A difficult week on the blue half of Merseyside got worse on Saturday when Neil Warnock’s impressive Queens Park Rangers side took three precious Premier League points from a desperately poor Everton.
With growing unrest from the Everton faithful over the parlous state of the club’s finances and the lack of communication from the board, this result – but even more so the deeply lacklustre performance from the majority of the team – will have only exacerbated matters. For their part, QPR were slick, incisive and well worth the victory – indeed, a single goal victory was arguably harsh on the visitors, such was their superiority. It was, for much of the match, impossible to tell who was the newly-promoted side coming off the back of a 4-0 home defeat a week earlier, and who was the established Premier League outfit playing their first game of the season on their home ground.
Everton lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, Tim Cahill supporting Jermaine Beckford in attack and 17-year-old Ross Barkley making his debut out of position on the left wing. David Moyes’ selection raised eyebrows due to Mikel Arteta, Marouane Fellaini and Louis Saha all starting from the bench, and, perhaps tellingly, all three were eventually introduced. Neil Warnock made four changes from the XI that struggled against Bolton Wanderers, dropping both Jay Bothroyd and DJ Campbell for Patrick Agyemang and Akos Buzsaky respectively. Matthew Connolly replaced the suspended Clint Hill while Liverpool-born Bradley Orr came in at right-back for the injured Kieron Dyer.
QPR started on the back foot as Everton moved the ball around nicely, working the ball across midfield and to Leighton Baines, whose delivery was as excellent as ever, both from crosses – which darted in to the Rangers’ penalty area and caused havoc – and set pieces, a 20-yard curling effort striking the bar with the game goalless. Everton soon ran dry of ideas, however, and QPR seized the initiative. With Adel Taarabt revelling in the freedom his nominal left wing position offers, and Everton’s supposed midfield shield John Heitinga offering the back four no protection whatsoever, the Frenchman began pulling the strings. At one point, midway through the first-half, Everton had almost 60% of possession. By half-time, with QPR a goal up, that ratio had almost completely turned in the Londoners’ favour.
The second-half offered more of the same. With the tidy interplay of Buzsaky, Taarabt and goal scorer Tommy Smith, Everton were constantly vulnerable and as wasteful in possession as QPR were dangerous with it. Barkley, on his full debut, was the only bright spot on a grey day for Everton, but considering the vaunted colleagues around him shouldered far too much responsibility. Refraining from substitutions at half-time, Moyes then made two in quick succession after the break, including one, the withdrawal of Beckford, Everton’s only striker, for midfielder Fellaini, producing much incredulity and more than a smattering of boos from the home supporters. Saha was introduced 10 minutes later but QPR’s defence stood firm and, in Shaun Derry, had the kind of midfield protection Everton could only wish for.
Fully deserving of the three points, QPR outplayed, outfought and outthought an Everton side looking as dishevelled on the pitch as the club is off it. On this evidence, those who predicted a struggle at the foot of the table for Warnock and a shot at Europa League qualification for Moyes may have to reverse their forecasts.