A week when an unforgiving spotlight was shone on their reckless spending ended with a sigh of relief for QPR as Harry Redknapp’s side got their promotion push back on track.
The west London club’s financial figures for 2012-13 – which showed a £65.4m loss and overall debts of £177m – have raised the threat of a transfer embargo should they fail to earn an immediate return to the Premier League. It would be nice to think that alarming spectre might have shaken Rangers’ handsomely paid squad back into life but, in truth, the catalyst was an outstanding individual performance by Ravel Morrison. On his third appearance since arriving on loan from West Ham United, the 21-year-old scored a goal in each half to lift QPR within a point of third-placed Derby County.
It was at St Andrew’s that Morrison spent the whole of last season and home manager Lee Clark had actually vouched for his talent when asked for a recommendation by Redknapp last month. “When Harry called me, I said he would love him,” explained Clark, who went on to describe Morrison as “the best footballer since Paul Gascoigne. He’s got the pace of a wide man, he’s got the balance of wide man, he can play one touch, he can play two touch, he can dribble. I would have loved to have seen him on that plane to Brazil.” The only trouble, Clark added, is “what’s between the ears”.
Whatever his baggage, Rangers have a matchwinner on their hands. “It was terrific performance from him today – he caused all sorts of problems,” said Kevin Bond, the QPR assistant manager. It meant Birmingham remain without a home win in the Championship since 1 October, although, as at Loftus Road, it was the off-the-field matters that have been dominating the St Andrew’s agenda with club owner Carson Yeung sentenced to six years in prison on Friday after he was found guilty of money laundering by a Hong Kong court.
Yeung may have resigned his posts as club president and chairman of parent company Birmingham International Holdings Limited last month, but he still casts a long shadow, retaining a 14.7% share in the club and effective control given the presence on the Blues’ board of his son, brother-in-law, and future brother-in-law. “On the face of it nothing changes,” was the pre-game lament of Steve McCarthy, chairman of the Blues Trust, a fans’ protest group. Clark himself suggested that his players were struggling to rise above it all. “We cannot hide behind the fact of what is happening elsewhere at the club [but] I felt at one stage that could have been the case today,” he said.
Birmingham’s problems offer further evidence of the ineffectiveness of the football authorities’ so-called owners and directors test. Sadly for the home fans, Morrison ensured there was nothing to lift the gloom on the pitch yesterday. Playing in a three-man midfield alongside Joey Barton and Jermaine Jenas, he provided early notice that he was in the mood with a graceful glide forward that left a couple of opponents on their backsides, and after 14 minutes he opened the scoring. After Paul Robinson had felled Kevin Doyle, Morrison lifted the ensuing free-kick over the defensive wall and beyond goalkeeper Darren Randolph.
Morrison might have had another goal but for an excellent block by Paul Robinson, while Clint Hill headed a Barton free-kick against the crossbar. Birmingham’s decision-making in the final third was poor and the best they had to offer was Emyr Huws’ inswinging free kick that Robert Green had to tip over. The hosts’ squad features just two cash signings – one of whom is Nicola Zigic, the Serbian striker signed by Yeung on a £70,000 weekly wage with no relegation clauses. It was no surprise that the loudest cheer from the home fans came when he made way for Federico Macheda. Nor was it a surprise when Morrison then sealed the victory, applying a cool, sidefoot finish to Jenas’s low cross.
Birmingham City (3-4-3): Randolph; Spector, Packwood, Robinson; Caddis, Huws, Adeyemi, Ferguson (Blackett, 73); Burke, Zigic (Macheda, 58), Ibe (Novak, 67).
QPR (4-3-3): Green; Onuoha, Dunne, Hill, Assou-Ekotto; Jenas, Barton, Morrison (Carroll, 87); Traore, Doyle (Keane, 84), Hoilett (O’Neil, 70).
Referee: Graham Scott