[Sorry folks this is my second attempt to load this posting and, frustratingly, it’s meant yet another re-write. This is not the first time this has happened so I’m just trying to find out and rectify whatever the problem is. I hope this re-draft does justice to the original! Yours, Mr Bloody Angry of Teddington]
Well not many Premiership teams it seems. This week-end I went with my two great grandsons and son-in-law S to watch Milton Keynes Dons trounce Premiership (just about) side QPR away 4-2. We’re just nestled behind that melee of MK Dons players celebrating their second goal, as were we! MK Dons is the boys’ nearest League club and my eldest grandson’s in their Academy srtucture . This was too good an opportunity to miss as QPR are relativlely close to where we live in SW London. Despite being two Divisons apart I have to tell you it wasn’t even a close contest; QPR were simply out thought, outplayed and out of ideas. Was it a fluke result?
Definitely not as it happens. MK Dons played fluent, neat attacking football; QPR played like a bunch of girls off Take Me Out. MK were 2-0 at half-time and 4-0 up with around 15 minutes to go. Even though they conceded two late goals when they tired, the score didn’t flatter them. To be frank if you’d been living in a cave for 5 years and had just returned to watch your first game of football, your first instinct would be to assume that the Div 1 team must have been the guys in blue and white hoops playing lump it up football to the big bloke and his little side-kick up front.
It was illuminating on a number of fronts. Clearly something very good is being created by Chairman Winkleman with the new Dons; they have a brilliant new stadium which is ready to be expanded if and when they reach the Championship/Premiership. They also have a very good young manager who’s got his team playing some good-to-watch football and an ever-expanding fan base. They took 3,500 fans to Loftus Rd and they never stopped singing and having a rare old time throughout the whole match. I particularly enjoyed the taunting chant ‘Losing to a franchise, you’re just losing to a franchise’ (sung to the tune ‘Guantanamera’) aimed at the less than ‘appy ‘arry Redknapp.
And speaking of the QPR manager, what can be said for his team selection? Well before the match it was all about the need to rest a few key players so out go the guys who have been on good form of late and in come several of the squad players bought by the previous manager, Mark Hughes. Why? These very same players were playing like de-motivated disinterested girl guides at the start of the season and nothing seems to have changed. So all that spirit and rising hope and expectation amongst the fans that has been built up with recent performances and results has been dissipated immediately as the home crowd were reminded of the £millions squandered on poor player purchases and ridiculous wages. I felt for the home fans on Saturday because there was nothing redeeming at all in the performance. If you’d paid £50 to go and watch the game as a QPR fan I imagine you must have felt pretty short-changed and depressed at 5pm on Saturday. Of course post-match Redknapp justified his team selection on the grounds that the Cup is hardly a priority at the moment. So that’s alright then.
This cavalier thinking amongst the game’s elite seems to be endemic. Sir Alex and Arsene Wenger used to use the Cup matches as an opportunity to blood young players, that is until they started getting bloodied noses by teams from lower Divisions outplaying their more illustrious but still motley crews. There’s some seriously good coaching and preparation going on now in the lower Leagues but this seems to have escaped the attention of one or two Premiership clubs. Just look at the results this week-end; following QPR out the Cup after yet more humbling defeats were Norwich, Spurs, Aston Villa and it very nearly happened to Chelsea whilst Arsenal scraped through against Brighton.
Then on Sunday evening I watched a real old-fashioned Cup tie; exotic Liverpool away to Oldham Athletic. Now I happen to love the FA Cup, coming from Blackpool it’s going to be in my DNA I guess. I used to love spending all day in front of the telly watching the BBC’s coverage of the Cup final since being entranced by the Man U v Leicester City final of 1963. That’s a 50 year love affair. But what I most enjoy about the Cup is the pitting of the big beast clubs against the relative minnows from the lower divisions, and Sunday’s affair had all the ingredients for a classic. Mighty Liverpool and their expensively assembled squad were definitely out of their comfort zone playing the ‘Latics at their ramshackle tin-shed of a stadium out on the wiley windy moors, on a heavy sandy pitch in driving rain and freezing temperatures. What could go wrong? Well Liverpool’s oh so studious and widely-admired young techno manager could try this new strategy of packing his Cup side with kids and players from the outer fringes of his enormous squad. You’d think somebody might have done their homework to find that the Oldham manager, one Paul Dickov, was a spikey player whose pre-match briefing could be summed up in 4 simple words, ‘Get f**king stuck in!’. Not least this would be directed at his tyro centre forward Matt Smith, a 6′ 6”giant of muscles, elbows and a bullet fore-head, who looked like he could give Mick Harford a tough time. Up against him Rodgers played a chap called Coates who, from the spelling of his name could have hailed from nearby Burnley. But this was the Uruguayan version (pronounced Co-at-eez) who looked like one of those blokes from 118118. He played like Miranda. To add a bit more spice he shored up his defence with some guy called Wisdom, who spookily kept tripping over his feet just like Norman. You couldn’t make it up.
Sitting on the bench was the grim-faced, frustrated captain and talisman Gerrard whose demeanour suggested that he wasn’t exactly chuffed to be ‘rested’. Who can blame the guy; he’s coming to the end of a brilliant career and his chances of winning more trophies with Liverpool FC are receding faster than the hair on Prince William’s head. After an hour of being given a right thumping from Oldham, with two goals from Smith helping them to a 3-1 lead, the increasingly grim-faced Mr Grimsdale, sorry manager Rodgers, took off the ‘experimental’ (ie more hapless) players and stuck on the A team. Gerrard played like a man possessed cajoling his team-mates into a higher-tempo more passionate game. He was like a whirling dervish. One goal was pulled back and in a frenzied last few minutes he almost rescued the game with a super shot that cracked against the woodwork and bounced clear. That was game over.
Oldham were ecstatic; Liverpool trudged off beaten and pretty beaten up. Call me an old-fashioned romantic but I sensed that Gerrard wasn’t happy with his manager’s approach. Like me I suspect he just doesn’t get it either. If it’s not to try and win a competition that they have a realistic chance of succeeding in, just what is Rodgers saving his key players for? The Premiership, battle, of course, but realistically what are LFC going to achieve this year – top 4? No chance. In fact my Aunty Betty has a better chance of qualifying for the Champions’ League.
I can’t believe I’m alone in wondering why the FA Cup is treated so disdainfully these days. Ask the fans of MK Dons and Oldham Athletic how they felt at the end of those games. Bloody fantastic I bet. My grandson S, for whom this was a bit of a treat for doing his best at his recent 11 plus exams, thought it was the best game he’d ever been to. That’s just the magic a Cup match can create for a young lad. Now MK Dons have a realistic chance of getting through to the 5th round stage and possibly looking at a QF v Man Utd. Ooh that’s one we’ll have to go and see. Are you watching QPR?
PS I’ve always thought of Anton Ferdinand as one of those percentage centre halves – 75% decent player; 25% accident waiting to happen. On Saturday he played with the 25% bit of his footballing brain. Today QPR moved him out to Bursaspor in Turkey….
PPS The last time I went to Loftus Rd was as a guest of good friend CS who as Charlie Cranium is a regular visitor to this parish. CS’s company Ericsson were sponsors of QPR whilst I’d taken Cellnet into a sponsorship deal with Middlesbrough. Happy days. But not so much that night as Boro went down 5-0 to the rampant Hoops aided by just about the most inept performance from a goalie I’ve seen. I don’t think Andy Dibble ever played for Middlesbrough again (Turkey sounds like it could have been an appropriate destination for him too). Having poked a bit of fun at your club I’ve dug out this video link for your enjoyment QPR fans: