|Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland|
Saturday, 11th March 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Improving QPR impress at Leeds – Report
Sunday, 12th Mar 2017 15:57 by Clive Whittingham
Ian Holloway’s vibrant QPR side played so well at fourth placed Leeds on Saturday, they ended the game disappointed to only draw.
As nerves grow in this corner of Yorkshire over how a renaissance season for Leeds United might end, so the demon hope springs eternal in West London about what lies in store for Queens Park Rangers in 2017/18.
Leeds, under the inspirational management of Garry Monk, had climbed to fourth in the table prior to Saturday and came into the game on an unbeaten home run of nine matches during which they’d kept eight clean sheets. But they’d been poor in a draw at Fulham during the week and QPR came to Elland Road in decent touch themselves – four wins from five matches, 11 goals from seven different scorers.
You’d have to be a pretty one-eyed Yorkshireman to not admit QPR had much the better of the encounter that followed. In fact, you’d have to be the ginger knob with the Scottish accent walking past the away end in a Leeds shirt at full time doing that thing where you talk to the guy walking right next to you in a deliberately booming voice so everybody within 200 yards can hear your vitally important opinion about how Rangers had shown no ambition, come for a point and killed the game with two defensive banks set up on the edge of their own box. He’d been at a different match to me, one played out entirely in his mind.
QPR, out of the promotion picture and just about clear enough of the bottom three to relax, were in no mood to simply go through the motions here. As time wears on the midtable sides start casting glances towards summer holiday brochures and contract talks, results and performance inevitably dip - Stoke City put the cue on the rack around this time every season - but QPR were bang at it here from minute one. There was also to be no deep, tight, narrow two banks of four trying to hold out for a 0-0 away to one of the division’s better sides at one of the league’s most intimidating stadiums. Although that’s what Rangers ended up with, they were adventurous with the ball and committed men to each attack: they finished with 13 shots on goal to Leeds’ six. There was very little route one punt up to Matt Smith and hope for the best – QPR’s three midfielders and Pawel Wzsolek were the four outstanding attacking players on view, passing the ball fluidly and attractively.
And, perhaps most importantly at a ground that’s suddenly (wouldn’t you know it?) full again and was absolutely bouncing to begin with before QPR’s game plan snuffed out their side and news of Fulham’s surprise win at Newcastle started to seep through, there was no limp-wristed, half-hearted, nervousness about QPR that we’ve perhaps seen in the past from a small London club heading north to play in a cauldron like this. QPR really stood up to be counted.
Leeds had struggled at Craven Cottage with the division’s top scorer Chris Wood missing with a calf injury. He was back on Saturday in name only, suffocated out of the game by Grant Hall, Joel Lynch and particularly Nedum Onuoha who had his best match of the season. Alex Smithies could have played in a dinner jacket and once it became apparent that was the case it was just a matter of whether QPR could score.
They couldn’t, for a mixture of reasons. Conor Washington missed the two key chances. The first, after six minutes, looked a sitter from a couple of yards out as Darnell Furlong, who has a prodigious leap on him, flicked a whipped Luke Freeman corner on at the near post. Leeds full back Berardi appeared to take the ball off Washington’s toe but referee Tim Robinson awarded a goal kick.
The second was after half time. Just after the hour a vintage Robert Green goal kick – one of those that gains all its height immediately then dies on its arse 15 yards shy of the halfway line – left Leeds shorthanded as QPR broke. Washington carried the ball to the area, turned back inside smartly to create space and then, surprisingly given his form, curled the ball miles wide just as it all seemed to have opened up for him. Those are the sort of chances that need to be taken in tight games away from home against decent sides. They’re certainly going to need to be taken if QPR are to better their midtable finish next season and the jury is out on whether the players capable of being more clinical in those situations are at the club or need to be sought from elsewhere.
There’s certainly talent in midfield. Grant Hall, a bit nervous back at centre half against Barnsley I thought, was back to his best in that midfield sweeper role here. Massimo Luongo followed up a good display on Tuesday with an excellent one here. Luke Freeman continues to amaze and Pawel Wszolek, fresh from a call up for Poland, is a cut above most at this level. Ryan Manning was back on the bench, which usually spells trouble as Rangers tend to miss his work rate, needle and box to box running, but Luongo in particular stepped up on Saturday and did that job excellently.
Problem was, the chances created kept falling to the wrong people – twice Darnell Furlong thrashed at presentable opportunities on the edge of the area in the second half. Did he learn nothing from his dad? A shame, because he played well again here and is a much better bet than Perch on the right side of defence.
Freeman volleyed wide after two minutes, Matt Smith headed over on 11, Green saved well with his legs as Washington advanced into the area on 13, Smith flicked a Furlong long throw onto the roof of the Leeds net after half an hour, Luongo finished a flowing move with a ball wide to Bidwell who struck a cross shot through the six-yard box. It was an excellent first half performance from QPR. Leeds offered little in return, a fervent home crowd quickly quietened, but Rangers did need a block from Joel Lynch to stop a shot from Roofe making it as far as the goal, and later Nedum Onuoha bravely stuck his head in the way of a curled effort from Berardi just before half time.
