A familiar Christmas tale of woe for QPR at Brighton - Report
Wednesday, 28th Dec 2016 12:43 by Clive Whittingham
A sixth-straight defeat for QPR at league leaders Brighton wasn’t the biggest surprise this Christmas, but Rangers’ failure to learn from their own mistakes doesn’t bode well for more winnable games to come.
That Queens Park Rangers lost comfortably, and keep losing comfortably, to Brighton and Hove Albion at their shiny new home on the South Coast should come as little surprise.
Brighton is a club built steadily, on solid foundations, over time. Well managed on the pitch by Chris Hughton, well managed off it by chairman Tony Bloom, this is a club that was playing at the local municipal athletics stadium a decade ago, and Gillingham before that, but now has an enviable new stadium, a top-notch, purpose-built training facility and a team that has been carefully cultivated over several years, done its time and had its heartbreaks, and is now ready to step up a division. It will certainly do that this year, possibly even as champions ahead of ridiculously well-furnished Newcastle – the Magpies have lost six games this season, Brighton just two.
QPR? Well, QPR is none of that. Yes, it’s cost Bloom £260m to create a Premier League club in waiting for Brighton and Hove. Sadly, QPR have spent much more than that, in half the time Bloom has been at Albion, and all they have to show for it is what you see before you today.
That this latest 3-0 loss was so easy for the home side – long passing moves with every touch being cheered by the home crowd were taking place long before the final whistle/mercy killing – isn’t as much of an embarrassment or a disgrace as some of hooped persuasion will make out either.
Brighton are simply a much better side, with Anthony Knockaert and Glenn Murray an impressive pair of decorations atop what was an already very appealing cake. Across 2016 they’ve won more games, lost fewer, conceded fewer goals and kept more clean sheets than any of the other 92 teams in the Football League. They arrived at this fixture on a 16 match unbeaten run (12 wins, four draws), with a league-leading 13 clean sheets already this season, averaging two goals a game and less than 0.5 conceded in their home matches. QPR had lost five in a row prior to this, scoring just a single goal. Their overall total of 20 goals this season is the lowest in the division and in stark contrast to Albion they’d won only three of 16 prior to arriving in Falmer.
The Sky commentators could blither on about “you never know, strange things happen” as much as they like, but they don’t this side of Roswell, and they were never going to here. A 3-0 home win so entirely predictable, we did in fact predict it in the match preview.
The home side started early, with Sam Baldock running with purpose towards an isolated and leaden footed defence in the tenth minute before beating Alex Smithies with an unsaveable effort from 25 yards, curling away from the goalkeeper and into the far top corner. Brighton have won all 12 matches when scoring the first goal this season so it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that that was that already, with 80 minutes left for play.
In fact it took until the fifty second minute to put the seal on it. Seven minutes of constant pressure from Hughton’s side after half time drew a rash tackle from Massimo Luongo on Dale Stephens in the area – Murray, unperturbed by Alex Smithies’ five penalty saves during 2016, coolly and crisply smacking the ball into the bottom corner from the penalty spot.
Smithies will be much more disappointed with Albion’s third. Knockaert cutting in from the right onto his left foot as he so loves to do, finishing low but straight at the keeper, somehow the ball squeezed under the Rangers man and into the net for 3-0.
QPR had good reason to feel aggrieved with a sending off just before the hour. A ball through the wide open spaces between QPR centre halves Nedum Onuoha and Grant Hall gave Baldock a sniff but Onuoha recovered his initial lousy positioning and simply had more strength than the Brighton man who crashed to earth as the pair came together shoulder to shoulder. Barely a foul at all, and yet somehow deemed worthy of a red card by Keith Stroud, an absolute cum rag of a referee who wouldn’t be able to keep control of a meeting of the Cleethorpes and District Knitting Circle without yellow carding at least six of the members and gently patronising three of the others.
So far so predictable, from Brighton, from Stroud, and from our beleaguered Queens Park Rangers. Every defeat is treated like the outbreak of Ebola in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in this age of social media and the babies were getting nervous in their bathwater long before the full time whistle.
QPR’s form is always dreadful over Christmas, including in the Neil Warnock promotion season, which often leads to a lot of naval gazing at this time of year, particularly from this website. There’s a piece to be written about Tony Fernandes and the medium and long term for sure but short term QPR have a game on New Year’s Eve at Wolves and another on January 2 against Ipswich. Two poor sides which, as the bottom three moves out of the rear view mirror and starts to fill the whole fucking windscreen, Rangers really need to find a way to get a win from. And they’re not going to do that like this.
Yes, Brighton are good. Far better than QPR by every measure. A three goal deficit is a fair reflection on the two clubs. But to borrow a phrase from new Coventry manager Russell Slade (not a boss I rate particularly highly, nor one I would welcome at Loftus Road, but still…) “we don’t value the basics highly enough”.
