QPR put behind them a turbulent week of off-the-field events with a professional yet confident 3-1 victory over League Two Southend United at Roots Hall on a balmy summers evening in Essex.
Being a West London born R’s fan now living and working in Basildon, Essex, most of my journeys to watch QPR involve at least a three hour round trip. When the Southend friendly was announced, I was delighted that I could make the short trip down the A127 to watch a pre-season game. Even the fact that the game was also on the date of my 5th wedding anniversary wasn’t too much of a factor; not even my good lady wife Natalie could deny me my fix of Rangers action surely ?
Traditionally, a 5th wedding anniversary gift is wood related, so there it was; two paper tickets were purchased and Natalie and I were heading into Southend ! After a lovely anniversary meal at Pizza Express (and a couple of bottles of cider !) we took a nice stroll down to the ground and took our seats.
The players were out and warming up already as we took our seats. I noticed a few faces were missing amongst the players who had played in most of our pre-season games; Ale Faurlin, Sean Derry and Jermaine Jenas were all absent. I would add Ji-Sung Park to that list, but he could have been working in another capacity for the R’s following the recent news that he had missed some of the pre-season to help Tony Fernandes make a buck or two for his airline business.
The players seemed quiet as they went about their drills; Joe Jordan observed from the centre circle alone. I didn’t notice Steve McClaren out on the pitch (or even at the game). Elsewhere, the Southend players warmed up in small groups, overseen by one of football’s (rightly) forgotten men: Phil Brown. His fake tanned face was a couple of shades lighter; being out of work since his dismissal from Hull City had obviously meant he has had to tighten his purse strings; he appeared glued to a mobile phone as he paced around the centre circle.
News filtered through that the game was being shown again live by the club (a big plus for the media team for this pre-season) and I noticed earlier that the entire game is already up on You Tube.
QPR started brightly, and were passing the ball around the back-four spiritedly; Redknapp seems to have found quite a decent combination of players there during the pre-season. Southend seemed quite happy for QPR to have possession.
Granero often came deep and kept a nice tempo going with some nice pass-and-move balls with R’s debutant Karl Henry. The Spaniard seemed to get annoyed when his opposite number in Southend colours appeared to try and kick lumps out of him at any given opportunity. Granero seemed a little rattled at first, but much to the approval of the travelling support, he soon got his head down and grafted, something we saw little of from him last season.
The first goal of the game came after 11 minutes. Zamora laid a ball into the path of Hoilett whose first time pass set Wright-Phillips bounding down the left-flank having left his marker for dead. His cross to the far post was netted by the hard working Andy Johnson who found the net with a simple tap-in from a couple of yards out. It was a nice move and a pleasant surprise to see a QPR goal from a couple of yards out. It was also a nice move and a pleasant surprise to see a Rangers goal from a good, pacy counter-attack.
The QPR goal seemed to jolt Southend into life. The only familiar face in their side was Freddy Eastwood. Once a prolific goalscorer in his first spell at the club, the former Welsh international now looks a shadow of his former self, and what a shadow ! The excellent fish and chip shop a stone’s throw from the ground seems to have its best customer playing in the number 7 shirt here.
Following a couple of corners from the home side and following some standard hesitancy from Rob Green, Rangers conceded a throw-in by the right-hand corner flag. A long throw was propelled into the box Rory Delap-style where a first time header was deflected in by Clint Hill past the helpless Rob Green. It was a goal more in tune with the beach football they sometime show on Sky Sports 3. A rare lapse in concentration by the R’s back-four during this game, but not akin to some of the defending from last season.
The rest of the half was uneventful. It seemed to be a very long 45 minutes. QPR toiled but did not have much to show for all their possession. Karl Henry had a couple of half-chances, but did not look comfortable in taking these opportunities. Half-time did eventually arrive and a visit to the rather odd and humid team-room-cum-youth club canteen yielded a luke warm bottle of Coke.
There seemed to be a good following from QPR, at a guess around 400/500 fans had made the journey. Having spotted a friend, a change in vantage point meant that the second-half was spent directly behind the goal which Rangers were attacking.
Rangers made two changes after the break; Dunne and Mbia coming on for Suk-Young and Granero respectively. Clint Hill went out to left-back with Dunne partnering Nedum Onuoha. And it was Mbia who scored QPR’s second of the evening with barely his first touch. A Hoilett corner was floated to the back-post where the Cameroonian international rose to send a firm header into the back of the net. Again, Rangers enjoyed the lion’s share of possession.
Southend did briefly threaten when a good effort from long range was turned over well by Green. Hoilett had a similar effort for the R’s. His strike forced a good save by Bentley in the Southend goal (who seemed to have gone to a lot of effort to look as much like Joe Hart as possible). From the following corner which Hoilett himself took, the ball was played into the box where a low, volleyed drive by the once again impressive Onuoha, flew into the net, much to his obvious delight. It sealed a deserved victory and it was nice to see some smiles on faces amongst the players as the final whistle was blown.
Of the players on view, Hoilett and Andy Johnson were the two who caught the eye. Hoilett showed in glimpses what he can do and what a potential pacy threat he could be for QPR in the coming season. Johnson looked sharp and worked hard all night alongside a tepid display by Zamora.
The back-four once again looked a good, solid unit. Suk-Young seems to improve game on game and is beginning to impose himself in games. He and the industrious Danny Simpson got forward at every opportunity with plenty of good movement blended with some good interceptions and solid tackling when needed. Hill and Onuoha look like a good pairing who are very comfortable with each other. Nedum looks like he really has a point to prove and I predict that he will shine for us this season as long as he plays in his clearly favoured position.
Dunne is clearly lacking match fitness and looks a good way off playing 90 minutes at the moment. However, he showed glimpses of his leadership and reading of the game during his 45 minute run-out. Green had a generally quiet game. He made one good save coupled with some moments of uncertainty as he seems to have. He looked great in the new grey/white hooped goalie kit. It seems that after years of failure, Lotto are finishing on a high with this year’s kits.
The midfield looked tidy without ever being spectacular. Karl Henry seemed to slot in well and seemed comfortable mopping up. He linked well with Granero who had a good first-half. Will Granero be at QPR much longer I wonder ? On this showing I think he could be influential for QPR in the role he played in this game.
There was also a nice cameo subs appearance from youngster Frankie Sutherland. He looked composed and keen to receive the ball. He also took many of our set-pieces too. On this showing, he looked promising and it would be great to see an Academy player break through.
All in all, it was a good work-out for Rangers. The players level of fitness seems to have improved compared to the last two seasons. Dunne looked like he has some work to do to catch up with a lot of the others. The mood of the players and fans seemed happier following the events from the past few days.
I’m sure more movement in both players leaving and coming in during the next few weeks will take more shape on this squad. It might not be all bad either. Early days yet, but the lack of effort/fight from last season may be replaced soon with some hope and positive play that we all are craving.