JET-powered Rangers secure last second victory - report
Monday, 5th Oct 2015 14:11 by Colin Speller
After the thrashing at Fulham, QPR returned to Loftus Road to face lowly Bolton for a game that many were billing as a ‘must-win’ for under-pressure manager Chris Ramsey. Colin Speller was there for LFW.
It’s early on game day in West London and in places far and wide, QPR supporters begin the pilgrimage to W12. At the same time, numerous keyboard warriors, the vigour of their opinion unfettered by non-attendance, power up their device of choice and prepare to bury rather than praise.
These are troubled days at Loftus Road – the aftermath of relegation from the Premier League, a manager for whom the most generous description would be ‘unproven’, a track record of shipping more than two goals a game and the pain of yet another hammering at Craven Cottage still not fully subsided. And all this against a background of uncertainty around training grounds, main grounds, fines from the Football League and the long-term commitment of the current owners. Oh, and let’s just throw in the fact that with Charlie Austin out with a hamstring injury and Seb Polter still recovering from one, there will be no ‘recognised’ striker available to Chris Ramsey.
It was the team selection that delivered the first outburst of passion in the pubs and a mini-meltdown on the internet. No doubt with the trouncing at Fulham still painful in the mind, Ramsey benched both James Perch and Ale Faurlin. Grant Hall came in as centre back alongside Gabrielle Angella, with Nedum Onouha moving to right back and Paul Konchesky at left back. Daniel Tözsér came into the midfield alongside the ever-present and much-maligned Karl Henry, with Tjaronn Chery on one flank and Matt Phillips on the other. But it was up front that the real surprise was sprung, with Leroy Fer making his first start playing just behind Jay Emmanuel-Thomas - also his first outing and this time in the unusual role of lone striker.
For Bolton Wanderers there were two changes from their previous game – a 2-2 draw with Brighton – Darren Pratley replaced Wellington Silva in midfield and Dorian Dervite came in for David Wheater in defence.
The game got underway in pleasant conditions but – as often happens at this time of the year – the opposition chose to kick towards the School End in the first half, so that they did not have to face the low sun in the second. Wanderers showed little evidence of their lowly league position in the early exchanges with a couple of decent attacks, though it was QPR who delivered an early effort on target with a firm header from Onouha following a Tözsér free kick.
It was all a bit disjointed and end-to-end in the first few minutes but then in the eighth minute it all broke loose in the game and online as well. Bolton broke down the left, the ball was cut back and a good, but not exceptional, cross was delivered to the far post where Gary Madine – alone, unmarked and no doubt a little lonely – had the simple task of heading in. It was surreal, really – he was so unmarked that I initially thought he must be offside, but he wasn’t. He simply strode unchallenged through the yawning gap between the two centre-backs and was where he needed to be when the ball arrived. Green had stayed on his line and merely pointed his hands to the ball as it passed him. Oh dear – the sixth unanswered goal since we took the lead at Hull in the game before last and one so poor it would have not looked out of place in a documentary about match fixing.
Worse was to follow three minutes later. A long throw from the Ellerslie Road side of the ground made its way to the near post where Onouha, back-pedalling from his full back position, delivered a weak, clearing header. Pratley did well to get an instant shot away, low to Green’s left. Green parried but only to Feeney, who swept home. It was another pretty dismal goal, really. Angella was better placed to deal with the first header, but Onouha either did not get a shout, or ignored it. Green was caught by the Pratley’s speed of execution and it always seems to be the case that the opposition get to the loose ball before we do.
Meltdown – online and in the ground. Boos rang out and the chant of ‘Ramsey, Ramsey – sort it out’ echoed from the Loft. To be honest, at that point in time I had absolutely no idea what I was set to witness. The QPR team looked demoralised and the midfield and defence was doing a pretty good impression of warm butter reacting to a hot knife. Fortunately, there was respite.
People talk about all goals being equal in terms of ‘counting’ but timing is sometimes a dimension of a goal that is only appreciated in hindsight. Bolton had us on the ropes after 11 minutes and if the next goal had come from them could have been a turning point in QPR’s history given the impact of another heavy defeat on the manager’s future. Fortunately, the next goal was ours and it arrived promptly. QPR attacked, Phillips stabbed the ball hopefully into the area, it broke to the left where Chery rescued it and turned in a decent cross that JET nodded into the far corner.
So, 13 minutes of mayhem and we sat down wondering what to expect next. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the game settled down. I think Bolton realised that they were vulnerable on the break and elected to play more cautiously whilst QPR, like a patient recovering from injury, clawed their way towards some sort of basic coordination. It wasn’t pretty and each time Bolton came forward they seemed likely to score, not least because the QPR centre backs didn’t win a single header in the first half. Indeed, it wasn’t unusual for a Bolton attack to be founded on two consecutive headers carrying the ball from the relative safety of midfield to the heart of the QPR penalty area.
