QUEENS Park Rangers fall to defeat once more as defensive indecision and striking profligacy puts Mark Hughes’ position under increasing pressure.
The visiting side had vast swathes of possession and attacking opportunity but failed to make anything of their opportunities in this limp, lifeless affair.
The slumbering Stoke City support had their moment to cheer as the ball ricocheted around the area before dropping to the gleeful Charlie Adam to slam home from close range.
Chances for Adel Taarabt and Djibril Cissé went awry as the visitors wilted to defeat against a Stoke City side that seemed weaker by a distance than last season.
Tony Fernandes will inevitably have to defend Hughes once more, the official website will publish the ‘getting there’ article – but that stark reality of the situation must now hit home.
Mark Hughes made one change from the side held at home by Reading, with Alejandro Faurlín coming back in at the expense of the unfortunate Jamie Mackie. Faurlín one of only three players that started in the win at the Britannia Stadium last season.
Julio Cesar started behind a back four of Jose Bosingwa, Anton Ferdinand, Ryan Nelsen and Armand Traoré. Esteban Granero started wide right with Faurlín, Samba Diakité and Junior Hoilett taking up the midfield berths, while Adel Taarabt started behind Djibril Cissé.
Stoke City started with Asmir Begovic behind a defence of Geoff Cameron, Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and Andy Wilkinson. Glenn Whelan, Steven N’Zonzi, Charlie Adam and Matthew Etherington started across the middle with Jon Walters partnering Peter Crouch in attack.
KICK OFF: STOKE CITY v QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The respective management teams were under pressure coming into this encounter with Mark Hughes yet to get his first win this campaign while Tony Pulis is paying the price for increased expectation in Stoke-on-Trent as his side sit nearer the relegation places than Europe.
Admittedly Rangers’ plight is far more significant in terms of finances. Several additions in the summer looking for that mystical magic wand to make everything click and wins flow – surely by now the realisation must set in that a dog fight is a stark reality.
Rather strangely Rangers came to a place where they have a good recent record – indeed the last time QPR won an away fixture was around this time last season – under the guidance of a rough and ready Neil Warnock side marshalled well by Heidar Helguson.
The inclusions have proven dramatically better in terms of individual talent and there was a semblance of this being borne out in the early stages. Neat interplay frustrated that home support who soon stretched their vocal chords to berate their side for not closing down the visitors.
It was a freedom that seemed to come all too surprising for many Rangers players with many seeming to ride invisible challenges – they weren’t forthcoming as Stoke City afforded the visitor’s more creative players time to carve out opportunities.
Jose Bosingwa seemed giddy with the space at his disposal as he cut inside and rifled a left-footed shot into the stands. Perhaps the space afforded was justified in this instance. Nevertheless the warning was not heeded as Rangers had a glorious chance to open the scoring.
Armand Traoré – provider of an assist last season – carved out some space on the left to provide an excellent far post cross. Djibril Cissé was on hand in prime position but could only swipe tamely into the arms of Begovic.
The reality of the situation was all too clear as Cissé spurned what was a glorious opportunity. This nearly came back to bite the visitors as Charlie Adam was inches away from a goal – reacting fast in the area to see a shot deflected wide by Anton Ferdinand.
Stoke’s tactics were predictable but nevertheless effective at times. Peter Crouch was relatively dominant in the air, but seemingly could not forge that effective partnership with Jon Walters, who seemed on a different page to the former QPR front-man.
Still QPR pressed with intent, Taarabt and Junior Hoilett linking nicely down the left for the latter to see his shot blocked at point blank range by Ryan Shawcross. Perhaps not the most notable of opportunities but the potential to shoot earlier was certainly presentable.
Rangers were seeing a lot of the ball but in truth their inability to create meaningful opportunities was starting to blight their progress – Stoke were now playing like the away team, picking off the poor pass and setting about their task.
Jon Walters lashed over wildly when well placed on the edge of the area to rather compound the disappointment for the home crowd – it wasn’t clicking for Stoke, the tactics were proving fruitless and rather surprisingly the typical combative attitude wasn’t evident.
