|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 0 Burton Albion|
Saturday, 23rd September 2017 Kick-off 15:00
QPR fire blanks in Burton bore draw - Report
Sunday, 24th Sep 2017 14:07 by Clive Whittingham
QPR turned in their worst home performance of the season on Saturday, and were perhaps lucky to escape with a 0-0 draw against Burton Albion.
Burton Albion are a bit of a problem for Championship clubs, teams, managers and supporters.
To look at their stadium, their attendances, their budget, how recently they were a non-league team, their team on paper, and most of what little money they have spent sitting up in the stand injured for the season you’d think they should be shit. Easy win. Got to be beating Burton Albion at home surely.
Clubs with the support levels of Norwich, Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday, the budgets of Birmingham, Villa, Derby, the pedigree of QPR, Forest, Leeds, they all look at Burton, particularly when they’re playing them at home, and think they should be winning.
With that comes an arrogance and a complacency. Supporters sit back and wait for it to happen – Loftus Road like a morgue on Saturday. Players don’t play with the same hunger, intensity and tempo as they would against other opponents – compare all of those things in QPR’s recent games with Ipswich, Reading, Sheff Wed and Middlesbrough to Saturday. And managers start to take chances and make selections they wouldn’t do against other opponents, thinking that if it doesn’t work they’ll get away with it because it’s ‘only Burton’.
What, in the name of sweet Mary Mother of Jesus Christ, Yeni Ngbakoto was doing playing central midfield yesterday, even allowing for Massimo Luongo withdrawing late on through illness, only Ian Holloway would know. Ryan Manning played well at Middlesbrough last weekend and could happily have kept his place, but instead a winger was played there out of position, his first start in a league game since April 14. The results were, predictably, disastrous, but that hardly feels like the player’s fault however much he continues to frustrate in general. Two midget strikers starting against three giant centre backs, when you’ve picked two wingers presumably to provide crosses, while Matt Smith and Idrissa Sylla sat on the bench, again, smacked of ‘won’t matter, it’s only Burton’.
But it did and it does matter, and QPR found out for the second time this calendar year that you cannot just turn up, pick a nonsense starting 11, go through the motions and get three points because you’re QPR and you’re at home and they’re Burton Albion and they’re away. The only difference between the debacle here in January, when Burton deservedly won 2-1, and Saturday, when Rangers were slightly fortunate to get a 0-0, was that Josh Scowen has been added to the midfield. He was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch, and he needed to be – constantly clearing up the mess created in front of him.
No, Burton haven’t spent a lot of money on their team, but to assume that makes them lambs to the slaughter against teams that have shows up football’s fundamental lack of understanding of where wins come from. A lack of understanding that keeps Harry Redknapp getting jobs, and keeps chairmen letting him buy 15 very expensive players in one transfer window – because it’s all about the best players right? And if you buy the best players and sling them out there and your players are better than their players you win right?
Firstly, Burton are a big team. Without Smith, Sylla, and injured trio Nedum Onuoha, Joel Lynch and Grant Hall, QPR are not. They’re particularly large at the back, where a back three of Jake Buxton, Kyle McFadzean and Ben Turner are well drilled, brilliantly coached, know their roles, understand the system, have played together regularly and barely looked troubled once on Saturday. They’re quick and athletic through midfield, a region they pack with five players to restrict space and fringe with a pacy winger – usually Lloyd Dyer but this time Sean Scannell, on loan from Huddersfield, excellent in the first half and unlucky not to score when he toasted Darnell Furlong (that happened a lot) and struck the base of the post with a shot that rebounded kindly to Alex Smithies. And they play two strikers, which is more than most Championship managers dare to commit to. They’re fit, they’re disciplined, they’re tactically spot on, their manager is doing an underrated brilliant job. You will not see a team at Loftus Road this season better set up and drilled in their shape, with every player knowing his role with and without the ball down the absolute nth degree.
What ensued, as it already has in Burton’s games with Birmingham and Fulham this season, and against a host of clubs they should, in theory, not be able to compete with last season, was like a footballing version of Sylvester vs Tweetie Pie.
