More late pain for QPR at Ewood Park - Report
Wednesday, 13th Jan 2016 19:29 by Clive Whittingham
QPR’s run of games without a win, and tendency to concede key goals late in games, continued at Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday evening.
Points 18 and 19 lost from winning positions, like the six that went before them, drifted away from Queens Park Rangers in the final ten minutes of Tuesday night’s slog at Blackburn Rovers.
QPR have scored as many late goals as they’ve conceded so far this season, but the problem of shipping costly strikes at the business end of games is becoming particularly acute as new manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s fitness regime coincides with a taxing Christmas fixture list.
Rangers haven’t conceded a goal in the single first half of a league match in 15 outings, but have let one in at the other end on 77, 80, 85, 86, 90 and 90 in the last five games alone. When the opposition is at its most desperate and fraught, QPR’s lack of concentration, quality and fitness is costing them.
This latest setback, leaving Hasselbaink still searching for a first victory after eight matches at the helm, was particularly galling as Rangers had at least shown some semblance of improvement and plan over the course of the evening. Not exactly the great Dutch team of 1974, but certainly a deal better than they have been during recent matches with Huddersfield, Hull and Forest.
Junior Hoilett, returning to his former club to the roughest reception a crowd as sparse as the one that spread through Ewood Park could possibly muster, turned in a decent performance, mostly down the right and through the middle behind the main striker. Seb Polter, playing as the lone forward, looked a good deal fitter than he had previously and produced his best all round display for the club so far against two of the division’s better, and more physical, centre halves, Grant Hanley and Shane Duffy.
It was that combination that sprung the Rovers defence open for the first goal of the evening after 24 minutes. Polter, as he had done against Hull, showed great awareness and weight of pass to turn a clever ball around the corner, behind the Rovers full back, to free his winger into an acre of space. Hoilett, as Matt Phillips had done against the Tigers, picked out a perfect cross and although Phillips rather bottled the challenge at the near post as goalkeeper Jason Steele rushed out to close him down he was one of three QPR players in the queue and Leroy Fer was able to swoop in behind him and bundle the ball into the empty net.
Earlier Hoilett had attacked down the opposite flank during a good counter attack, drawing a nervous save from Steele with a low cross shot. And the big German forward was unfortunate not to get a goal his performance deserved when two good crosses and a prolonged spell of pressure after the half hour saw him slide into a challenge with Steele almost on the goal line – the ball spurted loose, and safe, when it could really have gone anywhere.
This continued immediately after half time. Polter winning the ball back from nothing by the corner flag and feeding Phillips who fed a low cross right through the goal mouth for Fer to miss at the far post. The growing confidence of an influential performance probably went to the German’s head a little when he decided to have a lash at a 35 yard free kick midway through the second half, with predictably life-endangering consequences for the small pocket of travelling Rangers fans behind the goal, but he didn’t give Duffy or Hanley a moment of peace all night, regularly closing them down in possession and niggling them under high balls – eventually Duffy had to leave the field injured after a particularly physical clash in the first half. The three of them seemed to be in constant dialogue, relishing the physical battle, and referee Eddie Ilderton did well to let them get on with it.
QPR’s claim that they’ll never have a better chance to win promotion than this season is ridiculous when you look at the quality of the team they’re trying to do it with, but not when you look at the division as a whole. The Championship, always an attritional league even in its best seasons, surely won’t be as stodgy and uninspiring as it is this year for many seasons to come. Surely? Will it? Are you listening to me? Say something.
This match, like so many we’ve seen before it in 2015/16, was root canal work in football form. A long, drawn-out, painful experience for everybody involved, conducted in entirely sterile surroundings.
Blackburn Rovers, a club competing well in the top half of the Premier League and the latter stages of cup competitions as recently as 2011, have been completely ravaged by first the ownership of some mad Indian chicken farmers and their various hangers on, and then more recently a prolonged Football League transfer embargo. Apart from their two centre halves there was little to admire about them here. Even star striker Jordan Rhodes is without a goal in eight outings now and it wasn’t at all difficult to understand how they’d lost the previous three matches without scoring a single goal prior to this one.
There was certainly potential for them to snap that run here. They had Norwich winger Elliott Bennett making a debut on loan down one flank, and were openly invited to attack at will down the other side by Matt Phillips blatantly, apparently deliberately, denigrating all his defensive duties, barely even walking back on several occasions when recalled right back James Perch found himself outnumbered by an overlapping full back. Ale Faurlin also struggled in a physical central midfield where Karl Henry’s work rate, if not his quality on the ball, proved a valuable asset as a result.
Instead they adopted one tactic and one tactic alone – try and bully a goal out of visiting rookie goalkeeper Joe Lumley.
QPR, as only they could, have allowed a situation to develop where they can’t select their first choice goalkeeper Robert Green any more because they can’t afford to meet a clause granting him a contract renewal if he plays 30 times this year. Having run that right to its limit, they’ve now found they can’t select his understudy Alex Smithies, and still won’t be able to at Rotherham on Saturday, because of an elbow injury. Had Green been dropped and Smithies selected several months ago, when his form deserved it, Green would still have some leeway on the contract situation and be able to play. But he wasn’t, and he hasn’t, so he can’t. So it’s all on 20 year old Joe, who has six senior appearances to his name during loan spells at Morecambe and Accrington but hadn’t appeared at all for QPR until Saturday’s game at Nottingham Forest.
