Hall off the mark, but QPR held by Reading – Report
Monday, 25th Apr 2016 22:53 by Clive Whittingham
Grant Hall scored his first goal for QPR, but it was only good enough for a point against struggling Reading at Loftus Road on Saturday.
There's a fascinating summer ahead of Queens Park Rangers and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, which will be an interesting change of pace because the actual games leading up to it certainly aren't setting many pulses racing.
This latest draw – the fourth in the last seven games and thirteenth of Hasselbaink's 26 matches in charge – at home to Reading is a game we'll scarcely remember by the end of next week, never mind in years to come. It was a match most notable for the opposition's away kit, which left the whole spectacle only one woman on a trampoline in a white dress away from a giant advert for sanitary towels.
QPR took the lead in the first half. Grant Hall capping a fine debut season with the club with his first goal in Rangers' colours – a towering back post header from a well-flighted Ale Faurlin corner.
There had been other chances too. Early on Ben Gladwin, given a rare start wide right, nipped in at the back post to divert a long throw from Cole Kpekawa, making a full debut at left back, towards goal only for Ali Al Habsi to turn the ball aside with a decent save.
Al Habsi had erred horribly for QPR's last minute winner at the Madejski Stadium before Christmas and seemed on something of a mission to make amends for that here. He saved twice from Seb Polter either side of half time – the first a powerful shot from a tight angle after an intelligent through ball from Tjaronn Chery, the second a back-post header from a Massimo Luongo cross.
He also flung himself to the right to palm away Chery's first half free kick after the Dutchman had been deliberately tripped by Oliver Norwood – a foul for which he was booked. Chery volleyed over with time running out after Polter had pushed down the touchline to good effect and cut the ball back. Then the more farcical side of the German's game came to the fore when he found himself alone in the six yard box, with the goalkeeper stuck to his line, and the ball dropping plum on his head. Perhaps he lost it in the sun, or thought he was going to be clattered by the keeper – either way, he made an absolute mess of a total sitter.
Kpekawa, too, should have scored with a header from a Faurlin corner on the hour.
But Reading equalised almost immediately after falling behind – Deniss Rakels hooking home from eight yards out at the Loft End – and had more than their fair share of a game that produced 38 shots but never shook the feeling of an end-of-season dead rubber.
Rakels had earlier gone mighty close with am ambitious volley from the left channel, and soon after Simon Cox did similar from the opoisite side of the field after being left unmarked from a simple throw in. Nedum Onuoha was on hand with a twelfth minute block and Matt Ingram made a smart save in two minues of first half stoppage time to maintain the deadlock into the break.
Ingram, as happened at Cardiff last week, was preferred to Alex Smithies as Hasselbaink assesses his options, and the former Wycombe man impressed again. His star turn came two minutes after half time when it looked for all the world like Norwood had curled home a 25 yard free kick only for the keeper to track all the way across his goal and make a fabulous save in the top corner.
The Royals had lost four on the spin coming into the game but never really looked like making that five, and were good value for their point.
It's an unusual Championship season this year. Ordinarily one of the most exciting leagues in Europe, it currently has everything settled weeks before the end of the season apart from a three-way log jam at the very summit. The rest of the play-off picture is settled, and three teams have already been relegated. It leaves 21 teams basically marking time, and that's certainly how this one felt.
I had an objection to my use of the terms "dead rubber" and "meaningless games" over the weekend. Because, after all, the ticket prices are the same, and for some reason the QPR fans have turned up in big numbers to pay those entrance fees at Cardiff, Brighton and this home match this week for scant reward entertainment and results wise. The players are also earning the same money they would be if this was a competitive situation, and have none of that performance-inhibiting pressure piling down on their shoulders, so in theory should be playing with a lot more abandon and freedom.
But they are human. There is a psychological element to this – it didn't actually, really matter if we won or lost this game so that frantic desperation to get over the line by fair means or foul just isn't there. There's also a physical one – by next week QPR will have played 49 matches in eight and a bit months and are, like everybody else in this division, probably bloody knackered.
That doesn't sit well though. There is a specific situation at Queens Park Rangers at the moment where some supporters don't like the work Les Ferdinand is doing, or perhaps more pointedly don't agree with some of the departures from the club under his tenure, and can use these mediocre performances as a stick to beat him with. There are others who believe Neil Warnock should be the manager here, and can do likewise to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as his record stretches now to seven wins from 26 matches.
But there's also a general point here about football fans in general and how we have changed as a species.
There was a time, not even that long ago, where there was no such thing as social media, there was no 24 hour rolling news coverage that needed to be filled, and 'crisis' was used only for clubs who'd been in such long losing runs nobody could actually remember the last victory.
