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A stirring end, and lessons learnt, but another defeat – Report
Sunday, 9th Apr 2017 20:51 by Clive Whittingham

Brighton inflicted QPR's third defeat in seven days at Loftus Road on Friday evening, with the R's once more dominating the final half hour without being able to find the key goal.

Season all but over, Queens Park Rangers’ remaining games are about learning things for next term and trying to enjoy themselves and entertain a little bit at the fag end of another tough campaign for the long-suffering die hards to endure. Friday night’s home game with Brighton and Hove Albion, certain to be promoted to the Premier League, was two thirds the former and one third the latter.

The enjoyment came in the final half hour. Three second half substitutions saw serious numbers committed to the attack with Idrissa Sylla and Yeni Ngbakoto joining starting pair Conor Washington and Matt Smith. Most importantly though, Luke Freeman stepped off the bench to provide guile, panache, creativity, intent and direction to the midfield.

With Ryan Manning marauding forward from left wing back, Rangers laid siege to the Albion goal. Matt Smith scored a flying header from a Freeman corner having missed a much easier headed chance just a moment before. Freeman lashed over after a scramble in the area, Sylla somehow failed to tap home at the near post after Manning had skipped round his man on the byline and put it on a plate for the Guinean. Smith nodded a long ball down and Washington volleyed wide. Ngbkaoto did likewise in stoppage time. Marc Bircham stepped out of the dugout to get involved in a touchline dispute.

It was exhilarating, the crowd were into it, you couldn’t take your eyes off it, QPR desperately unlucky not to score a second and despite the defeat the team were applauded off at the end, which they deserved. A test of character passed, and at a time in the season where teams in similar positions are starting to look, feel and play like they’re already on the beach a great sign for the sort of bunch we’ve got at the club at the moment.

Brighton’s reaction at full time, and flagrant time wasting before it, had plenty to do with their situation at the top of the league, but also the difficulty they had keeping Rangers out. They celebrated a crucial victory raucously in front of a huge travelling support in the School End – Anthony Knockaert flinging his arms in the air and sprinting down the pitch as soon as the final whistle sounded. These points were as hard-fought as they were crucial to Albion.

Sadly, the away side were two nil up before this onslaught began.

Glenn Murray scored just before the hour when Nedum Onuoha was caught trying to be too fancy with some loose possession on halfway and Joel Lynch, in moment of inexplicable laziness, decided to take two steps back up the field and play Murray offside, when he clearly wasn’t, rather than run back with the man. The result was a clear path to Alex Smithies’ goal and Murray doesn’t spurn gifts like that too often.

Within minutes Lynch had fouled Murray on the corner of the penalty area and Albion’s Belgian left back Sebastien Pocognoli whipped an unstoppable free kick over the wall and into the top corner off the underside of the bar. Plenty of debate about whether it was a foul – Murray went down easily under minimal content, apparently stepping on the ball. Whether you think that’s him being clever or him cheating isn’t really relevant, he’s going to the Premier League. What does matter is whether Joel Lynch is a man we can rely on next season – decision making in the first goal, tackle he didn’t need to make for the second, he continues to blot hours of steady centre half play with acts of stupidity.

Huddersfield’s second, Rotherham’s first, and now this – Rangers are developing a habit of conceding goals of such exceptional quality you can’t help but applaud. This, however, in true QPR style, was Pocognoli’s first goal for seven years – his last was for Standard Liege three clubs ago and he’d made 37 appearances in this country for Brighton and West Brom without scoring to this point. You’d never have known it to look at the goal, but then we said that about John Jensen, Lloyd Doyley, Jon Stead and all the rest of them.

Those goals were the culmination of the ‘learning’ two thirds of the game.

QPR would like Jack Robinson to recover his fitness after a horrific three years spent mostly on the physio’s slab so took the opportunity afforded by him remaining upright for a whole week of training to start him at left wing back. Against a winger as good as Anthony Knockaert and with little protection afforded by the formation ahead of him that was always likely to be a tall order and, on his first appearance since December 1, he looked rusty.