But, despite this, the host’s reward for patiently re-learning the game was to be level at half time. They had threatened a few times, not least when another Tözsér free kick was headed firmly on target by Emmanuel-Thomas, parried by Amos across the goal and hooked away to safety. The equaliser involved a very similar move – a cross from the right by Phillips, headed powerfully towards the goal by Fer, parried to Chery who tried to hook it home, but it bounced off Amos to Fer again who tapped home. All square at half time and much to debate.
The second half followed much the pattern of the latter part of the first and to be honest was pretty dull fare at times (more of which below). But, just after the hour came a moment of sheer beauty as Tjaronn Chery, on the left, turned back, cut inside and then from the corner of the penalty box ‘did a Taarabt’, i.e. curled in a shot that bent over and around the keeper and into the goal at the far post. It was a moment of magic and great to watch from my position on the halfway line in the Ellerslie.
So that’s twice this year we had seen QPR come from 2-0 down to lead 3-2, but whilst the Wolves game stayed that way, this one was destined for yet more fun. Within moments of the Chery goal, QPR had an excellent chance to wrap things up when Phillips, put clean through on goal by Fer, managed to beat the keeper but put it just wide of the far post. Then Sandro, on for a tiring Leroy Fer, won the ball in midfield, strode forward and unleashed a powerful, swerving shot that Amos did well to touch over. At either point, 4-2 would not have flattered QPR and they should have had things wrapped up.
But this is us and we don’t do things that way. As the half wore on we managed to find it easier and easier to give possession to the other side – hacked clearances, poor headers, failure to win the second ball and fecklessness when in good possession. So, I suppose it was no real surprise when on 85 minutes and a series of indifferent interventions by QPR players Wellington Silva cut into the box and fired powerfully past Green. With time still to be played out thoughts of a disastrous 4-3 reverse were not far from the surface, but in the final seconds of injury time Emmanuel-Thomas intervened again, picking up the ball in the middle of the Bolton half and running powerfully towards the goal, making an exaggerated switch to his right foot to shake off the defenders then curling the ball in from just outside the box. It was a staggering goal in manner and timing, with the final whistle coming seconds later.
So, in the cold light of day, how do I assess what we saw? It’s an understatement that this QPR side is proving hard to pin down. At Wolves when we were 2-0 down I thought we would ship five. In the end, it could have been 5-2 to them, 5-2 to us or a 5-5 draw. At Hull, I thought we were by far the better team and, had Chery not shanked the ball over the bar from underneath it, we should have won. At Fulham we were woeful – but so was every QPR side in recent history. Against Bolton we were ‘all of the above’ – pathetic at times in defence, confused in midfield, sometimes devastating in attack.
On the positive side, the set pieces – the subject of many a Speller rant in recent seasons – are a lot better. And the spirit of the team seems to be good and capable of dealing with being two goals down without panicking (though in both cases the timing of the first come-back goal helped enormously).
Huge respect to Emmanuel-Thomas – if ever a chance was seized with both hands, this was it. I doubt that he saw himself playing the loan striker role (and neither did we), indeed I guess that prior to yesterday he was wondering if he would play any significant role in the side. But, he applied himself with energy and enthusiasm, he made a nuisance of himself, he scored one then crafted a last minute winner of entirely his own making. One Swallow and all that, but the first game without Charlie passed without him hardly being missed.
Leroy Fer was also a positive force, at the heart of most things and also scored. It was good to see him going about his business as if it mattered to him and he will be a valuable part of the squad in the coming weeks.
But, there is still so much on which to work. The defence looks to be all over the place, which given the individual quality is a surprise and a disappointment. OK, so Onouha at right back comes into the definition of madness as ‘repeating the same thing with the hope of a different result’. But the failure of Hall and Angella to get their heads on the ball in the first half was a real issue. Indeed, whilst they had a better second half it seemed to be based on Hall ‘mopping up’ second balls rather than competing for the initial header. Konchesky was better than I’ve seen before – at Hull he was the weakest link with many a promising attack coming to an end because he did not seem able to pass or even kick the ball with any degree of accuracy, but his contribution in this game was much better and he crossed the ball well.
