The best you can say about QPR's inauspicious return to the Premier League is that it was only one game. The worst is that there may be many more like it ahead.
Queens Park Rangers fell 4-0 to Bolton Wanders in their first game in the Premier League since 1995, falling in spectacular fashion to a club which only won two away games last year.
DJ Campbell tapped home a rebound in the first minute of the match to the thrill of the 18,000 on hand at Loftus Road, but it was waived away due to an off-side flag.
The experience of elation being snatched away would be a hallmark of the match. Just moments later, new man Kieron Dyer went down in a seemingly innocuous tackle, but clutched his foot in agony. He was stretchered off and while there is no official word yet, it looks likely he'll miss significant time. His injury is a particularly cruel blow to a player who has worked so hard to overcome a number of knee and ankle blows over the past several years.
QPR looked ambitious in the early going, testing the Bolton center and trying to press the attack. In the twelfth minute Jay Bothroyd tried to capitalize on a poor clearance by Gretar Steinsson, but the defender covered his mistake quickly and deflected the shot out of danger. Tommy Smith found himself in possession near the box a few minutes later, but dribbled a slow roller wide of the net.
However, after the twentieth minute the squad settled into a dull routine, not pressing the wings and trying (ineffectively) to bully their way though the middle, and letting Bolton dictate the pace of the game.
In the 29th minute Shaun Derry fed a great pass to Taarabt at the top of the box who tried to fade a ball over the keeper's head, but the attempt sailed wide. It typified Taarabt's day - trying to be too clever, and not succeeding. I lost count of how many times Taarabt was taking on two defenders, dancing back and forth and ultimately losing the ball. He is supremely talented, but today was at times selfish - failing to look up field, holding on far too long - and also unsupported. Tommy Smith was often trailing behind or pressing out wide of him but did little to get free and give his captain an outlet.
For their part, Campbell and Bothroyd looked solid up front, but with few balls thrown their way, it was hard to make much of an impact. The midfield desperately needs to create a supply or these two will spend much of the season endlessly circling out front with nothing to do.
In stoppage time during the first half, the Trotter's Chris Eagles found a completely ignored Gary Cahill, who promptly curled a beautiful goal over Paddy Kenny and into the top corner. The strike itself was golden - but the sight of that man waltzing into the area without so much as a passing shove confirmed the biggest weakness of this Rangers club - the defense.
Throughout the match, and particularly in the second half, the back line looked sluggish, and often out of position, conceding territory without conflict and seeing the backs of too many Bolton jerseys. The one exception was Danny Gabbidon - and its hard to credit him too fiercely in light of the own-goal he scored for Bolton in the 67th minute to put them safely up 2-0. It was a mistake to say the least; Kevin Davies' careening shot appeared to be rolling safely out of danger when the defender came sliding in on his own net trying to knock the ball way. He succeeded only in hammering it home and adding insult the humiliating debut. Despite that momentary lapse in judgment, Gabbidon was actually the strongest man in the line today, breaking up a number of opportunities before they came to Kenny's doorstep and blocking a number of shots away.
Sadly, less can be said for Fitz Hall and Clint Hill, who both struggled to stay with their opponents, often standing heavy footed while the likes of Ivan Klasnic and Martin Petrov juked and passed around them. If not for a late foot in by Gabbidon, Petrov's break away in the 65th minute would have left the Paddy Kenny alone at his end. Klasnic added a goal in the 70th minute, in another instance where a Bolton attacker was roaming untouched in the penalty area. A weak clearance on the left side came right to him and he hammered it home to put the Trotters up 3-0.
Taarabt and mercifully, Smith, were subbed out after the goal for Akos Buzsaky and Heidar Helguson. Buz had a set piece opportunity shortly after coming on, but found only the wall. Helguson did his usual yeoman best and although not his natural position, has to be considered on the wing going forward. He was involved in several build ups, albeit unsuccessfully, and seemed more patient and composed than Smith.
Klasnic poured a bit more fuel on the pyre in the 78th minute, exploiting Fitz Hall's wooden legs to thread a ball through to Fabrice Muamba who netted the final nail in the 4-0 coffin.
In the most symbolically telling moment of the match, part-owner Flavio Briatore stalked out of the owner's box following the goal, to a raucous chorus of vitriol from the QPR faithful. It should be noted that this was the only instance of booing - throughout they were supporting their men, though after the third goal life did die down in the stands, save for the visitors section.
Clint Hill wrapped things up with a petulant red card in stoppage time, doing his best Zidane impression with a headbutt to Petrov's chest. Petrov should win an award for the performance he gave in reaction to the blow, but the ref had enough of it and the match ended with QPR broken, bloodied and down a man.
Most match reports would have a "what went well" section here, but this performance doesn't deserve one. The defense was exposed as unprepared and out of pace. Our starlet tried to win the match without his teammates and was largely taken out of the game by the steady and patient defenders he continually ran right into. Tommy Smith looked rushed on three or four occasions where he touched the ball, firing shots wide or high in equal fashion. QPR looked the Championship squad today versus the better Premiership club from Bolton. Tip of the cap to Owen Coyle's men - world beaters they are not, but they executed a simple and effective strategy of controlling the ball and taking advantage of the opportunities given to them, which were numerous today.
I'll sum it up with this image: The 2011 / 2012 QPR Kit. Leading up to the start of the season, there has been a bit of a running joke about the fact that the new kits have not been announced. The reason is the club have not lined up a new sponsor since the 3 year deal with GulfAir expired after last season. This week, it was announced that the club would "unveil" the new kit at kickoff of the first game, e.g. when they could no longer hide it away any longer.
The team emerged from the tunnel today, bearing the traditional blue and white hoops, minus any ornamentation other than the badge. It's not that I'm clamoring for another corporate logo stamped across their chests - nothing so gaudy as that 1888BET on the opposite squad for instance - but the fact that with a whole summer to address it, the club's management could not arrive at a sponsorship deal by opening day speaks volumes about the state of things behind the scenes at Loftus Road.
The players were literally wearing management's incompetence today - and the product on the field looked every bit as incomplete as those nameless kits.
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