Mackie makes QPR’s point at Sheff Wed – Report
Sunday, 13th Aug 2017 18:31 by Clive Whittingham
QPR’s promising start to the 2017/18 season continued at Hillsborough on Saturday with a 1-1 draw that could easily have been a win against promotion-favourites Sheffield Wednesday.
One week and three matches into a nine-month slog, Queens Park Rangers look pretty good.
That’s all it is, and all they do, and the nature of football in the Championship, and at QPR in particular, means this could all have turned completely to shit in less than a fortnight by which time Rangers will have played four more games. But given where expectations were just a week ago, the hysterical reaction to a lack of transfer activity, the keenness to use pre-season results as a prophecy of doom, and the near disastrous end to last season it is worth mentioning: QPR, at the moment, look half decent.
Half decent in attack, where Ian Holloway has bravely abandoned the idea that Matt Smith must lead the line, and all the ineffective long ball rubbish his presence encourages the team to play, and instead gone with Conor Washington and Jamie Mackie, two players completely written off by many before a ball was kicked. After Washington’s match-winning brace against Reading on day one, it was Mackie’s turn to open his account for the season at Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, sliding calmly underneath Keiren Westwood in the home goal at the midway point of the first half after being played through by the game’s outstanding player Luke Freeman. Freeman himself had struck a low shot straight at Westwood just before this after Pawel Wszolek’s enterprising wing play.
The decision to extend Mackie’s contract by 12 months after an injury-hampered second stint at the club attracted plenty of criticism, but he’s exactly the sort of ‘marginal gain’ a club in QPR financial circumstances need to be trying to make rather than constantly looking for exciting, shiny, new toys elsewhere. Get him fit and keep him there, use him where he can be effective, and you’ve got a big boost to your team for free. So key to tearing up the emperor’s new clothes in the Reading game last week, here he finished calmly to give his team a deserved first half lead.
Half decent in defence too, where a back three system has worked nicely so far and only conceded one goal in two league games. Rangers were rightly quick to abandon it when their second string got pulled apart by Northampton early doors in Tuesday night’s cup game sparking fears the Reading domination may have been a one off but despite that, despite James Perch being pressed into action more centrally, despite the ongoing absence of Steven Caulker and Grant Hall, the system not only held up well here, it actually looked quite effective. It seems to suit (and here’s some more famous last words in a report full of them) Joel Lynch who played very steadily in the left-sided centre back spot. Jake Bidwell, another like Lynch who ended last season abysmally, also played nicely at left-wing back. Wszolek was excellent both going forwards and tracking back at right wing-back. Josh Scowen, bar one horrible attempted cross where he kicked his own feet out from under him, seems ideal for the deep-lying midfield role in front of them.
It did wobble and crack pretty quickly at the start of the second half. Trailing by a single goal in their first home match, you always thought Wednesday would have a ten-minute pleasure window after half time when they’d come on strong and push for an equaliser with the crowd behind them. Survive without conceding and Rangers were probably most of the way to victory, the restless home crowd might have helped them along, but Nedum Onuoha’s swing and miss at Barry Bannan’s low cross allowed Sam Winnall, brought in from the cold by manager Carlos Carvalhal after a period where he wasn’t even making the bench, to finish powerfully seven minutes after the break. Winnall's recall, and Forestieri's removal from the squad altogether, apparently the result of a training ground bust up between the two during the week.
Another centre from the same side moments later was inexplicably headed over from point blank range by Jordan Rhodes whose dream £8m move to the club he supports just isn’t working out as he’d hoped at the moment. Smithies saved at his near post to deny Bannan, Wednesday asked for handball against Lynch when he blocked a back post header from Hooper but it never was.
Onuoha made a really bad mistake from a free kick against Reading last week and was rescued by an outstanding save from Alex Smithies. He got himself out of trouble with a recovering tackle when he did something similar against Northampton in the week and here he wasn’t so lucky. It’s odd, because three basic errors in poor areas that could easily have resulted in three goals conceded have nevertheless coincided with him playing quite well in general – I thought he was fine for the other 89 minutes here, but he won’t need telling about the goal, or how poor the timing of it was in the context of the game.
Wednesday spotted a flaw with the new zonal marking system at corners as well – queueing players up in the back post ‘zone’ against one player – but Daniel Pudil’s downward header after being left totally unmarked in the thirteenth minute bounced into the ground, up and wide. Reach skewed a sitter wide from 15 yards before half time and they had very good cause to believe they should have had a penalty when Rhodes angled another set piece header back across goal and Hooper hit the deck at the back post under heavy contact from Bidwell just as he seemed set to tap in from close range but between them referee Chris Kavanagh and assistant referee Sian Massey Ellis said no. Massey won few friends in the side stand with a series of marginal calls in the second half as well - with all the usual levels of witty banter going her way that you'd expect.
