Resilient Rangers denied by old boy Cole
At Upton Park it was a day of reunions and reinventions but, ultimately, no real resolutions. Two old figures with new identities had a considerable say on the present but we still don't know what the next step for either side will be.
For West Ham, a returned and apparently reborn Joe Cole scored the first goal of his second stint at the club to deny the man that gave him his debut. Harry Redknapp, meanwhile, put out a very defensive side - quite a departure from the attacking football he used to play at Upton Park - to ultimately frustrate his old side. But, as the managers reflected afterwards, it was also difficult to say who was happier.
Sam Allardyce was hugely pleased with the performance but not the striking problems that meant his team only secured a point; Redknapp, meanwhile, was delighted with the draw but not quite the display that led to it. The key question is: which is the greater indicator for the future, the result or the performance?
For Redknapp, though, that future is closing in a little too quickly and any satisfaction must ultimately be secondary to salvation. At the very least, the QPR manager has stabilised the present. Having inherited a team on an utterly dismal run under Mark Hughes, he has restored confidence and fortitude by reverting to a more defensive style with which he isn't usually associated. (He certainly wasn't at West Ham, where he once finished fifth despite conceding so many goals they ended up with a negative goal difference.)
In 2013, QPR are very much in the positive as this result extended their unbeaten run to five games in all competitions. That, however, was down to a performance on a chilly day at Upton Park where they barely troubled Jussi Jaaskelainen in the second half but had to spend an awful lot of time standing up to a West Ham battering.
Allardyce couldn't but praise their "resilience". "It's not the open football like Mark Hughes tried to play," he said. "They took the game to us to try and open us up but opened themselves up. Now, they make life extremely difficult... they fill the 18-yard box with the back four and put five players in front."
Ahead of the midfield, though, is now the lively Loic Remy who perfectly applied the counter-attacking gameplan that Redknapp explained on the eve of the game. Playing on the shoulder of the last defender and always attempting to expose them with his pace, the French forward's movement is ideal for any sides who sit back to suddenly break with speed. That was certainly the case here.
Although Remy was caught offside twice in the first four minutes, it was third time lesson not learned for the West Ham defence as the striker finally got his run right, latched onto another exceptional through ball from Adel Taarabt and then finished with assurance. "He will do," Redknapp said. "He's got great movement off the ball. If you can get people to slide him in when he makes those runs, he will score because he's got lightning pace."
The only problem with solely focusing on such movement in the long run, as opposed to incorporating it within a range of attacking options, is that you ultimately play every game on the other teams' terms. Redknapp's side barely got out of their own box in the second period and, while that has proven important in steadying QPR, it isn't exactly conducive to consistently producing the wins the team now needs - particularly given how other results have gone against them.
Allardyce wondered afterwards: "Ultimately, he knows he has to win instead of draw... they are going a long time without losing and frustrating a lot of teams." Redknapp, however, evidently didn't think it was good enough. "We've got to try and play with a bit more quality," he said. "You've got to be bold enough to try and keep the ball. You can't keep giving it back. That's what we tended to do: kept sitting back deeper and deeper and couldn't get out.
"Spirit and effort will only take you so far. You need people who can play and pass the ball under pressure. I like teams that can play. We need to be bolder."
Cole, however, couldn't be accused of that. When a ball finally spilled after relentless West Ham pressure, he pounced to score his first goal for the club in almost 10 years (a stat mitigated by the fact he left in 2003). Afterwards, Redknapp rued the fact he couldn't make the deal happen despite trailing the playmaker for three weeks, but explained that he told Cole it was the correct move: "I just said it to him there. This is Joe's club. This is his home. This was the right decision."
On the day, though, a few other West Ham players were guilty of making the wrong decisions. In the 53rd minute, Marouane Chamakh should have put the ball anywhere but on the excellent Julio Cesar's hand. It was a bad miss that marred an otherwise good display from the forward, who was praised by Allardyce for his input. But Chamakh wasn't the only guilty party.
As well as a penalty shout that Howard Webb seemed to not see in the first half, both Matt Jarvis and, particularly, Winston Reid squandered openings - the latter after Mohamed Diame had done superbly to wriggle free on the byline and then fire across goal. Afterwards, Allardyce lamented a growing problem but sought solace from a proactive performance.
"It's obviously our Achilles heel unfortunately, more away from home than at home. We suffered here today. We couldn't have created more than we did," he said. "But, however dominant we were, however better we were in stats, however territorial we were, what matters is the score.
"It's dejected [in the dressing room], almost like we've lost. The performance should have brought three points. But, as I said to the lads, carry on like that and you'll win more than draw."
Redknapp, it seems, has to find a solution to do much the same - despite the fact this was, inherently, a good draw that further fortifies the team's belief.
"It's going to be tight, it's going to be tough but we've gone five games unbeaten, we're improving, we've done OK," he said. "It ain't easy when you've only got four points from 13 games. We just need to get two wins off the spin. We've had a hard run. We won at Chelsea, Tottenham was a fantastic result. And, to get a result here, I don't care what anyone says, it's a decent result. You win back-to-back games and the whole picture will change."
Redknapp, though, has to change a few other details before he, and the QPR fans, can breathe easy.