QPR finally safe after hollow Forest victory - Report
Monday, 1st May 2017 12:08 by Clive Whittingham
Queens Park Rangers finally secured their Championship status for next season with a 2-0 victory at home to Nottingham Forest on Saturday, snapping a run of six straight defeats.
Queens Park Rangers are safe. Tongue lolling out of their prone corpse just far enough to breach the finish line in the giant Toss the Drunk competition that is the Mercantile Credit Trophy. At the end of a dreadful season of football, after a second six-match losing streak of the campaign at the worst possible time, amidst a run of results elsewhere that looked like the stuff of fantasy a month ago but continued to come to pass on Saturday with Birmingham and Blackburn both winning, that is all that matters. For now.
On Saturday they were grateful to receive Nottingham Forest as their guests. The arrival of one of the worst teams we’ve seen at Loftus Road all season perfectly timed, with arseholes of a blue and white persuasion wound as tight as a mouse’s ear before kick off and eyes trained on phone updates from elsewhere.
Forest have Ipswich at home next week, and if you could pick a fixture from this sordid little grief hole of a division to finish with when needing three points then Mick McCarthy’s pathetic side on your own ground would certainly be it, but it could yet be the Reds planning for league games against Rochdale next season. They let QPR off with a dire first half performance without punishment, then conceded two defensively shambolic goals at the start of the second half. The only visiting player who looked anything like, Ben Brereton (who’d run amok on this ground previously at U23 level), was marooned out wide and starved of possession before being taken off on the hour. Their attempts to play total football out from the back from every goal kick, through a centre back as poor as Joe Worrall, the very definition of trying to enter the Olympic 100 metre final before you can crawl.
Britt Assombalonga, who most QPR fans feared as the actual danger man prior to kick off, looked heavy-legged and half arsed against a defence that had taken amateur hour to a whole new level at Brentford a week ago. If Forest’s fight for survival isn’t getting his juices flowing perhaps they could consider filling the goals with baked goods for the Ipswich game next week, see if that gets him moving towards them with any kind of purpose or intent.
Rangers still made heavy weather of beating them. It would have been very QPR of Alex Smithies to sweep the board at the club’s Player of the Year Awards on Thursday and then have a nightmare on the Saturday but we needn’t have worried. He saved spectacularly from Mustapha Carayol after 14 minutes when James Perch, not for the first time on the day and certainly not for the last, broke every rule in the book about diving in and/or turning your back and allowed his winger to escape down the left and get a shot away.
There were nervous moments in the second half: first, after a big handball appeal against Perch in the area, when substitute Jamie Ward struck a shot through a crowd of players and Smithies just about kept it out on the line with a tangle of arms and legs; then when he came right to the edge of the area to claim a long ball, lost it under challenge, didn’t know where it had landed, but still got back in position to make a flying save from Ward again. But his two subsequent saves at the near post, first from David Vaughan and then denying Matty Cash, were as good as you’ll see. He deserved a first clean sheet at home in the league since October.
The first half started reasonably well. Pawel Wszolek, thankfully recalled wide right, cut inside his man and drew a great save from Jordan Smith who bounced up to deny first Washington and then, spectacularly, Matt Smith on the rebound although a linesman’s flag had been raised in amongst it all. Wszolek combining hard work with creativity, vital team member, as he usually does/is.
Washington saw a shot blocked in the eleventh minute but QPR were poor during the first half. Nedum Onuoha’s third minute booking from referee James Linington set him on edge for the rest of the game, and a foul and subsequent arm waving dissent three minutes before half time had hearts in mouths, but he had his best game of the season overall, hardly putting a foot wrong and executing a number of beautifully-timed, crucial sliding tackles in his own area while walking the proverbial disciplinary tightrope. A real captain’s knock at the best possible time.
Joel Lynch, whose display of staggering ineptitude at Brentford had made Zesh Rehman look like Bobby Moore, also had a decent game alongside him. He scored the second goal on the hour, totally unmarked six yards out and perfectly placed to nod in a superb first-time, hooked cross from Ryan Manning who’d improvised after a corner was cleared out to him. Manning, as usual, brilliant here. Intelligent, energetic, creative, brilliant. Looks a cut above.
That was the second, game-sealing, goal. Nerves had already been settled straight after half time by Conor Washington. Moments after Matt Smith’s latest missed sitter, headed wide from a free kick, Washington made the most of dalliance from Worrall to carry a Massimo Luongo pass into the area, draw Smith from his line and finish nicely into the corner.
