So it really is all over bar the shouting down at Loftus Road. Not even the most rose-tinted of spectacles could enable the wearer to entertain that there is any hope left in this moribund Premier League campaign. Once again our beloved Hoops meekly capitulated to a poor Stoke side that had the feel of a second tier clash about it.
Never mind that the quality of the football offered up in the spring sunshine was inferior – it once again was the manner of the defeat which left many Rangers fans fuming. And whilst Stoke sleepwalked to victory, strains of ‘Delilah’ at one end of the ground were met with the ringing of final-whistle boos at the other.
Redknapp intriguingly made five changes from the Everton defeat, as if there was a ‘last-chance-saloon’ masterplan to dig QPR out of the mire. Robert Green came in for Julio Cesar, whilst there were rare starts for Shaun Derry and Tal Ben Haim. The opening formation was 4-4-1-1. Loic Remy was up top with Adel Taarabt in support whilst Andros Townsend and Junior Hoilett took up the berths on the wing.
From the off this was an affair to forget. Stoke City played their predictable long-ball game towards Cameron Jerome and former ‘R’ Peter Crouch, whilst Rangers struggled to get the ball down and make an impression.
In fairness, Rangers played the better football in the first-half and showed flashes of quality. Remy looked lively and Taarabt caused problems. Townsend once again was a class above and looked capable of making things happen.
(Taraabt goes close with an early free kick)
Stoke reverted to type with numerous agricultural forward balls, whilst Glenn Whelan and Steven N’Zonzi imposed themselves in midfield. The only real spark of creativity came from former Liverpool man Charlie Adam. Whilst capable of making some nice passes, Adam’s mobility off the ball was absent.
As so often this season, Rangers got no reward for their efforts. Four minutes before the break, Stoke broke away and Jerome received possession with Chris Samba to beat. With shocking ease, Jerome beat Rangers’ record signing and played Crouch in on goal. The centre-forward did what any self-respecting striker would do and scored a simple tap in past Green. Classily Crouch did not celebrate the gift his team was presented with by the R’s defence.
As if to make matters worse, Townsend picked up a knock just before the half-time whistle and did not return for the second 45 and was replaced by Jamie Mackie.
Rangers’ best chance of the game fell to Remy on 54 minutes, with the Frenchman forcing a good save from Asmir Begovic. Meanwhile, Taarabt was replaced by Jay Bothroyd after being forced off with a shoulder injury he had picked up in the first-half.
(Rangers past and present – but what of the future?)
The changes seemed to dissipate any momentum Rangers could muster. Stoke defended well, keeping two banks of four behind the ball. But really Begovic had very little to do as the Rangers attack petered out.
The result was confirmed on 75 minutes when Stoke won a penalty in front of the School End after Clint Hill bundled over Peter Crouch. Jonathan Walters finished with aplomb. Twice, as it happened, after referee Chris Foy ordered a re-take.
Rangers never looked anything like getting a foothold back in the game and the frustrated R’s faithful knew it. It’s really hard to pick on anyone who had a bad game because so many in the hoops misfired.
(Mackie takes on Shawcross)
However, Hoilett has typified our season. Much hyped upon signing, the Canadian has been largely anonymous over the season when he has made it into first team. On several occasions on Saturday he showed all the skill of trapping and controlling a ball of a Canadian caribou. Shorn of confidence and seemingly lacking in pace, he displayed the absence in craft and know-how so amply exuded by Townsend.
But this was not a day for scapegoats. It was the almost-mathematical confirmation that QPR’s season is ending in abject failure. The whole club from top to bottom has failed. As fans, we must accept that hurt. There is salt in these wounds that will sting for some time to come. Solace will only emerge as the hope for the new season dawns.
Hopefully the regime at the head of QPR will learn from its mistakes and face 2013-14 with a realism and level-headedness which has been absent over the last two years.
Team: Green 6, Samba 5, Hill 6, Bosingwa 6, Ban Haim 6, Derry 6, Townsend 7 (Mackie 6), Mbia 6, Taarabt 6 (Bothroyd 6), Remy 6, Hoilett 5.
Subs Not Used: Cesar, Onuoha, Diakite, Park, Granero
QPR MOM – Mbia. Difficult choice, as it has been so often this season. Townsend I suspect would have earned it had he seen out any more than 45 minutes. Mbia just about warranted it with an energetic if unspectacular performance.
Stoke MOM – Whelan. Another tricky choice amongst the poor fare on display. Jerome had a decent game but Whelan was key in protecting the Stoke centre-halves on those occasions the ball was on the floor.
(Photographs provided by Sandra Sayce and are used with permission)