QPR haunt Keogh and Derby all over again — report
Wednesday, 9th Mar 2016 19:51 by Clive Whittingham
QPR continued their recent trend of beating the play-off contenders comfortably in Shepherd’s Bush with a 2-0 victory against Derby on Tuesday evening.
For all the grief Queens Park Rangers are getting from a section of their own support, this was a third win to nil in quick succession against a promotion-chasing team at Loftus Road.
There is, unquestionably, a hell of a lot of work to do to whip this work in progress into a play-off contender in its own right next season - you only need look back three days to the pathetic second half surrender at Milton Keynes Dons to know that. But there's only so many of these comfortable home wins against teams which could feasibly be playing Premier League football next season you can write off as "well so and so were very poor that day".
QPR are, very steadily, improving. Positive signs are starting to be seen ahead of 2016/17: Alex Smithies in goal, the form of the centre backs, James Perch's total personal turnaround in form since moving to left back, the wholly unorthodox and yet somehow effective forward pairing of Seb Polter and Tjaronn Chery… Rangers can't keep following displays like this by dropping off the side of a cliff a game later — that Brentford match looms large on Saturday — but this cause no longer feels as hopeless as it did over Christmas.
The first goal on Tuesday night against fifth-placed Derby County was a particularly attractive one. Smithies has five clean sheets in ten games, with two penalty saves thrown in for good measure, and exudes a calm, happy, self-belief at the moment. But it's his distribution, rather than his saves, which is really catching the eye after suffering several years of watching goalkeepers who couldn't even kick the ball with any degree of distance or accuracy.
He set the move of the match in motion at the midway point of the first half, throwing quickly and accurately to the left wing where Junior Hoilett cleverly freed James Perch overlapping down the flank from full back. When the revitalised Perch crossed from the byline, Derby were punished for allowing Chery to arrive late in the area unchecked by the Dutchman cleverly hooking a volley over his shoulder and into the bottom corner. Seven goals this season for Chery, joint top scorer with Matt Phillips now Charlie Austin has left, and from just 18 starts — his influence in the 'number ten' role is growing.
But QPR had been at it long before that, hassling Derby and winning the ball high up the field as Hasselbaink's preferred style starts to yield results at last. Hoilett, fresh from becoming a father for the first time, showed commitment and work rate completely absent from the majority of his spell in West London. He was unlucky not to finish on the scoresheet — robbing Olsson before half time but shooting straight at Scott Carson in goal, then cutting into the area in the second half and sending a weak shot at the keeper when Seb Polter would have been a better option for a pull back. Maybe Matt Phillips should try having a baby.
That's a slightly cheap dig, considering Phillips set up the second four minutes from time. Hoilett was again involved initially, buying a free kick from referee Neil Swarbrick whose contrary approach to this match was summed up by him declaring a foul here but not a moment before when Seb Polter was obviously hauled down by Jason Shackell on the edge of the area as he prepared to move clean through on goal. Substitute Jamie Mackie should have done more with the subsequent loose ball, perhaps as surprised as the rest of us that the whistle hadn't been blown, but it became academic two minutes later.
Belatedly given the chance with a dead ball, Phillips fizzed a fantastic delivery into the back post where Italian centre half Gabrielle Angella was front of a lengthy queue of home players ready to convert from close range.
The cross may have been undefendable, but Derby could have at least made an attempt to do so. After a play-off final defeat to QPR in dramatic circumstances the season before last, and a dire run of results in the second half of 2014/15 which saw them slip from the automatic spots to outside the play-off zone altogether, the Rams look like they're in a full-on melt again.
Richard Keogh, whose mistake gifted Bobby Zamora that famous last-minute Wembley winner, was tormented further here. Barracked and mocked by an increasingly lively home crowd throughout the second half, he and his partner Jason Shackell were also given a physical battering by Seb Polter — an odd footballer in that he's a lot more dangerous without the ball than with it.
As time ticked on, and Derby tailed away, so the piss taking of Keogh increased in volume and inventiveness. At one point the beleaguered skipper looked up to the F Block to see who was barracking him. He wore the expression of a Vietnam veteran horrified and shell-shocked into a stunned, muted stupour — but then he always looks like that. It seemed written, in true QPR style, for Keogh to rise and thump home an eighty ninth minute equaliser, but that would have required his team mates to give as much of a shit as he clearly does and supply him with it. To his credit, he came through a difficult experience as one of the few visiting players able to hold his head up and believe he'd had a reasonable game. You can see, on this evidence, why they've made him the captain at Pride Park, as he's one of the few that seems to care about what he's doing and kept going right to the end here with everything stacked against him.
Still, he could have waved when we asked him to.