Jury members are starting to return verdicts on Washington, whose record of seven goals in 32 starts and 22 sub appearances at this level is piss poor. But how many times have you seen him go through on the goal like this and miss? Here, playing up front, with a target man partner, as is widely recognised as his best position and role, through he went and in it went. There remains the strong possibility that he’s just not good enough for the level, but likewise I still wonder whether we just don’t use him correctly often enough.
Manning, booked just after the second goal for his usual one bad tackle of the game, lashed a first time shot just over the bar shortly after and then nearly caught Smith out with a curling effort direct from the corner. What a talent the boy is. Could have been 3-0.
Linington added six minutes to the end of it all, for his own amusement considering Forest made all three of their subs at once and QPR also made a double change at the same time, but they passed by without further panic as Michael Doughty enjoyed a decent cameo as a defensive central midfield player against his dad’s old club – hussling, harrying, blocking, building up that hope he might one day make it with us all over again. Realistically, it’s time for him to seek permanent, regular football a division lower where his lack of speed and engine isn’t such an issue. A cross from Luongo from the right would have resulted in a third goal from another sub, Yeni Ngbakoto, had he gone with his head rather than an outstretched leg.
And that was it. As per usual, loads came streaming onto the pitch at the end, like we’d won a fucking European Cup semi-final, to crowd uncomfortably close to the mediocre Championship footballers, grabbing their hair and pulling at their clothes, or to mass in front of the away end and taunt people from a distance safe enough for them not to give them the hiding they so sorely deserve. I’m torn on which is more pathetic.
The relief was justified, the celebrations less so. There is precious little to be happy about.
Firstly, taking this match alone, who would have thought that picking our best players in their best positions would have resulted in a win? I mean a midfield of Ryan Manning, Luke Freeman and Massimo Luongo, with Pawel Wszolek given a start on the wing, and Conor Washington given a proper point man to play off, whoever would have guessed? I’m shocked, shocked that this worked. Staggered even. Knock me down with a giant fucking feather.
The tinkering/squad rotation/tactical changes/pisballing about over the last few weeks has been excruciating, and has achieved nothing. It’s weakened Ian Holloway’s position as manager, burning off support. It’s demoralised players like Michael Petrasso and Sean Goss, used fleetingly after weeks of inaction and then withdrawn early as scapegoats. It’s lost six games in a row. It hasn’t given any kind of meaningful minutes, in a settled position in a settled team, to players like Washington, Ngbakoto, Darnell Furlong, Jack Robinson or Goss whose roles next season I guess we’re still none the wiser about as a result. But, you know, woo hoo we managed to scrape past a shit Nottingham Forest. Champagne celebrations for half a bottle of Blue Nun achievements.
Holloway has insisted he has not been changing for changing’s sake, nor experimenting, but merely trying to pick a horse for each course. He’s determined that his QPR team will be comfortable playing four or five different ways. It might be a start if they were comfortable playing just the one.
This is not Serie A. We are not welcoming astute coaches to Loftus Road every week. We are not facing the finest defensive set ups in Europe, carefully crafted and choreographed by the continent’s most experienced tactical minds. We are not trying to pick apart complex, intelligent or cynical teams here. We are playing in the second tier of English football, and it’s absolute crap. Absolute fucking crap.
Who have we seen down here this season who we actually sat back afterwards and thought, well they were quite good, that was a bit different, that was quite innovative? We’ve equalled the club record for home defeats this season and at the end of it all I thought Huddersfield were something a bit good and different, Newcastle ran all over us, Brighton had good players in a basic formation, Preston and Brentford set up well against us and I quite liked watching Barnsley. Other than that, was there much difference in style, set up or ability between Reading and Wigan? Between Sheff Wed and Wolves? Between Derby and Blackburn? Not that I saw. Everybody plays 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, everybody goes too direct too early, everybody is knackered because of the fixture list and everybody thinks a draw away from home is a good result. This division is Football 1.1.
How about just keep picking Wszolek, keep picking Freeman, Manning and Luongo together, get Grant Hall back in there, strengthen at centre back and down the left and just get good at playing like that for a while? The idea that our opposition varies so wildly that we have to make five or six changes every week is every bit as ball acheing as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's sports science bollocks that said professional athletes couldn't possibly cope with a football game on Saturday and then another on Tuesday. Stand up comedians have run 27 marathons in 27 days before now. Do me a fucking favour.
