QPR's work in progress gets harsh lesson in Championship realities - report
Sunday, 9th Aug 2015 21:17 by Clive Whittingham
QPR, under-cooked and under-prepared, were beaten 2-0 at Charlton Athletic on Saturday as the 2015/16 Championship season got underway.
“Welcome, to the Championship” – a predictable narrative, rolling down the sides of The Valley as the Charlton Athletic fans revelled in an opening day victory against newly relegated Queens Park Rangers.
Actually, Rangers need no re-introduction to a level they’ve spent seven of the last ten season kicking around at. In a relentless, evenly-matched league that often rewards attrition and organisation over ability and skill you need to score when you’re on top, be good enough or lucky enough to prevent them doing the same to you, and be strong enough mentally and physically to recover if you fail in both of those. The difference between the majority of teams in the second tier is miniscule, and games between them often swing wildly one way or the other based on a couple of split-second moments or mistakes. Sadly, on Saturday, QPR did none of that and it swung away from them.
Initially the West London side were completely dominant. Massimo Luongo controlled the midfield, moving Rangers left and right and guiding them around the field like a rugby league half back. Tjaronn Chery, another senior debutant in Chris Ramsey’s new look side, posed the greatest threat to Charlton in a number ten position behind surprise including Charlie Austin.
A succession of corners went the way of the visitors – four in the first four minutes, six in the first quarter of an hour. Charlton looked overawed, happy to just boot the ball away and set up to receive another attack. They seemed nervous, frequently rushing clearances and passes and kicking the ball straight out of play. Only Berg Gudmondsson looked capable of putting his foot on the ball and playing to the same level as the half-hooped visitors. Rangers looked good. Really good.
But actual chances, and shots on goal, were few and far between. QPR had feared their hastily put together defence would struggle with the physical presence of the home team’s 6ft 7in Jurassic Park escapee Simon Makienok but he stayed central, rather than pulling wide onto the full backs, and Clint Hill and Nedum Onuoha were able to cope. That restricted the home side to two shots, both from the thick end of 25 yards, in the entire first half and Robert Green dealt with both comfortably but did Rangers offer much more themselves? Probably not.
Charlton had their own pre-match fears with regular goalkeeper Stephen Henderson out having his shoulder operated on and only page boy Nick Pope available to take up the gloves on his behalf. Pope made one fine save, diving off to his right, as Austin teed up Chery for a shot he probably should have scored with but other than that spent much of his afternoon sipping water and chatting to the other year 8 prefects serving as ball boys behind the goal. Austin pulled one shot wide after robbing the particularly off-pace Alou Diarra and skewed another one embarrassingly out for a throw in as it sat up in front of him asking to be hit.
In the second half Jamie Mackie, face so contorted with effort and exertion you wondered whether he’d have ground his teeth down to the gums by the end, started getting the better of his full back Chris Solly. The two had dinged and donged throughout the first 45, a couple of testy moments over by the dugout as Solly tried to delay the taking of throw ins, but Mackie started winning the battle in the second and soon turned into QPR’s most potent attacking weapon. His early cross was met first time by Matt Phillips and Pope’s height and reach made the save look easier than it was. Mackie had another of his own deflected off target and a Chery free kick beat the wall but not the goalkeeper.
But several things happened heading the other way too. First, home boss Guy Luzon introduced Tony Watt from the bench at half time instead of the ineffective Karlan Ahearne-Grant. Watt, a Scot who arrived in January from Celtic via Standard Liege, scored six times for Charlton last season but was left out here after a training ground row earlier in the week.
Whether Luzon thought 45 minutes out was enough punishment or not, he’d spotted something in QPR’s defending in the first half he liked and Watt was ideally suited to exploit it. Several times before the break Charlton formed a queue of two or three unmarked players down their left while attacking down the right, but never once switched the ball and exposed James Perch at right back. With Watt on as a left sided attacker, they did exactly that after half time and it brought them two goals.
Watt scored the first himself, receiving it in space with Perch otherwise engaged by Makienok before cutting infield and firing a tame shot to the near post which Robert Green, and indeed anybody else in the world who still has the two hands they were born with, should have saved easily. Green, who has maintained his place at QPR to the point where Alex McCarthy decided to leave the club this summer, has been costing QPR important goals throughout 2015 – Spurs at home, Hull away, Arsenal home – and sullied his record further here.
But Matt Phillips has to shoulder some blame too. A player who’s been linked heavily with a move away, seemed to be playing half-interested for most of the game. A powerful, quick first half counter attack from a Charlton corner ended when he, with options both sides, massively overhit a simple ball to get Chery in to his right. His poor tracking back exposed Perch again for the second as Watt found full back Morgan Fox in space on the left corner of the area with Phillips caught way too far in field. Fox tried his luck with a speculative long range effort that bounced twice and somehow nestled in the far corner of the net.
Parts one and two of the Championship plan failed, it remained to be seen whether QPR had it within them to fight back from the set back. The answer, Mackie apart, was no, and Charlton had long since resorted to kicking him up in the air every time he got the ball and ran directly at them anyway. Still, no sign of the poor first touch and lack of ability Mackie’s critics so often level against him. He looked terrific here and as Luongo faded from the game and Chery was removed, he was head and shoulders the best QPR player on the pitch by the end.
