Monday, January 16, 2012

Hoops O'Bested

Newcastle Utd 1 - 0 QPR

A brilliant finish from Leon O'Best was enough to overcome a limited QPR side at St James' Park yesterday.

With Colin Wanker having been handed his P45 and ASBO suspended, new manager Mark Hughes obviously took little time in instilling his footballing philosophy into his new charges. Admittedly his take on footballing philosophy is much less "total football" and far more "total wipe-out" with his team repeatedly guilty of committing late challenges in a bid to unsettle our side.

In some ways it was probably a blessing that Mr T was absent for this match, as I suspect he'd have been less inclined to rise above the physical challenge presented by the visitors and probably seek to exact his own form of direct justice. As it was, we demonstrated admirable restraint and as a result didn't pick up a single booking, unlike the visitors for whom four players were carded and Shaun Derry was perhaps slightly fortunate to remain on the pitch after he lost control of the ball and slid through Dreamboat in a bid to get it back.

That tackle, coming midway through the first half, saw the Frenchman depart on a stretcher and the arrival of HBA as a replacement. (Thankfully, the Silver Fox suggested that the injury was nothing too serious in his post-match interview).

We started the game sluggishly, with Dreamboat as guilty as the next man of some wasteful play and a general torpor across both players and fans, and it was the visitors who enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges. Tim Krul twice had to make decent saves, and Shaun Wright-Phillips shaved the cross bar from distance.

However, Dreamboat's departure saw the Silver Fox rejig our formation, abandoning 4-4-2 in favour of a fluid 4-2-3-1 which saw HBA, Spidermag and O'Best spread behind Big Lad, with Raylor and the returning Danny Guthrie sitting slightly deeper in midfield. The resultant shift saw us enjoy more time on the ball, and while our final ball into the box was often lacking, either in terms of quality or intended recipients (with Big Lad often alone in the box), we began to dominate the game.

Eventually, that pressure began to tell, with Raylor seeing a long-range shot touched round the post, and a number of corners forcing the visitors to defend. The goal came after a chipped ball from Spidermag was headed down by Big Lad in to the path of the on-rushing Raylor (I think, although it could have been Guthrie) who stumbled, but still managed to touch the ball out to O'Best. He controlled the ball beautifully and shifted it on to his right, nutmegged Luke Young and then slotted the ball calmly past Paddy Kenny, having sent the 'keeper the wrong way. It was a fine goal and should hopefully do our Irish striker's confidence the world of good.

From there on, it was simply a case of protecting our lead, with QPR lacking the subtlety in midfield or the finishing prowess up front to really trouble our defence. A Jay Bothroyd shot which was easily saved by Krul being their best chance of forcing an undeserved equaliser.

With fifteen minutes to go the Silver Fox introduced James Perch for Raylor and Perch took up a position just in front of the back four, enabling him to effectively screen our defence. At the other end, one moment of skill from HBA almost brought a second as he accelerated away from his man and slid a great ball out to the left. O'Best's cross in looked destined for Big Lad, only to be nudged out of his reach at the last second. However, one goal was always likely to be enough to ensure we took the points and moved above Liverpool into sixth.

Unlike our previous home league match, this was hardly a classic, albeit one in which Santon (bedding himself in at left-back) O'Best (who worked tirelessly and took his goal very well) and Guthrie (deservedly receiving plaudits after an excellent all-round display) all stood out. HBA too looked very good when he came on, and his dynamism, allied to the Silver Fox's tactical change, marked a significant shift in the balance of the game, which ultimately gave us the victory.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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Blogger Ben said...

A bit harsh on QPR - I thought they perhaps deserved a draw. They caught us completely cold and could have been two up long before O'Best gave us the lead - Bothroyd's shot hitting the outside of the goal frame as well as Wright-Phillips' effort. We roused ourselves after that, but I think it's fair to say we'll play better and lose (and have done - see the Chelsea home game, for instance).

I'd thought QPR were ripe for roasting, given they were without ASBO, Taarabt and Faurlin and also on a very poor run of form, but Mark Hughes had an instant impact - they were fired up and feisty. As for that Derry challenge, it looked pretty ugly and could conceivably have been a red card but personally I thought a yellow and a stern talking to was enough. Perhaps I (and the Silver Fox) would have felt differently if we'd not gone on to win the game, largely as a result of the enforced substitution...

Nice to put an end to Hughes' unbeaten run as a manager at SJP.

1:07 p.m.  

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