'ARRY THE CAT
Mickey Blue Eyes
If you drop a cat from height it always lands on its feet. And so does 'Arry Redknapp - a sort of Daniel Levy Lite - current manager of Queens Park Rangers. It is truly fascinating to see his most recent mid-air twist which has brought his latest club to the brink of automatic promotion from the Football League. When he arrived there they were dead certs for relegation, players didn't give a hoot, and they had a new owner who plainly had not the first idea of the realities of English professional football; they were duly relegated to the surprise and sympathy of nobody. Once again 'Arry has surfaced in a septic tank and smells of roses.
Of course, him being cockney, the media treat him as a loveable rogue with a funny accent, occasionally prone to spontaneity like, "Innit a lark ey, gavner" or a quick Pearly Queen tapdance dahn the Owld Kent Road: the rest of the country's miscreants have to make do with being unscrupulous criminals. Had the so-called Great Train Robbery happened in Yorkshire it would have been labelled the act of a gang of seedy, stupid scroungers who almost murdered the train driver. All of which explains why 'Arry gets away with the much less serious felony of public relations murder. The medium is the message.
So when QPR turned up with a few hundred fans - I swear their only vocal contribution was, "Come on you arse" - for Saturday's FA Cup match we weren't sure what to expect. The Cup is unpredictable enough without the 'Arry factor thrown in, let alone the return of Very Disturbed Indeed Joey Barton (Evertonian, apparently). In the end it was virtually a non-event played in almost soporific silence for long periods. Goodison was in its most sit-on-hands mode as Our Boys, again full of replacement players, sliced up the visitors in what was almost a routine performance. No kidding, this could have ended with an eight or nine goal difference. There is a looming danger we may take this kind of thing for granted, which would be a big mistake. Football has a habit of biting you in the tush even when seated.
Still no Tim Howard, Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Sylvain Distin, Darron Gibson, Steven Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas or Gerard Deulofeu. Joel Robles, Bryan Oviedo, John Stones, Antolin Alcaraz, Steven Naismith, Leon Osman and Nik Jelavic all in again. Our bench looked the most formidable it has been for almost two decades.
Actually, it was no match at all. When you see a game like this you are never sure how much of it is down to a brilliant performance and how much to a totally useless opposition. Naturally I am biased, so I put it down to the former. It saves useless debate. Nevertheless, it took us just over half an hour to score the first goal, a second ten minutes later, then twenty minutes of the second half for the third, then another ten minutes for the fourth. After which it looked like a complete route was on the cards. But it stayed at 4-0.
The first came with a raid, where else, down our left. Gareth Barry at left mid to Bryan Oviedo, an angled turn inside toward a Ross Barkley run and call, a short inside pass to said Ross running through the edge angle of the penalty area, and a quick right footed curling shot into the 'keeper's low left corner. They made it look so easy I think we are at risk of being spoiled. The enemy looked bemused, as they did for most of the match.
Just before half time the second showed how valuable Gareth Barry has become in our midfield. QPR really should have completed a routine defensive clearance. Instead, it was played needlessly from their right into the middle. It was a badly weighted pass their man struggled to control, Barry was on him in a flash, the ball went loose, the same defender made a pathetic mess of a back pass, Nik Jelavic picked it up, turned and lashed it home right footed from left side of the D. It was a very popular goal with the fans, who seem still to nourish the hope that Nik will regain his form.
The only surprise was it took so long to get the third. We weren't peppering their goal exactly but the pressure was simply relentless and it seemed only a matter of time before they cracked again. So, another great run by Oviedo down the left, almost to the goal line just inside the area, a murderous angled ground cross - the worst for defenders and 'keeper to clear - and Nik stuck it home from close in. A few minutes later Nik's hat trick looked on when we got a penalty after Oviedo came steaming into the area yet again and got bowled over. Naturally the penalty went to Jelavic. But he tried to be clever and chip it home and it hit the bar and went over. Pity.
No matter. A few more minutes and Seamus added another. Jimmy McCarthy went on a long diagonal run left mid to centre, Coleman did his usual sprint forward and connected with the pass right of the D. I'm still unsure if he meant to shoot, but the outcome was the same: it sailed over the 'keeper's right hand into the same corner as the Southampton scorcher. In any case if anyone has earned a measure of luck it is Seamus Coleman.
Toward the end QPR had collapsed and two efforts were cleared from the line by heroic defence when Nik looked as though he would get the hat trick despite the penalty miss. Alas. There were other compensations though, chief of which again was the Alcaraz-Stones centre back pairing - if John Stones continues in this kind of form (one tackle at the Street End was the best of its kind I have ever seen) I don't see how the boy can be kept out of the England squad.
It was yet another sterling performance of real quality and self confidence, irresistible from start to finish. And how often have we been able to say that in the Premier League era? Let's hope we can keep it up because this kind of football deserves some kind of reward. Our Boys continue to light up the English game in a way we all thought impossible. Roberto Martinez has indeed sparked something special. But how long can the torch stay alight?