|Sheffield United v Queens Park Rangers|
Tuesday, 21st February 2017 Kick-off 19:45
QPR grind out vital Wigan win – Report
Wednesday, 22nd Feb 2017 19:45 by Clive Whittingham
It wasn’t pretty, but as a follow up to Saturday’s fireworks in Birmingham and against a team below QPR in the league Tuesday night’s gritty 2-1 win against Wigan was very welcome indeed.
In Roy Keane’s second autobiography, a bracing read in which he calls Alf-Inge Haland a cunt in the third paragraph, there’s a story about how he and Peter Schmeichel had a punch up in the corridor of a hotel in the middle of the night on a European trip. Keane felt Schmeichel’s famed rants at his defenders were theatrics for the crowd and the pair didn’t get on.
“Schmeichel said: ‘I’ve had enough of you, it’s time we sorted this out.’ So I said ‘Okay’. And we had a fight. It felt like ten minutes. There was a lot of noise – Peter’s a big lad.” They got into trouble for waking Sir Bobby Charlton up.
On Tuesday night at Loftus Road, we got the footballing equivalent of two non-professional fighters having a fight. Queens Park Rangers, under Ian Holloway, like to work hard and press high. Wigan Athletic, under Warren Joyce, like to work hard and press high. Two teams with similar ideas on how to overcome their mediocrity coming together in a footballing arm wrestle. It was an abrasive spectacle where you kind of ended up feeling sorry for the ball. Ninety minutes of grappling basically with a couple of punches landed.
With little room to breathe in midfield Rangers were unashamedly direct at times, looking early for target man Matt Smith who found his own similarly massive Fulham team mate Dan Burn up for an awkward struggle. At the other end Omar Bogle, a £1m January signing from Grimsby, was also given early ball and used it to terrorise Joel Lynch. The no-man’s land in between was a chaotic place. At one point one booming clearance, straight up in the air, went higher into the night sky than I’ve ever seen a ball go at Loftus Road. Some poor bugger starting the nightshift on Heathrow’s air traffic control desk must have shit a large brick. Little wonder young Ryan Manning had his poorest (though certainly not poor, maybe least-good) night so far in senior football in amongst that lot. He was game, they all were, but this was a suffocating match decided as much by a bone-crunching block tackle from Nedum Onuoha in injury time as it was the goals.
Vital though. Absolutely vital to QPR to record this second win in succession in whatever way possible. Firstly because of that pesky league table thing they like to wave around in May and start moving clubs around. With a crowded April fixture list offering four away matches at Derby, Villa, Bristol City and Brentford and three at home including visits from two of the top six, it was time for QPR to start posting some points rather than moral victories.
There could be no more “it’s coming” “we’re getting there” “playing better than the results suggest” “that one at Blackburn was over the line you know”. Fact is, QPR were only as high as seventeenth in the league at the start of this week because of two little flurries of three wins – nine points from five games in August and then same again over the New Year break. Without them Rangers had played 23 matches in the league and won just three. Even with them, it was only six wins from 28 since the win against Wigan in the first fixture between the sides back at the start of the season. Rangers needed three points and they got them.
Secondly, to start suggesting that maybe the problem with the inconsistency of this side can start to be addressed. QPR were fantastic against a lousy Birmingham side on Saturday, and looked very good indeed in a 4-1 win. But they’d looked good against Wolves and Ipswich only to then lose to Blackburn. They’d looked good against Reading and Fulham only to then be beaten at home by Burton. It’s not a division where you get long to admire your work, and while defeat here to third bottom Wigan wouldn’t have completely undone the all the fine progress at St Andrew’s, it would have severely dampened its effect. Two wins in four days lifts QPR ten points clear of the bottom three, a defeat would have closed the gap between them and Wigan to just four.
And thirdly to start correcting a dreadful record this season against the teams below QPR in the table. Reading up from the bottom, we’ve lost to Rotherham with a second game still to come, lost twice and drawn once in three games with Blackburn, taken one point from six against Burton, lost at home to Wolves, drawn at Forest and lost at home to Villa. Only Bristol City, and now Wigan, have yielded maximum points. This should be bread and butter stuff for any team with any modicum of ambition or ability.
