And two steps back – Report
Sunday, 6th Mar 2016 12:23 by Clive Whittingham
QPR, as they’ve done so often this season, followed a promising display and win with a limp surrender and defeat on Saturday, this time crashing 2-0 at relegation-haunted MK Dons.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink said after this one it “wasn’t what QPR stands for” and “it’s not how QPR do things”. Sadly for him, and the club’s long suffering supporters, it is and it is and it has been for years.
Queens Park Rangers teams throughout the modern era have regularly treated relegation-haunted sides, sides on bad runs and players on long scoreless streaks to generous gifts. Performances also seem to decline as the size of the away support goes up and so with the thick end of 4,000 QPR fans packing the upper tier of the Asda offshoot to see the R’s go up against a team fourth from bottom of the league and struggling to score goals, we probably should have guessed what was coming.
Initially there were few signs that Rangers were about to fall off the side of a cliff following last weekend’s fine performance and result against Birmingham at Loftus Road. Previously, having beaten Ipswich well in Shepherd’s Bush, the R’s crashed and burned against Fulham just as a little optimism was starting to creep in. But they were 3-0 down by half time in that match while here goalkeeper Alex Smithies was basically a spectator in the first 45 minutes.
Jake Forster-Caskey was booked for diving in the penalty area by referee Keith Stroud after just four minutes but it took until 35 for the hosts to register their first shot on goal – Darren Potter’s effort so ridiculously high and wide that it might still be travelling now.
Rangers weren’t exactly threatening themselves, but they looked to have a certain degree of control over proceedings. They’d opened brightly with Conor Washington sending the first corner towards goal and Nedum Onuoha almost turning it home from close range, then Nasser El Khayati cut in from his wing and drew a save from David Martin who did well to hold the ball with Tjaronn Chery waiting for a rebound.
Nothing much happened at all for 25 minutes after that – Championship – until Daniel Tozser curled a long range free kick over the bar after good work from Massimo Luongo and then James Perch headed over at a corner when well placed to do better. The best move of the match to this point saw Chery and Luongo combine nicely down the right, then switch the play to the left where Washington and El Khayati also teamed up well and eventually the Dutchman curled a low shot around Martin and fractionally wide of the post.
That was better, but it was a tepid first half overall, played out in almost complete silence. Hasselbaink likes to rotate his starting line ups, and did so to good effect against Sheff Wed and Birmingham last week, but you couldn’t help wonder why such sweeping changes had been made to a team that functioned very well in its last match and had a full week to recover after that. Seb Polter, for instance, had led the line well seven days prior, but was benched here leaving Conor Washington to plough a lonely furrow up front – a role that I’m not convinced he’s suited for and one that seems to be demoralising him as the games tick by without him scoring.
Tjaronn Chery was also a more peripheral figure this week, having been moved out of the ‘ten’ role he’d played so well in the last game. Although Massimo Luongo impressed having moved further forward, it seemed odd to take the Dutchman back to the wings where he hasn’t been effective this year. Having both Daniel Tozser and Karl Henry as deep lying midfielders seemed overly negative against a limited side, although in Hasselbaink’s defence MK Dons’ best player Jonny Williams does wonder around in the space behind their lone striker Alex Revell.
There were extenuating circumstances – Matt Phillips and Polter have apparently been under the weather while Junior Hoilett became a father on Friday, proving he is capable of producing some end product after all. Hasselbaink obviously knows more about this than I ever could, and sees the players every day in training, but this all felt a little odd, even at nil nil.
Two things happened at half time. First, right on the whistle, Grant Hall landed awkwardly while defending a corner and had to be helped from the field by two physios. On a ground where Ale Faurlin ruptured his knee ligaments for the first time, Rangers must pray that another Player of the Year-elect has not been crocked in a similar fashion. That necessitated a rejig of the back four which saw Onuoha come in from right back to centre half, Perch move from left back to right back, and Paul Konchesky join the left side from the bench.
This immediately brought about a complete collapse in the defensive structure of the team. Perch, after two and a half very good games at left back, suddenly regressed to his bad old self at right back, completely overawed from the very first whistle. The Dons had already forced a goalline clearance from Onuoha and caught Rangers cold once with a quickly taken free kick that created space for Williams to test Smithies at his near post – the visitors so fast asleep that Karl Robinson’s team actually got away with making a complete mess of a short pass from the set piece and still retained possession under no challenge – before they took the lead. Karl Henry and Perch were sucked right out onto the right wing to deal with Bowditch and when he turned the ball back into the space they’d left behind Dean Lewington found El Khayati had clocked off and was able to seek out the far corner with time to spare.
