QPR suffer first defeat of the season at Norwich - Report
Thursday, 17th Aug 2017 14:45 by Clive Whittingham
QPR's promising start to the 2017/18 season stuttered at Carrow Road on Wednesday night, with injuries in defence and a general lack of belief contributing to a 2-0 defeat.
After the mild excitement and pleasant surprise at Queens Park Rangers’ better-than-expected start to the 2017/18 season comes the nagging disappointment they weren’t able to build on it further at Norwich City on Wednesday evening.
Four points from three games (two of them away) against two of last season’s play-off sides and one that will surely run the top six close this season still represents a respectable return for Ian Holloway’s men – certainly a better one than many dared hope for. And the 2-0 loss at Carrow Road was by no means the sort of on-your-knees, open-wide, don’t-be-a-suffragette-about-it submission we saw from Rangers on this ground in May. But it was, nevertheless, rather too easy for the hosts.
Despite QPR’s poor recent record of one win from 15 trips to Norwich – who they’ve met competitively more than any other club – there is something very attractive about these two sides meeting in their traditional home colours under the lights of a midweek fixture. And for a while it felt like they were simply going to carefully pass their way to a fairly tepid 0-0 draw on a glorious summer’s evening in Norfolk, matching each other up in trendy back-three formations and playing considered football through midfield without much cutting edge.
The difference between the sides was in attack. Nelson Oliveira made headlines on the opening day for his aggressive response to new manager Daniel Farke’s decision to leave him on the substitute’s bench. While chasing after the manager to shove your shirt in his face is fairly bold as career moves go, you can see why Oliveira would be a bit miffed at being behind such a basic Championship clogger as Cameron Jerome. The decision made even less sense after 90 minutes here, in which Oliveira was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch and got the crucial first goal straight after half time with a cute finish after running round the back of a static Joel Lynch who’d been drawn out of position ball watching.
QPR, for their part, named an unchanged team for the third league game in a row – the first time they’ve done so since 2011 under Neil Warnock. That meant Jamie Mackie and Conor Washington started together in attack once more – a diminutive line-up which forces the players to work the ball on the ground through midfield, utilising the ability of Josh Scowen, Luke Freeman and Massimo Luongo to the benefit of the team and the paying spectators. But Washington was well off the pace last night, such a shame after his big opening day double against Reading, and you could rather see the belief draining out of Rangers even before Norwich opened the scoring.
Rangers had to deal with some adversity. One injury to the starting defensive line up is unfortunate, two is unusually unlucky but off Pawel Wszolek and Joel Lynch had to go nonetheless – although Holloway didn’t seem certain what, if anything, was wrong with the Polish wing back to force his first half withdrawal, something lost in translation between his lack of English and naturally lop-sided running style perhaps.
And they could easily have taken something from the game. Mackie stung the palms of Gunn in the home goal after six minutes and Jake Bidwell, playing well, volleyed over. Oliveira’s forty-eighth minute opener should have been equalised immediately by Luke Freeman who shot straight at the keeper from 15 yards out having been teed up, unmarked, by Mackie and Washington. On the hour Gunn parried a low shot from substitute Kazenga Lua Lua, Mackie returned the rebound to the danger area and Washington just failed to bundle it home from close range.
But there was that prevailing feeling that Rangers weren’t quite ‘at it’. Having started the game full of beans and looking to win it, you couldn’t help but feel they’d regressed to “we’ll take a point” by half time and hope of even that seemed to have faded long before Southampton loanee Harrison Reed was afforded too much space on the edge of the area and buried a spectacular long-ranger into the top bins for his first ever senior goal. Looked a good signing to me in the summer, played very nicely indeed here, deserved his goal.
The substitutions, two of them forced, didn’t really seem to help. Sending on Lua Lua for Wszolek, for a start, seemed odd when Darnell Furlong was on the bench as a ready made replacement. I was perhaps a little harsh on the Brighton loanee in the Sheff Wed write up – he’s a willing runner capable of moments of flair in attack that, kindly put, you probably wouldn’t expect of Washington, Mackie, Smith et al. But he’ll never be a right-sided defender as long as he’s got a hole in his arse and his introduction there rather smacked of Holloway being pre-determined to get him on as soon as possible and seizing that chance with the Wszolek injury even though it wasn’t the right fit. I even wondered whether they might push him up front and bring Mackie back there.
