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Tuesday, 7th March 2017 Kick-off 19:45
QPR upwardly mobile after joyful Barnsley show - Report
Wednesday, 8th Mar 2017 18:21 by Clive Whittingham
QPR made it four wins from five games and three home victories in a row with an entertaining 2-1 victory against Barnsley at Loftus Road on Tuesday night.
Sometimes beauty presents itself in odd places.
Queens Park Rangers against Barnsley hardly stood out from the Tuesday night Championship fixture slog as one to set the neutrals’ pulses racing, and indeed only 11,635 of the people who do care about these two clubs bothered to turn up for it. One club has had a terrific season but has seen its form decline after three of its best players were poached in January, the other is recovering from another change of tack and manager and a traumatic series of results through the winter to rally and offer the demon hope for next season once more. Neither are going anywhere for now, nor do they have anything to play for.
And yet this was a lovely little game, flowing from end to end and side to side, between two teams determined to play football the right way.
By “the right way” I’m not necessarily being sniffy about more rudimentary styles of football. QPR have been very direct up to a lone striker since Matt Smith has signed from Fulham, then looked to work off him. It’s been effective, and by no means bad to watch save the first hour against Cardiff at the weekend. There are horses for courses and given that QPR have won four of their last five it seems Ian Holloway is particularly adept at saddling the right one up at the moment. I used to watch Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea team which everybody raved about and be absolutely bored to tears as they completed 25 passes on the halfway line waiting for an opening.
No, by ‘the right way’, what I’m actually referring to is trying to score goals. Barnsley, a team made up entirely of boys aged 26 or younger, came with two up front, two on the wings, all the enthusiasm and pace you’d expect of the league’s most youthful team and had a proper go. Only poor finishing stopped them taking a point or more from the game.
QPR responded by quickening up the attack with recalls for Yeni Ngbakoto, Idrissa Sylla and Pawel Wszolek across the front three and backed them up with three ball players – Ryan Manning, Luke Freeman and Massimo Luongo – in midfield. It was wide open, the club’s ‘guess the starting 11’ game on social media once more feeling like a council-led initiative to flush out anybody who might need some attention from social services, but not for the first time of late the method in Holloway’s apparent madness became clear as soon as the game had started. This isn’t, it should be said, stemming the tide of over the top outrage on social media every time a team selection is announced.
It’s terribly sad that two teams committing men to the attack, trying to score goals and going to win the game is worthy of a remark at all. This is meant to be the aim of the sport. But it made for an unusual, and wonderful, watch. The modern game is infested with a cautious approach, where a draw is always a good result away from home, where some managers feel you’re a danger to yourself if you’re in possession of the ball and should therefore surrender it, where everybody likes deep, tight, narrow… As Don Givens, making a welcome return to Loftus Road, said during the half time presentations – anybody can coach defence, that’s about being fit and organised, it’s a different thing altogether to coach attack. And yet we hold people like Aitor Karanka up as some sort of mysterious, superior being, appointing him to, and leaving him in, an attractive job at Middlesbrough despite his sole tactic being a back five with three defensive central midfielders parked in front of it because he's Spanish and from Real Madrid and used to polish Jose Mourinho's shoes while he fell out with everybody and told his team to give up all its possession.
In one corner of West London last night, QPR and Barnsley blew a big hole in all of this miserable shit with a chaotic, eminently watchable, 90 minutes of riotous fun broken up by Shaun Derry and Terry Mancini’s stand up comedy routine at half time.
It started with a goal – Idrissa Sylla cleverly flicking/totally miscontrolling Yeni Ngbakoto’s right wing cross just right to beat visiting keeper Adam Davies in his far corner. However it went in, the Guinean deserved his goal. So disinterested in the gale at Preston last week, he made the most of a rare start here by leading the line with Ngbakoto, who pressed and hunted together effectively all night.
It remained 1-0 until half time, although quite how, nobody could be sure. Ngbakoto struck a fresh air shot when well placed two minutes later, then did connect with a fierce volley from the edge of the area when a cross was cleared up in the air – Davies did well to save. James Perch, already yellow carded for his weekly attempt to kill a man to death with a wild hack which actually seemed to do more damage to him than anybody else, crashed a header off the underside of the bar having arrived at the back post all the way from right back.
Barnsley, meanwhile, created chances at the end of free flowing counter attacks almost at will. In one way it was easy to see how they’d scored more goals this season than any of the four teams currently in the play-off places, sweeping forward with youthful enthusiasm, but in another it was hard to fathom as they snatched at chances and finished with a mixture of panic and naivety.
Scowan volleyed a foot over after a long throw was cleared out to him. Alex Mowatt, recently arrived from Leeds, did the same when a corner fell on the edge of the area. Newcastle loanee Adam Armstrong headed just wide on the half hour, then he volleyed wide after running in behind intelligently. One particularly dangerous looking counter ended with Marley Watkins inexplicably sidefooting the ball straight to Alex Smithies with men up in support, another saw Watkins wrong foot Grant Hall and beat Smithies only for Jake Bidwell to sprint back and execute a remarkable goal line clearance with his heel which ended with the former Brentford man in the back of the net, but not the ball.
