BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SATURDAY 21ST April, 2012
QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1 (1) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0 (0)
Referee:- Mark Clattenburg
Assistants:- Mr. S. Beck & Mr. S. Child
Fourth official:- Lee Probert (not Lee Mason as per programme)
QPR (4-3-2-1):- Kenny; Onuoha, Ferdinand, Hill, Taiwo; Barton (Capt.), Derry, Diakite (sub Buzsaky, 69); Mackie, Taarabt; Zamora
Subs not used:- Cerny; Gabbidon, Traore; Wright-Phillips; Helguson, Cisse
Booked:- Zamora (foul on Sandro), Taarabt (foul on Walker), Onuoha (foul on Bale), Hill (foul on Bale)
Sent off (77):- Taarabt (second yellow card for dissent)
Spurs (4-2-3-1):- Friedel; Walker, Gallas, King (Capt.), Assou-Ekotto (sub Rose, 66); Parker (sub Giovani, 84), Sandro (sub Lennon, 46); Van der Vaart, Modric, Bale; Defoe
Subs not used:- Cudicini; Smith, Khumalo; Livermore
How low can we get?
That is the question. Not – “How high can we get in our quest for Champions League?”. Not – “How high can we get?”. Not – “Can we regain third place?”. No. With regard to this Spurs team on their current form, such questions are an irrelevance, because I think they are shot, and that they haven’t got another win in their tired hearts and legs. The slide had begun before yesterday’s third consecutive defeat, and their fifth league defeat in 9 games. However, that slide has taken us down to fifth place so far, after Newcastle, not Chelsea, climbed into the top four. The answer to the first question, in my opinion is likely to be sixth, which will mean Europa League football next season.
Ah, yes! The Europa League. A competition we were not interested in, and in which we would again presumably not compete seriously. That was all in the quest for Champions League football, so there’s a plan that went well, isn’t there. What really has happened to our beloved team since the February 11th annihilation of Newcastle, the team now occupying fourth place?
We knew going into this game that team selection would be interesting, as Harry Redknapp had telegraphed the fact he had four or five injury worries on top of the known absence of Younes Kaboul. I shan’t count Kranjcar, because he’s hardly had a look-in all season. Had we got a manager who does operate a structured rotation policy, then maybe Niko would have been missed more. The bottom line is that we did start with 10 players who were not only the best available, but arguably first choice, with the exception perhaps of Kaboul, who has had an excellent season. The big problem was the availability of only one fit striker with neither Adebayor or Saha making the squad of 18. There was little else in reserve too, with Adam Smith getting a rare call-up for bench duty, and similarly Bongani Khumalo being the only available central defender to cover for Ledley King and William Gallas. Harry’s other masterful January signing, Ryan Nelsen, was also absent injured.
No, the problem lay not in player availability, nor even in team selection as such, but largely in strategy and tactics. Once again, Spurs fans found themselves chanting “He plays on the left” regarding Gareth Bale’s given licence to play wherever he wanted to on the field. With no right winger, until Lennon replaced Sandro at half-time, the only Spurs width for too many times was offered by Kyle Walker’s advances, and those of Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Bale did of course surface where he plays best on the odd occasion, but once again when Lennon did appear, the two spent half the game switched, although once again you often had to look for Bale. In the first half, Van der Vaart was playing so deep, that Walker was ahead of him for a high percentage of the game. Both Van der Vaart and Modric were playing too deep at times. Jermain Defoe was our lone striker, and that of course necessitated Spurs playing the ball to feet. QPR easily neutralised Spurs by swamping the middle. They had Mackie and Taarabt supporting their lone striker, Zamora, but they tracked back well. Yes, Taarabt tracked back well for QPR.
The ex-factor would of course come into play with Taarabt’s free kick goal, more of which later.
Loftus Road is a tight little ground, as we all know, and the home fans were up for the challenge of Premier League survival. So, of course, were their team. It was plain to see that the pure physical desire was very much a driving force for the home side, but not sufficiently so for the Spurs team. Spurs had more chances, more shots on goal, and forced more saves, but they couldn’t hit the net, and this looked less and less likely in the latter stages. Brad Friedel, playing that 300th consecutive Premier League game had little to do apart from pick the ball out of the net.
Spurs were rightly awarded a free kick on the right by referee Mark Clattenburg after only one minute, when Kyle Walker was fouled. The kick was taken by V an der Vaart and cleared as far as the feet of Assou-Ekotto, whose shot won a corner. QPR responded though with a Mackie shot across the goalmouth from the right. Ledley had presumably won the toss, as Spurs chose to play towards their fans in the first half, which left Friedel facing the sun. The sun disappeared for the second period, so Spurs gained nothing from that ploy either. (I've been advised that in fact Barton won the toss, so he worked the change to his advantage)
Van der Vaart had another half chance, but at the other end, Spurs were struggling to clear their lines. The useful Diakite had a shot after 10 minutes, similar to the miss of Mackie. Bale tried a shot from a central position, which was hit well wide of the target. A Van der Vaart corner after 19 minutes was met by the head of Bale, but tipped over by Kenny. The second of two Spurs corners was taken short by Modric and Van der Vaart. Rafa hit a shot that was held easily by Kenny.
Bobby Zamora got the first of five QPR bookings (Taarabt would get two of these), when he cynically halted Assou-Ekotto’s break forward. In the Spurs half, referee Mr Clattenburg penalised Sandro, when he seemed to cleanly win to ball to me.(Apparently, Sandro was penalised for a handball offence, but was it ball to hand?) Up stepped Taarabt to take the kick from a good 25 yards. Friedel left it to his wall to protect the right of his goal, but that wasn’t good enough, as Taarabt placed his kick over the wall and to the right hand side of Friedel’s goal.
Three minutes later Defoe and Bale tried to work the ball through the middle, but the QPR defence was strong. Then after a Spurs free kick, Van der Vaart was the provider and Defoe headed just over the bar, with the ball landing on the net. Taarabt got the first booking for a foul on Walker, just on the edge of the area. The Spurs free kick came to nought. Modric and Van der Vaart combined inside the QPR area with a move that included a clever back heel pass, but Kenny made the save.
Into the second half then, and with the arrival of Lennon, Spurs reverted to an attacking 4-4-1-1. That man Diakite though found space and had another run though, forcing his way to the left of goal, and hitting the side netting. It was Diakite who had the next real chance on goal too after 54 minutes, with a longer range shot that passed wide. Two minutes later Defoe hit a shot wide from the right hand side.
Despite the introduction of Lennon, Spurs were creating less chances, but this was partly because of the Spurs strategy which could have been a mystery to the players as well as the spectators. Danny Rose had replaced Assou-Ekotto, and made a vital clearance off the feet of Zamora, who had forged a shooting opportunity in the box. A Bale cross from the right gave Van der Vaart a good chance, but that was also put well wide.
Onuoha got a yellow card for a foul on Bale (he was attacking the right), and in the aftermath, Taarabt got a second yellow for kicking the ball away. QPR were down to ten men then for the last 15 minutes or so. Modric had a good right footed shot parried by Kenny, which led to a corner, and substitute Giovani also had a shot from the left of the area saved. Kenny also kept a late effort by Van der Vaart out, enabling QPR to win a vital three points and keep their heads above the bottom three.
With four games left, Spurs have to face another three Premier League strugglers, who will have the same desire and determination as we faced yesterday. We can’t win these games, can we?
Spurs fans are feeling more angry and depressed about a team that appears to be throwing away Champions League football, than they ever did when threatened with relegation, or mid-table mediocrity. That mediocrity isn’t just coming. It’s here already.
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