Leeds tried to come out for the second half with renewed purpose, and seemed to target Furlong as a potential weak link. The youngster stood up to things well, first heading away bravely at the back post, then riding a wild lunge from Alfonso by the corner flag for which the Leeds man was rightly booked. Back on the front foot, it was Furlong pressing high, intercepting and forcing an early QPR corner – Rangers finally looking dangerous from set pieces with Freeman’s whipped deliveries and Smith drawing more than one marker leaving space for others.
After Washington’s second miss both managers embarked on a quick flurry of substitutions. Leeds sent O’Kane and Sacko on for Roofe and Vieira to no real positive effect, then brought in a half-arsed Doukara for Alfonso which made them worse. Holloway replaced his front three with Sylla, Mackie and Ngbakoto on for Washington, Smith and Wszolek. The craft of the Polish winger was missed in the closing stages, but Mackie provided niggle value, breaking up the closing stages as Leeds tried to push on. He was booked after a typical football scrap – lots of gentle pushes and dramatic fallings over – with O’Kane in injury time which wouldn’t have happened at all if Tim Robinson wasn’t so keen to award a free kick to the defensive team everybody somebody tries to take a corner.
Smithies was stirred from his slumber by Nedum Onuoha almost blotting his copybook with a disastrous own goal when a back post cross rebounded off his shin but that would have been a travesty for the skipper, and his team who were thoroughly good value for their point and could easily have taken all three. Four minutes of stoppage time – added to a half of no injuries, no goals, and one team making all three subs at the same time – passed without further threat on either goal.
For Leeds the key is finding out how to threaten teams when Wood is either injured, as he was on Tuesday, or marked out of the game, as he was here. The problem, such as it is, with having the 20-goal-a-season striker that everybody assumes is vital to a promotion push is the tendency to become over reliant on one player.
For QPR, it’s about maintaining this performance level, and adding goals to it, and being able to do it next season when they hope they’ll be the ones in pressure situations. For now though there’s a run of results building, a consistency in the performances despite the rotation of the squad (another four changes here and a different game plan entirely from the Barnsley match), a long awaited clean sheet (just the second in 25 outings) and a steel and backbone to the side that is also, whisper it quietly, pretty good to watch.
Ian Holloway’s post match interview, typically, tailed off on a tangent about the people of Leeds liking gravy on their chips. But he’s no clown and he’s doing a very impressive job with Rangers after a nightmarish start. “I’m sorry we’re not winning at the moment but if we stick to the process we will in time,” he said during that six match losing streak in December. Rangers looked an absolute shambles then, completely unsure of themselves or the system Holloway was trying to change to mid-season. Chalk and cheese to now when we actually look a very handy side.
This time next year Rodney…
Leeds: Green 6; Ayling 7, Bartley 6, Jansson 6, Berardi 5; Bridcutt 6, Vieira 6 (O’Kane 78, 6); Roofe 6 (Sacko 60, 6), Hernandez 6, Pedraza 6 (Doukara 73, 5); Wood 5
Subs not used: Cooper, Silvestri, Taylor, Dallas
Bookings: Ayling 35 (foul), Alfonso 48 (foul), Bridcutt 66 (foul), O’Kane 90+4 (ungentlemanly)
QPR: Smithies 6; Furlong 6, Onuoha 8, Lynch 7, Bidwell 6; Freeman 8, Hall 7, Luongo 7; Wszolek 7 (Ngbakoto 79, 6), Smith 6 (Sylla 78, 6), Washington 6 (Mackie 80, 6)
Subs not used: Goss, Ingram, Manning, Morrison
Bookings: Bidwell 87 (foul), Mackie 90+4 (ungentlemanly)
QPR Star Man – Nedum Onuoha 8 I cannot believe how well Luke Freeman is playing and I thought it was his best showing so far on Saturday, but for not only producing his own best performance of the season but also keeping the league’s top scorer completely out of the game I’m going with Nedum Onuoha.
Referee – Tim Robinson (West Sussex) 6 A bit of an odd performance really. Several times, for both sides, what seemed like fairly obvious free kicks were waved away only for fouls to be awarded for other lesser incidents later on. No arguments with any of the bookings really, although the Mackie and O’Kane incident only happened because, as he does all the bloody time, Robinson had awarded a free kick to the defending team at a corner for no reason whatsoever. Bit of a fuss pot.
Attendance – 30,870 (700 QPR approx) Pretty small following from West London, though at £37 (£42 on the day) a ticket for a game with little riding on it for Rangers that’s to be expected. The home fans were in great voice to begin with but that tailed off with the team’s performance. QPR fairly quiet to start with but in good voice by the end.
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Pictures – Action Images
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