QPR ride luck to break Fulham duck despite Mason’s efforts – Report
Tuesday, 4th Oct 2016 00:49 by Clive Whittingham
QPR rounded off a tough week for manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink with a somewhat fortunate late win at bogey ground Craven Cottage.
None of the Queens Park Rangers players were born when QPR last won at Craven Cottage in 1980, and few of them probably have much idea how they managed it on Saturday.
A topsy-turvy, fiercely entertaining afternoon of Championship football included two missed Fulham penalties (and a host of other sitters beside), a refereeing performance Rob Styles would have been proud of, a first league goal in QPR colours for Conor Washington, a late winning goal for Idrissa Sylla and a crazy five minutes of stoppage time in which the hosts hit the woodwork on two separate occasions while chasing an equaliser.
For the long suffering QPR fans who've seen five straight defeats on this ground in the modern era, including the last three where Rangers were trailing by three goals at half time, any sort of win by the river is more than welcome. For those who've been suffering the dreary matches involving our team so far this season, it was nice to have the pulse racing and the senses stimulated by football again. And Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, at the end of a week when an overblown Daily Telegraph 'sting' called his job into question, probably felt he was due a bit of luck.
But, for the future games at least, it's important to recognise that had Fulham still been playing with Ross McCormack and Moussa Dembele up front, instead of their replacements Sone Aluko – who couldn't finish his dinner - and Chris Martin – who looks like he finished everybody else's – this could have been another absolute shellacking.
QPR just don't seem to be able to get the balance right: solidity in defence comes at the expense of any sort of attack; improvements up front immediately open the door at the other end. We saw this with Chris Ramsey's side a year ago, where Rangers scored and conceded goals for fun; and then when Neil Warnock replaced him and tightened the defence up but only by playing with six men in midfield and no strikers at all.
Admittedly their cause wasn't helped at Fulham this time around by the decision to hand the fixture to Lee Mason – a man who can only dream of the day when his refereeing ability is in proportion with the size of his head.
Early Fulham goals have been a theme of these fixtures – in our last three visits alone they've scored goals after two, two and eight minutes – and Mason was keen to present them with a chance to do so again. So keen in fact, he'd made up his mind to punish Steven Caulker for wrestling with Martin under a fifth minute corner before the ball had been kicked, and therefore had to follow through with the award even though Martin was doing just as much as his marker, and the corner was mishit short and went nowhere near either of them. A nonsense decision, exacerbated with a yellow card for Caulker for wrestling a man who was wrestling him to try and get to a ball that wasn't in the same post code.
Thankfully QPR have a penalty-saver extraordinaire in goal these days, and Alex Smithies flung himself full stretch to his right to brilliantly palm Tom Cairney’s shot out of the bottom corner. This was by no means a bad penalty, low and heading into the side netting, and how Smithies was able to get down that quickly, and that far, to make the save only he knows. This was the former Huddersfield man's fourth penalty save in just 29 starts for the club.
Sadly it only seemed to make Mason more determined to skew the result one way. It took until the forty fourth minute for QPR to be awarded a free kick of any description, and the "foul" count stood at eight one by half time. I'd like to believe Fulham completed 44 minutes of derby match football without committing a single foul, but I don't, particularly as I sat through it and it's not true.
Mason is well known in QPR circles for the scandalous award of a penalty to Ashley Young at Old Trafford, and a red card for Shaun Derry, for what was, quite clearly at the time and even more so on replays, a flagrant dive. What never really got mentioned at the time was that Young was the thick end of three yards offside, and that although Lee Mason was from Bolton, and a Bolton season ticket holder, and had a brother who played for Bolton, and therefore wasn’t allowed to referee Bolton matches, he was in charge of a game at the business end of the season that involved Bolton’s main competitor for the final relegation spot – a game he decided with a catastrophic error in Bolton’s favour a quarter of an hour in.
We’d probably forgive him sending off Gary O’Neil in the play-off final against Derby at Wembley - as it was a red card - though many wouldn’t. Booking Bobby Zamora for over-celebrating a last-minute Wembley winner, scored with ten men to promote his team to the Premier League, said a lot about Mason’s character. This is a man, it’s worth pointing out, who was awarding non-penalties against QPR as far back as 2006 when a dreadful Ipswich team were treated to a win at Loftus Road against Gary Waddock’s Rangers largely thanks to Mason’s ineptitude. If, indeed, it is as innocent as simple ineptitude. After Saturday’s display I’m starting to wonder.
