Holloway's army finally clicks at Reading's expense - Report
Friday, 13th Jan 2017 18:14 by Clive Whittingham
QPR secured a third league win in a row, and a second away win in as many road games, with a fine performance and 1-0 victory at high flying Reading on Thursday.
Ian Holloway can be a difficult man to understand. Long rambling sentences that never go anywhere nor get close to answering the question he was asked; random tangents (he still can’t mention Idrissa Sylla without talking about Cilla Black); occasionally bursting into song; never seeming to be very far from crying or erupting into a fit of fury; and all delivered in a Bristolian accent. He is one of football’s, and life’s, genuine eccentrics.
And for a while there it looked like the squad of footballers he’s inherited at Queens Park Rangers didn’t really get what he was on about either. Six straight defeats, wildly fluctuating team selections, a messy formation that could barely be called a formation at all – his was not an auspicious start. Several players previously considered mainstays of the starting eleven have been bombed out, and several more are waiting in the departure lounge. He's spoken about struggling to relate to modern dressing rooms, full of players sitting staring silently at their phones, and one did wonder whether his unique approach to football manager simply wouldn't wash with the footballers the modern sport has created. It was starting to feel like the second coming of Ollie wasn’t such a great idea after all.
Then we went to Reading, and though the weather brought sleet and snow to a ground where a game with Fulham was recently abandoned halfway through because of fog, everything suddenly became a lot clearer. This. This is what he was going on about. Two scrappy victories to stop the rot and restore confidence laid the foundations for QPR’s most complete performance away from home since the Neil Warnock days and a victory on the home patch of the third placed team who came into the game having won eight, drawn three and lost only one on this ground so far this season. If this is what Ian Holloway's new QPR is going to look like then pour that man another drink and let's get on with it.
Checking ourselves slightly for a moment, it could have been very different had a better centre forward than Yann Kermorgant been playing up front for Reading. Great play by Dan Williams, who’d scored against Rangers at Loftus Road in the corresponding fixture, after 69 minutes ended with the perfect cross that the French forward somehow got stuck underneath and headed onto the top of the bar with Alex Smithies stranded and helpless. Four minutes later an even easier chance was spurned, this time Kermorgant diverted his header wide of the post despite having a running jump on two static defenders and having the far corner of the goal at his mercy from six yards out.
Reading are not known as a great scorer of goals this season (Barnsley, Forest, Norwich and Fulham all have more despite residing lower down the table), and nor is their defensive record that crash hot (33 conceded is two more than second bottom Wigan) although 4-1 shellackings at Brentford and Newcastle and a 5-0 loss at Fulham skew that slightly. They were, on the night, the absolute personification of everything dull and boring that continental coaches have brought to the English game – 73% possession but as much attacking threat as the French Navy. Time and time and time again they swanned about with the ball around the edge of their own box, despite QPR obviously being wise to it and in the mood to take it apart, rather than getting the ball down the field and trying to pose a threat. At times they even played their goal kicks backwards.
On the day that Graham ‘hit Les’ Taylor sadly passed away it seemed rather apt for QPR to win this one 1-0, having had only a quarter of the possession but also registered 16 shots to Reading’s nine, and four efforts on target to their one.
I’m not going to get all chest thumpy about this and talk about the good old days of John Beck growing the grass long in the corners of the field and pumping it long to Dion Dublin and Steve Claridge, or the Leeds United title winning side of 1992 preparing for matches by going out for “light ales” on the Thursday before the game, before all these limp wristed liberal foreign types came over here with their pasta and possession based football and took away our fried bread and understanding that you could smash in one horrible tackle from behind as a ‘loosener’ as long as it was early in the game and your first one. No bacon sandwiches in the caliphate Beryl.
But frankly all this 4-2-3-1, deep, tight and narrow stuff can be fucking dull as hell. Football is still about making things happen, and while Reading’s record suggests they’ve done that very successfully this season (only Villa have won here), there was far too much pisballing about from them on Thursday and QPR were wise to it. QPR made things happen.
Garath McCleary had volleyed over during a nervy opening but Rangers soon settled to their task. With the ball Grant Hall stepped into midfield, without it he slid back into the defence between Nedum Onuoha and Joel Lynch, playing with a broken rib. The three of them were excellent, Hall near enough faultless. It worked perfectly.
Rangers showed their willingness to win the ball high up the field on nine minutes and Pawel Wszolek, playing to the right of Idrissa Sylla, shot over. Five minutes later the tireless Jamie Mackie, coming in from the left of the attack, won the ball back in similar fashion and nearly released Sylla. Wszolek’s cross on 19 minutes did reach the Guinean target man but he toed it wide on the stretch at the far post when he had time to control the ball. Within seconds Massimo Luongo, so awful against Blackburn but so purposeful and effective here, put a brilliant cross in but Sylla had checked his run to stay onside and couldn’t make up the distance. Within 60 seconds Luongo was skipping and dancing his way through defensive challenges in the area and bashing one right through the goal mouth with nobody on hand to apply a touch.
QPR were playing well. QPR were playing well. They looked like they knew what they were doing. The shape and organisation was better than it’s been for literally years, and there was goal threat there. Actual genuine goal threat.
