Steady improvements and familiar failings combine in Wolves draw - Report
Sunday, 24th Jan 2016 22:56 by Clive Whittingham
QPR lost points from a leading position yet again on Saturday as Wolves came on strong after half time and salvaged a deserved 1-1 draw after falling behind early.
Some signs of life and improvement, some familiar failings, some more points lost from a winning position – Quuens Park Rangers’ 2015/16 season continues to amble along to a midtable conclusion. By the time it’s over in May, we’ll do well to recall half a dozen of the 46 league matches.
Saturday’s run of the mill 1-1 draw at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers was different from last weekend’s 3-0 success at Rotherham for two main reasons other than location, opposition and final score. In South Yorkshire Rangers had been able to add a second goal to their first when on top, making a victory much easier to see out – they weren’t able to do that at home to Kenny Jackett’s side on Saturday and have now surrendered 21 points this year from games they’ve lead at some point. And on their first visit to the New York Stadium, in what turned out to be the first victory under new manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at the ninth attempt, they came on strong in the second half after a poor first 45, whereas here on their own patch it was the exact opposite.
A platform seemed to have been laid for a home win by an impressive team performance before half time. Rangers picked up where they left off against Neil Redfearn’s side, scoring after two minutes and creating several more chances to add to that before the tea and orange segments were handed round.
German target man Sebastien Polter won a free kick after two minutes as his latest physical confrontation with a Championship centre half – Danny Batth the victim this time – got under way. He converted the chance himself too, rising highest to direct Matt Phillips’ delivery into the bottom corner despite Wolves’ other centre back Ethan Ebanks-Landell pulling him back by the shirt.
Polter is proving a real handful for defences at this level and Matt Phillips can still deliver a ball better than most in the division despite his rank inconsistency and recent aversion to tackling and defending as a potential money-spinning move away from the club beckons in this transfer window. Twice before half time good approach work through midfield by Massimo Luongo gave Phillips a crossing chance from the right – the first just out of Polter’s reach as he flung himself into the goal mouth, the second headed down by the German as he clattered over the top of Batth but Carl Ikeme was equal to the effort.
Phillips tried one himself from 25 yards when David Edwards deliberately palmed the ball away for an obvious free kick – referee Andy Woolmer perhaps generous not to show the visiting player a yellow card for that one – but having cut across the back of the ball Phillips sent his effort wide of Ikeme and his wall, but also wide of the post.
But there had been warning signs that Rangers wouldn’t have this all their own way throughout the match – not only in the first period here, but also in two previous matches this season.
When Brighton and Hove Albion drew 2-2 on this ground in December Robert Green’s shambolic goalkeeping drew much of the attention from their second goal, but it was scored from long range by Rajiv van la Parra, a Dutch winger loaned to the South Coast club by Wolves. Quite why Wolves, in tenth at the start of play, would want to loan him out was difficult to fathom on the evidence of that night, and a total bloody mystery by the end of this one.
He served notice on veteran left back Paul Konchesky after a quarter of an hour, burning him for pace having isolated him in a wide area and delivering a testing cross to the heart of the six yard box where Nedum Onuoha did extremely well to hook it away from danger.
When QPR won 3-2 at Molineux in the first meeting between these sides this season in August they did so despite trailing two nil early, and being largely dominated through the midfield by the leggy pairing of Dave Edwards and Kevin McDonald. Those two were paired here again and despite Rangers’ dominance in the first half, and Massimo Luongo’s eye catching performance going forwards, they were able to completely take over the middle of the park by early in the second stanza, exploiting the Australian’s lack of defensive strength and a tired performance from his partner Karl Henry.
The equaliser, when it came, was extremely fortunate – James Henry’s tame shot deflecting first off Hall and then, just as Alex Smithies had committed to following its path, off Onuoha changing the angle just enough to divert it around the stricken keeper’s outstretched leg and into the back of the unguarded net.
But by the end, Rangers could scarcely complain at being pegged back. With Edwards and McDonald controlling the middle and van La Parra making Konchesky wish he’d retired years ago, the visitors were every bit as good after half time as QPR had been before it.
Edwards headed one good cross over after 55 minutes, then van La Parra saw a shot blocked in the area, seemingly by Grant Hall’s arm for a decent penalty appeal, after James Perch had inexplicably sent a nervous header back into the danger zone. Things calmed for a little while after that but QPR’s first change – bringing on Tjaronn Chery for Henry and moving Leroy Fer back into a more defensive midfield position – opened them up even more through the middle of the park and suddenly it looked like Wolves were playing with 13 men on the field.
