There are some home defeats in a relegation battle that feel like a setback.
Then there are defeats like the one Queen’s Park Rangers endured yesterday, in which even to describe them as having gone out with a whimper might be to ascribe rather too much resilience to the first half performance.
Within ten minutes they were reeling from Luis Suarez’s first goal. Within 16 minutes they had flatlined as the Liverpool striker scored the second. When Daniel Agger made it 3-0 in the 28th minute, a QPR fan removed his club jacket and threw it in the direction of the pitch. In keeping with the calamitous nature of his team’s day, it blew back towards him.
On the touchline, Harry Redknapp frowned and shook his head. He has said in the past that he does not want the owners of the club to have to invest in the team again next month but really, who is he kidding? Both sides must realise they have no alternative although there can be no guarantees about the success of the remedy.
There are 18 games left to play for a team that is bottom of the table and eight points adrift of safety. In the previous 20 seasons of the Premier League only three teams who were bottom on New Year’s Day have survived in the division. For the first half at least, QPR had the death rattle about them.
It was a performance that was shockingly bereft of anything that might be described as character or purpose, made worse by the fact that Suarez was on the kind of form that makes him hard to stop even for defences that are not manned by Clint Hill, 34, and Ryan Nelsen, 35.
Suarez was electrifying, sending Hill the wrong way with a shift of his body and accelerating from a standing start to poke the ball past the goalkeeper Julio Cesar for his first goal. By the time Agger scored, Redknapp said he was worried it could end up an eight or nine goal defeat and said he replaced Djibril Cisse with Shaun Derry at half-time for “damage-limitation”.
Redknapp did not explode with anger after the game, although at times you got the impression he would have liked to. Instead he bemoaned what he regarded as the sheer gulf in quality between the two sides and the improbability of anything being able to breach it. “What can you do?” he said. “It’s hard. It can happen, being smashed by Liverpool. It can happen on their day.”
Highlighting his players’ shortcomings might be what Redknapp would like to do, but he recognises that will only compound a very bad situation. “I know what the problems are, but I don’t want to say them publically” was as close as he got. Although he did not spare Jose Bosingwa, the player he fined for refusing to be a substitute whom he said pointedly had been “injured ever since the day he wasn’t on the bench”.
Redknapp’s key point was that bad though QPR were in the first half yesterday, it was the first time in his seven games in charge that his side had, in his words, “a doing”. He added: “I still think we’ll stay up. You’ll think we’re mad, but I think we will.” But how could he say anything else?
As for Tony Fernandes – QPR’s prolific tweeting chairman who was absent when Mark Hughes was sacked – he had made his feelings known on Twitter even before Redknapp had arrived at his post-match press conference. “No excuse. Lost for words. Back to the drawing board. Woeful performance.”
A quick journey through the QPR team tells its own sorry story. Shaun Wright-Phillips was anonymous. Armand Traore strolled back towards goal when Suarez scored his second and Cisse scarcely had a shot worthy of the name. QPR got it together in the second half but only by sitting Derry in front of what looked like a five-man defence and relying upon Liverpool losing interest.
Liverpool are ninth at New Year, after only their third away win of the season. They won yesterday without their manager Brendan Rodgers on the touchline, a victim, like goalkeeper Brad Jones, of a stomach virus. It meant that Colin Pascoe, his assistant, was in charge for the day and now has a better win percentage in charge of the club than Bill Shankly.
Nevertheless, Pascoe, also ill, was advised by his medical team not to go into the dressing room for the half-time team talk in case he passed on the bug. Mike Marsh took care of that, although by then Liverpool were three up. Suarez scored his second after his cross to Raheem Sterling was blocked. Agger headed the third in from Steven Gerrard’s cross. The only worry was Jose Enrique’s hamstring tear.
For once, this was not about Liverpool’s struggles to reinvent themselves under Rodgers. It was about how much worse QPR could get. Next up on Wednesday: Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, with Tottenham and Manchester City to come in the same month. On yesterday’s evidence, it looks hopeless.