Results elsewhere at the bottom of the Premier League provided slim comfort to the R’s faithful as they took great heart from a battling performance in the day’s early kick-off at a packed Loftus Road against third-place Spurs. In an afternoon of mixed feelings, QPR were left five points adrift of safety and flat bottom once again after three points for fellow strugglers Southampton and a shock late winner for Reading against West Brom.
There were a number of changes from the Queen’s Park Rangers side which snatched a late equaliser in the cup game against WBA a week before. That day’s R’s scorer Kieron Dyer left the club in midweek after being released from his contract. Esteban Granero picked up an injury in that game and missed out. Both Tal Ben Haim and DJ Campbell were dropped to the bench whilst Nedum Onuoha, Shaun Derry, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Fabio da Silva all came in.
Harry Redknapp had a clear game plan for this fixture and executed it from the kick-off in front of a watching Roy Hodgson. Adel Taarabt was the loan striker with a central bank of four in the shape of Wright-Phillips on the left, Mackie on the right and Mbia and Park Ji-Sung in the middle. Derry sat in front of the back-four with Onuoha on the right and Fabio on the left. This formation was set up to close down, frustrate and deny. The back-four plus Derry sat deep with the intention of keeping Spurs strikers Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor quiet.
Rangers were happy to largely absorb pressure while Spurs came forward in numbers with midfielders Sandro and Moussa Dembele enjoying plenty of possession. Gareth Bale was normally on the left wing, but often played a freer role, coming central to seek the ball and at times swapping with his colleague Aaron Lennon on the other side.
Arguably the best chance for either side came in a rocking first ten or so minutes. On the five minute mark, Defoe played a one-two with Adebayor and hit a rasping shot from outside the box which Cesar turned onto the post with the fingertips of his right-hand. Adebayor followed in untracked to shoot from close range. Cesar miraculously blocked and the danger was cleared. Cesar displayed immense athleticism and reaction time in what has to be one of the best double-saves by a Rangers keeper in recent memory.
Rangers turned defence into attack six minutes later when Taarabt played a beautiful ball to Wright-Phillips in space on the left. The hooped hero at Chelsea scampered into the box and shot. It looked to be heading past Hugo Lloris but Michael Dawson stuck a leg out pushing it out for a corner.
Tottenham continued to take the battle to Rangers in the first-half, but Rangers tirelessly closed down and looked to hit the away team on the break. Taarabt sensibly and coolly held the ball up while Mackie fought well making a number of runs on the right, and breaking up the supply line from left-back Kyle Naughton to Bale. In fact Bale was being starved of possession. Time and time again diagonal balls from Dawson and Jan Vertonghen towards Bale were misplaced and missed their target.
The level of the task facing the R’s was underscored when Sandro went off injured after 25 minutes and was replaced by England international Scott Parker. Meanwhile Lennon wasn’t having the best of times on the right and thankfully loanee Fabio was having by a long chalk his best game for QPR, dominating his area and chasing down.
Rangers were having increasing success at shutting down the Spurs attack. Mbia became increasingly influential and was reading Dembele’s game better all the time. Unfortunately Park was struggling for pace for the second weekend running. He soon looked out of place in this combative contest, often looking out of position and slipping over. The sad result of this display was a barrage of ironic jeers and cat-calls when the Korean managed to make a positive contribution.
After the break Spurs upped the tempo looking for a breakthrough. Time and time again the defence held strong. Nelsen in what could be his last game in W12 was particularly resolute. It is scary to think what a player with this level of awareness and timing could do if he was a decade younger. The Spurs attack was having yet more possession and won a string of free kicks in advanced positions. Almost straight after the re-start Bale had a free kick saved by Cesar, and five minutes later former R’s loanee Kyle Walker fired just wide from another one and from a similar position on the other side of the box.
(Hill closes down Dembele)
Some R’s fans were wondering whether Redknapp would make a change in the face of this onslaught. Meanwhile, Cesar was capping off a classy performance on 52 minutes with another world class reaction save, this time from Defoe. As the game drew to its later stages it became more of an act of attrition. Spurs had fewer chances on goal which Rangers stuck with the original selected eleven and toughed it out. Not even the introduction of Dempsey (68 minutes) and Sigurdsson (78 minutes) could force an opening goal.
(Substitutes wait in vain to be introduced into the fray)
In fact Rangers might have nicked it at the end as Wright-Phillips rolled back the years with an impudent piece of skill reminiscent of his heyday of old. On 85 minutes he flicked the ball over his man on the run, over on the wide left. After a quick exchange with Taarabt, Wright-Phillips found himself in the box but inexplicably failed to get a shot away.
(Mbia theatrically recovers after a clash with Lloris)
This was a fair result and a point roundly applauded by the majority of R’s fans in the ground. Redknapp set the team up perfectly and most players gave a pugnacious performance of which to be proud. Obviously Rangers need wins. Some questions have been asked whether the manager should have made a change in the second 45, especially given Park’s ineffectual display. The hindsight provided by results later in the afternoon only served to sour the overall positive appreciation of a fine Rangers performance. To be fair though this was a point most would have taken before kick-off, and a benchmark of what QPR need to do in the remaining games against the league’s stronger sides if we are to have a hope of survival.
Team: Cesar 7, Hill 7, Onuoha 6, Nelsen 8, Fabio 7, Derry 7, Park 5, Taarabt 8, Wright-Phillips 7, Mbia 7, Mackie 7
Subs Not Used: Green, Ferdinand, Ben Haim, Faurlin, Cisse, Bothroyd, Campbell
QPR MOM – Nelsen. Who knows how many more times we will see Nelsen in the Hoops ? It will be a big miss. This was a terrific display of timing, tenacity and controlled aggression.
Spurs MOM – Dembele. A titanic struggle with Mbia in midfield, although the Spurs man is the player we’d like Mbia to become. Fast, strong, great distribution and makes his team tick
(Photographs provided by Sandra Sayce and used with permission)