With 10 minutes left and Liverpool leading 1-0 through a fortunate own goal, Roy Hodgson took his chance to slip quietly out of the directors’ box at Queens Park Rangers and return to the Football Association car outside. As it turned out, the England manager missed four goals and one of the most exciting finales to a game in recent memory.
It is unlikely they will beat Real Madrid playing this way, but after four goals in the last seven minutes of the game, including injury time, Liverpool came out with the three points that take them back up to fifth place. Brendan Rodgers was magnanimous enough to concede that his team were fortunate to win the game and they were, although any side with Raheem Sterling in this kind of form always has a chance.
The Englishman, who has found himself at the centre of an almighty storm since the row over his “tiredness” was triggered a week ago, was exceptional, not least in those crazy last seven minutes when four goals went in. Twice the substitute Eduardo Vargas equalised for QPR and twice Sterling played a key role in the goals that won the game.
Liverpool needed own goals from Richard Dunne and Steven Caulker – and it was hard on Harry Redknapp, whose side are moored to the base of the Premier League. In the aftermath, Redknapp was close to losing his temper, first of all with the sponsors’ backdrop in the press room at Loftus Road – its rattling was driving him potty – and then with Adel Taarabt over his weight issues.
QPR 2 Liverpool 3 player ratings
QPR 2 Liverpool 3 player ratings
1/22 QPR: Alex McCarthy
Did a solid job deputising for Rob Green – little he could do about any of Liverpool’s goals. 6/10
2/22 Nedum Onuoha
Hardly tested during the first half before going off with an injury. 6
3/22 Richard Dunne
At fault for the Reds’ opener – didn’t adjust his feet quickly enough and turned Sterling’s effort into his own goal. 5
4/22 Steven Caulker
Scored the match-winning goal… at the wrong end. Unfortunate, having worked hard to keep his side in touch as Liverpool threatened to run away with the game having gone 1-0 up. 5
5/22 Yun Suk-Young
Solid performance apart from losing concentration for Liverpool’s opener – defended capably and provided width down the left as QPR dominated the first half – should keep his starting place. 6
6/22 Mauricio Isla
A real threat down the right in the first half, forced to move backwards by Onuoha’s withdrawal at half-time. 6
7/22 Karl Henry
Bullish performance in the centre of midfield. Bullied his more illustrious opponents at times. 7
Influential for 60 minutes before going off injured – his departure coincided with Liverpool taking control of the game. 7
9/22 Leroy Fer
Should have given his side the lead in the first half as he twice hit the bar with great chances – aside from that played well. 6
10/22 Bobby Zamora
The captain’s physicality was a threat to the Liverpool defence right from the opening moment – laid on chances for Austin and Fer that should have been taken. 8
11/22 Charlie Austin
A threat to the Liverpool defence throughout, could have got himself on the score sheet, but did well to set up Vargas’ first. 7
12/22 Liverpool: Simon Mignolet
Another shaky performance – made some good saves but looked extremely vulnerable at times. 5/10
13/22 Glen Johnson
Looked a little rusty on his return to the starting XI from injury – helped prevent a goal with some last ditch defending in the first half and crossed for Dunne’s own goal. 6
14/22 Martin Skrtel
The enforcer of Liverpool’s back four was completely bullied by Zamora and can count himself fortunate (or unfortunate) if he keeps his starting place against Real Madrid on Wednesday. 5
15/22 Dejan Lovren
Unable to handle the inspired Zamora until he went off – unconvincing. 5
16/22 Jose Enrique
Caused a lot of trouble by Isla in the first half – unable to impact the game going forward. 5
17/22 Jordan Henderson
One of few Liverpool players who could be reasonably satisfied with his performance. His mixture of effort and quality helped to keep the Reds in the game as they struggled in the first half. 7
18/22 Emre Can
Making his first Premier League start, the German U21 international failed to stamp his authority on the game and was replaced by Joe Allen soon after the hour mark. 5
19/22 Raheem Sterling
It wasn’t his finest game, but his decisive impact speaks for itself. Played a part in all of Liverpool’s goals and can now looking forward to taking on Real Madrid on Wednesday. 7
20/22 Steven Gerrard
Pushed into a more advanced role in the first half, he was anonymous until almost giving his side the lead just before the break – a bit better when dropping deeper in the second half. 5
21/22 Adam Lallana
Gradually working his way back to full fitness, the England man struggled to get involved during the first half but his shot did lead to Balotelli’s big chance. Went off soon after the hour mark. 5
22/22 Mario Balotelli
He didn’t deserve to be on the winning side. Spurned two great opportunities and generally didn’t look after possession very well. 4
It was an unusual target, given that the Moroccan was not even playing, but it was that kind of day for Redknapp. Having fought their way back into the game, his side committed themselves to a free-kick with four minutes of injury time played and were counter-attacked by Liverpool, whose winning goal was prodded into his own net by the hapless Caulker.
