With fears over the threatening snowy weather put aside, Queen’s Park Rangers went to the Boleyn Ground in search of a vital three points which would catapult them towards the holy grail of Premier League safety.
Redknapp made a single change from the side which bravely battled for a point last weekend against Tottenham Hotspur. The underperforming Ji-Sung Park made way for Rangers’ new record signing from Marseilles, Loic Remy. The Frenchman started as the sole out-and-out striker with Taarabt in the hole behind him. The rest of the team lined up as two banks of four with Shaun Derry and Stephane Mbia in the middle. Derry was initially the man to stay back and protect the line of defenders while Mbia went forward.
Rangers were straight out of the traps with two quick-fire offside decisions for new boy Remy. Within the first few minutes he displayed that he has bags of pace, confidence and enthusiasm, key elements which have been missing from Djibril Cisse’s performances this season. Little wonder then at the announcement on the next day of Cisse’s loan move to Qatari side Al Gharafa until the end of the season.
The Hammers were looking sharp themselves and on six minutes they went close. Winston Reid rose up to win a Joe Cole corner. The header almost fell to Kevin Nolan but Cesar was sharp enough to respond first.
The new R’s number 18 underlined his potential to help in our current plight on 13 minutes when he beat the West Ham offside trap at the third time of asking. Adel Taarabt broke with the ball in midfield and placed the proverbial slide-rule pass into the path of Remy with only Jussi Jaaskelainen to beat. Remy took his shot early to the goalkeeper’s left, stunning the home fans and amazing the travelling fans at the other end of the ground.
It was time for the R’s to keep their heads and prepare to defend against attempts by the Hammers to re-establish parity. The best of the rest of the goalmouth action fell to West Ham in the remainder of the first-half, but Rangers levelled them in terms of the quality of defensive play. Rangers looked reasonable going forward. Taarabt was his usual busy self and Mackie provided a constant battling outlet both in defence and in advanced positions. Remy continued to look a pacy threat.
Meanwhile West Ham were having a lot of possession with Arsenal loanee Marouane Chamakh making a nuisance of himself without providing clear chances on goal. The home fans thought referee Howard Webb should have awarded them a penalty after half an hour when Chamakh was involved in a tussle with Clint Hill and then made contact with Shaun Wright-Phillips. Fervent appeals came particularly from captain Kevin Nolan, but were thankfully waved away.
(The Chamakh/Hill penalty appeal incident)
The second-half was pretty much all West Ham. From the outset the East Londoners dominated possession and pushed forward looking for an equaliser. Mbia and Derry were forced to play deeper and deeper as Diame took centre stage. Time and time again Matt Jarvis found himself with the ball in acres of space. When he did have hooped company it came in the shape of Nedum Onuoha.
After a patchy first-half, the Rangers right-back was being given a torrid time by the former Wolves man. Onuoha was frequently out of position, and when he wasn’t he failed to keep tight enough to his man. Jarvis was thus able to put in a succession of telling crosses.
On 57 minutes, Wright-Philips was replaced with Armand Traore in a like-for-like positional swap, but with the new entrant intending to lend some more defensive support. Shortly afterwards Sam Allardyce decided on a more direct attack by bringing off Chamakh and replacing him with Carlton Cole. The intense bombardment that this threatened prompted Redknapp to replace Mackie with the aerial outlet of Jay Bothroyd.
In the 68th minute the inevitable happened. Diame again found space for Jarvis on the left who put in a great cross. Carlton Cole rose up above the R’s defenders to head down towards goal. Cesar could only parry the effort into the path of Joe Cole who scored with a simple tap in.
Rangers had to dig in to hold on, struggling to maintain the ball in the opposition half. Bothroyd was being bullied off the ball by the West Ham centre-backs whilst Remy by this time was perhaps understandably fading. Redknapp brought on Park in place of Taarabt with nine minutes to go, but as against Spurs the Korean failed to make an impact.
The final whistle confirmed the stalemate. Many fans were relieved, but also disappointed with the result. We need wins and we need them with increasing urgency. To take a lead and then to surrender it is frustrating, but if you take the result out of the context of our league position, then given we were battered in the second-half, you have to see this as a decent point.
Some light relief lies ahead with the 4th Round FA Cup tie on Saturday 26th January against MK Dons. This is followed by a further two tough home fixtures in quick succession, midweek against the champions Manchester City and then the following weekend against our perennial ‘bete noires’ Norwich City. The way our fellow strugglers are picking up points means we need at least three out of these two league games.
Team: Cesar 7, Hill 8, Onuoha 6, Nelsen 7, Fabio 6, Derry 6, Taarabt 7 (Park 5), Wright-Phillips 6 (Traore 6), Mbia 6, Mackie 6 (Bothroyd 6), Remy 7
Subs Not Used: Green, Ferdinand, Faurlin, Hoilett
QPR MOM – Hill. In spite of some terrific saves from Cesar, Hill gets my vote for consistently and tenaciously absorbing the pressure from the West Ham side.
West Ham MOM – Diame. Absolutely ran the show in midfield. The guy was everywhere – a strong physical display with some great distribution too.
Attendance: 34,962 (including 1,900 R’s fans)
(Photographs provided by Sandra Sayce and used with permission)