Keepers on top as curse continues - Report
Wednesday, 27th Jan 2016 20:48 by Clive Whittingham
Another year, and two more attempts, drifts by without QPR winning at Nottingham Forest following Tuesday’s lively goalless draw at the City Ground.
Everybody at LFW was saddened to hear that LSA member Alan Barnes was badly injured after being hit by a car in Long Eaton on Tuesday afternoon on his way to the game. Alan is an ever-present at Rangers’ home, away, reserve and youth games and has been for decades. We wish him a speedy recovery at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham.
"Queens Park Rangers have never won at Nottingham Forest, so a draw there is always a good result," says Tony Incenzo on the voiceover of the club's 1991/92 season video. Now 2016, 25 years and 13 more trips to the City Ground later, both remain true to this day.
Tuesday was Rangers' thirty second attempt at taking maximum points from a journey to this post code for the first time, and although they once again failed in that aim Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s team will have headed back down the rain-lashed M1 reasonably content with the one they secured.
That's partly because they were, in some respects, lucky to get it. The R's haven't conceded a goal in the first half of a league match in 18 outings, dating back to Birmingham away in October, and although that record continued here it did so with three of the back four not playing particularly well.
Grant Hall was a model of consistency as always, making light of slippery playing conditions with expert positioning, aerial strength and calmness under pressure. But that was not matched by his partner Nedum Onuoha, who started the game with a loose pass into midfield that was immediately punted in behind the back four for him to try to shepherd out for a goal kick only to be robbed in dangerous territory by Nelson Oliveira and rescued by his goalkeeper Alex Smithies. He improved, but not much.
Full backs James Perch and Paul Konchesky have been problem children all season. The former looks permanently flat footed and, while he mixed good and bad into this performance against his former club, his inability to clear the ball either accurately, or particularly far, caused problems just as it had against Wolves at the weekend. Often his attempts to clear his lines barely make it 30 yards - rather like one of the smaller boys in an Under 11s match trying to take goal kicks with a full sized ball inflated by an old-school coach.
Konchesky, meanwhile, was just rank poor at left back as he has been for much of the season. A rare positive contribution in the second half saw him successfully interrupt a dangerous looking counter attack with a wholehearted sliding tackle which removed possession from two advancing Forest players who'd outnumbered him – but even that was completed with the use of his forearm to push the ball away, missed by referee Paul Tierney.
That the sheet stayed clean owed much, in the first half at least, to Smithies. First the former Huddersfield stopper flung himself into the air to acrobatically tip a goalbound header from Michael Mancienne – Forest's outstanding player on the night – away from the top corner it had seemed destined to nestle in. Within seconds he was diving to the right to get fingers to a powerful near-post drive from Ben Osborn and tip it onto the woodwork. Grant Hall deflected a subsequent follow up wide for a corner which was returned with interest after Perch's latest poor clearance, onto the top of the cross bar from long distance by Robert Tesche on the half volley.
Just as they'd done in Shepherd's Bush on Saturday, Rangers had fallen apart completely for a mad five minutes and, just as happened against Wolves, Smithies had bailed them out of it. These implosions will be a concern to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, and his team need to learn to get a foot back on the ball, complete a dozen passes for the sake of completing them, and slow the game back down in such circumstances. To be fair this blip, which is all it was in the context of the whole game, could be attributed in part to Matt Phillips deciding – having warmed up on the pitch for 45 minutes before the game – that it was a bit wetter than he thought and required a new pair of boots which took him off the field and left his team with ten men for a prolonged period at the worst possible time.
The goalkeeping situation, however, seems to be solved. Let's try not to wonder for too long just what a keeper this good was doing sitting on our bench while Robert Green spent the first half of the season tossing points away in increasingly ridiculous circumstances and just enjoy the fact it's over now.
But the main cause for satisfaction here was another steadily improving performance which give optimism for better to come. One which could, and should, have yielded the elusive three points with a bit of a sharper cutting edge, a bit more belief and a bit more luck.
Forest's unbeaten run is based on a cautious approach, conceding possession and field position to opponents in the hope of springing them on the counter attack. If a team is happy to give you 70% of the ball you may as well pick two central midfielders capable of doing things with it I suppose and Hasselbaink duly threw caution to the wind by pairing Ale Faurlin and Massimo Luongo for the first time, dropping the more defensive Karl Henry to the bench.
They seemed unsure positionally at first, and Forest were able to exploit gaps behind them in the early stages – something to be wary of with better opposition to come. But Dougie Freedman's decision to leave out Jamie Ward and Olly Burke, who'd been the key players in their 1-0 victory against the R's in the FA Cup at the start of the month, was perplexing and after a nervy beginning the QPR midfield was able to completely take the game over in the second half.
The visitors came into the game more and more as the first half wore on. Junior Hoilett had home keeper Dorus De Vries diving full length to his right to keep out a low shot across the face of goal after 13 minutes but the efforts really started to rain down on the Trent End goal in the final 15 minutes of the first period.
First Seb Polter headed narrowly wide from Luongo's cross, then the German nodded down for Hoilett to try a firm first time shot which De Vries beat away. A clever through header from Perch gave Matt Phillips a chance to try a similar shot with a similar result and then in first half stoppage time a foul on Seb Polter on the edge of the area gave Faurlin a chance to size one up from a direct free kick. Having beaten the wall and achieved the required dip the Argentinean could scarcely believe it when De Vries produced an improbable save onto the underside of his own bar. Given De Vries' tendency to treat Rangers to a goal or two during his career, not least in the first meeting between the teams this season, he probably owed us that one.
