Own goals and grandstand finish help lucky Liverpool edge Hoops
When your luck is in, it’s in, and when it’s not, fortune really can be lousy. That is the lesson punters and football fans should take from a crazy second half at Loftus Road between basement club QPR (6/5 chances with Coral to stay up) and Liverpool.
Raheem Sterling made all the headlines prior to this match, with ‘fatigue-gate’ from international duty. The Jamaican-born England attacker was poached from the Hoops by the Reds as a 15-year-old, and played a pivotal part in hurting his boyhood side here.
Not to be outdone by Sunderland’s eightfold capitulation at Southampton. QPR also put through their own net twice, with Richard Dunne and Steven Caulker culpable. Harry Redknapp was left to rue fortune favouring the Merseyside outfit, as Dutch midfielder Leroy Fer rattled the bar twice in a first half the hosts dominated.
Only the goalframe, poor finishing and Simon Mignolet kept the Hoops out. That theme of profligacy applied to Charlie Austin and Mario Balotelli in respective frontlines, despite the best endeavours of a rejuvenated Bobby Zamora for the former to play off.
Despite his veteran status at 33, Zamora’s hold up play was more than a Liverpool defence that has struggled to assert themselves aerially in recent outings could handle. An old-fashioned English centre forward can still flourish.
Brendan Rodgers pushed Kop idol and skipper Steven Gerrard further forward in a bid to support Balotelli, who is still waiting to break his Reds duck in the Premier League. He was peripheral here, however.
Having battled, pressed and taken the game to Liverpool for long periods, QPR shot themselves in the foot with a quarter of the game to go. Dunne turned Glen Johnson’s cross past stand-in Hoops stopper Alex McCarthy, playing because of illness to Rob Green.
Redknapp must’ve seen this wasn’t going to be his day with Fer twice thumping the woodwork, early second half injuries to Nedum Onuoha and Matt Phillips and the initial own goal. With only one substitution open to him, the QPR coach, who saw contract talks with owner Tony Fernandes shelved because of poor form, almost won it by using his bench wisely.
Chile forward Eduardo Vargas made an impact sub cameo that proved the catalyst for a manic grandstand finish. First he fired in from Austin’s headed pass as consistent Hoops pressure on the visitors’ goal told.
Rodgers’ Reds were not to be denied, however. Pegged back by the Napoli loanee with less four minutes remaining, Brazil attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho did his own supersub work, cutting inside from the left flank and, via a deflection, restoring an advantage just before stoppage time.
Vargas struck again subsequently, nodding in a Fer corner to make Fernandes, home fans and Redknapp all think they had snatched a point. QPR had been stung by Sterling’s pace on the counter in the build-up to Coutinho’s conversion, but tired legs, particularly those of Dunne and Karl Henry who were both on bookings, could not deny another telling tilt.
Caulker was caught running back towards his own goal, bundling Sterling’s centre past McCarthy. How the England cap must wish he had committed to going forward in support of a last gasp attack.
Rodgers recognised how fortunate his side was to win here, but can be comforted by back-to-back victories guaranteeing Liverpool a top six spot (11/10 to finish in the top four), no matter what rivals Manchester United do at The Hawthorns.
As for Redknapp and the Hoops, he demanded more energy and intent from them, and got that, yet had no tangible reward to show for it. The stats say they matched the Reds for shots and put more efforts on target, but the result is all that matters and that was a 3-2 defeat.
It must be deflating and difficult to play so purposefully and still fall short. Defensive floundering continues to be an Achilles heel in west London, and throwing money at this problem has previously shown not to be the solution. Chris Samba, for example.
A gap has already opened up between QPR (and fellow promoted side Burnley), and the rest in the relegation battle just eight games in. Redknapp’s Hoops are four points from safety already, plus a goal difference that gravely looks like going against them.
Fernandes’ aspiration will naturally to be establish QPR in the Premier League, but they are odds-on at 8/13 for the drop. All the signs from these last three or four years also suggest they are simply the latest in a long line of ‘yoyo’ teams, which ricochet between Championship boom and top-flight bust.