Rovers' turn, again, to continue QPR's abysmal cup run - Report
Sunday, 8th Jan 2017 15:45 by Clive Whittingham
Blackburn Rovers won 2-1 at Loftus Road on Saturday as QPR dropped out of the FA Cup at the first possible hurdle once again in predictably dire fashion.
Two decades of this early round FA Cup nonsense from Queens Park Rangers. What is there left to say that hasn’t already been said? I’m starting to think Trevor Sinclair won’t live to see the day Rangers win a cup tie outright again for the first time since he leapt into the air to score the greatest goal of all time against Barnsley in 1997 – and Trevor looks pretty fit and well.
There have been some really bad ones along the way – the 4-0 at Swansea, the 4-0 at Everton, the Vauxhall Motors debacle, the Grimsby Town debacle – but this latest limp-wristed, half-arsed surrender to Blackburn Rovers is right up there. This is Rangers third defeat to Rovers at this stage of the competition in the last 11 years and coming against one of the few Championship teams worse than the QPR class of 2017, against one of the few Championship clubs you can say is worse run than our own, there really were precious few, if any, positives to take from a dismal afternoon in W12.
Some talk of a ‘curse’, and seeing debutant Ebe Eze forced from the field after just a quarter of an hour after he “heard his Achilles pop” in the same round of the same competition as we’ve previously lost Ale Faurlin to an ACL rupture at the height of his powers, and Jamie Mackie to a broken leg (also against Rovers) just as he was playing the best football of his career, would have less superstitious plonkers than Barry Fry rushing round all four corners of the pitch to take a leak.
But that’s lazy stuff. QPR treat this competition, one of only two they’ve even got a tiny chance of winning for the rest of the club’s existence, with outright contempt. This is not bad luck or witchcraft, it’s a piss rank attitude and lousy performances spanning 20 years. They didn’t deserve the 7,482 they got through the gates for this match – bolstered by a surprisingly creditable and noisy following from Lancashire – and few will be in a rush to return.
Several recurring themes – as well as the incompetence, lack of tempo, lack of heart and limp early round exit – from our recent cup past reared their head here. Firstly, wholesale changes to the team. Matt Ingram replaced Alex Smithies in goal, as is customary for the cups, and Eze made his debut in a sort of deep lying midfield role in this weird and wonderful system we’re currently grappling with. Jamie Mackie was selected as a central striker flanked by Ben Gladwin and Pawel Wszolek and Massimo Luongo and Grant Hall further back in midfield. It was, and has been so often of late, a right shemozzle.
Afterwards manager Ian Holloway didn’t mince his words. “That team, who haven't played before, will never be picked again. Simple as that,” he said. “I wanted that team to fight and do it for each other. Unfortunately they couldn't do it. Simple things we don't do well enough as a group. It's very disappointing. There will be changes. You've got to get your foot in and we didn't do it well enough. Jamie Mackie did - he tackled everybody. But where's the rest? Come on. I've made some changes but I wanted to win and I thought that was a strong enough team."
To be fair to him, his team's complete lack of gumption was plain to see. A thunderous tackle from Massimo Luongo, one of the few things he did right all afternoon, roused the crowd briefly but other than Mackie’s game running in attack there was precious little wreckage to grasp onto.
And in further defence, he had an injury list as long as Idrissa Sylla’s neck to cope with when selecting his team. The Guinea international was unavailable here along with, for one reason or another, Conor Washington, Seb Polter, Darnell Furlong, Michael Doughty, Jack Robinson, Steven Caulker, Tjaronn Chery, Karl Henry, Michael Petrasso and Sandro. Ariel Borysiuk also didn’t make the bench.
So there was only so much Holloway could do with his team selection, but it’s an old Harry Redknapp trick to cobble a scratchy cup team together at the start of a transfer window – a group of players who’ve never played together in this shape and system before, several players (Gladwin in particular) who’ve played very little football for several weeks, and then blast them when it doesn’t click and work immediately.
Holloway is negotiating difficult terrain with his squad – one that he said he was here to “rub off on a bit” and “work with what we’ve got” and “build on the work Jimmy was doing here” but one he now seems intent on taking apart completely. Chery, Henry, Sandro and Polter were all unavailable here because they’re being shipped out. The Polter deal in particular would leave Rangers short in a position they weren’t well endowed in to begin with, and January is an awkward, expensive month to try and sign one player, never mind the half dozen Rangers seem to be setting themselves up to add (again).
There’s been a training ground row with Henry, public criticism of Mide Shodipo’s defence, a dig about Ngbakoto’s weight. It’s music to the ears of a lot of QPR fans, tired of seeing molly coddled footballers extracting big wages for small returns. This idea that the poor darling footballers can’t be criticised after a performance and defeat like this grates. But this is football in 2017, where clubs’ willingness to sack managers (QPR one of the more bloodthirsty) means the power lies entirely with the players – don’t like what he’s saying or how he’s treating you? Down tools, he’ll be gone in a couple of weeks. That is the sad way of it. If you could still get results by screaming at players, publicly criticising them and making them run up hills then Peter Reid would still be employed as something other than Keys and Gray’s studio dog. Managers have to play politics.
The new QPR manager certainly isn’t doing things the easy way – his dad’s old line about ‘crashing in through the front door’ never more apt – and there was nothing easy about sitting through Saturday’s nonsense at Loftus Road, particularly once Eze had been forced from the field and replaced by Ngbakoto after an impressive start to life in senior football.
