For those who read my wake, ahem…report, on the Southampton game, I’m pleased to inform you that it is much easier to write about a positive performance than an utterly abject one.
Unless you’d been under a rock for the last few days before the game you will fully understand why the build-up to the game was unprecedented, certainly in my two decades of following the R’s. Mark Hughes shown the door, Rangers flat bottom of the table, and four hours prior to kick-off the confirmation came through that Harry Redknapp is the next person to take the hot-seat.
The team was led on the day by Hughes’s assistants, Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki. This was an unenviable situation for anyone to be in, with their severance letters almost certainly in the post. It was probably indicative of a major change at the helm that there were five changes from the team which surrendered so meekly against the Saints. Stephane Mbia had completed his suspension and came in for the injured Jose Bosingwa.
The team had a definite feel of the 2011 promotion side as Clint Hill and Shaun Derry were recalled in the line-up, whilst Jamie Mackie started as did Kieron Dyer. It is not known what true influence the watching Harry Redknapp had over the selection ?
From the outset the intention appeared to be to contain United on their home patch. Hill, Nelsen and Mbia lined up as the three central defenders, with Traore and initially Dyer playing as wingbacks. Derry sat back in a familiar role protecting the defence whilst Taarabt and Faurlin supported Cisse and Mackie up-front.
And the first-half saw a truly magnificent defensive display. Rangers dug in whilst United predictably held possession for long periods of time. Thankfully the home team were having a day when things didn’t quite click. Chances were plenty for the Reds, with notable shots coming from the pacy Danny Welbeck and the Rangers’ bête noire Ashley Young hitting either sides of the outside netting of the goal. A returning Wayne Rooney looked out of sorts, fluffing his lines on several occasions whilst Hill and Nelsen experienced success in keeping the prolific Robin van Persie largely quiet.
The hooped defence kept its shape and discipline well. Both Hill and Nelsen took the role of leading and dishing out instructions. Traore put in some magnificent challenges in front of the vocal travelling R’s in the corner of the East Stand. Mbia atoned for his disgraceful performance at Arsenal by providing an important outlet at the back, putting in some lung-busting runs. The Frenchman linked well with Dyer, who got forward more and more with positional freedom as Rangers’ confidence increased in the half.
Mackie reprised his customary ‘blue-arsed fly’ impression, chasing every lost cause and at one point nearly embarrassing Rio Ferdinand with a misplaced defensive pass. Mackie nearly latched onto the ball and almost broke clear, Ferdinand doing enough to concede a corner.
To be fair, the half was characterised by United pushing forward and dominating possession. Above all though, the best display in a hooped shirt came from Taarabt. Clearly trying to make a point to his new gaffer with whom he has form. This was a mature and powerful performance with a tremendous work-rate and acknowledgement of the team ethic. Thankfully, the days of hissy fits and half-time trips home on London Transport seem long gone.
R’s fans hopes were briefly lifted shortly before the break when Cisse headed home. There was an early offside flag however belying a correct decision from the official.
Key United players fulfilled reputations as Pantomime villains. Veteran Paul Scholes made several mistimed challenges in the first period, any of which he could of been booked for – that yellow not arriving until the second-half. Scandalously Ashley Young once again attempted his ‘swan dive’ routine in the penalty box. This provoked fury from the sinned-again Clint Hill and last season’s victim Shaun Derry, both of whom squared up to Young in outrage. Referee Probert was not fooled, but had to intervene to prevent handbags between the threesome. Wrongly though, he failed to show Young a yellow for simulation. Cue chants of: ‘He’s Gonna Dive in a Minute’ from the away corner of the ground.
So after a satisfying first-half, Rangers re-started the second with an increased buccaneering spirit. Interestingly, Dyer pushed on further leaving us with a back-four. Five minutes in this paid rewards with a short corner paying dividends. So often the short corner this season has been the sign of a QPR team running out of ideas. This one caught United out, and Dyer crossed low from the left for Mackie to tap home. Joy unconfined for the Rangers faithful and for Mackie himself – Manchester proving to be a happy hunting ground for him in the Premiership.
The inevitable backlash was not long in coming. In what looked like a tactical substitution, Traore was replaced on the left of defence by Anton Ferdinand. This seemed to upset our balance at the back, whilst United looked to capitalise by replacing Young and Scholes with Javier Hernandez and Anderson.
Frustratingly, during a mad 10 minute period, United struck back with three goals, two from set-pieces. First was Jonny Evans on 63 minutes, rising unchallenged within the six yard box, the second was from Darren Fletcher on 67 following a Rooney corner. This unsurprisingly knocked the stuffing out of the fledging Rangers confidence. The game was effectively over on 72 minutes when Anderson made a lightning run through the R’s midfield, putting Hernandez through to finish.
Rangers threw a little more caution to the wind, switching Junior Hoilett for the impressive Taarabt and Esteban Granero for Faurlin. This helped to sure things up, with Granero seeing a lot of the ball. United pressed on, but couldn’t quite get that fourth, which to be fair the Rangers performance meant would’ve been undeserved.
This was a performance which, despite the score-line, Rangers fans could be and were indeed proud of. At the final whistle the hoops players to a man came forward to acknowledge the vociferous support. Special mention has to be made of our supporters. For 1,400 people, we made an impressive noise against the 75,000 Reds. ‘Arry Redknapp’s Blue and White Army’ was a refrain throughout the game – an irony given that fans rarely if ever to my knowledge, sang for Hughes whilst he was incumbent. We now go forward to the Stadium of Light which now looks like a fixture where a point looks a possibility.
Team: Cesar 7, Traore 7 (Ferdinand 6), Hill 7, Nelsen 7, Derry 7, Taarabt (Hoilett 6), Dyer 7, Faurlin 7 (Granero 6), Mbia 7, Cisse 6, Mackie 7
Subs Not Used: Green, Diakite, Wright-Phillips, Ephraim
QPR MOM – Taarabt. A bit more competition for the man-of-the-match berth this time, but Adel’s work rate and drive got him the nod. Another fine performance.
Manchester United MOM – Fletcher. Looking back to his best, bossing the centre of the park and doing a lot of work for Scholes. Topped it off with a goal.
Attendance: 75,603 (including around 1,400 R’s fans)