Reading and Queens Park Rangers slithered out of the Premier League yesterday, neither apparently able to muster the energy to survive. A victory would have kept one of them hanging on for a while longer, like a condemned criminal on Death Row, but a defeat or a draw spelt doom. They perished in mutual apathy.
The so-called Dead Men’s Derby at the Madejski Stadium lived up to its billing and made for grim viewing. Yet it encapsulated the weaknesses of the teams, the squads and the clubs. All were out of their depth among the elite. At least QPR lasted two seasons, Reading have made a swift return to Championship after just one campaign.
It was a listless affair, perhaps inexplicable considering the enlarged TV riches on offer in the Premier next season. But both were long gone, anyway. “It was mundane sort of game,” Harry Redknapp, the QPR manager, said. “It was as though both teams knew they’d gone down. That was more or less how it looked. We lacked that bit of spark in certain areas.
“It’s been difficult here. We’ve been a bit short of quality to win games, the balance has never been quite right. If you had the job at the start of the season, it’s different. That’s when you put a team together. You shouldn’t be running around in the transfer window trying to patch things up. You build a team in the summer.”
Nigel Adkins, the Reading manager, also accepted the inevitable and the need to look forward. “The fact of the matter is that we’re down,” he said. “We needed to win and didn’t. We now know where we’ll be next season and we’ll use the last few games to prepare for the Championship.
“It’s a very sombre dressing-room but we’ve got to bottle those regrets and make sure that we don’t experience them again.”
It has been a season of mostly relentless misery for both teams, interspersed with the occasional false dawn of a rare victory or two. Going into the match at the Madejski, the respective form guides summed up the disharmony in Berkshire and West London camps – Reading had not won in nine matches, QPR in five.
At least Adkins could hardly be blamed. It was only his fifth match in charge since succeeding Brian McDermott last month and, however harsh the manner of McDermott’s exit, the former Southampton manager was always going to get a second bite in the Championship next season.
However, Redknapp has had enough time – he took over from Mark Hughes in November – to heal the obvious rifts in the ranks and secure for QPR a third successive campaign in the top flight. Not for nothing is he nicknamed “Harry Houdini”. This time, though, his magical powers appear to have had little effect on the warring factions within his expensively-assembled squad.
For much of the first half, Reading and QPR demonstrated exactly why they have plummeted over the past months. Where McDermott and Hughes failed, Adkins and Redknapp seem to have followed. It was a mish-mash of an offering, perhaps acceptable for mid-table in the Championship – where they could meet next season – but unpalatable in the Premier League.
QPR did start promisingly. Esteban Granero clipped a free kick on to the top of the home crossbar with Alex McCarthy, the Reading goalkeeper, groping thin air. Jay Bothroyd galloped through alone but, when the crunch came, he lobbed not only over McCarthy but also past a post. Reading’s fans cheered ironically when passes found a team-mate. That has not happened with too much regularity this season, they found it amusingly novel. The QPR supporters had something more tangible to appreciate when Adel Taarabt burst through – only to shoot so high and wide that it was almost laughable.
Six minutes before the break, Reading actually went close to scything through the dross. Pavel Pogrebnyak, the Reading striker, saw a close-range shot blocked and Adrian Mariappa, latching on to the rebound, prodded goalwards. Jose Bosingwa, the defender who barely wanted to play earlier in the season because he had been dropped to the substitutes’ bench, hacked the ball off the line. Shame he hadn’t shown such good timing during his petulant protest in QPR’s hour of need.
Little changed in the second half. It was if both sides were settling for the draw that many people misguidedly believed before kick off would keep them at the highest level for a while longer. It would not.
If points were awarded for endeavour, neither side was found wanting. Yet points for skill and content were virtually non-existent.
Pogrebnyak cut inside Bosingwa but curled an effort narrowly past Robert Green’s far post. The Russian had another chance, when homing in on Chris Gunter’s cross, but he nodded carelessly and forcefully into the ground and the bounce took it over the bar. QPR had all but given up the ghost, a grotesquely sliced attempt by Jermaine Jenas one of their few meagre contributions to the closing chapter of a not particularly complimentary obituary.
Sean Morrison could have spared Reading the hangman’s noose, albeit temporarily, but his towering header from a Jobi McAnuff corner was acrobatically tipped over by Green. It was a spectacular ending to a drab contest and, at the final whistle, neither sets of fans could be bothered to boo or jeer. The Grim Reaper had spoken already. That said it all.
Joey Barton wasted no time having his say after parent club QPR’s relegation was confirmed. The midfielder – on a season’s long loan at Marseilles – launched an expletive-filled rant on Twitter straight after the match.
'Too many maggots' - Barton lays into QPR
“I can’t believe QPR have just been relegated and Boswinga [sic] was walking down the tunnel laughing! Embarrassing. Show some guts man,” Barton tweeted.
“Gutted for the club. To many w*****s amongst the playing staff. All brought in by (Mark) Hughes. Some good lads but not enough. Too many maggots. Hope they can get a load out, if not they’ll end up in a Wolves situation because trust me that Championship is a f*****g hard league!”