The rest… the less said the better. Take Tom Ince for instance. Very, very, very interested in proceedings when the ball was delivered directly to his feet — he cracked Derby's only shot of the first half wide from some distance, then later went down like he'd been knifed only to spring straight up when the free kick was awarded and the resulting shot deflected a fraction over the bar. But his desire to go looking for possession, to track James Perch back down the line, to tackle anybody, or do anything very much at all, was non-existent. You'd be wasting washing powder doing his kit this morning.
A talented, and well-paid, midfield on paper couldn’t match Ale Faurlin and Karl Henry, with or without the ball. Faurlin always improves QPR when he plays, and one first half concession of possession in a bad area (Nedum Onuoha cleaned up) apart that was the case here. Henry, meanwhile, had his best game of the season, freeing Chery to do damage further forward as Shaun Derry used to do in this system with Adel Taarabt.
Chris Martin too, something of a hero to the Derby fans, went through the motions on a night when he should have cleaned up. Grant Hall's worrying-looking foot injury suffered at MK ruled Rangers' Player of the Year elect out and meant a recall for grizzled veteran Clint Hill alongside Angella at centre half. Hill initially didn't look like he'd see out the first ten minutes, nursing a hamstring pinch suffered in the warm up, and Paul Konchesky was already warming up while the pre-game handshakes were taking place. Not only did he finish the match, he was probably the best player on the pitch, dominating Martin throughout and restricting the Derby lone striker to one improvised bouncing shot midway through the second half which Smithies claimed, after two attempts, above his head.
Hill was magnificent, putting himself through the pain barrier at 37 years of age to keep a clean sheet in run of the mill league match. A last-ditch tackle on Jeff Hendrick — introduced from the bench for Jacob Butterfield — denied the Derby man a clear run on goal after 62 minutes. Ten minutes later, after Cyrus Christie had rode a half-hearted tackle from Phillips, Hill swooped in with a sliding tackle to get the ball behind for a corner. Try telling him there's little to play for at Loftus Road for the rest of this season — at one stage in the first half he and Angella almost came to blows arguing over a breakdown in communication and a miscued clearance.
Martin couldn't lay a glove on either of them, necessitating the introduction of another striker in the second half. New Derby boss Darren Wassall picked Darren Bent from a collection of expensively assembled substitutes and, although he had Smithies scrambling across to a daisy-cutter soon after coming on, he too looked like he'd rather be somewhere else.
A healthy band of travelling fans must be wondering what exactly is so attractive about the "Derby way" Wassall was meant to be restoring following the surprise sacking of Paul Clement in January.
Rangers had more trouble with referee Neil Swarbrick than they did with their opposition. Polter in particular seemed harshly done to, booked near the end of the game for repetitive fouling when he seemed more sinned against than sinner for much of the evening. Matt Phillips could hardly argue about his card for a rash lunge on Markus Olsson before half time, but when Olsson returned the payment with interest around the hour mark no card was forthcoming. Twice Swarbrick had long, hard looks at fairly basic corner decisions only to have a complete guess at the outcome — including one in the second half which went Derby's way after their player appeared to punch the ball out himself. At times it felt like he was being deliberately contrary, determined not to be influenced by the crowd so giving the opposite of what should be awarded even in obvious situations. The hipster routine wore very thin, very quickly.
But it did little to stem the tide. Polter had narrowly missed the target from 20 yards just before Chery's goal, and Chery did likewise from even further out immediately after he'd opened the scoring. Polter later sent the excellent Hoilett streaking clear down the left but his cross was just too high for Phillips in the area.
The lead was slender for the majority of the second half, but never looked in much peril. QPR held their shape and maintained their tempo well. Polter is very useful for this - holding his position high up the field and occupying the centre halves. It's easy and tempting, with time ticking down and only a narrow winning margin, to sink deep into your own half and invite the centre halves to bring the ball out unchallenged, allowing them to either pick a pass or launch it into the area. Polter just doesn't let it happen, through decent positioning and tireless running. He can look completely club footed at times, but he's a very useful and effective player for QPR at the moment — and he has Chery with him to do the fancier stuff anyway.
The second goal gave breathing space, and meant neither a late dribbler from Ince, which Smithies threw his cap on, nor a late lob from Bent, after an obvious foul on Hill had gone unpunished once more, caused too much consternation among a, sadly, rather sparse home crowd.
Produce this regularly and the supporters will soon come back. For now though, the focus is on finally snapping a run of 16 London derbies without a win, with plenty of meek surrenders among them, when Brentford come to Shepherd's Bush on Saturday. Jesus Christ on a bike, please not two steps back after one forward again.
