Improving QPR comfortable winners against bad-tempered Blues – Report
Monday, 29th Feb 2016 22:09 by Clive Whittingham
QPR turned in a decent performance, with a number of outstanding individual efforts, in a comfortable win against Birmingham City on Saturday.
Apart from one aberration against Fulham – the reaction to which is looking increasingly hysterical – Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink seems to actually be starting to get somewhere with this Queens Park Rangers team.
Two difficult away matches – one made awkward by the conditions, the other by the quality of the opposition – negotiated without a defeat, the R’s returned to Loftus Road on Saturday and comfortably swept aside play-off chasing Birmingham City. In the process, Rangers stepped everything up another level from the recent win here against another promotion chaser Ipswich Town. Is that light we see at the end of the tunnel, or another train approaching?
Saturday’s victory was built on vastly improved showings from a number of the team’s problem children this season. Few could have anticipated how poor James Perch would be in blue and white hoops ahead of his arrival from Wigan in the summer, given the positive write ups he’d had at his previous clubs. Now it seems, despite him being right footed, what we should have been doing all along was picking him at left back. Not only has the switch taken Paul Konchesky out of the team, it’s also improved Perch by several million percentage points. Solid at Sheffield Wednesday during the week, he turned in his best performance for the club here both with and without the ball – passing intelligently in possession, and keeping Birmingham’s liveliest player David Cotterill under some sort of control.
When Ryan Shotton - whose thought process on this incident would make an excellent psychology PhD study - inexplicably let Perch ride through a tackle he was a distant second favourite to get anywhere near and seize a through ball from Seb Polter he was able to cut the ball back from the byline for Tjaronn Chery. The Dutchman, making a rare start as Polter’s link man, cutely slid the ball into the bottom corner off the far post, giving goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak no chance at all and handing Rangers a deserved lead ten minutes before half time.
Gabrielle Angella also looked a reasonable signing when the leaves were still on the trees and the sun was high in the sky. A dominant player in the air, as well as a centre back who could carry the ball out from defence and distribute it properly, he felt like a shrewd acquisition. But the Italian has found game time limited, and hasn’t impressed on the rare outings he has had. Here though, he did a number on Birmingham’s lone striker Clayton Donaldson who’d caused so many issues for QPR in the first meeting between the sides this season. Beaten in the air, outclassed on the ground, Donaldson’s frustration manifested itself in a second half booking for dissent after a stand-up row over nothing very much with referee Roger East.
Angella’s inclusion, and Perch’s shift to the left, has meant a move to right back for Nedum Onuoha, who has often looked uncomfortable with the extra ball playing elements of the full back position when used there previously. Here he was very decent indeed, not only defensively which we’re entitled to expect of a native centre half, but also in possession where he set off on several enterprising runs into the Brum half which wreaked a sort of dog in the school playground-type havoc among the Birmingham defence.
And then there was Karl Henry. Maligned to the point of being hounded off the pitch altogether by his own so-called supporters against MK Dons earlier this season, Henry turned in his best ever QPR performance in this game, controlling the central midfield area and freeing Massimo Luongo and Tjaronn Chery to turn in their own excellent performances further forward.
The reward for solidifying the base of the team was a comprehensive victory against a team which, at least according to the league table, is one of the division’s better sides. Matt Phillips had already seen a speculative long range shot blocked away when Chery led a swift counter attack from a Birmingham free kick that at one stage threatened to turn into a four on two situation in QPR’s favour only for East to whistle far too quickly, halting a clear advantage, to show a yellow card to Diego Fabbrini for a foul in back play.
Chery was later fouled twice in quick succession on the edge of the Birmingham box – one ignored, the other granted a free kick which the Dutchman curled into the wall himself as his influence on the game grew. At the other end Cotterill’s long range missile in a rare Birmingham attack flew two yards wide of the post with home keeper Alex Smithies only showing passing interest.
Chery shot wide of the top corner after getting on the end of a fantastic ball from Phillips, then gave the home side the lead just as things were starting to turn nasty down at the School End – two fans squaring up for a one-sided punch up by the corner flag during open play isn’t something you see every day.
If the aim of a raucous travelling support was to wake their team from its slumber it failed. Birmingham seemed shocked and unsure of everything taking place in front and behind them and quickly shipped a second with Seb Polter showing hitherto unseen immaculate control of the ball to execute a nutmeg on his way into clear space in the penalty box. The foul on him by Michael Morrison was obvious, and would have brought a red card on most other days. Junior Hoilett seemed an odd choice for the spot kick but he buried it right footed all the same and was pelted with coins from the away end for his troubles.
Polter later pulled a ball out of the sky and turned well before shooting wide in first half stoppage time as the traffic continued to flow in one direction.
Two nil can be an odd lead, and a Birmingham goal early in the second half would have brought memories of 23 points lost from winning positions this year flooding into QPR minds. Karl Henry’s headed goal line clearance at the end of a titanic penalty box scramble as Donaldson attempted to bounce an improvised volley over the stricken Smithies a minute into the second half felt crucial. As did the keeper’s unorthodox stop down to his right when Cotterill smacked one of several quickfire Birmingham free kicks towards goal moments later.