Fulham did, however, create a whole host of chances to score goals, each one passed up in various unlikely and, at times, hilarious circumstances.
Sone Aluko, speed to burn but with the composure of an epileptic fruit fly, outpaced makeshift left back Joel Lynch, in for the injured Jake Bidwell, and curled a shot past Smithies but wide of the far post. Seconds later Cairney tried the same shot from the same spot with the same result. The game looked to be up when Scott Parker made the most of the wide open spaces, and horribly square QPR back four, to free both Chelsea loanee Lucas Piazon and Fat Fighters' Slimmer of the Week Chris Martin through on goal. With time to spare, Piazon was able to draw Smithies and knock the ball round him only for Martin, faced with an open goal from 15 yards out, to fall over his own feet and skew the ball horribly wide.
Aluko headed a free kick wide and smacked a shot over while Piazon saw his latest effort deflected away by desperate, last-ditch QPR defending during a period of Fulham pressure around the half hour.
But Rangers were already a goal up by then. The return of Seb Polter to the attack meant Conor Washington could, mercifully, be used a bit wider and deeper than he had been to no effect at Burton during the week, and he responded with his best performance for the club and a tireless man of the match display. He'd tested home keeper Button with a header inside 20 seconds, and registered his first league goal for the club with a deflected shot on 20 minutes after Pawel Wzsolek cut the ball back from the right following a deep Lynch cross.
Massimo Luongo ran him close for the top honours, despite QPR being wide open through the heart of midfield and defence. Some proper central midfield tackling and pressing meant that Rangers were able to play high up the pitch, which we've seen precious little of even though it's apparently Hasselbaink's preferred style. The space in behind, however, was terrifying at times.
Still, 1-0 up at the break, if Rangers could tighten things up slightly a derby win looked reasonably likely. One only hopes that, at £55,000 a throw, Jimmy's after dinner speaking is better than his half time team talks because Fulham were level straight after the restart after a further two minutes of shambolic defending – Tim Ream's shot on the turn from a corner deflected off Luongo and into the net.
Washington responded in kind, forcing a corner straight from the kick off which Mason awarded as a goal kick.
But Fulham smelt blood and came after Rangers with renewed vigour having equalised. They could have gone in front on more than one occasion in a frightening ten minutes before the hour mark. First a diving header from Onuoha at the near post sent the ball flying an inch over his own top corner, then Chris Martin lollopped through on goal again but was flagged offside – probably just as well, save him any further embarrassment. Tom Cairney's cross from the right was volleyed an inch wide with Smithies beaten by Ryan Tunnicliffe. Substitute Matt Smith nodded down for Scott Parker to hit a crisp shot past the keeper only for Steven Caulker, hanging around on the goal line marking time, to back heal the ball away to safety.
It felt like a matter of time - no team can continue to miss chances like this - but Hasselbaink, much maligned of late, shuffled things from the bench and with each substitution – a real weak spot of his management of QPR so far – he improved the situation. He started by sending on Idrissa Sylla to replace a a tired Polter. QPR's attack suddenly picked up again, allowing Washington and Tjaronn Chery to come back into the game. Within moments of his introduction Sylla was using his frame to manoeuvre a position for a shot on the turn in the area but the ball flew straight at Button.
After that Wzsolek, also blowing, was replaced by young Mide Shodipo who made a massive difference. Previously promising but raw, Shodipo looked much more accomplished here, running at his full back Scott Malone and delivering a string of dangerous crosses from the right. This had the added benefit of forcing Malone back to do some defending, where he'd previously been allowed to maraud forward into wide open spaces in front of him as QPR once again defended too deep and narrow for their own good.
There were still Fulham chances – and Aluko's catalogue of misses received another entry on 71 minutes when he somehow planted a diving header wide of the far post having arrived perfectly on time, six yards out from an almost entirely open goal. The saloon door welcome Rangers offered Fulham right down the middle of the pitch all afternoon, while simultaneously conceding space in wide areas, was a tactical puzzle. There's a detailed explanation from Tom Hunter on our message board, better than I can offer from the worm's-eye-view I was handed for my £25, but essentially with Henry playing too deep, and Chery almost a second striker, it left Luongo outnumbered in midfield despite his own excellent performance.
Nevertheless, QPR were the better team for the final stages, with Shodipo drawing a yellow card from Ream and Onuoha heading the resulting Chery free kick wide of the far post as the pressure mounted. Shodipo also seemed to be fouled in the penalty area as Fulham panicked amidst a goalmouth scramble caused by Button spilling a routine cross, but there was more chance of waking up on Sunday morning with Anna Kendrick than QPR getting a spot kick out of Mason in this mood and that was predictably waved away almost before the challenge had even been made.
