Henry signs off with surprise strike – Report
Sunday, 8th May 2016 21:25 by Clive Whittingham
Karl Henry scored a remarkable winning goal to sign off the 2015/16 season, and potentially his QPR career, in a 1-0 win against Bristol City at Loftus Road on Saturday.
In a world where Andrea Bocelli leads Leicester City’s Premier League title winning celebrations, perhaps a 25 yard screamer from Karl Henry shouldn’t seem so far-fetched.
Henry’s goal, scored just after the hour, settled the final game of the season in Queens Park Rangers’ favour against Bristol City on Saturday and on what could well be his final appearance for the club, it was quite a way to sign off. You could perhaps forgive City for thinking it was safe to stand off the man who’s scored only once in 102 appearances since arriving at Loftus Road three years ago, but his right footed shot was beautifully angled up and over goalkeeper O’Donnell and then drawn perfectly back into the postage stamp spot from 25 yards out. Get that Goal of the Season vote reopened.
Given Henry’s lack of goalscoring prowess, and almost complete aversion to moving the ball forwards which had an otherwise relaxed end of season crowd mumbling and grumbling during the first half – despite a chronic lack of pace and movement ahead of him - you could unkindly put this down to every dog having a day. But that would be unfair to a player who may never have been able to warm the fans to him, but has done a reasonable job for Rangers during his time here and played particularly well since Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink arrived as manager.
If QPR are not going to keep him around for another year, another player for that defensive midfield position fans love to hate has to be found, particularly if we are to persist with the 4-2-3-1 set up Hasselbaink has favoured so far. A big, powerful, leggy presence who can act as doorman to the defence behind him, while also driving forwards through the centre of the park, would be ideal. But then so would a game of Twister round Kelly Brook’s gaff. Good players are hard to find in most positions, particularly when operating on a budget, and you know what you get from Henry, whereas all new signings are potential gambles. For the final time this season I lament Toumani Diagouraga being allowed to move from a club two miles down the road to Leeds in January for a song - everything we need in his position.
The same can be said of Alejandro Faurlin, who may also now have played his last in Hoops. It looked for one glorious moment in the second half like he was going to sign off with a spectacular goal, tiptoeing through the tulips on the edge of the City penalty box before being tripped right on the line. Tjaronn Chery’s resulting free kick flicked off the wall on its way past the top corner, but referee Jeremy Simpson awarded a goal kick.
First and foremost, Faurlin deserves warm congratulations for completing his aim of finishing a full Championship season without injury. After three ACL ruptures in as many years, that was the Argentinean’s goal for 2015/16 and he’s not only accomplished it, he’s also forced his way back into being a first choice selection having started the season with a bit-part role.
QPR have big problems in the middle of midfield. Henry’s goal here was the first we’ve scored from the deep lying positions this season – Faurlin and Massimo Luongo both finished on nought which simply isn’t good enough. Daniel Tozser got one at Sheffield Wednesday, in the interests of fairness and accuracy. But Faurlin, who never was quick and now accelerates like Methusalah’s Volvo, is still the only player at the club who can pass the ball and move the team around the field with any degree of competence and creativity. Tozser, given his performances in a promoted Watford side last season, was a decent attempt at finding a replacement for that role on paper, but has turned out to be a terrible signing, again showing just how hard it is to find a sure fire thing in the transfer market while operating on a budget. I’d have Faurlin for another year at least, and not for sentimental reasons either because I think the club have already been exceptionally good to him for many years now.
While Faurlin’s love affair with our club may be coming to an end after eight years, Clint Hill may also be saying goodbye six years into his 12 month stay. Again, Rangers have treated Hill very well over the years and shouldn’t feel bound to offering him a deal just because of who he is – the very valid debate about the value of keeping people with the club at heart, like Faurlin and Hill, not withstanding. But setting aside the sentimentality altogether, Hill is still the best old fashioned centre half at the club. Here, as usual, he never lost a single ball he competed for in the air. His tackles were firm, fair and effective; his blocks were timely and assertive; his aerial dominance was absolute. That ankle, which sounded like a cement mixer when he arrived as a stop gap left back six years ago on a 12 month deal, must have been ground down to dust now and at 36 he’s no kind of long term option. But, at the risk of repeating myself, Rangers would be hard pushed to find a centre back this good in the transfer market this summer without breaking the bank.
