Sterling effort punishes QPR errors against Liverpool

Own goals from Dunne and Caulker undermined impressive home performance

 

QPR 2 Liverpool 3

According to the Queens Park Rangers support, Raheem Sterling sleeps when he wants. Not here. Not when he had the presence of mind to revive a Liverpool team that had largely slumbered in west London and not at the very end, when his speed and incision made the difference in a crazy late shoot-out.

When England manager Roy Hodgson, who was watching from the stands, got up and left in the 83rd minute, he had seen Sterling stand out for a below-par Liverpool and help them into the lead. Fouled by the QPR substitute, Armand Traoré, he took the free-kick quickly, ushering Glen Johnson into a dangerous position and when the right-back crossed, there was Richard Dunne, hanging out an ill-advised leg, to direct in his 10th career own goal.

Hodgson had revealed that Sterling was too jaded to start for England against Estonia last Sunday, a revelation that triggered a storm and strained the relationship between the national team set-up and Liverpool. It was Hodgson’s stamina that could be questioned here.

He missed four goals and the latest instalment of the sort of drama that the Premier League serves up regularly. And, above all, he missed Sterling’s stealing of the show. QPR, who were valiant and game, twice thought that they had snatched what would have been a deserved reward, with two goals from the substitute, Eduardo Vargas.

But after each one, Sterling stepped onto the after-burners to put Liverpool back in front. First, he initiated the break that led to Steven Gerrard finding Philippe Coutinho, who finished with a fine low shot and, at the very death, he took a pass from Coutinho and played the ball towards Mario Balotelli. Incredibly, Steven Caulker diverted the ball into the net for the second own goal of the afternoon. The visiting enclosure descended into delirium.

It was brutally hard on QPR, who had dominated the first-half and created chances in the second, not least for Vargas, the striker who is on loan from Napoli. The first equaliser came when he crossed from the right and continued to run to meet Charlie Austin’s header at the far post with an emphatic finish. And the second one followed Leroy Fer’s corner. Vargas’s glancing header wriggled in at the near post, where Joe Allen, the Liverpool substitute, ought to have done better.

But Sterling refused to accept any dropped points and his last-gasp run ensured that Liverpool did not have to. After their toils so far this season, particularly away from Anfield, Brendan Rodgers and the players needed this.

QPR have taken a degree of solace during what has been a trying start to the season by their performances here at Loftus Road and they were the better team for long spells, working to deny Liverpool the time and space, and knitting together some encouraging moves. The ovation that they received from their supporters at the interval told its own story.

They had three huge opportunities in the first-half, the creation of which owed both to their attacking determination and Liverpool’s continued wobbliness at the back. Johnson was making his first start for the visitors since August but he was guilty of missing a tackle on Austin in the early running, an error which was compounded when Martin Skrtel did likewise seconds later. Johnson and Skrtel were indebted to Simon Mignolet, who left his line to make a smart one-on-one block. Austin could not convert the rebound.

QPR’s second chance was the best of the half and it followed Mauricio Isla’s though-ball and Bobby Zamora’s cute pull-back. Liverpool’s defenders were drawn to the line and there was Fer, arriving late and seemingly certain to score. He lifted his shot from close-range off the top of the crossbar and over.

Liverpool were reprieved again when Zamora crossed from the right, Mignolet charged from his line and did not get there and Fer looped a header against the crossbar. In the ensuing melee, Johnson jumped into a reckless, high tackle which might have led to the concession of a penalty before Liverpool scrambled clear. It always felt like a strong possibility that QPR would be left to rue their profligacy.

Redknapp had initially reverted to the 3-5-2 formation with which he had begun the season, although Nedum Onuoha did a lot of covering in the right full-back position for Isla, the marauding wing-back. There was still no room in the starting line-up for Rio Ferdinand. Up front, Zamora was typically willing, making a nuisance of himself and holding up the ball effectively while Fer caught the eye with his touch in midfield. Redknapp switched to 4-4-2 in the second-half.

Liverpool were dismal in the first-half, from back to front. They were over-run in midfield, where they were beaten to several second balls while the less said about the lone striker, Mario Balotelli, the better. He was a distant second-best in the physical battle with Dunne while his shooting was off-kilter. Apart from Gerrard’s 44th minute effort, when he jinked and curled narrowly past the far post, Liverpool had nothing to show for themselves in the first-half.

They had to be better in the second-half and they were, although it would have been difficult to have been any poorer. Brendan Rodgers moved Gerrard from the No.10’s role to a deeper-lying midfield position and Sterling ran hard and directly. In a struggling team, the winger’s relentlessness, his determination to make the difference, is extremely impressive.

Sandro, who would later limp off, forced Miglonet into a low save early in the second-half but Liverpool grew to carry a threat on the counter.

Slowly, they re-asserted themselves. They thought that they had the break-through goal after a lightning break on the hour. Sterling made it happen with an incisive pass, which broke off a QPR defender for Adam Lallana, whose shot was saved by Alex McCarthy. It fell for Balotelli, who was seven yards out and faced with an empty net. He blazed high. What. A. Miss.

The drama, however, was only just beginning.

Guardian Service

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