QPR finally click, slaughtering hapless Cardiff - Report
Thursday, 2nd Jan 2020 19:11 by Clive Whittingham
QPR finally found a ruthless finishing touch to their attractive approach work at Loftus Road on New Year's Day, thrashing Cardiff City in the club's biggest league win since 1999.
Ahh, New Year’s Day football. A plague imposed on us by and for television companies. Loathed by players already suffering the effects of an exhaustive Christmas programme, reviled by managers under pressure to get results from tired troops, despised by hungover supporters and their flagging bank balances. One game too many at the busiest, most expensive time of the year. The epitome of too much of a good thing, attended only by those who go through life on an autopilot that unfortunately points them through habit to wherever Queens Park Rangers are playing whenever they’re playing there. Here we come, trooping through the gloom, feeling like death, approaching a shitting tramp with money in our hand demanding to be allowed to watch.
QPR achieved one of their greatest ever results on this day up at Old Trafford, beating Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United side 4-1, but that was back in 1992 and more recent classics have included a stupefying 2-1 win against a relegation-bound Doncaster Rovers side, a 2-1 loss here against Hull City when our goalkeeper fell over the ball in the last minute, a 1-1 draw with Swansea when we let the visitors equalise with the last kick despite them having a man sent off, and a Joey Barton brainfart in another 2-1 loss against Norwich.
This year promised to be particularly bleak. Rangers had lost three and drawn one of a set of supposedly easier fixtures that were meant to be ideally placed to lift us back into the play-off picture for the turn of the year. Chances had been missed, bad luck had been endured, but the simple fact of the matter is Rangers had taken one point from bottom-of-the-table Barnsley, injury-ravaged Charlton, Reading-based Reading and a half-arsed Hull City team. Their visitors on Wednesday, meanwhile, were Cardiff City, who had responded to the arrival of Neil Harris as manager by losing only one of nine matches, winning two of their last three aways at Sheff Wed and Forest, and coming from three goals down at the Champions of Europe to draw 3-3. No team in the league has conceded more than QPR’s 17 goals from set pieces this season, and all of Cardiff’s players are 48 ft tall.
Warbs Warburton responded to this challenge, and the poor run of results, by fielding a defence of big hairy men, and an attack of excellent young boys. Geoff Cameron was moved to right back, Lee Wallace came in at left back, Toni Leistner and Grant Hall stood between them and Dominic Ball was parked in front. They’d be charged with competing aerially with the cast of Space Jam as best they could. Up front Nahki Wells, without a goal in nine games, was supported by Ebre Eze, Ilias Chair and Bright Osayi-Samuel. Luke Amos was the fetcher and carrier.
Among 63 replies to this team news announcement from the Twittersphere were “Are you having a laugh?!?! Bacuna and Hoilett are going to have a field day,” and “Lumley? Cameron RB? One upfront? What on earth is that?” and “4 centre halves is asking for trouble really,” and “Wallace and Cameron at full back? Kill me,” and “Jesus one up front lumley in goal and wallace in the back line! Mark warburton just isn't learning,” and “Any chance of a settled side MW..? Major changes each and every game..he has no idea what his best 11.”
Which I throw in because after nine minutes Ebere Eze, who’d already had one spectacular attempt deflected wide, drew his foot back from the junction of halfway line and touchline and flighted a glorious Adel Taarabt-style widowmaker that cut the entire Cardiff defence and goalkeeper out of the game and allowed Wells to guide a well-placed header into the far corner of the net for 1-0.
And that sort of thing kept happening, pretty solidly, for a remarkable hour of football. It was 3-0 long before half time. Wells assisted the second, placing a foot under the ball and lifting it delicately from the right touchline, over a leaden-footed Sol Bamba, who turns at the speed of milk, and into the path of Bright Osayi-Samuel who took full advantage of goalkeeper Neil Etheridge’s weird indifference to the situation by lashing a first timer past him and into the far corner of the net.
At the other end Joe Lumley was much brighter and more alert than his opposite number, confidently claiming a long free kick on 28 minutes then immediately releasing it into space down the left with a kick from his hands. That invited Osayi-Samuel to run at Jazz Richards, something he very much enjoyed doing all afternoon, and after twisting him and Bacuna into a different time zone he slipped a calm finish under Etheridge and into the net for a third goal.
If you'd been to Barnsley, and to Reading, and to the Charlton heartbreaker, and the Hull shocker, and you'd still got yourself out of bed on New Year's Day and dragged yourself to Loftus Road in the cold and the dark despite every molecule of sense and reason within you screaming that it was obviously a terrible idea, then this was for you. This was for you. This was your reward. My God you earned it, and my word didn't it taste oh so sweet.
