Caulker of a Performance Un-Dunne by Lucky Liverpool....
We were the subject of more Sky camera attention as Liverpool made the trip from the North West to Loftus Road in the early Super Sunday kick off.
Jess, Sam and myself left early in order to get some lunch in before meeting Lofty and PK in the usual place outside the ground for a pre-match catch up after the two week break. Jenson chose to not come to the game today after winning tickets to see Al Murray in Bath tonight, no-one could could blame him for not wanting to attend.
We were all dreading the game as any team out of sorts, like Liverpool, always relish playing against us as we've often been an easy target. A terrible performance against West Ham before the International break has left many of the fans dreading what could potentially happen, however what was going to be more important from my perspective was the performance regardless of the result, if a decent performance was on show today then we could all start to believe more in the team and the manager going forward as the passion, belief and determination from last years 'Band of Brothers' has not been present in recent weeks.
When the team has came out at 12.30 there were a few surprises initially until we found out the reasons why they were made.
Alex McCarthy came in for Rob Green who was suffering from flu/tonsillitis. Rio Ferdinand missed out after nursing a groin injury/wrist injury from his numerous book signings this week. We also saw Karl Henry, Bobby Zamora and Yun come in as the R's looked to freshen things up after a slow start to the season.
What was evident from the kick off that we were not playing the 3-5-2 in the image above, instead Onuoha in at right back as Isla played more advanced on the right wing and attempting to pin Enrique back and stop him charging down the left wing as he likes to do. Fer played on the left of the midfield four.
Within two minutes the R's created the first half chance as Zamora nodded the ball back to Austin before the R's number 9 blasted well over.
A Liverpool of old start the game very quickly, however they allowed us to maintain possession very easily and put very little pressure on the midfield and instead opted to rely on the pace of the counter attack with Sterling, Lallana and Ballotelli and this helped the R's settle into their stride and win the battle in the middle of the pitch.
What shocked us even more was that from the first minute we saw Redknapp on the touchline barking out orders throughout the half.
Rangers' had a huge chance to open the scoring on the ten minute mark after Austin closed down Johnson before getting a lucky ricochet off Skrtel to put him one on one with Mignolet and his finish was parried back to Austin and his follow up was put in the side netting after being off balance.
The confidence was clearly growing as the R's continued to look like the only team likely to scoreand they nearly did when another glorious chance went begging.
Isla done well to keep the ball in play on the halfway line before releasing Zamora down the right hand side who drove into the penalty area before pulling the ball back to Fer, who from 8 yards out and the whole of the left of the goal to place the ball, fired the ball onto the top of the crossbar and over! A glaring miss!!
Five minutes later that man Zamora exquisitely turned on the edge of the box before crossing to Fer, who beat Mignolet to the ball only to see his header hit the bar once again and Austin's follow up was blocked by Johnson. How were we not at least a goal or two up I never know!!
Just before the break Gerrard had a small breakaway as Caulker insisted on backing off the Liverpool captain despite not having the ball in any sort of control before sidefooting the ball just wide of McCarthy's far post.
Liverpool had one shot on target throughout the first half and McCarthy could've popped to McDonald's during the opening 45 minutes and no-one would've noticed! However we had only hit the target once but hit the bar twice!
A fantastic first half performance from the R's, the passion and determination that has been missing had come back and gave the home crowd a massive lift! It was a relief to see that effort and heart back on the pitch once again, however would we be made to pay for missing the chances we had. It was also good to see Caulker and Dunne looking like an organised unit and Dunne having Ballotelli well and truly in his back pocket.
Unfortunately Onuoha had to come off during the half time interval with what looked like a groin/hamstring injury. Matt Phillips replaced him as Isla slotting back into the familiar right back position.
Rangers' lost some of the intensity of the first half during the opening exchanges of the second half as the opening fifteen minutes were more of a stalemate, however with Gerrard dropping to a more familiar deeper role in the Liverpool midfield they did begin to get more of a foothold on the game and got more possession whilst looking more of a threat in the attacking third despite having to carry Ballotelli throughout.
On the hour mark Sandro made his customary exit through injury as he was replaced by Armand Traore.
Shortly after the change Liverpool broke away through Sterling before Lallana forced McCarthy to make a fantastic save before Ballotelli picked up the rebound with an open goal in front of him...... only to blast the ball over the bar! Let off!!
Minutes later Liverpool took the lead.
Sterling won a very cheap free kick after falling over after little contact by Traore. Liverpool were smart enough to take the free kick quickly as the R's defence fell asleep and Johnson's quick run saw him receive the pass from Sterling before John then squared it only for Dunne to turn it into his own net! This was the only way Liverpool looked like scoring in the game and just about sums our luck up!
On 77 minutes Bobby Zamora made way for Vargas after a brilliant performance leading the line and being a true leader as captain throughout the game.
Within six minutes Vargas made his impact.
Isla's free kick was cleared to Vargas who crossed for Austin, who headed the ball back across goal for Vargas who continued his run and slotted home from close range to get his first goal since joining on loan from Napoli.
Loftus Road lifted and the belief was there once again as the players again took it up a notch as they looked for the winner.
Rangers' were inches from getting that second goal after Austin and Vargas combined before Austin's cross was headed across goal by Caulker towards Vargas and if Skrtel had not got his toe on it then the Chilean would've headed home from close range.
From the resulting corner Liverpool broke away with Sterling, Henry could and should've fouled Sterling to break the play up, however with him already being on a yellow card he opted to allowed Sterling to run by before passing to Gerrard and then Coutinho, who took aim from just inside the penalty area and the shot took a deflection off Caulker, which ultimately beat McCarthy to make it 2-1 to the visitors.
Despite the set back come in the 90th minute no-one stopped believing and Rangers' almost immediately won a corner on the left side.
Fer's centre was met at the near post by Vargas and his header somehow found it's way in at the near post! What a finish to the game!!!
Straight from the kick off Liverpool hit the attack and Ballotelli tried to cleverly back flick the ball over McCarthy but saw his effort go just wide.
The R's then won a free kick that was easily cleared by Liverpool as they broke away through Coutinho and then Sterling and as Sterling tried to square to Ballotelli, Caulker caught his feet in a tangle and saw the ball fly into the back of the net...... how's your luck??!
A great game for the neutral to watch, however the ending is an absolute sickener! Two own goals and a deflected goal, Liverpool must feel like they've won the lottery this evening, a complete mugging!
This was easily the R's best performance of the season yet could not take the first half chance created and instead were left ruing what utter bad luck we have seen today.
There were some brilliant performances out there today with Isla having his best game by far in the first half on the right wing and Phillips just could not produce anything like that committed performance in the second half as we lost the edge on that right hand side. The midfield pair of Sandro and Henry won the midfield battle for 60 minutes and were the driving force behind a hard working performance. Austin and Zamora were immense against Lovren and Skrtel and even when Zamora departed little Edu Vargas continued that hard work and picked up his two goals in brilliant fashion.
Onto our Man of the Match. It has been quite an easy one for us today despite so many good performances out there today. Luke picked out Isla as the rest of the gang voted for our inspirational captain Bobby Zamora. He was fantastic today and lead from the front extremely well whilst also being a clear leader on the pitch, talking to the players throughout and motivating them, who'd of thought we would seen that 12 months ago?
Next Monday we host Aston Villa in front of the Sky cameras once again! I will return with the report on Tuesday.
Here's to hoping we see a similar performance but a better result next time out!!
Keep the Faith!