Warnock signs off with typical smash and grab raid – report
Friday, 4th Dec 2015 18:02 by Clive Whittingham
Neil Warnock’s second spell at QPR came to a close with a last-minute 1-0 win at Reading in a dreary match on Thursday evening.
A late winner, on a wet and windy night in Reading, live on Sky, scored in front of the QPR fans… it was already hard enough to fight off the déjà vu without Neil Warnock coming onto the pitch punching the air to celebrate with the players and supporters.
In truth, this was a long way away from that glorious night when Ale Faurlin made light work of a tricky surface and playing a glorious through ball that allowed Wayne Routledge to streak clear and bury a fine winning goal four seasons ago. Faurlin, revitalised by his old boss, got the assist here as well but the respective quality of the goals summed up the difference between the matches.
Routledge’s was a fine finish, crowning a superb backs-to-the-wall performance from a promotion-bound team that played the final hour of the match, against a very decent Reading side, with ten men and won the thing anyway. That was a game, and a team, that will stay with QPR fans for a generation. This latest journey to Berkshire will likely have been completely forgotten by the end of the month.
A dire encounter, devoid of life and played in an atmosphere more suited to a child’s funeral, was settled in the very final minute by a header at the back post from Nedum Onuoha. The centre back, up for a corner, headed the ball down towards the goal with some force, but even he must have been surprised to see home keeper Ali Al-Habsi inexplicably allow it to wriggle free of his grasp and into the net. It was the sort of disaster more befitting an outfield player pressed into reluctant goalkeeper service in an Under 10s match. They all count the same though.
The desperate quality of the game and the shambolic nature of the winner did little dampen Warnock’s mood afterwards. Sky Sports had a go - crudely, repeatedly, questioning him about Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s impending appointment as manager. For Sky, unless one of the big six Premier League teams are involved, it’s no longer about the matches, which often draw audiences of less than 250,000 people for a game like this. It’s about transfers, and scandals, and Tweets, and managerial movements and other things that Sky Bet may coincidentally have a book open on. This was undignified, in what could potentially be Neil Warnock’s last ever game as a manager after a glittering career. But Warnock always was prone to answering the question he’d liked to have been asked, rather than the one actually posed, and he enthused about his players, the club, the supporters, and the feeling of being back on the touchline anyway. Good on him for that.
Nobody, surely, ever really bought the idea that he was happy to retire to his farm in Cornwall anyway but it seems Warnock spent so long trying to convince everybody else of it that he hadn’t realised what nonsense it was himself. He doesn’t want to be sitting in television studios, or even director’s boxes, he wants to be on training grounds and touchlines getting wet and muddy with the “muck and nettles”. More to the point, he wants to be doing it at Loftus Road. Not only is there the sense that he was sacked harshly before finishing the job he'd started first time around nagging away at him, and us, but he also seems to genuinely love it at our chaotic little club.
Big problem is, after spending several weeks reiterating he had no interest in being the QPR manager, he admitted he had the bug again just as it became too late for him to be considered. Bigger problem is, after taking seven points and only conceding a single goal in four games in charge, he’s inadvertently heaped pressure on Hasselbaink. Anything other than a full blown assault on the play-offs, starting absolutely immediately, will have some saying Warnock should have been retained.
That will be especially true if, having been re-bitten at Loftus Road, he goes on and achieves success in another Championship job while QPR’s latest rebuild takes place. Fulham remains vacant, and now Reading is as well. Steve Clarke was fired immediately after this one following that weird episode where he went to take the Fulham job then came back saying he didn’t fancy it after all. Reading’s almost commutable from Cornwall as well. Christ alive.
The whole second-coming has, sadly, ended just as messily as it started with that announcement two hours before the defeat at Birmingham. A strange episode all round really.
Perhaps Warnock was simply speaking with the euphoria and adrenaline only a last minute win can bring still pumping round his bloodstream. Maybe he just got a bit carried away.
It’s important, for Hasselbaink’s sake if nothing else, people don’t do the same. Seeing the team more organised, in better shape, and conceding far, far fewer goals has been a blessed relief and big improvement. QPR have gone from having the division’s worst defence after 12 games to the best over the last eight. Players who appeared devoid of confidence and belief, and some who weren’t being selected at all, have improved quickly and noticeably – Onuoha’s goal crowned a man of the match showing here, Grant Hall was decent again, Ale Faurlin looks like the three ACLs never happened, Sandro is completing 90 minutes, Junior Hoilett is playing reasonably well. The set pieces look like they’ve been worked on, and posed a regular threat.
But, equally, the attack has been almost non-existent. The four games Warnock has been in charge for, bar the final half hour against Leeds, have been desperately dull. QPR haven’t scored from open play for six matches now, and have only managed two from set plays in that time. Here, for the third game in a row, they started without a recognised striker on the pitch at all. Leroy Fer and Matt Phillips, ostensibly charged with leading the line, ambled through the whole encounter, looking half-interested. Junior Hoilett, who after a bright start sadly reverted to type by running into defenders and collapsing to the floor with one minor knock or another, hit one straight at Al Habsi in the first half for QPR’s only serious shot on target in the first hour of the game. Warnock has refused to entertain starting Massimo Luongo, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas or Tjaronn Chery despite this.
