Queens Park Rangers’ 18 man squad for the game against Charlton contained a total of 338 international caps spread across 12 players. Charlton’s squad contained 25, all belonging to Simon Church. QPR spent roughly £10,000,000 on transfers in the summer, not to mention the big money wages some of their players are on. Charlton didn’t spend a penny.
These aren’t excuses; these are facts. How can Chris Powell’s side be expected to compete against such a squad? It’s men against boys; players with experience at the highest level against a team of relative nobodies to most outside of SE7.
But for everything this Charlton side lack in ability, they go a long way to making up for in fight, determination and endeavour. This bunch of ‘triers’ assembled on a shoe string did their absolute utmost to compete with Harry Redknapp’s superstars.
At no point were the Addicks completely out of the game, rarely were they overawed and at times applied enough pressure on their opponents to make them worry, but a moment of brilliance, the sort you pay millions for, was enough to give QPR all three points. Charlie Austin’s wonder goal was all that split these two incomparable sides in the 90 minutes on Loftus Road’s turf.
The Rs showed their class from the off, comfortably knocking the ball around at pace in midfield and forcing Charlton onto the back foot. Patient and composed defending from the away side was needed. The Addicks lacked those much needed defensive traits as Niko Kranjcar broke into the penalty area in the opening stages after some fortunate deflections off Charlton legs, but the Croat rushed his shot and sliced horribly wide.
Charlton struggled to get out of their half, Simon Church was isolated on his own up top as attacks rarely concluding in or around the area when they did breach forward, with QPR in complete control. The home side continued to convert their possession into a number of early chances as a Dorian Dervite block from Jermaine Jenas’ goal bound effort kept the shot on target tally down, but Austin came close to given his side the lead with just over ten minutes gone. The poacher, leading QPR’s line in a 4-5-1 formation, got in behind Charlton’s back four and took his chance early, striking a sweet effort across goal that was parried away strongly by Ben Hamer, who made another save seconds later as Joey Barton collected the rebound and teed up Gary O’Neil to shoot straight into the Charlton custodian’s hands.
If the course of a football game was decided by the level of noise admitted from the fans, Charlton would have been well on top. The travelling 1,800, despite watching the opening passages of play whilst nail biting, didn’t stop; QPR’s all but sold out home support never got going but for the claps given to Barton to outweigh the Charlton boos every time he took a corner. All the Addicks had to cheer and applaud in the opening 25 minutes was some impressive last ditch defending, not least Bradley Pritchard’s crucial interception to prevent Barton from having a golden scoring opportunity.
The resulting corner was eventually gathered by Hamer and his outstanding kick forward set up a Charlton break as Church drove towards goal. With Cameron Stewart free on the left and Pritchard in support just behind, the Welshman opted to cut inside and fire a shot at goal that Rob Green claimed with ease. A meaningful effort on target, at least.
Another crucial interception was needed as Matty Phillips’ cross would have been headed into an empty net had it not been for Wilson nodding the ball behind with Austin waiting, but Charlton were starting to provide more of a threat to the home side.
Pritchard, who had spent much of the first watching on hopelessly as Benoit Assou-Ekotto casually disposed him before drifting past him, grew into the game as the half went on and, after winning possession in midfield, went on a neat run before picking out Dale Stephens on the edge of the area. He had the perfect opportunity to shoot, but instead opted to attempt a pass into the feet of Stewart that failed to reach its target and QPR were able to clear.
In Charlton’s next attack, The Rs’ defence could only watch on as Jordan Cousins, recently named the Football League’s Young Player of the Month for October, unleashed a vicious, curling strike from all of 30 yards that Green did well to fist away, with an offside flag preventing Church from continuing the pressure from the away side.
The Addicks were ending the half much improved upon from their timid opening. A QPR goal, where it might have been deserved previously, would have been cruel. It was.
Cousins allowed Austin to get away from him and no other player in red could get close to him, giving the forward a clear sight of goal from 30 yards. In a repeat of his strike for Burnley last season and his sixth career goal against the Addicks, Austin unleashed an effort that swerved out of Hamer’s reach and found the top corner. It all seemed too easy, but the stroke of genius gave QPR the lead going into half-time.
With calls from around the away end for Yann Kermorgant, on the bench but said to be back to full fitness after injury, to come at half time, Powell opted against making any changes and the Addicks started the second half brightly with plenty of possession in the opposition’s half.
