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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.

Links >>> Ratings and Reports >>> Message Board Match Thread

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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QPRski added 21:46 - May 8
Clive, a great report as always. It is nice to finish the season with a win.

DylanP - Congratulations on winning the Prediction League.
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sexton added 22:21 - May 8
Re your comments on the annual pitch invasion Clive - I couldn't agree more. Last week the tannoy announcer at Brentford asked their fans to stay off the pitch, and to a person they did.
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Spiritof67 added 22:22 - May 8
Agree that Clint Hill was man of the match. Not only did he win every header, but he was constantly supporting and guiding his team mates throughout the game. As this was an end of season game, where the result made little difference to league places,,I would have liked to see Connor Washington amd Poulter given some game time together, especially with Hoilett coming on to add some much need width to the team. I wonder if the boos heard during Chery's substitution was in fact that some supporters felt that the innarective El Khayati should have been the player being replaced!
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TacticalR added 22:23 - May 8
Thanks for your report when there isn't much to report. The teams seemed evenly matched, although at times we looked a bit lightweight compared to Bristol (and I'm not just talking about Lee Tomlin).

Hall. At one point completely misjudged the bounce of the ball when trying to defend against Kodjia and was too far away from goal, which nearly led to a goal. Fortunately Ingram saved that one.

Kpekawa. Not a bad performance, but showed naivety at times.

Chery. The ball just would not stick to his feet.

El Khayati. Looked lightweight at times, but it was his long ball out to Washington that got the move going that led to the goal.

Henry. Great strike with just the right degree of power and bend to beat the keeper. *The* moment of quality in the game.
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Spiritof67 added 22:25 - May 8
My last comment should read "innafective" El Khayati.
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bosh67 added 22:36 - May 8
Really excellent as always Clive. Thanks for yet another season of measured, witty and entertaining articles.
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tsbains64 added 08:54 - May 9
Thanks Clive A Always enjoyed your reports and think we are building for a bright future
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Toast_R added 09:29 - May 9
Thank you Clive for all your hard work and dedication to bringing us all great match reports and previews this season. Enjoy the Euro’s, enjoy the summer and we all look forward to more next season!

Toast_
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RonisRs added 11:45 - May 9
thanks Clive for all the reports this season.
I think that Henry should get another year's extension, along with Faurlin
lets hope the summer is fruitful and we have something to look forward to come the second w/e of August.
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HastingsRanger added 13:30 - May 9
Clive and team, once again, thanks for all your efforts over the year. Very much appreciated for any supporters, like myself, unable to attend as many games as they would have liked. It is so good to have a report that you can trust and is so incisive too! Always look forward to the Previews and Reports.

As you rightly state, there are so good building blocks in place now. Finally, reliable goalkeepers and a sound back four. I am still baffled by the absence of Suk-young but am hoping to have seen the last of Konchesky. The midfield concerns me, especially with Faurlin, as he is such a key and influential player in midfield. We might see a lot of transfer activity here. With a strong midfield, the forwards are less of an issue and a season of Polter should be fun!

It will be interesting to see what Hasselbaink achieves for us with a full pre-season, assuming he stays. One thing you don’t touch on is the future of Hasselbaink himself. I was under the impression that he was on a 12 month contract, so could opt to move on at short notice.

Look forward to the school reports!
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Loft1979 added 15:24 - May 9
Clive; thanks awesome writing. I appreciate the balance of optimism with caution thrown in.
In light of that I think Ale and Clint return, not only for professionalism and loyalty but because they are functional, even if not as everyday players. There has to be some depth so why not use Known quantities.
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HamptonR added 16:53 - May 9
The pitch invasion: It is getting embarrassing, please give it up.
Grown men dancing in front of the stand is ridiculous, as are the stewards or whatever we call them nowadays. They stop no one getting on the pitch, on Saturday a guy made it on in a wheelchair
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derbyhoop added 19:57 - May 9
Balanced and thought provoking in equal measure. As usual. Well, maybe not always balanced - LOL. Thanks for all your hard work and look forward to more next season.
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Burnleyhoop added 22:50 - May 9
Great report and summary of the pivotal and hugely important decisions the club now has to make. I personally can't see Farlin and Henry forming the base of our midfield, or Gladwin holding down a starting place. And what of Hoilett and Phillips?

The issue is therefore, has JFH and Les identified adequate replacements should they decide to clear the old guard? Will certainly make for an interesting summer, but feel confident we should start the new season in far better shape than the one just finished.

And for the record, Burnley fans hugely complimentary of Petrasso and Polter following our unusually robust performance against the leagues most consistent team.

Roll on the new season, we go again......UR..sssss.
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isawqpratwcity added 10:12 - May 11
"... 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..."

More than a fair bit of that rubbish slopped over into LFW, too. I am certainly guilty of raising the temperature on the forum a lot this season, but only because of a clique that couldn't help going for the same names, over and over again, and CR copped it for everything, largely undeservedly imo (surprise!), including his smile and his woolly hat.

I'm eagerly awaiting your report cards, Clive, but just a quick couple of comments about players under scrutiny. I'm a little less sanguine about Hill and Faurlin than you. I'd reckon that both are still very good value but they both highlight positions that we need much better options in. Ale's lack of pace plus the doubt that Hill has another 12 months in him are good reasons for Jimmy and Les to be hard-headed and unsentimental, but damn, I really want their spirit, never mind their skill, to continue to run through this place. It genuinely hurts to see them go. Very interesting observation about Washington, too. Our style of play, which presumably is something that Jimmy is in the process of shaping, doesn't seem to suit him.
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CroydonCaptJack added 13:44 - May 11
Another great report to end the season on.
Thanks Clive it is much appreciated by those of us that attend and I can imagine a lot more by those that are further affield.
I totally agree with your comments about the summer.
I see another season of consolidation ahead but with progress as well hopefully.
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