When Lynch went in the second half Furlong did come on, but that created further confusion as he and James Perch both seemed to be playing the same position for some time to begin with, while Onuoha was suddenly left playing centre back by himself having previously been part of a three. When Matt Smith joined the fray late for Mackie (Washington lucky to survive that particular hook) the team quickly resorted to just pelting it long towards the target man once more to the delight of Zimmermann, Franke and the other Norwich defenders.
Twice either side of half time Rangers were grateful to Alex Smithies for keeping Norwich out. A free kick from the eye-catching Mario Vrancic was headed powerfully towards goal by Franke after a quarter of an hour but Smithies dived left and saved. Then after Oliveira had scored, Wes Hoolahan ran clean through on goal only for the QPR keeper to save well one on one low at his feet. And on two other occasions, one at the midway point at the first half and then again just after the half hour after three successive Norwich corners, Jake Bidwell saved the day with fantastic, last-ditch tackles right in the goal-mouth to prevent almost certain scores.
No cause for panic, but some cause for concern then. Twice in two away games now we’ve built a platform to get a positive result from the game with a strong first half display, only to fritter it away really quickly after half time by conceding a soft defensive goal in the early moments of the second half. While the team responded well to that set back at Sheff Wed and should have won late on through Lua Lua, it was galling to see them wilt quite so quickly in similar circumstances here. Not often you see the belief drain out of a team quite as obviously as this, and it perhaps shows that despite a decent start to this season, confidence is still probably a bit fragile as a hangover from what happened at the end of the last campaign.
Washington needs to do more than this and Freeman, for all his excellence, seems to have caught the QPR central midfield bug in front of goal – his chance straight after the Oliveira goal should have been put away and he needs to add more goals to his game in general. Not that I know anything about it, but the substitutions seemed a bit weird and wonderful to me and the Smith introduction immediately saw us go long and lazy again – if we are going to bring him on for impact, give him a chance to do that by servicing him properly, not just pelting it at him because he’s tall.
Still, if you’re looking for a straw to clutch at, we lost 4-0 here four competitive games ago so 2-0 represents some sort of progress. Three down, 43 to go.
Norwich: Gunn 6; Pinto 6 (Martin 68, 6), Zimmermann 6, Franke 6; Husband 5, Reed 7, Hoolahan 6, Maddison 7, Vrancic 7; Murphy 6 (Watkins 79, 6), Oliveira 8 (Stiepermann 85, -)
Subs not used: Naismith, Jerome, Tettey, McGovern
Goals: Oliveira 48 (assisted Vrancic), Reed 82 (unassisted)
Bookings: Martin 72 (foul)
QPR: Smithies 7; Perch 6, Onuoha 6, Lynch 6 (Furlong 65, 5); Wszolek 5 (Lua Lua 29, 5), Bidwell 7; Scowen 6, Freeman 6, Luongo 6; Mackie 6 (Smith 71, 5), Washington 5
Subs not used: Ingram, Manning, Borysiuk, Robinson
Bookings: Lynch 15 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Jake Bidwell 7 Not many candidates for this, just him and Smithies to my mind, but I think Bidwell has settled well into a tough left wing back role and twice in the first half it was only fantastic last-ditch tackles from him deep in his own six-yard-box which prevented Norwich goals.
Referee – Oliver Langford (West Midlands) 8 The usual calm, assured, unfussy performance we’ve come to expect from this excellent (famous last words) referee. Must be knocking on the door for a promotion soon.
Attendance – 26,082 (600 QPR approx) Forced, artificial efforts to bolster Carrow Road’s atmosphere with pre-game marches to the stadium and early gatherings behind the goal have not made any conspicuous difference – 90 minutes of chat among yourselves interrupted by the two goals, the celebrations of which were immediately drowned out by the music from the darts blasted over the top of it at ear-splitting volume. The mentality of people who sit as close to the away end as they can get, in complete silence for the entire game, and then suddenly stand up and give it the big ‘un from behind the safety of a fence and a line of stewards when a goal goes in continues to be lost on me (see previous comments about Nottingham Forest) though whether it would ever piss me off enough to remove my shoes and throw them at people I’m not so sure. Points scored for originality by the barefooted QPR warrior who did so after goal two I suppose.
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