Then there is the midfield – oh, Lord! We do so miss a fit and functioning Faurlin. Understandably benched after his showing at Fulham, when on form he offers so much creativity and was very much the fulcrum of the come-back at Wolves. Tözsér’s dead ball work was excellent but he still seems to be finding his feet in open play. And Karl, dear Karl Henry. I remember the story of a cricketer called Cunis whose bowling was described by one wag as being ‘neither one thing nor the other’ and that just about sums up Henry. His tackling is often lame, his distribution – even of simple passes – is often poor. He seems to play better in the high-skilled environment of the Premier League but in the Championship, where the onus is more on him to make the running whilst, paradoxically, often being under more direct pressure, he is often found wanting even in terms of delivering simple passes.
But, there are more fundamental problems in my humble opinion. Several times in the game QPR broke forward with men over in space, but simply did not seem to know what to do. Players hesitated, then headed as if magnetised to the most crowded areas of the pitch. The choice of final ball was often wrong and poorly executed. It was as if they had been told they couldn’t simply run at the goal, but had no idea what to do instead. It was this lack of nous in attack that gave Bolton so much possession in the build up to their equaliser.
And the defence… Well, the stats speak for themselves really. Ten games, more than two goals a game conceded and a negative goal difference despite the league position. There is something very, very wrong.
I suppose, in summary, QPR are best described as a work in progress. There is individual talent aplenty and from time to time this works to deliver a positive outcomes. But there is little evidence of synergy – a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. In truth, though, that is the Holy Grail that every manager in every division is seeking and it would be interesting to speculate which teams truly have it at the moment. Birmingham City would be my suggestion from our league – something we will have chance to examine in more detail after the international break.
In other news from the game, Henry, Tözsér and Chery all picked up yellow cards for various fouls whereas Bolton avoided any such sanction despite a tendency to literally (and persistently) get to grips with QPR players. And a mention of the crowd – more than 16,000 was a pretty good turnout given the Fulham result and the fact that the Bolton support was fairly modest in number. Fortunately, Emmanuel-Thomas’ first goal stemmed the tide of ugliness that was threatening to sweep over the ground and his second prompted wild scenes of celebration that did much to erase memory of the worst that had gone before. Having said that, the mood of the church was not good – ‘We heard the C word an awful lot today’ I heard one guy remark as we left the ground.
And where does this leave Chris Ramsey and his army of critics? Well the internet might have exploded at least four times yesterday – once when the team was announced and after each of the Bolton goals. But, the result and the drama of its achievement will send the bulk of the QPR faithful into the international break in good spirits and the manager has more time to impose his authority on proceedings. ‘Good day at work today, dear?’ I can imagine Mrs Ramsey asking on Saturday night. ‘It ended well’ would have been the most appropriate response.
QPR: Green 5, Onouha 5, Angella 5, Hall 4, Konchesky 6, Henry 5, Tözsér 6, Phillips 6, Fer 7 (Sandro 76, 6), Chery 7, Emmanuel-Thomas 8
Subs not used: Doughty, Faurlin, Luongo, Perch, Smithies, Polter
Goals: Emmanuel Thomas (assisted Chery), Fer (assisted Phillips), Chery, Emmanuel-Thomas
Bookings: Chery 45+2 (foul), Tozser 55 (foul), Henry 74 (foul)
Bolton Wanderers: Amos 6, Pisano 5 (Wheater 45, 5), Gouano 5, Devite 5, Moxey 6, Danns 6, Davies 7, Feeney 6, Pratley 6 (Spearing 64, 5), Clayton 6 (Wellington 80, 7), Madine 6
Subs not used: Vela, Rachubka, Casado, Dobbie
Goals: Madine 8 (assisted Feeney), Feeney 11 (assisted Pratley), Wellington 85 (unassisted)
QPR Star Man – Jay Emmanuel Thomas 8 Well on the way to getting my vote before he won the game single-handedly. I was really worried about how QPR would manage without Austin, but JET showed real energy, application, a decent work ethic and, at the death, pure brilliance. Honorable mentions to Leroy Fer for making a strong impact on his return and Paul Konchesky for a much better performance.
Referee – Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire) 7 Didn’t really find myself taking notes about the ref, which is a good sign. Not sure that the distribution of the cards was strictly fair but other than that I thought he was reasonable, calm and competent. Neil Lennon disagrees with that quite passionately, it would seem, but I’m afraid I did not see the Konchesky tackle that upset him so. All I can say is that his player, apparently clinically dead one minute, was trotting away the next. As far as the alleged bias in favour of QPR was concerned, I just saw a lot of pushing, grappling and tugging by Bolton players, only the worst of which got penalised.
Attendance 16,026 (800 Bolton approx) A bigger home crowd than might have been expected threatened to turn ugly at 2-0 down but lowered their pitchforks and flaming torches when JET pulled one back. After that they were pretty much absorbed by the drama and in the end were dancing in the aisles.
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