QPR beat Stoke in the penultimate game of last season, a result that ultimately kept the Hoops in the Premier League, but there was no repeat or reprieve yesterday. Relegation for Harry Redknapp’s team will be confirmed tomorrow evening in the unlikely event that Aston Villa beat Manchester United at Old Trafford, but even assuming that Villa fail, the inevitable will only be postponed.
Redknapp had said last week that the dream of avoiding the drop would still be alive if his QPR won, but instead a nightmare season continued. They have won only four League games anywhere, and failing at home to a team who arrived at Loftus Road on a run of six successive away defeats only emphasised the shortcomings of an expensively-assembled team that Redknapp reinforced at a cost of over £20 million in January.
The Rangers manager hinted that he would like to stay at the club, if he is allowed to see out the rest of his three-year contract following the second top-flight relegation of his career, but admitted that they will be in the Championship next season. “It’s almost impossible now for sure,” he said. “It’s a big disappointment. I can’t look back and say I haven’t tried hard. I have given everything I had and it has just not been good enough. ”
Redknapp pinpointed the consistent failure to get his first-choice strikeforce of Bobby Zamora and Loïc Rémy on the field together as an explanation for his side’s failure. “I thought they would be an ideal partnership,” he said. “Remy gets injured, then Bobby comes back half-fit and needs a hip operation, then Bobby gets sent off against Wigan, so I don’t get the two of them to play together.”
Much of the damage was done yesterday by Peter Crouch, a QPR fan as a boy, who made his league debut for the club in 2000 and had been signed by Redknapp for Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur as well as playing for him at Southampton. “He’s a player I’ve signed many times and I tried to sign him here,” Redknapp said. “Crouchy would have been good with Rémy.”
Crouch scored only the second goal of his last 27 appearances after 42 minutes, and it was a foul on the former England forward that led to the penalty from which Jonathan Walters sealed the win.
Stoke live to fight another day after finally arresting a nosedive that had taken them from eighth place in December to the brink of the relegation zone before yesterday’s game. This was only their second win in 15 games, and their first points away from the Britannia Stadium since a goalless draw at Tottenham before Christmas.
“We don’t rest on that,” David Kemp, the Stoke assistant manager, said. “We have four more games and we’ll concentrate on performances. It was important to win today. It wasn’t a must-win, but it gives you a boost.”
The first half was more open than might have been expected of a meeting of two desperate teams. Adel Taarabt curled a 30-yard free kick just wide and Stoke’s Steven N’Zonzi failed to spot three unmarked teammates when he broke away after Andros Townsend had stumbled.
Remy was frustrated twice by Asmir Begovioc and once by the defensive wall, while Begovic’s best save came when he threw himself to his right to palm out Jose Bosingwa’s 25-yard free kick.
Walters’ snap shot nearly surprised Rob Green, who had to be at his best to tip over Crouch’s dipping volley from distance, but he was exposed after 42 minutes when Marc Wilson won the ball from Townsend and sent Cameron Jerome away down the left. Christopher Samba tried to cover but could not block Jerome’s low cross and Crouch arrived unmarked to stroke the ball under Green.
Townsend and Taarabt limped off injured either side of half time, which Redknapp thought removed QPR’s threat, although Rémy forced another good save from Begovic then accidentally blocked Samba’s goalbound volley before Stoke scored again after 77 minutes. Whelan’s free kick from the right was headed against the post by Robert Huth and as Crouch went for the rebound he was pulled back by Clint Hill, Walters converting the penalty.
QPR (4-2-3-1): Green; Bosingwa, Samba, Hill, Ben Haim; Derry, Mbia; Townsend (Mackie, h-t), Taarabt (Bothroyd, 55), Hoilett; Rémy.
Stoke (4-4-2):Begovic; Shotton, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson (Wilkinson, 62); Adam (Whitehead, 70), Nzonzi, Whelan, Walters; Crouch (Cameron, 90), Jerome.
Referee: Chris Foy.
Man of the match: Huth (Stoke)
Match rating: 7/10