Second half rally papers first half cracks – report
Thursday, 17th Sep 2015 23:23 by Clive Whittingham
QPR turned in a second poor performance at Loftus Road in four days on Wednesday night, leaving them to salvage a draw with winless Blackburn Rovers.
In a league where Brighton win every week, Rotherham lose every match, and everybody else in between leathers seven shades out of each other for an almost entirely equal split of points, QPR are fitting right in.
Three wins, two draws and two defeats from seven matches is an entirely fair reflection of their wildly inconsistent start to 2015/16. Not only are QPR fans struggling to work out whether this squad of players and coaching staff are any good, they’re not even sure which incarnation of them is going to turn up from one game to the next.
Those who arrived at a sodden Loftus Road on Wednesday night for the visit of Blackburn hoping desperately it wouldn’t be the feckless, aimless, long-ball-punting bunch who’d contrived to blow a winning position against Nottingham Forest at the weekend got their wish, though not in the way they’d have wanted. This lot were even worse.
An early head injury to one-time QPR transfer target Tommy Spurr, suffered defending the first corner of the game inside the opening 30 seconds, delayed the game for the thick end of six minutes but rather than knock the visitors out of their stride the enforced change and concerns about their friend’s health seemed to galvanise Rovers. Without a win all season, but determined not to repeat the mistake they’d made across the borough on Sunday morning when they allowed Fulham to run all over them for the first hour before finally kicking into life with 30 minutes left only to find the game over, they took the game to Rangers from the off and completely dominated it.
They opened the scoring after 13 minutes which, given the injury to Spurr, was actually more like the fifth. Craig Conway was fouled by Matt Phillips wide on the Rovers left. Whether there was enough in the challenge to warrant him tucking his legs behind his back and leaping into the air while letting out an ear splitting scream became a moot point as he stood up immediately and delivered a free kick to the far post where centre back Shane Duffy climbed well above Alex Smithies, making his first league start in goal for the R’s in place of the suspended Robert Green, and headed down into the unguarded net.
The television replays, taken from the Ellerslie Road side of the ground, don’t show Duffy’s arm across Smithies’ collarbone, and you’d get a free kick for it seven or eight times out of ten but, as were to find out, referee Darren Deadman was in an eccentric mood and the goal stood. Overall it was poor defending and goalkeeping, just because it would usually be given as a foul doesn’t mean it should be or was. Smithies was booked for protesting his case.
The response from the home side was non-existent. Smithies nervously parried a long range shot from Conway a minute later and the rebound was bundled out for a corner. A goal mouth scramble ensued when giant Blackburn eight Fode Koita wasn’t flagged offside when he should have been – assistant referee on the Ellerslie Road side Carl Fitch started poorly and fell away from there – and Rangers just about managed to get the ball behind in the ensuing melee. Within four minutes Daniel Tozser had given the ball away in midfield, Jordan Rhodes had turned inside the heavily bandaged Gabrielle Angella and Nedum Onouha was required to charge back and save a second goal with a firm tackle.
None of this stirred any signs of life from Chris Ramsey’s team, and the natives were growing increasingly restless as Blackburn flooded forward scenting greater reward. Perch tackled Rhodes in the area after a poor first touch let the striker down when left in space once more. Angella poked the ball over his own bar when Conway got free down the left and crossed again. It was one way traffic and Smithies had to redeem his early error with the save of the match in seven minutes of first half injury time, flinging himself left to make a fabulous point blank stop when his old Huddersfield team mate Rhodes thought he’d scored and was already half celebrating. Thankfully Smithies, who’d stuck to safety first punches after the early error which met with unhelpful vocal criticism from the Loft End, grew into the game from that point on had a decent second half with plenty of tempo-lifting throws and dangerous kicks down the field the likes of which Robert Green has only read about in books.
Threats at the other end had been minimal. Tjaronn Chery’s 40 yard free kick which went bouncing off towards Acton summed it all up. At times it seemed as though Massimo Luongo was playing as a conventional striker, further ahead of Charlie Austin in a front two set up. He received precious little of the ball as a result. Chery and Phillips were more conventional wingers, coming in field looking for scraps and finding nothing. The whole thing was broken, and it was built on a fractured central midfield.
