Washington brace sends QPR flying out the traps – Report
Sunday, 6th Aug 2017 18:24 by Clive Whittingham
QPR shrugged aside discontent about lack of summer transfer activity and their poor form at the end of last season to comfortably beat Reading 2-0 at Loftus Road on the opening day of the 2017/18 season.
History suggests Queens Park Rangers should have approached Saturday’s match with Reading with a degree of confidence.
The R’s have lost only two of their last 13 opening fixtures at this level and both of those were away (Charlton 15/16 and Burnley 06/07). During Ian Holloway’s first stint in charge of the club Rangers won three and drew two of their opening fixtures of the season, including a famous 5-0 hammering of Blackpool in searing heat back in 2003 which set the tone for a promotion campaign. Although the recent Premier League foray brought three defeats on day one - two of them chastening experiences against Bolton and Swansea - prior to that nobody had won at Loftus Road on the first day of a new season since Aston Villa triumphed 2-1 in Shepherd’s Bush in 1977.
Past results count for little though and you find more optimism and positivity in the waiting room at the GUM clinic than has been in supply around Shepherd’s Bush this summer. The club’s obsession with making new signings in recent years has trained its support base to expect clutches of new arrivals each transfer window and, even though this hasn’t worked, weaning the club and the fans off this is proving a challenge. With only Barnsley’s Josh Scowen by way of methadone the addicts have been increasingly rabid this summer. With last season’s losing play-off finalists Reading first up you haven’t had to delve too far into the vile world of QPR on social media to find people forcefully, aggressively, seemingly gleefully, saying the club they profess to support would be thrashed and humiliated on its own patch by Jaap Stam’s men – all under a banner of “realism”, “telling it like it is” or “concern” but not, ever, you understand, over-the-top hyperbole or negativity for negativity’s sake.
Still, even the most crazily optimistic Super Hoop would have been hard pushed to predict a win of such staggering ease and comfort against a team that came within a penalty shoot-out of reaching the Premier League in May. Rangers scored twice, should have had four, could have had six, and were home and hosed long before the season’s first blast of Hi Ho Silver Lining. A 3-5-2 formation allowed them to dominate the midfield where new signing Scowen impressed and Massimo Luongo played further forward to good effect.
Luke Freeman picked up where he’d left off in May when he was just about the only QPR player in any kind of form at all by the end of 2016/17. He came close to scoring twice here either side of half time – first sidefooting wide from the edge of the box after being teed up by Pawel Wszolek at the end of a flowing move in the twenty-third minute, then firing just over at the Loft End from similar distance in the forty-eighth.
The difference was, on Saturday his team mates went with him. Manager Ian Holloway’s decision to start with Jamie Mackie up front seemed odd after spending the whole pre-season using more physical target men there but it proved a canny move to pressure Reading’s ponderous pisballing about with possession around their own penalty box. Mackie had more mobility and nuisance value than the more cumbersome Smith or less hard-working Idrissa Sylla and set the tone in the first minute by driving at the visiting defence and squaring the ball to Washington to draw a save from Reading’s debutant goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Eight goals in 37 starts and 22 sub appearances since arriving from Peterborough 18 months ago have raised serious questions about Washington’s ability at Championship level and it’s certainly a big season for him, and the likes of Luongo who’ve stepped up a division to come to QPR and had mixed fortunes during a season or two of bedding in period. The early signs are good though – Washington finished this game with two goals to his name.
The first, on 22 minutes, was a relatively simple header at the back post after he’d peeled away from his marker to nod in an inch perfect cross from Pawel Wszolek – impressing in a right wing-back role – after a neat interchange with Luke Freeman. The second, just before the hour, was from the penalty spot after Wszolek had been clotheslined by Reading’s Portuguese defender Tiago Ilori who was sent off by referee Scott Duncan for the professional foul. Reading were fuming that play had been allowed to continue with a player injured in back play, and Joel Lynch was booked for the foul that caused the problem once play stopped, but there was no head injury and therefore no obligation for QPR to put the ball out or Duncan to halt the game. The protests, booking and injury caused an inordinate delay before the kick was taken but Washington did well to remain calm and composed, even laughing as he replaced the ball on the spot, before finding the top corner with Mannone going the other way and not able to reach the ball with a butterfly net even if he had dived left instead. Less composure on show in the first half when clean through on goal however – he skied it embarrassingly over with time to pick his spot.
