|Queens Park Rangers 2 v 1 Norwich City|
Saturday, 19th November 2016 Kick-off 15:00
Ollie’s carrot and shtick approach lifts QPR – Report
Sunday, 20th Nov 2016 18:05 by Clive Whittingham
QPR, unrecognisable from the side that lost meekly to Brentford last time out at Loftus Road, beat Norwich 2-1 in a compelling start to Ian Holloway’s second spell as manager on Saturday.
Ian Holloway often gives the impression of a man on the run from a keeper with a large butterfly net, and the chance to return to the club he holds dearest to his heart for a third spell this week has only exacerbated his hyperactivity.
With the metaphor machine gun set to rapid fire we’ve had everything from tales from Bristol’s underground tattoo parlour wars to changing trouser trends through the ages. Barely able to contain himself as he was unveiled to the crowd for his second stint as Queens Park Rangers manager, ten years after the first ended, he was off again at a rate of knots after this hard-fought win against Norwich City, taking 11 minutes to answer four questions in the post-match radio interviews and tossing an opinion on Wayne Rooney into a discussion supposedly about where Rangers go from here.
This is part personality trait, part shtick. Holloway’s most famous quote, and the one he’s least proud of, about taking an ugly bird home from a nightclub, was done to throw the assembled journalists off the actual story that day – Clarke Carlisle’s relapse into alcoholism. It’s what football fans think of when they think of Ian Holloway, and it’s a routine the QPR fans are very familiar with.
So too is the affinity with our club shared by Holloway and his new assistant manager Marc Bircham, a key member of Ollie’s team when he was last in charge in W12 between 2001 and 2006. Holloway has been close to tears on several occasions this week while trying to put into words and convoluted comparisons exactly what it means to be back in blue and white hoops; Bircham had the Open All R’s Podcast in stitches with his memories of his playing days here just a fortnight ago. They’re QPR and they care. They’ve said it a lot this week, but we got that anyway.
After Mark Hughes’ “meticulous approach to the business of winning Premier League football matches”, Harry Redknapp’s completely half-arsed “bonus game” approach to collecting lots of money for not doing very much at all, Chris Ramsey’s quiet and reserved response to losing most weeks and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s pidgin English “it is what it is” drudge, a bit of passion and life and humour and QPR has made a refreshing change this week. The lift for the team, the increase in attendance, the vast improvement in Loftus Road’s atmosphere – all of this could pretty much be taken as read before we all even got up on Saturday morning.
This much, so far, we knew already. But Ian Holloway has won three promotions as a manager – one in unlikely circumstances at QPR, another one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport in this country at Blackpool – and you don’t do that by telling funny jokes. To write Holloway off as merely a comedian ignores a long and successful managerial career which has featured at least one complete change in philosophy and outlook to a more attractive, attacking, expansive style away from the more rudimentary, pragmatic, direct football he used to present for the Shepherd’s Bush public.
Hasselbaink lost his job here, seemingly, because the powers that be believe all the ingredients are already in place at Loftus Road, it just needs a better chef to get the cake to rise. When the talking stopped on Saturday at 15.00, Holloway offered the first convincing argument that he can be Rangers’ Mary Berry.
We’ve spoken before this season about the QPR team being nearly right, but not quite. Like a Rubik’s cube requiring another couple of turns to complete. Here, Ollie flicked his wrist and made a very bold attempt at completing the puzzle. A wing-back system, rarely seen in the modern game at this level, barely mentioned even by the fervent Football Manager and FIFA veterans of the QPR fan base, suited so many of Hasselbaink’s problem children down to the ground it’s really rather odd that nobody had even thought to mention it before.
Nedum Onuoha has struggled at right back, Joel Lynch has been in and out of the side, both are ideal for the right and left slots in a three centre back set up. Grant Hall, another seeking a run of starts, able to bring the ball out from defence as the more cultured of the three – nullifying the problem of Onuoha’s poor distribution when he finds the ball at his feet in a flat back four. James Perch, who’s struggled badly for form at right back since signing from Wigan at the start of last season, much happier and more effective at right wing back. Jack Robinson was tragically injured again before half time – a hamstring twanged as he turned to chase the jet-heeled Jacob Murphy – but had looked great as a leggy left wing back before that.