Initially it looked like a repeat of Saturday’s massacre was on. Conor Washington, who could hardly have asked for a better Christmas than a Big Posh Matt Smith to play off, looks a different player in his correct position and buoyed by three goals in five matches. He used his notable upper body strength and decent turn of pace to muscle Jake Buxton away from a pin-point Alex Smithies raker and with the Wigan man flat out on the floor he was able to square it to Smith who rather scuffed his finish and was fortunate the visitors had decided to field a pensioner in goal – Matt Gilks somehow parried the ball into the top corner of his own net. Rangers one up after four minutes.
When Manning almost chipped Gilks with the outside of his boot from the edge of the area after six minutes everything looked good but Wigan started with two up front and posed a significant threat of their own.
Omar Bogle is one of those John Akinde-types who QPR fans see in the paper has scored loads of goals in the lower leagues and therefore start Tweeting and message boarding things like “why don’t we take a chance on somebody like that?” without actually ever seeing them play. Grimsby are my home town club so I’d seen a bit of the former Solihull Moors man last year in the Conference and while he clearly had all the physical attributes, and a goal record second to none, he was incredibly raw. One afternoon at Braintree last season, admittedly on a dire playing surface, he had one of those days where every second touch was a tackle. But having stepped up to League One without a problem here he was in the Championship looking like one of the best strikers we’ve seen at Loftus Road all season. Quick, physical, uncompromising – a proper handful, and one Joel Lynch was unable to cope with.
I think I quite like Lynch but he’s a bit mad at times. This first half performance was similar to his attempts to mark Aston Villa’s Jonathan Kodija, where he kept trying to cheat his way around the blind side of the man to nip in front of him and intercept balls only to find himself rolled and his man in on goal on the danger side each time. It was Lynch who gave the penalty away for the equaliser, though it had been Luke Freeman who’d seemingly snuffed out the danger by winning the ball back in midfield only to present it straight back to the visitors and leave his team in trouble. Lynch’s foul so blatant there wasn’t a single objection to James Linington’s decision, and only the new rule this season whereby a genuine attempt for the ball in such situations means you only get a yellow card saved him from a red – which it definitely would have been in any other previous campaign.
More fool us for making a big deal of Alex Smithies’ penalty saving exploits – Bogle sent him the wrong way with relative ease from the spot. He’ll never save one again now you watch.
Bogle’s threat continued in the second half including one horrifying moment where a two on two Wigan counter attack seemed to be completely under control until Lynch decided to come across and double up on Onuoha’s man, leaving Bogle completely free behind him – Smithies saved magnificently up in the top corner as the big forward let fly. Prior to half time Smithies had also produced an improbable reaction save under his own cross bar when Buxton met a driven corner with a fierce header that looked a certain goal.
One one then, and Wigan tails up, the game entered something of a scrapyard dogs phase. Bogle had already been late on Grant Hall once before the goal when he was booked for walloping Lynch immediately after. He was perhaps lucky that another late hit on Hall, which finished the QPR man off and saw him leave the field permanently, didn’t see him following his opponent down the tunnel – particularly as Linington got a little card happy after that, booking Grigg harshly and then later, hilariously but farcically, Idrissa Sylla five seconds after he’d come on as a sub for a meagre shove. A foul on Onuoha was awarded as a Wigan corner, then then in first half stoppage time Gilks helped a ball over his crossbar with both gloves only for a goal kick to be awarded.
Linington seemingly one of those referees that likes to paint himself into a corner with a lot of early cards, only to then get all lenient later on when those on a booking misbehave a second time. We ended the game with seven bookings, and while some were unfortunate to get one at all, others perhaps could have been dealt with more harshly and quite how Callum Connolly escaped disciplinary action I’m not sure.
Connolly, playing right back, found himself marking Kazenga Lua Lua after the Hall injury – Holloway, as only Holloway would, chucking on a maverick, free-spirited attacker in a free role wide left when his defensive central midfielder and auxiliary centre half could no longer continue. Freeman shot wide from distance and Bogle beat Lynch once more only to see a curled effort blocked by Onuoha but it was the loaned Brighton winger catching the eye for the rest of the game – taking on and beating Connolly and others with encouraging regularity, drawing numerous fouls and carrying a genuine goal threat.