The QPR fans revere Ian Holloway for the work he did in his first spell in charge of the club, but Ollie is keener to talk about his spell at Blackpool where a disastrous spell at Leicester and period of time out of the game saw him change his philosophy and adopt a much more attacking, attractive style of play for his teams. Pool were subsequently promoted against all the odds, and made a decent fist of the top flight, despite operating on a tiny budget, scoring a sack load of goals along the way.
It’s that which Holloway craves at Rangers, where he was much more direct in his previous spell. He’s spoken about splitting across the field at goal kicks, playing with two number tens, being bold and adventurous in possession of the ball, playing out from the back. As against Derby, as against Villa (also defeats to nil) there was evidence of that here. Home boss Chris Hughton said afterwards that QPR had “moved through the thirds” well during the first half and caused them problems.
He was right. Unlike previous matches, Rangers responded well to going behind. Ten minutes of solid possession followed the Baldock strike, Jake Bidwell tested Albion with a twentieth minute free kick after a foul on Jordan Cousins, home keeper David Stockdale was sharp to his left to palm away an effort from Luongo after the ball fell to him in the area a minute later, then to his right with his feet when lone striker Idrissa Sylla followed good wide work by Pawel Wzsolek with a low shot to the near post. Sylla later brought down a Bidwell cross on his chest and volleyed wide when a goal seemed likely. It wasn’t all bad. Far from it. QPR could actually go off at half time reflecting on a half decent performance.
But this is all A-Level maths for students who can’t even tell time yet. Holloway took over a Blackpool side in May, with a full summer ahead of him, after they’d been on a steady rise for three previous seasons under the management of Simon Grayson who’d only left after being made an offer he couldn’t turn down by Leeds. There were foundations there, and a whole pre-season to work on things. The players who excelled in Tangerine in the top flight – Charlie Adam, DJ Campbell, Brett Ormerod, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Ian Evatt – were all there already. It’s an entirely different scenario now and one can’t help but think he’s trying to run before he can walk executing these grand, well-meaning, plans on a team with no spine and a poor defence.
What use, for instance, is “moving through the thirds well” if your team can’t defend corners? Brighton are known for their wide set pieces with Murray, Shane Duffy and everybody’s favourite hatchet merchant Lewis Dunk up from the back and yet QPR consistently, from the first minute to the last, failed to mark properly at corners. Brighton didn’t even have to vary them – they just hung them up to the back post every time where a queue of unmarked players awaited its arrival.
Ten minutes before half time, after a three on two counter which should have yielded more foundered on Baldock’s poor final ball, Dunk was left alone at the corner and Onuoha had to block a goal bound header. Smithies saved the same header from the same player in the same position from a corner on the same side six minutes later after Rangers had, incredibly, failed to mark him again. James Perch’s efforts to keep tabs on Murray from these set pieces were particularly shambolic and only the former Palace striker will know how he nodded wide when Duffy, unmarked at the back post wouldn’t you know it, sent a header back across the face of goal towards him.
This wasn’t corrected at half time either. Several chances to clear a corner a minute after the break eventually resulted in Onuoha clumsily fouling Knockaert on the edge of the area and the Frenchman’s free kick flew over the bar. He’d gone closer with a shot from the same place in first half injury time too.
There were some lamentable individual performances. Onuoha began the game by crashing into Smithies as they both hesitated over a through ball and they were lucky the ball didn’t fall nicely for Murray. Onuoha’s attempted tackle on Baldock for his goal was an embarrassment to him and while the sending off was a joke, what were Onuoha and Hall doing so far apart? Why was Onuoha the wrong side of his man?
And then there was James Perch. My word. Absolutely destroyed by Solly March, Perch was indebted to Hall for a desperate clearance in the forty sixth minute, and Smithies for a save on 50 after he’d been made to look like a Sunday league footballer. The Onuoha sending off thankfully saw him moved away from right back, where he was a complete liability, and young Osman Kakay was sent on for a league debut. He should share this position with Darnell Furlong from now on, Perch has had enough opportunities.
But every individual can have a bad day, it was the repetitive mistakes that grated the most – not only the abject marking at corners. Yeni Ngbakoto, once again selected in this weird and wonderful non-midfield, non-winger, non-striker position and wholly confused by it, allowed Brighton’s marauding right back Bruno to run in behind him on three occasions in the first half. Bruno does that a lot, so we should have known about it in advance and to let it happen once was extremely careless. To let it happen once and then keep letting it happen was unforgiveable. Hall’s lunging tackle on 25 minutes the only thing that stopped it resulting in a goal.
