Queen’s Park Rangers made the short journey up the A41 off the back of two straight defeats. Christmas cheer remained in short supply as it became clear that Rangers’ prolific marksman Charlie Austin would remain sidelined due to a hamstring injury. Captain Clint Hill was also injured and missing from the lineup.
Harry Redknapp accounted for the shortfall by playing Niko Kranjcar in an advanced role, supported by Matty Phillips on the right and Junior Hoilett on the left. Without a recognised striker starting, a novel system was necessitated, a kind of a 4-3-3, or perhaps more accurately a 4-3-2-1.
The game itself was a fairly forgettable affair. Rangers dominated possession overall 60:40 but only muster one shot on target. Kranjcar went close a couple of times in the first half. Watford defended well, and what they lacked in attacking guile they made up for in organisation and robustness at the back. It wasn’t a good time to play the ‘Golden Boys’ (is that the most embarrassing nickname in football or what?) – buoyed by the recent appointment of Italian journeyman manager Giuseppe Sannino.
The game was interesting more for the questions it raised. The decision to start without Johnson or Zamora raised more than a few eyebrows. Some cynics suggested that this was a further example of ‘Redknapp kidology’, making a specific point about lack of personnel to the board just days ahead of the opening of the transfer window. Who knows the truth? If relations between the QPR owner and his manager are as good as regularly portrayed why would Redknapp need to use such tactics?
Over 2,000 Hoops were in good voice at this Christmas fixture. However, audible disgruntled boos rang out from the away support at the final whistle. A number of QPR fans took to social media after the game to voice displeasure at the display and the fourth place in the league the club now found itself in.
There were a number of positives to take out of the game. It was a strong defensive display, as so often this season. Nedum Onuoha contribution was particularly important as he lends pace and energy to the back line. Robert Green didn’t have a lot to do, but made an impressive save from Diego Fabbrini in the second half. Benoit Assou-Ekotto had a superb game. Confident, assured and at times silky in his control of both the ball and attackers. It is such a shame that he appears to be becoming embroiled in the Nicolas Anelka ‘quinelle’ affair.
Given the glut of talent in the Rangers midfield it is puzzling that this is where the issues currently seem to lie. To be fair, Joey Barton continues to impress with his leading performances, adding impetus and drive to the team. New signing Yossi Benayoun is yet to settle but has undoubted quality to bring to the table.
Both Tom Carroll and Junior Hoilett provide the biggest enigmas. Carroll shows obviously naivety in his decision making at times, often choosing to stick when twisting would be a more attractive option. He is physically lightweight, and while Barton is often present to do ‘the rough stuff’, Carroll feels like a bystander at a fight when a game opens up. The Spurs loanee can clearly pass the ball and recycle play well. But is it a case of too much responsibility for him too soon?
Hoilett is a worry. He started the season flying and now appears to be back to the level of last season… edgy, nervous, stuttering. Most frustratingly of all is that when the opportunity to take on his man arises he chooses to cut inside, very often without significant end product.
As a manager, what do you do in this situation? Man-manage the players to a higher level of confidence? Can you coach players to improved performance in the short time available as the season marches on? Or do you do nothing and back your previous judgement?
Or as the transfer window opens up do you gamble on new player?. We need ammunition up front, and quality is unlikely to be cheap in January. But do we go for more reinforcements elsewhere – like that has been a successful tactic for Rangers in recent seasons….
Who’d be a manager?….
QPR: Green 7, Simpson 6, Assou-Ekotto 7*, Barton 7, Onuoha 7, Dunne 6, Benayoun 6 (O’Neil 6), Carroll 5 (Johnson 6), Kranjcar 6, Phillips 6, Hoilett 6 (Traore 6)
Substitutes not used: Henry, Zamora, Murphy, Sendles-White
Attendance: 16,625 (2,054 QPR)