QPR v Southampton – Staring into the Abyss

“This lot look like they couldn’t care less if they tried” – Steve Froggatt BBC London 94.9FM

Driving home from Loftus Road on Saturday I reflected that I’ve picked an absolutely corking time to agree to write some match reports for the Indy R’s; Arsenal away, Reading home and now this one. Plus I’ve offered to write some words after the ManU and Sunderland matches. I must be mad for even buying tickets let alone comment on them !

When you’re a journalist, it’s your job to write about the shit that happens. Any jobbing hack down at QPR on Saturday could watch the game for free, compile their condemning copy and bugger off, hoping they get the Emirates or Stamford Bridge gig next weekend.

When you’re an ordinary fan, you care about the stuff that for the journo is just ‘making a living’. You feel every emotion, you kick every ball. And when your team performs as abjectly as QPR did on Saturday, it hurts. It feels like your nose is being rubbed in it by the devil. And you have to pay for the privilege.

I don’t really want to write about the game, but I suppose I better had for the record. Mark Hughes put out the same eleven as at Stoke, but with another tinkering in the formation which saw the ‘Christmas tree’ morph into a 4-2-3-1. With hindsight it didn’t work. Granero looked isolated and uncomfortable in a position on the right of midfield. Diakite and Faurlin failed to break up enough play in the centre of the park which allowed long periods of possession for a tidy if uninspiring Southampton side.

But Saturday’s debacle (how often has this word applied to QPR games this season ?) wasn’t about formation or tactics which failed, although they did. It was the bankruptcy of a whole management structure. A structure which insists on meticulous preparation, a scientific approach to nutrition and a reliance on statistics, has totally failed to deliver a side with the motivation, pride and passion to beat fellow relegation strugglers at home.

The quality of the football had all the hallmarks of Championship quality, which is appropriate given the high likelihood of this fixture being repeated in the second tier next year.

Once again it was defending at set pieces which proved to be the R’s Achilles’ heel, with Saints Ricky Lambert heading in unmarked following a corner on 23 minutes. Rangers commenced the usual descent into panic stations as the game plan, if there was one, went out of the window.

Ex-Rangers player Jason Puncheon was finding increasingly more space on the Saints right-hand side and just before the break was allowed to drift forward and curl a ball in to the right of Julio Cesar in goal. The half ended to a loud chorus of boos ringing around the ground, and a half-time break full of stunned, silent and forlorn faces on the concourse.

The second-half provided some hope as Jamie Mackie came on for struggling Ale Faurlin, and immediately showed the desire and passion which had been lacking in the first-half. As at West Brom, a goal back for the R’s helped to lift spirits. A Junior Hoilett header from a Taarabt cross halved the deficit three minutes after the re-start.

But in truth the Rangers response was short-lived as a well-organised and enthusiastic Southampton controlled possession for large sections of the second-half. Rangers didn’t test Saints keeper Paulo Gazzaniga after our goal, although Cisse went closest on 71 minutes.

Rangers’ tactical plight was highlighted by a couple of Saints corners where all eleven men were behind the ball, without an outlet being left up top. Still the home team failed to adequately deal with Southampton’s short corners time and time again.

As the 90 minutes was up. It was another short corner which the R’s defence failed to respond to. A low drilled-in cross ricocheted off Anton Ferdinand’s leg and past the stricken Cesar. Southampton deserved the spoils, their fans taking massive relief from a big relegation-battle win. Predictably the now half-empty Loftus Road once again echoed to booing. Perhaps just as predictably only a handful of R’s players made their way over to applaud the remaining R’s faithful, including Mackie, Derry and Nelsen.

What was most shocking was how many players in the Hooped shirt were ‘off it’. Bosingwa for most of the game didn’t look like he cared. Ferdinand looked uncertain and nervous. Diakite only put in occasional cameos and was rightly substituted with Shaun Derry in the second-half. Granero, even when back in a more natural central midfield position in the second-half, struggled to make any real impact.

Things have to come to a head over Mark Hughes’s future at QPR. It cannot go on as it is. After the game, Twitter was awash with at least three different rumours. One – Hughes had left the club. Two – the benched Shaun Wright-Phillips had squared up to protesting fans outside Loftus Road after the game and Three – Djibril Cisse had been offering fans out on Twitter. Desperate times indeed !

Team: Cesar 6, Traore 6, Ferdinand 4, Nelsen 6, Boswinga 4 (Fabio 5), Diakite 5, Taarabt 7, Granero 5, Cisse 5, Faurlin 5 (Mackie 7), Hoilett 5.

Subs Not Used: Green, Ehmer, Dyer, Wright-Phillips

QPR MOM – Adel Taarabt. He didn’t hide at any point and kept trying to inject some pace into a moribund attack.

Southampton MOM – Adam Lallana. A captain’s performance on the left. He led from the front and kept his limited team calm and organised.

Attendance: 18,174 (including approx 3,000 Southampton fans)