Wednesday make it five straight defeats for hapless Rangers - Report
Tuesday, 18th Apr 2017 22:55 by Clive Whittingham
QPR are staring down the barrel of six straight defeats for the second time this season following a second 2-1 defeat of the Easter weekend, against Sheff Wed at Loftus Road on Monday.
Queens Park Rangers’ determination to keep people interested in/panicked by their 2016/17 season right down to the bitter end stretched into a fifth consecutive defeat against Sheffield Wednesday on Easter Monday.
This one had much in common with the four that went before it. Again, Rangers were beaten by a single goal, 2-1 for the third game in succession. Again, as at Villa and Bristol City and at home to Brighton, it could reasonably be argued that they may have taken something from the same game on a different day – referee Andy Davies said no to two very reasonable penalty appeals from the hosts and Matt Smith missed a sitter. But, again, the scoreline was somewhat flattering to Rangers, who responded to yet another team selection riddled with changes with a confused, disjointed performance which Wednesday really should have overcome a lot more easily than they did.
Two games in a weekend is always likely to bring challenges, and given Nedum Onuoha suffered a bad knock to the head at Bristol City and Darnell Furlong left the field at Ashton Gate at half time it’s probably fair to assume both were unable to play here through injury. With Grant Hall also out defensive options were few and far between and the backline bore a horribly lop-sided look with three left footers amongst the five - two of them recognised left backs - utility man James Perch asked to play as a third centre back and young winger Michael Petrasso starting at right wing back.
Chaos and confusion, predictably, reigned against a play-off chasing side that started with Jordan Rhodes and Gary Hooper up front and was able to call on Fernando Forestieri and Steven Fletcher from the bench. Sam Winnall – 11 goals in the first half of the season up front for Barnsley – didn’t even make the replacements list. Wednesday had won three in a row prior to kick off.
Jake Bidwell, wholly uncomfortable in a left-sided centre back position with Jack Robinson wide of him, had a horrible slice at a twelfth minute cross from Daniel Pudil, sending the ball rebounding off the equally hapless Perch into the path of Adam Reach who lashed home his third of the season.
There was good cause to feel aggrieved with Wednesday’s second on the half hour, scored by the excellent Pudil himself this time from close range after a tremendous Alex Smithies save had kept out a header from Jordan Rhodes. The free kick which led to it, awarded for a foul by Joel Lynch wide on the right touchline, was marched several yards infield by Ross Wallace to improve his crossing angle. Referee Andy Davies let him do it, then spent the rest of the afternoon meticulously placing and marking out every subsequent free kick.
But why was Joel Lynch (yet again) committing a silly foul on a player in a non-threatening area with his back to goal? And can QPR really complain too much about the placing of the ball when they let both Rhodes and Pudil have relatively unchallenged digs at the cross when it did come in? Sometimes you make your own luck, and Lynch has been handing opponents these free opportunities to deliver good ball into out box all season.
That made it 2-1 as Idrissa Sylla had equalised for QPR after 20 minutes with a goal more bizarre than just about any other which has preceded it on this ground. Jamie Mackie, back in the starting line-up, was obviously cleaned out on the edge of the six-yard box as he prepared to shoot at visiting goalkeeper Keiren Westwood. With the whole ground, and most of the players, expecting play to be stopped for a penalty, Sylla swooped in on the loose ball and, depending on where you were sitting in the ground, seemed to fire the ball into the side netting, or onto the advertising hoardings behind the goal and into the back side of the net. In fact, he’d scored, and Rangers were level – a goal met with near total silence.
Don’t think that referee Davies had played advantage mind. He was clearly waving the stone waller away, and he did so again three times in the second half when all three looked good shouts to me – one when Ryan Manning appeared to handle in the box, another when Jamie Mackie was involved in a three-way clash with Westwood and Pudil over a loose ball he’d seemingly reached first, and finally when substitute Matt Smith seemed to be fairly blatantly pushed by Tom Lees who had two hands in his back as a ball was played forward. Davies booked Reach for repetitive fouling, and Perch for his weekly attempt to end another professional’s career, but this was a poor afternoon of officiating overall.
There were other QPR chances – most notably when Westwood saved brilliantly from Sylla’s flicked header after Jack Robinson had launched a trademark long throw into the near post. Robinson, whose injury problems have become so chronic he now only trains outside half the week and spends the rest nursing his knee through gym sessions, was better here than he had been against Brighton, and denied Ross Wallace a run in on goal before half time with a flying tackle, before being withdrawn to a warm reception on the hour. He has a year left on his contract and you hope, for him if not for us, that he can finally play regularly for QPR for the first time in his four year stay at the club.
A Freeman free kick (very carefully positioned by Davies) caused panic before half time and Jake Bidwell lashed over straight after the break when another set piece fell loose to him on the edge of the box.
But Wednesday were much better, particularly for the first hour. Smithies had to save high in the top corner when Lees was left unmarked at a free kick and headed across to Pudil who was also unattended and he diverted the ball towards goal. They scored twice, saw Wallace denied by Robinson and Rhodes forced a bit of a nervous fumble from Smithies immediately before the Mackie penalty incident. Two poor headers in quick succession from Bidwell and Lynch gave Bannan a sight of goal but he lashed over on 66 minutes.
