|Three-sy does it for new look QPR as fans honour Ainsworth|
Wed 01st Aug 2012 22:12 by Clive Whittingham
QPR’s decent pre-season form continued on Tuesday night with a 3-0 win at League Two Wycombe who included Loftus Road legend Gareth Ainsworth among their number.
Adams Park is a strange place, where strange things happen.
Opened in 1990 when a crowd of almost 5,000 turned up to see Martin O'Neill's non-league Wanderers take on Brian Clough's serial cup finalists Nottingham Forest, it's a place I get the impression most of High Wycombe has probably forgotten even exists.
The club's former ground, Loakes Park , was right in the heart of the town next to the hospital, within spitting distance of the railway station. Adams Park is right in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere. Only the steady stream of people and cars, snaking through the sleepy residential streets and seemingly abandoned industrial park reassure you that it's there at all. On a non match day I suspect people who have gone looking for it have lost faith and turned back, or perished trying.
It may as well be the end of the world this place – walk beyond it and you'll find the appropriately named Hellbottom Wood, then the Great Wood, then Denham Wood and basically a whole load of woods over the course of 25 ball aching miles until you reach Didcot Power Station. With woods to one side, hills to the other, and little else besides it's the kind of place you often see sealed off with police tape, the kind of place dog walkers find rotting corpses.
For those, like me, who still like to think that football should in some way still be part of what a BBC News reporter might call "the community" in which the clubs reside it's hell on earth. For those who recognise and accept that football these days is about balance sheets Adams Park is what it is: a chance for a small club to sell an expensive plot of land and ramshackle ground in the middle of town and move onto a plot of land nobody wants next to a metal and plastics firm. Thankfully Adams Park's extreme location, ostracised on the very edge of the town like the old woman the village elders decreed a witch, means it hasn't yet been cursed with the Tesco Metros, Frankie and Bennies and KFC drive-throughs that surround the other loathsome new builds that blight the Football League.
Queens Park Rangers have history here. For a brief, inglorious period the London club sunk low enough to turn Wycombe away into a competitive league fixture rather than a staple of its pre-season calendar. To make matters worse, the division into which they'd descended saw fit to send perennial scourge of the Rangers Rob Styles along to referee an early visit with predictably riot inciting consequences – 90 minutes later Rangers had lost 4-1, had two men sent off including Marcus Bean on debut for the heinous crime of being punched in the face, and had two perfectly good looking goals disallowed for reasons Mr Styles explained at the time with a simple shrug of his shoulders. I still intend to attend that man's funeral in a colourful hat when the day comes. Tosser.
A season later and the third tier torture was almost over for the R's who were all set for the Championship under the management of Ian Holloway. Wycombe meanwhile were heading back from whence they came as their 20 years of yo-yo existence in the Football League threatened to take another dip. A banker away win seemed on the cards, until everybody woke up to discover the sort of wind usually found sinking ships out at sea had blown inland. The trains from London crawled at half pace, fearful of being derailed by the gale, but the football went ahead anyway in the name of farce.
And it was. Wycombe kicked with the wind in the first half and led 2-0 at half time, Rangers kicked with it in the second and drew 2-2 with the equaliser flying in on a powerful gust from a Martin Rowlands cross that originally looked set to land around the penalty spot. The far end of the pitch remained unused for the duration.
On Tuesday night QPR were back at Adams Park, backed by the thick end of 3,000 supporters who had fought their way through London Olympic transport Armageddon, and 70,000 people who have suddenly decided they give a toss about women's football, for want of something better to do with their time.
The natural order of things has been restored somewhat; Wycombe v QPR is now a pre-season fixture between a top flight team and lower division club once more. It appears now as if Rangers are going to go beyond that natural order in the other direction, suddenly adding household names to their squad at great expense with the intention of gate crashing the Premiership party from a base of League One standards in Shepherds Bush.
