Monday 18 December 2017

Wright-Phillips finds 'ex-factor' to stun Chelsea

Chelsea 0 QPR 1

Henry Winter

Part of Chelsea's history returned to haunt them last night. Shaun Wright-Phillips, who played at the Bridge from 2005-08, struck the coolest of winners to engineer the most unlikely of results. "Can we play you every week?" chanted the QPR fans at the final whistle.

As Wright-Phillips gave QPR belief that they can survive, this was a game to delight the statisticians as well as QPR supporters. This was Wright-Phillips' first league goal in 969 days. QPR had not won here in the top division since March 1979 and this was their first away win in the Premier League since November 2011. Harry Redknapp had not won at the Bridge since March 1999.

In his 82 Premier League appearances for Chelsea, Wright-Phillips managed just four goals for the club but his strike at Stamford Bridge last night put a huge dent in Chelsea's title chances.

Redknapp's players gave everything from back to front, to Julio Cesar in goal to Clint Hill and Ryan Nelsen at centre-back through to Adel Taarabt in attack. Chelsea fans, meanwhile, will debate Rafa Benitez's decision to start some of his stars on the bench when they are not in Premier League action for 10 days.

Benitez had rotated, leaving Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Ashley Cole engaged in a lengthy keepy-uppy session before kick-off. Benitez had given a chance to the likes of Marko Marin, whose desire to make an impact took on a juddering significance after three minutes.

Marin was cutting inside, looking to launch an attack but over-ran the ball.

In seeking to regain it, Marin launched himself at Stephane Mbia, catching the QPR midfielder in his right leg. It was high, late and dangerous and demanded the sanction of a red card. Lee Mason will have some explaining to do to his overlords in officialdom over why he deemed it worthy only of a yellow.

Chelsea's changes inevitably affected their usual rhythm. They missed Mata's guile and the trickery of Hazard, who replaced Marin after an hour. The champions of Europe needed some more subtlety to break down the massed ranks of the QPR defence.

Harry Redknapp had fielded Shaun Derry in front of the back four with Mbia and Esteban Granero close by. Jamie Mackie was tireless up and down the right, while Junior Hoilett, initially, patrolled the left. But Hoilett sustained an injury after 20 minutes and hobbled away, replaced by Wright-Phillips, who was well-received by the Chelsea fans.

QPR's attack was led by Taarabt, not the most obvious target-man but he worked diligently. He managed to trick his way past David Luiz at one point in the first half but then wasted the opportunity.

With little football to sing about, Chelsea fans resorted to taunting their relegation-threatened neighbours with chants of "We'll never play you again" and "Jose Bosingwa", a salute to their former full-back who upset Redknapp by refusing to sit on the bench against Fulham on December 15. Chelsea enjoyed fleeting moments of promise in an impoverished first half.

Victor Moses found space on the right and whipped in a cross that deflected towards Luiz, whose shot cannoned down and over. Luiz, playing in the deep-midfield two with Frank Lampard, then cleared out Oscar in contesting an aerial ball.

Oscar recovered, soon running on to a Marin pass and bending a shot from left to right goalwards. Hill steered the danger away with a firm header.

Chelsea then pieced together another move. Oscar glided in from the right, exchanged passes with Fernando Torres before bending the ball with the outside of his right boot towards Marin on the left. His cross was good but Fabio was determined, heading clear under pressure.

The game continued to lose its way, subsiding towards half-time like a balloon deflating. Derry caught Marin, an act that did not seem to perturb Mason. Branislav Ivanovic then connected with a shot that startled a few in the upper tier of the Shed.

The fans seemed more emotionally engaged than the players. When Ashley Cole emerged to warm up, 2,800 QPR fans reminded him they had not forgotten the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand dispute.

The second half was an improvement. It could hardly be worse. When Marin crossed, Moses somehow failed to turn the ball in from five yards. Then Marin swept over a corner that Ivanovic headed over. Cesar then made a magnificent save from Torres from eight yards.

QPR still threatened on the counter. Wright-Phillips and Taarabt combined down the left, working the ball back to Granero whose curling shot was held by Ross Turnbull, who was deputising for the injured Petr Cech. Gary Cahill then executed a wonderful sliding tackle to nick the ball from under the feet of the bustling Mackie, who was through on goal.

Benitez removed Marin, slightly unfortunately as he had just run into a bit of form in a disjointed game. Hazard immediately began imposing himself, lifting in decent balls but QPR stood firm. Chelsea attacked from every angle, Oscar sweeping in a ball that Fabio headed out.

Oscar then lifted in another ball, aimed for Torres, but Cesar claimed it comfortably.

Then came an astonishing twist. With 13 minutes remaining, Chelsea failed to clear properly at a corner and Taarabt took control. He could have tried one of his little jinking runs, nipping into the box. Instead, he calmly rolled the ball right to Wright-Phillips who scored with a fine low strike, the ball placed firmly from 20 yards past Turnbull. Out of respect for his former fans, Wright-Phillips eschewed excessive celebrations.

Benitez promptly removed Lampard, who had had a quiet game, and sent on Ramires. Lampard shook his hand and joined the back-benches. As the seconds ticked away, QPR fans beseeched their team to hold on. With four minutes remaining, Ivanovic was fouled by Clint Hill. Luiz took the free-kick but QPR's nine-man wall would not yield. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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