The second half began much as the first had ended. Manning got mashed in the air by Jamie Hanson who was booked amid an ensuing melee – Lynch straight in to object on his younger team mate’s behalf. Then the Smithies save from Bogle was followed by Lua Lua tricking his man, skipping all the way along the byline into the area, but just failing to pick anybody out. Fouls, Bogle, Lua Lua, headers, tackles, muck, nettles, Sharon, Tarbs…
Then a second goal. All about Luke Freeman this one, who toiled tirelessly in a personal performance of peaks and troughs but got his reward on the hour when a surging, purposeful run right through the middle of the field and to the heart of the Wigan defence presented Lua Lua with dangerous possession. I loved this. Too much passing for passing's sake in the modern game, too much backwards and sideways, not enough Lua Lua and Freeman-types picking up the ball and going forward with some real purpose. Lua Lua touched it off for Washington to finish smartly from the edge of the area.
Again, you couldn’t help but think a goalkeeper outside the demographic targeted by that Michael Parkinson life insurance and free Parker Pen advert may have done a little better - though we should say in Gilks’ favour that his prodigious goal kicking was something to behold, one of them travelling further than all of Rob Green’s QPR goal kicks combined – but that’s to take nothing away from Washington. Now four goals in six games (five really) after just three in 24 starts and 17 sub appearances previously, he looks happy, confident and dangerous. He had similar starts at Newport (one goal in his first 15 appearances) and Peterborough (one in 17) before hitting his straps and hopefully now, in this system that suits him, and with a manager who’s made a career out of getting the likes of Cureton, Ellington, Roberts, Hayles, Gallen, Furlong, DJ Campbell and others scoring prolifically he’s going to do likewise in hoops.
As on Saturday, Holloway kept cobbing strikers on. Yeni Ngbakoto replaced Washington, Sylla went on for Smith. Poor Pawel Wszolek, who played about half a dozen positions in this game, had to come across to the bench to clarify exactly what was going on after a few minutes when he and Ngbakoto seemed to be in the same position.
Wigan sent on the giant Mandron for Hanson, and the giant-headed Obertan for Grigg (one goal in his previous 24 seemed to make him a prime candidate for a QPR charitable hand out, but that reckoned without Smithies) but didn’t really threaten an equaliser until four minutes of stoppage time. This, after all, a team that hasn’t won a game in London since they lifted the FA Cup at Wembley in 2013.
When they did threaten though, in the final minute of four added, it looked a goal all day. Connolly’s throw, Obertan’s turned ball back into the six yard box, Mandron steaming in for a tap in from three yards out, Nedum Onuoha with a block tackle at full strength that shook the ground and saved the match for Rangers. A second fine performance this week from the much-maligned skipper, but more importantly a second victory.
Spirited, gritty, hard-fought in contrast to Saturday’s free-flowing four-goal salvo, but for so many reasons that was exactly what we needed. Starting to feel like a good group.
QPR: Smithies 7; Furlong 6, Onouha 7, Lynch 5, Bidwell 6; Manning 6, Hall 6 (Lua Lua 29, 7), Freeman 6; Wszolek 6, Smith 6 (Sylla 76, 6), Washington 7 (Ngbakoto 68, 6)
Subs not used: Mackie, Ingram, Perch, Luongo
Goals: Smith 4 (assisted Washington), Washington 60 (assisted Freeman/Lua Lua)
Bookings: Lynch 15 (foul), Sylla 76 (foul)
Wigan: Gilks 4; Connolly 5, Buxton 5, Burn 6, Warnock 6; Power 6, Hanson 6 (Mandron 81, -), Morsy 6, Tunnicliffe 6; Grigg 6 (Obertan 73, 6), Bogle 8
Subs not used: Perkins, Kellett, Laurent, Weir
Goals: Bogle 17 (penalty – won Bogle)
Bookings: Bogle 22 (repetitive fouling), Grigg 30 (foul), Power 35 (foul), Hanson 46 (foul), Buxton 61 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Conor Washington 7 Couple of candidates – Onuoha played well, Smithies made two great saves, Lua Lua impressed – but you can’t argue with a goal and an assist on top of a fine all round performance.
Referee – James Linington (Isle of Wight) 5 Odd one. Very competitive game, though seven bookings felt excessive at the time – Grigg and Sylla in particular can feel a bit hard done to. Then at the same time other players, Connolly in particular, seemed to be able to get away with all sorts. Standard Championship referee really.
Attendance – 12,101 (150 Wigan approx) Starting to feel a bit better around the place. Hopefully the numbers will start coming back if the team keeps improving like this.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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