|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 0 Northampton Town|
Tuesday, 8th August 2017 Kick-off 19:45
QPR survive late Northampton scare to scrape through - Report
Wednesday, 9th Aug 2017 15:09 by Clive Whittingham
QPR just about managed a 1-0 victory against League One Northampton Town in the League Cup on Tuesday night thanks to a first half goal from Yeni Ngbakoto.
Barring that glorious comeback in the final of the Copa Del Ibiza, the bloody vanquishing of Watford in the inaugural and final Dryworld Cup, and The Evening Standard five-a-sides, the League Cup is the only thing QPR have ever won. The first side to win the competition at Wembley, the first Third Division side to win it, coming from 2-0 down to achieve it into the bargain.
Modern-day Rangers are equally inept in both cup competitions of course but having history in this one, along with the Premier League attitude to it making it a potential source of silverwear and European qualification (imagine) for Championship sides, means it's a real shame it has become such a chore for the fans and players. Rangers haven’t been to the fourth round since 2008, the fifth round since 1988 and further than that since they reached the final 31 years ago.
Every year I vow to give this one a miss, every following year I respond to the summer footballing starvation by ignoring my own advice, and every year I curse what a ridiculously addicted idiot I am. Scratchy team selections, under-committed players going through the motions, a tiny crowd, a lower-league team with the scent of blood, the Ellerslie Road stand entirely empty bar a couple of ball boys and Matt Smith’s bedspread stretched out over one of the blocks… I’ve sat maths exams that were less of a ballache.
Tuesday’s encounter with a committed and enterprising Northampton side was almost everything we’ve come to expect bar the result. In the end the main positive other than the 1-0 win was that QPR’s incompetence didn’t lead to an additional period of 30 minutes at the end of the game, but there wasn’t much in it. Despite playing against ten men for the last half an hour of the game Rangers came close to conceding at the death once when substitute Leon Lobjoit sent a powerful header towards goal from a corner only for little Ryan Manning to get up high enough on the line to head it away brilliantly. Then, in six minutes of added on time conjured up for no good reason from the same place referee Charles Brakespear got most of his unfathomable nonsense on the night, the visitors had a stonewall penalty waved away as Jack Robinson – tired, wrong side of his man, never getting to the ball, panicking – shoved the outstanding Town player Billy Waters in the back as he attacked a low cross at the back post. Brakespear waved the appeals away.
Only Nedum Onuoha and Luke Freeman survived from the comprehensive weekend beating of Reading but to be fair to Ian Holloway this was no kindergarten. The inglorious list of youngsters thrown into these early League Cup games at random over the years and expected to perform includes Oscar Gobern, Troy Hewitt, Bruno Andrade, Joe Oastler, Josh Parker, Andrew Howell, Jordan Gibbons, Dominic Shimmin, Aaron Brown, Wes Daly and Dave McEwen – let’s be honest, it feels like I’m just listing Football Manager regens here. Everybody in Tuesday’s starting 11 is a potential starter for QPR this season, including Matt Smith and Idrissa Sylla up front who many were surprised weren’t involved against Reading.
Northampton, meanwhile, finished last season four points above the drop zone in League One having failed to win any of their last eight games. Pre-season results have been more encouraging – a home win against Championship side Derby for instance – but they lost on the opening day at Shrewsbury. The team Holloway selected should have been more than good enough to win the game comfortably and I’m sure he’d point to all three of his strikers being injured by the end as a reason why managers don’t put first teams out on occasions like this – Jamie Mackie and Ale Faurlin both picked up long term injuries in cup competitions previously of course.
In actual fact, to begin with, it looked like being a thrashing the other way. The back three system, so classily dominant against Reading, collapsed early here with Jack Robinson at left centre back and Ryan Manning at left wing back both particularly uncomfortable and the recalled Ariel Borysiuk and Luke Freeman swamped in midfield. With giant central midfielder Matt Crooks, a summer signing from Glasgow Rangers, bossing the middle of the park and his exact physical opposite Billy Waters (22 years old and signed this summer from Cheltenham) channelling early years Andy Sinton in attack, the Cobblers set about their task with class and threat.
Waters won a free kick in the fifth minute (harsh one against Borysiuk) allowing Justin Edinburgh’s team to hang one up to the back post for the first time. With not only Crooks but also former Wycombe man Aaron Pierre (a centre back many QPR fans were keen for Rangers to have a look at prior to his summer release from Adams Park) in the box the aerial threat was formidable. The ball did end up in the net, but only after a fairly obvious foul on Alex Smithies’ deputy Matt Ingram and the goal was ruled out. Moments later Waters got in round the back of Furlong as the system fell apart again and cut a ball back for Chris Long to strike firmly at goal – Ingram made a fine save, Onuoha blocked the follow up.
It couldn’t continue like that, particularly the Robinson and Manning situation, and Holloway switched to a more rudimentary 4-4-2 after a quarter of an hour. While that makes a mockery of his promise to stick with one system and not rotate his troops as wildly as he did last season, it was a prudent and correct move here because the thrashing Northampton seemed set to administer otherwise would have done nobody at Rangers any favours after such a promising start on Saturday.
Rangers settled down somewhat after the switch. Leon Barnett was booked for a bad foul on Ngbakoto, Caulker (rustier than an old boat) likewise on Long. Referee Breakspear was having more influence than any of the players by this point, first harshly penalising Ngbakoto for very little then, after Ingram had intercepted the resulting counter attack and brilliantly freed Freeman for a burst of his own, failing to award a free kick to the French winger for an obvious foul on him. As QPR protested and Northampton broke, Robinson covered across from left back superbly to get in a strong tackle on Alex Revell and prevent him running away from the last Rangers man.
