Poles impress, but no late thriller for Sylla – Report
Sunday, 25th Sep 2016 13:08 by Clive Whittingham
QPR snapped a run of defeats and poor performances with a much improved showing and point that could have been three against Birmingham City at Loftus Road on Saturday.
If you’ve lost your last three matches, including your last home league match 6-0, then things can’t really get any worse. Nevertheless, Saturday’s 1-1 draw at home to fifth-placed Birmingham City was a good deal better from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s beleaguered Queens Park Rangers.
Initially the signs weren’t good. Banks of empty seats across the Ellerslie Road stand and Lower Loft, atmosphere as flat as a witch’s tit, and the team looking every bit as bereft as it had done at Huddersfield a week ago despite a clutch of changes to the starting eleven which included a home league debut for Idrissa Sylla up front and a return to the line up for Tjaronn Chery, Grant Hall, Massimo Luongo, Nedum Onuoha and Jake Bidwell after the midweek loss to Sunderland in the cup.
Birmingham, as they did last season, have started the campaign well and with the outstanding player of the first half, Jacques Maghoma, enjoying too much freedom down the left they set about their work with purpose. Steven Caulker slid in under lone striker Lukas Jutkiewicz after 20 minutes to deny him a shot on goal, then Alex Smithies made a smart save diving right at his near post as Jutkiewicz tried to turn the ball back across the face of goal.
The warning signs had not been heeded and the opening goal duly followed, as a collection of QPR’s recent defensive failings all contrived to draw together at once. As at Huddersfield a week ago, a full back caught too far infield and off his man – Onouha the culprit this time – allowed Maghoma all the time and space he needed to pick out a back post cross. Hall, as he had been several times to this point already, was dominated physically and aerially by a player at the far post – Morrison on this occasion, still forward from the back after an earlier corner. Jutkiewicz had the simple task of slamming home his knock down from three yards out unmarked.
QPR, who find it impossible to score from open play this season, are presently far too easy to score against. Caulker and Hall were engaged in a stand up row at one point. Joel Lynch must be banging on the door for a start in the league soon.
There had been some bright moments – Sylla’s intelligent and skilful nod down set Jordan Cousins free into the area but he toed wide as Birmingham’s reserve keeper Adam Legzdins – in for the injured Tomasz Kuszczak – rushed from his line and cleaned him out. Mide Shodipo, recalled on the left, again showed the effects of his direct style by squaring up his full back and delivering a good cross after 12 minutes.
But a goal down, with a centre half at right back and a central midfielder at right wing, and the current people’s champion Sandro nowhere to be seen, this felt like it was only drifting one way. Smithies nicked the ball of Maghoma’s toes in the area, then Birmingham had good cause to feel aggrieved as referee Paul Tierney stopped play for a Steven Caulker injury – which turned out to be nothing at all – just as Maghoma was about to pull the trigger.
That it didn’t bodes well for this group of players, who must have been absolutely devoid of any confidence whatsoever after about 25 minutes here and certainly weren’t getting any encouragement from Birmingham or the stands to make them think they could turn it around.
A change forced on Hasselbaink helped – Jordan Cousins unable to continue, Pawel Wzszolek summoned from the bench far earlier than he otherwise would have been. With Ariel Borysiuk growing into the match after a rusty start on his full QPR league debut, QPR soon discovered what most Londoners knew long ago – if you want a job doing well at half the price, get a couple of Poles in.
Borysiuk, as he had done at Huddersfield a week ago, played ten yards further down the field than Karl Henry usually does, and about 30 yards further than Sandro was able to drag his tired arse during the last 30 minutes of Wednesday’s cup loss. Tough in the tackle, with a far better eye for a pass than veteran Henry, his influence grew as the game went on, and so too – probably as a result – did Luongo’s performance next to him.
Wzsolek, meanwhile, wasted no time in staking his claim for a starting place at Burton next week. Interchanging frequently between the right and left wing, he delivered a variety of dangerous crosses into the Birmingham area. Similar to Lee Cook on first evidence, in that he’s not blessed with electric pace but can deliver quality final balls in equal measure from deeper lying positions or having got to the byline, he was very impressive. The impact of having a proper winger on both sides, as opposed to a central midfielder making do, was to stretch Birmingham widthways. Dominating the middle of the midfield, meanwhile, forced the visitors back.
It helped that Ryan Shotton switched off completely at a thirty-ninth-minute corner, allowing Steven Caulker to head in completely unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box. Had Brum hung onto their lead until half time perhaps they’d have made the necessary adjustments to see the game out, and they could easily have gone back in front on the stroke of the break as QPR’s creaky zonal marking system once more allowed Morrison to steal in unmarked at a set piece but he blasted over when it seemed easier to score. Nevertheless, now back on level terms, QPR set about trying to win the match with real purpose after the tea and oranges.
Wzsolek took the ball to the byline and cut a cute cross back four minutes into the second half – Steven Caulker, marauding forward as he’s prone to doing on occasions, saw a shot blocked behind then headed the resulting corner over. Ten minutes later the Polish winger was there on the dead ball line again, sweeping the ball back into the red zone with real precision only for Chery to take a turn in drawing a block from a desperate Birmingham defender.