While his upper body shape and floppy hair betrays his age, he is not a goalkeeper wanting for confidence, communication or height. He’s got a longer kick than Green too – although I suspect that’s true of many of the 300 or so QPR fans who travelled to Lancashire for this game too. Blackburn decided early doors that Lumley was their best hope here and started hanging every throw in, free kick and corner they could high and long into a crowded six yard box to try and unsettle him.
There were nervous moments early on. Shane Duffy planted a firm near post header wide from a corner when he should have scored after nine minutes. Then Lumley spilled a shot from Corry Evans with the rain falling presenting Rhodes with a great chance but the young stopper dived down at his feet to produce the save of the night – those at the front of the away end suggested Grant Hall had subsequently flicked the rebound away from goal with his hand but referee Ilderton showed no interest.
Lumley seemed to grow in confidence after that stop. Craig Conway headed straight down his throat before half time, then Duffy caused a panic in the six yard box by nodding a corner down into the danger zone. Polter cleared another corner well, and Lumley was nervous with a punch, but in the second half he was catching balls under pressure, getting off his line well and commanding his area. Twelve minutes from time he held a firm Duffy header well in the top corner from yet another corner.
It didn’t look like Rovers had it in them to score. Their main tactic had actually grown Lumley in stature, rather than intimidating him, but QPR didn’t do enough to either tie the game up nor see it out. A second QPR goal rarely looked likely, and nor did a substitution by Hasselbaink. Phillips had been decent on the ball but phoning in his defensive game all night and could easily have been replaced by the harder running Jamie Mackie. Gabrielle Angella’s aerial presence may also have boosted the back four as the home team continued its aerial bombardment of the six yard box. Fresh legs to get somebody up and around Polter could have been provided by Tjaronn Chery or Michael Petrasso.
Would it have made any difference? Very easy to play the Monday morning quarter back and say Rangers would have won had changes been made, we’ll never be sure. What is certain is that 1-0 is a fragile lead when you’re conceding late in matches as often as QPR are and sure enough, a shambolic equaliser arrived with four minutes left on the clock thanks to a catalogue of defensive errors.
Lumley went to meet a long throw at the near post only to find Jordan Rhodes there, left completely unmarked by Nedum Onuoha, waiting for him and the ball. When it was subsequently flicked up and over the keeper to the far post Hope Akpan had also been left unattended by Karl Henry and was able to head home with embarrassing ease with James Perch doing a lousy job of guarding the post. Three of QPR’s most senior players at fault here.
Lo and behold, two substitutions followed in the remaining few seconds. Far too late, one would have thought, but the injection of freshness did produce enough impetus for Polter to bring a long ball down, jink into the area with control and skill not previously seen from him, and collapse theatrically under a lazy tackle. Looked a stick on penalty at the time, on second viewing it’s downgraded to ‘seen them given’.
Had Polter’s luck been in, he might have got it, but then you get a fairer deal from Wonga than QPR ever have from Eddie Ilderton and it was no great surprise to see it wafted away. Further confirmation that Tuesday night wasn’t the night, came when Blackburn keeper Jason Steele suddenly, randomly, in stoppage time, completely miskicked a back pass straight at Polter bang in the middle of the goal with no home players within 40 yards. The ball carried enough pace, the situation came as enough of a surprise, for it to bounce off the Rangers man and back to safety.
But on a night where two incredibly average sides merely bumped into each other for an hour and a half, a draw and the seventeenth and eighteenth places it provides them, was more than just.
Blackburn: Steele 6; Marshall 6, Duffy 7 (Williamson 77, 6), Hanley 7, Spurr 6; Bennett 6, Akpan 6, Evans 6 (Brown 66, 5), Conway 6; Rhodes 6, Lawrence 6 (Lenihan 66, 5)
Subs not used: Henley, Olsson, Raya Martin, Taylor
Goals: Akpan 85 (assisted Rhodes)
QPR: Lumley 6; Perch 6, Hall 7, Onuoha 6, Konchesky 6; Henry 6, Faurlin 5; Phillips 5 (Petrasso 86, -), Hoilett 7, Fer 6 (Chery 88, -); Polter 7
Subs not used: Angella, Hudnott, Tozser, Mackie
Goals: Fer 24 (assisted Hoilett)
QPR Star Man – Seb Polter 7 Best performance for the club so far. Looked fitter and surer on the ball. Led the line well, played a big part in the goal.
Referee – Eddie Ilderton (Tyne and Wear) 7 Pretty decent. No cards, probably right to wave away both penalty appeals, didn’t seem to have a very firm grasp of the rules around throw ins – specifically who should get the throw in when one team kicks the ball off the field – but otherwise fine.
Attendance – 12,285 (300 QPR approx) Just over 19,000 empty seats and it felt like a cold, lonely, quiet place. The Football League’s insistence that these long distance away games should all be played on a Tuesday night this year never looked so bloody stupid.
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