FA Cup 3rd Round
A disappointing crowd of less than 9,000 was thoroughly underwhelmed by the FA Cup fare at Loftus Road against West Bromwich Albion. The poor turnout was effectively guaranteed by the club’s misguided policy of charging £25 per adult ticket, but was also influenced by the recent expense for many of the triumphant visit to SW6 and the passing of a mere ten days since the identical league fixture.
There was a predictably different feel about the Queen’s Park Rangers side from the one which so spectacularly took the spoils and the bragging rights from Stamford Bridge in midweek. New signing Tal Ben Haim came in for Nedum Onuoha. Kieron Dyer replaced Fabio da Silva, Park was chosen ahead of Shaun Derry and DJ Campbell returned after a successful loan spell at Ipswich in place of Junior Hoilett.
Redknapp kicked off with the team in an interesting formation. It is tempting to think of it as a 5-3-2 with Dyer as an advanced wing-back and Adel Taarabt in a corresponding position on the left. It wasn’t a straightforward three at the back however, with Ben Haim occasionally getting forward to support on the left. It became quickly clear that the Israeli defender was doing a job for his manager by playing out of position, as he had to turn the ball onto his right foot on most occasions he was in possession.
Stephane Mbia once again provided protection to the back-line. Esteban Granero and Park interchanged flexibly as play required. Campbell looked very sharp accompanying Jamie Mackie upfront, with the latter dropping back at times to interchange with Dyer.
The first-half itself was pretty uninspiring. Rangers looked good at times with Granero looking comfortable on the ball, and working with Taarabt and Campbell. Park showed some nice touches, but looked well short of match fitness and struggled to keep up with play at times. As in recent games though, Mbia frustrated home fans with a series of theatrical falls which failed to impress referee Mark Clattenburg.
West Brom had the best of the chances in the first period. Romelu Lukaku was proving to be a real handful to the R‘s defence and forced saves from Julio Cesar on 32 and 40 minutes. Probably the best chance fell to James Morrison on 42 minutes who went wide with a close range-range shot.
Rangers lacked a cutting-edge upfront, although Campbell looked hungry for the ball and even won a couple of headers surprisingly given his diminutive stature. By contrast Mackie was trying hard, but failing to be particularly effective in possession.
The half ended with former QPR loanee Jerome Thomas coming on for Marc-Antoine Fortune, who himself had been a 22nd minute replacement for Zoltan Gera.
Granero was substituted at half-time with Jay Bothroyd, another returnee from an extended loan spell. It later emerged that the Spaniard had picked up a hamstring injury. Rangers settled into a more traditional 4-4-2. Mackie dropped back to the wing to accommodate Bothroyd whilst Dyer moved to a full-back position.
Initially Bothroyd and Campbell combined were themselves proving quite a handful, and it was a pleasure to see a QPR front pairing making darting runs and trying to outwit the opposition. Rangers were nearly immediately rewarded on 47 minutes when a Campbell header went over the bar.
It remained a fairly tepid affair with neither side looking particularly like they wanted to win it. On 68 minutes Nedum Onuoha came on for the solid Ryan Nelsen whilst Dyer and Ben Haim switched sides. The tie sparked into life in the 79th minute when the Rangers defence failed to adequately deal with a West Brom attack on the edge of the penalty box. Suddenly Shane Long was in space on the left, and his shot was deflected into the net by Onuoha.
That really looked to be that for Rangers given recent form and the amount of time remaining. The team disappointingly failed to show any urgency or belief that they could force an equaliser. Further chances from Chris Brunt and Gabriel Tamas could have doubled the advantage.
The unexpected happened in the penultimate minute of stoppage time. Bothroyd failed to connect with a diagonal long ball from Ben Haim, serendipitously as it happened. It fell into the path of Dyer who took it on his chest and sprinted forward to hit the ball goalwards first time with his left foot. His shot hit the back of the net and booked a replay at the Hawthorns.
It was a game which divided opinion amongst R’s fans, with many taking a highly negative view. However it could not have been more different from the preceding performance against Liverpool which was a total capitulation. There was a symmetry to the occasion, the crowd and the quality of the football – low key. The attendance provided an unappetising glimpse of what awaits at many home fixtures should QPR succumb to the drop.
The replay at West Brom means that the home game against Spurs has been moved to 12.45pm on Saturday, 12th January.
Team: Cesar 6, Hill 6, Nelsen 7 (Onuoha), Ben Haim 6, Park 5, Taarabt 6, Granero 6 (Bothroyd 6), Dyer 7, Mbia 6, Mackie 5, Campbell 7
Subs Not Used: Green, Ferdinand, Derry, Faurlin, Cisse
QPR MOM – Dyer. Few outstanding candidates, but it was a solid performance from Dyer with good passing and awareness. He displayed a flash of pace for his goal which proved that he still really wants it.
West Brom MOM – Brunt. Few candidates on either side, but he was a strong presence in midfield given that the impressive Mulumbu was absent.