Off-colour QPR hand Rowett first Derby win - Report
Sunday, 2nd Apr 2017 11:18 by Jack Harry
QPR's recent improved form took a dip on Friday night as they lost 1-0 at Derby for the third visit in a row in Gary Rowett's first match in charge. Jack Harry was there for LFW.
“Hoilett's got the better of Buxton, puts it into an area. Keogh…”. You all know what happens next, and so do I. In fact I’ve pretty much learned the commentary off by heart after almost three years of re-watching the goal on YouTube whenever I get back from the pub. Ever since that wonderful afternoon in May 2014 the mere mention of Derby County has been enough to bring smiles to QPR faces.
For clubs like ours those days don’t come around often. The real ‘I was there’ moments that make all the fruitless away days and pitying looks from mates in the pub after another home defeat worthwhile. One swing of a veteran striker’s left foot led to the kind of pure, cathartic, ecstatic release that can only come after year upon year of mediocrity and bullshit. The kind of thing that reminds you why you fell in love with the game in the first place and why on earth you still bother.
Back in December The Rams came away from Loftus Road with a 1-0 victory not entirely dissimilar to the one that Rangers inflicted on them at Wembley. In the aftermath of their 85th minute winner, the visiting contingent decided to throw the ‘Oh Bobby Zamora’ chants the home support had been ridiculing them with back in their faces. QPR fans joined in. If we didn’t beat Derby again for a hundred years it wouldn’t change a thing. We’ll always have that day in May.
There’s no real telling when we’ll be graced with that next truly magical moment, but the odds on it being during this end of season meeting of tenth and fifteenth in the Championship were longer than those on your little brother’s 34 team weekend MegaBanterAcca actually coming in.
And so it came to pass. You may have noticed I’ve spent as long as possible avoiding talking about the match. I’m sure those of you who saw it will forgive me. A run of five wins in seven matches, which saw the visitors go into this one as the division’s form side, came to a disappointing end with a meek showing in a 1-0 defeat. In the build up to the game Ian Holloway commented that he doesn’t feel his team are necessarily good enough to impose themselves on all their fixtures yet. On this showing you’d have to make him right.
Presumably it was this logic that led to four changes from the team that beat Rotherham, including the absence of Yeni Ngbakoto who may well have felt aggrieved at the decision after two assists and a goal last time out. Pavel Wszolek and Ryan Manning returned to midfield with Mass Luongo’s efforts circumnavigating the globe for Australia ruling him out after scoring his first goal for the club against the Millers, a rather neat microcosm of his stop-start W12 career so far.
Rangers started the game brightly, seeing a Luke Freeman effort blocked and forcing a corner inside two minutes, before returning to the blueprint of away successes earlier in the season. Ceding the lion’s share of the ball and looking to counter quickly when they got it back served Rangers well at Reading and Newcastle, but while the former was no problem here the latter proved more difficult.
In fact, the hosts had much the same idea and executed it far more effectively. Unlike Derby managers of the past, Gary Rowett is clearly not one for fetishising pass completion and possession for possession’s sake. His side used the ball purposefully in his first home match in charge, breaking with intent on the rare occasions Rangers did foray into opposition territory.
The first real chance of note came on 14 minutes when Derby exploited a perilously high Rangers defensive line. With Darnell Furlong tucked in far too tight next to Nedum Onuoha, Tom Ince slid Johnny Russell in down the left hand side but he could only drag his effort well wide of Alex Smithies’ goal.
The channel in between Furlong and Onuoha again proved problematic a few minutes later when neat work between Martin Olsson and Matej Vydra saw the former burst in on goal. This time Furlong did well to shepherd the Derby man away but it was a sign of things to come.
A narrow midfield of Wszolek, Freeman and Manning were being overrun with the movement of Derby’s attacking trio of Vydra, Ince and Russell causing problems. Vydra in particular began to run the show as, in fairness, you’d hope a £8m signing at this level would now and again.
The Czech international then took Manning and Hall out of the game with a deft touch before releasing Russell down the left, the ball eventually made its way to Nugent who blasted at Smithies from a tight angle.
Yet QPR were dealing with what Derby had to offer reasonably comfortably aside from a couple of uncharacteristically poor pieces of handling from Smithies who came and flapped at a few deliveries.
A lack of cover in the full back positions saw Derby given the freedom of the East Midlands to swing balls into the box all evening long. This culminated in one particularly comical passage of play where Olsson was given license to carry the ball fully three quarters of the pitch completely unopposed. Eventually you felt something would fall their way.
The amount of space being afforded was so vast it managed to make 35-year-old Chris Baird look like Cafu in his prime. Russell headed wide from twelve yards after the Northern Irishman delivered his eighty sixth in-swinging cross of the game on 38 minutes.
The eighty seventh swiftly followed, this time Russell beat Furlong in the air and knocked down for David Nugent who could only slice wide on the turn. In truth it was only a combination of good fortune and poor finishing that saw Rangers, relieved to hear the half-time whistle blow, go in level at the break.