Hill, of course, brings all the extra experience and leadership benefits as well. Grant Hall, who looked decent here after a nervous end to a fine personal season, plays better alongside him and on Saturday he guided Cole Kpekawa through a very fine display at left back – the youth team graduate has finished the season with two excellent showings on the left side of the defence and must be more involved next year.
The three of them, and Nedum Onuoha, needed to be good. Bristol City were relegation haunted throughout the first half of the season, despite winning League One at a canter in 2014/15, but have improved massively since. The manager who took them to that title, Steve Cotterill, was sent packing as winter turned to spring and the upturn under his replacement, former City player Lee Johnson, son of ex City boss Gary, has been remarkable. City had won eight of 16 games coming into this one, climbing into midtable, and scored goals for fun of late – four against Huddersfield and Sheff Wed, six against hapless Bolton.
Two things were immediately noticeable about the visitors, roared on by an oddly enthusiastic travelling support that was one of the noisiest we’ve seen in Shepherd’s Bush this season. The first is the sheer size of the team. Apart from youth team graduate Joe Bryan – little, tidy, useful – this is a team of big, athletic lads who hold a physical presence and can impose themselves on opponents in a way QPR simply can’t. And that was without talismanic centre back Aiden Flint, who’s built and decorated like an oil rig veteran.
The second was the sheer numbers they committed to the attack. Jonathan Kodjia, a French import who has made it to 20 goals this season despite City’s initial struggles, is one of two out and out centre forwards in their set up and would make a massive difference to QPR if he could somehow be spirited away. He must have thought he’d made it 21 for the season when he ran in behind the home defence in the first half and drew Matt Ingram from his line, but one area the R’s are well set in for next season is the goalkeeping position and Ingram preserved his latest clean sheet with a fine save with a strong left arm in a one on one situation. Later, after selling Hill with a turn so brilliantly executed the QPR man had to pay to get back in, he was denied by a fine block from Faurlin.
Aaron Wilbraham is a bit of a lower league plodder alongside him but the pair were backed by the game’s outstanding player Lee Tomlin. Tomlin, built like a type two diabetic, opwerated in a fluid role that saw him popping up as a third striker at times, a more withdrawn left sided player at others, and occasionally as a deep lying midfield ball player. I’d come to take the piss out of him to be honest, but I thought he was the best player on the field, controlling City’s possession and spraying the ball around wonderfully. He must have thought he’d scored too, in the second half, when a free kick awarded for a foul by Henry right on the edge of the area was whipped over the wall and past Ingram but somehow squirmed just wide of the top corner. In first half injury time he’d seen another effort deflected onto the crossbar at the Loft End.
Tomlin, on loan to City from Premier League Bournemouth, could solve both the Ale Faurlin creativity issue and QPR’s lack of goals from midfield in one move.
But the goal, a real sucker punch, seemed to knock the stuffing out of City for the final half hour of the game. Johnson responded with a triple substitution, and had good reason to believe his side should have had a penalty when Kodjia seemed to be impeded in the area by Hill – I’d have wanted a spot kick at the other end – but the contest petered out after Rangers had taken the lead and QPR could actually have ended up winning by more.
The simple reason for that was the introduction of Seb Polter. Unorthodox, limited, a bit wild, a bit unpredictable, seemingly not in control of his own limbs at times – but effective. Certainly more effective in this system than poor Conor Washington, who couldn’t have tried any harder during 74 minutes of a rare home start but simply doesn’t fit into this system and has a very interesting summer ahead of him. Polter’s difference was immediate – the German cracked the angle of post and bar with a loose ball that fell to him on the edge of the area, bullied City’s big centre back pairing of Nathan Baker (why on earth do Villa have him loaned out?) and Alex Pearce in a way they simply hadn’t been before, and at one stage seemed to be trying to shepherd a ten yard through ball into the goal without touching it from the best part of 50 yards out. Not as technically gifted as Heidar Helguson, but potentially capable of filling exactly that role for Rangers next season with a year of Championship football, and hopefully a better pre-season, under his belt.
