Ipswich happy to receive QPR's Christmas gifts - report
Sunday, 27th Dec 2015 16:36 by Dave Thomas
An injury time winner from Ipswich’s Luke Chambers dampened the Christmas spirit among the travelling QPR fans on Boxing Day. A Kick Up The R’s editor Dave Thomas reports for LFW…
Ah, Christmas. A time for gifts. A time for giving. (Can you see where this is going already...?)
Not just any old gift either. As Rangers contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, conceding the decisive goal of three deep into stoppage-time, this particular one was beautifully wrapped, with a big shiny bow on top and handed over on the proverbial plate.
There you go, Ipswich, you might not have deserved it, but compliments of the season and all that, enjoy the three points and don't forget to make a lot of excited noise about it outside afterwards. You know, like you didn't do inside the ground for more than 70 minutes.
If that sounds bitter, it's not supposed to be. That's football. It happens. Hilarious when it goes for you. Annoying, deflating, frustrating and making you feel like kicking something long and hard when it goes against you.
From belting out the away fans' version of 'Jingle Bells' one minute to an aggrieved silence in the car on the long journey home the next. Trying to work out how it had happened, and why we hadn't wrapped it up long before the hasty script re-write at the end. Two points dropped from a winning position felt bad enough; all three felt like a mugging.
Mixed metaphors apart, for those brought up on the romance of Boxing Day fixtures - lots of new coats, scarves and jumpers, the aroma of cigar smoke, and a jolly, holly atmosphere - there was a most un-Christmas like feel to the game.
A touch of perspective, too. It wasn't a defeat that denied us the last play-off spot, or consigned us to relegation, or knocked us out of an FA Cup quarter-final. It was yet another routine loss on our travels, where wins are mostly few and far between for the long-suffering Rangers support.
There was even a touch of deja vu about this one. A goal up and pressing for a second that would almost certainly seal the win, defending well enough up to the point of conceding an equaliser.
So as the clock ticked past the 90-minute mark, and with the game poised at 1-1, no need to write a whole new report. Cheat a bit. Just take the Bristol City report, change a few names here and there, keep in the hand-wringing despair and the pointed references to which players are putting in a shift and those who aren't producing anything like their transfer fees suggest they should be doing week in, week out - and no-one will be any the wiser.
Except, of course, a week on and rather than mirroring the same storyline, this time there's a sting in the tail. Or tale. Frustrating and annoying in equal measures, but unlikely to make much difference one way or another come the end of the season.
Unless we can get Charlie fit, the play-offs are likely to get further and further away. And even if he should leave in this next transfer window, and we don't sign an adequate replacement, mid-table - that is, anywhere upwards of a relegation scrap - is really ours to throw away with this squad and the signs of improvement under JFH.
Ah yes, improvement. JFH's arrival has not been massively galvanising. The team hasn't suddenly shaken off its chains and shackles. Promotion doesn't look any more likely than it did before his arrival. Indeed, it's still only three points out of a possible twelve for Hasselbaink, as a first win still awaits.
Yet there are small, noticeable improvements already. Our movement off the ball, for starters. Then there is this higher, pressing game; whereas instead of allowing opponents all the time in the world to knock it around in their own half, the idea being that they can't do much from there, we are noticably closing down quicker and more aggressively; not giving the opposition time the space and time to build.
It also has the effect of making us look busier, more focused, more determined. Football is really only a fast moving chess game when it comes down to it, and psychology plays a massive part, as does body language.
It's all very well having a squad that is, on paper at least, the match of any, and far superior to most. If the collective effort and determination is not there to go with it, it counts for next to nothing. Ability will see you home in some games; it won't win you anything long-term, though.
Footballers like nothing better than playing against languid, lazy opponents. Better still, teams who lack spirit and self-belief, or players who are unsupportive of each other and argue constantly are at a massive disadvantage from the off.
That has been various QPR teams on the rollercoaster ride that has been the past fifteen or so years. Generally, it's not been the QPR team of this season, although there was every chance of it heading that way after a highly indifferent start to it.
But the attitude and approach (as might be expected with the arrival of any new manager, in fairness) under JFH has been positive. And while results haven't improved any under him, it remains early days yet - and so it's the other tangibles we must look for.
