Lowly Burton deservedly halt QPR's January recovery - Report
Sunday, 29th Jan 2017 22:54 by Clive Whittingham
Goal-shy basement dwellers Burton Albion deservedly beat QPR 2-1 on their first ever visit to Loftus Road on Saturday, halting the R's recent encouraging recovery of form.
Hello square one my old friend, we’ve come all the way back to you again.
Burton Albion, operating on the smallest budget this division has ever seen, with the lowest average gate and the smallest ground, came into this game on a run of eight defeats from their last nine games. They hadn’t scored in their previous four, had only beaten fellow strugglers Rotherham United in the last 14, had only won once away from home all season (at Rotherham) and dropped into the bottom three for the first time this season last week. Inspirational manager Nigel Clough looks set to leave to join Nottingham Forest.
QPR have often been charitable in such situations in the past, but with the improvements in performance, team shape, commitment and results through January there was a deal of hope around Shepherd’s Bush that this, for once, might be different. In the end, Rangers made Mother Theresa look like Mark Dennis.
Never once were QPR up to the quality, organisation and tempo of their opposition. Never once did the home side look like they were going to take anything from the game. They lost 2-1 in the end and were deeply flattered by it. Jackson Irvine, back after an injury absence, the best midfielder on the park. Lloyd Dyer, Burton’s triangular winger, tormented the hosts all afternoon.
First, after 11 minutes, he led a strong counter attack with men up in support and cut a ball back to Luke Murphy on the edge of the area who unleashed a shot that flew past a static Alex Smithies and into the bottom corner to stun Loftus Road into near silence. Bloody thing went like a shell.
Then, shortly after half time, at the end of a 60-second period of defending the likes of which I haven’t seen since the days of Karl Ready and Steve Morrow, Dyer scored himself, slipping the ball under Smithies from an acute angle having been played clean through – Massimo Luongo guilty of not tracking a man but Rangers had numerous chances to deal with it before it hit the net. The full minute leading up to that is even more horrifying on tape than it was at the time, and you could tell QPR were in trouble through the move at the time. Amateur hour.
Dyer should have scored again from the same position in similar circumstances to make it three only for Smithies to produce a fine save, and later the hench former QPR loanee belied his obvious lack of fondness for leg day with a powerful drive over the bar having, again, been given the freedom of the Burton left side.
Burton, it should be said, on top of everything else going against them, lost John Brayford to a serious looking injury inside three minutes.
They could have found themselves pegged back in a second half that started with a little moisture in the air/the end of days attacking us from the sky. Ian Holloway sent on Conor Washington to partner Idrissa Sylla in attack, removing Grant Hall as the extra defender (turns out Hall has done his Achilles, put a bullet in me I’m done) and the striker forced in a goal to halve the deficit on the hour after Kazenga Lua Lua had pushed through one challenge and laid the striker into a scoring position.
Washington bundled one wide at the near post after good work down the right by Darnell Furlong, and Sylla controlled the ball in the six-yard box but couldn’t spin and shoot after Lua Lua got to the byline down the left. Visiting keeper Jon McLaughlin rushed from his line to deny Washington one on one after he’d been played in by Massimo Luongo. A late, brilliant, cross from substitute Ryan Manning was just out of Sylla’s reach. Despite it all, one of those memorable comebacks that punctuated Holloway’s previous stint as manager here was only a couple of inches away in a few instances.
But, let’s not mince words here, this was fucking awful.
Hindsight can be a wonderful thing. Before the match the chat was about how Rangers would cope with having more of the ball against a team happy to sit off them – they did, indeed, have 61% of the possession and 16 shots to Burton’s nine. The recent successes against Reading and Fulham have been built on a style that relies on the other team having more of the ball and playing possession football, which was never going to be the case here. It’s important to acknowledge that before teeing off on Holloway’s team selection, because all he did was remove the two main husslers and harriers from the team (Mackie and Manning) and replace them with two players, in theory, who’d do more with the ball to pick Burton apart and hurt them.
And, although it clearly didn’t work, the manager was still entitled to expect more from the team he fielded than this insipid effort.
Could he have legislated for Massimo Luongo following up two much improved performances against Reading and Fulham with this shambolic display? Luongo, at one point in the second half, tried to play a six-yard pass square to Jake Bidwell and walloped in to touch by mistake. The Australian really couldn’t do a single thing right on Saturday, but there was no indication that performance was coming in the Fulham and Reading games.
Having recalled Michael Doughty from his loan at Swindon and given him his first team chance, was it not reasonable for Holloway to assume that Doughty might grab a game by the balls and show that now finally is his time? He’s surely seen, from Manning in the last few games, what works, and yet he rather swanned around here, only truly forcing himself on the game and playing a couple of incisive passes in the 90 seconds before he was removed – when he was presumably aware he was about to get taken off. Now or never Michael mate, this isn’t a dry run.
Idrissa Sylla, if asked, I’m sure, will bemoan the complete lack of service to him. And he’d be right – I’m sure if Ben Turner the Burton centre half had been given options before the match he’d have gladly taken QPR playing one up front and pumping long balls up to him all afternoon. QPR did just that for an hour, and Turner needn’t have changed out of his club suit. Sylla, I’d hazard a guess, would also point out that QPR put nobody around him, so whether he won the first ball, the second ball, forced a ball to drop or allowed the defender to head it away made little difference – nobody around him to pick up the ball regardless.
