Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Linesmen to the rescue

QPR 0 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Who says the international break is disruptive? We returned to Premier League action with a performance very much the same as the last - namely, poor and probably deserving of nothing but nevertheless ultimately rewarding. For that, we had linesmen to thank - not the two officials scampering up and down, but Danny Simpson and Steven Taylor, both of whom cleared Rangers' efforts off our line in a fraught first half.

Alan Pardew made just the one change to the starting line-up, replacing Peter Lovenkrands - utterly ineffectual against Fulham - with the fit-again Big Lad. That meant a two-pronged strikeforce with Leon Best - cue Gary Neville informing Sky viewers that it was good to see two "local lads ... who've come through the ranks together" starting up front...

This decision represented a change of approach since our last away trip to the Stadium of Shite and, in truth, it didn't work - in the first half especially, QPR's 4-3-3 formation caused us innumerable problems. It didn't help that Gabriel Obertan and Spidermag were as unhelpful defensively as they were limp attacking down the flanks, or that Mr T again looked off the pace and Yohan Cabaye turned in his worst display in black and white - but, in fairness to our central pairing, Pardew had left them outnumbered. Perhaps a combative player in the mould of our opponents' captain would have been useful in the circumstances...

Little wonder that the first half was orchestrated by mercurial Moroccan Adel Taarabt, revelling in the freedom afforded to him, and by Shaun Wright-Phillips, relishing a first top-flight start in a year against Ryan Taylor, a left-back with no left foot (Davide Santon, watching from the bench, won't exactly be worried about his prospects of getting into the side). Had Jay Bothroyd - once upon a time rumoured to be interesting us - brought his shooting boots it might have been a different story, but the lanky striker in danger of becoming a one-cap wonder squandered two opportunities from perfect Wright-Phillips crosses, first ballooning a volley over from six yards when unmarked and then failing to get a touch as the ball fizzed low across the area.

Tim Krul's superb form thus far this season has justified his selection ahead of Steve Harper, but last night he was reliant on others to help preserve a third clean sheet in four. Simpson, at last putting in a good shift, repelled Bothroyd's header from the line, and shortly afterwards Steven Taylor repeated the feat, chasing back to head Wright-Phillips' chip away to safety brilliantly.

At the other end, our only real chance of note was created from nothing by Best, whose clever skill twice outwitted defenders and whose subsequent shot had portly pie-munching Hoops 'keeper Paddy Kenny at full stretch to tip it just around the post.

The second period also belonged to the hosts, though we did at least get to grips with Taarabt, Mr T upping his game somewhat. Wright-Phillips continued to threaten, though, most notably with a jinking run and long-range shot that flew narrowly wide of the near angle. The contrast between QPR's new winger and our wide men Obertan and Spidermag was alarming.

Thankfully what opportunities there were fell to Shaun Derry, not the most prolific goalscorer in the home team, and on two occasions he headed inviting headers wide. Obertan mustered one downward header for us before being replaced by Little Big Lad, who did at least inject a bit of enthusiasm into proceedings. I'd like to see him start against Blackburn, but suspect that Obertan's price tag will mean the Frenchman will get to keep his place. Of our other substitutes, Sylvain Marveaux made his Premier League debut and Demba Ba, on for Big Lad, looked moderately lively as we (and Krul in particular) ran down the clock for another useful result.

So, four games, three clean sheets, still unbeaten and currently occupying the final Champions League spot. All should be rosy, you'd imagine. It's not. Our unusual defensive resilience is to be once again applauded, but make no mistake - there'll come a time when we'll rue our chronic attacking deficiencies.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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