Red card sparks rousing Rangers rally – Report
Wednesday, 13th Sep 2017 20:56 by Clive Whittingham
QPR maintained their unbeaten start at home by fighting back from two goals down to draw a pulsating Tuesday night game with ten-man Millwall at the death.
This was about three inches away from being one of those nights under the lights at Loftus Road.
Stoppage time, free kick, Luke Freeman, end-of-days weather siling down, two nil down back to two apiece, pulsating game, dreadful refereeing, shots fired, all in… go and win it. They’d have talked about it for years to come. People still talk about Samuel Di Carmine for goodness sake.
The ball went up, over the wall, past Millwall’s unorthodox and erratic goalkeeper Jordan Archer, onto the top of the cross bar and away to safety.
QPR have only lost one of their last 17 Tuesday night home matches (W11, D5) and that’s how close they came to chalking up another win here as the old place fizzed and popped as we all know it can, despite a pitifully low home attendance. The stats showed 69% possession to the home side, 31 shots on goal which is one every three minutes, 14 shots on target (Kenny Jackett often repeats that ten basically guarantees you a win) and seven corners. Had Freeman’s shot, or any of the other multitude of chances Rangers created in the second half, nudged them over the line for a 3-2 win you’d have been hard-pushed to argue they didn’t deserve it on paper.
And yet, those few who were present will know that this was a game that swung like few others before it on the first half sending off of visiting striker Lee Gregory. Millwall haven’t won in seven visits to W12 dating back to the 1988/89 season, and had only won one of their six Championship fixtures so far this season as they attempt to acclimatise to life back in the second tier following promotion. But their unashamedly forthright style of player didn’t suit QPR one bit and the balance of play prior to Gregory’s dismissal, at times, threatened to drag Rangers into the personal hell they experienced a year ago this week in the one of those 17 midweekers they did lose on their own patch – 6-0 to Newcastle United.
Ian Holloway is dealing with mounting injury problems in the heart of the defence where James Perch is out long term, Joel Lynch medium, Grant Hall indefinitely and Steven Caulker has, worryingly, disappeared out of the first team picture and back into the hushed half time tones of the South Africa Road gossip circles once more. A makeshift back three of Alex Baptiste, Nedum Onuoha and Jack Robinson, normally a left back, coped well with an Ipswich forward line small in stature at the weekend, but they never looked capable, on paper or in practice, of managing Neil Harris’ team effectively.
Steve Morison and Gregory led their team from the front aggressively, tirelessly, and elbows first. They battered QPR in every sense of the word. They could have taken the lead after 45 seconds – Morison flicking a long throw on for Gregory, Alex Smithies producing an astonishing save to deny him. Gregory had a shot blocked by the defence moments later. The resulting corner caused panic. Then, when Luke Freeman misjudged a return pass to Conor McLaughlin from Jed Wallace, the ‘Wall full back unleashed an improbable volley into the roof of the net from wide on the right. We’d been playing five minutes.
Nedum Onuoha saw yellow from referee Roger East for the first serious foul of the game – East, like the QPR defence, wholly unequipped for a game that very quickly took him into some deep water – as the pressure continued to mount and the play kept flowing one way. Morison piled over the top of Robinson and planted a firm header at Smithies, then saw the keeper make another great save to deny him at the back post. The striker’s powerful, all-action performance was crowned by the greatest goal never scored when he instinctively took a bouncing ball full on the volley from 45 yards out tight to the Ellerslie Road touchline, beat Smithies all ends up, but landed an audacious effort a fraction wide of the far post.
I wondered in the match preview whether Millwall would have too much for QPR physically and man alive did they ever have that. Ian Holloway had picked the same team as the weekend following a dominant display against Ipswich, but this opponent was a different beast and on a night where he’d have desperately wanted to get it right against a former employer – the abuse of Ollie from the away end fairly incessant all evening – he sadly erred. Jamie Mackie and Conor Washington were anonymous in the face of stout defending from Shaun Hutchinson and James Meredith and the team was crying out for the introduction of Matt Smith and Idrissa Sylla long before they stepped from the bench in the forty sixth and fifty second minutes respectively. This was a team of child-sized adults caught in the teeth of a man’s game.