It brings me no pleasure to sound the ‘high press klaxon’ but Derby’s interpretation of football’s flavour of the month was working well, allowing Rangers no time on the ball and forcing them into mistakes. The zip and verve in possession that we’ve become accustomed to were nowhere to be see and instead replaced with lethargy and misplaced passes. Put simply, everything Rangers had been doing so well over the last month or so deserted them here.
The second half began in much the same fashion as the first. Derby were first to everything while Holloway’s team were too casual with and without the ball. Struggling faced with an intense press is one thing but things turned a bit silly when Furlong simply waited for Onuoha’s square ball to reach him rather than go and get it. Russell capitalised, pinching it off him and bursting into the box before the young R’s full back eventually blocked his effort on goal.
By the hour mark Holloway had seen enough, bringing on Sean Goss for Wszolek. The Pole’s effort remains exemplary as ever but the clinical end product he was providing at the start of his Rangers career has escaped him recently.
You could see his thinking; stem the tide by getting Goss on the ball in what I will never, ever call ‘the quarter back role’. It didn’t have the desired effect, though, as Derby continued to dictate the play but really, as ‘batterings’ go this one was pretty flaccid. They hadn’t created anything more clear cut than they did during their famously incredible performance at Wembley and Rangers may well have come away with a point if it wasn’t for an individual error.
With twenty minutes to play the defence was eventually breached. No prizes for guessing: it came down the Derby left after good link up play between Vydra and Ince who played a one-two with Russell before shooting tamely. Food and drink for Player Of The Year in waiting Smithies ninety nine times out of a hundred he cack-handedly bundled this one back out into danger. Vydra had continued his run into the box and slammed home from close range for only his fifth of the season.
A tough night for Furlong should have been capped with a booking for an off the ball shove on Russell with a quarter of an hour to go. Shortly afterwards he was put out of his misery, replaced by Idrissa Sylla leading to a sort of lopsided 4-4-2 as Rangers went in search of an equaliser.
Geoff Eltringham did go to his pocket after a rash challenge from Freeman on Bradley Johnson. As great as Freeman has been to watch recently he is developing a bit of a propensity for poor challenges. Then again, if he had to chop anyone down…
Until the 88th minute the phrase ‘lucky to get nil’ had sprung to mind on more than one occasion with Holloway’s men mustering up what could generously be described as a handful of quarter chances. Then Matt Smith, playing a lot like the limited lump I thought we’d signed rather than the excellent Championship striker he’s been for us, swivelled on the edge of the box and sent a bobbling effort goal bound. The hitherto completely unworked Scott Carson did well to tip wide.
Then came the chance, after all it wouldn’t be Derby if they didn’t at least try to shoot themselves in the foot. All match long it seemed as though QPR could play until the end of time and not score but they really should have in the game’s dying embers. Idrissa Sylla was left completely unmarked eight yards out to meet Freeman’s outswinging corner but his downward header clunked dully back off the post and behind to safety.
File this one under ‘one of those days’. It’s never easy to try to stop a new manager bump, especially against a pretty talented bunch. The international break couldn’t have come at a better time for Derby who had a few weeks to work with their new manager and it killed Rangers’ momentum. Credit has to go to Rowett who has clearly already started making an impact on this Derby side.
An off day and a bump in the road for the R’s after an impressive string of results but their work this season is pretty much done. With a trip to resurgent Aston Villa followed by Brighton at Loftus Road it’s probably just as well.
Derby: Carson 6; Baird 7, Keogh 6, Pearce 6, Olsson 7; Ince 7 (Hughes 80, -), Johnson 6, Bryson 6, Russell 7, Vydra 7 (Anya 79, -); Nugent 6 (Bent 86, -)
Subs not used: Christie, Butterfield, Camara, Mitchell
Goals: Vydra 70 (unassisted)
QPR: Smithies 4; Furlong 4 (Sylla 76, -), Onuoha 6, Perch 5, Bidwell 5; Manning 5, Hall 6, Freeman 4; Wszolek 4 (Goss 59, 5), Smith 5 Washington 5 (Ngbakoto 69, -)
Subs not used: Mackie, Ingram, Robinson, Petrasso
Yellow Cards: Freeman 78 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Grant Hall 6 Not exactly spoilt for choice here. In fairness the central defenders dealt with the majority of what was thrown at them quite well and on another day might have come away with a clean sheet. Another decent performance from Onuoha but Hall continues to impress and probably came closest to matching the high standards set over the last few matches.
Referee – Geoff Eltringham (Wearside) 7 Like all good Victorian schoolchildren he was seen and not heard. A fairly easy game to referee, he was probably a bit too shy to get his cards out - Furlong should definitely have gone into the book. No complaints overall.
Attendance – 27,690 (500 QPR approx) Good backing for Rowett from the Derby support who turned out in their numbers as usual. The following from west London was understandably reduced given the bizzare decision to show this one on Friday night. High on humour though, ‘Richard Keogh, he’s one of our own’ raised a chuckle.
The Twitter @JackHarry
Pictures – Action Images
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