Phillips’ header seals win despite late panic - Report
Monday, 8th Feb 2016 00:00 by Clive Whittingham
A late goal from Matt Phillips secured a deserved win for QPR against Ipswich at Loftus Road on Saturday, but it wasn’t all plain sailing through a terrifying period of injury time.
Queens Park Rangers’ baby steps towards improvement under new manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink continued on Saturday with the first home victory - and best overall performance - of his reign so far against play-off chasing Ipswich Town.
The 1-0 win was secured with two minutes of regular time remaining. Nasser El Khayati, making an eye-catching debut from the bench after signing from Burton Albion, tricked his way into the penalty box from the right flank and appeared to have widened the angle enough for a shot. Whether that’s what he attempted or not is open to interpretation, but the ball fell plum for Matt Phillips to power home a header at the back post.
That was some modicum of revenge for the R’s against Mick McCarthy’s side. In the first meeting between the teams this season, on Boxing Day, Town had scored in the seventy seventh and ninety second minutes to turn a 1-0 deficit into a last-gasp 2-1 victory. Rangers have improved steadily since then, reshaping the team and reducing the wage bill in the January transfer window, and in truth should have been out of sight in this match long before Phillips stooped to seal the win.
Hasselbaink was known for his cautious approach and tight defence at Burton, but he’s becoming more attacking with each passing match in charge of Rangers. The classic English 4-4-2 system is making a comeback, and many of the 17,044 crowd had watched open-mouthed as Leicester used it to run the rounds of the kitchen through Manchester City and move six points clear at the top of the Premier League prior to kick off at Loftus Road. Hasselbaink fielded Junior Hoilett and Matt Phillips as out and out wingers, Ale Faurlin and Massimo Luongo as a classy central midfield pairing, and Seb Polter and Conor Washington together in attack.
Had Rangers sat back at all, this set up could have left the defence exposed and vulnerable. But looking fitter, sharper, more positive and keener to play higher up the field than they have for some time, the home team took the game to their visitors from the very first whistle. A low cross shot from Phillips, parried out by Ipswich’s second choice keeper Bartosz Bialkowski, presented Luongo with a chance he really should have buried inside 30 seconds, but the Australian chose placement over power and the keeper was able to make a second, fairly brilliant, save to deny him.
That said, Ipswich were unusually dire. That pattern continued throughout the first half – with Town barely threatening and QPR well on top - but profligate finishing kept denying the Hoops the lead they deserved. First Phillips took a lousy touch of the ball on the quarter hour when he looked set to streak through on goal. Then a low cross from the right seemed certain to be converted by Hoilett, unmarked in the six yard box, but he made rather a hash of things and Bialkowski was able to fashion an unorthodox save with his feet. Later the keeper read Hoilett’s intention to catch him out at his near post as the Canadian winger got in behind the visiting defence once more but selfishly took on a shot when there were a couple of better options for a final pass.
And so it continued: Hoilett curled a long range shot over six minutes before half time; James Perch found the side netting after homing in on a low Phillips cross three minutes later; Phillips and Polter combined to set up Hoilett for a curling effort that missed the far post by inches as we entered stoppage time. The traffic was flowing one way, but the finishing made Arsenal look clinical.
Ipswich’s main tactic in the first half seemed to revolve around kicking Ale Faurlin out of the game. The influential Argentinean was belted hard twice in the first seven minutes, the second occasion resulting in a yellow card for Kevin Bru. To add insult to an injury that left him limping badly for the rest of the half he was later booked himself for a tackle in front of the Ellerslie Road stand that looked well timed and took the ball cleanly – referee Charles Breakspear bowing to the vocal pressure of six Ipswich players who immediately surrounded him demanding a card.
Town were mostly frustrated by an unusually well-drilled QPR defence. Hobbit-sized Ryan Fraser has been the pick of their players this season, but with Luke Varney and Brett Pitman ineffective in attack it was left to Freddie Sears to try and run in behind the defence and Grant Hall and Nedum Onuoha sprung the offside trap time and again.
When they did finally force Alex Smithies into a save, it was a spectacular one – the former Huddersfield keeper chucking himself into the air to spectacularly divert a header over the bar just as it seemed to have looped beyond him. But even that was just for show, as the long throw that lead to the chance had been deemed foul by the referee, so the goal wouldn’t have counted in any case.
Ipswich could scarcely have been any worse after half time, unless Steve Evans was right after all, and indeed the Tractor Boys showed immediate improvement from the restart. Within a minute they’d caused a panicky scramble in the Rangers penalty box with Smithies plucking a follow up header from Pitman out of the sky. Later Onuoha lost out in the air and Ryan Fraser flashed a low cross right through the goal mouth with nobody on hand to apply a killer touch.
Sensing there was suddenly something here for his team, McCarthy made two changes – striker Daryl Murphy and former QPR junior Giles Coke on for the anonymous Varney and Cole Skuse. But the veteran manager and his players were indebted to referee Breakspear on the hour when their tendency to manhandle Polter and Hall as they attacked corners got out of hand, and the latter nearly had his shirt lifted clean over his head as he tried to nod home at the back post. Standing there, arms wide, bare chested in the near gale force winds, it was difficult to understand what else Hall had to do to be awarded a spot kick in that situation. Polter, meanwhile, probably enjoys less frequent affectionate contact from Mrs Polter than he got from Christophe Berra on Saturday. All unpunished, and therefore encouraged to continue at every corner.
