|Queens Park Rangers v Bolton Wanderers|
Saturday, 18th February 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Rampant Rangers run four through sorry Blues – Report
Sunday, 19th Feb 2017 20:54 by Clive Whittingham
The best performance of Ian Holloway’s second spell in charge saw him record his biggest win in QPR colours since a 4-1 win at Hartlepool in 2004 at St Andrew’s on Saturday.
Four goals, four different scorers, three very valuable points, the club’s biggest away win in two years… Saturday in the second city proved to be very gratifying for Ian Holloway’s Queens Park Rangers.
There had been signs that this might be coming, if you looked hard enough for them. The performance and win at Reading, the well-won point at Newcastle, the overall showing in a desperately unfortunate defeat at Blackburn, the second half against Huddersfield, Matt Smith’s full debut display, Luke Freeman’s cameo a week ago, Ryan Manning’s influence, Conor Washington’s two goals (should have been three but for a blind linesman) in three games, and so on.
But with just four home wins all season; recent defeats to Rotherham, Burton and Blackburn; a run of five matches without a win; the relegation zone approaching at some speed and a set of fixtures through April about as enticing as an episode of Piers Morgan’s Life Stories it was time for QPR to stop waving it around and start fucking on Saturday at St Andrew’s. Boy did they make an impressive job of that.
The better team in every department, for every minute of the game, from the kick off to the final whistle, Rangers went from a side that hadn’t scored more than twice in a match since the opening day of the season to one with four goals to its name in one memorable 90-minute demolition job. In truth, it could have been more.
That was the worry at half time – that it was only one. Matt Smith, picking up where he’d left off against Huddersfield last week with a dominant display as main striker, powered home an unstoppable header from Luke Freeman’s perfectly flighted, outswinging, left-footed corner on 18 minutes. Amazing what happens when you deliver well from wide set pieces – a point apparently lost on Birmingham who made farcical messes of more than one short corner routine.
Smith, seriously impressive for a second week running, had already seen one cleared from the line after beating home keeper Tomasz Kuszczak to a loose ball in the area, hooked another back from the byline for Luke Freeman to shoot straight at the Polish stopper and had a hand in an early move that concluded with Pawel Wszolek heading straight at his countryman. After the goal the hosts were indebted to Kuszczak once more as he saved first from Wszolek in the air, then from Smith on the ground, and finally Freeman saw a third follow up deflect wide off his own man. Smith later had two bites at a Ryan Manning cross, first with his head and then with his feet when it dropped to him, but couldn’t get a meaningful shot away.
Birmingham had posed the odd threat. Jerome Sinclair, on loan from Watford, must be wondering how Che Adams headed an early chance he’d put on a plate for him wide and later he had a deflected shot of his own clip the top of the bar on its way over. But the Blues were so obviously second best that even Paul Robinson, two weeks shy of his seventy eighth birthday and incapable of doing anything other than staggering around miles off the pace of the game and abusing the match officials, improved them slightly when he came on for the injured Keita after half an hour. The crusty old git was eventually booked by Andy Davies for repeated dissent.
You couldn’t argue with any aspect of QPR’s performance or set up. Ryan Manning and Luke Freeman, part of a three-man midfield either side of the increasingly composed and confident Grant Hall, were the beating heart of the team. Without the ball the pair of them were tireless pests, constantly closing and hustling the player in possession, breaking up the play with interceptions, tackles and, when it was required, tactical fouls. They were like a couple of wasps sniffing out an old can of Lilt, and Birmingham just couldn’t get rid of the pair of them. It was tiring just watching them charge about the place. Manning in particular has a little devil in him befitting a far more experienced, cynical old pro – less than a dozen games into his senior professional career and he’s already a master at winning free kicks, conceding tactical fouls and generally being an infectious pain in the arse for opponents.
Add in Smith’s line leading, Washington’s Mackie-like enthusiasm for closing the play down, Pawel Wszolek’s added bit of quality on the ball, Darnell Furlong’s best game for the senior team so far since his return from Swindon and a much-improved display from Nedum Onuoha and this was all going surprisingly swimmingly. But, it was only one nil.
That changed immediately after half time, one of two critical moments in the second half. With the players still in the dressing room at ten past four and the game now not due to finish until the second reading of the classified football results there was some fear among a boisterous 1,500 in the away end about missing return trains, but thoughts were quickly refocused back on the action as Conor Washington made it 2-0. Right from the kick off Rangers were purposeful and incessant, forcing Birmingham back into their own area. It looked for one glorious moment like Manning was going to set himself up for an outlandish bicycle kick but having aborted the move, and not given away a free kick, the youngster was able to stand and admire Washington’s crisp volleyed finish into the bottom corner and flying summersault celebration.
