|Queens Park Rangers v Preston North End|
Saturday, 15th April 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Four defeats in a row build QPR nerves - Report
Saturday, 15th Apr 2017 16:55 by Clive Whittingham
A poor performance and two first half goals made it four losses in a row for Ian Holloway's QPR at Bristol City on Good Friday.
In the final home game of Gerry Francis’ first spell in charge of QPR, Rangers beat Liverpool 2-1 at Loftus Road in the Monday Night Football. The winning goal, eight minutes from time, was scored by Les Ferdinand, finally springing a Neil Ruddock-led offside trap and forcing a powerful shot through David James and into the School End net.
It was a goal from the moment it left Ferdinand’s boot really, with all the power he packed even James’ substantial touch on the ball couldn’t keep it out, but there was just a moment as the ball trundled through the muddied goal mouth towards the net that Ferdinand just checked his celebration and went to follow the ball in as a momentary panic that it wouldn’t make it by itself set in. For one horrible second it looked like Ferdinand had taken the moment for granted.
Ferdinand is the director of football at Rangers these days and along with CEO Lee Hoos, manager Ian Holloway and the club’s scouts will no doubt already be planning recruitment for next season which will, almost certainly, see QPR kick off in the Championship. The set of results required over the final four matches of the season for QPR to be relegated are so unlikely you’ve probably got more chance of the Blue and White Bar at Loftus Road being renamed The Shaun Wright-Phillips Suite.
But as the current losing run stretches to four matches, and the positives from the defeats at Villa and Brighton get buried beneath the pile of slop the team served up at Bristol City on Friday, there is a growing unease among the more panicky and pessimistic QPR supporters that the team may have just put the cue on the rack a week or two early having reached 50 points. The R’s may want to just check their gentle stroll into the summer slightly and turn to follow the ball in and make sure it gets there, hopefully starting on Monday against Sheffield Wednesday.
They’ll have to play a good deal better to get a result against the promotion-chasing Owls than they did against relegation haunted Bristol City. Rangers were never in the game, and lost far more comfortably than the 2-1 scoreline suggests. It was a real ‘going through the motions’ display from a team that, in all likelihood, doesn’t have a lot to play for against one that needed the points and went after them aggressively.
Even if you’re in the camp that believes relegation isn’t going to happen, even if you do think this is exactly the right time for Ian Holloway to be swapping and changing and trying things for next season, even if we take out the usual tubthumping football supporter rhetoric about the cost of ticket prices and how hard we have to work to afford them and all we want to see is the players trying… this was still a really disappointing afternoon at Ashton Gate.
Disappointing because QPR lost, disappointing because they played so poorly, disappointing because we looked to have a decent team out at the start, disappointing because so many QPR fans had travelled west to see it. But, in the grand scheme of things, disappointing that the momentum and confidence we’d built up before the international break that had us all dreaming of better things in 2017/18 is fast draining away, already (ridiculously, but not unexpectedly in an era where every mouth breathing shitgibbon gets the same 140 characters as everybody else to dribble their bile over the consensus of public opinion) replaced by calls in some quarters for yet another never-failing, all-conquering change of management.
All the usual stuff about attitude and sharpness you can pretty much take as read. City took the lead after 14 minutes when Matty Taylor hooked a corner over Massimo Luongo’s head and into the path of Marlon Pack - a £100,000 buy from Cheltenham looking composed and adept in midfield – and he got his head over the ball well and struck a crisp volley into the net past Alex Smithies.
Too easy, too much standing off, too much space. Themes that were repeated before half time when City, much like Aston Villa a week ago, were able to pass the ball right through the centre of the park unchallenged and free both Jamie Paterson and Tammy Abraham beyond an offside trap that failed against Brighton in the last match and was creaking again here. Paterson, who’s impressed against Rangers in Nottingham Forest colours before, took on the responsibility and slotted home.
But it was the stupidity of QPR’s play that rankled more. Luke Freeman, Ryan Manning and Massimo Luongo is, by fairly common consensus, the best midfield we’ve got to field. It’s a trio we’re hanging our hats on for next season, a transformation from the plodding middle of Henry and Sandro pre-Christmas. And yet they were bypassed far too often here as QPR went long and direct too early and too frequently. Often the three of them were reduced to simply chasing around after City players out of possession, and by full time they’d all been yellow carded for bad and/or cynical fouls on opponents who’d run by them.
I wouldn’t mind, if the person playing the long balls was a noted passer of the ball, but Nedum Onuoha certainly isn’t that. It is very frustrating that when you have players like Freeman in your team who can pass a ball, so often we’re playing out from the back through Onuoha who’s defence without the ball is unfairly criticised, but who lacks any real quality at all when in possession.
And I wouldn’t mind that so much either, if the person receiving the long balls was capable of doing something with them. Matt Smith usually is, although he looked flat footed and off the pace here, reacting to things rather than anticipating them, but on Saturday he was being marked by one of the few centre backs in the league that make Smith look normal sized. Aden Flint, more tattoo than human and built like a man who could play Kong in Skull Island without the aid of special effects, beasted Smith all afternoon, winning every single header, dominating the match by himself. I’d push him all the way back from Bristol in a shopping trolley with a wobbly wheel if there was any slight hope of prising him from City’s clutches – everything the middle of our defence needs and more.
