Sylla’s late leveller can’t save Hasselbaink’s job – Report
Sunday, 6th Nov 2016 10:55 by Clive Whittingham
QPR tried and failed to register a first ever win at Nottingham Forest at the 33rd time of asking on Saturday. Manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink paid with his job after the final whistle.
Mid-table sized club with a mid-table quality team sacks manager for having them in mid-table after drawing at a ground they’ve never won on in 33 attempts. On the face of it, it’s pure Queens Park Rangers.
Saturday’s draw at Nottingham Forest – which would have been a win on any other day, at any other ground, given Rangers’ total domination of the second half and abysmal quality of the opponent – left Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s team seventeenth in the Championship.
Six points off the relegation zone, six points off the play-off places, this is not a disastrous position to be in 16 games into a 46 match season. In fact, given the drain of talented players away from Loftus Road over the past two years, a playing budget which has been hacked and then hacked again through FFP and parachute payment necessity, the number of European signing having to adjust to English football, the number of lower league signings being asked to step up, and a smattering of youth team players making their way in senior football for the first time, it could be argued it’s rather creditable. The perception of how QPR are doing – a team that never wins and never scores – is rather harsher than the reality – three away wins already this season, equal or more goals scored than nine other sides.
By all accounts the decision to ditch Hasslebaink was taken a week ago, after the pathetic capitulation to near neighbours Brentford. A 2-0 scoreline flattering the insipid Hoops, a London derby embarrassment too far for a club and a board that’s experienced quite a few in recent years. It would have taken an extraordinary performance at the City Ground to spare the Dutchman a trip to the gallows, and given QPR’s notorious record in this part of the world that was never likely.
What transpired instead was the perfect summation, an absolute microcosm, of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s time in Shepherd’s Bush.
First, the team news, which Hasselbaink largely keeps to himself, presumably for fear of tipping off the opposition. All well and good in theory, but QPR aren’t exactly blessed with a whole load of outstanding talent that any opponent would have to make a special plan for are we? Do we really think Nottingham Forest manager Philippe Montanier has been tossing and turning every night this week fretting over whether Conor Washington will play wide or upfront, whether QPR will go with three or five in midfield, whether Massimo Luongo will play? Has he fuck.
The effect of not telling anybody that, in this case, Luongo and Steven Caulker were injured and Ariel Borysiuk had a family emergency is only to make Hasselbaink’s ever-curious, ever-changing team selections look even more unfathomable than they already are. The same happened at MK Dons away last season where three players were left out after a decent performance and Rangers fell in a hole and lost 2-0 to a soon-to-be-relegated side. It transpired they’d all had flu, but by not telling us that it created a wave of confusion and anger when the team was announced at 14.00. He added pressure and criticism to himself that simply didn’t need to be there.
Second, said unfathomable team selection. The official website runs a guessing game encouraging fans to name the team in advance of the game and honestly if anybody ever gets it right they deserve a bloody OBE. Even once the 11 names are revealed it’s a case of picking out the four defenders and the lone striker and then wildly guessing at where the other five might be playing. Rangers have gone 4-1-4-1, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 4-5-1 and yes even 4-4-2 at various points of various games recently. Pawel Wzsolek has played right, left and off the main striker – often in the same game. Tjaronn Chery has played ten, left wing and central midfield. Jordan Cousins has played centrally, wide right, and right full back. It’s little wonder there’s no flow to the team really is it? It’s hard to shake the idea that Hasselbaink and his coaching staff don’t just mix the five magnetic tags up in a bag and then throw them at the board and play whatever lands.
Third, a limp start to the game. Seb Polter was the man selected to lead the line here and once again, as we’ve seen so often this season, the poor bastard really did put the ‘lone’ in lone striker. Up top, with two centre backs for company, and no QPR player within the same post code, the German won far more than his fair share of the high balls QPR pumped up to him, flicking it on, nodding it down, holding it up and laying it – all to no avail, because there was nobody there with him. Exactly, word for word, point for point, the same problem Idrissa Sylla had against Brentford a week ago. Exactly the same problem Polter and Sylla have shared all season when starting games. Conor Washington, who his former chairman at Peterborough rightly said this week is being absolutely wasted by QPR who pick him either in that lone lone striker role or as a winger rather than an off-the-shoulder goal poacher, was asked to chase channel balls down the left wing.
Once more QPR’s sole attacking idea seemed to be based around getting the ball in the vague vicinity of where it might be dangerous and hoping it magically became so simply by being there. By the 30 minute point Nottingham Forest had hit four shots on target and seen a fifth blocked, QPR hadn’t registered a single effort either on or off target of their own. And this against a team with Vladimir Stojkovic in goal – as dodgy as they come at this level, get it on target he often does the rest of the work for you.
Fourth, the suicidally high defensive line. Hasselbaink made a very big deal of his love for the ‘full court press’ which has become trendy since Jurgen Klopp started conquering the world at Borussia Dortmund. Hasselbaink beasted his players all summer to make sure they were fit enough to do it and all that sounded like exactly what the team and the club needed, particularly after last year where mobility, energy, pace and goals were all entirely lacking from the centre of midfield. Two modern day club legends, Ale Faurlin and Clint Hill, were brutally cut loose in the summer because they apparently didn’t have the legs for this style.