QPR: Smithies 6; Onuoha 6, Angella 7, Hill 8, Perch 7; Faurlin 7, Henry 7; Phillips 6, Chery 7 (Mackie 76, 5), Hoilett 8 (Petrasso 90+5, -), Polter 7
Subs not used: Konchesky, Ingram, Washington, Tozser, El Khayati
Goals: Chery 24 (assisted Perch), Angella 86 (assisted Phillips)
Bookings: Phillips 34 (foul), Polter 83 (repetitive fouling)
Derby; Carson 6; Christie 5, Keogh 6, Shackell 5, Olsson 5; Bryson 5 (Bent 67, 5), Hanson 6; Ince 5, Butterfield 5 (Hendrick 57, 6), Russell 5 (Blackman 79, 5); Martin 5
Subs not used: Grant, Buxton, Johnson, Weimann
QPR Star Man — Clint Hill 8 Wins headers, clears lines, leads the team, doesn't mess about. Should be used more often. Along with Angella he completely dominated Chris Martin here — who QPR have had problems with before — despite playing the whole game on one leg after injuring his hamstring in the build up.
Referee — Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire) 4 Contrary bugger. The more obvious the decision, the more determined he seems to give the exact opposite just to prove that he's smarter than everybody else. The award of a Derby corner after a Derby player knocked the ball out with his hand was a highlight, as was Seb Polter turning into space in the area before being brought down on the edge for the award of no free kick at all. Defenders from both sides given pretty much free reign to crash through the back of strikers, Polter in particular, as balls were played up to them. Two yellow cards issued to QPR players, Derby players let off with a warning. Bloody infuriating.
Attendance — 14,049 (1,500 Derby approx) A concerningly low attendance. Understandable given how frustrating the season has been, and how little is now at stake. The added midweek element also immediately empties the Lower Loft — crying out for some sort of scheme to allow you to trade your kids tickets in for adult ones at night matches. But, I must say, one of the more enjoyable atmospheres of the season. United in the mocking of Richard Keogh, the home fans had a lovely old time in the second half and the players looked like they were enjoying themselves too. Maybe less is more, in the atmosphere stakes at least.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures — Action Images
Photo: Action Images
Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.
You need to login in order to post your comments
Blogs 31 bloggers
Knees-up Mother Brown #20 by wessex_exile
Bill Shankly once said that form is temporary, class is permanent. He was of course correct, but let’s hope never more so than today’s visit to Wetherby Road to take on the form side of League 2, Harrogate Town. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say the Sulfurites have defied the expectations of most pundits, many tipping them to be in another relegation scrap this season. But, long-standing manager (and former player) Simon Weaver has turned things around, and they currently sit just two places and two points outside the play-offs. Weaver was rightly awarded the Sky Bet League 2 Manager of the Month for January – hope he looks after it, because it’ll be Danny’s soon.
Knees-up Mother Brown #19 by wessex_exile
February, and the U’s enter the most pivotal month of the season. Six games in just four weeks, with four of them against sides also in the bottom six. By March we should be either well clear of danger, or even deeper in the sh*t. With Danny Cowley’s U’s still unbeaten, and looking stronger game on game, I’m sure it’ll be the former, but first we have to do our bit to consign Steve ‘Sour Grapes’ Cotterill’s FGR back to non-league. After our shambolic 5-0 defeat at New Lawn, nothing would give me greater pleasure, even if it meant losing one of my closest awaydays in the process. What’s the excuse going to be today Steve – shocking pitch, faking head injuries, Mexican banditry or some other bit of sour-grapery bullsh*t?
Knees-up Mother Brown #18 by wessex_exile
It’s the last Saturday of January, and thanks to a succession of games either not on a Saturday, postponed because of the weather, or me actually being there, this is only the second blog of the New Year. The upside of all that is that Danny and Nicky Cowley have had a full two weeks to continue to work on both the physical and mental agility/ resilience of the U’s squad. It will be interesting to see how they get on against a Morecambe side unbeaten in the league so far this year, their only defeat a 2-0 loss in the FA Cup against Championship side Swansea City. With a game in hand over most above them, and only six points below 7th place, the Shrimps will probably think they still have an outside chance of making the play-offs. I sincerely doubt it, but we’d willingly swap places if we had the chance.
Knees-up Mother Brown #16 by wessex_exile
After another break from blogging, with the U’s getting last Saturday off thanks to our FA Cup first round departure at Shrewsbury, not that there was too much disgrace from that particular performance, KMB15 returns. Heaven knows though, there’s been precious little to smile about in recent weeks, conceding 11 goals in the last three matches alone. Not counting when he was temporarily stood down as interim Head Coach, this is Matty Etherington’s tenth game in charge, and his future as manager is already hanging by a thread. Ironic therefore that today he goes up against his former club Crawley Town, so here’s hoping the WAGMI-owned club fold as easily as their embarrassingly worthless contract clause claim did.
Knees-up Mother Brown #15 by wessex_exile
Queens Park Rangers Polls
[ Vote here ]