In 1990/91 QPR lost nine matches out of ten, and won just one of 14 in the First Division. Don Howe kept his job as manager, brought in Bobby Gould, and made shrewd signings like Darren Peacock, Rufus Brevett and Andy Tillson to retrieve the situation. The run came at a time when there was an extensive injury list, mainly in the centre back position, but there was no panic and Rangers came good again. The following season, Gerry Francis' first, started with one win from the first 12 games, with a 4-1 shellacking at Sheff Wed when Carlton bloody Palmer scored a hat trick, and several surrendered two goal leads thrown in for good measure. Francis was retained, and led Rangers to fifth in the first Premier League the season after.
In 2002/03 Rangers again went a dozen matches without a win – a run that included a 4-0 loss at home to Cardiff, a 3-0 embarrassment at Notts County and the infamous Vauxhall Motors debacle in the space of six days. Ian Holloway was retained as manager, added Lee Cook on loan, and had the team in the play-off final by the end of the season and promoted in fine style the season after.
One can only imagine what the vile world of QPR on Twitter would have looked like that Friday night after Robert Earnshaw had bagged three at Loftus Road, or the week before when Rangers played nine men at Luton for an hour but could only draw 0-0 and nearly lost in injury time. Holloway would have been burned in a wicker man for signing Brett Angell alone, and yet it all came good in the end.
QPR, and modern football clubs in general, are beset with short termism. It's been the single biggest problem at our club for the past half dozen years – trying to take short cuts, putting sticking plasters over massive cracks, throwing good money after bad without ever addressing the problems that meant it never really got us anywhere. I suspect these days Howe, Francis and Holloway would all have been sacked.
There’s nothing really wrong at QPR at the moment. The big earners with their limited effort levels are being steadily moved on – not a quick process in the eras of transfer windows – and the club is getting back towards a sensible budget. The average age of the team is coming down, and the club is once again scouting for players and going about it with a bit of intelligence rather than just buying names. It’s being overseen by a CEO with a fantastic record at clubs of our size, and a genuine QPR club legend who has been as disturbed as the rest of us by what has gone on at Loftus Road during the past five years.
Given the chance to play a few games with little at stake, the manager is showing a willingness to try a few things out – some of which are working, others are not – and give everybody a chance to show him what they can do at first team level. Including, miraculously, a genuine, bona fide academy prospect in Cole Kpekawa. He looked much happier at left back, I thought, than his nervous showing in the middle against Charlton and, apart from a nervous reticence to get himself forward down the line on the overlap, can be very pleased with his day out. Likewise Ben Gladwin, who has impressed me in his last two outings, and Matt Ingram, who looks like a fantastic signing from League Two.
This is all good isn’t it? We're short in key areas - goals from central midfield, pace in the side - but Hasselbaink seems to me to be having a very thorough look at what's available to him and what he needs. I don't understand Conor Washington only getting starts in difficult Tuesday night away games, which he never finishes, and not more game time in matches like this but other than that...
And yet because we only drew, because it’s not very entertaining, message boards and social media fill with criticism for Hasselbaink, Ferdinand and others. Every single result is still being treated as crucially important, every performance analysed and critiqued to death, every team selection queried. I find it odd, and a bit depressing.
QPR: Ingram 7; Perch 6, Onuoha 6, Hall 7, Kpekawa 6; Luongo 6, Faurlin 7; Gladwin 7 (El Khayati 70, 6), Chery 6 (Washington 87, -), Phillips 6 (Petrasso 77, 6); Polter 6
Subs not used: Hill, Lumley, Diakite, Hoilett
Goals: Hall 35 (assisted Faurlin)
Reading: Al Habsi 7; McCleary 6, Ferdinand 6, Cooper 6, Taylor 6 (Gunter 77, 6); Evans 6, Norwood 7, Cox 6, Quinn 6 (Hector 71, 6); Kermorgant 6 (Vydra 81, -); Rakels 7
Subs not used: Bond, Piazon, John, Barrett
Goals: Rakels 41 (assisted Kermorgant)
Bookings: Norwood 24 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Ale Faurlin 7 Strong performance in the heart of the midfield, knocking the ball around and dictating the play. Crowned with an assist. Could do with Luongo being a bit more dynamic and driving on ahead from the position next to him. Impressed with Ben Gladwin too, I almost gave it to him.
Referee – Stuart Attwell (Warwick) 7 A terrifying late replacement for Keith Hill, but nothing really to referee and no cataclysmic brain melts which is all you can really hope for when he’s around.
Attendance – 16,225 (2,000 Reading approx) Remarkable attendances from the QPR fans at all three games this week considering the state of the season and the standards of the games. Not much by way of atmosphere mind.
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