QPR's second half rally can't prevent predictable outcome - Report
Sunday, 12th Feb 2017 13:49 by Clive Whittingham
Huddersfield Town continued their unlikely promotion push at Loftus Road on Saturday, winning 2-1 to leave QPR without a win of their own in five matches.
A random team selection, a bright start quickly fading away, two goals for the visiting team, a sizeable half time deficit, Huddersfield slicing through QPR at will… for so long Saturday’s meeting at Loftus Road was everything we’d anticipated it would be and more.
As Brighton wobble slightly and Newcastle mire themselves in internal politics once more, it’s Huddersfield that are the form team in the division at the moment – climbing to third in the table with this fifth straight victory and sporting a record of just one defeat from their last 15 games. A wonderfully fluent team, they’re that combination of being ruthlessly effective while also brilliant to watch that’s so hard to achieve and maintain across the gruelling 46-game Championship season.
A QPR side that has improved of late but was still beaten by both Burton Albion and Blackburn Rovers last week shouldn’t have stood much of a chance and after 60 seconds that looked like being exactly the case. One ball flashed right through the goal mouth from Aaron Mooy, another hit straight at former Huddersfield keeper Alex Smithies from the edge of the box by Izzy Brown, Rangers were lucky not to be behind with the game still in its absolute infancy.
From there Rangers grew into the game. The decision to move James Perch to centre back, Pawel Wzsolek to right back and recall Grant Hall in midfield was an Ian Holloway selection from the days of Georges Santos. It was unfathomable prior to kick off to the people who watch this team every week, and it gave Town’s big personality manager David Wagner plenty to think about as well. Matt Smith led the line from the start on a full debut with Conor Washington and Jamie Mackie either side of him and chances soon started to flow.
Conor Washington, two goals in his last three games and one incorrectly disallowed at Blackburn last week, saw an early improvised poke tipped onto the post by visiting keeper Danny Ward, on loan from Liverpool. Matt Smith, a handful all day, headed one chance straight at Ward and another wide of the post from a Wszolek cross. He then nodded another down for Ryan Manning to volley wide from the edge of the box.
Encouraging stuff, but an injury to Jonathan Hogg after 20 minutes turned out to be a blessing for the Yorkshire side who were not only able to have a minute with their manager on the touchline, but also introduce Philip Billing from the bench. Measuring just shy of ten feet tall, the 20-year-old Dane was too physical and talented for QPR’s middle to cope with and he and his team mates promptly took over the game.
The first goal looked eminently preventable with Manning and Luongo both around the man who got the first pass away, and Nedum Onuoha back on his heels and failing to intercept the first pass into the area from Izzy Brown to Nahki Wells. Having got that far, Brown advanced into the area to crisply plant the return ball from Wells into the bottom corner.
Brown was a cut above most others on the field here – big and physical, yet smooth across the ground and deft of touch. Yet another one of those superbly talented young, English players hoarded into Chelsea’s giant academy and loaned out into neutral territory where he can do no harm to a parent club that never has any intention of ever picking him for their first team as long as he’s got a hole in his arse. His career, along with 40 others, will be artificially shaped and stilted by Chelsea’s sole, selfish desire to make sure the next brilliant British talent doesn’t surface at Tottenham, Man Utd, Man City or somewhere else requiring them to spend £50m to buy him. Laughably, he only came into the Huddersfield team here because Kasey Palmer was injured – Palmer almost as brilliant, also on loan from Chelsea. Brilliant for Huddersfield, and Bristol City with Tammy Abraham, but absolutely dreadful for the ever worsening England national team, the sport in this country, and the boys themselves.
If the first goal was sub-standard defensively, you couldn’t help but admire the sheer quality of the second. Luongo had already been let off without a booking when he really should have seen yellow from referee Peter Bankes as QPR struggled to hang onto Town’s coat tails when the visitors collected the ball deep in their own half, by their own corner flag. Comfortable and confident on the ball, led from the back by Michael Hefele the Terriers started to pass the ball. And they kept passing it with increasing intensity, pace and purpose. Each one completed was cheered by the travelling support, each one completed put QPR in further trouble. Zulus, thousands of them, sweeping down the field, forcing the issue, twisting the knife. Hefele’s ball to van la Parra down the right was key, Kachunga might have been slightly fortunate that his mishit turn back inside fell perfectly for Nahki Wells but the finish was emphatic and you’ll struggle to see a better looking, more thoughtfully constructed goal at this level this season.
What could you say? What could QPR do? Good team, in form, playing well. Sometimes you have to hold your hands up. Ryan Manning was booked in first half stoppage time to make matters worse.
