Overtaking National Express coaches… - Report
Thursday, 11th Aug 2016 23:16 by Clive Whittingham
Queens Park Rangers swapped their annual early round League Cup humiliation for a long drawn out affair with Swindon Town on Wednesday night.
It was October 1992 when Queens Park Rangers last triumphed in a penalty shoot out – Alan McDonald, socks rolled down to his ankles, squeezing the decisive kick home in a League Cup tie at Grimsby. At times on Wednesday night at Loftus Road it felt like most of the intervening 24 years had been spent playing this game with Swindon Town.
On and on and on it went, deep into the night, like football's Never Ending Story. Twice QPR seemed to have the game won, once through a debut goal from new French winger Yeni Ngbakoto and then later when Conor Washington finally broke his competitive scoring duck for the club. But in a game of test-match length the R's declared and put Swindon back into bat with two equalisers.
Rangers lost Washington and debut centre half Joel Lynch to injury during the conflict, while Swindon's troops had dwindled so much by the time another half an hour was called for they were left to play the extra period with only ten players.
Referee Tony Harrington exacerbated matters, stopping the play unnecessarily frequently - including the very generous award of a free kick on the halfway line to QPR who might have liked him not to bother and allow them to streak away in a three v one attack instead. Several yellow cards were awarded completely at random. On three separate occasions play was brought back because a restart was adjudged to have been executed with a moving ball. It was the very definition of ball ache.
Barely 5,000 people were interested in this match to begin with and a substantial number of those called it a day long before the end. When Swindon's maverick Chilean goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux collapsed to the ground in apparent agony after being struck on the head by the ball being returned from the stand behind the goal I started to wonder whether this was it for us forever, forced to live inside Loftus Road and survive on the piss-weak lager and lukewarm hot dogs indefinitely watching QPR and Swindon throw poo at each other like two caged chimps.
Finally, with dawn breaking over Shepherd's Bush, a penalty shoot-out was called for to put everybody out of their misery. A mercy killing. We’d all had more than enough.
Tjaronn Chery, Sebastien Polter (pure German, shelling peas), Conor Washington and then finally Nasser El Khayati converted calmly, confidently and in some style for Rangers. Matt Ingram saved two of the Swindon kicks, the first brilliantly off the underside of the bar, and that was that. People hugged and wept, not in joy at this oh-so-rare of QPR cup wins, but in relief that we could all finally go home to our loved ones. Some will inevitably have moved on and remarried in the intervening years, but there will have been emotional reunions for others across West London in the early hours of this morning.
It could, and probably should, have been a good deal quicker and easier than this. QPR did make eight changes from the side that hammered Leeds in the opening league match on Sunday, but this was a far cry from the crèche Neil Warnock, Harry Redknapp and Chris Ramsey slung out into this sadly unloved competition in previous years. First starts of the season for Washington, Ingram, El Khayati, James Perch, Darnell Furlong and Jordan Cousins, first starts for the club for Lynch and Ngbakoto – this was not a particularly weak QPR team.
That has, of course, never stopped the R's humiliating themselves against the dribs and drabs of lower league football in cup competitions over the past 20 years. But this Swindon side is a shadow of the free-flowing attacking outfit that absolutely wiped the floor with Rangers on this ground in 2013 with the likes of Alex Pritchard, Massimo Luongo and Nathan Byrne to the fore. How they only won 2-0 that night I'll never know.
Under the controversial chairmanship of Lee Power, Town worked their way through four managers last season and sold their 25-goal top scorer during the summer. Luke Williams, in his first senior management position, is tipped to have all on keeping Swindon in League One at all this season despite an opening day win against Coventry.
But in front of a crowd and amidst an atmosphere more suited to a reserve team friendly, Rangers struggled to get going. Honestly, more people came to my grandmother's burial than this and they made more noise too. Swindon, with little to lose, played attractively out from the back and enjoyed much the better of the first half.
Luke Norris, recently signed from Gillingham, made the early running for the visitors in attack. First, seemingly miles offside, he drew a save from Ingram from the right channel. Then, after Henry had fallen theatrically looking for a free kick that never was, he hit another one straight at the keeper. Ingram saved with his legs, suggesting some sort of deflection, when Norris tried his luck from the edge of the area after 22 minutes and was then reliant on James Perch back on the line as Norris sprung the offside trap, rounded the keeper on the corner of the area and slid a tame low effort towards the unguarded goal. Iraqi international Yasser Kasim cut in from the right and unloaded a good long range effort wide of the post. Ingram’s save of the match came in first half stoppage time to deny Conor Thomas.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had already bemoaned an August fixture list that could see QPR play seven times before the month is out before, naturally, a break for a round of pointless international matches and the last thing he wanted was another half an hour added to this. Tjaronn Chery was sent on for Mo Sodipo, who'd followed an encouraging debut against Leeds with an even better performance here, and while there is still some debate about exactly how good Chery is and may still become, the Dutchman was such an absolute class apart in this game it was almost embarrassing for everybody else out there.