In amongst all that it’s easy to overlook a superb, raking, 80-yard pass to feet from Alex Smithies kicking out of his hands to set the attack up in the first place. This was his second pivotal intervention in the game in as many minutes having made a miraculous save moments before to deny Reading an eqauliser with their only serious chance of the whole game. Nedum Onuoha had an excellent game at the heart of the defensive three but was caught out being too casual with Wszolek over his own free kick on the halfway line allowing Reading sub Modou Barrow (in from Swansea on a four year deal on Thursday) to streak away into the penalty area. Although Onuoha got back to recover that situation the ball quickly fell to Jon Dadi Bodvarsson who curled a right footed shot round a crowd of players towards the bottom corner only for Smithies to appear from nowhere and make an improbable left handed save at full stretch. I’ve no idea how he even saw it, let alone save it, and if there’s a better stop than that made in the Championship this season I can’t wait to see it.
That save swiftly followed by the second goal and red card killed off what limited resistance Reading had been offering. French striker Yan Kermorgant was missing with a hip injury and after an 18-goal campaign in 2016/17 – his highest ever total in English football – he was always likely to be sorely missed. A proposed move for Huddersfield’s Nahki Wells has come to nought and Bodvarsson’s three goals in 48 appearances for Wolves last season isn’t going to put the frighteners on anybody. They had some cause to feel aggrieved with referee Scott Duncan who seemed much keener to let QPR, and Jamie Mackie in particular, away with a word on the run for fouls while Barrow and Budvarsson were both booked immediately in similar circumstances. Barrow had half a shout for a foul right on the edge of the QPR area waved away late in the day when it could have been a free kick or penalty. But it was their insistence on persisting with passing the ball around deep in their own half – even though QPR had planned for it and were destroying it – that seemed a bigger problem. They were just far too easy to play against.
They should have lost by more. Luongo, another struggling for goals with just one in 71 QPR appearances so far, couldn’t have gone much closer with a shot ten minutes before half time which struck the inside of the post and rebounded back into play agonisingly out of Luke Freeman’s reach. The arrival of Scowen, whose knack of always being in the right place for a second ball dropping provided invaluable protection in front of the back three, seems to have freed Luongo up to break further forward so hopefully the goals will come. They need to, and his finishing must improve, but he’s also been unusually unlucky with certain incidents – this the second time in his QPR career, following the 1-0 loss at Brentford the season before last, where he’s hit the perfect shot round the keeper only to see it hit the inside of the post in a way that 99 times out of 100 would divert it into the net but instead it bounces back out into play.
Freeman shot into the side netting after his own corner was cleared back to him, substitute Yeni Ngbakoto struck a free kick over, Luongo headed straight at the keeper and the otherwise erratic Mannone also made a flying save from Idrissa Sylla as he headed towards goal from an offside position. Sylla introduced with ten minutes to go instead of Conor Washington who, slightly worryingly, left the field holding his lower back. Even Jake Bidwell was bombing forward like never before to good effect. You couldn’t really fault anybody.
Words of caution… Reading were absolute crap. They stubbornly stuck to a style that wasn’t working, playing right into the hands of a hard-working, mobile front two and midfield from first minute to the last. QPR had this figured out back in January when they won 1-0 on the retail park and it was no surprise to see people like Jamie Mackie and Pawel Wszolek who’d excelled in that game play a key role in this one. Even at this level we’ll regularly face far more talented teams playing much better, and teams that we’re less suited to playing, than this. It seemed odd to spend the whole pre-season picking Smith or Sylla up front only to then use Mackie on day one but it was the perfect choice for this opposition and Holloway deserves credit – but that won’t work every week. Smithies doesn’t make his incredible save, Reading equalise… who knows. Having found a system that looks quite good and suits several players – particularly the midfield three – can Holloway resist getting too clever and tinkering with it too much?
