A hugely frustrating draw yet one which wasn’t, perhaps, overly surprising. Whilst it may seem churlish to complain at how this season has gone – we are, after all, second in the table and pushing Manchester United – it is fair to say we’ve not hit anywhere near the heights we would expect. There has been plenty of spirit and character but we’ve lacked a creative spark throughout the season, with the absence of a clinical touch from the strikers often overlooked thanks to a late winner. And whilst that battling front is rightly praised, it cannot save us every game.
That was the story last night. As to be expected when the opposition put ten men behind the ball, we controlled possession but there was no real intensity to our play, no manifest purpose behind our passing. We created a number of chances and Julio Cesar produced a pair of excellent saves to thwart us, but the pressure wasn’t relentless and I’d be hard-pressed to argue that we deserved anything more than a point.
It is, of course, easy to overreact based on one performance. We have been victorious in six of the past seven games, are yet to concede a goal in 2013 and I have no hesitation in saying that Roberto Mancini would accept 19 points from the next 21 available, but there were failings last night that have been symptomatic of our campaign: no tempo to our play, no spark in the final third and an alarming wastefulness from our strikers. The fact that we have had 37 shots in the past couple of games yet have scored just once – thanks to a right-back – is damning.
We have become accustomed to opposition sides showing no attacking ambition of their own, more than content to get everyone behind the ball and thus limit the space and time in which we have to operate. In those situations, when someone such as David Silva is finding it tough to make the breakthrough, it would be nice to see some width in the side, a genuine pacey threat out on the flanks to offer variety.
I’ve written in the past about this subject and how Scott Sinclair could be that alternative, but it is becoming increasingly evident that Mancini doesn’t trust the former Swansea man to change a game. Whilst the manager may not have rated Adam Johnson particularly highly, he wasn’t afraid to throw him on a substitute and give him time to make an impression. Yet he seems completely unwilling to hand Sinclair the same opportunity. He introduced the winger in the 85th minute yesterday, a token gesture when other options had failed. And immediately we saw the benefit.
Sinclair may not be the greatest technically and he may struggle to link up with Silva, Aguero et al in terms of intricate passing but he provides a contrasting threat, someone not afraid to run at defenders and commit them in dangerous areas. He nearly won us a penalty last night thanks to taking on his fullback, dribbling inside him at pace before drawing the foul. Phil Dowd’s decision not to award a spot-kick was the correct one, but we saw straight away what problems a different threat may cause.
One man who certainly did not cause any problems for QPR was Samir Nasri and that is all too often a complaint where he is concerned. His natural talent is unquestionable and yet there is a lingering sense that the Frenchman is more than content to be a passenger, worryingly happy to shirk the creative responsibility. How often do you see him really dictate a game? How often do you see him usurp Silva as the main inventor? How often do you see him running a match, rather than sitting on the fringes? Not very often.
Otherwise, it’s hard to focus on individuals. Our strikers, collectively, aren’t functioning too well, the midfield lack a drive to their play and we’re being kept in the title race at the moment by our resilient defence. It is dearly hoped that we click at some point soon otherwise the gap to the leaders at the top of the table will only increase. We’re hanging in at the moment and that’s commendable, but unless we find that clinical touch, we won’t be knocking on the door for too much longer.