QPRSport

Four takeaways from QPR’s 2-2 draw against Norwich City – Hayden’s standing ovation proof of instant impact from January additions

QPR extended their unbeaten run to four matches following a 2-2 draw with Norwich City at Loftus Road on Saturday.

Here are Dan Evans’ four takeaways from the game.

NEW SIGNINGS MAKE INSTANT IMPACT

With QPR expected to do very little business in the recent January transfer window due to Financial Fair Play restrictions, it would be fair to say that the four players that they managed to sign were greeted with great excitement.

Last weekend, Wolves loanee Joe Hodge came off the bench to score a debut goal in the vital win at Blackburn Rovers, and another of the new arrivals was on the scoresheet against Norwich.

Journeyman striker Michael Frey is not someone overly familiar to fans of the Championship, but his first-time finish to draw Rangers level in front of the Loft End showed he could well play a significant role in helping QPR stay in the second tier.

It was a pinpoint cross from another recent signing in Lucas Andersen that picked out Frey for his first goal in English football, and both of them helped Marti Cifuentes’ side find a way back into the game after two second-half Norwich goals looked to have set the visitors on the path to victory.

Cifuentes admitted post-match that it will still take time for his new recruits to get up to speed in terms of fitness and for them to also get accustomed to the way he likes his team to press without the ball, but the January additions could hardly have made a more promising start to life in W12.

STANDING OVATION FOR ISAAC HAYDEN

Midfielder Isaac Hayden, borrowed from Newcastle United on deadline day, could end up being the most crucial of the players brought in.

The 28-year-old has gained plenty of Championship experience throughout his time at Newcastle, Norwich and Hull City, and his understanding of the game was on full display against his former side on Saturday.

Hayden made four tackles, which was more than any other player on the pitch, and complemented that with three interceptions, as he helped QPR control Norwich’s dangerous forward players in the first half.

As the deepest midfielder in Cifuentes’ side, his defensive contribution stands out, but he also has to play an important role when QPR are in possession.

With Cifuentes encouraging his side to play out from defence whenever possible, the holding midfielder has the responsibility to progress the ball and get his team up the pitch.

Hayden was adept at this on Saturday, completing 93% of his passes and also making four key passes.

The Arsenal academy graduate had to be substituted in the 86th minute after struggling with cramp, but as he was replaced by Lyndon Dykes, Loftus Road gave him the sort of standing ovation that is usually reserved for the goal-scoring heroics of Chris Willock or Ilias Chair.

Cifuentes expects him to be fit for the crucial trip to Stoke City on Wednesday, and will no doubt be hoping that he can continue to build his team around Hayden for the rest of the season.

SQUAD DEPTH CREATES NEW OPPORTUNITIES

A further consequence of QPR’s late January business has been a vast improvement in the depth of Cifuentes’ squad.

The Spaniard was forced to rely on untested youth-teamers to fill out his bench throughout his first few months at Loftus Road, but he was able to name a 20-man squad of senior players against Norwich.

Osman Kakay and Albert Adomah, who have both featured regularly for the first team this season, played for the development squad on Saturday due to the lack of space Cifuentes now has on his bench.

The Rangers head coach made a triple substitution to great effect in the win at Blackburn, with his side scoring twice within seven minutes of the changes, and he repeated the trick against Norwich.

With QPR falling behind to a 62nd-minute header from Josh Sargent, Cifuentes was able to react within minutes and introduce Frey, Andersen and Paul Smyth.

All three contributed to Rangers wrestling back some momentum in the game, and the impact of the changes was never clearer than when Andersen crossed for Frey to equalise.

The success of the January business can only be determined at the end of the season if QPR have managed to avoid relegation, but with Rayan Kolli currently the only player not available through injury, Cifuentes now seems to have the tools to lead a genuine push for survival.

SET-PIECE DEFENDING PROVES COSTLY AGAIN

Having not conceded directly from a set-piece since the FA Cup defeat to Bournemouth at the start of January, Cifuentes looked to have found a fix for his side’s struggles defending dead ball situations in recent weeks.

QPR conceded a remarkable nine goals from set-pieces in Cifuentes’ first 13 games as head coach, but a few tweaks to his preferred zonal marking set-up looked to have helped address the issue.

Norwich had eight corners in the game at Loftus Road on Saturday and most of them were dealt with competently, with Kenneth Paal clearing well at his near post on more than one occasion.

However, it took the visitors just three minutes of the second half to catch QPR out.

After bombarding the front post in the first half, Gabriel Sara instead pulled back a low ball to the middle of the penalty area.

Jack Colback was unable to cut the cross out, allowing Kenny McLean to sweep a shot beyond Asmir Begovic and level the scores.

While admitting his side could have defended the situation better, Cifuentes suggested this was a clever ploy from Norwich rather than a continuation of the set-piece problems suffered over the festive period.

Either way, it is clear that opponents sense a vulnerability about QPR at free-kicks and corners.

Cifuentes and his players will need to prove they can overcome it if they are to stay in the Championship.

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