Ian Holloway doesn’t do holding his hands up really. The second half began with a barney over a tackle that left Christopher Schindler crumpled on the deck and soon after Lua Lua and Luke Freeman stepped off the bench to replace Jamie Mackie and Jake Bidwell. Ryan Manning, one of several players asked to play multiple positions in this match, went to a deep-lying left role and played it admirably, Wzsolek was finally able to step up from the right, Perch went right, Hall went deeper, Freeman joined the midfield – it was wild, endlessly changing, always evolving, completely confusing at times but somehow, possibly by accident, it started to work.
Freeman in particular was something of a revelation. Drag backs, flicks, tricks, powerful running – the new signing from Bristol City really had the bit between his teeth and was a key figure in dragging QPR, kicking and screaming, back into a game they looked miles out of at the halfway point.
Initially it was frantic, end to end stuff. A good ball from Freeman got Washington in behind and his cut back was just out of Matt Smith’s reach – Huddersfield broke immediately and Grant Hall was booked for chopping Wells before things got worse. Wells smacked a shot just wide soon after that but Freeman had his sighters set a little better and lashed in from the edge of the box after Smith and Washington had both tried to scramble the ball home only for it to elude them and fall invitingly on the edge of the area. A terrific, pure strike, and Loftus Road believed again.
Huddersfield started to rock a little. They’d have been facing a sixty eighth minute penalty if referee Bankes had had his way: Smith hauled down underneath a wide free kick, the official pointing straight to the spot, the linesman spoiling the party by correctly identifying the QPR target man had – for reasons I can’t understand – gone miles too soon and run offside. A minute later Smith connected brilliantly with Washington’s cut back – Ward equal to it with a brilliant save in the top corner.
Manning’s seventieth minute free kick was illegally blocked by a hand in the wall. Brown was yellow carded for his complaints about the distance his team mates were marched back from the second set piece. Lua Lua drilled the second effort into the crowd rather than the net. The Brighton loanee must have thought he’d scored when he connected brilliantly with a low shot from 20 yards out after a corner was cleared but despite the ball flying straight and true through a crowd of some 20 players, Ward somehow kept an eye on it and produced the save of the game with his legs. Hall’s soft touch and delicate chipped cross looked like it might give Smith a chance to head in at the back post. Another scramble saw Ward save from Washington.
It was like the Alamo. Bankes added seven minutes to an eminently watchable encounter, and played nearer nine, but QPR couldn’t find a way through a second time. Twice they appealed for penalties – the first for a push on Washington maybe worth a second look, the second for handball as the ball flicked up off a slack touch and onto the arm of a Huddersfield man would have been harsh for me.
Once more Rangers left with plenty to go on, plenty to be positive about, plenty to suggest things will get better for them. That’s been the case a lot recently, and Ian Holloway again reiterated afterwards that if his team continues to play like this they’ll be fine. Wagner, a spikey touchline presence, agreed and magnanimously said his goalkeeper had been the best player on the pitch and his side were lucky to win.
I thought that was all slightly generous. Town were vastly superior in the first half and while QPR would have been good value for a point, gave it a good go in the second half, and the game was at least entertaining, Rangers are too easy to score against and find it too difficult to score themselves. No wins from five, just four victories from 19 fixtures, the positives and improvements need to be turned into points starting next week at a poor, out of form Birmingham side.
QPR: Smithies 6; Wzsolek 6 (Ngbakoto 80, -), Perch 6, Onuoha 5, Bidwell 5 (Lua Lua 53, 6); Hall 6, Manning 6, Luongo 5; Mackie 5 (Freeman 53, 7), Smith 7, Washington 6
Subs not used: Goss, Ingram, Furlong, Sylla
Goals: Freeman 60 (unassisted)
Bookings: Manning 45+1 (foul), Hall 58 (foul), Luongo 85 (foul)
Huddersfield: Ward 8; Cranie 6 (Smith 80, -), Hefele 7, Schindler 6, Lowe 6; Mooy 7, Hogg 6 (Billing 20, 8); Kachunga 6, Brown 8, van la Parra 6 (Lolley 79, 6); Wells 7
Subs not used: Payne, Quaner, Stankovic, Coleman
Bookings: Brown 62 (dissent)
QPR Star Man – Luke Freeman 7 Toss up between Freeman and Matt Smith, who led the line superbly and was really unlucky not to score on a couple of occasions. Freeman came on in the second half and lifted QPR, taking back control of the central midfield, adding creativity and scoring a beautifully taken goal.
Referee – Peter Bankes (Merseyside) 7 I thought he was pretty good, despite QPR’s vociferous second half penalty appeals for a push on Washington and a hand ball. The one that was a spot kick he gave, only to find Matt Smith had already been flagged offside. Bookings correct, game controlled pretty well until the final few minutes when he made a few dodgy calls in midfield. Perhaps a little generous with Aaron Mooy, but to be honest that’s just part of Mooy’s game and QPR could do with a couple of players like him themselves.
Attendance - 14,044 (2,000 Huddersfield approx) Dead in the first half, properly pumping in the second, atmosphere pretty much went in line with the QPR performance as you'd expect.
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