They opened the scoring on the half hour. I’m not sure a goal scored from a yard has ever won a club’s Goal of the Season award – maybe the Jay Simpson one, also against Reading, from the Magilton era – but this one will go close. Sylla, to begin with, a perfectly weighted ball down the QPR right exposing Jordan Obita the Reading left back. Obita, a very decent little player, had a torrid night against the excellent Wzsolek who was backed up superbly by Darnell Furlong, in for the poorly James Perch and looking right at home at right back. Wszolek drove the ball to the byline then, as he does so often and so well, composed himself and picked out a man in the area rather than just belting it in and hoping for the best – c Junior Hoilett. The man he picked out was young Ryan Manning, starting a third league game in succession, and the first time ball he produced with the outside of his left boot on the run from the edge of the area would have had the Sky Sports commentators bathing in a vat of their own semen had it slid as perfectly as this off the boot of Paul Pogba. Jamie Mackie, onside and unmarked, couldn’t miss. Beautiful, beautiful goal. QPR football of old.
Outrageously there’s been some debate about whether Manning was shooting as he deftly flicked the ball with the outside of his boot from 20 yards. Put your doubts aside. The Irish youngster may not make it, he’s taken long enough to get in the first team and didn’t look that impressive in the Under 23s, but this was deliberate and brilliant. He’s got a pair of balls on him, undaunted by being thrust into Championship action he’s not afraid to try passes and chuck tackles in. He looks a natural. This was a superb assist to set QPR up for a 1-0 win on a night when youth team graduates Manning, Furlong, Michael Doughty and Brandon Comley all featured. Evil Les indeed.
And it should have been more than 1-0. Just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, just to prove QPR had planned meticulously for this Reading side, they nearly scored an identical goal two minutes later – this time Mackie arrived in the Manning position as Wszolek provided brilliant service once more and a low shot destined for the far corner flicked off a defender and flashed wide. Jamie Mackie was shown a very harsh yellow card by referee Oliver Langford for kicking the ball away but it didn’t interrupt the momentum.
Ali Al Habsi was the under fire home goalkeeper, something of a cult hero in Royal Berkshire and a Player of the Year elect by local accounts but always a keeper you feel will give you a chance. Out he charged seven minutes from half time, dressed as a dildo with about the same brain power, to meet Wszolek as the all action Pole moved through on goal once more. Wszolek rounded and stranded the gloveman, but couldn’t pick out the goal or a team mate from an increasingly narrow angle.
It continued like this through the game. QPR would settle into their shape through periods of Reading possession and restrict the hosts to speculative efforts on goal, then spring into little five minute bursts of life of their own during which they always looked like scoring. A fine header from Nedum Onuoha averted danger right on half time suggesting the second half might be a backs to the wall effort but straight from the restart Furlong piled on down his wing and crossed dangerously through the area, Jake Bidwell volleyed over during his best display for the club so far, and Ryan Manning slammed into a firm, fair, ball and all tackle on halfway. Rangers were here to do business.
Business that really should have been tied up a lot earlier than it was. More powerful wing play from Wszolek finished with another pin point cross could have had Mackie steaming in on goal. Instead Sylla controlled the cross, set himself, and drew a fine save from Al Habsi. Mackie turned on the edge of the area and shot at the keeper. A corner fell to Lynch who volleyed goalwards only for it to strike a home player completely by chance and go wide. There was a great covering tackle from Bidwell to rescue a situation at the other end but there was only one team looking like winning the game at this point and it was the men in the knocked off Huddersfield Giants strip.
Inevitably Rangers sunk deeper as time went on. Sylla looked distinctly unimpressed to be hooked for debutant Kazenga Lua Lua, who looked rusty to say the least, and without the presence up front the ball stopped sticking in the Reading half. Michael Doughty added much needed fresh legs to the midfield but should have come on earlier really as Manning tired after his sterling efforts.
The Kermorgant headers came and went, and Nedum Onuoha shrugged off the massively over the top criticism he’s been getting lately to execute the perfect sliding tackle in his area in injury time as Reading threatened to finally break through.
But 1-0 flattered the hosts really. Seventy three percent possession? You can keep it.
Reading: Al Habsi 5; Gunter 6, Moore 6, Van Den Berg 6, Obita 5; Kelly 6; Beerens 6, Williams 6, Swift 6 (Meite 73, 5), McCleary 6; Kermorgant 4
Subs not used: Cooper, Evans, Samuel, Wieser, Watson, Moore
Bookings: Moore 85 (handball), van den Berg 89 (foul)
QPR: Smithies 6; Furlong 7, Onuoha 7, Lynch 7, Bidwell 7; Manning 7 (Doughty 86, -), Hall 8, Luongo 7; Mackie 7 (Comley 90+2, -), Wszolek 8, Sylla 7 (Lua Lua 73, 6)
Subs not used: Ingram, El Khayati, Shodipo, Ngbakoto
Goals: Mackie 28 (assisted Manning)
Bookings: Mackie 33 (kicking ball away), Wszolek 87 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Pawel Wszolek 8 A really good sign that for once there were several candidates for this – Hall, Manning, Mackie, Wszolek all strong contenders – but the Polish winger was an absolute cut above his opposition all night. Deceptively quick, but the thing I like most about him is the way he looks to pick people out in the area when in good crossing positions, rather than just slinging it in there.
Referee – Oliver Langord (West Mids) 8 A man in prolific card form at the moment, and ridiculously harsh on Mackie with his first half booking, but the other three cards were all justified and overall I thought he was very good.
Attendance – 12,655 (800 QPR approx) Third in the league, eight wins and only one defeat at home all season, and yet all these empty seats. Sky’s Thursday Night Football strikes again. Pack it in.
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Pictures – Action Images
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