A new edition of A Kick Up The R's carried a straw poll of supporters who mostly seem to think tenth is a realistic aim for the new look QPR side this year and while in all likelihood that's only going to mean louder, angrier more vitriolic responses from the terraces when things don't quite go to plan it's indicative of the direction the club appears to be heading and the speed it's travelling. A year ago Rangers were losing to Luton and signing Bruno Perone for their first Premiership campaign in 15 years, now they turn up with Ji Sung Park in the starting line up, the national Korean broadcaster SBS forgoing their Olympic commitments to report live from behind the goal, and a backroom staff so vast the home club had to rustle up some extra chairs to spread out down the touchline to accommodate them all.
Park was tidy, rarely giving the ball away, and looked fitter than anybody else on the field. The Korean broadcasters hunted out fans with his name on the back of their shirts and interviewed them in pidgin English.
It wasn't only coming here for a friendly rather than a league game that brought home just how far QPR have come. Wycombe are managed by Gary Waddock, a very fine QPR midfielder for many years but less successful manager for Rangers at a time when they were being run in such an amateurish way it would have shamed an over 60s bridge club. He included former QPR juniors Nikki Bull and Dennis Oli in his starting line up for this encounter as well. Bull has developed into a steady lower league goalkeeper, and spent most of this game sending out unheeded messages to his centre backs and then shaking his head at the non-compliance with the world weary look of a man whose parents gave him a girl's name and sent him out into the English schools system. Oli, all bandy legs and youthful enthusiasm when he made his QPR bow at Wigan many moons ago, was anonymous. Waddock, Bull and Oli were once spoken of as Mark Hughes, Samba Diakite and Junior Hoilett are now – as hopes for the future at Loftus Road. Times they are a changin'.
Wycombe also have another former charge of the Super Hoops among their number these days, and Tuesday proved to be a perfect, belated, chance to thank him for the part he played in getting QPR to a point where supporters respond to the signings of Park and Hoilett not with orgasm, but queries about when Mark Hughes is going to buy a new centre half as well. Gareth Ainsworth played 113 times for Queens Park Rangers and scored 21, mostly spectacular, goals. He played each one of those 113 matches as if they were not only his last games in the sport, but in fact his final day on earth. Gareth Ainsworth once tried to "run off" a spiral fracture of the shin in a home victory against Luton Town – a fact so ludicrous it wouldn't even make it onto one of the spoof Chuck Norris lists that float around in people's e-mail inboxes. Ainsworth played for, coached and managed at QPR and spilt plenty of blood doing it. He loved the supporters at Loftus Road and they loved him. Which all made it rather a shame that, as he moved to Wycombe mid-season, the extent of his farewell stretched only as far as a quick appearance on the pitch at half time when most people were in the toilets or queuing for 3% bottles of Carlsberg at £3.70 a throw.
To make up for that Ainsworth's name was sung during the warm up here, he was cheered to the rafters when his name was announced among the Wycombe substitutes, and when he finally made it onto the field for the final 15 minutes of the game he was given a standing ovation by the QPR fans who'd occupied two and a bit sides of the ground. As the sun set on hell, it was almost poetic. Had he scored – and the Rangers fans encouraged him to shoot at every given opportunity – I'm not sure any of us would ever have gone home.
Ainsworth was wild and entertaining in a QPR team capable of beating the league leaders one week then losing to the whipping boys the next. He was fun at a time when QPR were fun to be around. The watch word in W12 these days seems to be professionalism.
People in the QPR dugout outnumbered Wycombe supporters in the stand two to one. When injury prone midfielder Kieron Dyer was told to prepare for a rare appearance in Hoops that warm up consisted of a rigorous 25 minute stretching and sprinting session in front of the away end with his own dedicated member of the medical staff – a bit of a far cry from days of yore when Kevin Gallen would touch his toes a couple of times while joking with the fans behind the goal at Kenilworth Road before coming on and pulling his hamstring within three minutes.
Rangers were efficient out on the field. Adel Taarabt was in the mood for dolling out ritual humiliation and the first half revolved around him making fools of various Wycombe players while his team mates scattered shots off target from the edge of the penalty area. Wright-Phillips – still enthusiastic, still crap – and Cisse both failed to find the target with a couple of attempts while Bull saved well down in the bottom corner from a Jamie Mackie header and then uncomfortably with his feet when Cisse drilled a low shot in his direction.