If what we’ve seen in the last two games against Forest and Blackburn is Karl Henry protecting the defence, I’d hate to see him exposing it. Miles off the pace of the game once more, he lunges dangerously into the few tackles he does get close enough to making, and concedes possession remorselessly with little chipped balls down the middle of the field that offer an open invitation to opposition centre halves to pile right through the back of Austin in attack. Grant Hanley and Duffy have never had it so good as they did in the first half on Wednesday. Daniel Tozser may be a fine player, his performances at Watford certainly suggest so, but after no pre-season at all it felt a bit much to subject him to another 90 minutes here, especially as he too seemed woefully short of the pace of the match. Consequently QPR weren’t able to set any tempo, and Blackburn totally dominated the ball and the middle of the park.
This 45 minutes of football from QPR harked back to the very darkest days of the Flavio Briatore era, when a disparate collection of demoralised rich boys produced a half of football on this ground against Ipswich Town that the manager of the time Mick Hardford described as “inept” and not befitting a professional football club. There wasn’t a single positive. It was a shambles.
But for all that it was only 1-0. Chris Ramsey uses his substitutions slowly and sparingly, if he uses them at all, and while the untrained eye would have perhaps been tempted to get one or both of Ale Faurlin and Michael Doughty on and into the centre of the park as early as the twentieth minute with the shape of the team melting away before our very eyes, the QPR head coach was unmoved throughout the first half and, surprisingly, during half time as well.
Perhaps he’d seen enough in Charlie Austin’s immaculate control, clever work of space and delicate chipped cross that put an equaliser on a plate for Chery in the first half injury ice age to suggest there was more to come – even though Chery headed over from close range.
A quarter of an hour of frank exchanges and 30 seconds more football later, Rangers were level. Starting the half with vim and tempo that had been entirely absent during the first half they worked Charlie Austin into space in the area and although visiting keeper Jason Steele saved the first effort well QPR’s top scorer smashed the rebound in via a defender on the line from an acute angle.
QPR were a different team. Suddenly there was purpose and shape to them. Matt Phillips, embarrassingly anonymous during the first half, got going at his full back; Massimo Luongo dropped deeper and got more involved; the central midfield, while still a problem, stepped up the field and closed the gap between the attack and the defence leading to better football. Twice they crafted decent moves, first through Phillips and Luongo for Chery to shoot wide, then through Austin and Phillips for Luongo to inexplicably try another gratuitous pass in the penalty area when clean through on goal with all the time he needed to finish. Jamie Mackie had emerged from the bench by then, on for Chery, and was the target for the pass. Overall it was better.
But there were a couple of sub plots to what was now a typically fraught and entertaining Championship drama. The first was at the other end where Jordan Rhodes and Fode Koita were seeing less of the ball, but were nevertheless an omnipresent threat. Koita, in particular, showing what can be unearthed on a free transfer when under a transfer embargo and forced to scout properly, crawling all over Onuoha and Angella all night in a fantastic display of point man play. The muscular Frenchman, signed from Caen for nothing in the summer, won a big header in the middle of the park on the hour to leave Rhodes one on one with a leaden footed Onuoha with predictable consequences. The touch, flick over the defender’s head, and finish absolutely sublime, worthy of a greater stage. Two one now. It was something of a relief when Rovers boss Gary Bowyer took Koita off and sent on Nathan Delfouneso near the end – more an act of charity to the beleaguered centre halves than a substitution.
The other was the performance of referee Darren Deadman, and his assistant on the Ellerslie Road side of the ground Carl Fitch.
Now, Darren Deadman always has refereed matches in the manner of a man who detests football so much that he dedicated his life to qualifying and progressing in a part-time profession that allows him to ruin it for people who do enjoy it one match at a time. Even if you give him the benefit of the doubt for the first goal – which I’m inclined to do – there were signs in the first half that he was going to have one of his really special evenings.
Midway through the half Charlie Austin came across to the bench for another pair of boots to cope better with the slippery surface. He didn’t, initially, leave the pitch and started to change his footwear by the touchline but a row ensued with fourth official Iain Williamson who insisted he leave the field to complete the task. New boots on, Austin attempted to return to action only to be grabbed by Williamson in an attempt to stop him doing so and an unseemly scuffle ensued. Having ignored the official, Austin was swiftly yellow carded and told to leave the field and stand on the touchline for the thick end of three minutes while play went on surrounded in an increasingly irate atmosphere.
Turns out, buried deep within the rules, is a line about leaving the field for any equipment changes, and not being allowed back on until the ball is dead, unlike “injured” players who are waved back on at the drop of a hat. Darren Deadman loves the letter of the law more than Rick Waller loves chocolate cake and so despite it making absolutely no sense whatsoever to not allow a swift change of boots while the play was at the other end and get on with it, everything was applied absolutely correctly and pedantically.