Conor Washington, showing a touch belying his lower league background and a Jamie Mackie-style work rate, was caught slightly on his heels when he really should have been there to convert a low Konchesky cross, then crafted his own space in the penalty area before curling a shot over the bar. The game was farcical at times, dominated by the high winds, but it was quick-paced and entertaining. Perhaps they should play Championship matches under pressure hoses and/or wind turbines more often to liven the division up.
Breakspear further endeared himself to the home crowd by waving away a bad foul on Hoilett before he went off, then booking Onuoha for a body check on Sears.
Hasslebaink has been slow with his substitutions since arriving at the club, arguably costing the team points in the latter stages of games. Here he acted promptly, and to good effect. Faurlin, struggling, was replaced by Daniel Tozser on the hour, and the Hungarian gave a long overdue glimpse of the quality he’s actually capable of in his half hour outing. Jamie Mackie replaced Junior Hoilett and added much needed hard yards and renewed impetus. Then El Khayati came on for the hard-working Washington and brought a touch of the Paolo Wanchope to proceedings – if he doesn’t know what he’s going to do next how can the defenders?
With fresher legs and sprightly purpose, QPR made their breakthrough, but with only one win from a dozen games, more points lost from winning positions than any other team in the division and a series of dramatic late goals conceded of late, a certain degree of nervousness could be forgiven. That said, how Rangers went from making Ipswich look like Grimsby Town 2009/10 for the first 88 minutes to the Brazilian World Cup winners of 1970 in the remaining two minutes and a generous five of stoppage time I do not know. The sheer panic and chaos that followed Phillips’ goal was terrifying at first, then mystifying, and finally hilarious. A game totally dominated by QPR quickly turned into Alex Smithies against the world, the defence in front of him melting into a quivering, wasted piece of jelly.
Ipswich could have scored straight from the kick off when the ball broke to Pitman on the edge of the area but he dribbled a low shot at Smithies. Then, after Tozser had initially tested Bialkowski with a cleanly struck 25-yarder, Nedum Onuoha hopelessly conceded possession in a lethal area allowing Fraser to attack and square the ball for Pitman in the area but Smithies was equal to that one as well.
When it suddenly transpired that Ipswich full back Jonas Knudsen had a long throw, Rangers wilted further. Each one was allowed to bounce in the red zone, with increasingly horrifying consequences. One was hooked on by Tommy Smith at the near post only for Smithies to save with his shoulder – the stopper recovered quickly and saved the follow up from Sears for good measure. Another was poked goalwards by Murphy and then turned on from point blank range by Sears only for Smithies to appear with an unlikely save. After El Khayati missed his kick on the edge of his own area Murphy was able to return the ball to the six yard box where Larsen Toure led a queue of would-be goalscorers but duffed his header. When Ipswich packed the six yard box for a later corner, Smithies came through the crowd and caught the ball cleanly. What a world of difference he’s making to the team – winning us points as opposed to throwing them away.
Such was the desperation, Jamie Mackie paid for a late pressure-relieving free kick with his face - shoving his head into a situation where he knew he'd take a hefty kick in the chops just to win a respite for his team. Got to love that man.
Given the team’s apparently fragile mental state it was vital they hung on, and the final whistle was greeted with relief all round. But moving forwards, chances must be taken and comfortable victories need to be much more comfortable than this one turned out.
But, a dozen games in, the effects and benefits of the Hasslebaink regime are starting to be felt and enjoyed.
QPR: Smithies 8; Perch 6, Hall 7, Onuoha 6, Konchesky 6; Phillips 6, Luongo 7, Faurlin 6 (Tozser 59, 7), Hoilett 7 (Mackie 70, 7); Washington 7 (El Khayti 80, 7), Polter 6
Subs not used: Chery, Angella, Ingram, Petrasso
Goals: Phillips 88 (assisted El Khayti)
Bookings: Faurlin 34 (foul) Onuoha 60 (foul)
Ipswich: Bialkowski 8; Chambers 6, Smith 6, Berra 7, Knudsen 6; Bru 5, Skuse 5 (Coke 58, 7), Fraser 6 (Toure 90+6, -), Sears 6; Pitman 4, Varney 5 (Murphy 57, 6)
Subs not used: Maitland-Niles, Henly, Digby, Foley
Bookings: Bru 7 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Alex Smithies 8 Which, as I wrote when giving him the star man award at Forest last week, makes it seem like Rangers got battered and were reliant on their goalkeeper to get them anything from the game. That wasn’t the case, but a succession of saves when the whole thing folded like a Cardiff City and Derby County select 11 in the final five or six minutes won Rangers the game. Three clean sheets in his last four starts.
Referee – Charles Breakspear (Surrey) 5 A fairly bog-standard Championship effort. Allowed absolutely blatant fouls to go unpunished as most corners were delivered, booked Ale Faurlin for winning the ball, failed to book several players for hammering Faurlin the other way, ignored a horrendous tackle on Hoilett in the second half altogether… then to put the tin hat on the whole thing he added a very hefty five minutes to the end of the game and played seven. The stuff he stared straight at but ignored at corners was remarkable – most notably the incident where Hall almost had his shirt completely liberated from his torso by Berra as he attacked a ball at the back post.
Attendance: 17,044 (3,100 Ipswich approx) Superb following numbers-wise from Ipswich, and they deserved a lot more than their team served up. Half decent atmosphere around the ground at times, nowhere near where it can be but hopefully that will also improve steadily as the team does likewise.
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