Everton rout exposes QPR’s deficiencies

Nikica Jelavic scores for Everton against QPR in the FA Cup third round at Goodison Park

Nikica Jelavic scores for Everton against QPR in the FA Cup third round at Goodison Park - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Harry Redknapp is unlikely to have lost too much sleep over QPR’s exit from the FA Cup to Everton, but the nature of his side’s 4-0 defeat at Goodison Park on Saturday afternoon nonetheless made for uncomfortable viewing.

Defeat to Roberto Martinez’s slick and stylish side is no disgrace, and few visiting teams will take points from Goodison this season.

The Everton manager has assembled an array of technically astute players who tormented QPR, and at times the visitors were simply overwhelmed by the quality of Ross Barkley and Seamus Coleman.

But while progress to the fourth round was always going to be difficult for QPR, the match still represented a chance to display their own progress under Redknapp since last season’s relegation, and in that context they were found wanting.

Against a much-changed and somewhat under-strength Everton side, Redknapp fielded a team containing no fewer than 10 players with Premier League experience. Nedum Onuoha, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Joey Barton and Gary O’Neil all have experience of big cup games, yet none emerged having given a creditable performance.

From the first whistle, Rangers lacked cohesion, composure and conviction. Once Barkley breached their defence it was a matter of how many goals Everton would score.

The fact that Rangers failed to muster a single shot on target underlined that it was the manner of defeat which was so disappointing. The lack of ambition was startling, an odd mindset given that QPR had little to lose - yet the visitors played into Everton’s hands.

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But aside from QPR’s negative approach to the match, the most concerning problem was that even when they did attempt to play they were undermined by very familiar problems.

Again their central midfield trio of Barton, O’Neil and Karl Henry were slow, ponderous, and always half a yard behind Everton’s. O’Neil, in particular, was poor, handing Nikica Jelavic a goal on a plate just before half-time, the key moment in the game.

Service to Charlie Austin was again almost non-existent; QPR’s striker was often so isolated he may as well have not been on the pitch. QPR’s only threat came from the wings, where Matt Phillips and Armand Traore had occasional moments of joy.

Try as he might, Redknapp cannot get his side scoring goals. The manager has switched from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 in an attempt to solve the problem, but Rangers have failed to score in four of their last five games. Against Everton, Redknapp brought on Andy Johnson to partner Austin in the second half, to no great effect.

Redknapp wants to sign a striker this month but it is an overall lack of quality in the final third of the pitch which remains his primary problem, a fact that he is either unable to grasp or unwilling to admit.

Given the number of signings he has already made – Yossi Benayoun being the latest – in an attempt to add greater cutting edge to his midfield, that leaves the manager facing questions.

Equally problematic was QPR’s fragility in defence, epitomised by Onuoha’s concession of a second-half penalty for a foul on Brian Oviedo.

The defensive stability which marked Rangers’ early months of the season has given way to hesitancy, and while a record of six clean sheets in 15 games is not cause for panic, it is an indication that QPR are not performing with the resolve which underpinned earlier successes.

Redknapp did not appear overly upset at the result, choosing instead to praise Everton for “real quality” and “top class attacking play”. This was to side-step the equally valid argument that QPR simply made it easy for their hosts. The truth was that once Barkley swept a shot past Julio Cesar, QPR were very compliant guests.

A return to the Premier League, of course, remains the priority, a fact which Redknapp did not disguise. Financially, the rewards of the FA Cup do not match those of promotion.

They return to league action on Saturday with a trip to Ipswich Town, who have emerged as challengers for a play-off place, and January also throws up testing games against Huddersfield Town, Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton Wanderers.

Redknapp will probably have been relieved to have left Goodison with no fresh injuries, and it is a sad truth that the FA Cup was probably never really on his radar this season.

But victory over Everton – or even a replay at Loftus Road – would have galvanised a side which in recent weeks has begun to show signs of fatigue after such a good start. A cup run can often regain momentum in the league.

Redknapp could argue – with some justification – that QPR do not have the squad depth to cope with cup and league contests. But from a team so packed with experienced and capable players, he must have expected so much more against Everton.

What Redknapp received instead, emphatically, was a demonstration that QPR are a long way from the required standard for the Premier League. Admittedly, Everton are one of the better sides in the top flight outside the top four. Nevertheless, it is occasions such as these to which QPR wish to return, and on Saturday all the evidence was that they are nowhere near ready.