Things weren’t as bad as was made out before the match and they’re not all better now. There’s no better example of that than the players not involved in this match. While QPR’s team is undoubtedly short in key areas the idea that the club is chronically short of players and absolutely crying out for an influx of new blood just doesn’t ring true when you’ve got Matt Ingram, Joe Lumley, Darnell Furlong, Grant Hall, Steven Caulker, Jordan Cousins, Ryan Manning, Ariel Borysiuk, Sean Goss, Michael Petrasso, Mide Shodipo, Nasser El Khayati, Jay Emmanuel Thomas, Matt Smith and others all not getting any minutes at all here. Idrissa Sylla, Jack Robinson and Yeni Ngbakoto all played less than ten minutes. Manning, outstanding last season, didn’t even make the bench despite being fit. That’s a lot of first team salaries sat in the stand at a time the club is trying to cut its cloth according to straightened times.
Two tough away games, two likely defeats, lie in wait next week. But this is a performance that was not only exciting, attractive and good to watch, it’s one that lifts the pressure on Ian Holloway and mood around the club that had descended during the long losing run of April and May and hopefully gives some tempering indication to the Chicken Licken-types out there that the sky perhaps isn’t falling in on QPR after all.
QPR: Smithies 7; Perch 7, Onuoha 8, Lynch 7; Wszolek 8, Bidwell 7 (Robinson 87, -); Scowen 8, Luongo 8, Freeman 8; Washington 7 (Sylla 81, -), Mackie 7 (Ngbakoto 83, -)
Subs not used: Furlong, Ingram, Borysiuk, Smith
Goals: Washington 22 (assisted Wszolek), 59 (penalty, won Wszolek)
Bookings: Lynch (foul)
Reading: Mannone 5; Gunter 5, Moore 6, Illori 5, Blackett 5; Kelly 6, Evans 5, Popa 5, Clement 5 (Barrow 52, 6); Swift 6 (Mendes 82, -); Bodvarsson 4 (Richards 59, 5)
Subs not used: Jaakkola, Rinomhota, Richards, Smith
Red Cards: Illori 56 (professional foul)
Bookings: Bodvarsson 28 (foul) Barrow 90+2 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Josh Scowen 8 I think even Rio Ferdinand got man of the match on his debut which shows it can be tempting to overrate the impact of a shiny new toy, and that players trying to impress a new crowd can excel if they hit the ground running. But along with Luongo and Freeman I thought Scowen was outstanding in midfield, totally dominating the opposition and dictating the play. The team pressed as one as Reading tried to play out from the back, and Scowen’s “little rat” style of play was in evidence with several uncompromising tackles to shut down potential problems on the cusp of the QPR danger area. Nice eye for a pass, good engine, appalling moustache – a promising beginning.
Referee – Scott Duncan (Northumberland) 6 If I was writing the Reading version of this I’d probably give him a four and point to a couple of inconsistencies. Firstly, Jamie Mackie must have been getting close to half a dozen fouls by himself but didn’t get booked, while Barrow and Bodvarsson were booked pretty much straight away. Secondly, the penalty (which was an obvious decision) came while a Reading player was down injured and play wasn’t stopped, then moments later when a QPR man was down the referee did call it to check if it was a head injury or not. I thought he was fine, apart from the Mackie stuff he didn’t get much wrong, but I know if I’d been at the other end I’d have been unhappy.
Attendance – 14,460 (2,500 Reading approx) Nice relaxed feeling to things, such was Rangers dominance. Empty seats in the away end despite it being opening day and a short distance to travel understandable given the ticket prices.
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