Afterwards, Redknapp was torn between lambasting his players for their naivety and praising them for what he regarded as the best performance since he took over at the club. From the start, Liverpool looked like they were not prepared for QPR, and in some respects that was understandable, given that QPR looked very different from how they have been of late.
First of all, they played a lot better, especially in the first half. Redknapp went back to the 3-5-2 formation, without the injured Rio Ferdinand, and the unwell Rob Green, and reinstated Sandro to the midfield, following his miraculous recovery since Friday’s injury bulletin. They played with the kind of edge that they have lacked of late.
In the first half, Liverpool were overrun in midfield, where Mauricio Isla gave his team width on the right. Where Rodgers’ side most needed to test QPR, in the centre of defence, Mario Balotelli was at his most ineffective. He is still waiting for his first Premier League goal at his new club and a second-half miss from eight yards was as bad as it gets.
In other changes to the Liverpool system, in the first half Steven Gerrard played behind Balotelli and was barely in the game. Adam Lallana was lost out on the left. It all looked wrong. They were very fortunate to get in for half-time without conceding.
Leroy Fer struck the bar twice before the break: on the first occasion time seemed to slow down as the ball rolled across the box to him in yards of space on 28 minutes. It had been the hard work of the outstanding Bobby Zamora who had made the chance down the right. Unforgivably, Fer struck the bar from eight yards, and on the bench Redknapp looked bereft. Fer was more unfortunate with a header that struck the bar six minutes later when Simon Mignolet had come for the ball and misjudged its flight.
The rebound fell to Charlie Austin and he might have gone down over a leg that Mignolet wrapped around him. Then Glen Johnson launched himself off the goal-line with a reckless tackle to clear that might have troubled other referees. Liverpool had survived yet again.
At half-time Rodgers moved Gerrard back to sit in front of the defence. He matched QPR man-for-man in midfield and Liverpool looked better balanced for it. There was no helping Balotelli, though. Just after the hour, more good work from Sterling, and a lucky deflection had opened up a chance for Lallana. When his shot was saved by Alex McCarthy, Balotelli had the whole goal to aim at – but shot over.
It was a frustration for Liverpool but Rodgers resisted substituting his striker, despite having Rickie Lambert on the bench, largely because Sterling’s quick thinking created the chance that led to Dunne’s unfortunate own goal. Having won a free-kick from the substitute Armand Traoré, the teenager stabbed a quick ball down the wing to Johnson, whose cross was turned in by Dunne.
The 11th own goal (10 in the Premier League) of the defender’s career was very hard on QPR, and punishment for their abject lack of concentration when the ball had gone dead for what they considered was a soft free-kick. It was also another instance of Sterling making the difference.
By then, Sandro had taken his customary leave at the hour mark nursing an injury. Karl Henry alongside him had played well, and eventually Redknapp sent on Vargas for Zamora as his last substitution. Then the madness began.
Vargas’s first equaliser on 87 minutes came when the ball he played into the area with the outside of his right foot was headed back across by Austin and he was able to volley it first time past Mignolet. Within three minutes, Liverpool led again when Sterling carried the ball forward and played in Gerrard, who found the substitute Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian picked out the far corner of McCarthy’s goal via a deflection.
Then, in injury time, Vargas struck again with a near-post header that crept over Mignolet’s line. On the bench, Redknapp mustered his players for one final push and so it was they were caught out on the counter-attack. A free-kick was cleared, Coutinho picked out Sterling and his ball was run into the QPR net by Caulker.
It was four goals in seven minutes, which, if he was lucky, Hodgson would have heard on his chauffeur’s radio.
QPR (3-5-2): McCarthy; Onuoha (Phillips, ht), Dunne, Caulker; Isla, Sandro (Traore, 60), Henry, Fer, Yun; Zamora (Vargas, 79), Austin.
Substitutes not used: Murphy (gk), Ferdinand, Kranjcar, Hoilett.
Liverpool (4-2-1-3): Mignolet; Johnson, Lovren, Skrtel, Enrique; Henderson, Can (Allen, 66); Gerrard; Lallana (Coutinho, 66), Balotelli, Sterling.
Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Toure, Lambert, Manquillo, Markovic.
Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire)
Man of the match: Sterling
Booked: QPR Dunne, Henry Liverpool Johnson, CoutinhoReuse content