This all meant Jordan Cousins, wasted out of position at right wing and right back of late, could move into the centre alongside Massimo Luongo, who finally had his Goldilocks moment having previously been used too far forwards, too deep and frequently too isolated but was positioned just right here. Tjaronn Chery didn’t have to be dropped, or moved out of his favoured ten role, after all. Low and behold there were still two tokens left to go on the board meaning Rangers could finally play with a pair of strikers, and Conor Washington was mercifully given an opportunity to show what he could do if selected in the position QPR saw enough of him in at Peterborough to believe he was worth a £2.5m outlay.
No doubt told by Holloway, who’d made a big thing in the week of his desire to get in players’ ears and tell them how good they can be under him, to state his case now finally selected in his preferred off-the-shoulder role alongside Seb Polter, Washington took just 21 minutes to make an impact: Chery’s corner, Polter’s back post header, The Northern Ireland striker on hand with the Gary Penrice/Bradley Allen style finish from eight yards having found space in the goal mouth.
That goal crowned an energetic, effective performance from Washington who led from the front as QPR did finally execute a proper high-press on an opponent, as opposed to merely talking about wanting to do that.
That should really have been 2-0. Caught out by the intensity, feel-good-factor, pace, power and fast start we’d all expected – plus a team selection we hadn’t – Norwich contrived to self-destruct and play their way out of the game in the opening minute. Robinson’s humungous long throw sparked panic in the penalty area, Nedum Onuoha’s presence unsettled John Ruddy, full back Marcus Olsson clawed the goal-bound ball back off the line with two hands, referee Scott Duncan pointed to the spot and issued a red card – the fastest ever on this ground.
It was a surprise to see Chery missing a penalty in training during the week, given his reputation from 12 yards, and maybe this would have been better left to Seb Polter because after an inordinate delay – awarded on 50 seconds it was a good few minutes before the spot kick was actually taken – caused by Olsson’s reluctance to leave the field the Dutch midfielder drilled the ball low and wide of the post.
Loftus Road was jumping regardless when Washington bagged against the ten men, and six minutes after that pandemonium broke out as Tjaronn Chery cut three Norwich defenders out of the picture with an exquisite through ball that Polter showed a surprising turn of pace to reach first and slide smoothly under Ruddy and into the net for 2-0.
Polter had a header deflected wide midway through the first half, Washington had powerful shots to the near post well saved by Ruddy either side of half time, Grant Hall volleyed wide after a prolonged period of pressure before the break.
After half time, with Sandro replacing the stricken Robinson and Lynch pressed into impressive service as a marauding left-sided wide man, there were initially long periods of calm, controlled passion from the hosts. Chery shot just wide again just before the hour. A second change in system, which for a short while saw Grant Hall pushed into midfield in true Steve Palmer/Matthew Rose style, had happened seamlessly.
But for all these positives, it’s worth remembering that QPR were playing an out of form team, with the second worst defensive record in the competition, who played the entire game with one fewer player, and they didn’t kill them off. In fact, they nearly didn’t even beat them at all.
Norwich had their first half moments. A back-pass of Karl Ready proportions from Nedum Onuoha forced Alex Smithies to rush from his line and deny Steven Naismith one on one. Jacob Murphy shot over, Graeme Dorrans was denied by a flying block on the edge of the area by Jordan Cousins, Naismith was booked by referee Duncan for illegally pinching the ball from Smithies as the keeper attempted to clear – the Scot missed the target with his shot in any case. Dorrans was also booked in first half stoppage time for a wild hack at Joel Lynch for which he may well have seen red had the referee not already sent a Norwich player off.
When Ruddy made the save of his afternoon to stop Washington ending the game at 3-0 things started to turn against QPR. Removing Massimo Luongo didn’t help, the Australian’s smart presence in the centre of the park was key to Rangers’ intelligent possession retention at the start of the second period and that all went to cock after he’d gone off. Mide Shodipo came on for him, and him running with the ball down the right and Lynch’s swashbuckling carries forward down the left, were a consistent, effective way of keeping the ball away from danger. But Sandro, who’d started the half well, quickly started to feel the pace as you’d expect of a man who’s played so little first team football this season/over the course of his life and the midfield rather melted away in front of Norwich.