This was now one of those situations where as a QPR fan you were still nervous about the outcome, but had you been sitting at the other end you’d be sure the game had gone. It had gone. Birmingham, woeful save for the midfield efforts of Greg Stewart, were no more coming back into this game than flying to the moon on the team bus, but we’ve become accustomed to the worst happening to our beloved boys in the knocked off Huddersfield Giants strip so the nerves were still there.
The second key moment came with about ten minutes of the game to play. First Nsue struck a shot wide with Smithies beaten off Sinclair’s cross, then Stewart came in at the back post and headed a deep ball right past Smithies and all along the goal line with nobody able to apply a killer touch before it drifted wide of the far post. Either of those go in, with ten minutes left, and QPR’s confidence fragile, and it might have been a different match.
But the R’s had still been much the better of the two sides. Kuszczak pushed Hall’s header from Manning’s cross over, then dashed from his line to clear before Washington could apply a killer touch to a through ball.
Far from shutting up shop, Ian Holloway seemed keen to push for more when he took off tiring Matt Smith and sent on Idrissa Sylla – another forward, rather than another body for the backline, with ten to play.
The manager was rewarded for his positive approach immediately with a third goal – Sylla stooping at the far post to execute the sort of diving header into the net we’ve seen from him a couple of times already this season. This goal was all in the quality of the delivery from Pawel Wszolek though – once again, unlike Junior Hoilett and many of his predecessors, the Polish winger took the time to compose himself and pick out a man for his pass rather than just tossing a cross into the area and hoping for the best. His choice and execution here was perfect, removing the last Birmingham defender and goalkeeper from equation completely and leaving Sylla a relatively simple finish – though credit him for the positioning and timing of the run. The Guinea international burned Washington’s summersault with his own abysmally executed forward roll.
The celebrations behind the goal hadn’t subsided when Rangers made it four. Few had even noticed Yeni Ngbakoto and Kazenga Lua Lua coming onto the field after the third goal so it was something of a surprise to the supporters, and to home goalkeeper Kuszczak apparently given he only put up a token gesture wall, when the former unleashed an absolute barnburner of a free kick from 30 yards that dipped viciously after flying over the keeper’s head and crashed into the net off the underside of the bar. Four nil now, a more than fair reflection of QPR’s superiority with and without the ball, better tactical plan and greater physicality in the game.
We’ll do context at this point, because it is important. As hard as we try, we are obviously partisan, and the euphoria of a thumping away win with all the associated beer swilling and train singing that goes with it can carry us away somewhat. This is still the same QPR that have only won four home games all season, still the same QPR that lost on their own ground to Burton Albion, still the same QPR that remain in a reasonable amount of relegation danger. And for all the undoubted positives from this excellent performance and result, it came against an absolutely horrific Birmingham City side. Horrific.
Birmingham, a club of recent Premier League campaigns, a cup win and a season in Europe, have now been carelessly and callously sold off into foreign ownership not once, but twice. As if it wasn’t bad enough to wave through a takeover by Carsen Yeung, who ended up in prison, a period of instability and uncertainty has now been brought to a conclusion satisfactory enough to the authorities only by another sale to another group from the Far East with no qualifications nor experience of running an English football club.
They have immediately removed Gary Rowett as the manager, and since embarked on a run of one win from 14 matches culminating in this absolute tanking on their own patch from Queens Park Rangers. Birmingham were seventh, on the back of a home win against Ipswich, when Rowett was dismissed and all they have to cling to now is the 40 points they posted, almost entirely under his management, which will probably keep them safe this season. Rowett took over a team that had only survived relegation with a scrambled goal with the very last kick of the very last match of the 2013/14 match and turned them into play-off contenders while halving the wage bill, and then halving it again.
His replacement, Gianfranco Zola, has a record in management as successful as Rik Waller’s ‘cut the carbs’ diet plan. Zola was such a majestic footballer, capable of such beautiful moments of artistry on the pitch, that even though he was doing it for Big Racist John and the Boys down the road even the most hardened QPR fans had to begrudgingly nod in appreciation of his obvious genius. That and his diminutive stature, relaxed demeanour, dark eyes and winning smile made him impossible to dislike. But he’s no kind of manager, and however likeable he might have been as a player he’s developed an unedifying knack of always turning up for, or being heavily linked to, managerial jobs when no-nothing pricks from the US or Far East have spent stupid money acquiring a historic community asset in this country without any experience of running a football club nor any clue what they’re going to do with it.