They even mustered a few half chances, with Stephens’ free-kick from a wide position headed horribly off-target by Dervite. Pritchard, breaking into the box after a lovely interchange between himself and Stephens, then found himself in an excellent shooting position, but chose to take another touch and was disposed; another one for the every growing tally of chances the Zimbabwean has failed to take. The resulting corner was cleared to Stewart, waiting on the edge of the area, but his well struck volley flew just wide.
Although QPR continued to be a force, Dervite blocked well from Austin’s shot soon after Charlton’s flurry of chances, Chris Powell’s side were certainly giving plenty of headaches to the Rs. Those would only increase as Kermorgant and Harriott replaced the uncharacteristically off colour Church and Pritchard, who hadn’t quite got to grips with Assou-Ekotto.
The Frenchman immediately played a hand in another Charlton opportunity as Wilson’s deep cross was headed back across goal by Kermorgant into the path of Stephens, but his first time shot was fired high and wide of Green’s goal.
With Charlton committing men forward, there was always a danger they would get caught out at the back, and a QPR break saw them win a free-kick on the edge of Charlton’s area. Barton stepped up and struck his effort low and hard in the direction of Hamer’s far bottom corner, but the ‘keeper got across well to keep the Addicks in the game.
‘He’s better than Shaun…’ was sung in the away end as Bradley Wright-Phillips’ inferior brother entered the fray with 25 minutes remaining. In between reminding Wright-Phillips who the better sibling is, Charlton fans went up in unison for a hand ball shout after Richard Dunne blocked Johnnie Jackson’s header; referee Whitestone wasn’t interested. It didn’t look like the ball had struck Dunne’s hand, but the Charlton players were adamant. Lady Luck was once again not wearing red.
Time was running out for the Addicks, especially with a string of QPR corners and midfield domination by the Rs preventing Charlton from getting the ball forward. In fact, it was the hosts who looked most likely to score in the closing stages, with Wright-Phillips forcing Hamer into a save, Austin breaking free and firing wide.
But the visitors were presented with one final opportunity to grab what would have been a deserved equaliser. Barton’s foul on Kermorgant earned the one time England international a booking and Jackson the chance to increase his hero status in SE7. He couldn’t manage it, sending his free-kick soaring over the bar.
Cousins again shot from distance, skewing his effort wide from 30 yards with a minute to play, but that was to be Charlton’s last attempt on goal as QPR sought to the double their lead in stoppage time. Wright-Phillips hit the bar and Austin forced Hamer into another fine stop, but the Rs couldn’t add to their solitary, nor could Charlton draw level. Despite the disappointing result, the players were clapped off; a valiant effort against arguably the strongest side in the division.
Unless fuelled by irrational optimism, there can’t have been many Charlton fans who were expecting anything more than a defeat before the game. Unless wanting to harshly criticise their side, there can’t be many Charlton fans who won’t admit QPR certainly have the best team in the division player for player, and arguably played some of the best passing football I’ve seen this season with Barton particularly catching the eye. Dunne and Clint Hill won almost every header at the back, whilst Austin was a constant threat.
They’re a top, top side, and so they should be with that wealth of talent. Even the impending Charlton takeover going through is unlikely to do much to close the gap between these two sides.
But the Addicks gave QPR a very real run for their money, and the determination and fight shown by Chris Powell’s side possibly deserved a point. The defence coped well against QPR’s considerable attacking threat, with Wiggins doing superbly against the lively Phillips, whilst Charlton’s three man midfield did well to compete against the considerable quality in the home side’s central midfield three.
Hamer, after criticism in recent weeks, takes man of the match in terms of Charlton players, pulling off a number of excellent saves, distributing well and taking no blame for the goal that won QPR the game. A sign of how well both Hamer and Charlton did is that the Rs’ victory came courtesy of just that spectacular goal.
Unfortunately, as is becoming a running theme, Charlton’s failure to grab a point has a lot to do with a lack of quality in the final third. Stewart’s crosses were mainly over hit, Pritchard and then Harriott struggled to make an impact with Assou-Ekotto showing his class, and Church found life difficult up front on his own after a number of outstanding displays. He’ll hopefully have a partner for Tuesday night’s visit of Doncaster Rovers to The Valley, with Kermorgant doing well after coming off the bench.
Away from the niceties of Charlton’s performance being one worthy of some praise and a result not to be too disheartened over, the league table doesn’t make for pretty reading. 21st with the half way stage a little more than a month away is a little concerning. Dare I say it, but a win is needed on Tuesday night. These decent performances need to be turned into top ones with three points at the end of them.