There were some negatives in the second half – the whole QPR team fell fast asleep every time the ball went out of play and was persistently caught out by quick Forest throws as a result. The hosts duly introduced Burke and Ward on the hour and the former immediately found himself completely unmarked and alone in half a field of space behind Konchesky only for a poor touch to force him wide and lose the chance of a dangerous shot. Nelson Oliveira continued to impress against Onuoha.
But Hasselbaink sent on new signing Conor Washington for Junior Hoilett around the same time and Rangers were by far the better team after the break. The new boy was unfortunate to see a shot blocked away after a sharp turn on the edge of the six yard box, and Forest were indebted to Mancienne for a number of towering clearing headers deep in his own six yard box as the corner count stacked in Rangers' favour.
Washington isn't tall, but looks quick and well built. His work rate is up there with Polter and Jamie Mackie and with the German and now a new boy keen to impress chasing down their every move and clearance the Forest backline tired and started to look a little ragged. Matt Mills, gobshite in chief from Brian McDermott's detestable referee bating society, got absolutely smashed by Polter while climbing for a header on halfway, raising a smile.
Polter does that a lot. I’ve thought once or twice, particularly at Blackburn against a physical centre half pairing, that he’s chosen, on occasions, to deliberately lose a header in a neutral area just to give the centre half a whack as he climbs up above him. He constantly niggles, pokes, bashes and prods centre halves and although it concedes free kicks it’s rarely anywhere dangerous. The effect of that, against players as dim as Mills, is they end up fouling him back out of frustration, often within sight of the goal, as happened here for Faurlin’s near miss.
The only surprise was a second sub didn't follow, particularly with Leroy Fer sadly going through the motions once more. His gesture to the 320-odd QPR fans who'd made the journey to this hastily re-arranged game to 'sing up' was the irony of all ironies given his own efforts. Cheeky git. The lack of minutes for Mackie is perplexing – he seemed like an ideal candidate to join the Polter and Washington harassment gang and provide that bit of something extra in attack and added help to the beleaguered full backs. Not quite sure what we get from bringing Tjaronn Chery on for the final 90 seconds of matches either really.
Sadly, despite the weight of possession, despite Luongo and Faurlin combining nicely, despite a succession of corners, despite Matt Phillips belatedly starting to deliver from his wing, despite Polter's industry and Washington's sharpness, despite completely dominating the field position… despite it all, the goal didn't come, and the seventh draw of Hasselbaink's brief reign was the only reward. Smithies sprang sharply from his line to seize a late low cross into the area, and Ale Faurlin literally wrestled a man to the ground during another counter attack, to make sure even that didn't go the way of so many others of late.
This was a bold initial selection from Hasselbaink and produced a creditable performance with plenty to like and look forward to, as well as lots to work on. With the annual 'free weekend' taking place this Saturday while others are engaged in the FA Cup Fourth Round the latest of the Dutchman's 'mini pre-seasons' designed to get the players up to the level of fitness required to execute his preferred style of play will take place over the next ten days. Hopefully that will speed the steady improvements we've seen in patches of late ahead of intriguing home matches with Ipswich and Fulham.
It feels like it's moving in the right direction, but it’s a long old road ahead.
Forest: De Vries 7; Lichaj 6, Mills 5, Hobbs 6, Jokic 6; Mendes 5 (Burke 55, 6), Mancienne 7, Tesche 6, Osborn 6; O’Grady 5 (Ward 55, 6), Oliveira 7 (Blackstock 88, -)
Subs not used: Wilson, Cohen, Gardner, Evtimov
Bookings: Mendes 35 (foul)
QPR: Smithies 7; Perch 5, Onuoha 6, Hall 7, Konchesky 5; Faurlin 6, Luongo 6; Phillips 6 (Chery 90+3, -), Hoilett 6 (Washington 62, 7), Fer 5, Polter 6
Subs not used: Mackie, Angella, Henry, Tozser, Ingram
Bookings: Perch 71 (foul), Luongo 85 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Alex Smithies 7 Which makes it seem like QPR were under the cosh and only got away with a point because the goalkeeper was brilliant. He was, and they were for ten minutes in the first half, so he just about shades this, but Rangers were the better team throughout the second half all the same. Fine saves, command of area and distribution. All round decent keeper.
Referee – Paul Tierney (Lancashire) 6 Not too bad overall, though he can be very picky. Couple of interesting ones – Matt Phillips beat Jokic at the start of the second half and was deliberately pulled to the floor to stop him going into the area unchecked – no yellow card. Later, Forest broke, and Faurlin literally grabbed an opponent around the waist and rugby tackled him down to interrupt the move. Again, no yellow. Really odd, considering some of the tedious nonsense we’ve seen this referee get cards out for in the past.
Attendance 17,030 (330 QPR approx) Interesting that QPR brought less than half as many as they did for the FA Cup whereas Forest had nearly twice as many. Credit the QPR fans that did go – plenty of singing and very positive. Noticeable change in mood in the away end since the turn of the year, for the better.
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