Osayi-Samuel was in absolutely blistering form on Wednesday, torturing Richards in a manner not seen down here since Lee Cook left Crystal Palace’s Daniel Butterfield facing a lengthy and expensive spell in therapy. I’m not sure there’s a psychiatrist anywhere eminent enough to help the Cardiff full back after this mauling. When the Nigerian pushed it past Richards he did him for pace. When he faced him up he beat him for skill. When he checked back he’d either push it and beat him for pace again, or face him up and beat him for skill again. It was barbaric. An absolute slaughter. No end product? Not me, never believed it.
Beside him Chair was cute and creative and effective and attacking in a string of long passing moves that probed Cardiff’s backline and pulled their cumbersome and busted back three all over the pitch. Wells worked harder, posed more threat and was better with the ball than he has been for weeks. He’d finish the game with three goals and an assist, but more than that he completed 24 of his 29 attempted passes, hit three of his four shots on target for a first QPR hat trick since Charlie Austin against West Brom in 2014, and produced two excellent, crucial defensive clearances in his own box when the scoreline was still in the balance. Ebere Eze was sex.
Midway point of the first half, Chair brilliant, Bright rinsing Richards, low cross, all there for Eze, but he Hugilled it over the bar. Half hour, Bright away on the counter again, deliberately fouled, referee Darren England tried to play advantage and then ridiculously didn’t pull it back and award the free kick when it arrived at the feet of an offside QPR player. No matter, Osayi-Samuel set off again within 60 seconds, breathing fire over the wheatfields of Cardiff’s scattered masses – this time Fatty Tomlin tripped him and was booked. A Toni Leistner volley from 25 yards that almost found a way through Etheridge got lost in all the semen.
Cardiff were odd. All the usual jokes about how good their New Year’s Eve party must have been came trotting out but more to the point, you’ll wait a long time to see a more tactically inept set up for a game than this. It was like they’d never seen Queens Park Rangers play before.
I mean, we know all about how they were set up under Neil Warnock, as a big physical team that focused very much on set plays and what went on in both penalty boxes and very little on the business of passing the ball around the rest of the field. We’re also well aware that his replacement, Neil Harris, once released Ebere Eze on a free transfer from a Millwall side for whom no clearance was too long or too high, no elbow was left unflung, and the league’s insistence that a wheeled cannon could not be brought onto the field for games was a restraint of trade. But here they literally stood in three straight lines, happy to allow QPR to run amok in the space between them, and just wait for the next corner or free kick to arrive.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of sphincter-twitching moments within that. Toni Leistner headed the first long throw (they had a long throw, I know, I was stunned as well) away after 11 minutes, and the second on 13, but when the latter was returned straight away through the medium of a cross Joe Lumley flapped rather nervously at it. Rangers, as they have done all season, allowed some big overloads at the back post, and kept marking giant opponents with midgets like Amos at corners. Had Aden Flint’s firm header on 18 gone in rather than bouncing back off the bar to make it 1-1 then it’s a different game. Lumley thrust out a big leg to deflect a Hoilett cross shot away from the goal. But QPR took over straight after that, and Cardiff seemed happy to let them do it. Warburton's much-maligned decision to use Cameron and Wallace at full back, dropping Ryan Manning for the first time this season, worked a treat with both impressing.
Harris spoke afterwards about attitude and personality and character and “the group” and all the usual meathead stuff he used to come out when Millwall were trying to win matches using tactics from the Second World War. But as his team collapsed here, the lack of corrective action was staggering. At no stage was a central midfielder dropped a bit deeper to try and crowd the space in front of Flint, Bamba and Curtis Nelson that Chair and Eze were revelling in. I didn’t even realise Marlon bloody Pack was playing. At no point was anybody sent out to double up on Osayi-Samuel and try to drag Richards out of his ritual humiliation.
They had recently come from three goals down to draw 3-3 at Elland Road but the possibility of a repeat evaporated straight after half time when Osayi-Samuel jinked, twisted and turned his way into some more space and crossed to the back post where Eze’s miscued shot sat up perfectly for Wells to nod in for 4-0. QPR had saved up all the luck, run of the ball and clinical finishing that had deserted them against Charlton, Reading and Hull and spent it all in 60 minutes here. The time for some pragmatic damage limitation from Harris was nigh, and yet none was forthcoming. A second overweight striker was added at half time, to convert all the chances they weren’t creating, and Lee Peltier replaced the catastrophically bad Bamba but was no better himself.
QPR, meanwhile, were absolutely fucking scintillating. Eze wasn’t going to miss a third chance to get his goal having spaffed two presentable ones earlier and when Chair took a turn at butchering the left side of Cardiff’s backline and cut a perfect cross back from the byline he calmly slid in number five. Later there was a shot over when a cross from Luke Amos – best game for the club by miles alongside the equally impressive Dom Ball – deflected into his path.
