Queen’s Park Rangers continued their search for the first elusive win of the season up at a chilly and damp DW Stadium. This was against a Wigan side missing a number of first team regulars, including Gary Caldwell, Maynor Figueroa and former R’s loanee Ben Watson who broke his leg in a challenge with former QPR youngster Raheem Sterling at Anfield in November.
(The players line up)
There was one change from the side that could only force a draw at Loftus Road the previous Saturday. Shaun Derry came in for Esteban Granero. Redknapp elected to stay with the 4-1-4-1 formation he used against Villa, this time with Derry protecting the back-four. Stephane Mbia, who had played that role in the previous game this time advanced into midfield, and even doubling as a target man supporting Jamie Mackie as the R’s went forward.
The first-half commenced with some good Rangers possession and with Adel Taarabt making some early dribbles. It was very noticeable that the R’s lacked width, particularly on the left where only Armand Traore running forward provided any threat. A lot was coming through the centre and the right wing. Jose Bosingwa and Shaun Wright-Phillips failed to make much of a sustained impression on that side of the pitch. Meanwhile Kone offered a considerable pacy presence at the other end of the pitch for Wigan.
Rangers were punished for sloppy defending after 17 minutes when a Jean Beausejour corner was inadequately cleared by Jamie Mackie in the penalty box. James McCarthy found himself in space on the edge of the box and drilled the ball in first time, deflecting off Mackie to the right of Robert Green.
This early goal appeared to wake the home team from its relative slumber and it was clear that Wigan tails were up. However, it was Rangers who struck back eight minutes later when Ryan Nelsen headed a Taarabt corner sweetly into the net past Ali Al-Habsi.
(Ryan Nelsen finds the back of the net)
In the period approaching the 45 minute mark, there was a fairly even passage of play with Rangers tentatively coming forward and Wigan failing to capitalise on their superior possession and play. This was typified by Franco Di Santo firing over the bar on 38 minutes and the lively Kone shooting wide on 44.
There was a fiery end to the half in injury time as Wright-Phillips collected the ball on the right on the break and surged forward. The Rangers fans behind the goal were left disappointed as he elected to shoot well wide of the post instead of playing in Mackie or Taarabt who were available in far superior positions with a relatively easy ball. As if to cap the frustration, Taarabt earned himself a yellow for a silly challenge on Wigan defender Ronnie Stam.
The home team came out for the second-half with renewed vigour, and put the Rangers defence under sustained pressure. Stand-in keeper Green made a number of important stops, notably blocking a close-range effort from McCarthy on 49 minutes. Green was guilty of some poor distribution and a failure at times to dominate his area in what was otherwise a strong performance.
Rangers remained resolute in defence, with Nelsen turning in a captain’s performance at the heart of the defence. At times though, Rangers struggled to take the fight to Wigan with Bosingwa once again having an errant afternoon and Derry not really staying on top of play. However, Mbia was full of running and provided an extra level of protection when the pressure was on.
On 57 minutes, Djibril Cisse came on for Adel Taarabt, who appeared in danger of picking up a second yellow card. Redknapp spurned the opportunity to go 4-4-2, instead pulling Mackie back into the wide position on the right, switching Wright-Phillips over to the left. This effectively took Mackie out of the game, greatly lessening his influence.
The bombardment of the QPR goal continued with further corners and chances for Wigan. But on 70 minutes, Mbia latched onto a loose ball in the Wigan half and quickly spread it over to Wright-Phillips on the left. A well-placed cross into Cisse allowed the Frenchman to finish with aplomb, notching a goal very much against the run of play.
(The players celebrate after Cisse puts us ahead)
Yet the joy of the away fans was short-lived when less than three minutes later the R’s defending evaporated for the umpteenth time this season, when Beausejour once again played in McCarthy in the area. Whilst the Wigan man had three QPR players around him, he still managed to get a shot off past the unsighted Green.
McCarthy sends home his second of the afternoon)
For the rest of the half, Rangers were largely holding on to the point. Cisse incurred the wrath of a number of the travelling support for not appearing to be giving 100% in pursuit of every opportunity, similar to his fleeting performance at Sunderland.
On 76 minutes, Granero replaced the disappointingly quiet Samba Diakite and brought some stability to our midfield play. Eight minutes later, Fabio da Silva came on for the poor Bosingwa, and immediately made a case for a start against Fulham with confident possession and good movement. This was to be to no avail however and in reality the majority of Rangers fans were happy to take a point even after having had a chance of all three.
(Mackie’s pained expression says it all)
So Redknapp’s Rangers remain unbeaten with three draws in a row. However this is a side almost criminally short of confidence given the ‘on paper’ quality of individuals therein. The new manager has brought in a more resolute approach, but the fact is that this was a severely weakened Wigan team and Rangers failed to make a substantive impact. Yes, we were ahead in the second-half, but that was largely an undeserved goal, which our porous defence failed to hold onto.
Perhaps the worst thing about this stuttering Rangers side is the lack of movement and ideas in attack. When Taarabt isn’t completely on it, as he wasn’t in this game, we struggle to look like a compelling forward unit. When we get possession in advanced areas, we play lots of little triangles, lots of side-to-side, but ultimately lacking real penetration. It is difficult to blame any one individual.
Wright-Phillips appeared to be attracting ‘dogs’ abuse on the social networks after the game, although in truth worked hard and whilst frustrating upfront, he offered some important interventions in defence. We lack concentration and pace at the back and look moribund upfront which is a perilous combination for any team sitting eight points shy of safety in mid-December.
(I don’t think this is Les Dawson’s son, but this was one of the stewards who spent the whole match staring at us)
So, lots for Redknapp, and indeed Tony Fernandes, to contemplate as we approach the Christmas fixtures. The QPR Chairman announced on Twitter on Sunday afternoon that he and his manager had had a ‘long chat’. Those of us praying for a chink of light at the end of the tunnel would have killed to be a fly on the wall for that conversation !
Team: Green 7, Traore 6, Hill 6, Nelsen 7, Bosingwa 5 (Fabio 7), Diakite 5 (Granero 6), Derry 6, Taarabt 6 (Cisse 6), Wright-Phillips 6, Mbia 7, Mackie 7.
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Ferdinand, Faurlin, Hoilett.
QPR MOM – Nelsen. Not just for his crucial goal, but also for his fine all-round display of taking responsibility and showing commitment.
Wigan MOM – McCarthy. A valuable brace for the home team and an energetic performance in midfield.
(The above pics were taken by Sandra Sayce and used with permission)