Konchesky, at left back, meanwhile, turned in a performance that could bring a grown man to tears. Even QPR, who’ve picked the loaned left back remorselessly this season, seemed to have finally accepted he’s finished in recent weeks. Having been pressed back into action here, and performed like this, it’s probably time he did the same. His rash tackle on Josh Murphy, when the MK player was going nowhere and posing little threat, was an obvious penalty award for Keith Stroud to make and he was lucky that Alex Smithies, as he had done at Hillsborough last week, saved Murphy’s shot low to his left.
At one point midway through the second half Konchesky attempted to trap a basic pass wide on the left flank, only to allow the ball to roll under his boot and out for a throw in. Good God in Heaven he was awful. But so were most of them after half time. The removal of Tozser for Phillips had absolutely no impact whatsoever, and waiting until 19 minutes from time to finally get Polter on alongside Washington seemed over-cautious.
The second thing was Mr Stroud, apparently as bored as the rest of us with the first hour of play, deciding to enliven proceedings by turning them into some sort of comedy sketch.
Decent play from Luongo set Chery up for a first time volley that he skied over the bar threatened some sort of rally and Rangers really should have been given a chance to equalise 12 minutes before the end when Lewington lost his footing trying to get across to deny Perch a shot at the far post and deliberately thrust an arm up above his head to claw the ball away for a corner. An obvious handball, a definite penalty, but referee Stroud was poorly positioned to see it and when he needed help from his linesman Ashvin Degnarain the official inexplicably signalled for a corner kick. Scary to think he’s probably allowed to be out there on the road with eyesight and cognitive functions as poor as this. One of the worst decisions you’ll see. Not even a difficult one to get right.
Stroud had rather made a rod for his own back in the first hour, whistling for absolutely every little bit of physical contact on any player. The MK Dons players realised a lot quicker than the QPR ones that if you brushed past an opponent and went down you’d likely be awarded a free kick. In all, QPR conceded 21 fouls across the 90 minutes here and it’s actually hard to recall them making a single sliding tackle in the entire game. Indeed the booking they did get was given to Karl Henry for the crime of retrieving the ball for a throw in and being started on by Murphy. Another perplexing piece of officiating.
In those circumstances you couldn’t really blame Samir Carruthers for trying his luck with a flop in the area – a second MK Dons yellow card of the game for simulation was his reward. Especially because, in stoppage time, Ryan Hall went down in similarly theatrical style as Henry turned away from him in the box and another penalty was awarded.
Substitute Ben Reeves took the spot kick this time and lashed it straight down the middle into the net. A vital win for MK Dons at the bottom of the league; back to the drawing board for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and his team.
This vast, soulless, silent bowl that QPR could easily have ended up calling ‘home’ themselves had Pete Winckelman got his original way is becoming a very unhappy hunting ground indeed for the modern day R’s.
MK Dons: Martin 6; Baldock 6, McFadzean 6, Kay 6, Lewington 6; Forster-Caskey 6 (Reeves 89, -), Potter 6, Murphy 5 (Hall 87, -), Bowditch 6; Williams 7; Revell 6
Subs not used: Powell, Cropper, Spence, Maynard
Goals: Lewington 49 (assisted Bowditch), Reeves (penalty 90+3 won Hall)
Bookings: Forster Caskey 4 (diving), Murphy 79 (unsporting conduct) Carruthers 89 (diving)
QPR: Smithies 6; Onuoha 5, Angella 5, Hall 6 (Konchesky 46, 2), Perch 5; Henry 5, Tozser 5 (Phillips 58, 5); Chery 5 (Polter 71, 6), Luongo 6, El Khayati 5; Washington 5
Subs not used: Faurlin, Ingram, Diakite, Petrasso
Bookings: Henry 79 (nothing very much at all)
QPR Star Man – Massimo Luongo 6 Got on the ball and tried to drive the team on with the odd moment of quality. Best of a bang average bunch.
Referee – Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 4 Perhaps somebody should check whether everything is alright at home. Five separate penalty incidents here, two yellow cards for diving which looked about right, one penalty awarded against Konchesky which was the correct decision, one awarded against Karl Henry which was soft and one blatant handball from Lewington that was missed entirely. Chuck in his insistence that every piece of physical contact in the game was a foul, and the yellow card for Karl Henry when he’d done little more than stand there and have a home player try to start a fight with him, and this was a bit of a farce all in all.
Attendance – 14, 796 (3,700 QPR approx) Lord may I never have to watch my football team play in a place like this every week. QPR travelled in amazing numbers, given how little was riding on the game, but a combination of being spaced out right round the top of the ground, and the dire quality of the football on offer, meant very little atmosphere was created at all. In fact, for the most part we all sat there in total silence. Still, I’m not sure being harangued from the back of the stand throughout the first half for being “boring cunts” by a couple of pasty-faced teens whose only previous experience of cunts is looking through their dad’s Google history really helps.
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