QPR come up short despite late rally - Report
Monday, 2nd Oct 2017 09:55 by Clive Whittingham
QPR made it five games without a win by losing at home to neighbours Fulham on Friday night, despite a late rally in which goalkeeper Alex Smithies came close to scoring a memorable equaliser.
The foundations laid by a better-than-expected August from Queens Park Rangers risk being fatally eroded by a below-par September which culminated in the first home defeat of the season against Fulham on Friday night. Two months, eight weeks and 11 matches into this latest Championship slog, nobody can really be sure whether QPR are actually any good or not.
There are, now, warning signs that Rangers are in trouble, on top of the accepted situation that the club is effectively trying to stand still in the second tier while also halving their wage bill, and then halving it again.
Though the pay roll at Loftus Road has been grossly out of step with performances and results on the field for years now, it is generally accepted by all known studies to be the best possible forecaster of team performance in our sport. More than transfer fees paid, more than investment in academy, more than average attendance, more than turnover, more than merchandise and hospitality sales… wages paid is usually the best indicator of how a team will do. And just because QPR bucked that trend when they were paying fuckloads to fuckwits doesn’t mean they’ll not suffer from trying to cut 80 to 40 to 20 to 10.
A week ago at Loftus Road, Burton Albion were so sure of themselves, so well set up, so perfectly coached, so drilled, that you almost had to give QPR credit for emerging from a home match against the team with the Championship’s lowest budget with a goalless draw. If it wasn’t for Josh Scowen, it almost certainly would have been a defeat. But then Burton went back up north and promptly lost 4-0 at home to Villa and 4-0 at home to Wolves. You can talk about money spent and strikers available and expectations but the fact is a team QPR didn’t look like they would score against if they’d tried for a week has since shipped eight goals in 180 minutes. Amber warning light.
This sort of playground, dick-swinging, my-dad’s-harder-than-your-dad doesn’t really work in a division as unpredictable and attritional as the Championship. You could say alarm bells should ring when a Millwall team that absolutely dominated Rangers prior to a harsh sending off in W12 earlier this month subsequently loses 3-1 at home to the artist formerly known as Barnsley. But then QPR played at Barnsley during the week and got a point. Rangers considered their 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday a good result, only for Wednesday to then get annihilated on their own patch by Sheffield United. When Wednesday then subsequently lose at hapless Birmingham you start to think a getting a draw at their place might actually have been two points dropped, but then they beat early pace-setters Leeds at home 3-0. Rangers were justifiably pleased with a late win against Hull City, just relegated from the Premier League, only for the Tigers to quickly descend into a new relegation mess at the lower level. Just when you think scraping a late 2-1 win at home to Leonid Slutsky’s team isn’t anything to write home about, they beat Birmingham 6-1.
Trying to pick patterns and take meaning from Championship results is like trying to knit fog. In all likelihood QPR will finish about where they are now in the table and their results will divide equally into the following six categories: games you didn’t expect/deserve to win that you somehow did; games that you should have won and did; games that you could easily have won but drew; games that you could easily have lost but drew; games that you didn’t expect/deserve to lose but somehow did; games that you should have lost and did.
There can be few better microcosms for all of this than Friday night’s home match with Fulham, which somehow managed to provide extra kindling for both the fires of those who think Ian Holloway has us on the right track and we’ve just been a bit unlucky, and those who think we’re going to hell in a handcart. By the end you could say QPR were unlucky not to win, fortunate not to lose by more, and everything else in between.
The first half summed it up perfectly. QPR pressed high, Fulham stoically insisted on restricting the distance of all their goal kicks to 15 yards. The result was a cliffhanger encounter where the start of each period of possession for the visiting team resulted in either QPR winning the ball back high up the field with men in support, or Fulham roaring forward past half a dozen committed Hoops with plenty of team mates up in support of them.
In the first quarter of an hour alone Sheyi Ojo took the long way around Jack Robinson and shot wide, then Idrissa Sylla (finally given a start up front with Jamie Mackie) chested down and volleyed over from an offside position, then Luke Freeman shot wide after good approach work from Scowen, then Scowen himself shot wide, then Stefan Johansen shot into the side netting after Joel Lynch was caught flat footed. QPR unlucky not to be ahead, fortunate not to be behind, and nursing a yellow card from a very harsh refereeing call against Massimo Luongo.