There’s something odd going on at Carrow Road. Norwich may be fifth, and have started this season losing just two of 14 games in all competitions, but they’ve conceded 29 goals already this term and have now failed to win any of their last six, conceding 15 goals in the process. Here manager Alex Neil, bizarrely, chose to leave Wes Hoolahan out of a midfield which, Murphy apart, was devoid of any spark. Cameron Jerome was also benched in favour of Nelson Oliveira who’d given Rangers a hard time playing for Forest last season but was anonymous here. When the latter selection error was redressed and Jerome was introduced, coinciding with the removal of Luongo, Rangers started to struggle.
Murphy’s glorious shot 18 minutes from time beat Smithies all ends up but came back into play off the bar. Dorrans saw another shot bravely blocked by Lynch on the edge of the area, Robbie Brady smacked a direct free kick high and wide after Sandro had taken one for the team and fouled his man after the ball bounced into a dodgy spot off the referee. The visitors were belying their numerical disadvantage, and the nerves in the QPR ranks only grew when Naismith cutely headed home Murphy’s square ball with ten minutes remaining for play.
Match Gallery: 15 photos
QPR kept attacking regardless. Occasionally to good effect, as Washington crossed for Sylla (on for Polter) and Norwich were forced to cede a corner. Often with near disastrous consequences, such as when Sylla spurned the chance to retain possession in the corner and played a terrifying loose ball back into the danger zone. A mad moment from a crazy club on the day somebody who once compared himself to Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout returned to the dugout. It all felt so perfect.
Riding their luck, the hosts saw the win through. Silver Lining rang out at last. Much to admire, much to improve on, but also much to enjoy. A pulsating, compelling football match after so many works of dirge, it turns out football doesn’t have to be attritional, boring stuff after all. Perhaps there was a little more thought in this appointment than people have given QPR credit for.
QPR: Smithies 7; Onuoha 6, Hall 7, Lynch 8; Perch 7, Robinson 7 (Sandro 46, 6); Luongo 7 (Shodipo 66, 6), Cousins 6, Chery 6; Polter 7 (Sylla 82, -), Washington 8
Subs not used: Ingram, Borysiuk, El Khayati, Ngbakoto
Goals: Washington 21 (assisted Chery/Polter), Polter 27 (assisted Chery)
Bookings: Lynch 80 (foul)
Norwich: Ruddy 7; Martin 6, Bennett 6, Bassong 5, Olsson -, Tettey 6, Dorrans 5, Murphy 6, Brady 5; Naismith 7 (Murphy 88, -), Oliveira 4 (Jerome 75, 7)
Subs not used: Whittaker, Klose, Hoolahan, McGovern
Goals: Naismith 78 (assisted Murphy)
Red Cards: Olsson 1 (deliberate handball on the goal line)
Bookings: Tettey 2 (dissent), Naismith 37 (foul), Dorrans 45+3 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Joel Lynch 8 Absolutely ideal for the left sided centre back role in a back three, as Onuoha is on the right, and started very strongly there. Robinson’s sad injury meant he had to switch to the left side in the second half where he was solid defensively and remarkably dangerous going forwards. A brilliant performance considering the enforced change of plan and system, from an already new shape to start with.
Referee – Scott Duncan (Northumberland) 8 Olsson’s attempt to claw the ball back off the line channel Steven Taylor’s Oscar-nominated performance a few years back and a penalty was clearly the right decision there. I’ll need talking through this double-jeopardy rule I thought we’d brought in this season though. Big decision correct, could perhaps have sent Naismith off as well for a wild challenge before half time but a yellow was about right.
Attendance – 17,187 (3,100 Norwich) Chalk and cheese, night and day from the atmosphere at the previous home matches this season to this one. It’s up to us to maintain that positivity and encouragement into future games once the honeymoon period wears off, it was a big part of why Holloway succeeded last time and it’s absence in recent years is part of the reason the QPR manager’s job is one of football’s hardest. The Norwich fans didn’t seem impressed, and while “Alex sort it out” may seem a bit harsh when he’d forced to play for ten men for 90 minutes, there’s something clearly not right there and the decision to leave Cameron Jerome and Wes Hoolahan on the bench will take some explaining.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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