Even when trying to be too clever it very quickly all falls apart and we end up going long to Matt Smith. We did that in the first half here, against a dire opponent, in a crucial match – Onuoha left alone with the ball, knocks it long to Smith whose back to goal game is poor. It doesn’t work. It. Doesn’t. Fucking. Work. It doesn’t ever fucking work. It doesn’t work. Over and over and over and over and over again we try it. I feel like I’ve grown a tumour over the past couple of weeks watching this unmitigated shit.
We can, quite rightly, talk about the restraints the stadium places on the club, the problems with the training ground, the income we have compared to the expenditure, the ruinous reins of Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp and the mistakes made by Tony Fernandes which we’re still trying to recover from now. Strides have been made, on the wage bill, on the average age of the squad, in the academy, in scouting, the CEO is doing a good job, the director of football is doing a good job, the balance sheet is heading in the right direction.
But there are clubs with smaller grounds, clubs with fewer fans, clubs with smaller ticket prices, clubs in less fashionable parts of the world, clubs with smaller incomes than even ours doing better than us, buying better players for less money on smaller wages, playing better football, spending less, getting better results. It can be done – Burnley, Barnsley, Brentford, Huddersfield. It can be done.
This season has not been good enough. Not been good enough by far. The most home defeats in the club’s history, two six game losing streaks having only had three of those before since the club was formed, a record home league defeat. We are lucky to have survived, and despite everything we’re having to go through finance wise, we have to aspire to better than that.
And yet you can feel it all beginning again already. Ian Holloway, post-match, promising a “ruthless pre-season”, just as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink did before him. Same unadulterated bullshit we’ve all heard before. What price on us spending another summer spending the budget with a manager, over hyping his signings, talking about how unbelievably fit they all are, how it’s been the toughest pre-season training anybody can ever remember, how we’ve been talking about aiming for promotion on the fucking What’s App group, only to start next season losing games while punting it long to Matt Smith, sack the manager in October again, piss the whole season away again, another year of parachute payments down the drain again? Sigh.
QPR saved themselves with a 2-0 win at home to Nottingham Forest on Saturday. Now they need saving from themselves.
QPR: Smithies 8; Perch 5, Onuoha 8, Lynch 7, Bidwell 6; Wszolek 7, Luongo 6, Freeman 6 (Doughty 82, -), Manning 7; Smith 6 (Ngbakoto 82, -), Washington 6 (Mackie 66, 6)
Subs not used: Ingram, Lua Lua, Furlong, Sylla
Goals: Washington 49 (assisted Luongo), Lynch 60 (assisted Manning)
Bookings: Onuoha 3 (foul), Manning 58 (foul)
Trees: Smith 6; Lichaj 6, Worrall 5, Mancienne 6, Pinilos 6 (Mills 62, 5); Vaughan 6, Cohen 6, Osborn 6, Carayol 6 (Cash 62, 6); Brereton 6 (Ward 61, 6), Assombalonga 5
Subs not used: Tshibola, Evtimov, Lam, Vellios
Bookings: Osborn 72 (dissent), Vaughan 76 (foul), Ward 80 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Nedum Onuoha 8 A few candidates for a change, but to play 87 minutes against a dangerous striker while on a booking and not put a foot wrong was quite something, Several well-timed sliding tackles in amongst that, a real captain’s knock just when one was needed.
Referee – James Linington (Isle of Wight) 6 Much like the game, improved in the second half from a poor, niggly first half. The Onuoha booking, while justified, came after three minutes and I wondered if we’d see him do as he has done in our games before – paint himself into a corner with a flurry of early cards. He didn’t do that, and wasn’t too bad in the end. Not sure where six minutes came from, considering five of the subs were made at the same time.
Attendance – 16,474 (1,800 Forest approx) Not sure what’s more embarrassing really – grown men rushing onto the pitch so they can grab hold of and paw at Jamie Mackie and tug at his shirt, people rushing the pitch to taunt the Nottingham Forest fans (who were very good to us back in the day when we were relegated from the Premier League and that was our last game of the season), or people just rushing the pitch in general at the end of a dreadful season when we equalled our record number of home defeats. What on earth is the obsession with this? We’ll end up injuring one of our players one day in our weird desperation to surround mediocre Championship footballers and touch them.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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