Queens Park Rangers should have won on Saturday. 1-0 up through Bobby Zamora, netting on his debut and emulating his strike partner Djibril Cisse’s goal-scoring first appearance in blue and white, Wolverhampton Wanderers were there for the taking. Thoroughly dominant, against a side who had lost their last nine games, and experienced the ignominy of having their Chairman walk into the dressing room and lambast their mediocre efforts after a 3-0 home defeat to Liverpool, Mick McCarthy’s side were a miracle away from claiming all three points. Step up new the aforementioned Cisse to provide said miracle. From the lofty view of this supporter in the stands, the Frenchman’s offence initially appeared to be nothing more than reacting to a rash, dangerous challenge from the Wolves defender with a push in the back. However, Twitter instantly exploded with testimony from observers with access to instant replays. By these, Cisse was damned, and his true offence – grabbing [Johnson] by the throat – revealed to the world. In the meantime, of course, he had been dismissed, and the sting well and truly taken out of the R’s front-line. Zamora was tasked with the impossible – maintaining some sort of threat on the away side’s goal, and holding up the ball at every possible opportunity against the overtly physical defensive pairing of Johnson and Sebastien Bassong.
Rangers were largely impotent after the sending off, and as at Villa Park on Wednesday, surrendered possession readily to their opponents. This time Mark Hughes’ side had an excuse, as Wolves used their man advantage to maximum effect. The visitors inadvertently made an early switch to all-out-attack, Emmanuel Frimpong’s injury meaning the introduction of Sylvain Ebanks-Blake in the first half, before he and Steven Fletcher were joined by Kevin Doyle in the second period. Wolves’ goal after the break was pitiful from the home side’s point of view. The away side were basically allowed to pass their way into Paddy Kenny’s net, Matt Jarvis finishing an excellent move for the inevitable equaliser. The winner was even more grimly predictable, as Rangers were beset by a worrying injury to Luke Young, and Wolves pressed further and further forward, substitute Doyle slotting home twenty minutes from time.
The entire side, bar one individual, appeared to be gripped by a collective paralysis and an inability to resist the gold tide from the sending off until the final whistle. Only Adel Taarabt, returning from the African Cup of Nations, seemed to grasp the significance of a home defeat to Wolves, who were directly below QPR in the table. He had three or four efforts, one of which was superbly saved by Wayne Hennessey in the visitors’ goal, and in the process demonstrated exactly what he could be doing in the top flight with greater discipline and direction from the dugout. Taarabt was everywhere, his sublime skill so nearly forcing an equaliser, and earning last season’s Championship Player of the Year a standing ovation from the Loft. Joey Barton was, you’ll be surprised to hear, once again anonymous and useless in the face of the away side’s barrage. As a leader he is akin to Nero, standing by as the disaster unfolds, thinking about intervening but ultimately doing nothing until it’s too late. His “summaries” of the day’s events get more infuriating as each game goes by, particularly as the gap between his rhetoric and grand promises and performance level increases exponentially. Shaun Wright-Phillips’ relationship with the supporters was also brought into sharp focus by his lacklustre display in Saturday’s defeat. Ultimately, in this writer’s opinion, the diminutive winger is being wrongly deployed, and has done since he put pen to paper. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that a player of Wright-Phillips stature is going to be more or less useless in a physical challenge. His weakness in ground-level exchanges, however, is extremely frustrating, as is the former England star’s inability to take players on. Sadly, the situation with Wright-Phillips is somewhat difficult, as bad performances lead to criticism, and jibes and frustration from the stands increase the intensity and frequency of his poor displays. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that Hughes, in his role as club saviour-in-chief, will have to break.
On the injury front, Saturday was extremely disappointing, particularly with a trip to Blackburn, a game which could be said to fit into the sparsely used in the media “relegation twelve pointer” category, on the horizon. With Young hobbling off injured, Zamora picking up a knock and Alejandro Faurlin, Heidar Helguson and Akos Buzsaky injured, the line-up for this Saturday’s game could be decided on a survival of the fittest basis. As for the gaffer, he will have been buoyed by the excellent link-up play between Zamora, Taarabt and Cisse, which certainly put the visitors to the sword early on. However, despite the “reasons” for Saturday’s defeat, there is only so long anyone can ignore the fact that the “winnable” games are running out, and fast.