This week’s big marketing earner at half-time on the pitch at Queen’s Park Rangers was the home video launch of the latest franchise spy flick ‘Skyfall’. It left many fans wondering if an unlikely escape from peril such as that regularly pulled off by James Bond was any longer a possibility from the blue and white hoops.
And of course the only thing more predictable than the result itself was the manner of its execution. Manchester United looked out of sorts and yet didn’t get out of second gear. They didn’t have to in the face of a languid and largely toothless Rangers attack. This was by no means the home side’s worst performance of the season. Yet it only provided the faintest of glimpses that Rangers have the fight to get out of what Tony Fernandes later admitted on Twitter as “this mess”.
Redknapp went 4-4-2 in an attempt to make the game something other than the defensive lockdown scenario seen against other big sides in the division. Jose Bosingwa made a less-than-popular return to the starting eleven in place of Fabio, ruled out because of the season loan agreement with United. Stephane Mbia and Esteban Granero took up the central midfield berths whilst loanee Andros Townsend went on the right flank. Adel Taarabt was nominally on the left but as usual went roaming in search of possession.
The game began very tepidly with the visitors, as expected, dominating the play, but misfiring in front of goal. The first chance of any note fell to United. Armand Traore surrendered the ball in midfield and a cross from Rangers’ b√™te-noire Ashley Young was met with a looping header from Javier Hernandez. Julio Cesar leapt athletically and deftly tipped the effort over the bar.
Three minutes later, Hernandez was nearly in again when a rolled out ball from Cesar was carelessly flicked forward by Mbia into the path of Nani who crossed in beautifully from the right only for the young Mexican just to fail to connect.
The inevitable happened halfway through the first-half when a midfield mix-up between Traore and Taarabt was pounced on by Ryan Giggs. He found Robin van Persie who ran the ball to the bye-line. The Dutchman’s cross was palmed out by Cesar, only into the path of Rafael da Silva who struck a peach of a shot into the top left of the goal. At first glance it looked like a lucky punch which hit the target, but further viewings revealed a very sweetly struck shot.
Meanwhile, Van Persie was stationary behind the bye-line after inadvertently joining a TV cameraman in his pitch-side pit. The former Arsenal man sustained an injury which he tried hard to run off.
(Rangers players look forlornly goalward while Rafael celebrates the opener)
(Robin van Persie feels the pain of the bizarre collision)
Even carrying a passenger for twenty minutes, United managed to maintain territorial advantage over the R’s. Rangers were neat at times with Townsend looking a potential threat on the right-hand side. The biggest disappointment came in the centre of the park. Mbia was as energetic as ever, but so was his distribution as woeful as ever too, squandering possession time after time. Granero continued to under-deliver relative to the expectations placed on the player after joining the club. Whether it was a lack of confidence or match sharpness (or both), the Spaniard played at one pace, and that was slow. Often dispossessed, Granero displayed again why he hasn’t adapted to the pace of the Premier League.
Rangers’ chances were unsurprisingly few and far between. On 35 minutes Townsend latched onto a loose ball in midfield and steamed forward. He cut inside and switched the ball onto his stronger left foot and the shot was deflected away for a corner. Rangers’ best chance of the half came from the resulting kick. Samba used his aerial power to head goalwards from the Granero corner, but Rafael was on the goal-line to intercept.
Moments later, Rafael played a pinpoint cross to Van Persie who, although carrying his injury, forced a brilliant reaction save from Cesar. It was the last significant contribution from Van Persie, who was subsequently replaced by Danny Welbeck just before half-time.
(Zamora, Mackie and Taarabt on the move)
United had cantered to a lead from a midfield mistake in the first-half. Granero was replaced by Jermaine Jenas as the start of the second. This move by Redknapp injected just a little more pace into the Rangers midfield.
On the hour mark, Bobby Zamora who had done a reasonable job with the limited service he was given, was clearly struggling with his recurrent hip injury and was replaced by Loic Remy. Sir Alex Ferguson also substituted Hernandez with Wayne Rooney, who had been denied a starting place through sinusitis.
Minutes later, Remy nearly made an astonishing opening intervention. Winning a header in the air, the Frenchman found Townsend who played in Taarabt. The Moroccan, who had been unusually quiet, found Remy once more on the left of the box. He thundered a shot in which David de Gea did well to push away for a corner. Once again Samba met the resulting corner with a header, but could only place it wide.
Townsend had been the main source of spark for Rangers, but was substituted for Junior Hoilett on 71 minutes. Hoilett looked lively, but failed to provide the final ball which might have created some more chances.
(Carrick brings down Taarabt on the edge of the area, an appeal which was waved away)
United meanwhile threatened to put the game beyond reach on 75 minutes when Rooney was left in space centrally in the box. Samba bravely blocked his shot, but Rangers failed to heed to omens. On 80 minutes, Samba gave Nani too much time in an advanced position. He played Giggs in on goal who stayed onside, and the ball was duly slotted to the left of Cesar. Giggs nearly added another seconds later when Nani found substitute Valencia in acres of space on the right wing. The veteran Welshman hit an impudent lob which rebounded off the bar.
Redknapp threw Chris Samba upfront in a vain attempt to get something from the game, but it was not to be. No realistic Rangers fan would have expected to get much from this game, let alone take three points. In truth, it was far from the worst performance that the Loftus Road faithful have seen at home this season. Harry Redknapp has undoubtedly tightened up and organised Rangers as a defensive unit.
What will probably ensure our relegation, barring a miracle of 007 proportions, will be the impotence of QPR as an attacking force. It remains true that when Adel has a quiet game, Rangers lack the impulse, guile and momentum. It’s easy to criticise Jamie Mackie who once again gave a lot of effort for little end product. I personally would want a 100% committed, if limited, player battling for me then starting someone like Hoilett who has the pace but maybe a question mark over the desire ?
In a season where we have purchased the likes of Park, Granero and Mbia, I can hardly believe I am saying this, but our midfield remains the most soft of soft underbellies which United didn’t have to break a sweat to overpower.
Team: Cesar 7, Traore 6, Samba 7, Hill 7, Bosingwa 6, Taarabt 6, Granero 5 (Jenas 6), Townsend 7 (Hoilett 6), Mbia 6, Mackie 6, Zamora 6 (Remy 7)
Substitutes Not Used: Green, Onuoha, Park, Wright-Phillips
QPR MOM – Townsend. The only player to really take the fight to United with true craft and scampering runs. He was unlucky to be substituted.
Man Utd MOM – Carrick. Very understated and underrated performance supporting Giggs. Massive in midfield, absorbing pressure, recycling play and making superb passes.
(Pictures provided by Sandra Sayce and used with permission)