The tone was set in the first minute – QPR slack from the kick off, Burton getting the ball forward with purpose, Stephen Warnock piling into a hefty challenge on Furlong, visiting team wins its first corner. Scannell had already struck the post by the time Rangers put together a move of any sort – Freeman, trying his absolute best, combining with Washington to set up Mackie but he didn’t really test Stephen Bywater in goal. The first QPR corner, fairly predictably given the size difference between the two sides, was headed straight away and Scannell streaked away on the counter to win his own corner down at the Loft End. This was a big, athletic, fit side running right over the top of QPR.
Washington was a particular problem for QPR in this game. His opening day double against Reading suggested this might be the year he does manage the step up to Championship level, but he hasn’t scored since and looked bereft of confidence here. A one v one chance against the last Burton man after a quarter of an hour looked inviting, but he was oddly hesitant to pull the trigger and by the time the ball had been worked through Mackie to Freeman the chance was lost. It’s hard to think of a single positive contribution Washington made, albeit allowing for the aforementioned nonsense team selection and physical mismatch against their defence, and yet he stayed on for the duration.
He missed with a header on 17 minutes from a Freeman cross so good it nearly resulted in an own goal anyway, and quite how referee Andy Madley didn’t rule Buxton’s blatant back pass to be exactly that when Bywater picked it up on 20 minutes I’ll never know, but QPR were in a mess. Players began rotating wildly through positions as early as the twenty fifth minute as instructions started flowing on from the touchline. Freeman’s volley over from Wszolek’s cross on the half hour was the only attempt on goal in the final 25 minutes of the half.
This is a worry. That Ian Holloway cycle of getting it right, getting good results, getting praise, getting too clever, fiddling with it, making random team selections, ruining it, going on a long losing run may be turning onto its downward slide once again. Seeing Ngbakoto start in the middle, then get moved to one wing, then the other, and then go off at half time was reminiscent of the six straight defeats in April and those random selections of Ravel Morrison against Brighton, Michael Petrasso against Sheff Wed and Sean Goss at Brentford. Nearly half a dozen changes for Middlesbrough, then the same again here. Players who started at the Riverside not even on the bench here, and players who had seemed miles away from the team suddenly deeply involved. Holloway was arguing with supporters in the Paddocks well before half time. Please God, Ollie, don’t lose your grip now, it’s been going so well.
You can’t, however, criticise the manager for not being positive at the start of the second half. Matt Smith came on to add some muscle against Burton’s untroubled defence, and Bright Osayi-Samuel made his debut after signing on deadline day from Blackpool. Rangers basically lined up in an ambitious 4-2-4 set up for the second half and looked better for it, with Freeman and Scowen somehow getting through the work of four midfielders between them and looking bloody good doing it. Wszolek was more assured at right back than Furlong had been – withdrawn after a very difficult first half – and Osayi-Samuel provided a nice, old-fashioned, raw, direct threat down the left wing which caused Burton problems in a way Ngbakoto hasn’t managed to achieve once since arriving at the club.
Some chances followed. A weak handball appeal off a Wszolek cross, a more obvious penalty not awarded for a shirt pull on Smith under a Robinson long throw, a volley from 20 yards from Baptiste that he caught well but struck a defender on the head in the six-yard box. But Rangers were fortunate when Alex Smithies was uncharacteristically slow off his line, allowing Scannell to challenge him for loose possession in the School End penalty box – the ball fell loose, but not into the net, a lucky escape.
It took until the seventieth minute for Idrissa Sylla to be introduced and, again, playing Monday morning quarter back, with no prior knowledge or experience of professional football, talking as the standard gobby idiot in the stand, that felt like it was too late to me. While appreciating everything Ian Holloway said about the big Guinean in his interview with this website, and while in no way saying I think he’s a technically proficient, or even particularly good, player, he is our biggest goal threat, he does score regularly for us, he does have something to offer, and he was worth more than 20 minutes here. It felt like it had taken 70 minutes for QPR to get the strike force they should have started with on the pitch. He immediately won a free kick on the edge of the box which Bywater caught from Freeman.
Freeman had Bywater beaten from similar range in open play but the ball flew wide of the top corner, and the keeper dived on a loose ball in his six yard box as QPR tried to scramble one home with time running down.
