Stoke City v QPR

Team: Cesar, Traore, Ferdinand, Nelsen, Bosingwa, Diakite, Taarabt, Granero, Faurlin (Zamora), Cisse, Hoilett

Subs Not Used: Green, Hill, Onuoha, Derry, Wright-Phillips, Mackie

Attendance: 27,529

I went to Stoke full of my usual optimism (if I wasn’t optimistic about QPR before every single match, I wouldn’t bother to go at all). This game could be a turning point – after all, we have a good record against Stoke both home and away. It was great to bump into familiar faces before the game, including Steve Russell and Paul Finney.

Spirits seemed high amongst R’s fans despite the appalling place we find ourselves in; this was in no small part, I am sure, to the news that Ale Faurlin had been restored to a 5-man midfield alongside Samba Diakite and Esteban Granero (with Junior Hoilett and Adel Taarabt occupying the wide booths and Djibril Cisse the lone striker). The defence had pretty-much taken care of itself: Cesar (naturally) with Bosingwa and Traore (now apparently restored to full fitness) occupying the full-back slots and Ferdinand partnering Ryan Nelsen (our captain again) in the centre of defence.

The game began with QPR starting brightly – we seemed to have learned from all those discussions that Mark Bowen mentioned in his interview on the Podcast this week ! We were paying attention to what was happening around us and the defence was working well to cancel out the Stoke threat – especially dealing with high balls and crosses, a particular weakness of ours ! But it was not long before Stoke started to make openings, the best falling to Peter Crouch which (probably because he is a Ranger at heart, after all), he contrived to screw just wide of Cesar’s right-hand post with the goal seemingly at his mercy !

We were comfortable, though, and started to make a few inroads into the Stoke penalty area with Granero doing especially well at the near post after one attack; but he just couldn’t keep the ball in play for Cisse, who was virtually standing on the goal-line.

Then, as the first-half minutes were ticking down, Junior Hoilett (who I thought had a really good game) combined with Adel Taarabt for our best chance of the half. Only – Taarabt, for some inexplicable reason, decided to chip Asmir Begovic in the Stoke goal instead of just shooting direct into goal. And, frustratingly, his ball ended up flying past the right-hand upright.

A few minutes later, Taarabt had a seemingly more difficult chance from outside the area but he went close with a shot struck sweetly with his right foot.

The second-half started promisingly, until Stoke won a free kick in a seemingly innocuous position near the half-way line. The long ball was floated into our box and Peter Crouch acrobatically missed – but so did all the QPR defenders who had huddled around Crouch like bees around the honey pot. This left Charlie Adam an easy chance and, unlike Taarabt earlier, Adam made no mistake as he coolly slotted the ball into the far left-hand corner past the outstretched arms of Julio Cesar.

This was Adams’s first goal of the season – in fact, in a year – and typically, it was a Rangers defensive error that cost us. Where was Armand Traore ? He should at least have been marking Adam even if the rest of the defence had gone missing ! 52 minutes and it was a familiar sight on the scoreboard – Stoke 1, QPR 0.

We went on the attack though and some of our play was very good – quick, one-touch passes, using the wings to good effect – particularly through Junior Hoilett. Everything we did seemed to come through Hoilett and Taarabt – but we just couldn’t score ! Taarabt had a shot tipped over by Begovic; then he skipped through the Stoke defence, but decided to pass the ball instead of shooting from about 6 yards out !

Later on, he easily beat Whelan and was able to cut the ball back for Granero whose super shot was on target for the left-hand side of the goal, but was at the right height for Begovic to make a spectacular flying save.

And at the very death, despite all our domination, possession, superior shots on and off goal (well, according to the statistics, that is !) it was Stoke who came closest to scoring and doubling their lead. Kightly had an easy chance, but Cesar – who had little to do all game – turned the ball away to safety.

During the second-half, Zamora had replaced Faurlin – we went to a 4-4-2 formation – but that didn’t work. I am of the belief that we have the two laziest centre-forwards in the game, in Zamora and Cisse – they stand around and wait for the ball to come to them so often it is hair-tearingly frustrating !

But the 5-man midfield definitely worked for me. Faurlin was his usual assured best, Hoilett and Taarabt were excellent (except for some of the decision making, that is !) The defence was solid – except for the costly second-half lapse – so the signs are good. But the results are not and, at the final whistle, I was not impressed with the players’ attitude – even Taarabt ! They stomped off with heads bowed and, other than Samba Diakite and one or two others, not one acknowledged us fans in the Stand.

We sat in the cold to watch yet another defeat – the cold wind blowing around us reminded me of the cold wind of doom ! We are not in a happy place and I just don’t know or when things are going to get better ?

Sandy Lerman aka @ sandyhoops (also known on vitalQPR as sandyl)

(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival. All rights are reserved and his photos are used by the Independent R’s with his permission)