It completely lacked common sense, game management, people skills, feel for the game or brains, but it was to be the only thing Deadman got right all evening. He and Fitch presided over a second half – which they turned up late for - so farcical it actually drilled all the way through incompetent, scandalous and unprofessional and emerged from the other side into hilarious.
Things only went downhill once the game actually became competitive after half time. Shortly after equalising QPR worked Karl Henry into space in the area and he struck a goalbound effort to try and make it 2-1. Olsson, Spurr’s replacement, in desperation, flung himself at the shot with both arms stretched high above his head and successfully palmed the ball aside. A fabulous save. Deadman, behind the play, appallingly positioned, looked for help from Fitch who flagged for a corner.
The intricacies of the footwear rules, and who’s allowed to change what boots where, may be Deadman’s specialist subject on Mastermind, but the handball rules seem a bit blurry. Later, under pressure from Jamie Mackie, Adam Henley lost his footing, realised he was in trouble, and caught the ball in two hands three yards prior to sliding over the dead-ball line.
You’d have forgiven the players for thinking we’d switched sports, and gathering behind the posts to wait for the conversion attempt. Deadman, again poorly positioned, again looked across to Fitch – right on the other side of the field – decided a corner was appropriate. He then stood and, with an authority only a person with a chronic lack of self-awareness could muster, explained carefully to Jamie Mackie that what he, and everybody else, though they’d seen wasn’t actually the case at all.
Later Mackie dribbled the ball down the opposite touchline only for the flag to be raised for a throw in. Balls crossing white lines, like hand ball, also not a strong suit it seems. On an increasingly hostile side of the ground, Fitch had gone to pieces completely now. It was as if somebody had been roped in off the street and given the job. “I don’t really know a lot about football.” “Doesn’t matter, stand over there and wave this thing.” “When?” “Well, whenever you like really.” Either that or he’d engaged in a sort of assistant referee limbo dance where he was experimenting with just how low he could go.
The celebrations that followed Nedum Onuoha’s equaliser – a powerful back post header from a deep corner 11 minutes from time – were all the more raucous as a result. A subsequent free kick awarded against Onuoha for a foul on the Blackburn keeper raised wry smiles.
But it wasn’t Deadman’s fault QPR were poor here, nor that they’ve only picked up one point from six home games. Despite the improvements in the second half, it seemed odd that Rangers finished a game they’d been second best in for so long with two unused substitutions – particularly with the centre of the midfield in apparent need of emergency surgery from the first minute to the last.
Trying to make sense of QPR or the Championship at the moment is like knitting fog. Rangers, like everybody else at this level, are going to win games they should lose and vice versa. But there are two distinct patterns emerging that, on the evidence of the last two home matches, are far from a coincidence.
QPR have conceded two goals in every league game they’ve played so far this season bar one – away at Huddersfield, which is the only match so far where Michael Doughty replaced Karl Henry in midfield from the start. Rangers have won three times out of seven games in the league – the three matches Ale Faurlin has started in central midfield.
The team selection at Hull on Saturday could well be more interesting than the match.
QPR: Smithies 6; Perch 6, Onuoha 5, Angella 6, Konchesky 5; Henry 4, Toszer 5; Phillips 6, Chery 5 (Mackie 68, 6), Luongo 6; Austin 7
Subs not used: Hall, Hill, Gladwin, Lumley, Doughty, Faurlin
Goals: Austin 46 (assisted Luongo), Onuoha 79 (assisted Tozser)
Yellow Cards: Smithies 13 (dissent), Austin 27 (dodgy boots)
Blackburn: Steele 6; Henley 5, Duffy 7, Hanley 7, Spurr – (Olsson 8, 5); Marshall 6 (lawrence 89, -), Guthrie 6, Evans 6, Conway 7; Koita 8 (Delfouneso 82, -), Rhodes 7
Subs not used: Kilgallon, O’Sullivan, Akpan, Raya
Goals: Duffy 13 (assisted Conway), Rhodes 60 (assisted Steele/Koita)
Yellow Cards: Henley 40 (foul), Guthrie 51 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Charlie Austin 7 Better body language, fantastic work rate, another goal. The main reason QPR didn’t lose the game.
Referee – Darren Deadman (Cambridgeshire) 2 A dreadful referee refereeing dreadfully.
Attendance – 14,007 (400 Blackburn approx) Looked to be fewer than that, with the Phillip Beard Family Stand looking a particularly stupid idea on a soaking wet school night leaving QPR to attack banks of empty seats in the second half. Atmosphere got going a bit after half time as the team rallied and the officiating deteriorated. An angry response to a dreadful, shambolic first half performance was entirely understandable.
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