But the only evidence we’ve seen of this on the pitch is the back four pushing so far up the field there’s actually little point them being there at all. With no pressing, harassing or energy from the constantly rotated midfield, Rangers have been inviting unpressured opposition playmakers to simply dink balls into the wide open spaces behind the defenders.
Brentford played it perfectly last week, running Scott Hogan in offside drawing the defenders still further up the field and then sending in Josh Clarke and Romain Sawyers clean through in the second phase. Forest, initially, didn’t look capable of doing the same – one ball after another kicked straight out of play down the left wing, like a golfer with a fault in his grip or a really great rugby union game. But they soon got their eye in and before long Britt Assombalonga was running through on goal so frequently it was almost like a one v one practise session for striker and goalkeeper. One was disallowed for offside then Alex Smithies, dressed in his flying banana costume, rushed from his line to block another brilliantly after Nedum Onuoha had got himself in a right mess and allowed a long punt to bounce right through.
The keeper was perhaps a little rash second time round though, charging out of his area and allowing Assombalonga to knock it round him and then slide home from an acute angle, despite the efforts of Grant Hall on the line, before beginning a ludicrous celebratory handshake routine with Hildeberto Pereira which, if the teams hadn’t had to go back to their own halves of the field for the kick off as dictated by the laws of the game, may well still be going on now.
Later Henri Lansbury, dressed as a homeless person for Halloween, took a turn to skip through the acres of peaceful meadow between Smithies and his back line – Ben Osborn shot just over after Hall got back to challenge the former Arsenal trainee at the last second.
To make matters worse, Rangers had also been reduced to ten men just before the goal. Now Keith Stroud has been on the refereeing circuit a long time, and at one point was something of a lucky official for QPR who avoided defeat in their first ten outings with him over several years. But he’s been a growing pain in the arse of late, starting a few years ago on this ground when a second Forest goal to seal the game was allowed despite the linesman flagging it offside. Last year at MK Dons he awarded two penalties to the hosts, and denied QPR a cast iron one of their own. He’s always had a touch of the short-man syndrome about him, but he’s started to referee games these days like somebody who doesn’t actually enjoy refereeing any more, or football at all in fact, and only keeps doing it because his wife can’t stand him fussing around the house all Saturday afternoon. If that is the case, somebody get this lunatic an allotment or something quick.
This was a game with one proper tackle in it. Midway through the second half James Perch channelled the evil side of Mark Dennis into a flying, airborne lunge over by the dugouts which took the ball clean as a whistle but, a quarter of a second earlier or later, would have clocked up a reasonable death toll. There wasn’t even a free kick awarded for that and yet through the rest of a fairly tame game physically Stroud contrived to show two red cards and ten yellows.
He’d lost control of the thing with time still in single figures. Karl Henry penalised for handball on halfway when a) it looked like the Forest guy had handled it and b) Henry had fairly obviously been pushed under the ball in the first place. Henry was then shown a yellow card for his dissent to the decision and QPR captain Nedum Onuoha was forced into three prolonged chats with the official in as many minutes as one curious decision after another went Forest’s way.
Henry is an experienced player though, and his behaviour over the following 20 minutes was utterly brain dead. Every stoppage, every break in play, every injury, Henry was back to the referee, in his face, arguing the toss, telling him how wrong he’d been. It was like Joey Barton all over again, burning with some sense of injustice and unable to concentrate on his game or think about anything else. At different points Seb Polter, Onuoha and even Alex Smithies took Henry by the arm and forcibly led him away from the official. It was a red card waiting to happen and that particularly time bomb went off just before the half hour when he tripped Lansbury as he accelerated into a dangerous area.
Should he have been booked in the first place? No. Could the referee have let him off with a final warning for the second one? Yes. But honestly, after Henry moaned and bitched his way through 20 minutes of football I suspect Stroud was just glad of the chance to get rid of him. Totally unprofessional, and no kind of reward to a manager whose faith in Henry has been unshakable through a catalogue of poor performances and supporter criticism. Again, it felt apt that Henry would let Hasselbaink and his team mates down to this extent on the Dutchman’s last day in the job. The idea that Henry should have been cut loose when his contract expired in the summer, as several better players were, carries more weight than Lisa Riley.
If Hasselbaink’s love of Henry is point five then point six came after half time. QPR, despite having ten men, completely took the game over by playing as they should do from the start every week – another regular occurrence under Hasselbaink.
Chery hit a free kick over the bar after great work by Jack Robinson, then he had a shot nervously parried away by Stojkovic. Grant Hall headed a corner wide at the back post. Conor Washington started to look dangerous wide left. It was difficult to know whether Forest were deliberately sitting back to protect their lead or being pushed there by QPR. Stojkovic’s yellow card for time wasting suggested the former but in actual fact, it could just be that they’re fucking rubbish.