But the half quickly descended into frustration. Madley, having refereed brilliantly for 70 minutes, seemed to rather lose the plot late on, adding to the growing exasperation round Loftus Road. Though you couldn’t blame the referee for the three separate occasions QPR players hit the deck as if they’d been killed, necessitating a stoppage in play, only to then be fine to continue – twice without any attention from the physio at all. Ideal for Burton, who took their time walloping the ball all the way back to Smithies when play did restart, ideal for Nigel Clough as it killed what little momentum QPR had built up and ran the clock down, ball-acheingly annoying for those of a QPR persuasion – particularly the Pawel Wszolek one where the play was stopped with Freeman in space, with the ball at his feet, about to shoot, on the edge of the penalty area. It’s our time, our possession, our chance, get the fuck up man.
Then there was the pitch invasion. Late in the second half, suddenly a very large man with a back strapped to his back appeared in the middle of the QPR defence. And there he stood, arms out, going up to a couple of players, before walking off unchallenged. I don’t want to be that guy, but fuck me sideways this is London in 2017, we’ve had four terrorist attacks this summer alone, and another in Manchester. We were told to get to the ground early on Saturday because of enhanced security and bag checks (none of which we saw in evidence). Public gatherings like football matches are absolutely prime targets. And yet here was a bloke, a big bloke, with a bag, just being allowed to walk into the middle of the pitch, with 12,000 people all within shrapnel distance, while a couple of stewards stood at the side of the pitch and beckoned him off. It had got to the stage of the match where I actually kind of hoped he did blow himself up but what the actual fuck?
I’ll tell you this one quickly. In the Met Police training for new recruits there is a security camera video the candidates are shown telling them how not to deal with a suspicious package. It shows a cardboard box on a concourse near the top of a staircase and a group of men in yellow jackets examining it. You can’t hear them, but the decision they reach on how to deal with it is to tie a length of plastic tape around it, and then go down the stairs letting the tape out as they go. When they’ve retreated to what they presumably think is a safe distance to avoid the effects of an explosion they give the tape an almighty yank, bringing the box aggressively towards them down the stairs, and they all run away and scatter onto the road below. It was full of polystyrene cups in the end, nobody got blown to pieces, much as they deserved it. That concourse, that stairwell? Loftus Road. Those meatheads? QPR stewards.
Exactly how much is our club paying to this fucking goon squad to take tins of Diet Coke and cans of deodorant off people at the door, but do absolutely rock all when anything genuinely does happen?
Anyway, it only added to the general mood and while you could have a legitimate grievance with Madley only adding four minutes to the half despite all the injuries, pretend injuries, time wasting and potential terrorist incidents it had become clear that QPR weren’t going to score if they stayed there all night. Burton more than deserved their point, if not more.
I’m a big fan of what QPR and Ian Holloway have done so far this season, on and off the pitch, and I’ve enjoyed watching the team to this point. But they, and he, got this one badly wrong.
QPR: Smithies 6; Furlong 4 (Smith 45, 6), Baptiste 6, Robinson 6, Bidwell 5; Ngbakoto 4 (Osayi-Samuel 46, 7), Scowen 8, Freeman 7; Wszolek 5, Mackie 5 (Sylla 70, 6), Washington 4
Subs not used: Lynch, Manning, Caulker, Lumley
Burton: Bywater 7; Buxton 7, McFadzean 7, Turner 7; Brayford 6, Warnock 6; Murphy 6, Allen 6 (Akpan 75, 6), Scannell 7 (Dyer 58, 6); Akins 6, Sordell 6 (Varney 73, 6)
Subs not used: Flanagan, Ripley, Naylor, Mason
QPR Star Man – Josh Scowen 8 By a thousand country miles the best player on the pitch. Without him this would certainly have ended in a defeat.
Referee – Andy Madley (Yorkshire) 7 I thought he was pretty good overall, exemplary for an hour and then lost it a little bit towards the end. Didn’t clamp down on the time wasting enough, and only added four minutes to the end of a half that felt like it should have had at least six. But he didn’t produce a yellow card, dealt with what few flashpoints there were calmly, and refereed well overall. You can’t blame the referee for stopping the play while QPR are attacking if it’s a QPR player rolling round on the floor as if he’s about to take his last breath.
Attendance – 12,500 (250 Burton approx) This felt like an ambitious aspiration for what we’d have liked the attendance to be, rather than what it actually was.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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