Team with plan v team with vague idea – Report
Saturday, 29th Oct 2016 17:12 by Clive Whittingham
An awful performance, flattered by the 2-0 scoreline, saw QPR crash to a defeat against near neighbours Brentford at Loftus Road on Friday evening piling pressure on manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
A five match unbeaten run, a first home win since the opening day of the season against Bristol City, a very unfortunate defeat at Sheffield Wednesday which could easily have gone the other way, it’s tempting to say that Friday night’s home defeat to Brentford was the latest case of one step forward and two back for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s Queens Park Rangers.
Such was the paucity of quality in the Rangers display, so emphatic was the Brentford victory which should have been many more than 2-0, it’s probably more accurate to say it’s one step forward and then one trans-continental, multi-legged railway journey back. But, in actual fact, QPR are neither progressing nor regressing, they’re standing stock still, continually caught out by teams with shrewd tactical set ups just as they have been for months.
The Championship is a broken football division really, kidding itself with all this talk of being the fifth biggest and best in Europe which masks the many issues it has. Too many teams, far too many games, fixtures crammed into little three week bursts on all sorts of weird and wonderful days and times, followed by a fortnight off for internationals which none of your players are involved in. Vast financial discrepancy between teams that are meant to be on the same playing field as a result of punitive FFP regulations, and bloated Premier League parachute payments.
It’s a mess, and as a result it rewards things like attrition, and fitness, and all sorts of things like that which football supporters love nothing more than paying £32 to sit through. ‘A typical Championship game’ is one where the teams basically belt it back and forth for 90 minutes, like a couple of chimps picking the shit off the floor of their cage and throwing it at each other, then having a count up of the final score at the end.
These games, QPR can do. Get in the arm wrestle, start tossing the poo about, Rangers are ok at that. Sometimes they win when they should lose (Fulham, Wigan), sometimes they lose when they should win (Sheff Wed, Barnsley), sometimes they draw, and it’s almost always boring and completely without footballing merit, pattern or entertainment value like the vast majority of games played at this level.
But every now and again Rangers find themselves stumbling and bumbling into the path of a Championship team with an actual plan, some idea of how they want to go about their business, a pattern of play, a shape, a purpose. It doesn’t have to be a particularly complex plan, hell it doesn’t even have to be one of Baldrick’s plans, but a solid plan well executed is usually enough to beat QPR because they simply don’t have one of their own. Preston North End, bottom of the table without a win to their name, came to Loftus Road, added an extra man to their midfield (John Welsh) to crowd out Tjaronn Chery, maintained a two man strike force (hot pants model Callum Robinson and neck tattoo enthusiast Jermaine Beckford) to run in behind QPR’s high line and won 2-0. It was like shelling peas.
We can perhaps write the Newcastle game off as a freak of football, executed by a team with a colossal budget and Champions League winning manager, but again it was a well drilled outfit that had a plan and knew their jobs, easily walking all over QPR on their own patch.
And then there was Friday night’s home game with Brentford. As comprehensive a 2-0 victory as you’re ever likely to see, slickly executed by Dean Smith’s team that had an idea of how they were going to take QPR apart and duly tore them a new arse over 98 traumatic minutes.
Carrot-topped Ryan Woods, signed from Shrewsbury at the start of last season, had caught the eye in this fixture in March despite the Bees slipping to a 3-0 defeat. Here he was the outstanding player on the pitch, with everything going through him at the base of the visitors’ midfield. Further ahead of him QPR would have been wary of lone striker Scott Hogan who came into the game with eight goals in 14 starts already this season but actually the former Rochdale man served mostly as a dummy runner, moving into offside positions behind centre backs Nedum Onuoha and Steven Caulker more often than not. Thinking they’d caught their man, QPR pushed high up the field to try and have Hogan flagged not realising that it was a fairly rudimentary trap, with Romaine Sawyers and particularly Josh Clarke able to revel in the wide open spaces they left behind. Time and time and time and time again they did this. Never once did QPR twig what was happening. It’s a miracle this was only 2-0.
The plan was never better demonstrated than in the nineteenth minute when Sawyers walked into the QPR penalty area unchallenged, received the ball onside despite QPR’s protestations, and drew a fine one on one save by Alex Smithies, one of the few QPR players to emerge from this debacle with any modicum of credit. From exactly the same position Hogan curled a short round Smithies but past the post two minute later. Jack Robinson, back at left back after his latest lengthy lay off, had to put his boot through the ball and clear a goal mouth scramble from a corner. Onuoha had to slide in and make a goal-saving tackle at the back post as Brentford sprung the offside trap again and Sawyers laid a cute ball right through the goalmouth.
