QPR sting Bolton in injury time again – report
Sunday, 21st Feb 2016 14:05 by Clive Whittingham
QPR broke Bolton hearts with an injury time goal for the second time this season on Saturday, with Matt Phillips scoring in the third minute of added time to salvage a 1-1 draw for Rangers.
It was one of those days in the north of England. A squall whipping in off the Irish Sea blanketed the north west with rain delivered in sheets, at speed.
In the futuristic floodlights atop Bolton Wanderers’ sparsely populated corner of a remote retail park, you could see the water whistling around in sweeping circles, waiting for its moment to descend another 200 feet and batter the few poor souls who cared enough about this match to turn up to watch it straight in the face. Thirty five rows back from the front, at the very back of the away end, QPR fans huddled together for warmth against a concrete wall were still drenched for their £25 admission. A drier, higher, second tier sat vacant and unused immediately behind them by way of further torment.
Bolton’s pitch, more mud than grass, looked to have another couple of hours left in it. Had this been an evening game, referee Jeremy Simpson may have had a call to make. One patch of bare earth stretching from the goal to the corner flag in front of the away end glistened under standing water, and the whole thing played like a skating rink – players struggling to keep their balance, the ball picking up pace and skidding off in random directions every time it landed.
They give weather like this old people names in the south now. London-centric newscasters sit there and talk about the damage wrought by Storm Gertrude, or Maude, or Clive. In Lancashire they simply call it February, although the departure board at the nearby Horwich Parkway blinked ‘cancelled’ against an increasing number of services, suggesting this was out of the ordinary even for the weathered people of this region.
And I throw all this flouncy bullshit in not only for colour, but by way of mitigation. It was difficult enough to stand up when facing directly into the teeth of whatever in the name of God this was, as we found out in the car park afterwards, so to kick a ball of air around with any degree of skill and accuracy in it must have been nigh on impossible. Bolton Wanderers and Queens Park Rangers have shown repeatedly this season that they’re not very good football teams, and the task proved well beyond them. There was almost nothing at all to commend this game to either the neutral spectator, or even those who are still vested in the performances of these two clubs.
I say ‘almost nothing’… There was Zach Clough. Born in 1995 and weighing as much as the average dishcloth, he hasn’t let his slight frame, tender years or sub-standard team mates stop him making an impression in the Championship over the past 18 months and he wasn’t about to be distracted by a bit of wind and wet either.
He scored what seemed certain to be the only goal of the game after 68 minutes. Receiving the ball to the left of the QPR penalty area he moved it infield with a deft touch to create space and then unleashed a technically brilliant, fearsome 25-yarder over goalkeeper Alex Smithies and into the far top corner of the net, kissing the underside of the crossbar as it flew in.
That was no fluke either. Four minutes before half time he’d executed an outlandish airborne bicycle kick, again beating Smithies high to his left, but this time missing the post by inches from 15 yards out. Moments later, once more arriving late in the penalty area from a deep-lying position, he headed straight at the keeper when he seemed likely to score.
Clough shone through the gloom of the weather and the near total silence of a reserve game-like atmosphere like a beacon. The best player on the field by an absolute country mile. He made light work of conditions that completely neutered far more senior professionals and what made it more remarkable was this was his first start for six weeks as he continues to feel his way back from injury. More surprising still, he almost signed for fellow Championship strugglers Bristol City for £2m last month. Such a low price certainly down to the financial collapse Bolton have brought upon themselves, but surely somebody a bit higher up the ladder than Bristol City must be having a sniff of this boy at that price?
Bolton must be grateful he’s still with them. Their team, sans-Clough, is a frightening prospect. The attack was led by Liam Feeney – a willing runner but little more – with veteran striker Emile Heskey up in support, and if this was Heskey supporting you’d hate to see him opposing. Now 38-years-old, the former Liverpool striker is patently long past the point he should have given up. Despite, presumably, training four times a week and playing a game at weekends, he’s now built like a model from the type-2 diabetes posters the NHS distribute to GP surgeries and his performance here was like that of a dad in a dads v lads match – not one of the younger, fitter dads either. Bolton boss Neil Lennon mercy-killed him after 53 minutes, sending on gratuitous violence enthusiast Gary Madine in his stead – Madine offered nothing positive either, but has at least managed to roughly maintain a footballer’s physique.
Jay Spearing shot wide in the first half, Heskey wrestled with Grant Hall at the back post at the start of the second and appealed for a penalty, and that was pretty much it as far as threat went from Wanderers without Clough’s involvement.