One would hope the limp response to going two goals down can be put down to Rangers latest poorly organised pre-season. They simply didn’t look fit enough. After only playing Monaco, Dundee Utd and Atalanta of any real note you would have worried for them if they’d been 2-0 up with 20 minutes left, having gone 2-0 down it was always likely to be a tall order. The decision to start Karl Henry, who's had no pre-season at games at all, seemed very odd. He was poor and Ale Faurlin, who got a rapturous reception when he finally did come on, should have been introduced earlier.
Charlie Austin has played once over the summer. His inclusion was a surprise given the high likelihood of him moving away and he was blowing heavily out of every hole he could find long before the end. His current situation, and lack of energy by the end, brought a smattering of boos from a minority of frustrated QPR fans in the away end. Harsh, given that it was almost certainly a fitness and sharpness issue rather than a lack of effort, and what he’s done for the club over the past two seasons. I did, however, make that little Marge Simpson grumbling noise when, late in the game, he reached back to grab a hamstring as if it had tweaked, only to then sprint straight off and sit on the front row of the stand with his feet up on the advertising hoarding when he went off.
Ramsey was damned if he picked him and damned if he didn’t. Pick him for the goal threat and risk having a half-fit, half-interested striker meandering around the place. Don’t pick him and risk Seb Polter getting pelters as he continues to find his feet and have supporters giving it the “why not pick Austin, he’s still our player” chat. Actually it might have done Polter a favour, he came on for the last five minutes, worked hard, clattered a Charlton player and seemed to win a few friends.
No goal for him or his team mates though, and barely a threat on the home side’s rookie keeper throughout the second period. Jay Emmanuel Thomas was sent on to try and add something to the attack but at the moment it’s a case of ‘everything you’ve read is true’ about the man who failed previously at this level with Ipswich and Cardiff. He doesn’t punch his weight. Built like a heavyweight boxer, he has an odd aversion to getting into the penalty box and mixing it up physically in areas he might actually pose a threat. What is the tallest, biggest, most attacking player QPR have left on the field doing taking the corners himself with four minutes to go? Particularly as, on this evidence, he can’t actually take corners?
That, and two crosses straight into the stand behind the goal in quick succession from Paul Konchesky, who looked nervous on the ball afternoon, added to frustration among the travelling 3,200.
The slight worry is that, even when everybody is fit, the transfer window is closed, and we’re all up to speed, will QPR continue to react badly to conceding goals? Against Atalanta a week ago, a flukey first from long range shouldn’t really have derailed anything and yet you could hear Clint Hill afterwards shouting “let’s get back to passing the ball” as the thing threatened to dissolve. They seem to lose heart in themselves and Chris Ramsey’s plan when a goal goes in against them. That needs to change, hopefully as fitness increases.
Charlton are a limited team. Well organised but little more than that. They’re second favourites for the drop according to the bookies and even though that looks a lazy prediction based on most of their signings being unknown QPR had more than enough on the field to beat them but ended up well beaten themselves. Charlton, remember, have many of the same problems QPR have had this summer with a high-turnover of players. In the end it could have been 3-0 - Gudmundsson capping his fine individual showing with a 25 yard free kick that beat Green all ends up but pinged back into play off the metalwork.
It was everything we could have reasonably expected it to be. It’s a work in progress – half-fit and half-finished. Even the Championship’s lesser teams will happily take advantage of that.
There were some positives, but QPR were undone by poor defending which has been a trait of Ramsey’s teams throughout his reign so far, and not fit enough to mount any serious attempt to get back into the game which isn’t surprising given the shambolic summer the team has endured. It’s not going to get a lot easier with Cardiff and Wolves next up in the league. Those boos for Austin don’t bode well for the reaction further setbacks may receive.
Just 45 games to go now.
Charlton: Pope 7; Solly 5, Diarra 5, Bauer 6, Fox 6; Gudmondsson 7 (Ceballos 90, -), Kashi 6; Ba 6 (Bergdich 76, 6), Cousins 7, Ahearne-Grant 5 (Watt 46, 7); Mackienok 6
Subs not used: Jackson, Charles-Cook, Lennon, Mitov
Goals: Watt 52 (assisted Ba), Fox 72 (assisted Watt)
Yellows: Diarra 56 (foul), Ba 59 (foul), Watt 90 (foul)
QPR: Green 4; Perch 5, Onuoha 6, Hill 6, Konchesky 5; Luongo 6, Henry 5 (Faurlin 71, 6); Phillips 5, Chery 7 (Emmanuel-Thomas 71, 5), Mackie 7; Austin 5 (Polter 85, -)
Subs not used: Hall, Lumley, Doughty, Hoilett
Yellows: Hill 83 (foul), Konchesky 89 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Jamie Mackie 7 Really liked the look of Luongo before he, with the rest of the team, faded from the game. Likewise Chery, who seemed to carry the best hope of a goal. But the only one who sustained a threat throughout, and was able to keep going to the end, was Mackie who gave a very decent right back in Chris Solly a proper going over. Much more to this than simply charging about too, a number of very skilful runs, tricking past players with decent control. Deserved a goal.
Referee – Robert Madley (West Yorkshire) 7 One infuriating decision in the first half where Clint Hill was penalised for shirt pulling despite his own jersey being lifted almost completely over his head, and one in the second half where it looked like Charlton had a very good shout for a penalty, aside he was fine. Decent.
Attendance 19,469 (3,200 QPR approximately) Huge following from West London as you would expect. Not sure about the booing for Austin, but the reaction to the defeat wasn’t nearly as hostile as I expected in the ground. Every bit as knee-jerk and short termist on Twitter and the message boards mind. It’s going to be a hard few weeks guys, get used to the idea.
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