Watford 0 Queens Park Rangers 0 (29/12/2013) 30/12/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
1- Nil-nil draws come in a variety of flavours. There are the ones where a draw suits at least one of the two sides down to the ground, often the away side, such that if it hasn’t quite been the aim at the outset it’s deemed a more than acceptable eventuality. There are those where a lack of quality is the dominant characteristic, a nil-nil by default. There are those much more open games which are nil-nil in name only, by virtue of neither side quite getting around to scoring. And there are, as my co-editor would wish me to recognise in his continuing absence, occasional total aberrations where even a goalless scoreline flatters an encounter so devoid of anything as to sap the collective will to live of those present – Scarborough (A, 1995) the example most frequently cited in textbooks. These classifications are not mutually exclusive of course… overlaps exist, and this, whilst always watchable, had bits of several of these characteristics. In particular, QPR’s apparent lack of a striking option with Charlie Austin injured and both Zamora and Johnson only fit enough for the bench limited their attacking threat; whether this was down to a genuine lack of options or whether, as has been suggested elsewhere, down to Redknapp peeling back the skin on his “bare bones” as a message to his board with the transfer window about to open, the effect was that an experienced, organised side played without a centre-forward leaving a nil-nil the likeliest outcome from the outset.
2- The first half was a game of kabbadi. Our own potency was limited… Diego Fabbrini was a threat when he got the ball to feet in deep positions and turned on QPR’s defence but this happened too infrequently, and on the one occasion when he gained a sight of goal he dawdled, permitting a stunning tackle from Richard Dunne. Recent Rangers reports have described a susceptibility to being harried and hassled in possession, and so the absences of Ikechi Anya and particularly Fernando Forestieri were unfortunate. This was surely a Fessi game in particular – Rangers’ disciplined midfield, marshalled by the charmless but dominant Barton, shielded a defence that looked fallible when put under pressure, Assou-Ekotto in particular having a distracted-looking first forty-five. At the other end, however, the visitors did their best to expose the vulnerability behind the wingbacks that a 3-5-2 implies. Phillips and particularly Hoilett each had their moments and a number of balls were slammed across the face of goal crying out for a striker to attack them. The louche Niko Kranjcar was nominally the front man however, and hurling himself at stuff in the box really isn’t the Croat’s thing. Nonetheless, the visitors were ahead on points at the break.
3- Second half was much more even. Encouragingly we came out on the front foot and began to drag mistakes out of Rangers’ backline, not least by mixing up our approach and looking to turn them with longer balls as well as controlled possession. Thorne was a valuable pivot in a congested midfield, Cassetti again did well at right wing-back with Doyley shielding him and Bellerin dug in well on the left. However clear cut chances were again thin on the ground… Fabbrini’s neat one-two with Deeney provided the best opportunity but the Italian finished nervously, his low shot lacking power and too close to Rob Green. Ultimately, the game petered out and whilst there were few incidents that had the crowd on their feet you have to feel that, Boxing Day notwithstanding, we’d have taken this at kick-off in the context of Sannino’s stated priority of sorting the defence out first and foremost. One iffy penalty in his first three games isn’t bad going, whatever the circumstances.
4- What an extraordinary menagerie this QPR side is. I have friends who pick their fantasy league teams according to a theme… here, life imitates, well, art, kinda, in that Redknapp has forged a side made up of last-picks of Fantasy League teams circa 2008. Yossi Benayoun? Nedum Onuoha? Bobby Zamora? You could list the entire team in this fashion and suffix, “wow, I wondered where he had gone” after each of them. Gary O’Neil? Surely he must be dead by now? A hulking graveyard of bandits and reprobates with an extraordinary array of silly haircuts. The starting eleven had an average age of 28, a full two years older than our own despite the contributions of Manuel Almunia and Marco Cassetti, and this without 30+ contributions from no fewer than TWELVE other players in their thirties elsewhere in the squad, of whom only Park Ji-Sung’s wages are being temporarily picked up elsewhere. Not a side with an eye on the future any further than May, then. God you’ve got to hope they fall on their (ample) arses.
5- So far so good. Today suggested that Sannino can both mix up his approach and influence things positively from the bench – witness the improvement of the second half over the first. Not Vicarage Road’s most rip-roaring ninety minutes of the season, but in the context of the last few months I think we’d all have traded off a bit of excitement for some defensive robustness – albeit against a team without a striker – and if we can continue to beat bad teams and get draws off half-decent ones that’ll do for the timebeing.