Six minutes before half time Clarke ran in behind again, cut the ball back and Hogan shot over. Warning not heeded, QPR pushed up again a minute later, left wide open spaces in their own penalty box and Josh McEachran was able to craft a shooting chance for Clarke who slid it under Smithies for the opening goal.
And so this nonsense was allowed to continue after half time. Hogan runs in offside in the first phase, QPR push up, Sawyers and Clarke arrive late in phase two onside and with the freedom of Shepherds Bush to seize onto one brilliant pass after another from McEachran and Woods. It was metronomic, ceaseless and, as was the case against Preston and Newcastle, QPR didn’t have the foggiest idea what they were going to do about it. In the end they did nothing at all, either to stop Brentford playing or to try and effect the game themselves.
Clarke cut a ball back for Hogan to strike at Smithies after the hour. Sawyers doubled the lead and finished the game with a quarter of an hour left for play when referee James Adcock missed what looked like a handball as Clarke blocked a clearance from James Perch down by the corner flag and Colin squared the loose ball to the former Walsall man who sent it screaming into the top corner from 15 yards out. Substitute Konstantin Kerschbaumer, whose signing was funded by the sale of three replica shirts with his name on the back, shot over from the same position when he should have at least hit the target.
Only Lewis MacLeod picking up a nasty knee injury, which prolonged the agony for the students at the School of Science by a further eight minutes at the end of the game, after coming on as a sub blotted the Brentford copy book. They were near-as-damn-it perfect.
So what of QPR then? When you watch them in games like this, it really is stark just how little specific idea Rangers have about how they want to go about their business.
On the face of it, Hasselbaink’s QPR are a long ball outfit. They knock it long to their lone striker whether it’s Seb Polter, Conor Washington or, in this case, Idrissa Sylla. Now that may not be to your taste, but it is an approach you can take to football, one that has been successful for teams at various times and levels. But QPR do it with no real forethought for what that lone striker might do if he does manage to bring the ball down or flick it on. Rangers never get men around that lone striker, looking for flicks or second balls. We’re like a really bad snooker player, constantly rolling the red into the corner pocket without positioning correctly for the black. Brentford captain Harlee Dean stuck Sylla in his back pocket here and kept him there, but you had to feel for the Guinea international given just how little support he had. There are scientists conducting six-month research projects in snow bunkers at the South Pole less isolated than Sylla was here.
Hasselbaink, justifiably, picks Tjaronn Chery as the club’s most gifted player, and also recognises the Dutchman is rather wasted when used as a wide player and needs to be in the middle. But having put him there, QPR seemingly have no idea of how they’re going to service him with good ball in dangerous areas. Chery, for his part, doesn’t get close enough to the lone striker but he spends most of his matches at the moment either watching balls fly over his head, or trying to pick his way through the middle of the final third which teams recognised back in August you can neuter QPR by crowding with a couple of extra midfielders.
The Dutchman is basically reduced to a designated kicker role at QPR at times, having almost no influence on open play whatsoever and simply kept out there in case a free kick or corner is awarded. He whacked one into the wall after six minutes here when Dean hacked down Sylla on the one occasion the QPR man got away from his marker all night and was rightly booked. Just before the hour he curled one over the wall and wide after he’d bought a generous free kick from the referee.
QPR have wingers – Mide Shodipo and Pawel Wzsolek in particular – who can cross a nice ball, but they seldom field them on their favoured wings and use them for that. Rangers haven’t scored for two games now and the last time they did find the net it was by getting the ball wide to Massimo Luongo and getting some quality in from a wide area. The closest they came to a goal here, when already two goals down, was an angled header from Sylla off a Wzsolek cross which beat Bentley in goal but was headed off the line by Dean.
Luongo, like Chery, another talented player suffocating in whatever this is QPR are trying to achieve. Credit to the Australian, and Conor Washington for that matter, for getting their heads down and working their arses into the ground regardless, but are we using either to their strengths? Managers get too much credit when it goes right, and too much grief when it goes wrong, it’s the players who cross the white line at the end of the day, but you can’t say these QPR players are wanting for attitude, effort, application or – in the cases of Luongo, Chery, Jordan Cousins and several others who’ve played well elsewhere – ability, so you have to turn to the guy whose plan they’re diligently, professionally following. Washington and Cousins both had first half shots blocked as they toiled in vain.