Hasselbaink sent on Mide Shodipo to play down the right and, as he always does, the young winger made a massive difference. Nothing complicated, just getting at his man and getting a cross over. He also understood Stroud far more than his team mates, collapsing to the floor every time he felt a whiff of contact from his full back and being rewarded with a free kick every time. Now it was Forest’s turn to lose the plot with the official as Pereira was booked first for holding onto the ball and preventing a quick free kick, and then for a tiny flick on Conor Washington’s heels as he scooted past him in the left channel. Again, offences worthy of a red card? Certainly not, but having booked for literally everything else Stroud left himself with no choice. You could have done an oil painting of Pereira in the time it took him to leave the field, contributing to seven added minutes at the end of the game. It was getting light again by the time this one drew to a close.
Idrissa Sylla also stepped up off the bench to partner Polter in attack and Nasser El Khayati came on to do down the left what Shodipo was doing down the right. Lo and behold, wouldn’t you know it, knock me down with a feather, stone the crows, hold the fucking front page, getting the ball wide to wingers who can cross and putting somebody up alongside Polter to help actually worked. As it always has done before this season. Sylla scored almost immediately, powering in a header at the near post from El Khayati’s cross with Stojkovic’s efforts at saving it questionable. The Guinea international was, naturally, booked for over-celebrating. Of course he was.
There was a fantastic goal-saving header from under his own cross bar by Nedum Onuoha, and substitute Vellios appeared to be punished for diving in the penalty area in stoppage time with the award of a free kick the other way – but bizarrely no yellow card – but the play was almost exclusively at the QPR end of the ground and in the end only the clock saved Forest.
Two abysmal teams and a dreadful referee, pure Championship stuff, but it had been an uplifting final half hour from Rangers winning them a point they more than deserved. It felt like a corner had been turned, that Hasselbaink had finally seen the value of committing more men to the attack, of supporting the main striker, of using genuine wingers and giving them the ball in wide areas, of getting crosses into the box, of using Shodipo more. But we’ve been here before. The same thing happened at the end of the Fulham game, where Sylla scored a similar goal, and in the final quarter of an hour at Huddersfield, where Sylla scored an identical goal. It happens all the time but you just knew, deep down, that in a fortnight’s time against Norwich when Rangers take the field again it would have been back to one isolated man up top, fielding long hopeful punts down the field with no support, with no width, and no crosses, until it all went to shit and the wingers were finally sent on from the bench.
The team selection and the start of the Norwich game would have been like the final 30 minutes here never happened. The supporters lost patience with this long ago, and now the QPR board has too.
Forest: Stojkovic 4; Pereira 5, Mills 5, Perquis 6, Lichaj 6; Worrall 6, Kasami 6, Cohen 5 (Lam 82, -), Lansbury 6, Osborn 5; Asombalonga 7 (Vellios 90+3, -)
Subs not used: Dumitru, Fox, Lica, Henderson, Grant
Goals: Assombalonga 38 (assisted Kasami)
Red Cards: Pereira 71 (two bookings, see below)
Bookings: Deep breath… Worrall 50 (foul), Stojkovic 61 (time wasting), Pereira 66 (time wasting), Cohen 68 (foul), Pereira 71 (foul), Lichaj 90+3 (foul)
QPR: Smithies 7; Perch 6, Onouha 5, Hall 6, Robinson 6 (El Khayati 84, -); Henry 3, Cousins 6; Wzsolek 5 (Shodipo 55, 7), Chery 5, Washington 6 (Sylla 77, 7); Polter 6
Subs not used: Lynch, Gladwin, Ingram, Hamalainen
Goals: Sylla 85 (assisted El Khayati)
Red Cards: Henry 34 (two bookings, see below)
Bookings: Henry 11 (dissent), Henry 34 (foul), Robinson 67 (foul), Sylla 86 (over celebrating)
QPR Star Man – Mide Shodipo 7 Get ball, get at man, get cross into box. Shooting chance – have a shot. Contact from man – go down for free kick. Through all the over-complicated, over-elaborate, sport science-affected, constantly-rotating, lone striker, inverse winger infuriation of the Hasselbaink reign shines this beacon of basic football goodness. More of him, and this, and less of all that other stuff please.
Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 2 Just such utter, utter bullshit from the very first whistle to the last. Ten yellow cards and two reds in a game without a serious foul in it. Seven minutes of stoppage time. Long, drawn out conversations with players over every incident. Yellow cards flashed to players where, even with the benefit of watching it back on the video afterwards, you couldn’t possibly fathom why. Lost control of this with the time still in single figures and never regained it. A nonsense display, completely inept, maddening, farcical. Two poor teams and a shite referee, that’ll be £25 a ticket please – Championship.
Attendance – 20,043 (1,300 QPR approx) A sizeable, noisy following from West London which will be about a quarter as big as this for this fixture if we do happen to ever get a win here as the vast majority seem to travel ‘just in case it’s the one’. It wasn’t, though we’ll rarely face a Forest team as poor as this one. Still, 33 tries and still nothing.
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Pictures – Action Images
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