Improvements enacted, Rangers took the lead just before the hour when debutant Yeni Ngbakoto stole in at the back post to tap in a fine cross from El Khayati. A simple goal it may have been, but being in the right place at the right time is a handy knack to have – just ask Ben Gladwin how he’d have liked a tap in v Leeds on Sunday from the same position.
The Swindon equaliser, scored 18 minutes from time, could be put down to rank bad luck, although their overall play deserved at least parity with lacklustre QPR. Quite what Norris had in mind as he approached a bouncing ball ten yards inside the QPR half and executed an aggressive volley back towards his own goalkeeper 50 yards away I’m not sure, but once it had struck Karl Henry and flown 40 yards in the other direction, landing plum in front of substitute Jordan Stewart to volley crisply into the corner, nobody was asking.
Sadly, Ngbakoto tired and had to be replaced by Cole Kpekawa necessitating a rejig and removing one of the team's better attacking players on the night. Seb Polter was summoned from the bench to replace Joel Lynch, who'd barely been able to stand throughout the second half because of an obvious injury and Christ only knows what he was trying to achieve by soldiering on while obviously spent.
Polter, like Chery, made a big difference. Washington had been a willing runner, trying to close down the Swindon defenders in possession as Hasselbaink demands, but he doesn't look confident and some of his attempted first touches were difficult to distinguish from misplaced passes. When Shodipo got to the byline and whipped a ball back into the danger area after 19 minutes Washington was flat on his heals and Swindon cleared.
Ingram saved well from a Swindon free kick six minutes from time which Norris struck under the wall after Polter’s handball. The keeper had acquitted himself well, although just as we were starting to feel the ghost of Robert Green had been banished he almost got caught pisballing about with a passback two minutes from time and was lucky to fall on the ball under heavy duress. Swindon weren’t as cruelly efficient as Nottingham Forest this time a year ago thankfully. Ingram can continue to grow in stature unchecked.
Regular time ended with Swindon booting Chery up in the air by the dugouts, then surrounding him and screaming in his face like a Terry family Christmas. Referee Harrington booked Karl Henry for the incident. Hasselbaink did his fellow Dutchman a favour, wrestling him away from the incident and off down the tunnel until things calmed.
Extra time it was then, but with Swindon defender Lloyd Jones unable to continue and all their subs used that would only be against ten men and looked like a cakewalk ready to happen when Polter accelerated (not as slow as he looks is he?) down the right and crossed for Chery to control, turn and lay a simple first goal for the club on for Washington. Furlong had already hit the underside of the bar at this stage, showing his prodigious power in the air to meet a Chery corner with purpose.
Polter was harshly booked after that, and Ingram had to save well from Bradley Barry, before the German lashed a couple of feet over the bar from long range. Rangers were a different team with him on the field, a far better prospect.
But any hope that the home team’s growing superiority against a tiring ten men may equate to an extra time win were soon to be quashed. Despite playing against fewer players it was all Ingram could do to parry a shot from Barry at a tight angle and, with the keeper moving to his right searching for the rebound, James Brophy cleverly wrong footed him and curled the loose ball into the far corner from 20 yards.
The farce dragged on, with scant regard for local last orders regulations. Referee Harrington had a prolonged discussion with Swindon manager Williams before taking no action.
Polter’s determined turn, tackle, second turn, and eventually blocked shot summed up his, and QPR’s, determination. But there was precious little skill to separate the teams and penalties looked likely several days before they eventually happened. QPR subsequently looked composed, confident and calm in the spot kicks. If only they’d done it several ice ages prior.
As the famished were tended and foil blankets were distributed the news came through of QPR's reward for victory. Rochdale at home. We can do it all over again in a fortnight.
QPR: Ingram 7; Furlong 6, Onuoha 6, Lynch 5 (Polter 78, 7), Perch 5; Ngabakoto 6 (Kpekawa 71, 5), Henry 6, Cousins 6, Shodipo 6 (Chery 58, 7); El Khayati 5; Washington 5
Subs not used: Smithies, Hall, Gladwin, Kakay
Goals: Ngabakoto 58 (assisted El Khayati), Washington 93 (assisted Chery)
Bookings: Perch 57 (foul), Henry 90+2 (unsporting), Polter 103 (foul)
Swindon: Vigouroux 7; Jones 5, Thomas 6, Thompson 6 (Iandolo 61, 6), Sendles-White 6; Brophy 6, Rogers 6, Kasim 7 (Smith 65, 6), Barry 6; Hylton 6 (Stewart 65, 7), Norris 6
Subs not used: Goddard, Henry, Evans, Young
Goals: Stewart 72 (unassisted), Brophy 107 (unassisted)
Bookings; Barry 90+2 (unsporting), Stewart 112 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Matt Ingram 7 Chery was superb when he came on, a class apart from everything else on the pitch, but Ingram made a string of saves before and after his arrival and sealed it with two penalty stops, the first of which was top drawer.
Referee – Tony Harrington (Cleveland) 5 A right pedantic arsehole.
Attendance – 5,440 (800 Swindon approx) I'm not sure what the answer is, but this was pathetic.
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