|Queens Park Rangers 2 v 1 Cardiff City|
Saturday, 4th March 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Ngbakoto sparks QPR comeback - Report
Sunday, 5th Mar 2017 20:00 by Clive Whittingham
QPR came from behind to beat Cardiff City at Loftus Road on Saturday on the fiftieth anniversary of the club's League Cup triumph.
Half a century on from Queens Park Rangers’ famous League Cup win – the only major trophy the club has won in its history – some of the heroes of that afternoon at Wembley were welcomed back to Loftus Road on Saturday for a heartfelt half time tribute.
The present-day sport did it’s best to fit in with a day of nostalgia. Neil Warnock, who won a promotion with Rangers in 2011, spent four minutes of stoppage time screaming in the ear of the fourth official and ordering Greg Halford on from the bench to launch long throws into the QPR area. Ian Holloway, who elevated QPR from the third to the second tier in 2004, was in the opposite dug out directing centre forward Matt Smith to run back and play as an auxiliary centre half. As much as things change…
Perhaps it was the unfamiliar sight of QPR playing at home in all white – chancers already rushing home to post the limited edition commemorative kit on Ebay in order to shaft other supporters for their own financial gain even before the match had kicked off – but the first half was miles below even QPR’s mediocre par for this season. Any hope that two successive wins prior to last week’s narrow defeat at Preston may have imbued Holloway’s team with confidence and vigour soon drained away after a performance in the first 45 minutes so sluggish it barely moved at all.
Cardiff had much the better of things, led from the left by tricky wide man Kadeem Harris. A former Wycombe youth product who’s spent time on loan at Brentford and Barnsley, Harris’ purposeful and dangerous wing play vindicated Holloway’s decision to go with the more experienced Perch at right back rather than expose young Darnell Furlong – Perch had to work exceptionally hard just to hang onto his opponents’ coat tails and an eleventh minute cross shot from Harris nearly squirmed its way in. Fine tackles by first Bidwell on 15 minutes and then Perch, again on Harris, after 24 denied clear runs on the goal. Massimo Luongo was booked for a foul on former R Matt Connolly. Smithies saved splendidly from Ralls before half time and then, finally, the visitors did open the scoring on the stroke of the break when Grant Hall contrived to leave Sol Bamba, just about the most conspicuous and dangerous opposition presence we’ll have visiting our penalty box all season, completely free to power a header into the top corner.
There had been some QPR chances. Matt Smith looped one onto the bar early on but a free kick had already been awarded against him, and then Conor Washington legitimately hit the post after beating Cardiff keeper Allan McGregor with a low shot midway through the half. But Rangers were undoubtedly struggling to get going, and Cardiff deserved their half time lead. Much like the tepid home defeat here to Burton, Holloway’s team had been caught sleeping on a tricky job, potentially playing themselves back into the relegation battle as a result.
The thing the two performances have in common is the absence of Ryan Manning. A combination of two games in quick succession, a rolled ankle in training on Friday, and a rush of senior games all at once in the Irishman’s young career saw him consigned to the bench for this one and while it was probably a prudent move it only served to further highlight just how reliant QPR have become on him in such a short period of time – or, rather, just how few other players there are in the squad who can do what he does.
Manning’s is a pest. He plagues opponents, constantly in motion, always where the action is, not giving anybody a moment’s piece, frequently committing fouls, often hurting opponents, regularly getting booked, but always breaking up play. He can pass and add a body to the attack from midfield as well, but it’s that never-ending work rate and suffocating effect it has on opponents that nobody else in the QPR squad – bar, possibly, Jordan Cousins if he can ever get fit – can do. Taking him out against Burton took all the tempo, purpose, niggle and bite out of QPR’s midfield and it was the same again here.
With him on the bench and Luke Freeman harshly suspended, Massimo Luongo came back into the side and Sean Goss was given a full debut for the club. Luongo is talented, but not assertive enough, while Goss’ Man Utd connections build expectations on a player who’d actually only ever played ten minutes of senior football in his entire career (for QPR as a substitute at Newcastle) prior to this one. He showed a good eye for a pass, but looked a bit of an academy player for me – by which I mean he’s spent his whole life so far knocking balls around and doing flicks and tricks on pristine pitches in non-competitive fixtures surrounded by all the other excellent young boys and suddenly here he was in the cut and thrust of a Championship fixture against a Neil Warnock team. Nothing wrong with any of that, he’ll learn and develop, it’s to be expected, but in the context of this game it was, along with Luongo’s languid style and lack of ability to assert himself on fixtures, a big part of Cardiff’s early dominance. Rangers cannot flog Manning to death, but they need to work out what to do when he’s not in the team.