Holloway can’t win with many, and he’d say as much here when questioned about it I’m sure. Change the team, go more direct, don’t get the result, and get pilloried for switching a winning team, tinkering too much, over-thinking, playing into their hands, going too long ball and so on. Don’t change it, try and let the opponent worry about you, and don’t get the result, and you have Monday morning quarterbacks like me sitting here from a position of zero experience saying ‘well I did mention before the game this might be a good one to start Smith in’.
Four minutes before half time, a get out of jail free card was played. Millwall, rambunctious, revelling in their obvious dominance, started chucking themselves into tackles. On the corner of the Loftus Road penalty box Gregory got one slightly wrong. And, really, that’s all it was – the Millwall striker and Josh Scowen both sliding in together for a loose ball in a split second, referee East passing immediate and incredibly harsh judgement on Gregory and handing out a red card. At first glance I couldn’t even really tell who had fouled who and I’ve seen nothing on the video afterwards to convince me this was anything other than a yellow.
The red headlined a difficult evening for the match officials. In Ark-building weather, with these two teams, and the added Ian Holloway factor, nobody would pretend it was ever going to be easy to keep a lid on proceedings. But it was really noticeable that after six mostly excellent displays from Championship referees in our league games so far this season, the first visit of a Premier League official to Loftus Road brought a whole load of chaos and infuriating nonsense.
Pick your favourite Roger East classic from: Millwall being allowed to continue playing around Josh Scowen while he was down injured but play then immediately being stopped when QPR won the ball back and a Millwall player went down; Idrissa Sylla being ordered to retreat ten yards, FROM A DROP BALL; Sylla realising he’d be penalised for a high boot if he followed through with a tackle so withdrawing from it only for the free kick to be awarded anyway; booking Archer for time-wasting in the seventieth minute when he’d only just got the ball back from the ball boy, then doing nothing about the further more blatant clock running for the rest of the game including the occasion he held the ball in his hands while the crowd counted (loudly) to 16; adding five minutes to a first half with few injuries, then exactly the same to a second that had been riddled with time wasting; standing and watching on two separate occasions when Matt Smith’s shirt was pulled in the penalty box to such an extent that it exposed most of his torso; showing a yellow card to Steve Morison for having a bottle thrown at him.
With the harsh flash of his red, East had given QPR a route back into the game. To this point they’d forced one camera save from Archer when Luke Freeman tried his luck from the edge of the box and that was it, but they immediately came close to an equaliser before half time when Archer – who somehow emerged from this game a hero despite a style that could kindly be described as amateur – pissed around in his own six-yard-box before presenting the ball to Washington who struck the top of the post with a powerful drive.
Still, one down, against ten men, with Matt Smith on at half time (Nedum Onuoha’s withdrawal a concern given the earlier stated defensive injury problems) this looked all set up for a big second half comeback.
QPR thought so too, so much so that they slung everybody forward from the kick off, forgot to do any tracking back whatsoever and suddenly found Jed Wallace running freely into the School End penalty box after Jack Robinson had first been drawn out of position, then mistakenly left the resulting through-ball to Smithies. The keeper was never going to claim that, but he should have done better with the powerful near-post shot that flashed through him and in for two nil. Smithies, for all his brilliance, and he was QPR’s best player on Tuesday as he so often is, does have a little tick on that left-hand side when defending his near post.
In for a penny… Sylla came on to join Smith, Kazenga Lua Lua was added to the flanks. Millwall’s time-wasting began in earnest immediately – including a double substitution that lasted a whole ice age as the players being withdrawn deliberately sprinted to the far side of the field and then acted as if they hadn’t seen their numbers go up.
Stalls were very obviously laid out. QPR had 40 minutes to score twice. They immediately set up in an ice hockey power play-style three-point attack around the edge of the Millwall area and camped there for the duration. Sylla can be technically limited, Smith quite lumbering, and QPR are usually too-keen to go long and straight to either of them when they’re playing, but here Rangers serviced them well from wide and they both looked very good as a result.
Could they do it?
Well you couldn’t fault the effort. There were the Smith penalty appeals, Sylla spaffed a rebound wide when Archer fumbled a Masimo Luongo shot, Archer made a fine save to his left as Smith got to a diving header in the six-yard-box, Sylla poked wide when a typically well delivered Luke Freeman corner wrought panic in the goal mouth, Luongo hit another straight at the keeper, Scowen side-footed one wide, then the former Barnsley man drew another save you won’t find in any keeper coaching manuals from Archer, Freeman’s left-footed shot was blocked, Smith headed a Freeman corner past the post, Smith headed a Bidwell cross at the keeper. Short of arming themselves, I’m not sure what more QPR could have done. They moved the ball well, they got their shots away, they utilised the extra man. It just wouldn’t go. When LuaLua did skin his man and threaten to go in, he was deliberately hauled down by McLaughlin who was booked.