Even his programme notes – presumably heavily ghost written by a PR person drawing a full time wage – are alarming. Of his reaction towards the players after a midweek loss at Preston North End he offered: “As a player I didn’t like to do a lot of talking, I looked very much inside myself to do better. Now I know I have a professional position as manager, and it is my duty to speak. I respect that, but it was hard on Tuesday due to the emotions I was feeling.” Now I’m not one of these little Englanders that thinks Sam Allardyce, Peter Reid and Tony Pulis get an unfair deal because they’re English and everybody’s obsessed with foreign coaches, but fuck me sideways is this actually for real? I couldn’t give a shit about Birmingham City really but this makes me angry.
The Football Association, Premier League and Football League are too busy licking the cheese from under Richard Scudamore’s foreskin and desperately gorging themselves on the obscene money belched in their direction by Sky and Rupert Murdoch to do their jobs properly. It is nothing short of a national scandal that the keys to Blackburn, Birmingham, Cardiff, Nottingham Forest, Aston Villa and scores of other clubs besides are just handed over to autograph-hunting cockrockets with more money than sense from far flung corners of the world for them to treat as some play thing, appointing wallies like Gianfranco Zola so all of their other football illiterate friends can jet in from Singapore and Taiwan to have their photo taken with him, or fly him the other way to give an after dinner speech for £50,000 a time.
Zola will, surely, be sacked this week. Or next. Soon anyway. And if any other Championship club dismissed their manager at this point of the season in these circumstances the odds-on bookies favourite to take the job on would be Gary Rowett, who Birmingham sacked while seventh in the league supposedly so they could play a better brand of football under this nesbitt. No doubt they’ll go for some other Bryan Robson-like big-name pig from the Sven Goran Eriksson school of snouts in the trough instead. They, though certainly not the Birmingham fans who numbered almost 20,000 here despite their recent form and have suffered enough in recent times, deserve everything they get. The FA, the Football League, say nothing while clubs like this flatline at the hands of these morons.
They did score for all that – basically the last kick of the game coolly stuck into the bottom corner by Nsue and while Alex Smithies will no doubt be stewing at the loss of his clean sheet there were hardly any Birmingham fans left to see it, the QPR fans celebrated it for them and it had no material impact on the game. The goal came through a space that had frequently opened up in front of Jake Bidwell in the final 20 minutes as Luke Freeman tired – something Holloway might have addressed by introducing Mackie or somebody else to patrol that side and must consider in future tighter games – but other than that it was almost a complete irrelevance in a wonderful, dominant QPR display.
Of course what happens now is Rangers, brim full of confidence, return home to Loftus Road on Tuesday night and promptly lose meekly to Wigan Athletic.
Birmingham: Kuszczak 6; Nsue 6, Cogley 5 (Koyunlu 45, 5), Shotton 5, Grounds 5; Keita 5 (Robinson 31, 5), Kieftenbeld 4, Tesche 5 (Storer 82, -), Stewart 7, Adams 5; Sinclair 5
Subs not used: Legzdins, Gleeson, O’Keefe, Bielik
Goals: Nsue 90+3 (assisted Adams)
Bookings: Tesche 21 (foul), Robinson 56 (dissent), Storer 87 (foul)
QPR: Smithies 6; Furlong 7, Onuoha 8, Lynch 7, Bidwell 6; Manning 8, Hall 7, Freeman 8; Washington 8 (Ngbakoto 85, -), Smith 8 (Sylla 80, -), Wszolek 7 (Lua Lua 85, -)
Subs not used: Mackie, Ingram, Luongo, Perch
Goals: Smith 18 (assisted Freeman), Washington 47 (unassisted), Sylla 84 (assisted Wszolek), Ngbakoto 88 (free kick – won Manning)
Bookings: Lynch 50 (foul), Bidwell 82 (foul), Manning 90 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Luke Freeman 8 Honestly, I thought he was another one of those ‘number 10s’ that QPR seem to like to collect and didn’t quite see how he’d fit into the deeper lying three in our team, even following his impressive cameo there last week against Huddersfield. But here, him and Manning either side of Hall, were absolutely terrific – tireless, constantly hassling and harrying to get the ball back and then using it creatively and positively when they did have it. Unlucky not to score.
Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 7 Birmingham have lost 8-1 on aggregate in the two games they’ve had with Davies this season and they didn’t seem overly thrilled with his performance in the first half but I thought he was ok, no complaints about the bookings, no big decisions wrong. Got conned by Manning a couple of times, but he’s a sneaky little git sometimes so that’s not that unusual.
Attendance – 20,265 (1,530 QPR) Sizeable, boisterous travelling support richly rewarded for making the trip. Birmingham’s support seems to be holding up in number despite their club’s self immolation this season.
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Pictures – Action Images
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