QPR smacked for four by promotion-chasing Albion – Report
Wednesday, 20th Apr 2016 19:53 by Clive Whittingham
A promising first half display gave way to a second half collapse by QPR at high-flying Brighton on Tuesday evening.
The similarities between Chris Hughton's Brighton and Hove Albion, twentieth in the Championship last season, and the QPR team Neil Warnock promoted from this division in 2010/11 are stark. On the evidence of this 4-0 win, following hot on the heals of a similar demolition of Fulham on Friday night, the same happy ending awaits.
Brighton, like Warnock's Rangers, began the season with an unbeaten run stretching to 20-odd games before a blip in form over Christmas. Both sides recovered their poise in the New Year, buoyed by intelligent January additions, and pressed home their advantage in the second half of the season bar a random, unexpected 4-1 defeat on the road – Albion's was at Cardiff, QPR's at Scunthorpe.
The Loftus Road regulars, travelling in large numbers as they had to Cardiff at the weekend despite the lack of anything to play for, would have arrived on the sunny South Coast on Tuesday hoping to see the same stubborn resistance their class of 2011 faced from Hull and Derby who both won points in Shepherd's Bush back in the day as the pressure finally started to tell on the league leaders.
The early signs were promising. Matt Phillips, playing in an advanced role to try and make sure Conor Washington wasn't as isolated as he has been on his latest run out as a lone striker, won a free kick after ten minutes which was cleared as far as Ale Faurlin who shot over the bar. Eight minutes later Washington wasn't far away with a shot on the turn inside the area – home keeper David Stockdale well beaten as the ball flashed wide of the top corner. Karl Henry, again selected on the wing, headed at Stockdale from a corner after Phillips had freed Massimo Luongo behind the home defence.
Then the keeper fell to his right to comfortably save a drive from Phillips after he'd driven to the edge of the area with real purpose. Later the muscular winger won the ball back himself and piled forward once again before lashing over. Phillips looked unusually lively and interested – made a cynic wonder who might have been there watching him? Alan Pards Pardew looked on from the main stand, coincidentally.
There were chances at the other end as well of course – three good ones in fact. Anthony Knockaert's diving header from James Wilson's pull back after 17 minutes bounced over; Tomer Hemed hooked over his shoulder, and the bar, from close range after a deep cross was turned back towards him in the six yard box; and Alex Smithies, restored in goal despite Matt Ingram's man of the match debut at Cardiff on Saturday, produced his standard wonder save five minutes before the break when Lewis Dunk met a well-flighted corner with a trademark header that had goal written all over it.
But this was an arm wrestle - an even contest that QPR were well involved in. A far cry away from the football version of a three day insurance seminar we suffered in South Wales. Referee Keith Hill was generous to Jiri Skalak midway through the first half when his wild lunge at Grant Hall was deemed worthy of just a yellow card, but it typified the closeness of the contest and the competitiveness of the game.
Then the roof fell in. This was to turn out to be the equivalent of Warnock's QPR beating a meek Sheffield United side 3-0 at Loftus Road – another convincing win on an unrelenting march to the Premier League.
The game was finished with two moments either side of half time. The foul adjudged to have been committed by Nedum Onuoha on Skalak in a minute of first half injury time looked soft. Knockaert's whipped free kick into the top corner was anything but.
Before a foothold had really been re-established at the start of the second half, Skalak doubled the lead with a ferocious 30 yarder into the top corner after Grant Hall had broken every defensive rule in the book by weakly heading a routine punt down the field down and back into the traffic populating the danger area, rather than up, away, wide or out of play. Hall's form is declining alarmingly.
That was that. Brighton, freed from the pressures of the stalemate, set about racking up the goals as they had done against our West London neighbours on Friday evening. QPR's bright first half performance melted away into resistance so tepid it was hardly resistance at all.
The visitors could argue the free kick for the first goal was a generous decision from the referee, and the fourth goal added late on by Knockaert from range should have been disallowed with substitute Jamie Murphy obviously offside and playing at the ball in front of Smithies as it travelled past the pair of them.
But you cannot defend as Hall did for the second, nor as Nedum Onuoha did for the third – a flying header from a corner by Conor Goldson who was airborne and mobile against an opponent who's been caught out at corners a bit recently and was welded to the floor here – and go around complaining about anything other than your own failings.
Junior Hoilett, whose brief flurry of form through the spring appears to be over on this rather limp evidence – must have that deal nice and sorted for next season now – was replaced by Seb Polter in the second half. Tjaronn Chery for Clint Hill was an attacking substitution and later Nasser El Khayati came on for Conor Washington who'd worked hard but again ploughed mostly a lone furrow and rarely had a sight of goal.
None of it made any difference. QPR struggled to register a shot in the second half and slipped quietly to a defeat confirmed long before the final whistle.
It's been a long, arduous season at Loftus Road and it's really starting to show now. A dramatic hack at the budget; an influx of players from levels, clubs and countries that meant they were always going to be a mixed bag and need time to settle; an exodus of the so-called bigger-named, better players; three different managers… It was billed as a potentially painful 12 months we'd need to go through to get the club in a position to move forward on a sounder footing. It's been that and more and it can't really end soon enough.
For all those reasons, it would be a bit daft to get too distraught and het up about a shellacking away from home, right at the end of the season, against one of the division's best teams, after a half decent first half performance, when we have nothing to play for.
But there is obviously huge work ahead this summer to get this QPR team into the sort of shape that means this season is indeed one of transition, rather than the new normal. There are weaknesses everywhere except the goalkeeping position. Karl Henry, Massimo Luongo and Ale Faurlin, the three main central midfielders this season, have no goals between them. Goals feel too easy to concede, and far too difficult to score at times.
The two remaining home games offer a chance to finish on some sort of high, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has shown enough so far to suggest he is capable of staging a play-off push next season – Rangers are sixth in the division's form table for the second half of the season after all.
But if Rangers needed a reminder of the standards they themselves once set at this level, and the mark they'll have to get to again if this season isn't to have been a wasted effort, then here it was in spades.
Brighton: Stockdale 7; Bruno 7, Goldson 7, Dunk 7, Rosenior 6; Knockaert 8, Stephens 7, Kayal 7, Skalak 8 (Murphy 70, 6); Hemed 7 (Sidwell 77, 6), Wilson 6 (Baldock 46, 6)
Subs not used: Mäenpää, Greer, Bong, Lua Lua
Goals: Knockaert 45+1 (free kick won Skalak), Skalak 51 (unassisted), Goldson 73 (assisted Knockaert), Knockaert 84 (assisted Sidwell)
Bookings: Skalak 22 (foul)
QPR: Smithies 6; Onuoha 5, Hall 5, Hill 6 (Chery 60, 6), Perch 6; Henry 6, Faurlin 5, Luongo 5, Hoilett 5 (Polter 54, 5); Phillips 6, Washington 6 (El Khayati 70, 5)
Subs not used: Gladwin, Ingram, Petrasso, Kpekawa
Bookings: Hall 72 (foul) Polter 90+1 (foul)
QPR Star Man – N/A Phillips, Henry and Perch played well in a decent first half, but difficult to make a star man award on a night like that.
Referee – Keith Hill (Herts) 6 Perhaps a little generous with both the Skalak booking – looked a really bad tackle from my low vantage point – and the free kick for the first goal while the fourth was obviously offside.
Attendance – 25,411 (1,500 QPR approx) Disappointed to see a number of features laid on for our first visit to this ground appear to have been quietly done away with – including the direct train back to London from Falmer specifically for the away fans straight after the match.
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