The other surprise selection was a rare start for Ravel Morrison – I’d say in midfield, but it was hard to tell. Holloway could scarcely have done any more for him here, giving him a central position, in an entirely free roll, from the start, in a televised game, against a great team. Ollie even stationed Massimo Luongo and Ryan Manning either side of him to do the donkey work and the pair of them were magnificent in the first half, tearing around the midfield, winning the ball back, playing it forwards with purpose – doing their own work and that of their team mate. What more do you want? Show us what you’ve got.

Their reward, Holloway’s reward, was a 66 minute performance from Morrison that could kindly be described as odd, and more accurately as absolute crap. One moment in the second half, where the former Man Utd man had finally made it far enough up the field to occupy an attacking position, he slalomed past a would-be tackler 30 yards from goal and fashioned a shooting chance and you wondered whether this was the moment the magic would happen. It wasn’t, nor did it really look likely to be. Patently not fit enough to get up and down the field, Morrison hung too far back in the midfield, treading on the toes of Luongo and Manning to their obvious frustration – Manning, in particular, was involved in plenty of heated dialogue and exchanges of exaggerated shoulder shrugging throughout Morrison’s time on the pitch. Fair enough as well, the Irish youth international was absolutely tireless. Morrison, by contrast, simply tiresome.

Any suggestion that this ambling around the base of midfield getting in the way was simply Morrison showing he could be a good team player by remaining disciplined in an unfamiliar, assigned position within the system was blown out of the water by Ian Holloway’s post match comments: “I can see his passing and his movement and his brain, he just tired very quickly because the standard at this level is pretty immense compared to what he’s been doing at Lazio. He’ll have a good future, whether he’ll be as good as Alex Ferguson said he might be is a huge thing to carry around, I’ve been talking to him about forgetting all of that. He lasted 62 minutes against a good team live on the telly, I don’t know what more he would want me to do for him. In the end, his job in the team was to be a bit higher up and he couldn’t do that. He took it in good grace, the substitutions made a big difference.”

During the height of their first half dominance Brighton had two goals disallowed for offside – the first, from Murray, fairly clear, the second, from Hemed, tight as a mouse’s waistcoat – before they found the net with two legitimate ones. Onuoha headed wide of his own near post under pressure, Robinson headed another dangerous cross clear at the back post. The idea that QPR were struggling to hang onto the coat tails of their visitors furthered by James Perch’s latest disgusting, hideous lunge on an opponent in first half stoppage time that should have been a red card but, unbelievably, drew only a stern word from referee Simon Hooper.

There were chances for QPR. Conor Washington streaked away into space from halfway and fired over, Manning curled a shot towards the far corner and Stockdale saved, Washington had a shot blocked when a long throw fell his way, Perch also saw an effort blocked before it reached goal. Lewis Dunk - like Lynch an apparently very good Championship centre half but prone to moments of brain fart potent enough to clear a room – deflected a bouncing ball in the penalty away with his upper arm for a very decent penalty shout which Hooper ignored.

Three defeats in a week, all framed by an inability to take chances when on top, raises further questions about whether Washington and others can provide the extra cutting edge Rangers need next season, and if not how we can correct that on our budget. It was entertaining, and QPR were well in it, but Brighton were obviously better and deserved their lead.

Once Freeman had come on it was a different story and the Hoops took over the game entirely. Freeman is just a year older than Morrison but with 279 senior appearances to his 93 and 32 goals to his 14. A proper footballer, capable of getting up and down, posing and attacking threat as well as defending stoutly. Morrison, bizarrely, gets a free pass from so many QPR fans based on a couple of goals and lively performances in some meaningless games at the end of 2013/14. Freeman did more in his first 45 seconds on the field here.

So, Ian Holloway got the team selection wrong then, sending QPR out with personnel and system incapable of overcoming Brighton, later correcting that and giving it a good go but only once two goals had been shipped and the game was all but lost? Well, yes and no.

Yes as in yes, he did. But no as in now is exactly the right time to be trying things out. If you want to ignore the fact we’ve had three, very difficult, games in seven days with associated travelling to two away matches and say we should have just picked the same, best, team for all three fair enough. Likewise, if you’re one of those who thinks you paid upwards of £30 to be there on Friday and came to see QPR, and the likes of Freeman, not some glorified pre-season friendly full of experimentation. If you’re one of those who believe QPR are still in trouble, filling my Twitter feed with the idea that Blackburn are suddenly going to win five out of five having won nine out of 41 (plus a ridiculously convoluted set of others results barely possibly because everybody below us is playing everybody else in the run in), then may I suggest taking the tin foil hat off and getting out in the sun a bit more.