Nothing really summed this complete mismatch between one team finally cutting loose and another that couldn’t find its own arse with both hands more than the sixth (sixth) goal on 65 minutes. You’ll travel a long way to see a handball more blatant than Nelson’s as he lost a high through ball in the lights in hapless fashion. Somehow referee England and his nearby linesman both missed it, which was absolutely laughable, but having escaped that scare Nelson’s centre half partner Flint then inexplicably passed the ball 30 yards backwards to Nahki Wells in his own area and he chopped back to take Etheridge and Nelson out of the game and then finished his hat trick into the empty net with just enough height and power to make you think he might have missed the bloody thing.
With games still coming thick and fast, Warburton made a series of pragmatic substitutions. Off went Wells and Chair to be replaced by Jordan Hugill and Marc Pugh. If Cardiff thought this was a foot coming off the gas, they were wrong. At one point, no word of a lie, Geoff Cameron went past three players and almost set up Pugh for a seventh (seventh). Eze started being a naughty boy.
Bright gave Richards one last toasting for good measure, flying past him down the right and delivering a cross that was deflected wide for a corner. He was then substituted to a chorus of boos which I took as light-hearted but Warburton didn’t really seem to. Richards wept tears of joy. A man in the Paddocks offered up his first born as Osayi-Samuel walked past.
Annoyingly, almost straight away, Toni Leistner sat down with a tight calf leaving the home side to play out time with ten men rather than pursue a seventh (seventh) or eighth (eighth) goal. It was already their biggest home win since the humping of Crystal Palace on the final day of the 1998/99 season. Cardiff responded to this opportunity by missing an open goal from half a yard out – Tomlin the guilty party. Big nasty Luke Amos kicked a guy up in the air and was booked.
That really should have been that. Referee England took a half with three goals, two reasonably serious injuries and six substitutions and added one minute to it. An assessor-displeasing mercy killing if ever I saw one, but QPR being QPR couldn’t get through it without conceding a 25 yarder from Will Vaulks that Joe Lumley saw all the way and still somehow flapped into the top corner of his own net. Another desperately poor mistake from a troubled goalkeeper agonisingly short of a moral-boosting clean sheet and beautifully executed first half assist for which his team mates were all quick to congratulate him for. We’re just not allowed to have nice things are we?
A mini-tragedy for Lumley personally, but for the rest of us just a little addendum to make the whole thing that bit more QPR. For the most part, this was anything but.
QPR: Lumley 6; Cameron 7, Hall 7, Leistner 6, Wallace 7; Ball 8, Amos 8; Osayi-Samuel 9 (Smith 76, 6), Chair 8 (Pugh 66, 6), Eze 8; Wells 9 (Hugill 67, 6)
Subs not used: Kane, Manning, Mlakar, Kelly
Goals: Wells 9 (assisted Eze), 48 (assisted Eze, pre-assist Osayi-Samuel), 64 (assisted Flint), Osayi-Samuel 27 (assisted Wells), 41 (assisted Lumley), Eze 57 (assisted Chair)
Bookings: Leistner 39 (foul), Amos 86 (foul)
Cardiff: Etheridge 2; Nelson 2, Flint 3, Bamba 2 (Peltier 45, 2); Bacuna 3 (Ward 46, 4), Richards 1; Vaulks 5, Pack 4, Tomlin 4; Hoilett 5, Glatzel 4 (Whyte 69, 5)
Subs not used: Morrison, Smithies, Paterson, Madine
Goals: Vaulks 90+1 (unassisted)
Bookings: Tomlin 32 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Bright Osayi-Samuel and Nahki Wells 9 Decide for yourself between two exhilarating, near faultless displays. I felt the two headed clearances in the first half at key moments in the game, plus an extra goal, probably gave Wells the edge, but Osayi-Samuel was utterly unplayable.
Referee – Darren England (Barnsley) 5 Not a particularly competitive game to referee but there were some poor moments. The handball by Nelson in the lead up to Wells’ hat trick goal was absolutely blatant and had that been missed with the scoreline in the balance, rather than at 5-0, we’d be stewing. Same with the ‘advantage’ played through a first half hack at Osayi-Samuel that resulted only in QPR being offside but still wasn’t brought back. And I know both teams were quite happy with it but you can’t just add one minute onto a half with that much stuff happening in it, it makes a mockery of a stoppage time system that’s already a bit of a joke. A token three or four maybe, but even that would have been extremely skinny.
Attendance 12,355 (1,200 Cardiff approx.) Magnificent reward for the faithful who trooped out after a hectic, unrewarding Christmas when it would have been so easy to sack it off. Less so for the Cardiff fans, who travelled in impressive numbers to see their side capitulate.
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Pictures – Action Images
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