Barnsley burst QPR bubble - Report
Thursday, 18th Aug 2016 11:55 by Lee McAlpine
QPR conceded two late goals at Barnsley on Wednesday night to lose for the first time this season. LFW’s northern correspondent Lee McAlpine was there.
Having moved to Manchester in 1996, I’m now in my twentieth season as a long distance QPR fan, going to more away games in a season than those at HQ. With the way football works and our usual away form this obviously means in the last two decades I’ve seen far more defeats than any other result. I don’t think there is a football league ground north of Birmingham that I have failed to see the R’s lose at.
Obvious lowlights would be the 6-1 at Elland Road and 5-0 at Preston. Some of the teams that I’ve seen humble our southern softies over the years - like Stockport, Grimsby and Tranmere - are hardly on the football map anymore. Others, such as Blackpool, Crewe and Oldham are only just clinging on. There have certainly been a few highlights up here though, such as great comebacks at Port Vale and Stockport, as well as a certain fixture at Hillsborough.
For some reason South Yorkshire seems to be have been a more successful hunting ground than my side of the Pennines. Both Sheffield clubs have let us leave with the points quite often (Sheff Utd even let us progress in the League Cup back in the early noughties), while Rotherham and Barnsley have also seen good outcomes for the R’s in recent years. In fact we have actually won on our last three visits to Oakwell with the most notable of these during the Championship winning season when, after Adel’s very early goal and 89 minutes of hanging on, many amongst us really started to feel that we were going up that year.
Wednesday evening meant another visit to one of those mixed-up, not completely developed grounds. A lot like Blackburn or Burnley, three sides of the ground look very much Premier League while one stand is a relic from a different era. It feels like an old mate from school that you haven’t seen in ages. You know where to park, where the good real ale pubs that will welcome a small group of sensible away fans are, and there is even a smoking area at the side of the away stand. And there is always plenty of legroom, arm room, headroom and any other kind of room you might need.
The tickets as usual arrived with the “Unreserved seating” label, as the away fans from London (well most of them!) would rattle around the huge North Stand. It holds thousands (Clive would probably be more precise here) and even when we were approaching promotion in 2011 we got nowhere near even half filling it. I would imagine this stand only ever approaches capacity for Yorkshire derbies or cup games against the “big boys”.
I have written this introduction on the morning of the game. I’ve just heard a sports bulletin on the radio – just after talking about our golden cycling couple- mention the fact that QPR are chasing the only 100% record in the Championship. That’s got to be the equivalent of tripping over a black cat while walking under a ladder and dropping a mirror
The sun is shining. I’m in the middle of my glorious teachers’ summer holiday. I’m meeting some mates to go and watch my unbeaten, non-conceding football team in a local game against a supposed lower mid-table, eminently beatable, newly promoted side. The game is in South Yorkshire against a team we have beaten three times on the spin. We are full of confidence, scoring goals with a very solid looking defence and steely, creative midfield. What could possibly go wrong?
Well as everyone will have by now: seen, heard, read or any combination of these, a fair bit did go wrong last night and we traipsed away miserably up the grassy slope back to our cars while Barnsley celebrated like they had won the Champions League. Fair play to them, on the balance of play and chances they probably just edged the game.
It was a really strange evening. Barnsley could have been out of sight in the first half. Then somehow, without a single effort on goal bar two penalties, we found ourselves in front with 15 minutes to go only to relinquish the lead immediately through a combination of unbelievably naïve defending and a magnificent strike from the resulting free kick. Then in the dying minutes, from a nothing ball into our box, Barnsley grabbed all three points.
We lined up with a very strong looking team. The usual back four would be protected by Henry and Luongo, N’Gbakoto and Cousins on either side of Chery with Polter up top. That apparent strength was immediately being questioned. Barnsley were fast and accurate with their passing and the wide men very quickly stretched our full backs and found it easy to get in behind us. Smithies palmed away a shot for a corner and we conceded from the resulting dead ball. Hall was out muscled on the edge of the six yard box (this would happen at a far greater cost later), the header across looped over Caulker and was easily finished by Marley Watkins: whose parents have a better taste in music than boys’ names.
After the goal, the home side continued to dominate. The impressive Luongo and Henry from the first games of the season had disappeared; they could not get any kind of grip of the midfield with a series of misplaced passes and fouls. It seemed like Onuoha was holding the team together with a number of important blocks, tackles and surging runs into the Barnsley half. For all their possession and pressure Barnsley didn’t manage to get a second goal and we started to come into the game more. Everything was happening down our right with some neat interchanges of passes between Onuoha, Cousins and Chery but without really creating anything of note. Polter was in a serious battle with Scowen and getting very little reward.
Our only moment of excitement in the first half came from a Chery free kick. From about 20 yards he curled a lovely effort which clipped the top of the bar and went out for a goal kick. That was it for us and it was with some relief the half ended with only a one goal deficit and we could hope for an improvement in the second half.