Mackie doesn't seem to understand the concept of a pre-season friendly. Despite an excellent start to his QPR career in the Championship, and outstanding debut Premier League campaign, plenty would still scratch him from the starting 11 before any of his team mates and his never ending quest to prove those people wrong, and unquenchable thirst for hard work, makes him a permanent pain in the arse for defenders hoping for a light run out ahead of the new campaign. After testing Bull with the header he ran 40 yards to chase after a ball that was clearly going out for a goal kick, and shoved a defender over when he arrived for good measure. Then, after an outrageous piece of skill in the middle of the park by Taarabt and pin-point switched pass from left to right, Mackie moved into the penalty box and finished into the bottom corner.
There were two sour points to note in the first period. The first came when Armand Traore – starting at left back and showing a good eye for a cross as usual – left the field with a tight hamstring that blighted his time with the club last season. Fabio, previously employed in the centre of midfield with Park, moved to replace him at left back with Nedum Onuoha, Anton Ferdinand and Clint Hill making up the defence ahead of Rob Green in goal. Hogan Ephraim came into the centre of midfield as a substitute and was - as usual - diligent, hard working and hopelessly lightweight.
The second came on the stroke of half time when Hill badly misjudged a bouncing ball and Wycombe broke in behind with numbers committed to the attack but Green saved well from Marvin McCoy as he bore down on goal.
The second half continued in much the same way, although there was renewed purpose about Wycombe and a little fitness-related lethargy about QPR initially. Losing heart through the lack of a goal, Wycombe shipped a killer second when Shaun Wright-Phillips rode a tackle more commonly used by scrap yard workers to demolish small cars and rounded Bull before sliding home from an acute angle.
Bull made good saves to deny Andy Johnson – who worked incredibly hard after replacing Jamie Mackie in the second half – and Bobby Zamora – who rather ambled about after coming on for Cisse - but was later replaced between the sticks by Matt Ingram. The newcomer saved well when Ephraim tried his luck from distance but was powerless to prevent Nedum Onuoha thumping home the resulting corner with a firm header.
Onuoha, incidentally, looked quicker, fitter, meaner, leaner and lighter on his feet than last season when he was plunged straight into a relegation battle after six months of not playing at all and often looked heavy legged as a result. I was impressed with him, Fabio and Taarabt in particular, less so with Zamora, but really it was a solid, professional and consistent performance across the park from all the players.
Press access to QPR on the forthcoming trip to Germany will be restricted, and challenging friendlies against Trabzonspor and Augsburg await. That seven days looks like absolutely ideal preparation to me, and key to our chances in the early games. Everything so far has been fitness and shirt sale orientated.
Ainsworth left the field to further applause, holding a QPR shirt. His reception, an encouraging performance from QPR, and the spectacle of tiny children in Hoops being cheered loudly during a half time penalty shoot out made it a rewarding evening.
And so back we went, through the industrial park, through the housing estate, into the town centre where once upon a time you'd have found Wycombe Wanderers plying their trade at Loakes Park. A LoftforWords team of four successfully sprinted 200 yards to make the two minutes past ten train home, only to discover that the one behind it was faster. Ten minutes on the platform at Beaconsfield followed as we corrected the mistake. Pre-season is good for the supporters to dust down their rusty edges as well it turns out. We're ready, and in just over a fortnight QPR will need to be so as well.
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Wycombe: Bull (Ingram 81), McCoy, Dunne (Wood 79), Doherty (c) (Basey 46), Stewart (Hause 83), Grant, Lewis (Spring 46), Bloomfield, Angol (Ainsworth 64), Oli (McClure 46), Logan (Beavon 46)
QPR: Green, Onouha, Traore (Ephraim 34), Ferdinand, Hill, Mackie (Johnson 62), Park (Derry 73), Fabio, Wright-Phillips (Doughty 90), Taarabt (Dyer 73), Cisse (Zamora 62)
Subs: Murphy, Ehmer, Connolly, Harriman
Pictures – Neil Dejyothin