The opening goal, just seven minutes in, summed so much of this up perfectly. Joel Lynch started and finished the move, first by playing a very risky square pass across the field to try and find James Perch which actually released Elliott Bennett – pacy, purposeful, a lot to like – into space down the QPR right. He crossed well for Gallagher who was much livelier in the box than Bidwell and whose diving header was saved by Ingram but bounced into the net off Lynch in the six yard box. Hard to be too critical on Ingram, it looked a good save at first, but that old rule of goalkeeper about not parrying things back into the danger area would ring true again in the second half.
Lynch didn’t cover himself in glory for that one either. Miles out of position and far too high up the field, there were acres and acres of space behind him for Gallagher – the loaned Southampton forward who we’ve spoken about before on LFW as being everything QPR are currently missing from their own attack – to run into the area and draw another save from Ingram. This time the rebound was tucked in by local boy Liam Feeney.
There were other chances for the visitors too. Prolonged pressure around the midway point of the first half saw Gallagher shoot just wide, though he had been flagged. Later the target man claimed a high boot in the area – one of those you’d probably get on the halfway line, but referee Simon Hooper said no penalty.
With Mackie alone up front, and the team completely static around him, it felt like Rangers could have played for a million years and not scored a goal. A shot wide by Lynch from the thick end of 35 yards wouldn’t normally warrant a note in the pad, but it was a positive highlight here. Ben Gladwin, poor but not as horrific as people are making out, volleyed hopelessly wide from Bidwell’s thirty fifth minute corner. There was no movement or threat whatsoever in the final third. It was painful to watch.
One could only hope a half time rocket from the manager would bring Rangers to life, and it looked like something along those lines may be afoot when Mackie tricked, bumbled and forced his way past three Rovers players in the left channel immediately after the break but couldn’t find Ngbakoto with a cross. Lynch mishit a shot at the keeper when a corner fell to him, Wszolek showed bits and pieces and though the second goal looked a killer Rangers got back into the game immediately.
Mide Shodipo, who surely should have been starting this game, added some actual pace, purpose, movement and tempo – previously entirely absent – to the attack and it as from his cross that Ngbakoto took a dive in the area and was awarded a generous penalty by Hooper. The days of August where Rangers got a penalty every game are long gone, as it seems are the two players who scored them so freely, so it was left to Jake Bidwell who deserves credit not only for confidently smacking it in under pressure, but also putting his hand up to have a go with it in the first place. Bidwell was ok on Saturday, which is high praise in this overall team performance.
Perch’s wild challenge on 72 minutes deserved a yellow at least, but Hooper let him off, and I’d have booked him for his left footed speculator from 30 yards as well which set off at speed towards the old Television Centre. How did he honestly think that was going to go?
But Blackburn have a habit of conceding late goals – Reading won 3-2 at Ewood Park in the ninetieth minute and Huddersfield’s recent equaliser against them was even later than that – and Rangers could have finished an unlikely salvage operation as the game drifted away into the night. A goal for Jordan Cousins, who really should have scored with his first time shot from eight yards out after good approach work from Shodipo, would have helped a player who’s struggled with form, fitness and confidence all season. But a replay in the north west a week on Tuesday would have been about as welcome as an invitation to one of Michael Barrymore’s pool parties and so it’s probably for the best, though not for Cousins certainly, that the ball fizzed wide. Last season QPR scored just two goals from the centre of midfield, this season they haven’t even managed one so far.
‘Twas ever thus. All of it. I'd say it was appalling, but I wasn't appalled. But then maybe I wasn't appalled because I wasn't surprised.
Few are treating this increasingly unloved competition with as much disdain as Queens Park Rangers.
QPR: Ingram 5; Perch 5, Onuoha 6, Lynch 4, Bidwell 5; Luongo 4 (Cousins 82, -), Hall 6, Eze 7 (Ngbakoto 18, 5); Gladwin 4 (Shodipo 56, 6), Wszolek 6, Mackie 6
Subs not used: El Khayati, Lumley, Manning, Hamalainen
Goals: Bidwell 61 (penalty, won Ngbakoto)
Blackburn: Raya 6; Marshall 6, Greer 6, Williams 6, Mulgrew 6; Feeney 7, Akpan 6 (Nyambe 74, 6), Lowe 6, Bennett 7; Gallagher 7 (Brown 90+3, -), Graham (Stokes 87, -)
Subs not used: Steele, Tomlinson, Mahoney, Travis
Goals: Lynch og 7 (assisted Bennett/Gallagher); Feeney 58 (assisted Gallagher)
Bookings: Marshall 90 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Jamie Mackie 6 Usual reasons.
Referee – Simon Hooper (Wiltshire) 6 Marshall booking correct, Perch should have had one as well, penalty was incredibly soft so marks off there, not too bad overall.
Attendance – 7,482 (700 Rovers approx) I actually get quite upset seeing Loftus Road like this for the FA Cup. This competition is important but it’s being attacked and eroded by all manner of factors, as discussed in the preview. Very creditable, and noisy, following from Blackburn. Wigan’s third round win against Forest sadly means we’ve lost yet another Saturday 15.00 home league match. By the time we play Huddersfield here on February 11 it will have been three months since the last.
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Pictures – Action Images
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