We’ve discussed in previous weeks just how mindless it was of Perch to escape a red card at Ipswich for a nasty tackle on a winger going nowhere tight to the touchline after he’d already been yellow carded, only to then put in a nasty tackle on a winger going nowhere tight to the touchline against Wolves after he’d already been yellow carded and subsequently see red. Here he did it again. Again. I actually can’t believe it. Solly March, tight to the touchline in the thirty ninth minute, back to goal, going absolutely nowhere, so Perch cracks into the back of him and gives Brighton a chance to deliver a free kick into the area.
I’m starting to think it’s me. Is it just me? Does Perch actually want to be suspended? Or is he, to borrow a phrase from the message board, as thick as Pavarotti’s Boxing Day morning turn out? Stop doing that. Just stop it. Fucking cretin.
Baldock’s goal was a fine strike, sure, but 11 seconds prior to it QPR had a throw in on halfway. QPR do this all the time from throw ins – pass the time in the Wolves game by counting the touches we have after our own throw ins, it’s never more than two. Perhaps we might like to consider hanging onto possession from our own throw ins? And even if we don’t, a throw in on the halfway line isn’t usually a lethal situation for a football team to face and yet it was turned into a goal inside ten seconds here, and it didn’t even take that long at Rotherham.
We keep bringing Jordan Cousins back a fortnight after his hamstring injuries, and he keeps getting hamstring injuries. He was done by the hour here.
Yes Murray’s penalty was cool, but Luongo throwing himself to ground in his own area to try and make a tackle like that was mindblowing. Yes, Smithies should have saved Knockaert’s goal, but what on earth are we showing him inside there for? Like laying out a fucking doormat at the entrance to your hen house for the fox to wipe his feet on. Yes, Onuoha’s red card was a joke, but why is he that side of Baldock when we’d seen several times in the Lynch v Kodija contest last week that marking outside and wrong side as opposed to inside and goal side is a recipe for disaster.
The same mistakes. Over and over. It’s like we enjoy making them. Chimps in labs learn far faster than this.
In the end it’s a surprise it wasn’t a lot more. Smithies saved from Stephens, and substitute Hemed, and then finally from Baldock after he’d had a whirl around the James Perch turnstile. When Hall laid a back pass short and Smithies cleared it into Baldock the faint strains of circus music filled the air – luckily Murray’s handball prevented what would have been a comedic fourth.
The basics need to be right. Defend properly, mark at set pieces, get a spine of the side in place, get the shape of the team in place. QPR have none of that, and yet they’re talking about two number tens and splits across the field and moving through the thirds and all this gubbins that “football people” talk about and “people who haven’t played the game wouldn’t understand”. We’re all trinkets and no tree.
There’s no shame in losing to Brighton, even 3-0, but there needs to be some evidence that Rangers stand a chance in the forthcoming games which are more winnable. They don’t playing, defending, like this. Nice between the two boxes but a danger to themselves in their own area and no threat to anybody at all in the other one. They wouldn’t have beaten the Brighton and Hove District Cubs Second XI with this performance, never mind the town’s Albion, and they won’t do much with Wolves and Ipswich either unless the most basic lessons of the game are learnt. Fast.
Brighton: Stockdale 6; Bruno 7, Dunk 6, Duffy 6, Bong 6; Knockaert 7, Stephens 7, Norwood 8, March 8 (Murphy 68, 6); Murray 8 (Hamed 71, 6), Baldock 7 (Skalak 77, 6)
Subs not used: Mäenpää, Sidwell, Goldson, Hunt
Goals: Baldock 11 (assisted Stephens), Murray 53 (penalty won Stephens), Knockaert 69 (assisted Murray)
QPR: Smithies 5; Perch 2, Onuoha 3, Hall 5, Bidwell 5; Borysiuk 5 (Mackie 59, 5) Cousins 5 (Sandro 80, -), Luongo 4; Ngbakoto 4 (Kakay 81, -), Wzsolek 5, Sylla 5
Subs not used: Washington, Ingram, Shodipo, El Khayati
Red Cards: Onuoha 56 (professional foul)
Bookings: Sylla 80 (dissent)
QPR Star Man – N/A Nearly gave it to Hall who was having to defend for Perch and Onuoha as well as himself at times, but yeh we’ll leave it on the shelf today I think.
Referee – Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 5 Penalty decision obviously correct, and thankfully no repeat of the card frenzy from his last QPR appointment, or his last Brighton one for that matter, but the Onuoha red card is an absolute crock of shit. Bad defending certainly, but barely a foul at all let alone a sending off. Whoever is in charge of the newly professionalised Championship referees need to be asking why one of them feels the need to book and dismiss so many more players than any of his colleagues – now 117 yellows and nine reds from this official in just 25 matches this season.
Attendance – 30,176 (1,538 QPR) Somewhat odd that QPR advertised their 2,100 allocation as ‘sold out’ several days before the match, catching out several fans who’d (rightly) assumed that demand for a morning kick off, over Christmas, during this current run of form would mean tickets were pretty easily available, only for there to then be the thick end of 600 empty seats in the away end. What’s going on there?
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