It's why, although the old adage about not being able to legislate for individual errors was what ultimately cost us a win at Portman Road, there was little to find fault with in respect of the overall performance and the way Rangers went about things.
Rangers looked the better, more lively side in the opening exchanges. You could sense an anxiety amongst the home fans and that seemed to translate to the home team, who apart from some decent movement from Murphy and Pitman in and around the box, were very sluggish. No doubt the local reporters were already dusting off that well-worn line about the home players appearing to have eaten too much Christmas pudding.
No Charlie Austin, of course, for Rangers. So finally, after chomping at the bit for weeks on end now, Sebastian Polter was finally let off the leash. A kind of mash up between Rob Steiner and Danny Dichio, all angular and elbows, no faulting his effort or, as became more and more noticeable as the game progressed, his strength in holding up the ball, holding off his opponent and laying off a simple ball to a teammate.
That's all very well and good, and hard to criticise him for not being a Charlie Austin or a Clive Allen or a Simon Stainrod or a Gary Bannister, but the reason Polter will only ever get four or five goals a season for a team at most, whereas those others will get you 20-plus, is simple. It's that Polter plays just about the entire 90 minutes with his back to goal. It's a job, and he does it well. But it's limited and it will never see him becoming a goalscoring hero.
Defensively, apart from the costly blips that need to be eliminated, we are looking better by the week. Hall continues to improve, while Angella might just be a footballer after all.
The biggest improver overall under JFH is Junior Hoilett. That's come as much of a surprise as it is welcome, with most QPR fans having long since given up on him. A note of caution here. That improvement has come from a very low starting point and it would be good to see over a sustained period of time the player we thought we'd signed from Blackburn, rather than the one who showed up.
Credit where credit's due, though. Just as the first-half looked like ending goalless, a flurry of activity inside the Ipswich area saw a perfect cross buried with a superb flick of the head from Hoilett to send Rangers in a goal to the good at half-time. Two in two matches. Crikey.
Ipswich came out in the second-half with a bit more intent and no doubt the verdict on their first-half showing from Mick McCarthy still ringing in their ears. An equaliser always looked on the cards - but then, equally, it would have been no great surprise if Rangers had added a second.
Suddenly thinking he is now Lionel Messi, Junior Hoilett tried his luck from distance on two or three occasions, only to find luck was out of town and had replaced the winger's boots with carpet slippers before leaving.
Leroy Fer's afternoon, indeed his entire season, was summed up when he briefly sparked into life, rounded the goalkeeper and then hesitated too long in deciding on his options. As Bill Shankly used to say, put the ball in the back of the net first and then decide. As it was, the moment was gone and it was back into his shell for Leroy.
Ipswich's equaliser and then their late winner both came from the ball pinging around our box, and converted from close range. It was the timing as much as the defeat itself that was the hammer blow.
But for your correspondent here, disappointed that I was - that we all were - a sense of perspective. I'd earlier left behind a wet and under-water Lancashire after days of torrential rain that had been of Biblical proportions. So many floods, so much damage.
Many hours later, on finally getting home and having taken a route around a collapsed and now closed M62, I reflected that when all was said and done, I was one of the more fortunate ones.
It almost doesn't bear thinking about amidst all this havoc, but just imagine if I was a Chelsea or a Manchester United fan right now?
Ipswich: D Gerken; L Chambers, T Smith, C Berra, J Knudsen; J Douglas, A Maitland-Niles (R Fraser 61), C Skuse, F Sears; D Murphy (L Varney 89), B Pitman (T Oar 68)
Goals: Douglas 77 (assisted Murphy), Chambers 90+2 (assisted Sears)
QPR: R Green 6; N Onuoha 6, G Hall 7, G Angella 7, Konchesky 7; L Fer 5 (Sandro 71), D Hoilett 7, K Henry 7, M Phillips 5 (T Chery 83), A Faurlin 8; S Polter 7
Subs not used: A Smithies, D Tozser, J Emmanuel-Thomas, C Hill, M Luongo
Goals: Hoilett 45+5 (assisted Phillips)
Yellow Cards: Konchesky, Onuoha
Referee – Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire) 7 As someone who rarely gets animated about referees, and tends not to distinguish one from another, as far as I could tell Mr Drysdale managed to avoid getting either the home crowd or the away support on his back, so must have had done his job well enough.
Attendance – 23,615
The Twitter @AKUTRs
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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