This pattern continued through to half time. Kalas headed Johansen’s free kick wide, Jake Bidwell was brilliantly placed to score when a low cut back fell his way but he scuffed his shot, Rui Fonte lost his footing when apparently clean through on goal, Scowen had a free kick saved by David Button, Freeman nearly curled a corner straight in. Backwards and forwards, up and down like a bride’s nightie, it was the perfect Friday night, West London derby spectacle for the television audience. A load of nonsense really. Two monkeys sitting in the bottom of their cage tossing poo at each other. Nil nil at half time.
Except it wasn’t. Seven minutes before the break, the game’s outstanding player Ryan Fredericks hit a speculative shot from 25 yards that was probably flying miles wide until, with Alex Smithies already committed, it hit the otherwise excellent Jack Robinson and bobbled off into the unguarded net. You couldn’t help but throw your hands up and blame rank bad luck for that, a nil nil game for all money but the deadlock broken entirely by accident with a horrid deflection off QPR’s best player on the night.
Through a combination of time wasting, for which Button was eventually booked, and modern football overkill that means a guy with a dislocated shoulder (they pop it back in and play on in rugby league) cannot be moved two and half feet to the touchline so play can continue, Rangers would have 56 minutes of second half to redress the deficit. Their approach to the task was both heartening and shoot-me-in-the-face-with-a-massive-gun annoying at the same time.
Luongo had a shot blocked, a shot saved wide, and a cut back fumbled by Button provoking a scramble. After three fairly obvious fouls had been waved away in quick succession referee Peter Bankes awarded a foul on the Australian on the edge of the box against Fredericks and Freeman struck the set piece wide with the keeper beaten.
QPR are joint fourth in the league this season for home wins and points, only one team has had more than their 87 shots on goal at home, two more sides better the 35 shots on target, only three have had more than our 138 touches in the opposition box and no other team has registered as many as Rangers’ 110 crosses. QPR average 60.78% possession in their home games this season, the second best in the league.
All of that was in evidence here, and yet there was so much rank stupidity as well. Ian Holloway brought Matt Smith on after an hour, but took off Pawel Wszolek who you would think was the prime man to put the crosses in that Smith thrives on. From crossing the ball to nobody very much (though I thought Sylla played well and deserves more game time) Rangers introduced a point man for wide deliveries only to suddenly start going long, direct and narrow. It wasn’t until David Wheeler’s introduction in the eighty sixth minute that this was redressed. It’s happening a lot lately – we cross it when our forward line resembles the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz, then we take the wingers who are doing it off only to introduce strikers that thrive on crosses.
And if you think that’s fucking stupid, then there’s Joel Lynch. Just back, probably rushed back, from injury, you could probably forgive a tired lapse in concentration seven minutes from time when he tried to trap a ball that should have just been cleared, ended up conceding possession to Fulham sub Neeskens Kebano and then ran after him into the penalty box, fouled him and conceded a spot kick. You could also – even though it was shambolic, even though it was moronic, even though it was a situation entirely of his own making an execution – perhaps forgive him for getting up and screaming (as he always does) abuse at Jake Bidwell, who’d had rock all to do with any of it. Because this is Fulham, and Fulham don’t score penalties, so there wasn’t much to worry about – Fonte stuck this one clean over the bar, the fourth spot kick missed by the Whites against QPR in the last three meetings.
But to then do it again… To have got away with it, to still be in the game, to have got done like that once and been given a reprieve, and then do it a-fucking-gain, within 90 seconds… Fonte all the way round Lynch this time, when he’d once more done that defending 1.1. mistake of advancing out of position only to get rolled and spun, and setting up Johansen on the edge of the box for a crisp finish, unchallenged, into the corner… Well, patience starts to wear a bit thin then doesn’t it? Presumably he thinks that one was Jake Bidwell’s fault as well?