One of those nights? No, one of those nights.
Time remained on Rangers’ side throughout and when Massimo Luongo crisply volleyed home a loose ball from another great Freeman corner there was still more than a quarter of an hour left for play. It was on. The rarity of the goal – just a second in 77 QPR appearances for the Australian – rather lost in the commotion.
Archer saved from Smith, Scowen shot wide, Luongo volleyed into the Lower Loft when another corner was cleared his way. Now time was starting to tick a bit. The foul on Lua Lua was ball acheing. Millwall could see the finishing line. But there was one final twist.
Four to go, Archer oddly out of position, Lua Lua's cross flicked on by Luongo fortuitously falling the way of Matt Smith. One powerful shot on the turn later, skidding off the sodden turf as it went, and it was 2-2.
Holloway, who’d already been spoken to at length by the referee once, went into something resembling an epileptic fit on the touchline. The abuse from the away end, the delight that his team hadn't let their heads drop after going two down, the frustration with the referee, all came pouring out in one massively over the top dad dance.
In true QPR style it needed a fine tackle from Baptiste to stop Millwall going back in front straight from the kick off – you couldn’t help but admire Morison’s endless endeavour for his cause even at this late stage when running on fumes.
But five minutes of stoppage time brought further Rangers pressure, another scramble off another corner, another Archer save off Freeman, another shot blocked this time from Bidwell and then the final, agonising, nearly moment from the free kick with the very final action of a breathless, frenetic, million-miles-an-hour, typhoon of Championship carnage.
Concerning how second best QPR were to start with, elating how they came back in the second half, gripping how it all played out, worrying that we've picked up another defensive injury, annoying that we didn't get all three points, relieving we escaped with one... but most of all bloody good fun, riotously entertaining, thoroughly good value and very enjoyable indeed. Couldn't take your eyes off it. Come on in the water's lovely.
QPR: Smithies 7; Baptiste 6, Onuoha 6 (Smith 46, 7), Robinson 5; Wszolek 6, Bidwell 6; Scowen 6, Luongo 6, Freeman 6; Washington 5 (Sylla 52, 7), Mackie 5 (Lua Lua 62, 6)
Subs not used: Furlong, Manning, Lumley, Wheeler
Goals: Luongo 73 (assisted Freeman), Smith 85 (assisted Lua Lua)
Yellows: Onuoha 11 (foul), Freeman 39 (foul)
Millwall: Archer 7; McLaughlin 6, Webster 7, Hutchinson 7, Meredith 6; Wallace 7 (Tunnicliffe 58, 5), Williams 6, Saville 6, Ferguson 6 (Cooper 58, 5); Morison 7, Gregory 6
Subs not used: Craig, Onyedinma, Romeo, Martin, Twardek
Goals: McLaughlin 6 (assisted Wallace), Wallace 50 (assisted Williams)
Reds: Gregory 39 (dangerous play)
Yellows: Williams 26 (foul), Morison 51 (dissent), Archer 70 (time wasting), Tunnicliffe 80 (foul), McLaughlin 83 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Alex Smithies 7 That little weakness in his game defending his near post to his left reared its head again for the second goal, though the defending in front of him for that was shambolic and without a string of first half saves – including an absolute blinder in the first minute – Millwall would have been out of sight before the red card.
Referee – Roger East (Wiltshere) 3 As detailed above, a difficult game to referee but he made an absolute pig’s ear of it.
Attendance – 12,600 (1,800 Millwall) While appreciating all the stuff about cost, number of games, Tuesday night, weather, unappetising opposition, apathy, bad finish to last season etc etc etc … I do think it’s shame that thousands more QPR fans paid much higher ticket prices to flock to Loftus Road and watch pricks like Jose Bosingwa and Joey Barton phone in their performances and treat the club with utter disdain and disrespect, managed by a couple of absolute wankers, than are turning up now to watch a team that cares about what it’s doing, tries it’s best and has been very good to watch in the home games so far this season. At the moment this group of players deserve more support than they’re getting, and are rewarding those who are turning up with good quality football on the deck and entertaining matches.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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