A final substitution gave Rangers another nudge towards victory. With the crowd appealing for Sandro's introduction, Hasselbaink turned instead to Nico Hamalainen with Lynch now struggling with the pace of the game. A bold move, one that was greeted by Sandro removing his training top and throwing it to the ground on the sideline – exactly the sort of behaviour a young kid about to make his league debut needs from one of the senior pros while he's receiving his final instructions before entering a derby match at a crucial point – but one that worked absolutely perfectly. Hamalainen settled straight away with two good early touches, and was soon nutmegging Fulham players on his way down the left flank. With potent threats on both wings now, QPR pressed for a winner.
Sylla's goal, scored three minutes from time, came from a predictable source. The doubling up of Chery and Shodipo down the right proved too much for the hosts at last as the Dutchman received a pass from his young team mate, tricked half a yard of space and then hung a ball up to the far post where Sylla shrugged off his man and used every last inch of his four foot neck to lunge forwards and head in from six yards out. Early days, but on first sight I like Sylla a lot, a real handful, ideal Championship centre forward material.
Cue pandemonium in the away end, but there was much, much more to come, despite the limited time left.
Enter Chode of Chode Hall from stage right, whistle in mouth, apparently absolutely determined to make sure Fulham had every possible chance to equalise, first by adding a manifestly excessive five minutes of injury time and then spending it repeatedly awarding them set pieces around and eventually, when all else had failed, in the penalty box once more.
A foul whistled for by Caulker on Smith – several other similar challenges on Polter and Sylla had gone unpunished – gave substitute Jozabed a chance to try his luck from 25 yards and he hit the top of the cross bar.
There was only one thing left Mason could try – another penalty. This one even harsher than the first, awarded against Onuoha for a high boot despite it being below waist height against Jozabed who was ducking down into the challenge to try and head a bouncing ball. A ludicrous decision, particularly having turned down the Shodipo appeal a few minutes before, but vintage of a man whose history with QPR increasingly reads like a man bearing a grudge. Yes Lee, we relegated your precious Bolton, time to let it go you bitter prick.
Didn't matter in the end as Aluko continued the form he'd shown for the previous 94 minutes, almost uprooting Smithies' post with his penalty which bounced so far back into play the Whites couldn't even net the rebound. The only real surprise was that Mason blew the final whistle straight afterwards rather than deeming the game worthy of a further period of 45 minutes which QPR would be forced to play with only seven blindfolded men.
An immensely satisfying result from a fairly wild game and curate's egg of a performance. QPR have only won 14 away league matches in the last three years, so it's important to enjoy them when they do come along rather than picking fault. But the fact is, defending like that won't see them winning many more, even allowing for the improvements in attack.
Fulham: Button 5; Odoi 6, Sigurdsson 5, Ream 6, Malone 7; Parker 7 (Jozabed 78, 7), Tunnicliffe 6, Cairney 7 (Kebano 71, 6); Aluko 5, Piazon 6, Martin 4 (Smith 56, 6)
Subs not used: Bettinelli, Madl, Sessegnon, Adeniran
Goals: Ream 47 (assisted Cairney)
Bookings: Malone 58 (foul) Ream 83 (foul)
QPR: Smithies 7; Onuoha 5, Caulker 6, Hall 5, Lynch 6 (Hamalainen 81, -); Henry 6, Luongo 7; Wzsolek 6 (Shodipo 63, 7), Chery 7, Washington 7; Polter 6 (Sylla 60, 7)
Subs not used: Ingram, Sandro, Kakay, El Khayati
Goals: Washington 20 (assisted Wzsolek), Sylla 87 (assisted Chery)
Bookings: Caulker 5 (not much), Henry 74 (foul), Sylla 90+5 (dissent)
QPR Star Man – Conor Washington 7 After an improved showing at Burton on Tuesday, he got better still here with a tireless display crowned with a goal. Effective when used correctly.
Referee – Lee Mason (Bolton Wanderers) 2 A bold attempt. Nice try, knobhead.
Attendance – 19,609 (3,100 QPR approx) Could have gone either way this one, and no doubt the heckling of Hasselbaink would have begin had Fulham taken even half of the chances they should have done. But the away end was in better voice than it has been for months, and remained supportive of the team even after the equaliser. Maybe that made the difference. Fulham had clapper sticks.
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