And more than half decent, very good indeed in fact, in midfield where Luke Freeman has continued his excellent form of last season into the new campaign and the arrival of the tireless, nuggety Scowen has freed Massimo Luongo up to move further forward to good effect. While Wednesday looked a bit of a mess through the middle - clearly missing Kieran Lee, unable to get Bannan far enough forward to influence proceedings and starving Ross Wallace of any ball at all – QPR’s three were able to dictate play and look really good doing it. Hard to believe this is essentially the same group of players that just a few months back spent an afternoon at Bristol City planting one long ball after another square onto the forehead of Aiden Flint.
Whether that was enough for Rangers to deserve to win the game isn’t really a debate with any purpose. It wasn’t, despite Pudil and Westwood clashing and sending the ball loose after Freeman had a shot saved, but it should have been. Five minutes from time an excellent move from left to right starting with Wszolek feeding Washington early and him in turn laying the perfect ball into the path of Kazenga Lua Lua, signed on loan from Brighton on Friday and on late for Jamie Mackie in attack, who seemed to think too much and try to be too clever with a reasonably simple finish as Westwood advanced quickly and stuck a gilt-edged opportunity wide.
Ironic really that it was one of the signings QPR were apparently crying out for who’d done that – Lua Lua doesn’t play any of the positions in the current system that’s working so well, is only on loan, has a poor injury record, didn’t do too much to impress when here last season and is another body in front of the likes of Ebere Eze and particularly Ilias Chair whose exploits against Northampton I felt warranted another bench place here. It’s a gratuitous, unnecessary signing in many ways and the miss was another item of evidence on a strong day for the prosecution case that QPR aren’t so beset by problems that a whole clutch of new arrivals is required, nor will the problems they do have necessarily be solved by more signings. As is the case more often than not, the QPR squad list on the back of the programme was significantly longer than their opposition.
Not only is it very early days but the two teams we’ve played so far, despite their high league placings last year and, in Wednesday’s case, expectation for even more this campaign, have not played well against us at all. Reading were just plain rank awful while Wednesday laboured for much of this, isolating their two strikers bar a hot spell in the quarter of an hour after half time when they scored once and should have had at least one more. They also suffered two first half injuries to Glen Loovens the centre half, and key midfield man Sam Hutchinson forcing early changes.
Tougher examinations lie in wait, possibly starting at Norwich on Wednesday despite their collapse at home to Sunderland this afternoon, and QPR might well not be up to those. The season may still go as many of us expected it to as the nights draw in, the injuries mount, confidence dips during inevitable sticky patches, and the lesser-spotted Ian Holloway unchanged team we saw on Saturday becomes entirely extinct.
But to come away from a game at the home of one of the promotion favourites, their first home game of the season no-less, not only with a point but also the feeling that it was two dropped rather than one won is more than any of us dared hope for on Saturday morning, and would have been something of a pipe dream even a fortnight ago.
Just don’t touch it. Don’t say anything. Don’t change anything. Don’t move anything because its vision is based on movement. Just stay nice and calm and still and don’t think anything because it can read your thoughts. Don’t jinx it.
Sheff Wed: Westwood 6; Hunt 6, Lees 6, Loovens 6 (Winnall 27, 7), Pudil 6; Wallace 5, Hutchinson 6 (Jones 13, 6), Bannan 6, Reach 6; Hooper 6, Rhodes 5 (Fletcher 87, -)
Subs not used: Palmer, Boyd, Wildsmith, Abdi
Goals: Winnall 48 (assisted Bannan)
QPR: Smithies 6; Perch 6, Onouha 6, Lynch 6; Wszolek 7 (Furlong 90+3, -), Bidwell 6; Scowen 7, Freeman 7 (Manning 80, 6), Luongo 7; Mackie 6 (Lua Lua 79, 5), Washington 6
Subs not used: Ingram, Smith, Baptiste, Borysiuk
Goals: Mackie 23 (assisted Freeman)
Yellows: Lynch 40 (foul), Bidwell 66 (foul), Scowen 80 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Luke Freeman 7 Pulling strings and making things happen when ever he had the ball, another assist was his reward. Without the ball his work rate is prodigious and, along with Scowen and Luongo, set the tone for the performance.
Referee – Chris Kavanagh (Manchester) 7 Overall I thought he was very good and the abuse Sian Massey took from the side stand (with the usual “get your tits out for the lads” bilge from the sort of sex-deprived, middle-aged troglodytes who probably thought Keysie and Graysie were harshly done to by Sky) was over the top – if your back four can’t get itself into a straight line and play offside it’s not the assistant’s referee for not flagging it. But that all said, I thought they both made a mess of the penalty incident in the first half which should have been a spot kick to Sheff Wed from where I was sitting so hard to mark too high even though the other 89 minutes of the performance probably deserved it – much like Nedum Onuoha in fact.
Attendance – 25, 537 (650 QPR approx)
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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