The Owls have been more conservative in their style and approach this season, despite the embarrassment of striking riches, and they decided to shut up shop midway through the second half, bringing on Jose Semedo to toughen the midfield and then later shambling Albanian Atdhe Nuhiu to act as a more direct focal point for the attack. Given that Nuhiu can’t run, or play much football on this evidence, that change wasn’t a conspicuous success. His comic stylings, akin to somebody’s 40-a-day dad filling in to make the numbers up in a youth match, didn’t do much for Wednesday’s ball retention and the visitors started to drop deep as time wore on. Holloway sent on Kazenga Lua Lua, Matt Smith and Conor Washington for Manning, Robinson and Petrasso and QPR began their aerial bombardment in search of an equaliser.
In truth, one header from a Bidwell cross which Smith should have buried apart, it never looked like materialising and only a brave block from Perch after another bad Lynch header stopped Forestieri making it three from close range when a goal seemed inevitable.
QPR were all over the place. A real mess. A return to that horrible period over Christmas when neither the fans, nor the players, could really tell what Ian Holloway was trying to do and the result was a sloppy, shapeless, shemozzle, easily picked off and beaten. Smith, and particularly Idrissa Sylla, were perpetually offside, killing one attack after another by straying beyond the last man. Sylla frustrated the fans further with a gratuitous backflick rather than a conventional pass which ruined a promising attack down the right.
I can hardly remember seeing Jamie Mackie at all during his 90 minute outing bar the two penalty incidents and while Mackie’s critics will leap on that it is becoming a recurring theme in this system that Holloway likes to use – whether it’s Yeni Ngbakoto, Pawel Wszolek, Mackie or somebody else, those players playing the half-winger-half-striker roles either side of the point man really struggle to get into the game. Ngbakoto scored from there against Cardiff, but before he did so I’d forgotten he was playing. Wszolek disappeared entirely from the Bristol City game at the weekend. That right channel position, in particular, is becoming like a black hole in this formation, swallowing footballers whole.
I find it very frustrating that we’ve got Smith and Sylla who, judging by their goals, like a good cross, and in Wszolek at least we’ve got a player who can deliver a nice final ball from wide, and yet we just pepper the two strikers with long balls while starving those wide men of possession. In open play, QPR are far too keen to go long and straight down the middle, but then mind blowingly when they got a corner late in the second half they played it short and fucked it up before the cross was delivered. Play football in open play, go direct from the set pieces. Those who played short corners will be the first to get it when the reckoning comes.
Holloway bemoaned Smith and Sylla not understanding their roles, not splitting, crowding the space he wanted Washington to work in and so on afterwards. He’s probably right, and you can take the penalty decisions and injury problems into account as well. But really he’s got to accept some responsibility for this one. I’m all for trying things and experimenting (as I still think we’ll be fine) but really what are we getting out of starting Michael Petrasso for the first time in a year at wing back, rotating him through two or three different positions in the first 45 minutes, and then taking him off? I’m not really convinced about Petrasso – quick and not a lot else – but fuck me what was the poor little bastard meant to do with that? How about trying new things, and new players, for a few games in a row, settle the team down, give people a run of games? Petrasso’s fate has befallen Robinson, Sean Goss and a few others of late as well – suddenly started for the first time in weeks, withdrawn, and benched again.
I’m still confident we’ve done enough to stay in the Championship, and I think we’ll get something from Forest at home on top of that, but even if we have it’s a real shame to be ending the season like this. Holloway will find that even if these are meaningless end of season games and the losing run doesn’t matter in the final standings that he’s burning off a lot of credit with supporters which will mean, as we saw with Chris Ramsey, people are much quicker to turn next season if results aren’t going well by mid-September than they otherwise would be.
The last thing we need is another manager doing another squad reshaping this summer only to be dismissed in the autumn and the whole sorry cycle beginning again. But at the moment, unbelievably, still, it’s this season’s league table causing more immediate concern.
QPR: Smithies 6; Perch 5, Lynch 4, Bidwell 4; Petrasso 4 (Lua Lua 45, 6), Robinson 6 (Washington 62, 6); Freeman 6, Luongo 6, Manning 5 (Smith 75, 5); Mackie 5, Sylla 5
Subs not used: Goss, Ingram, Wszolek, Ngabakoto
Goals: Sylla 20 (assisted Mackie)
Bookings: Perch 76 (foul)
Sheff Wed: Westwood 6; Palmer 6, Lees 6, Loovens 6, Pudil 8; Wallace 6 (Semedo 67, 6), Jones 6, Bannan 6, Reach 7; Rhodes 7 (Nuhiu 76, 4), Hooper 6 (Forestieri 67, 6)
Subs not used: Wildsmith, McManaman, Fletcher, Sasso
Goals: Reach 12 (assisted Pudil), Pudil 31 (assisted Wallace)
Bookings; Reach 61 (Repetitive fouling)
QPR Star Man – Massimo Luongo 6 Nearly didn’t give one but Luongo and Freeman were the best of a mediocre bunch, fighting a losing battle gamely through midfield.
Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 4 Not great. Sylla scoring when nobody noticed got him out of jail in the first half because he wasn’t going to award a penalty for the obvious foul on Mackie and he missed at least two further obvious spot kick – one for a push on Smith, the other the clash with Mackie – and possibly one at the other end too when Manning appeared to handle. That and the farce of the free kick placement for the second goal made it a poor afternoon.
Attendance – 15,708 (3,100 Sheff Wed) Can anybody remember a QPR goal at Loftus Road being greeted with such bemused silence before? Must have gone in at a totally unique angle for it to look like it had missed to all three sides of the home support.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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