But for somebody who looked so pained and offended to be replaced with 15 minutes to go at Reading, was this his best effort? A home game, against Burton Albion. Lack of service accepted, lack of support granted, but have you ever seen a player going through the motions to this extent? The old line about Patrick Agyemang measuring 6ft 3ins but jumping 5ft 8ins came to mind. He looked afraid of getting hurt. He didn’t punch his weight. We can have a chicken and egg argument over what came first and what resulted from what – Holloway’s very public, unhelpful, criticism of Sylla or Sylla’s sudden indifference towards leading the line and engaging in physical contact – but this wasn’t good enough by far. A more stereotypical example of a foreign striker in a Championship match I’ve rarely seen.
Joel Lynch and Nedum Onuoha, absolutely all over the place at the back, with only Marvin Sordell to mark – a non-scoring striker in a non-scoring team recently released by League One’s worst team Coventry City.
The QPR players looked like they thought this would be an easy win, and I think we’re all a bit guilty of that to one extent or another. The reason QPR are so charitable in these situations so often is because, almost without exception, QPR teams haven’t been very good since about 1995 and so whenever they go into a game slightly off the pace because they think it might be a gimme, or because they think they can rest a few players and so on they come unstuck. For QPR to win any game it requires their best team on the pitch giving their best effort, and while the latter can be pinned on the players, the former lays at the feet of the manager. This does, in the end, come back to the team selection.
We’ve progressed through January, but to such an extent that we can rest players for a game against a team five places below us in the league? No. I understand the logic of Doughty and Lua Lua, but leaving out the two most influential players in the recent recovery was just too much. Manning and Mackie are both much more than simply aggressors and hustlers, they’re good on the ball as well. We’re not dropping Messi and Iniesta here, but equally we’re not Barcelona either. Manning made a palpable difference when he came on. To bring Mackie on with just three minutes left was almost as mind boggling as leaving him out in the first place. Truly, what was the fucking point by then? I can’t help but think we tied ourselves in knots overthinking this one.
Lua Lua concerns me. We’ve got a winger, that we own, who had a fine first half to the season, who Holloway is about to bomb out on loan partly because he doesn’t defend in a particularly committed manner and partly, it seems, because he doesn’t like Marc Bircham et al getting in his ear about how good he is. So, we sign an injury prone winger on loan from Brighton to pick ahead of him? I’ll take some convincing on this. Mainly because I’d have fancied myself to mark him for the first hour of this game – where you going? Oh cutting inside and having a shot again? Quelle surprise. In the final half an hour when he started going to the byline and cutting balls back he looked very dangerous, but no more so than Mide Shodipo did during the first half of the season, and only after he’d spent the majority of the match to the point of 2-0 taking too many touches and trying outlandish shots that were never on. He’ll be brilliant now, because I’ve said this, and I hope he is, but there was nothing here Shodipo couldn’t have done, and lots he would have done better.
I think my favourite comment to sum it all up is that only QPR would move a match to avoid fixture congestion, and then field a weakened team in it because they had three games in a week. Unless they’re going to let us arm ourselves for the match in Newcastle on Wednesday we’re going to lose that so rest players there if they need resting. If we did indeed rest Mackie and Manning with Newcastle in mind then it was a gross misjudgement, no hindsight necessary.
Holloway will be regretting this result more, and be angrier about it, than anybody else. Partly because he’ll think the team he picked could have produced a lot better, partly because that fragile confidence and optimism that was building after a horrible run of six defeats now has a big home-defeat-to-Burton-bloody-Albion-sized stake driven through it, and partly because he’ll know deep down that he took this game too lightly.
QPR now embark on their two longest away trips of the season – one to a team that beat them 6-0 in the corresponding fixture, the other to a recent bogey side looking to close the gap from below – feeling like shit again. And it was all so, so, avoidable.
In conclusion, we shouldn’t be made to play on designated FA Cup weekends whether it’s a cup match or not.
QPR: Smithies 6; Furlong 5, Onuoha 4, Lynch 4, Bidwell 4 (Mackie 87, -); Doughty 4 (Manning 74, 6), Hall 6 (Washington 45, 6), Luongo 3; Wszolek 6, Lua Lua 5, Sylla 4
Subs not used: Ingram, Perch, Eze, Shodipo
Goals: Washington 63 (assisted Lua Lua)
Bookings: Luongo 86 (foul)
Burton: McLaughlin 6; Flanagan 6, Brayford – (Mousinho 3, 6), Turner 7; McCrory 6, Chirstensen 7 (Akins 74, 6), Irvine 8, Murphy 7, Palmer 6, Dyer 8; Sordell 6 (Woodrow 87, -)
Subs not used: Williamson, Bywater, Miller, Barker
Goals: Murphy 11 (assisted Dyer), Dyer 52 (assisted Christensen)
Bookings: Christensen 47 (foul), Irvine 79 (kicking ball away)
QPR Star Man N/A Dyer and Irvine were so far and away the best players on the pitch it seems churlish to elevate anybody in Hoops to anything close to them. Washington maybe. I don’t care. Bring the screens round and prepare the rifle.
Referee – Geoff Eltringham (County Durham) 8 As against Villa earlier in the season proved himself to be a friend of the time waster, but overall well refereed. Obvious caveat being QPR were about as strong and intense as church hall orange squash so it wasn’t exactly a tough one to keep hold of.
12,116 (120 Burton approx) And all who sail in her etc.
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