In fact, unlike at Burnley, all of Hasselbaink’s substitutions improved the team. Michael Petrasso was a more consistent wide threat than Gladwin had been, and Junior Hoilett looked decent after he’d replaced Tjaronn Chery – the boos for Chery’s withdrawal completely over the top at this stage of the season, particularly as the Dutchman has been carrying an injury this week. Just a little niggle at the back of the mind that Hasselbaink will have to hit the ground running next season if he doesn’t want the full Chris Ramsey treatment from a Loftus Road crowd that has calmed considerably after some lamentable behaviour in the first half of the season but could easily turn again if next season doesn’t meet, still inflated, expectations.
Prior to the subs and the goal Rangers’ threat had been sporadic. Nasser El Khayati, doing nothing to dispel the idea he’ll be little more than an impact substitute next season by rather ambling through this opportunity to impress, drew a routine save from Richard O’Donnell early doors. Ben Gladwin, producing a curate’s egg of a display with moments of brilliance mixed with others of rank incompetence, turned a piece of poor control in the City area into two quick moments of supreme skill to set up Grant Hall for a tap in only for the ball to be cleared from the line. Clint Hill had earlier seen a header from a corner cleared from under the bar.
There are few better places to spend a sunny Saturday than at Loftus Road watching a QPR win. This season has been a grind at times, tumultuous at others, occasionally outright dull, and ultimately probably quite unfulfilling. But it’s been a season of medicine taking and positioning the club to move forward again next season. Whether that happens or not, time will tell, but I feel Rangers have accomplished what they needed to in 2015/16. A very interesting, vitally important, summer lies ahead where the decisions made over personnel by Les Ferdinand and Hasselbaink will have to be carefully considered and involve an element of luck. They’ve got more right than wrong this season, just about, in my opinion but will need to improve that ratio in the coming weeks, as well as thinking very carefully about who is retained – look at how easy and cheap they’d be to replace, rather than their failings or wage.
Enjoy your summers everybody, we’ve all earnt one this year more than many others. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.
QPR: Ingram 7, Onuoha 6, Hall 6, Hill 7, Kpekawa 7; Henry 6, Faurlin 7; Gladwin 6 (Petrasso 67, 6), Chery 6 (Hoilett 59, 6), El Khayati 5; Washington 5 (Polter 74, 6)
Subs not used: Lumley, Perch, Prohouly, Grego-Cox
Goals: Henry 63 (unassisted)
Bristol City: O’Donnell 6; Ayling 6 (Vyner 68, 6), Pearce 6, Baker 6, Goldbourne 6; Reid 6, Pack 6, Bryan 7 (Freeman 68, 6); Tomlin 8; Kodjia 6, Wilbraham 6 (Dowling 67, 6)
Subs not used: Little, Williams, Agard, O’Leary
QPR Star Man – Clint Hill 7 Possibly a sentimental pick, but against a very attack minded, and physical, Bristol City side Hill won every header and tackle and guided Kpekawa through another impressive performance at left back. If he is to leave I think that’s a terrible shame, and he’ll take a lot of replacing on and off the field.
Referee – Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire) 6 Not much to referee, but I thought City were unlucky not to be awarded a second half penalty and Chery’s free kick was certainly deflected over when he awarded a goal kick erroneously.
Attendance – 16,679 (1,800 Bristol City approx) Fantastic support, in numbers and volume, from the visitors given there was nothing at stake. Annual moan this, but the attraction of charging onto the pitch and racing the players to the tunnel – grown men properly sprinting down the pitch to surround Seb Polter – is lost on me and a bit cringey to watch.
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