The thing quickly descended into a panic. Grant Hall’s fine covering tackle drew applause on 73 minutes but the Hoops couldn’t clear their lines and Smithies had to fling himself to his left and get two strong hands to keep out a powerful effort by Matt Doherty as he drove forwards from left back. Smithies looked altogether more nervous seconds later as he rather patted away a speculative shot from McDonald, only to leap to his feet and make the save of the game from Edwards as he headed down towards the bottom corner when Wolves immediately returned the ball into the penalty box.
Panic off the field as well, where the ridiculous notion that four stewards need to run down the touchline and sit in front of the QPR fans every time there is a throw in or a corner finally came back to bite whichever fool came up with it. Hopefully the slip, fall, and prolonged treatment required for one of them before they were carried away on a stretcher will put paid to this nonsense once and for all. Best wishes to the injured party.
So, QPR grateful to their goalkeeper, the referee, and their centre half pairing for keeping the game tied. Wolves sent on George Saville for Edwards shortly after that flurry of chances, and, with Adam Le Fondre ineffective and mostly offside as their main striker all afternoon anyway, started to look like they were happy with the draw they’d fought back to attain.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, as has been the case in one or two games of late, seemed slow with his own changes by comparison. It was hard to believe, for instance, that Konchesky wouldn’t have benefitted from the presence of Jamie Mackie ahead of him down the left wing for extra defensive muscle and work rate, as Wolves’s best two players van La Parra and Dominic Iorfa – son of… - continued to isolate and dominate him. Ale Faurlin, likewise, would have done a far better job of regaining control of the midfield from Edwards and McDonald than a flagging Luongo and only ever half interested Leroy Fer could do.
When a switch was eventually made, seven minutes from time, the effect of the fresh legs down the left flank was instant. Conor Washington, signed from Peterborough during the week, slotted straight in to the left of Seb Polter and within five minutes had killed a ball dropping out of the sky stone dead, accelerated into dangerous space and cut the ball back perfectly for fellow sub Tjaronn Chery to sweep home from seven yards out unmarked. Somehow, the Dutchman smacked the inside of the post.
It wasn’t entirely one way traffic – Seb Polter could easily have had a second with better connection on a swivelling volley when a corner dropped into his path soon after half time and Matt Phillips had a side-footed volley blocked midway through the second half – but it was certainly QPR’s first half and Wolves’ second and a draw was a fair result. Hasselbaink and his men grateful substitute Saville snatched at an injury time chance when the ball broke to him in the area to preserve that stalemate.
A work in very steady progress then. Positives – Polter, Smithies, Phillips’ deliveries, Luongo with the ball - weighed equally with negatives – Konchesky, Henry, Phillips’ defence, Luongo without the ball. Further small improvements could be made with better use of the bench – particularly Mackie who would have been absolutely perfect to help regain some semblance of physical parity down the QPR left in the second half – but this did rather feel like this QPR team parring the course. The lack of a dominant central midfielder, fit enough to run box to box and control that area of the field for the team, in the style of Shaun Derry, will continue to be keenly felt.
And then we all got in the car and set off for Nottingham Forest.
QPR: Smithies 7; Perch 6, Onuoha 7, Hall 7, Konchesky 5; Luongo 6, Henry 5 (Chery 73, 5); Phillips 6, Hoilett 6 (Washington 83, -), Fer 5; Polter 6
Subs not used: Hill, Mackie, Lumly, Faurlin, Angella
Goals: Polter 2 (assisted Phillips)
Wolves: Ikeme 6; Iorfa 7, Batth 6, Ebanks-Landell 6, Doherty 6; Van La Parra 8, McDonald 7, Edwards 7 (Saville 82, -), Henry 6, Coady 6; Le Fondre 5
Subs not used: Goldbourne, McCarey, Rowe, Price, Byrne, Enobakhare
Goals: Henry 48
QPR Star Man – Grant Hall 7 Rarely makes a mistake, or loses a header. A real find. remained composed at the back in the second half despite the central midfield and full backs leaving him and Onuoha exposed.
Referee – Andy Woolmer (Northants) 7 I've knocked him down from the original eight because having had a second look (which he doesn't get of course) the Grant Hall handball appeal does look a penalty to me, with a deliberate move of the upper arm towards the ball. But overall I thought he was excellent, right on top of every decision and very decisive with his calls - a far cry from his last shambolic performance here a couple of years back when Bournemouth were in town. Generous not to book Edwards for his deliberate handball in the first half.
Attendance 15, 266 (1,200 Wolves approx) Morgue-like atmosphere, as always for these bloody early kick offs. Credit to the Wolves fans for travelling down in good numbers and singing anti-Sky Sports songs all afternoon. Wish we'd joined in a bit more.
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