Let’s not use this little four game stint as a stick to beat Hasselbaink with if it doesn’t go well for him short or medium term, as if this was some sort of golden age. Like every other game QPR have played this season bar Fulham away, this game could easily have ended up the other way around. Rangers remain a long way shy of the current leading pack in many areas and promotion this season remains highly unlikely whether Warnock or Hasselbaink are in charge.
For all the improvements in the defence, Reading crafted two gilt-edged chances that should really have been scored. After eight minutes Paul Konchesky pulled back Garath McCleary – should have been booked but was let off by referee Andy Madley – allowing Oliver Norwood to deliver a fantastic free kick which Michael Hector, up from the back, headed wide when unmarked at the back post and favourite to score. In the second half Hector climbed over slack marking at the back post to meet a corner from Norwood but directed his header over the bar when it seemed easier to hit the net.
Rather than see Norwood’s set piece as a warning, QPR contrived to concede two more free kicks in exactly the same position in the following ten minutes – Fer and then, in amateur fashion, Konchesky giving the Reading man a chance to wrap his boot round a couple more dead balls.
There was also a bizarre moment in the second half when a foul by Faurlin set Reading’s top scorer Nick Blackman up for a free kick from the thick end of 30 yards. He met it sweetly, beating the wall easily, but with the ball flying right down the middle of the goal, directly above Robert Green who had a completely clear view of it, it seemed rather odd for the goalkeeper to stand perfectly still and let it cannon back into play off the face of the crossbar. Green didn’t even lift an arm to it. It was like he didn’t even know it had happened. Perhaps we should start using a ball with a bell in it. Or maybe he thought Blackman’s vision was based on movement, like a t-rex.
Either way, it was a let off, as was Hal Robson Kanu, on as a sub, dragging a lame shot across the goal and wide having been played clean through into the left channel of the penalty box with ten minutes to play. As was Green, more alert this time, rushing to the edge of his area to make sure a misdirected back header from Hall didn’t turn into an assist for Blackman.
Reading had one or two scares as well. Twice in the closing stages Faurlin sent long, raking, left-footed free kicks deep into the heart of the home penalty box causing chaos and panic. The first was allowed to bounce and only Nedum Onuoha will know how he contrived to head over from six yards out with the goal at his mercy, the ball at a perfect height and no Reading players in the same postcode. Moments later a similar delivery was just out of Charlie Austin’s reach after his introduction from the bench for young Michael Petrasso. But, again, no threat from open play, and no threat at all until Austin came off the bench.
This was a dog of a game overall. Poor, even by Championship standards. Refereed pedantically.
Ale Faurlin crumpling to the floor with nobody around him on the hour had been its lone heart-stopping moment – those who don’t know the history would find the scale of relief and emotional outpouring from the QPR fans odd when it became clear that his injury was merely a large, deep gash to the middle of his face. Not the knee, anything but the knee.
That was until Onuoha’s farcical winner in the final minute of normal time leaving Neil Warnock, and I dare say a good few QPR fans and players, wondering why he’d been so adamant about not wanting the job until just after it was too late for him to have it. New era #3,765 starts on Friday without him. His unfinished business remains.
Reading: Al Habsi 3; Gunter 6, Hector 5, Ferdinand 6, Taylor 5; McCleary 6, Fernandez 5 (Robson Kanu 73, 5), Williams 6, Norwood 7; Blackman 6 (John 80, -), Vydra 5 (Sa 80, -)
Subs not used: Bond, Obita, Hurtado, Cooper
Booked: Norwood 67 (foul)
QPR: Green 5; Perch 5, Onuoha 7, Hall 6, Konchesky 5; Phillips 5, Fer 5, Sandro 7, Faurlin 7, Petrasso 6 (Austin 63, 6), Hoilett 6 (Chery 76, 6)
Subs not used: Henry, Angella, Smithies, Angella, Tozser
Goals: Onuoha 89 (assisted Faurlin)
Booked: Fer 28 (foul), Hall 40 (deliberate handball)
QPR Star Man – Nedum Onuoha 7 Sealed ahead of probably Faurlin by the goal, although he’d missed a sitter just before and it was his poor marking that allowed Hector a free header in the second half. Nevertheless Looks a lot more confident and assured in defence under the more pragmatic set up, growing into form now which is a relief after a poor start to the season.
Referee – Andy Madley (West Yorkshire) 5 Lots of whistle, lots of inconsistency, lots of pedantry – including a bizarre incident with a Norwood free kick where he insisted the ball be placed on just the right blade of grass and not rolled away from a weird snow-ball of foam he’d built behind it. Twice in the first half QPR players appeared to have been fouled, only for a free kick to be awarded the other way seconds later for similar offences. He suited a dreadful game well really, a suffocating, ball-acheing presence at times.
Attendance – 16,365 (1,500 QPR approx) Best part of 8,000 empty seats, and in truth it looked and sounded like a lot more. Indentikit stadiums next to motorway junctions do not suit televised mid-table Championship matches played on wet Thursday nights.
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