Ah yes, Jordan Cousins, who I struggle to recall us playing in the position he impressed in at Charlton once this season. Used as a winger for the most part, he actually finished this game at right back as a result of the bizarre decision to chuck Jack Robinson straight back into the first team after his latest long injury lay off despite him only completing two halves of football for the reserves. I mean, quite apart from Robinson’s personal history over the last 18 months making that a colossal risk to himself, it also spent a substitution before the game even started because he was only ever going to be able to do an hour and so when the 60-minute mark came round QPR were faffing around moving Perch to left back, Cousins to right back and Wzsolek to the wing when they had a whole multitude of more series issues to address with changes elsewhere.
Again, I just don’t understand the thinking there at all. QPR regularly change their team when there are three matches in a week to keep everybody fresh – frequently players who’ve done well on the Saturday are still not picked for the Tuesday night, despite this not yielding particularly good results in the midweek matches. Washington, for example, I thought, was absolutely excellent at Fulham at the start of the month but because he went away on international duty he was dropped for the next match in favour of somebody who hadn’t been away and had trained and rested instead. Now how can a flight to Belfast and 20 minutes as a substitute for Northern Ireland be sufficient reason for a player to be left out of the team, and yet somebody who had a year out with a horrendous knee injury and has spent the last five months dealing with various side effects of it gets chucked back in from the start after two 45 minute outings for the Under 23s? Don’t get me wrong, I was pleased to see Robinson back, I like him a lot as a player, his return is timely with Bidwell’s injury, and he did absolutely fine for an hour here. But really?
We’re just football fans at the end of the day, we don’t understand how the sport works, how the players train, how you would put a session on, how you would set a team up, the sports science of it all and so on. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink would probably laugh at the naivety of my attempts to understand all this. But fuck me sideways it’s not very consistent thinking is it? You’ve been on a plane for a bit this week so no start for you, you’ve been out for six months but we’re shoving you straight back in even though you can only do an hour and we’re going to have to move a central midfielder to right back for the last half hour as a result.
It’s not the disaster it feels like this morning, though QPR will do well not to get sucked into the relegation whirlpool swirling below them playing like this. There will be another clutch of ‘typical Championship’ games to come in the next few weeks, where the monkeys will toss their shit at each other and QPR will pick up the odd win here, the odd draw there, the odd unfortunate defeat, the odd victory against the run of play and so on. But while Hasselbaink’s only plan is to push the defence high up the field and pump the ball into the vague vicinity of where it might be dangerous if it happens to drop in the right way any team with a modicum of structure and thought process to them is going to unpick Rangers every bit as easily as Brentford did.
QPR, the Jamaican bobsled team, whose plan didn’t stretch much further than kissing a lucky egg before races. Brentford the latest team to play the role of the Swiss. There’ll be no tear-jerking happy ending for Hasselbaink if he can’t do any better than this.
QPR: Smithies 6; Perch 5, Onuoha 5, Caulker 5, Robinson 5 (Wszolek 61, 6); Cousins 5, Borysiuk 5 (Gladwin 81, -), Luongo 5; Washington 5 (Polter 69, 4), Chery 4, Sylla 4
Subs not used: Hamalainen, Ingram, Hall, Henry
Bookings: Borysiuk 16 (foul), Chery 67 (dissent)
Brentford: Bentley 6; Colin 7, Dean 8, Egan 8, Bjellend 7; Woods 8; Yennaris 7, Clarke 8 (Kerschbaumerat 90+1), -, McEachran 7 (MacLeod 71, - (Kaikai 87, -)), Sawyers 7; Hogan 7
Subs not used: Hofmann, Bonham, Barbet, Onariase
Goals: Clarke 42 (assisted McEachran), Sawyers 74 (assisted Colin)
Bookings: Dean 6 (foul)
QPR Star Man – N/A
Referee – James Adcock (Notts) 8 I suppose you could make an argument for handball in the build up to the second goal, with Clarke’s arm up above his head in the ‘unnatural position’ that tends to be the interpretation of these things, but I didn’t think there was a lot in it and the officials were fine apart from that. Mind you QPR were so uncompetitive this local derby was about as ferocious as an afternoon choosing curtain fabric so there wasn’t a lot to referee.
Attendance 16,888 (2,700 Brentford approx) Rather sad that neither team sold their allocation for this, but then if you will move games to Friday nights. I thought the QPR fans stuck with their team well and offered as much support as possible in the second half when I expected the place to turn. Such a shame to see the scenes at the back of the R Block – Joe Hylton and Lee Hoos have worked hard to persuade the council to let us take that fence down so people can have a better view of the game and the reward and thanks the pair of them have got is people not only ignoring pleas not to move between the stands but now moving between the stands to have a fight with other QPR fans. Result – fence probably going to have to go back up. They must wonder why they bother. A prevailing feeling for most of us this morning I suspect.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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