We didn’t have to wait long. A lovely ball around the centre half by Chery and Polter was away and heading towards goal. Through a mixture of shirt pulling and tripping Polter was thwarted and the referee pointed to the spot. Chery easily converted and the away end finally awoke from their sleepy state and our spirits were rightly raised.
The second half drifted along without anything of real note happening. Good approach play from both sides was let down by either the final ball or woeful shots on goal. Hall was correctly booked for a late lunge after he mis-controlled the ball while bringing it out of the area. Onuoha did rescue Smithies who seemed to have morphed into Rob Green for the evening with a number of flaps and punches. One of these punches (what’s wrong with catching these days?) to the edge of box was brilliantly volleyed back towards goal. With Smithies out of position, Onuoha headed away and saved a certain goal.
With 15 minutes to go Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink needed to make changes. Cousins had faded badly in the second half and N’Gbakoto was a peripheral figure with just the odd moment of trickery.
But before any changes could be made Rangers found themselves in front. Some neat passing and a dangerous cross from the right came to N’Gbakato who drew a foolish challenge and the referee once again pointed correctly to the spot. There were concerned looks around us as Chery threw the ball to Polter to take the penalty. Why? Chery had already nailed three pens this season surely he should be taking this one too? Oh no, Polter’s bound to miss. Bang! 2- 1 to the R’s and “We’re top of the league!” boomed out of the away end.
Only fifteen minutes to go and leading through our only two efforts on target, let’s show that strength and steel that was in evidence on Sunday and put this game to bed. Or let’s give away a ridiculous free kick in dangerous position when an attacker is moving away from goal. It may have been soft but why give the opponent a reason to fall flat on his face and the referee a decision to make? We’ve just taken the lead and Barnsley have struggled to break us down in the second half. Utter stupidity and naivety to make any kind of challenge there and you know the rest. From an almost identical position as Chery’s free kick in the first half, Hourihane belts an absolute beauty passed the helpless Smithies and the momentum swung back to the home side.
Hasselbaink tried to freshen things up by replacing the tired N’Gbakoto with El Khayati, who I don’t think touched the ball in the ten minutes he was on for. We had tossed the lead away but a point was still a good result and we move on to Saturday still unbeaten. Yeah right. Last minute winner for Barnsley.
From our angle it looked like Hall had been fouled in the lead up to the goal but the officials were unmoved and Oakwell was predominantly jubilant. Washington replaced the ineffective and knackered Cousins and Hall was rightly shown a second yellow followed by the red for deliberately stopping a late Barnsley break on the halfway line. That really was the icing on the cake for a disappointing last 15 minutes and the game drifted to defeat.
On reflection it was a game where all three results were possible going into the last quarter and we should be really annoyed to have got nothing from a winning position but that would have been really harsh on the home side. I cannot remember their keeper making a single save in the match. We played well in parts but not where it mattered - their box.
I was really impressed with Polter’s efforts again. He had little joy from the Barnsley centre halves in the first half but never stopped running and harrying and played a great part in both penalties. Chery showed flashes of excellence but wasted good opportunities when shooting with teammates in better positions. Both of our full backs had to work extremely hard to defend the flanks as both full backs and wingers from the home side tore at them throughout. Hall had probably his worse game being out muscled for two goals and letting his frustration lead to the red card late on.
Hasselbaink is moaning about the officials but he needs to look more closely at his game management. Cousins needed replacing far earlier and we seemed content to let the game drift for long periods rather than trying something different. We certainly didn’t play well enough to deserve the win and we need to get more people forward more quickly. Too often our midfield slowed the game down and passed backwards. Henry was particularly guilty of this and kept putting us under pressure with misplaced passes, terrible crosses or fouls. I also hope the real Smithies returns on Saturday as I didn’t enjoy his Rob Green impersonation at all.
On last night’s evidence maybe Barnsley has been moved to Derbyshire because I didn’t enjoy my trip to the usually generous county of South Yorkshire last night. I also don’t think we will be mentioned in the same sports bulletin as Laura Trott and Jason Kenny for some time; on last night’s evidence QPR are not fit to oil that couple’s bike chain. Anyway I’m just off to the vet with that black cat I tripped over, that’s after I’ve cleaned up the broken mirror. But we move on to Saturday at home to winless Preston.
What could possibly go wrong?
Barnsley: Davies NA; Bree 6; Roberts 6, Mawson 7, White 7; Kent 8; Scowen 7; Hourihane 8; Hammil 5; Watkins 6 (D’Almeida 82, -); Bradshaw 5 (Payne 63, 6)
Goals: Watkins 4 (assisted Hourihane/Roberts), Hourihane 77 (free kick won Hourihane, conceded Luongo), Scowen 89 (assisted Payne, mistake Hall)
Bookings: Roberts 46 (foul)
Goals: Chery 47 (penalty, won Polter), Polter 75 (penalty, won N’Gbakoto)
Red Cards: Hall 90+5 (two bookings)
Bookings: Onuoha 90+3 (foul), Hall 61 (foul), 90+5 (foul)
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