The goal, when it came, ten minutes before half time, was off a set piece. A short corner at that. Honestly, I thought we’d see the Queen Mum again before one of these bastard things ever escaped from the saggy balls of Satan and turned into anything useful but here it was in the flesh. Freeman got the ball back from Borysiuk and crossed for Furlong to head, Cornell to save and Ngbakoto to force home from close range.
The warning signs had been there. Furlong poses an unusually high level of aerial threat from corners for a full back and he’d had one headed out from under the crossbar just before. Annoyingly, Caulker did his best to redress things immediately from the kick off, horribly misjudging a bouncing ball in his own area allowing Revell a sight on goal. Ingram saved, and then turned and got back to his line in time to catch the rebound as it fell with Waters closing in for a tap in. Caulker still a way off first team return yet on this evidence, however wonderful the place he’s in these days may or may not be.
Manning’s weekly attempt to place an opponent into a permanent vegetative state brought a yellow card, as did Pierre’s lunge on Ngbakoto as proceedings drew to a temporary close.
It was Onuoha’s turn for a brain explosion as the second half got underway but Rangers managed to muscle up and snuff out the chance before Northampton, seemingly, extinguished their hopes for the evening with one of the stupidest red cards you’ll ever see in a non-Joey Barton context. We’d wondered aloud during half time what former West Brom and Norwich centre back Leon Barnett was doing kicking around with the likes of Bury and Northampton aged just 31… well wonder no longer. Bloke’s an absolute fucking weapon.
Barnett seemed well in control of a loose ball in a non-threatening situation on halfway in the fifty third minute, and even when he decided to stop dead in his tracks and leave it to Pierre (presumably because he was facing the right way) it didn’t look like being too much of a problem. Why he then decided to run straight into Idrissa Sylla and knock the Guinean to the ground, while on a booking, is a mystery surpassed only by the otherwise excellent band of Northampton fans behind the goal applauding him off. Meathead.
Rangers soon replaced Sylla, who’d been crap, and Matt Smith, who’d been worse, after both picked up head knocks and on came Michael Petrasso and Conor Washington. More eye-catchingly, Ilias Chair replaced Luke Freeman on the hour for his senior debut and slotted straight into an advanced attacking position, flitting around the final third looking for space, showing a deft touch, close control, excellent ability, turn of pace and goal threat. Leading against ten men was a nice cushion for him (sorry) but the Moroccan, added to the Under 23s from Belgium a year ago, was a real pleasure to watch for the final half hour and deserved a goal or assist from one of the many last ditch blocks or intercepts he forced Northampton into. He teed up Ngbakoto for one shot that deflected wide, and another which caught David Buchanan square in the gentleman's area. Not a weak boy either, he was getting stuck in. Once upon a time we’d be producing t-shirts to mark such a cameo.
Ryan Manning thumped the underside of the bar from long range with a shot David Cornell might have just got a fingertip to as it dipped over his head – outstanding save if so, unlucky for Manning either way. Ngbakoto’s follow up was cleared from the line.
Problem was, it was only one. Other problem was, Smith and Sylla had taken most of Rangers’ height with them when they left and been replaced by the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz. Even with ten men, Northampton’s sizeable team could still pose a threat from set pieces and they did just that. But for Manning’s goal line clearance, a couple of headed clearances from Furlong, a couple of blocks from Onuoha, and Brakespear’s injury time generosity, we might still be sitting there now. The resistance came at a cost, with Washington pulling something in his thigh during stoppage time an unable to run by the end - not ideal given Smith and Sylla hardly stuck their hands up and demanded to be picked at Sheff Wed on Saturday.
Still, two wins, two clean sheets, cup progress… what’s not to like?
QPR: Ingram 7; Caulker 5, Onuoha 6, Robinson 5; Furlong 7, Manning 5; Freeman 6 (Chair 63, 7), Borysiuk 6, Ngbakoto 5; Sylla 5 (Petrasso 74, 6), Smith 4 (Washington 57, 6)
Subs not used: Baptiste, Luongo, Wszolek, Lumley
Goals: Ngbakoto 36 (assisted Furlong/Freeman)
Bookings: Caulker 31 (foul), Manning 44 (foul)
Northampton: Cornell 6; Taylor 6, Pierre 6, Barnett 4, Buchanan 6 (Smith 81, 5); Phillips 6, Crooks 7, Kasim 6; Waters 7; Revell 5 (Richards 69, 5), Long 6 (Lobjot 70, 6)
Subs not used: Bowditch, Goff, Poole, Taylor
Bookings: Barnett 20 (foul), Pierre 45+2 (foul), Barnett 53 (foul), Smith 90+7 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Darnell Furlong 7 Not a great deal to choose from, and it was tempting to give it to Chair, but after a nervous start when Northampton were pulling the three-man defence apart Furlong settled to his task better than most, providing an attacking threat with the ball at feet down the wing and with his head from offensive corners. Couple of very important blocks and interceptions as Northampton pressed late. Positioning can be suspect though, with wingers running in behind him too easily.
Referee – Charles Breakspear (Surrey) 5 Can be a very strange official at times this bloke. Waves away seemingly very obvious fouls (Robinson’s in the last minute, a trip on Chair on the edge of the Northampton box) one minute then awards incredibly soft free kicks for nothing very much at all the next. Barnett can’t have many complaints about his moronic red card but the wild inconsistencies in interpretation of what exactly is a foul and what isn’t were maddening.
Attendance 4,317 (600 Northampton approx) Felt like a lot fewer.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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