So what of Queens Park Rangers then, against this limited opponent which sat bottom of the table at the start of play and will surely be relegated to League One come the end of this season? Well, this much talk of the weather and Zach Clough should probably offer you some clues.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink stiffened his midfield following the capitulation against Fulham a week ago by recalling Karl Henry. A shrewd move in the circumstances – despite a first half yellow card from referee Simpson for a tackle that looked to cleanly take the ball and was certainly no worse or different from three that had been made immediately before it, and Darren Pratley’s subsequent prolonged attempts to wind him up and extract a red card, Henry protected the defence well and closed that space in the ‘ten’ position from where Fulham had done so much damage.
Jamie Mackie was also moved to the right flank in front of James Perch, meaning Matt Phillips’ total refusal to track back and help his full back that had seen Luke Garbutt run amok seven days ago wasn’t an issue here.
But with the ball Henry, Mackie, and almost all of their team mates were dreadful. Mackie, in particular, looked yards short of a game played at a walking pace while Henry, hilariously, at one point attempted a Cruyff-style turn on the edge of his own penalty box with predictable results. Junior Hoilett, who should be used to such conditions after a prolonged stint at nearby Blackburn, looked disinterested and was completely anonymous. Matt Phillips, too, offered little more than several poorly taken corners.
That meant Conor Washington was even more isolated than he would have been anyway, picked as a lone striker. Frequently forced to field hopeful punts and hooks down the field as the dropped out of the swirling wind, with two big centre backs for company, the former Peterborough man was subsisting on mere scraps. That said, he acquitted himself to the task very well, and after controlling the ball neatly and accelerating into space in the area in the first half he was unlucky to see keeper Ben Amos save his firm shot with one hand.
Rangers looked a deal better after their substitutions. Hoilett was thankfully replaced on the hour by Nasser El Khayati and he, like Clough, seemed to be playing the game in an entirely different climate to everybody else on the field. Suddenly QPR had somebody who could control the ball competently, ask questions of the Bolton defence other than “can you head this long ball away?” and deliver a dangerous cross into the area consistently. From one such delivery, after 64 minutes, James Perch bundled the ball wide at the near post when he should have scored.
Later Seb Polter came on and while accepting that he was below par against Ipswich and particularly crap against Fulham, it seemed odd that it took until 74 minutes to get him involved here. This was his sort of game, with percentage balls to be fought over against physical centre backs.
Still, an equaliser didn’t look very likely until, in the third minute of injury time, Matt Phillips rode a wild tackle from Dean Moxey and then struck the ball firmly into the net from the edge of the area. The shot went straight down the middle, and Ben Amos kindly dived out of its way to his right. For the second time this season, Rangers had broken Bolton hearts in injury time.
The standard, melodramatic, online meltdown and calls for sackings had been in full swing before that, with QPR apparently set to lose to the league’s bottom placed team. Each defeat, and there has only been one of those in the last seven, is met with anger and bloodlust that simply isn’t reflected in QPR’s league position and current situation. Bolton may be bottom but they’ve only lost three times at home this season and this match, like almost every other in the Championship, played out as two evenly-matched, mediocre sides bumping into each other with very little skill or thought and a result declared, almost completely at random, after an hour and a half.
That is where QPR are at the moment, both as a team and on the league ladder in this transitional season. Remarkably, this scarcely-deserved draw moved the R’s up into the top half of the table despite them winning only two of the last 13 games. That probably said more about this division than anything else at the weekend. We go yet again on Tuesday night.
Bolton: Amos 5; Vela 5, Dervite 6, Holding 6, Moxey 5; Spearing 5, Pratley 6, Davies 5, Clough 8 (Danns 84, -); Heskey 4 (Madine 53, 5), Feeney 5
Subs not used: Rachubka, Osede Prieto, Wellington, Dobbie, Woolery
Goals: Clough 68 (unassisted)
QPR: Smithies 6; Perch 5, Onuoha 5, Hall 6, Konchesky 4; Luongo 5, Henry 6 (Chery 80, -); Phillips 5, Hoilett 5 (El Khayati 62, 7), Mackie 5 (Polter 74, 6); Washington 6
Subs not used: Angella, Toszer, Ingram, Petrasso
Goals: Phillips 90+3 (Unassisted)
Bookings: Henry 21 (foul), Luongo 60 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Nasser El Khayati 7 Only on for little over half an hour but the only QPR player who didn’t seem burdened by the conditions and general malaise of the team performance. Made light of a difficult playing surface with a sound first touch and a final ball of genuine quality and threat. Certainly, given Hoilett’s performance sin the past couple of games, and Mackie’s showing here, must be pushing for greater involvement in the coming games.
Referee – Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire) 6 Booked Henry in the first half when I didn’t even think it was much of a foul, and was then pursued around the field by Darren Pratley and harangued from the touchline by Neil Lennon for the rest of the game as they attempted to Henry sent off. Having been weak in the first instance, he did well to stand up to that nonsense after half time.
Attendance – 14, 085 (700 QPR approx) An atmosphere entirely in keeping with the non-existent quality of the game, with most of the crowd forced to sit through this rubbish while getting soaking wet.
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