Story of a Match – QPR (again)

Posted by on January 2, 2012 in Match Analysis | 4 comments

There was so much that was delicious from today’s game that I’m full to burst. Another away win in the Premier League, exceeding or total away point count from last time. A league double. A league double over QPR and Colin. Joey Barton getting sent off. It’s all too much to take. Let us recount how this marvellous spectacle happened.

Mrs Doubtfire

Obviously the big talking point from all of this is the sending off. You can see the whole incident here. You can see Zak and Bradley winding him up, and you can see Barton react even before he leant in, pushing Zak in the face and swinging an arm. He then leans in with his head and though there wasn’t much contact, it was a red card. Soft, sure. Red, yes. If it was a Norwich player leaning in with his head against someone else then overreaction or not, the Norwich player is at fault. Barton was the one who had the choice but lost his cool, and he had to go.

Now, before that, QPR were leading 1-0 from a goal by Mr Philosophy himself. They lined up with a 5 man midfield including the frequently absent Adel Taarabt, while Lambert stunned the yellow army by naming Simon Lappin in his XI. A few changes were expected, but a start for the King of Spain was so surprising it had his name trending on twitter. We lined up in a diamond with Johnson deep, Lappin left and Pilkington right with Bennett at the tip, behind Holt and Jackson. In the early stages, we started well. We passed it well, had a chance, and settled. Then they scored with the first shot of the match.

As ever, it was a case of dodgy defending. Not as dodgy as we’ve been in the past, and there was no catastrophic error that led to it. First, Russell Martin was trying to both keep an eye on the ball as well as track his runner, and as a result had neither. The ball was played neatly over his head and into a wide position. When it was played across the box, it initially found no one. Ayala was closest to their lone striker and Drury was doing what all good fullbacks do, and that was track his runner who was making a dart into the box. When the ball went past all of them, it landed on the edge of the box. Here was Barton who rifled in. Lappin was unfortunately not close enough to the midfielder to make a block and Drury’s attempt was in vain. It shows the value of concentration, as a midfielder with perhaps more game time under his belt might’ve tracked Barton from the start. Nevertheless, it was a well worked goal and good finish.

It was, though, against the run of play. From here until the red card, the game was more or less even. Far from vintage Norwich but QPR also offered very little by way of attack…

As you can see above, Norwich not only outpassed QPR in the first 35 minutes, they also got the ball into better areas and into the box. This led to…

..more shots. We had 6 to their 2 in this period, one of which was a goal. This isn’t to say we were all over them or our shots were stunners. Grant Holt’s amazing effort from 35 yards out for a throw is generously described as a shot. But 11 vs 11 was pretty equal, characterised by a lack of creativity. This is not a surprise when you’ve left your most creative player, Hoolahan, and two supporting cast, Surman and Fox, on the bench. It was a more functional team, aiming to use the pace of Bennett and Jackson and the general irritableness of Holt to work chances. Once QPR went down to 10, as often happens, they actually got better.

This was even more notable in the 2nd half when Shaun Wright Phillips came on…

Second half, he was their outlet. They overwhelmingly favoured the right hand side of the pitch, and for good reason. For the first 20 minutes it was SWP vs Drury, pace to burn vs a rusty full back in his thirties. Drury is a good defender but it was always going to be an uneven matchup. Following this, and the substitutions made by Lambert on 66 minutes, he was against no one. Lambert switched to a back three to accommodate his subs and Zak was broadly given responsibility for the left hand side. SWP therefore had acres of space to run into and cause havoc, and if anyone looked like threatening it was him.

And so it was for about 20 minutes that QPR looked the more threatening. Ruddy pulled of a magnificent save from a Taarabt freekick and they looked like they were capable of scoring. Lambert, ever one to realise when things need a change, decided to bring on some subs.

It’s easy to see why. For the first 66 minutes, the diamond, by and large, wasn’t working. The team was workmanlike but not inventive and Bennett was not getting on the ball anywhere near as much as Wes normally does. He wasn’t able to threat from deep and use his main attributes – pace and crossing. With the team needing freshening up, Lambert switched to a 3-4-1-2 formation, moving Bennett out right, Pilkington left, Wes behind the strikers and Fox beside Johnson.

The changes immediately showed. The team was more fluid, able to keep the ball in the centre of the pitch which, as you can see from above, was not something they were particularly good at. Rather than overwhelmingly favouring the left hand side, the ball was used across the pitch…

Bennett was more influential on the right, Pilkington who was having an excellent game continued to be a threat from the left, and in the middle we were reinforced by Fox and Wes. Fox, as an example, gave us a foothold in the centre that we didn’t have before. Now we were able to build up attacks, get the ball wide and, if the cross wasn’t on, keep it advanced through players like Fox or Wes. The general shape was better, the players were fresher and we began to attack more. The pressure paid off late in the game when Morison, off the bench, scored from close range.