The result was the Tykes drew a blank from 45 minutes of football when most sides would have scored at least twice. Watkins and Armstrong’s finishing, if not their movement which was too much for Onuoha and Hall at times, made one grateful Tom Bradshaw spent the first half on the bench. That was corrected at half time, but only after the fourth official and referee Tony Harrington had faffed about making sure he had the regulation socks on.
QPR had a change of their own to make. Perch, still nursing that wound from shooting himself in the foot in the first half, was removed and replaced by Darnell Furlong. The crèche environment suited the youth team graduate, and he immediately got to work on Barnsley’s left side – teaming up with Pawel Wszolek to wonderful effect and terrorising the visitors for the next half hour.
Luke Freeman, part of a midfield three that was tireless without the ball and gorgeous to watch with it, started the second half strong as well. One cross was decent, the second after it had been cleared out to him was brilliant and almost brought a second goal. From the resulting corner Sylla had a header deflected over. From the next Furlong headed wide. Freeman had a shot of his own charged down in the area on the hour. Freeman, who I’d always though of as another number ten, is quickly becoming the heart of the midfield alongside Manning, with work rate and niggle married perfectly with a creative and effective range of passing.
End to end it went, both teams rich in options to pass to in the final third, men being committed to the attack in numbers – genuinely exciting, frantic stuff. A weak shot from Bidwell deflected to Ngbakoto who toed wide – no flag, it would have counted. Wszolek, channelling Andy Impey, took a man to the byline and beat him on three separate occasions with drag backs. Nonsense, but it’s that stuff you pay your money for.
No surprise to see the Pole at the heart of the second goal. Luongo, playing as well as he has for months, set him free down the right, New Zealand full back Elder had three goes at a tackle but was shrugged off on each occasion, and then that trademark devilish low driven cross to the near post we’ve come to expect was put through his own net by centre half MacDonald. Sylla would have scored straight behind him anyway – it was undefendable.
A shame after all this that QPR didn’t kick on. Having praised Holloway’s team selections, it’s time for a grumble about his substitutions again. Washington for Wszolek, presumably injury related in fairness, took away the threat from the right and added too many players to the left – although in form Conor did have a shot blocked after tricking his way into the area. Barnsley had one free kick struck straight at Smithies before Grant Hall, not altogether comfortable moved out of midfield and back to centre back, tried to be too cute with a routine through ball and ended up letting it run under his foot for Bradshaw to round Smithies and halve the deficit.
They can’t score from the back of the stand Grant, not that he needs anybody to tell him that judging by his reaction at the time and on the final whistle – which QPR nevertheless reached in front despite a nervy end which saw Bidwell and Manning both booked for deliberately interrupting Barnsley attacks.
Ian Holloway’s fourth home win since returning, all by the same 2-1 scoreline, and a fourth win in five matches ahead of the trip to Leeds this weekend. There’s all sorts of context and deep thinking points that could be made about the feel good factor, the energy of the team, the quality of those three midfield players on the ball, why on God’s green earth Luke Freeman couldn’t get into the Bristol City team, why nobody used Ryan Manning before Holloway got here… and then there’s the demon hope starting to build for next season again.
But let’s just leave it for what it is: firstly a good result against a bloody decent team, but probably more importantly as we move into a period of season ticket renewals and dead rubbers an invigorating, entertaining, cockle warming watch. The QPR fans groaned when five minutes was added on which was understandable given the scoreline, but personally I could have watched this happy little farce all night. Great fun.
QPR: Smithies 6; Perch 6 (Furlong 48, 7), Onuoha 6, Hall 5, Bidwell 7; Luongo 7, Manning 7, Freeman 8; Wszolek 8 (Washington 70, 6), Sylla 7, Ngbakoto 6 (Morrison 87, -)
Subs not used: Goss, Ingram, Doughty, Smith
Goals: Sylla 7, MacDonald og 66 (assisted Wszolek)
Bookings: Perch 14 (foul), Bidwell 83 (foul), Manning 86 (foul)
Barnsley: Davies 6; Yiadom 6, Roberts 6, MacDonald 6, Elder 5; Scowan 7, James 7, Mowatt 6 (Bradshaw 45, 7), Kent 6 (Hammill 77, 6); Watkins 6 (Hedges 73, 6), Armstrong 6
Subs not used: Moncur, Townsend, Jackson, Jones
Bookings: Hammill 85 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Luke Freeman 8 Loads to pick from here but Freeman, along with Manning, is the beating heart of this team at the moment and summed up everything that was good about Rangers with and without the ball.
Referee – Tony Harrington (Cleveland) 6 Bit fussy, but not too bad overall. The Bradshaw nonsense at half time seemed pedantic in the extreme.
Attendance – 11,635 (300 Barnsley approx) Sad to see attendances declining to this level just as the team’s playing well, but a flurry of home games all at once, a midtable position and the Football League’s mindless strategy of placing long distance away games on a Tuesday night thereby reducing the visiting support to basically nothing all contributed.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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