The side traded possession like a hot potato, with very little class in this contest that indeed resembled a relegation dog fight. The football from QPR was pleasing on the eye, but not incisive or productive enough to worry the hosts in truth.
Crouch was proving an aerial threat, but little more in truth. However his effort was well blocked by Ferdinand in the heart of the area to thwart the forward in scoring against the club where he made his name.
Rangers pressed more and excellent link up play saw the visitors once again go close. Hoilett’s intelligent ball saw Taarabt in behind but his attempted chip was wayward and a glorious opportunity was spurned.
A player such as Adel is afforded license to let his creative juices flow, but on this occasion he made the wrong decision and left QPR goalless. Stoke meanwhile were uninspiring in their riposte – scarcely threatening the visiting goal before the break subsequently.
Taarabt once again tantalised with little reward as his right-footed curler drifted past the right hand upright, much to the delight of the unsighted Begovic. An effort of good vision and admirable ambition, but nevertheless not on target.
Samba Diakité put in his first challenge of the game as was duly booked for his indiscretion. He is a marked man for officials despite his naivety and not his combative nature being his biggest problem as referees continue to zero in on the Malian.
HALF TIME: STOKE CITY 0-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Stoke came out of the blocks with great vigour, indeed greater than the first half side show that caused QPR to dominate the ball. They had their bit between the teeth and Rangers were forced to the back foot in a bid to keep the scorelines level.
Unfortunately for the vocal visiting support their defence wilted at the crucial time as the sub-par hosts were able to take the lead with effortless ease. Granero too honest down the left not to go down when fouled and in turn brought down his respective marker.
The free-kick was flung on by Huth with Walters able to flick the ball onto Crouch. The ball bumbled to CHARLIE ADAM on the edge of the six-yard box, and he rifled home with the composure and class that Cissé lacked in the first period. Similar positions; different outcomes.
It would be fair to say it took the wind out of the sails of most players – not however the lively Taarabt. He took the fixture by the scruff of the neck, darting in from the left before unleashing a deflected shot that forced Begovic to push over after a back-peddle.
It was almost Taarabt against defence at times, with a succession of breaks and shots all coming from the educated feet of the Moroccan. While others were seemingly too keen to relinquish the ball and hide – Adel was the matador Rangers craved.
The most compelling of chances came when he dummies three defenders in the heart of the area before clipping an effort inches wide of the right hand upright. A little more direction, it nestles in the corner; a little less and Faurlín gobbled up the loose ball. Agonising for QPR.
Stoke were firmly on the back foot courtesy of the Moroccan and his enterprise was rather all that the game had in terms of class. Granero in comparison was struggling in his position in midfield, perhaps not adapting as quickly to English football as he’d hoped.
He did however latch onto some good work from Taarabt once more wide right. The Spaniard unleashed a shot first time curling away from the target, which drew a smart save from the underworked Begovic.
One could hardly believe the lack of genuine opportunities at Rangers disposal given the one way traffic at times. Still the problems persisted up front, no-one but Taarabt willing to take the impetus and create opportunities.
Hoilett was bright at times, and while his intention was admirable his crossing and contribution to the overall encounter was hardly compelling. Bosingwa’s crossing was inevitably wayward and chances were now at a premium.
With that in mind Hughes withdrew Faurlín and threw on another forward in Bobby Zamora. The latter’s popularity waning fast, owing to his indifferent contributions and his admission of dislike for the game last week.
He looked like another lost lamb in truth, contented to gift the ball back to midfield whenever the opportunity presented. That was perhaps the most disappointing aspect of a fixture that displayed positives but highlighted frailties.
Despite Rangers’ pressing throughout the second half Walters was thwarted by Cesar in the latter stages when he found himself in a similar position to Adam – but elected for the near post where Cesar was able to snuff out the effort.
The final whistle went with QPR left to bemoan another defeat, another ‘nearly there’ performance and once again rock bottom of the Premier League. ‘This will never happen again under my management’ – words that are firmly coming back to haunt beleaguered boss Hughes.
FULL TIME: STOKE CITY 1-0 QUEENS PARK RANGERS