Conclusion

It’s hard to say how it would have been at 11 vs 11. The game was even and generally devoid of chances until then, as QPR improved after the red. It was impressive to see Lambert make a triple substitution when he saw how he was able to win the game, and the subs paid off with a good performance that resulted in a goal. QPR will understandably feel hard done by because of what was, in their eyes, a debatable red card, but I don’t accept that they were the better side for much more than a third of the game. They did threaten, but were overall out played. This is a team we’ve now taken 4 points from last season, and 6 this. With the talent and funds they have available, they shouldn’t be in 17th, and I think a better manager wouldn’t have them there. As for us, a hugely encouraging win that was, on the balance of it, deserved. And we got to hear Warnock piss and moan about someone other than Grant Holt for a change.

Just a sidenote, but worth pointing out that Pilkington and Ayala had excellent games. Not really mentioned in the report but both were solid, dependable and good with the ball. Both with fair shouts for man of the match.

4 Comments

  1. You love Fox.

  2. Of the 180 mins of football that QPR has played against City this season, Barton has only been on the pitch for about 30 of them. Suspended for the game at Carrow Rd and then gets himself sent off at home. As a QPR fan you would be targeting 4 points from the Norwich games in the quest for survival, but one of your best players (if not your best) has made himself unavailable through indiscipline, and now the team have taken 0 pts from both those games, 4 points which have to be picked up from elsewhere. Barton is clearly a talent, that was a great strike for the goal yesterday, but he’s let his team down. Credit to Johnson who didn’t go down clutching his face, I saw some comments in reports earlier where Warnock had indicated that “he’s gone down”, don’t know what game he was watching if that was indeed what Warnock said.

  3. Joey Barton’s once again trying to revolutionize football, when will he realise he’s an average player playing for an average team? helmet

  4. Really good analysis this one (not that they aren’t all).

    This is the second game in a row now that I feel we’ve played really well. And the second in a row that I don’t think we’ve been given enough credit for, from both others, i.e. MOTD (which I don’t really care about) and our own fans (which I do). Yesterday we really frustrated QPR, both before and after the probably slightly harsh, but not unexpected sending off. We were running rings around them at times, totally comfortable in possession, and hardly giving QPR a look in. I thought they were getting very frustrated and beginning to lose discipline. As well as the Barton incident, Heiguson came very close to making a horror tackle on Drury, going in two-footed in a manner that was within fractions of a second of being a red card.

    I’m bored of hearing about ‘how far we’ve come in the last two years’ as much as anyone else, but people do have to remember that we are playing much better teams every week. Last year, QPR away was our toughest fixture all season. They’ve spent more money improving their squad than we have, so why would it be any easier now? Fulham are Fulham, not Scunthorpe. They might be below us in the league right now but anyone who thought it would be an easy win are completely misguided. Those people who booed at half time, when we were largely dominating a game against a team who drew at Chelsea and beat Arsenal either side of playing us, are crazy, and I hope they were same people who missed the joy of the equaliser by leaving early.

    In my view, it’s the same short-sightedness that sees players like Morison get labeled “lazy” – a completely unsubstantiated personal character attack. Just because a player doesn’t run continuously doesn’t mean he’s no good. Not every player needs to chase everything for 90 minutes. Effort alone does not make you a good player. Morison’s job is to win things in the air, hold up the ball – and most importantly, score goals, of which he’s got more than the likes of Hernandez, Crouch, Bent, Suarez and a host of other forwards who cost many millions more that he did. He didn’t have his best game against Tottenham or Fulham, and it’s reasonable to critically discuss his performance on those terms, but not to make a judgment about how hard he’s trying. If a striker has a couple of poor games, all you can ask is that he comes back next time and makes amends. Yesterday he did exactly that, scored a great winner and gave us a vital three points.

    Yesterday I thought the sending off actually galvanized QPR, and they were better with 10 than 11. We all know how good Warnock is at winding people up in interviews – imagine how he would have used that perceived sense of injustice and victimisation in the dressing room to work his team up. Norwich reacted in the right way – I thought is was astute of Lambert who got us to play patiently, building from the back, slowly wearing QPR down by making use of the extra man.

    Because of this, Ayala and Whitbread were actually our two best passers in the game, completing 49 passes each, and seldom resorted to long balls. I’m still not totally convinced by either – Ayala played has played well in both his games and looks promising, but it’s still early days, and while I won’t blame him completely, I think Zak should be clearing the ball across the area for the goal. At least on the ball yesterday they both looked very comfortable, and while we weren’t inspiring in our general play, it slowly broke QPR down.

    http://i.imgur.com/HsYmi.png

    It helped that when QPR did get the ball, they didn’t make the most of it. Their two playmakers, Faurlin and Taarabt continually failed to complete any passes around our area. Faurlin just never got there, and while Taarabt kept the ball well deep in midfield, he gave it away whenever he did get close to our goal. Credit due to all of the City defenders who made a cluster of good interceptions in our half.

    http://i.imgur.com/iJWpp.png

    Then as you point out, Lambert makes a bold triple substitution, changes the system, and changes the game. It’s difficult to know how things might have been different with 11 vs 11, but I thought this game interestingly mirrored the first ‘leg’ of the QPR ties at Carrow Rd. In that game too, we left Hoolahan on the bench, kept it tighter in midfield and kept the game close before changing it in the last 20 minutes with attacking substitutions and formation changes. Different details in terms of players and system, but a similar plan of action and ending up with the same scoreline.

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