So you start to make peace with it then don’t you? Half the crowd makes an early exit, the Fulham fans do their little “it’s happening again” chant, you accept the defeat and start bracing yourself for Bolton’s inevitable first win of the season on the other side of the international break. Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme. Except that, for once, a referee had taken account of the time wasting, and the injuries, and everything else, and added nine minutes. And, for once, Conor Washington was in the right place at the right time to bumble one into the net from close range right at the start of it, so suddenly it’s 1-2 with time to spare. Luke Freeman looked like he was going to score off the kick off, only for Button to thwart him one on one; Matt Smith had a header cleared from the goal line by a combination of two defenders, Luongo had a shot blocked, Scowen had a shot blocked. Fulham, now, clinging on. QPR, now, rampant.
There’s been a lot of this at Rangers this season. Goals have been scored and points have been won in the final 15 minutes of games with Hull, Millwall and Barnsley and it’s wonderful to see the team never giving up, maintaining belief, going right to the end and getting their rewards. But you can’t help but wonder where this attacking threat, where this width, where this desperation for a goal is earlier in games. Why does it only come out when the situation is all but lost?
Not that anybody would have cared much, not that I’d have backed myself to live through the night, had Alex Smithies headed home the ninety ninth minute corner that landed plum on his forehead six yards out in the final action of the game. Sadly he was as surprised as the rest of us, and a weak effort drifted wide. I would have cum oil if that had gone in. But life’s not like that is it? The final whistle followed soon after.
From three wins and a draw in the first six league games, QPR now have just one maximum from seven attempts and are without a win in five. More worryingly, that element of randomness with the team selections that we saw at the end of last season is starting to creep back in: Steven Caulker nowhere to be seen, then suddenly starts at Barnsley, then nowhere to be seen again; Idrissa Sylla struggling to make the bench for weeks, then suddenly starts; David Wheeler starts and scores, disappears again, now back on the bench; Bright Osayi-Samuel unused sub, then on as a winger, then given a start up front, then benched again; Washington out injured, then straight back in from the start, then benched.
A steady drift down the embryonic Championship table has begun. Rangers play away twice in a row on the other side of the break, against the bottom two clubs in the league. The endeavour, the attacking intent, the effort and the entertaining style of play – all of which remains, despite recent poor results – needs to be married up with a victory or two soon to keep the wolf from the door.
QPR: Smithies 6; Baptiste 6, Robinson 7, Lynch 4, Bidwell 5; Scowen 6, Luongo 6, Freeman 6; Wszolek 6 (Smith 60, 5), Mackie 6 (Washington 76, 6), Sylla 7 (Wheeler 84, -)
Subs not used: Furlong, Lumley, Manning, Osayi Samuel
Goals: Washington 90+2 (assisted Smith)
Bookings: Luongo 17 (foul), Mackie 22 (foul), Lynch 82 (foul)
Fulham: Button 6; Fredericks 8, Kalas 6, Ream 6, Sessegnon 7; Norwood 6, McDonald 6, Johansen 6; Ojo 6 (Kebano 55, 6), Fonte 6 (Cisse 90+4, -), Mollo 6 (Odoi 62, 6)
Subs not used: Bettinelli, Madl, Graham, Djalo
Goals: Robinson og 41 (assisted Fredericks), Johansen 85 (assisted Fonte)
Bookings: Norwood 63 (repetitive fouling), Fredericks 65 (foul), Button 87 (time wasting)
QPR Star Man – Jack Robinson 7 Terribly unlucky with the first goal, both because of the way it went in and because he was QPR’s best defender apart from that and didn’t deserve such a fluke to go against him. When you look at how Joel Lynch, a recognised centre back we’ve supposedly been desperate to get back from injury, played in the middle of the defence and how Robinson, a full back supposedly playing out of position, did so it was night and day. Six straight starts for him now as well after years of injury problems, fingers crossed that continues.
Referee – Peter Bankes (Merseyside) 6 Put pressure on himself by booking Luongo so early for so little, then ended up letting loads of worse stuff go after that. But otherwise I thought he was pretty decent. Holloway, and others, felt the penalty was a dive but it looked absolutely nailed on to me at the time – referee only gets one look. Nice to see a referee actually adding adequate time to a half with injuries and time wasting rather than just doing the standard two minutes first half four minutes second half regardless of what’s happened.
Attendance 16, 415 (2,800 Fulham approx)
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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