All afternoon this continued – Onuoha goes long towards Smith expecting a different result, Flint bangs the ball straight back. One of ours compared it to Bart and Lisa Simpson playing rock, paper scissors – “poor predictable Bart, always chooses rock”, “good old rock, nothing beats that”.
The result was that Pawel Wszolek and Yeni Ngbakoto were never in the game – to the point where when the Pole tried to run his man late in the game and failed I had to be honest and admit I’d forgotten he was on the field. Wszolek, who I rate, Ngbakaoto, who I’m not sure I do, and Smith, who’s played well for us but was poor here, could all point to rank bad service, but equally all three could have done far more to affect the game.
All the said, it wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for QPR to get a point. They scored once in the sixth minute of injury time – sub Idrissa Sylla bundling in from close range after good build up from Manning and substitute Conor Washington who came on at half time and looked reasonably lively. Earlier home keeper Frankie Fielding had saved brilliantly from Ngbakoto after Washington cut the ball back from the touchline, and Washington had the QPR fans on their feet believing they’d scored when he hit a low shot towards the near post and into the side netting.
They’d had the ball in the net before half time as well when Smith nodded a Freeman corner in from half time only to be penalised for a foul on the goalkeeper. Bollocks. Fielding’s a decent shot stopper but he’s too small and doesn’t command his area at all. Flint had more to do with him ending up flat on his back here than Smith did – one of those where the referee, Jeremy Simpson, had decided he was giving a free kick almost before the corner was taken.
It’s a source of frustration that the clampdown on jostling in the penalty area announced last summer has, in the Championship at least, been interpreted almost exclusively as a crackdown on attacking players. While Premier League referees, Mike Dean in particular, have been penalising defenders and awarding penalties for holding, in the second tier all we’ve seen is a huge increase in the number of free kicks being awarded against strikers as soon as corners are delivered. With some referees, Tim Robinson in particular, it’s hardly worth having a bloody corner at all, so keen and quick are they to immediately award a free kick the other way. This one, from Smith, should have stood.
So that could have been 2-2, despite everything we’ve said, but to be fair even the single goal defeat flattered QPR. Onuoha had to put in a goal saving tackle on Taylor in the eighth minute and Paterson stuck the rebound over – the match notes simply read ‘too easy all round’. After half time Taylor shot straight at Smithies when played clear by Abraham, Onuoha slid in to get enough contact on Abraham’s shot over the bar, Joe Bryan shot over having bombed on down the left to receive a pass from Paterson.
Ian Holloway was scathing about his team after the game, but his substitutions seemed a bit odd as well. How Ngbakoto stayed on the field until the seventy first minute I don’t know, given that he wasn’t in the game nor showing much interest in getting into it – one first half shot over the bar having cut infield off the left flank apart. He could have been hooked after half an hour, and yet Jamie Mackie was still warming up with only 20 minutes of the game left. Darnell Furlong was our best player in the first half and yet it was him chosen to go off for Washington. Holloway knows far better than me, but I did find it all a bit weird.
Sheffield Wednesday on Monday starting to feel like a bigger game than it ever looked likely to be or, in truth, really is. We do like to make things hard for ourselves.
City: Fielding 6; Little 6, Flint 8, Wright 7, Bryan 7; Brownhill 6, Smith 6, Pack 7, Paterson 7 (Tomlin 88, -); Abraham 7 (Wilbraham 76, 6), Taylor 7 (O’Dowda 77, 6)
Subs not used: Magnusson, Hegeler, Cotterill, Giefer
Goals: Pack 14 (assisted Taylor), Paterson 40 (assisted Taylor)
Bookings: Pack 86 (time wasting)
QPR: Smithies 6; Furlong 6 (Washington 45, 6), Onuoha 5, Lynch 5, Bidwell 5; Manning 6, Freeman 6, Luongo 5; Ngbakoto 4 (Mackie 71, 5), Wszolek 4, Smith 4 (Sylla 69, 6)
Subs not used: Goss, Ingram, Perch, Lua Lua
Goals: Sylla 90+6 (assisted Washington)
Bookings: Manning 35 (foul), Luongo 45+1 (foul), Freeman 53 (foul), Mackie 90+3 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Darnell Furlong 6 Must be a first, given he went off at half time, but I thought he had a really good first half and was unlucky to be hooked.
Referee – Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire) 6 Bit slow to punish the time wasting – Pack eventually booked in the 86th – and I thought Smith’s goal from the corner in the first half was fine. All of QPR’s bookings more than fair. Not helped by a linesman on the main stand side whose concept of the touchline and where it figures in the rules of the game left a lot to be desired.
Attendance – 20,404 (1,665 QPR) Great away following, deserved better. Did think it would have been pure QPR if a late goal had been disallowed because one of our more tired and emotional brethren had taken a wrong turn on his way out and ended up wandering around in the penalty area.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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