Gary Rowett swapped Che Adams, who was drifting out of the game as his team sank deeper, and brought on Greg Stewart, but QPR quickly responded by adding Seb Polter to the strike force instead of Shodipo and although the German looks miles off the pace at the moment, possibly still suffering from injury, his mere presence alongside the hard working, awkward, effective Sylla caused the away side further headaches. Polter soon nodded down for Sylla in the area, who showed great honesty in staying on his feet when others would have gone to ground for a penalty, but could only dribble a weak shot at Legzdins.
And so it continued – Massimo Luongo unable to end his ongoing search for a first QPR goal with a weak shot at the end of a move started by Wzsolek and continued intelligently by Sylla in the area. Borysiuk tried his luck from twice as far out, Legzdins was equal to it.
Referee Paul Tierney, a man once intimidated out of control of a match against Leicester on this ground by the Loftus Road squirrel, was proving an interesting sub plot. At a Birmingham free kick in the first half an argument ensued about whether the QPR wall was far enough back – referees have a spray to sort such matters out these days but Tierney preferred a prolonged argument and then yellow card flashed towards, I think, Shodipo instead.
He didn’t get a lot more sensible after half time. Twice Borysiuk committed poor fouls worthy of a booking but was let off, then Grant Hall won the ball fairly in a tackle and was yellow carded. Maikel Koeftenbeld’s wild lunge on Massimo Luongo was shin high and potentially crippling – a booking was deemed sufficient.
Tierney, as we’d long suspected, is an absolute helmet, but his inconsistencies, and QPR’s ongoing improvements, brought the crowd into the game. There’s plenty to criticise elements of the QPR support about at the moment – and they were ready to tear Hasselbaink limb from limb when the fourth official got the numbers on the board mixed up and said he was withdrawing Luongo rather than Shodipo for Polter – but this did at least show that it doesn’t need much excitement, much purpose and much tempo in the game for them to get into things and get behind the team.
When Sylla was finally awarded a free kick – which wasn’t a foul – after being penalised himself several times the cheer was almost as loud as it had been for the goal. Sadly Onuoha blasted over in the subsequent attack and Tierney was soon penalising Grant Hall for having his shirt pulled up over his head by Jutkiewicz at the other end. Smithies made an unbelievable save from a header at point blank range when that was delivered – he certainly wasn’t to know the chance had been flagged offside.
They nearly had their last second winner to bring the house down as well. No prizes for guessing it was Wzsolek providing the chance, hanging a perfect ball up to the far post for Sylla who looked destined to power home his second goal in two league games but, heart breakingly, headed wide.
It was to be the final action of a game that felt like root canal surgery to begin with, but developed into a lively contest dominated by QPR by the end.
I’d be a bit miffed if I was a Birmingham fan. Much the better team for the first half hour, with the game’s best player Maghoma running riot, they retreated right into their shell second half and seemed happy with a point against a QPR team we suspect isn’t particularly good and we know for certain isn’t high on confidence at the moment. Perhaps the quality of Rangers’ play forced that on them, but to be wasting time quite so flagrantly at 1-1 in a game that initially looked there for the taking for them smacked of lacking ambition. The sight of Paul Robinson, 76, chugging onto the field like Methuselah’s Volvo eight minutes from time, remarkably to play in the centre of midfield, was really quite something.
QPR were applauded off at the end, and have one or two things to take away from this and build on as they head into a tough game of two away matches – one at Hasselbaink’s former club who’ll be desperate to get one over on their old boss, the other a match that has been a nadir of seasons for far better QPR teams and managers than this.
QPR: Smithies 6; Onuoha 5, Caulker 6, Hall 5, Bidwell 6; Borysiuk 7, Luongo 6; Cousins 5 (Wzsolek 14, 7), Chery 6, Shodipo 6 (Polter 65, 5); Sylla 7
Subs not used: Lynch, Washington, Ingram, El Khayati, Henry
Goals: Caulker 39 (assisted Chery)
Bookings: Shodipo 35 (encroachment), Hall 89 (foul)
Birmingham: Ledgzdins 6; Spector 6, Shotton 5, Morrison 7, Grounds 6; Gleeson 6, Kieftenbeld 6; Davis 6 (Robinson 82, -), Adams 5 (Stewart 82, -), Maghoma 7; Jutkiewicz 6 (Storer 85, -)
Subs not used: Cotterill, Wiggins, Brown, Trueman
Goals: Jutkiewicz 23 (assisted Maghoma/Morrison)
Bookings: Kieftenbeld 68 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Ariel Borysiuk 7 Toss up between the two Polish lads for me, with Borysiuk just shading it having started the game and made a clear and obvious difference in an area of the field that’s been a problem for QPR for months. Hopefully not just buoyed by making his debut only to sink back into a lesser normal in future weeks.
Referee – Paul Tierney (Lancashire) 5 Absolute haemorrhoid of a man.
Attendance – 13, 693 (1,800 Birmingham approx) Numbers continue to drop off alarmingly at Loftus Road, but the improvements the team made in the second half at least brought the crowd into the game and, the failed-Luongo substitution apart, they were very supportive of the players despite what’s been going on lately. I’d be interested to hear why Birmingham brought more than 3,000 to this fixture last year when they were outside the play offs, and only the top tier this time despite sitting fifth. Perhaps police insistence after the trouble at this fixture last time?
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