But Hasselbaink’s team made it clear they were not going to be sitting back, soaking up and seeing out time be reasserting themselves as an attacking force in the game. Luongo’s performance deserved a goal, and only a flying Kuszczak save denied him one via a left-footed shot from 20 yards after Phillips and Hoilett had combined well. The move of the game followed a minute later and ended with Phillips crossing for Polter at the near post but his effort was bundled behind for a corner.
Luongo then pinged an exceptional crossfield 40 yard ball in behind Jonathan Grounds, taking the full back out of the situation completely, but Chery couldn’t produce the finish to match his immaculate first touch.
The Dutchman was at the heart of QPR’s most inventive play all afternoon. His good work to draw a foul on the hour was rather wasted by Hoilett’s weak shot from the free kick. Then he had a shot of his own deflected wide with the visitors upset that play had been allowed to reusme quite so quickly after James Vaughan replaced Maikel Kieftenbeld. Kieftenbeld’s last action had been to hook a chance over Smithies’ bar from a long throw.
Chery looked like the player we were told we’d signed in the summer, as did Luongo. Hasselbaink’s technique of leaving both of them out for perplexingly long periods of time, the introducing them when they’re ravenous for a chance and determined to do what he’s asked of them to stay in the team looks like clever man management on this evidence.
I’m not sure - two goals up at home, playing well, feeling positive – there was any need to boo Daniel Tozser’s introduction, particularly as the Hungarian had improved and scored an important goal at Hillsborough on Tuesday. Rangers were in need of a fresh, steadying influence when he replaced Chery too – Donaldson had just hooked one chance over while Smithies had acrobatically punched a Robinson header from a corner away to safety. Sections of the QPR support have absolutely perplexed and depressed me at times this season.
The game rather petered out thereafter. Toral, who on this evidence should be starting for Birmingham ahead of Fabbrini, was booked for hauling down Hoilett while Conor Washington looked lively having replaced Phillips wide right. East tried to enliven proceedings by making a series of perplexing decisions in the closing moments – a foul on Polter wasn’t given, then an identical offence against Robinson was and Tozser was quickly penalised for nothing very much at all.
But with Polter recovering from two poor personal performances against Fulham and Ipswich with a very decent showing here, it was still Rangers attacking at the death and Tozser sent a shot over the bar with options for a pass left and right.
QPR, with only really Hoilett left of the big-earning old guard, looked more organised, quicker, fitter, more committed, more balanced and more attacking than they have done for months. People like Smithies, Hall, Luongo and Polter are becoming integral to a younger, more vibrant team. Just as it was supposed to be back in the summer.
The question now, after two tentative steps forward, is whether the standard stride in the other direction awaits a week from now at MK Dons.
QPR: Smithies 6; Onuoha 7, Angella 7, Hall 6, Perch 7; Henry 7, Luongo 7, Phillips 6 (Washington 82, -), Chery 8 (Tozser 76, 6), Hoilett 6 (El Khayati 90+3, -); Polter 7
Subs not used: Konchesky, Faurlin, Ingram, Petrasso
Goals: Chery 35 (assisted Perch), Hoilett 38 (penalty, won Polter)
Birmingham: Kuszczak 6; Shotton 5, Morrison 5, Robinson 6, Grounds 6; Gleeson 6, Kieftenbeld 6 (Vaughan 71, 5); Cotterill 7, Fabbrini 4 (Toral 63, 6), Maghoma 6 (Buckley 79, 6); Donaldson 4
Subs not used: Legzdins, Spector, Davis, Caddis
Bookings: Fabbrini 15 (foul), Morrison 39 (foul), Donaldson 60 (dissent), Toral 81 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Tjaronn Chery 8 Lots of candidates, which makes a night change, but a goal nudges Chery ahead of Perch, Henry, Angella and Luongo for me. Added creativity, guile and threat to the attack, profiting from Polter’s physicality and nuisance value up ahead. A combination I’d like to see more of.
Referee – Roger East (Wiltshire) 6 An odd performance, which started with him pulling QPR back from a dangerous counter attack to give them a free kick in their own half, and ended with a succession of infuriating decisions in the closing two minutes. In between it’s hard to see how Morrison can stay on having fouled Polter just as he’s about to shoot from six yards out for the penalty.
Attendance – 17,110 (3,100 Birmingham approx) Obviously lots of press coverage, and stories from the Birmingham fans of ridiculous arrangements outside which saw a good few of them miss the first 20 minutes of the match, which is sad to hear. However they behaved before, during and after the game is a separate issue – if I’d paid £32 to get into a football match and turned up at 14.45 I’d have been bloody steaming if I’d been kept outside until halfway through the first half as well. Once inside the ground though the coin throwing and the aggression in the corner next to the disabled section is twatish behaviour and not something we’ve seen at Loftus Road for a long while. Be interesting to know whether the financial decision to start giving away fans both tiers again may have backfired slightly here, with any extra cash now absorbed by the extra cost of policing a big travelling support.
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