But for the majority, I’d say it’s accepted that Ian Holloway should be trying things out for next season, working out what works and who doesn’t, who will be involved and who won’t, who will be the key players and so on. Friday was great for that. The importance of Freeman was further emphasised and the team will surely be built around a midfield including him, Luongo and Manning next season. Manning, in particular, absolutely excellent here, switching through multiple positions and roles over the 90 minutes and fitting in wherever – Rangers have won six and drawn two of his 13 senior starts in a season where they’ve only won 14 in 41 overall.

Morrison, on the other hand, on this evidence, will surely be seeking yet another chance in professional football elsewhere come August. One day that penny will drop, but Friday wasn’t that day.

Links >>> Photo Gallery >>> Ratings and Reports >>> Message Board Match Thread

QPR: Smithies 6; Perch 5, Onuoha 5, Lynch 5 (Sylla 77, 5), Robinson 5 (Ngbakoto 66, 6); Luongo 7, Hall 6, Manning 8; Morrison 4 (Freeman 66, 8); Washington 6, Smith 7

Subs not used: Bidwell, Goss, Ingram, Wszolek

Goals: Smith 74 (assisted Freeman)

Brighton: Stockdale 6; Bruno 6, Hünemeier 6, Dunk 5, (Tomori 45, 6) Pocognoli 7; Knockaert 7 (Norwood 83, -) Stephens 8, Sidwell 6, March 7; Murray 7, Hemed 5 (Murphy 78, 6)

Subs not used: Mäenpää, Skalak, Forren, Akpom

Goals: Murray 58 (assisted Hemed), Pocognoli 64 (direct free kick, won Murray)

Bookings: Pocognoli 86 (time wasting)

QPR Star Man – Ryan Manning 8 Tempted to give it to Freeman despite his short time on the field but Manning, who let’s not forget has only played 14 senior games in his life, did a brilliant job against the best team in the league while being asked to cover several positions. First as a central midfield minder to the latest silly Ravel Morrison experiment he both covered his lazier team mate’s arse without the ball, and did far more for QPR going forwards with it. Then switched to left back, against Anthony Knockaert who’s in line for the division’s Player of the Season award, he defended better than the rusty Robinson had before him, and also attacked with real potency, almost setting up an equaliser for Sylla. He’s been in and out of the team, and Holloway is managing him well, but I want to see lots more of him over the remaining games, he’s absolute quality.

Referee – Simon Hooper (Wiltshire) 6 I really eanted to give him a high mark, simply because I much prefer this style of refereeing where cards are kept in the pocket and the game is given every chance. But Perch should have had a red card for his standard wild lunge, Onuoha certainly should have been booked for a bad tackle late on, and in the end the only yellow handed out was for time wasting and though it’s certainly nice to see that finally being punished it felt a bit wrong to see somebody booked for that when, Perch in particular, had been left off with something far worse. Throw in the QPR penalty appeal and it doesn’t sound great, but I came away initially thinking he’d done quite well.

Attendance – 16,503 (3,100 Brighton) The moment at half time, when one of QPR’s greatest ever, Dave Thomas, choked up when trying to thank the supporters who’d donated to the fund to get him a guide dog, while said dog sat obediently by his side… The result was irrelevant from that point on really.

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1JD added 23:40 - Apr 9
Good report, but don't agree with Morrison comments. "Meaningless games and a couple of goals season 13/14...". He was instrumental to us going up, scoring 6 goals when Austin was injured. Agree though that Manning is class and was MoM

francisbowles added 09:20 - Apr 10
Thanks Clive.

On the referee, time keeping, added 5 mins to the end. There had been six substitutions and three goals which all usually add 30 secs each. So that is 4 mins and 30 secs. So he has added 30 secs to that, when their goalscoring celebrations were understandably mega and they blatantly wasted time whenever they could. He also added one minute to the first half but I'm not sure why as there didn't seem to be any stoppages.

I don't normally criticise Ned but we got a free kick on the half way line deep into that added 1 min. Everyone knew that the referee was about to blow so the only sensible thing to do was knock it long into the box. He played it sideways and two seconds later the ht whistle went! Grrrr!

traininvain added 09:41 - Apr 10
Feels like most QPR fans made their mind up about Morrison's return before he kicked a ball. He's either the new messiah or a very naughty boy.

