he knows he has something else lined up at the end of his spell with us and doesn’t want an injury to scupper that for him. He shirked a tackle in front of me against Bristol City on Saturday and pulled out of two or three on Monday that were embarrassing to watch. This prompted a section of the travelling support to turn on him during the second half – booing him as he came across to take a corner in front of us and chanting ‘put a tackle in Watson’ at one point. Sad to see, I have no doubt he will go elsewhere and succeed.
Watson did put a tackle in on Leadbitter, a foul one, just after the hour but the former Sunderland man’s free kick flew straight into the arms of Cerny. That was only a brief reprieve though because on the very next attack Ipswich worked the ball into Stead’s feet on the edge of the box, he wriggled free of Gorkss and then bent a low shot just wide of Cerny’s hand and into the bottom corner. A terribly soft goal to concede, Gorkss was furious with himself and rightly so, and that was effectively game over. QPR gave up from that point onwards.
Hart sent on Agyemang for Buzsaky, totally ineffective again, at this point and he headed over a good Wayne Routledge cross while Taarabt found the upper tier of the South Stand with a long range effort but it was really all Ipswich from this point on. Stead really looked in the mood – running at the heart of the QPR defence and shooting straight at the keeper before doubling his tally for the afternoon from close range when Ipswich’s two subs Colback and Wickham created havoc in the six yard box resulting in a loose ball that Stead hammered past three stricken defenders on the line.
Hart sent on Balanta for Taarabt, prompting more chants of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ from the away end as Taarabt had been our biggest attacking threat, and although Angelo won many friends with a plucky display in the final 12 minutes it was all too little too late. Balanta went past Rosenior and fired a long range shot over and was warmly applauded for his efforts.
In three minutes of stoppage time Stead was denied a hat trick first by a last ditch challenge from Stewart on the edge of the area and then his own poor finishing as he ran in behind Gorkss and slid the ball wide of the post. That Jon Stead, a player who has never scored prolifically in his career and who was being jeered by sections of the Ipswich support in the first half of this game, looked like a chuffing world beater against us on Monday speaks volumes.
There are too many disappointments about this game to list but I’ll make an attempt. Firstly I thought Ipswich looked nervous and pretty disjointed in the first half, certainly there to be got at and we didn’t up the tempo enough to do that or take chances that could have dented their confidence further. Secondly the goal we gave them to start with was abysmal defensively and made our task needlessly difficult. Thirdly you will not get two chances better than Taarabt had in the first half very often away from home and they needed to go in. Fourthly we were inflexible tactically – Peters and Routledge was a terrific battle and I liked Routledge’s performance and will to stick at it a lot, but he should have been moved away to the left or through the middle for a little to see what Ipswich did. They had prepared with Peters for him to be going at them down the right and it worked well for Keane, we should have tried to pull that around a bit. Especially as, fifthly, Buzsaky was totally anonymous wide left again. Sixthly having said we were inflexible, the tactics were right to start with and it’s a shame we couldn’t pass the ball with the tempo we did earlier in the season as Ipswich would have struggled with us had we done so.
Seventhly I feel the fitness of many of the players is sadly lacking. Sorry to single individuals out but Taarabt, Buzsaky, Agyemang, Stewart and Vine are all clearly heavier and slower than they have been in the past. Eighthly (is that even a word?) the effort of all but a handful of players is sadly lacking – Watson was the worst example on Monday for reasons already stated but there are too many not putting in a full shift and far, far too many willing to just throw the towel in. That is probably due to low morale and lack of confidence rather than wilful lack of work rate because I do believe, and you could see it on the faces of the players that came over to the away end at the end, that they do care about what is happening to us. Ninthly the defending remains abject. This was the best defence in the league last season, Cerny won the Golden Glove award, and yet now we concede soft goals for fun and our marking at set pieces is a joke.
Geographically we go from here to Sheffield United, metaphorically who knows. Worrying times.
QPR Star Man – Wayne Routledge 6 Just for keeping at it really. Tried very hard, worked from first to last and was involved in a terrific and equally matched battle with Peters. We’re a demanding lot in the stands at the moment, but if you put the effort in we do notice.
Referee: Steve Tanner (Somerset) 7 Let a couple of players off without a card when their fouls really warranted one, a cynical tug back by Leadbitter on Taarabt springs to mind, and also got in the way a lot – three times QPR played a corner to the back post only to have to dodge him to get a shot away, surely you would think about moving? Otherwise though did little wrong and was hardly noticeable.
Attendance: 25,349 (1200 QPR approx) ore atmosphere inside Portman Road than normal, certainly the North Stand was in reasonably decent voice, but the stand to the left of the away end was silent as always. The QPR fans were in decent voice for a bit, then they went quiet, then they got grumpy, and most left early.