Amazingly, a small portion of the crowd booed Holloway’s decision to remove Goss – I despair – when it was an obvious thing to do on the hour. Yeni Ngbakoto was perhaps an odd choice to replace him, but the Frenchman quickly turned the game in QPR’s favour. This made a refreshing change from several recent games where each passing substitution has weakened QPR.
From one down and pretty much all over the place – Zohore dragged a shot through the goal mouth with Lynch diverting it away from the far bottom corner, Bamba was left free at another corner and nodded down for another ex-R Junior Hoilett to volley at goal but the shot was blocked, Hoilett curled another shot inches wide of the post – Rangers somehow worked their way into a two one lead.
He’s an odd one Ngbakoto. At times his body language, positioning, and facial expressions are those of a man dropped into the middle of a sport he’s never seen before, and then at others he’s capable of explosive moments of surprise brilliance. His finish, albeit with a slight deflection, into the top corner on the hour at the end of a neat move that culminated with Jamie Mackie’s cute through ball was as brilliant as it was out of the blue.
Soon the Frenchman was drawing a flying save from McGregor – last seen walking into a branch of Barclay’s asking for somebody to set a Facebook page up for his walking football team – with a powerful free kick not a million miles away from his spectacular goal at Birmingham. From that corner, his outswinging ball was headed down by Matt Smith, onto the boot of Jazz (we shall call the baby, Jazz) Richards and up into the Loft End net via the desperate hand of substitute Anthony Pilkington on the line.
A second substitution, in theory a crowd pleaser with Ravel Morrison finally given a run, didn't work quite as well as Yeni's introduction had. Built like a man who hasn't so much been caught with his hand in the biscuit tin as been found living in it full time, the Lazio loanee's two contributions were two utterly bizarre shoulder charges on Cardiff players going up for headers presenting the visitors with free kick chances to pump the ball into the penalty box. He could hardly have been more off the pace of the game if he'd turned up for it on Sunday by mistake. No use having a Diet Coke if it's ordered as a side to a four cheese pizza Ravel come on man.
Pilkington shot over from the lesser spotted well worked short corner routine, and James Perch received his weekly yellow card for a typical shin splitter on Junior Hoilett as QPR just about saw out the game.
Nice to win when perhaps not deserving to, after a season of frequently failing to win despite plenty of positives in the performances, but certainly plenty to concern and work on here with an enterprising Barnsley team in town on Tuesday and next season now front and centre of mind. Not least finding somebody else kicking round the semi-professional ranks in Galway that can adequately fill in when Ryan Manning needs some time off.
QPR: Smithies 7; Perch 7, Onuoha 6, Lynch 6, Bidwell 6; Goss 6 (Ngbakoto 58, 7), Hall 6, Luongo 5 (Morrison 76, 4); Mackie 6 (Wszolek 81, -), Smith 6, Washington 6
Subs not used: Ingram, Furlong, Sylla, Manning
Goals: Ngbakoto 62 (assisted Mackie), Smith 83 (assisted Ngbakoto)
Bookings: Luongo 40 (foul), Perch 88 (standard Perch shin rattler)
Cardiff: McGregor 6; Connolly 5 (Bennett 86, -), Morrison 6, Bamba 6, Richards 6; Noone 6 (Pilkington 72, 6), Gunnarsson 6 (Halford 90, -), Ralls 6, Harris 8; Hoilett 6, Zohore 6
Subs not used: Whittingham, John, Murphy, Harris
Goals: Bamba 44 (assisted Noone)
Bookings: Morrison 66 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Yeni Ngbakoto 7 A QPR performance summed up by the star man award going to somebody who was only on for the final half hour. In many ways Ngbakoto was a microcosm of the whole performance – long periods where he’s anonymous, and then suddenly an explosive moment. Goal and assist to turn the game.
Referee – Darren England (Barnsley) 8 Very good. Impressive.
Attendance 15,103 (2,000 Cardiff approx) Quiet first half in keeping with the QPR performance, the whole thing picked up in the second half. Lovely reception for the 1967 legends at half time.
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Pictures – Action Images
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