I'm on the fence. I don't think he was as bad on Friday as this report suggests but it wasn't a particularly good performance.

As for Holloway's post match comments, feels like he's trying to get some kind of reaction from Morrison and hopefully this will translate to a good performance on the pitch as opposed to some kind of incident off the pitch.

Myke added 09:50 - Apr 10
Excellent report Clive, thanks. I agree 100% that now is the time for experimentation, as frustrating as 3 defeats on the bounce may be. Manning played as a left winger over here and if Robinson doesn't fully recover ( and I hope he does) would make a terrific wing back, which I think is Olli's preferred formation. It's amazing how some people still can fail to see what a liability Morrison has become, not just to QPR but to football in general. Such a waste of a talent. I/D , Morrison most certainly was NOT "instrumental to us going up" in 2014. Our form at that period was so poor that automatic promotion had slipped away, but we had done enough previously to guarantee a play off place regardless of Morrison's input. The fact that Rednapp didn't trust him in the final speaks volumes .

terryb added 10:21 - Apr 10
Thanks Clive.

While agreeing about the Perch "challenge", I thought the referee had a very good game.

My other comment would be to ask how you gave Morrison a mark of 4? A 3 from me at best. Freeman went forward more in his first minute on the pitch than Ravel had managed.

stevec added 10:49 - Apr 10
You've got it spot on but I'm still worried that , despite us creating chances, being worthy of a draw at the end, there's a consistent theme of the opposition dictating the game, particularly when it's still all to play for.

From Brighton to Burton, and not the only teams to come here this season and never look like losing.

Northernr added 14:11 - Apr 10
1JD - he had nothing to do with us going up. He played for us in a period where we'd fcked up automatic promotion, miles adrift of the top two, but still guaranteed a play off spot. There were weeks and weeks of games that just didn't really matter because we knew we were in the six. That was the time of Luke Young's famous outing at centre half against Rudy Gestede at Blackburn. He played well for us, scored some nice goals, but it didn't really count for much and Redknapp bombed him out for the second leg of the Wigan game and the final (though I thought at the time that was a mistake because his bum boy Niko was obviously unfit).

smegma added 19:10 - Apr 10
I still cannot understand WHY Ravel was chosen to start against the best team in the Championship. If he cannot do ANYTHING against a plethora of Under 23 sides and sometimes fielding teenagers??? Ollie told fans at the Forum that he was still having problems with Ravels time keeping for training. About 3 weeks later he repeated this to myself and a dozen other fans who were invited to Harlington to see the first team train. I'd love to know what Ravel had done in the following 3 weeks to be rewarded with his first start in over 12 months. We have some young kids who are busting a gut week in week out at all levels to try and fulfill their childhood dreams and get their first ever professional football contract. And this waste of space turns up and we roll the red carpet out for him. If he was a cat his 9 lives would have expired about a year ago.When he came on loan he replied to a Trevor Sinclair tweet by saying something like " no more mucking about from me". So even though he has held his hands up to his lackadaisical past he has shown he was lying. We are not an experiment to see if some half arsed footballer can make a come back. I'd rather think about and support the players who WANT IT. If he's still around come preseason and puts the graft in then I may change my mind. BUT at the moment he is a waste of oxygen.

TacticalR added 23:44 - Apr 10
Thanks for your report.

Brighton played with all the confidence that comes from being a promotion side. They looked relaxed and kept probing for a goal. Whether or not their individual players are better than ours, they were a better team. They pressed us at the right moments and knew which of our defenders to try and catch on the ball.

We 'did an Arsenal' i.e. came back into the game when it didn't matter - once we were 0-2 down we were not going to win.

Nearly all Brighton's players played at least 90%, whereas we had players who contributed little of substance. Washington was too far from Smith and didn't pick up anything when Smith was flicking the ball on past the Brighton defence. Brighton have a right-back in Bruno who can contribute to attacks. We have Onuoha who can defend at this level (on a good day), but just didn't have the confidence to pass forward to Perch who was trying to creep up the wing. Of course Onuoha is perfectly right to be cautious about his own abilities - his poor ball control led to the opening Brighton goal.

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